Over the course of this past year, I’ve written quite a bit about The Soft Calvary, a new shoegaze project formed by husband and wife duo Steve Clarke and Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell. Now, as you may recall, the duo’s self-titled, full-length debut is slated for a July 5, 2019 release through Bella Union Records. And interestingly enough, for the duo’s Steve Clarke, the album is equal parts labor of love and long-held dream finally realized, as well as the first album that he has masterminded from start to finish — with the assistance of his wife and his brother, Michael, who produced the album.
The album’s material reportedly is inspired by and radiates both midlife crisis and elation. Essentially, the album is the sigh of finally finding real contentment and peace after living a messy life, full of heartache, bitterness and confusion. As Clarke emphasizes in press notes, the album was an album that he “needed” to make, as it can also be seen as a way of rewriting his own narrative: Divorced in 2011, Clarke admittedly spent the next three years in a haze. He had played bass and sung backing vocals in bands as a session musician and as a touring member since the late 90s, while also working as a tour manager.
Coincidentally, at one point, he began working as a tour manager for the reunited Slowdive. “I was hungover in the back of my van trying to work out how I was going to fit all the band’s gear into this confined space whilst I still had all of mine from the show that I’d played in London the night before,” Clarke recalls in press notes. “The second of two sold-out shows at Hammersmith Apollo with David Brent!” Coincidentally, that same day Clarke was introduced to Goswell. A year later, they were living together in Devon, before marrying last year. Rachel not only turned his world “upside-down,” as he recalls, she also unwittingly produced “the catalyst” for the new project. “I’d always had ideas but never felt that anything I had to say was worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone my own,” he says in press notes. “I wish that I could have done this fifteen years ago but, in reality, I simply couldn’t have. But I’m not one to overly wallow. I’d rather plough the various levels of confusion into songs.”
The album in many ways is an exercise in creative and personal therapy. The first songs Clarke wrote specifically for the album are Goswell-inspired paeans to fate, love, new beginnings and hope. But as he began to open up, the past found a way to seep in — the years of frustration, confusion, anxiety, heartache. If there’s a theme to the material, reckons Steve, “it’s recovery versus new doubt. I’m there, in the middle. The word that kept coming back to me was ‘resilience.’ With the right mentality and people around you, especially family, we get through and find a level of hope.”
The writing sessions were in some way an extended conversation between the couple. Clarke, as Goswell says “is always writing, his head always full of lyrics.” Goswell, as Clarke says “reins me in when I get obsessed. She’s a good editor. She says my songs can still work without sections of words, that leaving spaces is OK.” As Clarke began to assemble songs, he invited a handful of dear friends including Mercury Rev‘s and Midlake‘s Jesse Chandler (keys), Tom Livermore (guitar) to assist with the album’s overall sound and tone. “I’d grown up with guitar bands and I didn’t want it to be overly guitar-y,” Clarke says. “We evolved things by trying out ideas. We’d be build things up, and then stripe them back and build them again.”
Interestingly, as the album progressed Goswell formed Minor Victories with members of Mogwai and Editors while all of those bands had gaps in their schedules, eventually writing and recording an album, which Goswell and Clarke contributed vocals and lyrics for. “It got the cogs turning on a writing and lyrical level, and gave me a certain amount of self-belief,” Clarke recalls.
After completing their album together, Clarke found a name for the band and the album, seemingly out of thin air — The Soft Calvary. “I can’t explain its literal meaning,” he says. “It just made sense.” Might Rachel be the calvary? “Maybe! it would be subconscious, but that makes sense too, strangely.”
The self-titled debut’s first single “Dive” was centered around towering layers of shimmering guitars, a propulsive backbeat paired with the duo’s gorgeous dual harmonies. And while being one part deeply contented sigh, one part sweet, romantic swoon there’s a creeping sense and tacit acknowledgement that such a wondrous dream will fade. The album’s second and latest single “Bulletproof” found Goswell and Clarke pairing their ethereal harmonies with shimmering guitar lines, a soaring hook and propulsive, electro pop-like beats, which gives the song a subtle, dance floor friendly vibe. The album’s third and latest single is the breezy love song “Never Be Without You.” Centered around a soaring hook, jangling guitars and Clarke’s plaintive vocals, the song is an ethereal and tender expression of devotion and fidelity within a finite period of time. And in a cynical and superficial age, such an expression of devotion is both earnest and charming.
Speaking of charming, the recently released animated visual introduces the viewer to two hat-wearing creatures, who dimly resemble Goswell and Clarke and their forest world full of amazing creatures. The hat wearing creatures’ have wild adventures — but they’re always faithfully together. When the world is running to shit, sometimes we need some sweetness and beauty.