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Cut Ribbons: Pop Music For Heart And Mind

Friday, 08 May 2015 Written by Huw Baines

He’s trying to suppress it, but Aled Rees is grinning. Backstage at Galeri 3B in Wrexham, talk has turned to the mixes of Cut Ribbons’ debut album.

“We really feel like we’ve got the balance right,” he says. “Everyone’s pulling in the same direction. It’s something that we’re really excited about because we’ve finally found our sound.”

That sound, as the crowd gathered before the BBC Horizons stage at Focus Wales can attest, is increasingly straightforward and garlanded with the sort of melodies that will stick around for the long haul. During the writing process Rees set up shop in his own studio and began to seriously experiment with synths for the first time, his interest piqued further by a Belfast recording session with Rocky O’Reilly that yielded In The Rain.

“I’d been exploring a little bit with a synth and I started to write on piano a lot more, rather than acoustic guitar,” Rees says. “Rocky O’Reilly is the synth man, the synth guru. He was like: ‘Take your pick.’ I was in heaven there, just having the realisation that you don’t have to stick in one paradigm, you know? Anything goes. Cut Ribbons as a concept only exists because we’re making it. It’s not what other people think it should be. It’s what we like. That realisation has been a massive thing for us.”

The record, as if to further signal the band’s shift in priorities, will arrive loaded with singles. A number of Cut Ribbons’ early releases have been reconfigured, while a string of new cuts, including the recently-unveiled Clouds, will usher it in. Its summer bow is no coincidence.

“There are lots of older tracks that maybe didn’t get a chance to reach a wider audience,” Rees says. “Our first single, White Horses, has been stripped apart. It sounds like the Postal Service with dirty guitars. It’s nice to think that we’ve got what we perceive as an album full of singles.”

At Focus Wales Cut Ribbons debut a new rhythm section, following up the recent introduction of vocalist Lluan Bowen to the mix. Having pulled some of the indie threads from their music, a personnel shift perhaps loomed larger than it might have done previously.

“We’ve had a few changes over the last few months,” Rees says. “We are in uncharted territory. As we emigrated from the guitar band, members have felt, ‘this might not be where I want to go as a band’. We’ve just been trying to get a new balance line-up wise and now I think everything’s rosy at the minute. We’re playing a couple of the new tracks live for a few gigs and we’re comfortable with them. It feels great on stage. We’re more animated. It’s exciting.”

Rees is open about how exacting his own standards can be. Having his own space in which to construct songs is a double-edged sword. He lives with things for a while, often tearing them up and starting over. Embracing this compact, song-driven style, then, is a very deliberate move. But, when asked if Cut Ribbons have turned to the pop side for good, the briefest moment of doubt flickers across his face.

“If that is the case, I hope we’re the right side of it,” he says. “Where there’s still integrity, it’s not bubblegum. That’s something that I’m very, very apprehensive about. There’s straight away accessibility about some of the tunes. They sound like radio songs, they’re really summery. I really don’t want them to be grouped with people who don’t...how can I put this nicely? We create all this ourselves. We haven’t got a team of writers. A pop band. That’s the way I think of us.”


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