Analogue Music | Cattle & Cane

Cattle & Cane

By Matt Conner

In a way, Joe and Helen Hammill are back to where they started.

With a new album Golden that just hit streaming services and digital shelves last month, the brother-sister duo known as Cattle & Cane that have mesmerized UK audiences (and beyond) for the last decade have come full circle back to their earliest influences and sounds. It's not that they ever lost touch with their strong melodic chops or their organic roots, but Golden certainly places them in the heart of it all—a strong album flexing what they do best.

We recently sat down with Joe to hear more about the band's ability to weather a global pandemic, the songs of which he's most proud on the new record, and the way that familial relationships have held things together over time.

Analogue: I haven’t caught up with you all in several years. Given the timeline and weathering a pandemic, it made me curious if you’re surprised to be making music like this after all this time?

Joe Hammill: Great question and I don’t know where to start with that. I think partly because we’re in a band with siblings, that makes it easier to keep doing it. It just feels like a family unit. It’s part of the furniture, y’know? It’s part of the family.

We’ve definitely had to weather some storms, especially during the pandemic. We released a record before the pandemic and we never got to tour it. We still haven’t actually—our record before Golden. But I would say the strength of the familial ties is what keeps us going because we love it. We love hanging out with each other and playing shows and stuff. That’s what keeps us going.

"The songs that are coming out are just musically closer to what we were when we began, which is interesting to us."

Analogue: The way you said that makes it sound as if there’s some real grief there with even that last album.

Joe: Well, yeah, I think but it’s not like we were the only ones grieving. It was an extraordinary time, wasn’t it? Everything felt insecure and we didn’t really know what to expect. So as we release this album, we’ll be playing old songs for the first time which will be crazy. Some of them are from 2018, and we won’t know which ones are the favorites of people who come to the shows.

Analogue: If people have missed you for a stretch, are they going to hear a pretty big melodic change?

Joe: Well, actually, I think this album is going back to when we first started, musically at least. It’s been gratifying. I don’t know how that happened. It just sort of happened that way. The songs that are coming out are just musically closer to what we were when we began, which is interesting to us. It’s reminded us why we started and of the music we loved right at the beginning. I think this album hearkens back to that first album we did in 2015, which is really cool.

Analogue: Do you think you missed it? You really can’t tell why?

Joe: I think merely subconsciously, the second album, sonically it was a bit left field, which I loved. The album after that, we definitely ventured into the pop world, which I loved as well. It was great to challenge ourselves. But I think we’re mostly at home with the music on this new record, Golden. I think it feels like the sort of music we grew up with and first started playing, so I guess we’re most comfortable in this genre.

Analogue: These melodies are so immediate and they also make you want to hit play again the moment they’re done. Is that something you appreciate most in the music you listen to?

Joe: Yeah, I think so. It’s funny, actually, because I have a Zoom writing session later today and the girl I’m writing with is an amazing writer and we have these conversations because we come at it differently. She’s super lyric-driven and I come to it melodically first, which is why it’s such an interesting writing session when we write together.

So yeah, I think I do approach things from the hook or how a melody makes you feel. That’s what hits me first. Then I’ll catch up to what the lyrics are. It’s interesting how so many people react differently to music. We all engage differently when we hear a song. But yeah, I always like a song with a strong melody. I’m always trying to get it in that way.

Analogue: Is there a song you’re most proud of through that lens on this album?

Joe: “Backwards Walking” is one. Or maybe “Dancing", with the way the chorus lifts. Songwriting is hard and it’s hard to make all of the bits and pieces work together, so when you can do it, it feels good. That one is a clear fan favorite when we do that one; it’s a lot of fun.

Analogue: Does Helen share your same melody-first approach?

Joe: Yeah she does. She shares an appreciation for the same kind of music. At the moment, she loves Taylor Swift. She loves great melodies and hooks are very important. Before this one, Helen’s favorite album was probably the first one that we did, so she’s particularly happy with the songs we’re doing on this album.

Analogue: You said earlier that the familial nature of the band has kept you going. That made me curious whether there are any changes there. Can you tell if your chemistry has changed over time or is it just so tight that that’s not the case?

Joe: I guess what’s interesting is how our personal lives have changed from when we started to now. Like I’m in a different place. I’m married and I’ve got a young baby. When we first started together, me and Helen were living in the same house and living in each other’s pockets, really. That’s not the case anymore and that’s changed the chemistry a bit. But we still talk every day and it’s really nice to see Helen’s relationship with my little son. It’s for life, isn’t it, that bond you have? Nobody knows me like my sister and nobody knows her like me. I’m convinced of that.

VISIT: Cattle & Cane