Interview carried out for Multimedia Journalism course-work assessment
The prospect of meeting Ross Leighton, the lead singer of the successful Scottish alternative/indie band Fatherson, left me with a perplexing situation. How do you greet a band-member?
Should you go in for the professional handshake? The relaxed nod?
On this occasion in a quiet bar near Glasgow Central Station, Ross Leighton swerved my tentative handshake and immediately went in for the hug instead. How rock-star. Speaking ahead of Fatherson’s first headline tour in England this December, the Strathclyde University student regaled with tales of the trials and tribulations of a band-member.
“Going on tour is hilarious. It’s just trying to have the audacity to speak to strangers and see if five people can stay in their living room.” Ross lists the locations where his unfortunate band-members have spent the night, including kitchens, peoples’ garages and supermarket car parks, with ASDA being “surprisingly comfortable.” Only three weeks before this interview, he even managed to trip over his brother swathed in a sleeping bag and crash into a table after staying at an after-party in Aberdeen.
Regarding the fact that Fatherson were kicking off a six-date tour starting in Newcastle the next day, when queried about his current wellbeing, Ross responded: “I’m smashing now, I haven’t even thought about it.”
“That’s maybe the most damage I’ve ever done. That’s the life of a being in a band: falling into things.”
The five-piece from Kilmarnock count supporting Scottish bands such as Idlewild, Frightened Rabbit and Twin Atlantic as part of their growing repertoire.
The anticipation of playing in English venues away from their loyal fan base worked to build up Ross’ excitement for what lay ahead.
“Scotland has been very good to us, so I think this will be like starting again.”
The devotion of their fans resonates with Ross as he recalls a recent gig at the Queen Margaret Union in Glasgow. When meeting someone who had travelled 700 miles to watch Fatherson perform, he was astonished: “I wouldn’t even travel 700 miles to see my Mum.” Such commitment works to motivate the band to take their performances as seriously as their followers.
His humble predictions for the English shows illustrate his down-to-earth approach to playing music. “It’s our first real breakaway in England, so I’m quite excited to see if anyone turns up or how many are there,” he considered.
Amusingly, Ross recalled the last time they played to an audience of 3 in Newcastle. “We just moved these 2 couches in the venue to the front of the stage and said: Shout any song you want and we’ll play them.” This make-shift atmosphere of playing in a living room illustrates how the experience of the audience remains at the forefront of Ross’ live experience. When questioning the song choice method on the upcoming tour, he displayed a considerate thought-process.
“I’m a true believer in the fact that if you don’t play a show for 6 months, you should play all the songs that people loved at that point.” Paying £10 to attend a gig where you only know 5 of the songs on the set list is a “wasted night out”, according to the bearded 21 year old.
“At the end of the day, you’re entertaining. You need to make sure everyone’s having a good time.”
In terms of stage-presence, Ross’ self-deprecating approach is rather a refreshing stance coming from the frontman of a band who add electric guitar, strings and brass accompaniment to their shows.
“I’m a bad one for closing my eyes on stage. You must have some relevance of confidence to be up there, but to not be able to open your eyes is a weird one.”
This musing ties in with his opinion of the popularity of the Scottish music scene. Ross laughed and described Scottish people as “naturally despondent people who hate themselves”, which in turn help Scottish musicians create great music.
The title of Fatherson’s debut album, I am an Island, due to be released next year, offers up some thought-provoking imagery. The metaphor of the island stems from Ross’ own experiences as a natural agony-aunt type figure to his friends.
“Most people feel that if they’ve got problems, it’s just them and they’re an island in the middle of all these people floating around.”
The island metaphor turned into somewhat of a concept for Ross’ song-writing inspiration, with references to the island made at the beginning, middle and end of the new record.
The release of this debut album has been a long-time coming for fans that have followed Fatherson since the band first released their EP as 17 year olds.
Ross reckoned that the time-frame between their debut and the release of their album stems from the fact that they weren’t quite ready.
“I think we were a bit young for it, but we had hundreds of people coming to the shows who were wanting an album.”
He can’t seem to grasp the idea of the band’s supportive fan-base, and is still reeling from the experience of playing on the Headline stages at festivals such as Belladrum and Rockness earlier this summer.
Despite being a lead-singer who is the focus of hundreds of camera-phones during gigs, Ross comes across as a relatable character that is appreciative of every moment of the band’s journey. “I love playing in this band, and even if the album does nothing, I’ll still be proud of it,” he said.
“I’ll be 21 and have an album out. What a crazy thing to do!”
Even with the excitement of headline tours and European trips on the horizon for 2014, thoughts turn to the possible impact of the referendum on the Scottish music industry. “Och, I don’t know,” Ross contemplated.
“The more financial strain comes on this country, I think the arts will come first.”
His debate remains balanced, as he offered that he would love it if “we did end up going independent and then Scotland became this absolute mecca of creativity.”
However, with his previous experience of receiving funding for Fatherson’s album from the Scottish Arts Council, Creative Scotland, Ross states that “my heart of hearts tells me it will be much more difficult to do.”
Despite the cloudy future for the Scottish music scene in 2014, bands like Fatherson could prove to be the silver lining as their performances progress further afield from Scotland.