When it comes to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. there are a few certainties on which you can rely. You’ll get a timeless hook lodged within every song and lyrics that tell a story without a single throwaway line, but most importantly, you’ll find the man behind GCWCF, Sam Duckworth, is one of the most infectiously enthusiastic characters in today’s music scene.
A lot has happened since way back 2006 when he toured the country in a beat up car with a laptop, guitar and the brace of catchy, heartrending tunes. Firstly, the Southend-born singer has released four albums, including ‘The Mannequin’, a stripped collection brought out under his own name. He’s travelled to Nigeria and the Congo as part of Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and organised the London Astoria’s last hurrah – the Demolition Ball – before it was torn down in 2009.
Sam has remained active in his support of Fair Trade and Love Music Hate Racism and in the immediate aftermath of the London riots he was instrumental in helping to galvanize the public to clean up the streets via twitter with @riotcleanup.
In the past few months Duckworth has also been heavily involved in the Occupy movement with big plans afoot for Occupation Records, set to roll out later this year. And let’s not forget that this is the guy who organises The Windmill’s annual post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s Eve gig get together, which in the past has seen him dress up as and cover everyone from Wham! to Madonna to the Beastie Boys.
Back with his fifth LP, ‘Maps’, the album’s genesis marked a moment of realisation. “It’s happier than my other records,” he says. “I got really into the idea of making music that wasn’t clinical. I got bored of hearing indie rock records that didn’t sound like they were made by a bunch of people having fun. I felt a lot more comfortable when I was making it. I’m 26 and I’m having a laugh!
With the effervescent Jason Perry of A at the production helm, ‘Maps’ is largely streamlined to guitars, bass and drums and a whole heap of energy. It’s full of big ideas couched in rambunctious sing-a-longs and shouty punk refrains, the shift in mood and melodic tone instantly apparent from the opening track, ‘The Real McCoy’. Where before Sam’s love of post-hardcore was evident in his emotive pitch, this record’s musical touchstones are his Britpop heroes Blur, The Streets, Super Furry Animals and Gomez.
“Lots of my favourite records came out between 1994 and 2003, the ones that I hold close to my heart and some of the ones that changed my life,” he says. “It’s where my influences grew from, it’s the time when I fell in love with music.”
Central to the album is the remarkable Offline Maps. Beginning softly before optimism takes flight in an epic chorus, it finds Sam taking stock of a distinctly modern condition: being plugged in 24/7, yet never really connecting. It encourages the listener to shrug off apathy and view your surroundings with fresh eyes; perspective is key. In fact the song and the album title was sparked by an experience last year.
“We got lost on the way to Glastonbury – six years in a row and we still can’t find our way!” laughs Sam. “We pulled over and I wanted to get something out of the boot and there was a map. The sat nav had taken us the wrong way and I said to Chris who was driving, ‘You know there’s a map in the boot right?’ And he goes, ‘Sam, I’m sick of using these offline maps.’ And I thought, that’s the stupidest and most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard. Is that what’s happened now? Is he serious? Is this what we’re calling them? It was an odd moment, but life is full of odd moments and that is what I tried to capture on this album”
This overreliance on technology, the consuming lust for the latest model, the impatience that comes with instant gratification and the increase in snipey comment culture as people hide behind their screens, are all themes that bleed into the record. But these undertones are not instantly apparent and that’s the skill of his craft – you’re blithely shouting along, before it hits you that Sam’s words really resonate. This is particularly distinct on ‘Easy (Complicated)’, or the piano and string-assisted ‘The Joy of Stress’, which musically, is perhaps most closely reminiscent of GCWCF’s back catalogue. Elsewhere ‘Call of Duty’ takes the true story of an argument over a deleted computer game, and the subsequent fallout, as a chance to explore new sonic territory. “That was more influenced by garage than any previous tracks,” says Sam. “It was the space that got me, the kick, the snare, the room.”
Where previous albums have seen him collaborate with Nitin Sawnhey, Kate Nash, Shy FX and Baba Maal, the Blockheads-meets-Blur stomp of ‘The Long and Short of It All’ came out of a three hour chat with emcee Jehst. “He’s is the best wordsmith in this country,” enthuses Sam. “His track ‘England’ is the best commentary of modern England that’s around. Especially since Mike Skinner stopped making Streets records, I think we need someone that tells it how it is in a way that is meaningful and understanding. Picking Jehst’s brain and seeing how he works was a real honour.”
Album closer ‘London’s Burning’ offers up a baggy house piano line and a gospel chorus directly inspired by working in his studio off Hoxton Square, a space once dubbed “Amazing Grace” because Jason Pierce of Spiritualized used to write there. Bristling with energy and verve, the message is simple: “London is awful when it’s raining and then the sun comes out in this city and it’s awesome; it’s the best place in the world. Sometimes the simplest things tell the biggest story.”
As the world becomes increasingly fractitious, Sam’s musical vision is coming into sharper focus. He’s not offering glib solutions, but he is provoking engagement. And sometimes he’s not even doing that. Sometimes Sam’s just having fun. “It’s not that I’ve become less political, I think that I’ve become more political as I go on, I just don’t know if it’s the only thing that I am. I want make a music video with wrestlers in. People say, ‘Why did you do that?’ Because I like wrestling!”
He continues: “I’ve watched clips from the Wilco documentary ‘Ashes of American Flags’ pretty much every day so far this year. I’m completely obsessed with their work ethic and their identity. They’re just six dudes in their mid-40s in an amazing band, hanging out, talking about life and getting on with stuff. There’s one part where Jeff Tweedy is talking poetically about the link between representational art and music, but the thing he says at the end is what sticks with me. He goes, ‘You know what, it’s an attempt, and what’s wrong with that?’ Nothing, and that’s inspirational.
“I love making records and I love playing them, its easy to get caught up in the analysis of music, sometimes it just happens and that is something that Jason restored in me. It doesn’t have to be complicated’”
Which seems like the perfect place to stop, but Sam never seems to press pause. As well as GCWCF, he’s currently collaborating with Justin Sane from Anti-Flag as the band Italia 90, working with Dutch dance duo Kraak & Smaak on an as-of-yet unnamed group, and dabbling in the studio, producing a selection of projects. All of which goes to prove that just when you think you’ve got him all worked out, Sam Duckworth continues to surprise.