Words: Matt Innes
Somewhere in this vast universe of ours there is a point where sci-fi and country music meet, and it is called The Cosmic Array.
The Cosmic Array are a Welsh band formed by Paul Battenbough (ex. No Thee, No Ess) and Huw Rees (ex. Rag Foundation, King Of Despair) in late 2012.
What started as a casual recording session between them to make a country album has become a far more complex entity, taking folksy, otherwise Earth-bound sounds into the outer reaches of the cosmos.
“For me, I love sci-fi – I read quite a lot of sci-fi,” Paul explains.
“And at the time there weren’t bands doing that kind of thing but there seems to be a proliferation of them now, so everybody may be at that moment where they decide that’s what they’re going to do.”
The Cosmic Array are liberally described as neo-psychedelic, their music incorporating elements of classic Americana country and bluegrass alongside jazz, gypsy folk, soul and even rock ‘n’ roll.
Lyrically though, the songs explore themes inspired by Paul’s love for science-fiction, particularly the work of the late-great Philp K. Dick.
‘Forget The Messenger’, from The Cosmic Array’s 2020 album ‘Goldilocks’.
“Songs about the future and about other worlds were more interesting and gave you a bigger scope to imagine things, but also there’s other things in there as well,” he says
“Sometimes I almost forget it’s a sci-fi band with a sci-fi name,” he laughs, “but that’s pretty much it. There are little themes that may be reminiscent of books and cinema that fit in. I think it’s an interesting way to do a bit of storytelling.
“There’s a film, ‘Dark Star’ by John Carpenter, really low budget film, and in it they’re on a spaceship and they listen to country music, so that was a little stolen idea to expand that a little bit and give it a country feel, and why not? Why shouldn’t stuff about the future or other worlds have run of the mill musical scenes going on with it? Irony.”
While Paul provides the lyrics and the stories, Huw (a professional drummer and teacher by trade) builds the arrangements, contrasting Paul’s out-of-this-world words with distinctly Earthly tones.
“Paul comes with the songs and even to this day, even on the last album, I jam along to them with an acoustic guitar generally,” Huw explains.
“So, the sci-fi elements musically aren’t actually there, in the content of the lyrics yes, but not the actual music. It’s strange how it all evolves into this thing and hopefully the drums help that along in some way, but unbeknownst to me,” he laughs.
Since that first casual jam, The Cosmic Array have grown into a recording collective and produced three albums. Paul and Huw are joined in The Cosmic Array by a revolving order of talented musicians and vocalists, including Sarah Passmore who provided co-vocals with Paul on their latest and third album ‘Goldilocks’.
The Cosmic Array released ‘Goldilocks’ (read the review here) earlier this year when science-fiction started becoming frightening reality with the advent of a global pandemic. The ensuing lockdowns and restrictions on social gatherings in the UK meant The Cosmic Array had to release ‘Goldilocks’ without playing it live.
‘Goldilocks’ is one of the first albums to be released by the recently established Welsh record label SWND based in Swansea. It’s a nice fit for Huw and Paul, who prefer the offerings of boutique indie labels over the inflated promises of major labels.
“It’s the minor PR aspects of it they take care of, like getting reviews and getting the music out there,” Huw explains.
“It’s different to signing a contract with a big label and all that entails, with advances and stuff, which isn’t particularly nice anyway because you have to pay it back and it’s generally offset against your recording. So, these types of labels are nice, just friendly nice and healthy.”
Paul adds: It’s a nice idea, because Swansea’s not got a label – there had been in the past [Mighty Atom] but I feel like every city should have a record label, at least one, more than one actually.
“It was a nice compliment that we were asked as well; I usually have to go begging for stuff so it was really nice for someone to say, ‘would you like to?’”
In partnering with SWND, both Paul and Huw hope to establish a cultural identity for the contemporary music being produced in Wales, specifically the burgeoning Swansea scene.
“I’m thinking that it can work in the same way that people from way-off can think: ‘oh yeah, there’s that tiny little country producing music with a certain connection to one another on the label’. The bands are going to be different but probably the accents of the people singing will sound a little similar, something anyway to bind them all together,” he says.
“There’s some good bands in Swansea. I haven’t been back all that long, and we played at this little club that has really great bands playing there and I saw a few there before lockdown. There’s a little scene going on in Swansea that I had no idea about; I’d been living in Cardiff and I’ve been living in Cardiff for the past few years, so that’s interesting there’s a scene going on.”