Carla Easton loves to collaborate. Even so, after almost a decade making music, both with her band Teen Canteen and solo, sharing a stage with a colony of 150,000 leafcutter ants probably wasn’t what she had in mind when she set out on her pop-tastic path. This is exactly what will be happening, however, when Easton and her band provide the live soundtrack for Them!, the latest theatrical outing from the partnership of director Stewart Laing and writer Pamela Carter in a new show for the National Theatre of Scotland.
“It’s kind of nuts,” says Easton. “It was also totally unexpected when Stewart and Pamela got in touch and sent the script through. I’ve written two songs for the play, and am onstage as the house-band as part of a chat show, but the sounds from the ant colony are being sampled for the play as well, so that’s pretty exciting.”
Them! draws its inspiration from the 1954 science-fiction monster movie of the same name, in which a nest of ants exposed to nuclear radiation are transformed into predatory giants. Using this as their starting point, Carter and Laing set out their store in a TV chat show, in which a celebrated Scottish theatre maker appears alongside the show’s host to promote their new Glasgow-set remake of the film.
With cameras rolling and Easton and band doing their thing, a metamorphosis takes place that sees things take a leap into the unknown, where multi-media meditations on the ever-mutating nature of identity in terms of race, class, gender and culture are put under the spotlight.
Also appearing in Them! will be Eugene Kelly, one half of Glasgow indie-pop legends The Vaselines, with whom Easton now plays synthesisers as part of Kelly and co-collaborator Frances McKee’s live band. Kelly will feature in a video mock-up of the alleged Glasgow remake of Them!
“The songs I’ve done are quite big and epic sounding,” says Easton, “and as well as the two new ones, we’re using Dreamers on the Run from my Impossible Stuff album in the video.”
Easton first worked on the songs she performs in Them! while on a song-writing residency in Banff, Canada.
“It was a bit daunting at first,” she says. “You have to write it for a character, and to fit in with what they’re trying to say, but Stewart said as well that I should write something that I’d be happy to sing myself. Fortunately, in Banff we’d just had a workshop on writing songs from other people’s perspectives, and you had to think about character and plot development as if you were writing a novel.”
Easton also spoke to Sita Pieraccini, her long-time band-mate in Teen Canteen who also makes her own theatre work. The pair have worked together since they studied at Glasgow School of Art. Easton was already obsessed with music by then, ever since her brother kept her off school in 1994 to listen to the Stone Roses just-released single, Love Spreads. She was eight. Having gone on to learn piano and saxophone, the next step seemed a no-brainer.
“I’d wanted to go to music school, but I wasn’t good enough at sight reading,” she says, “and my brother said I should to art school and form bands there.”
Encouraged by artist and lecturer, the late Paul Carter, Easton, Pieraccini and others formed wonky indie combo Futuristic Retro Champions. While Easton wrote the songs, she took a back seat playing keyboards while Pieraccini sang lead vocal.
That band’s demise coincided with Easton’s growing obsession with sixties girl groups such as The Cookies, and on forming Teen Canteen, the band’s four-woman take on fizzy pop looked to Phil Spector’s wall of sound for inspiration, reinventing it in their own heart-on-sleeve self-determined image.
Following a bunch of hand-crafted releases, including albums Say It All with a Kiss and Sister, Easton branched out in the guise of Ette for the Homemade Lemonade album before releasing Impossible Stuff under her own name.
With Teen Canteen on a break, and having undergone something of a musical metamorphosis herself over the last seven years, beyond Them! Easton has a diverse array of activities going on. Tonight she plays a set as part of Double A-Side Records’ second birthday show at the Glad Café in Glasgow. Easton will also be touring with Aidan Moffatt and RM Hubbert, and is already hard at work on her next album.
“I’m using more dance beats and electronic drums,’ she says. “We’re doing it in a studio in Galashiels, and are using the natural reverb of a bell tower, so I suppose it’s more experimental, but I’m sitting on about 24 songs that no-one’s heard. I want to get it up to about 30 so I can start choosing what goes on the next album.”
Then there is the documentary she’s making with Blair Cowan to give voice to some of the lost women of Scottish pop. Last year Easton curated Since Yesterday, a special live event as part of Edinburgh International Festival’s Light on the Shore strand at Leith Theatre, and which featured former members of the likes of The McKinleys, Ettes and The Twinsets reclaiming their legacy. All of which makes Easton something of a musical polymath.
“I don’t know if it’s a journey I’d have necessarily planned,” she says, “but I suppose the best plan is to have no plan. Someone said way back when I was still in Futuristic Retro Champions that I’d be the one member of the band who’d still be hustling musically, even after we split up, and that’s turned out to be the case. But it’s nice to challenge myself. I love learning, especially in an environment I don’t usually work in, and seeing how things come together is pretty exciting. It’s crazy all these things going on, but it still feels like I’m not doing enough.”
Them! Tramway, Glasgow, June 27-July 6. Carla J Easton appears at the Glad Café, Glasgow tonight as part of Double A-Side Records’ 2nd Birthday.
The Herald, June 22nd 2019