There’s a sign hanging in Raintown’s Scottish offices that sums up the past few years in a nutshell: ‘Living The Dream.’ For award-winning husband and wife country duo, Paul and Claire McArthur-Bain, it has served as a constant reminder that, no matter how difficult the road may be at times, they are exactly where they want to be.
As they release their second album, WRITING ON THE WALL, they know it’s taken sheer hard work and determination, and they’re thrilled with the result. With their debut album originally released back in 2010, Paul says they ensured every song on this project struck an emotional chord, or touched on something they had personally experienced.
“What we’ve tried to deliver is a Raintown album, and what I mean by that, is something that captures the energy that we’re about. It’s more or less a continued diary entry of what’s been happening in those five years. So, when we talk about any Americanisms, for example, driving around Georgia to Tennessee and Nashville, that’s because we’ve done all those things.”
But it was also during that five year interlude that one of the biggest changes of all began to blossom – a dramatic turnaround in the UK country music scene. It may seem hard to believe today, but in 2010 they say even admitting you were a country performer raised eyebrows. Now, they’re blown away by the number of people who are exploring new music.
“It’s really nice, because now when we tell people we do country music, they say, ‘that’s so cool,’ whereas five years ago, people would wait till we turned our backs and laugh,” explains Claire. “We were always standing there with the country flag, flying it so proudly.”
Paul agrees, saying even two years ago the market place was very different for country. “I remember stand-up almost-fights with people when we said the genre we were in and people literally saying, ‘you’re crazy, go singer-songwriter, be adult contemporary.’ But in our h earts we were country music and that’s what we are, what we represent.”
The new record sees co-writes on almost every song, including with songwriter Brian Hughes, and was produced by Justin Johnson, mixed by Billy Decker and mastered by Chris Taylor.
“We love writing our own material,” says Claire. “A song has got to really touch us somewhere that we resonate with, and connect with us on some level. Like, 19 Again, I fell in love with it. We were actually in the room with Brian when he wrote the track. It made us better songwriters and pushed us to grow, as well.”
Raintown also set themselves the challenge to prove that an authentic country album can be recorded in the UK, while retaining that “British taste.”
“The one thing we’ve been really trying to hit home to people is we made a conscious decision to record the album in the UK,” says Paul. “Justin, the producer, let us have the freedom at his Liverpool studio. It’s as good as anywhere in Europe, with a great engineer, and Justin worked in Nashville for ten years in studios and knew the sound we were going after.
“I’m sure at some point we will record in Nashville, but for this one, we had the choice and we wanted to see, with a really good producer and a really good team of musicians, could we bring out something that could compete at that level?”
While they may be working with top producers, WRITING ON THE WALL also has a charming grassroots feel, as it was supported by their dedicated – and patient – fans through a PledgeMusic campaign. It’s been an inventive and down-to-earth operation that has seen the couple perform acoustic house concerts and offered private meet-and-greet pizza nights. And it worked, reaching 100% of their target, with six days to spare.
“We wanted to deliver a product that was so much higher in quality than the first album,” says Claire. “We didn’t want to just go back to doing the same as the first record, we wanted to make that jump up. That’s why we chose PledgeMusic. It worked out for the best, we believe, because the fans gave us creative freedom. We had total control too, which was lovely.”
“In the truest sense, this is very much a fans’ album,” says Paul. “We wanted to deliver something they were proud to have their name on, literally.”