As you may understand from the accompanying photographs, the leading ladies of emerging British prog bands Touchstone and The Reasoning have something of a rivalry going on. With both groups nominated for the New Blood award at the inaugural Progressive Music Awards 2012 (brought to you by this very magazine, of course), there’s an extra competitive edge at play. The problem is that these two up-and-coming bands are heading out on tour. Together…
So how much do Rachel Cohen of Welsh quintet The Reasoning and Kim Seviour of English sextet Touchstone really hate other? “It’s quite the opposite actually,” Cohen reassures us. “We’re contemporaries on the scene so that kind of rivalry is very healthy and I think that’s really going to add a little bit of energy and some interesting dynamics to the shows that we’re doing as well. It’s always a really good thing – it gives everyone an edge.”
“I think you’re always going to need some rivalry – it keeps you on your toes,” agrees Seviour. “We’re both at a similar level and we’ve been going for a similar amount of time, so it’s good to put a little bit of pressure on.
“And you can see what the other band’s been up to,” she adds with a laugh. It transpires that Touchstone supported The Reasoning first in Crewe at Seviour’s first gig with the band, and then on a handful more dates a few years ago, so it appears that we’ve been misled somewhat. Far from being the latest in a long line of rock rivalries, the two singers actually seem closer to being the best of friends. Blur versus Oasis this is not.
“It’s really nice that both bands are signed and we’re building good profiles for ourselves,” says Cohen. “We get on well so we’ll have fun on the road but it also makes a really good package for audiences. It’ll be nice to do it again at
a different stage in our careers.”
It’s interesting that the Cardiff native speaks of stages in their careers. It’s a turn
of phrase that implies The Reasoning have ambition and a desire to succeed.
“Ambition is the buzzword as far as I’m concerned in all aspects of life – not just music,” says Cohen. “Some people just enjoy being immersed in this world but at the end of the day, music is also a business so you’ve got to really want to do what you do and then make it happen because it’s not going to come to you. That’s The Reasoning’s philosophy.”
It’s a view that’s shared absolutely by their touring partners. “We just want to push it as far as we can,” explains Seviour. “Whenever we have an opportunity come up, we celebrate that but then we see where we can go from there. We’re always pushing to see how we can go a bit further. It’s always nice to have something to aim for because if you don’t have something to aim for, it’s easy to get quite complacent. It keeps us working.
“On the circuit that we’re on, there are a number of bands that aren’t pushing for bigger and bigger,” she adds. “They’re just happy going to the gigs and having a lot of fun. You can see the bands that are just doing it for fun and you can see the ones that are really pushing. It just depends on the reasons that you go into it for yourself.”
This shared ambition is exactly the reason why both bands are nominated for the same award at the Progressive Music Awards. The New Blood award doesn’t discriminate against whether a group is signed or not (both of these bands are). It simply measures which emerging act is the most exciting.
Despite their nominations, there have been calls from some quarters to check the prog credentials of both bands. “It used to bother us but now it doesn’t,” says Seviour. “Some see prog as a concept and some people see prog as a genre. Those that see prog as a concept, they might call us prog. Those who see it as a genre will be focusing on the Yes and Genesis kind of stuff and we sound nothing like any of that.
“It’s a bit contentious whether we are or we aren’t so we just like to be interesting rock,” she continues. “We experiment a bit and use funky time signatures and just make it a bit more than what you might get in commercial rock. There are very heavy influences of prog.”
Rachel Cohen has a similar mindset: “I think we do appeal to prog rock fans because it does have elements of that complexity – it’s not pop music – but there are elements of classic rock and the proggier stuff, without it being firmly in that pigeonhole. It’s something that we embrace because it makes more of a diverse audience. It’s just one of the things that we can do.”
Touchstone light-heartedly describe their music as prog(ish) because despite the doubters, they clearly do have a lot of fans and clearly are a progressive band. That those fans have accepted them and that they are being recognised in our awards means a lot to the group’s singer.
“People that listen to prog generally know their music, they know what they’re looking for, they really immerse themselves deeply into the music,” says Seviour. “Of all the circles of music to be accepted and supported by, I think that’s one of the most complimentary because you have so many musicians and people who know exactly what they’re talking about.”
The tour will see the bands rotating the headline slot in a system that nobody has quite decided upon yet (“I’m sure we need to meet up and have a boozy night somewhere and have that conversation,” suggests Cohen), but what is sure is that each band will headline in their own respective hometown.
If you’re new to Touchstone, you can expect a strong mix of old and new material, and also a mix of their longer and shorter songs. Seviour explains how Moo, Touchstone’s bassist, pores over the setlist until it’s perfect. However, this run of dates will also herald a new era for The Reasoning as their new guitarist Keith Hawkins embarks upon his first tour with the band. Hawkins joined earlier in 2012 to replace guitarist Owain Roberts, who is still missing as Prog goes to press. So how is Hawkins fitting in?
“It’s been a huge challenge for him but he’s taken it on so confidently,” says Cohen. “He’s so good at what he does and he loves the music. It’s been nice for him to be part of the album from start to finish as well so it’s something he feels connected with, which is great. We’re looking forward to going out and playing live together.”
An almost inevitable point of having two female singers heading up a tour is that they will most likely be drawing some extra admiration from certain segments of the audience. Seviour makes the point that it’s a man’s world in the prog scene. Citing bands like Yes and Genesis from the old guard and Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater from contemporary prog, it’s notable that there’s not a woman in sight onstage and, truth be told, not too many in the audience either.
“You get used to it,” laughs Cohen. “I’m sure that some people come along just because we’re girls and that’s what they want to see. We’re not going to sell the band based around that, but if it helps bring people to the gig, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Seviour is a bit more diplomatic about it: “That won’t ever be the only thing they come for. If they see someone in a little skirt and the music is no good, then they won’t be there. In Cardiff I wore a dress that was a little bit more like Girls Aloud – usually I dress up more gothy – and someone said it looked like I was going to a disco. For me it’s just an opportunity to dress up in something that I couldn’t normally walk down the street in.”
“I did actually have someone going up to my dad at a gig, not knowing that he was my dad,” she laughs while telling the story. “I’d gone walkabout – I think I’d just lost my lipstick after the gig – and my dad went into the loos and was talking to this guy and said, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve lost the Touchstone singer and they need to go soon.’ The man replied saying, ‘If I had my way, she’d be locked up in my bedroom.’
“Luckily my dad’s got a sense of humour,” she adds with a smile.
It’s highly unlikely that Seviour and Cohen will come to blows any time soon but the rivalry is there alright. Now let’s see both bands KO the crowd on tour.
This article originally appeared in issue 30 of Prog Magazine.