Measuring a coastline is one of those long-standing abstract problems. The length, ultimately, is what you want it to be, depending on whether you measure the broadest shapes of a headland or the edges of each tiny angle. And whether the tide is in or out.
That seems to be where Bobsleigh Bob is going with his debut album, aptly titled ‘How To Measure A Coastline’: an album full of playful but abstract takes on life and how to cope with its changes and its progress, glancing at the obvious and the more subtle along the way.
“The album actually started title-first and then I worked back from there,” Rob Davis, a Dubliner based in Limerick, tells us. “I heard a conversation on a podcast (I think it was ‘No Such Thing as a Fish’) about how difficult it is to measure coastlines, and how the closer you look the more detail you see. That idea that we can step back and see a simple picture, or lean in really close and get a very different and complicated answer really stuck with me.”
“I happened to hear that at a time when I was getting back into making music for the first time in years. So I sat down and started playing with the idea and tried to musically represent that coastline dichotomy with long sweeping sounds contrasted with more detailed complex ones. The result was a sprawling 10 minute instrumental piece which I called ‘How to Measure a Coastline’, which over the following couple of years slowly became the song ‘Twine’ from the album.”
“It made me think about how the same applies to everything that we do; relationships, everyday decisions, work, the list goes on. So then when it came to lyrics, that led me to draw on relevant stuff for inspiration. And again that started with ‘Twine’. “I’ve asked you twice, I’ve asked you kindly, I’ve asked you not to look too close. There’s too much detail and too much time, too many corners and too much twine.”
Davis’ album was penned over a three-year period, but emerges into a world where live shows are just about to reopen, and that’s something he’s particularly looking forward to, despite the record being full of self-examination.
“I think every time I sit down to make music there’s an element of therapy to that,” he says. “It’s very cathartic for me and I forget about the world for a while. Even if I never released anything again I’d still want to keep that as part of my life. It’s quite a unique thing that I don’t think I get from any other practice in my life.”
“I guess you’re always confronting yourself a little bit when writing lyrics. I think that’s pretty much unavoidable, and I don’t try to dodge that.”
“[The single] ‘Civil Twilight’ was quite a different writing process from the rest, so that stands out to me. Everything else on the album was me in my spare time plugging away at it. With ‘Civil Twilight’ I was at an artists’ retreat in Longford for a week with my partner. She was working on a play and I decided to tag along and bring all my studio gear. It was the first time that I had ever tried to use structured time to work on music. I was there for five days. At the end of day four I had absolutely nothing to show for it. Not a single Ableton file that I even bothered saving. Then on day five, ‘Civil Twilight’ happened, written and recorded in the day – we were listening to it on the way home in the car the next day.”
Complex, then, but Davis’ debut opus comes with moments of vivid clarity.
‘How To Measure a Coastline’ is out now