You won't encounter many sprites in the songs of that mythical region's pop namesake, but Glasgow-based octet Randolph's Leap create their own enchanting landscapes. Cowdenbeath and Crossmyloof cross paths with God and the Loch Ness Monster, and they do so to a gorgeous tune, as shaped by "Jonathan Richman's optimism, Joe Meek, The Fence Collective and Ivor Cutler".
Fronted by Nairn singer-songwriter Adam Ross, Randolph's Leap has variously operated as a solo endeavour, indie-duo, chamber-pop sextet and philharmonic eight-piece since 2006. Their fans include BMX Bandits' Duglas T Stewart, Belle and Sebastian's Stevie Jackson and Fife DIY heroes The Fence Collective, who'll release a new Randolph's Leap EP this autumn. Ross et al will also play with Fence's well-loved hirsute pop chiefs King Creosote and The Pictish Trail at Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket on Monday, in a gig to open Scottish Refugee Week. And if you're headed to T in the Park, keep an ear out for the Leap's orchestral indie bedecking the T-Break stage.
Ross started gathering band members at university in Ayr, and has accumulated virtuosic players in such an ad-hoc fashion that at their first full-scale recording session, for 2010's debut Battleships and Kettle Chips EP, some members of the then-six-piece had never met. "I'd played with them all at different times, but we'd never all been in the same room together until that recording," laughs Ross of Gareth Robert Perrie (keyboards), Iain Taylor (drums), Vicki Cole (bass), Andrew MacLellan (cello) and Heather Thikey (violin).
Battleships and Kettle Chips was released on Olive Grove Records, the impressive Glasgow DIY label run by Glasgow PodcArt's Halina Rifai and Lloyd Meredith (aka blogger Peenko, and the band's de facto manager).
The band has since amplified to an eight-piece thanks to Blochestra's Fraser Gibson (trombone) and Ali Hendry (trumpet). "I think we need to stop now. I think any more than eight and it's going to become unmanageable," Ross cautions.
True to this notion, logistics decreed that Ross's most recent recordings surfaced as a largely solo album. Randolph's Leap & the Curse of The Haunted Headphones, a terrific cassette and download LP, was released via Meredith's micro-offshoot Peenko Tapes earlier this year. "I never really planned it," says Ross. "I've got a very limited set up for home recording, and was recording a couple of songs just for fun, and it grew from there."
Fusing psychedelic toybox rock with wry, skewed folk and Casio pop, The Curse of the Haunted Headphones contains myriad colourful lo-fi vignettes, erudite lyrics and significant promise. "Johnny Lynch [aka The Pictish Trail] encouraged me to do Randolph's Leap as a solo thing as well as a band thing, and Fence are pretty inspiring in that sense – that's what most of their artists do [King Creosote, The Pictish Trail, Withered Hand] – they can be a band, but also a solo act. They blur the lines, and that gives you a certain kind of freedom. I wish I was brave enough and creative enough to fully commit to an alter ego," he continues. "If I did, I think I'd like it to be a slightly bewildered mixture of Ivor Cutler, Iain Crichton Smith's Murdo and Neil Forsyth's Bob Servant."
There are several parallels between Fence and Ross's community signposting and DIY electro-folk, and The Curse of the Haunted Headphones features several distorted electronic interludes which spark with potential and recall the electronic trickery that King Creosote often weaves through his albums. "Yeah, they were just little off-cuts and half-formed ideas, but I think they helped to tie the whole album together," offers Ross of songs like Level 1 and 13. "The first few songs on the album are on the folkier end of the spectrum, whereas the likes of Bile and The Nonsense in My Soul are a bit more distorted and fuzzy, and Levels 1 and 2 help to bridge that gap. I hoped that Level 1 would catch the listener off-guard and open up the possibilities of where the album will go next."
That sense of enigma, surprise and fun is echoed in the album's title. "Yeah, I suppose the title, Randolph's Leap & the Curse of the Haunted Headphones, is a tribute to the Agatha Christie and Paul Temple mysteries we'd sometimes listen to in my mum and dad's car."
Ross acknowledges that his parents' listening habits have impacted on his songwriting. "Some of the stuff they listened to was great – The Mamas & The Papas, The Carpenters – and some, like Michael Ball, were awful, and then there were weird and wonderful things like Sparky's Magic Piano. I also heard a lot of hymns when I was young, and I think Randolph's Leap songs and church songs share a fairly strict verse/chorus structure – nothing fancy like bridges or pre-choruses – which hopefully means that people can sing along easily."
Their central themes are accessible too – love, existentialism and a sense of home loom large amid the chips, beans and kitchen-sink accoutrements. "Yeah, a lot of the Haunted Headphones album is about going home to Nairn but then being a little bit disappointed by the fact it's not the way I remembered or expected it to be," says Ross.
"Glasgow has been important to the band's development but I certainly don't feel like a Glaswegian, and maybe that element of being an outsider has crept into the songs," he says. "I love the Highlands and how empty and wild certain parts are, and I also think the more digitally reliant we become, the more refreshing an antidote it becomes to disappear up a hill for the day."
Ross's songs spring into life with their feet in the humdrum and their eyes on the unknown and that is the magic of Randolph's Leap. "I think most people love the wilderness," he adds.
Refugee Week Opening Concert (with King Creosote and the Pictish Trail) Glasgow Old Fruitmarket, June 18; Solas Festival, Biggar, June 24; Edinburgh Wee Red Bar, June 30 (supporting Kid Canaveral); T in the Park, July 8-9.