WITH a helpful arrow under the song’s title and the information that it was recorded live at Wynyard Chapel, the Cattle & Cane website invites you to play “Dancing”.

It starts with Joe Hammill on acoustic guitar, singing in a voice that sounds a lot like Damien Rice’s, and, as the melody builds, he’s joined by his sister Helen, whose voice blends seamlessly with his.

The song is about brokenness and renewal. It’s raw and visceral, but also hauntingly beautiful.

Joe, 28, is flattered by the Damien Rice comparison. “He’s a massive influence,” he says. “He makes his music atmospheric and cinematic and you can sense huge emotion in his songs. That’s something I’m trying to aspire to.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s trying to be the next Damien Rice – or the next anyone else, for that matter. “It’s really hard when anyone says, ‘How would you describe yourself?’,” he says. “I don’t know. It’s an amalgamation of every influence. We try to write good songs and perform them in a way that we think sounds good, whether that sounds folky or like Fleetwood Mac.

“I don’t aspire to be any band because ultimately, you fall short. You’re not doing anything new, you’re just kind of mimicking. Fleetwood Mac has a boy and a girl singer, but I think one of our strengths is our voices, especially Helen’s. It’s unique, and I think my voice is unique as well. I think that’s always boded well for us.”

Since they started eight years ago, when Joe was at college and Helen was in her GCSE year at school, the band from Thornaby have steadily risen in the public’s consciousness. As well as Joe and Helen, 25, there are older brothers Fran, 37, and Vinny, 31 – though, due to family commitments, Vinny is currently on sabbatical. Completing the line-up are Tom Chapman on drums and guitarist Thom Fripp.

For someone who lives and breathes music, it’s surprising to learn that Joe never wanted to play an instrument. “I didn’t want to learn music,” he admits. “By the time Helen and I were growing up, the older siblings had gone to lessons and hadn’t enjoyed it that much. I liked learning songs without any theory, which I ended up doing, and that made me really passionate about music. I think if I had had the theoretical approach that would’ve turned me off. I grew up with a really healthy attitude towards music – that it was exciting and fun.”

The person behind this was dad Jimmy, who, although he didn’t play an instrument himself, was keen for his children to learn. He would ferry them to piano and guitar lessons, while at home, he’d use relaxing music to “self-medicate”. “He wouldn’t allow anything remotely resembling mournful or negative music – stuff that was seen as a bit sad,” says Joe. “This was how he self-medicated if he’d had a bad day. So, basically, we grew up in a house with lots of melodic and upbeat music. Some of it was cheesy, but I don’t think he cared.”

A source of sadness is that Jimmy never lived to see the band – he passed away a couple of years before it started in 2010 – but Joe feels he would be proud. “Looking back, I think the band was kind of a healing thing,” he says. “It brought the family together and made things a bit easier, like it was meant to happen. I think Dad would see us handling the stress and sadness of losing him and coming together as a band, and I think he’d be super-proud of that. He might even like some of the music as well.”

For Joe, it’s not worth writing a song unless it means something, and this is what makes Cattle & Cane so unique. He writes about the North-East and its people, which helps attract local fans, but at its heart, his writing is universal, drawing on the human condition.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 and the band started when I was 18 – I was planning ahead,” he jokes. “I don’t just write for Cattle & Cane, I write for other artists in the UK and Belgium, which helps financially. I absolutely love it. Songwriting is my passion and I’m really lucky I can do it as a job.

“I have to write songs that mean something. I’m quite an intense person and the older I’m getting and the more songs I’m writing, the more they have to mean something.”

There have been differences, which you’d expect, especially among siblings, but Joe says that over time, they’ve been ironed out. “The dynamic has altered naturally, as any relationship would after eight years,” he says. “It’s a kind of marriage when you’re in a band. I think now, more than ever, we’re more settled in our relationships with each other and content and positive.

“In the past, I think I was guilty of getting frustrated. You can say things to your siblings that you can’t say to other people. In a musical sense, I’d have an image in my mind of what a song should be like and if someone wasn’t doing what I thought they should be, I would call them out on it, and that caused a lot of friction. But I’ve mellowed out as I got a bit older and a bit wiser. Fran and Helen are really close, they’re like locked in.”

With their second album, Mirrors, performing well, the band’s focus is now on their third, which is written, but not yet recorded. “I’m really excited about it,” says Joe. “I think in terms of my songwriting, I’ve hit a peak. I feel I’ve written the best songs I’ve done and I’m excited to see where they go. If they don’t go anywhere I’m fine, I’m really happy with what I’ve done, but I think some of them have the potential to reach out beyond where we’ve gone before. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Christmas with Cattle & Cane is at Sage, Gateshead, on December 22. They are also performing at the City Screen Basement, in York, on December 20.

W: cattleandcane.co.uk