I am Kloot
The sublime I am Kloot talk about their new album Sky at Night and recount their World Cup gold.
Last Updated: 19/07/10 1:35pm
If Manchester's I am Kloot were a football club it's fair to say they'd be more City than United. Despite having five sublime albums in their back catalogue and being adored by the city and critics alike, they've been Manchester's bridesmaids but never the bride since their inception in 2001. But just as City are emerging from the shadow cast from their neighbours at Old Trafford it looks as though IAK are ready to secure mainstream success at last. Their new album, Sky at Night, produced by Elbow's Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, is rightly being hailed as the band's best work to date. Ahead of its release on July 5th, skysports.com's Alex Dunn caught up with the band - John Bramwell (guitar/vocals), Peter Jobson (bass) and Andy Hargreaves (drums) - to discuss the new album and their World Cup gold.
The new album is out next week, can you enjoy this period prior to its release or is it a nervy time for the band?
JB: I'm normally very nervous and I still am but never before in Britain have people wanted to play us so much. Lauren Lavern is playing it, Mark Radcliffe is playing it, Chris Evans is playing it. Ken Bruce too. That's given us a bit of a confidence boost. Normally it is a nervy time.
Sky at Night is being hailed as your finest album yet, how pleased are you with it?
JB: I'm delighted. I loved making it. We had to stretch it over a week here and a week there over a 12-month period. We had to do it whenever we were free and the guys from Elbow, Guy and Craig, were free. I was slightly worried about the disjointed nature of that but because we've known each other for 18 years it wasn't like that at all. I didn't listen to what was recorded in the time between getting together again, which was sometimes three weeks. In fact going back in, without hearing the playback every time, was a real shot in the arm. If you're in the studio solidly for months it can almost become draining - you hear it too much.
Is there a central theme that runs throughout the album?
JB: Bizarrely, there is. Everything is set in the night, hence the title. Some songs are about insomnia, the stars crop up a lot, whether I'm talking about astronomy, astrology or the sun. There's songs about being a lunatic and Radiation is about the sun itself. There is this thing about everything being set in the night. I think it's our gentlest record to be honest. It is our most cohesive album. In the past I've tried to put a wide variety of emotions into each EP, or at least that's how it's happened. Not deliberately, but you can feel a real journey in it. It was quite easy to sort out the track order and stuff like that - we were all in agreement.
AH: The whole concept was that it was going to be a late night, smoky vibe album. It's a first for us in terms of thinking in terms of a concept. Everything has been a lot more considered.
How does it differ from the last album, I Am Kloot Play Moolah Rouge?
JB: We didn't have very much money for Moolah Rouge. We had songs that worked well live as a three-piece so that became that EP. It formed itself as a live recording and that's what holds that record together. Normally we look at the songs I've written over the previous 18 months and that's what we're doing. This time it wasn't. Some of the songs on the new album were a lot older than that.
You've always said you're a band that prefers playing live to being in the studio. Did you enjoy doing things differently under Guy and Craig's guidance?
JB: Absolutely. Guy and Craig have said that traditionally we've been a band that had to be dragged into a studio. I like doing things quickly but because Guy and Craig are our friends we used a methodology of recording that was different to what we've done before - we had faith in them. It wasn't the way they record, but what other producers they've worked with in the past have discussed - about ways of laying it down. I found it pretty invigorating because it was a totally new way of doing it. The gaps allowed me to come up with extra melody lines in the songs, not vocal lines, which meant I had time to work out which instruments should play them.
AH: With Guy and Craig we could have done anything but we've just added a bit of colour, made it a bit posher and a bit more considered than we've done in the past. Those lads know us better than anybody. Guy's really helped us out and he's still bigging us up. He's a mate. We've always had s*** promotion - not got on the radio when perhaps we could - we've had a slow trajectory.
Are you surprised you've been given so much radio play?
JB: They're playing it a hell of a lot - I couldn't believe it. It's record of the week on the Radcliffe show I think. We've never had much radio so I'm not too gemmed up on that kind of thing to be honest. I thought we'd get more play than normal but I wasn't expecting what seems to be starting to happen.You've perennially been on the periphery of things - a cult rather than mainstream favourite - would you enjoy becoming a bigger, better known band?
JB: Bigger is not perhaps the best word. I'd like as many people as possible to hear our work. I am happy about it because Britain is the place where we've not had as much attention as elsewhere. I don't think we've fitted in because we play acoustically and a lot of our stuff is quite gentle. I think people tend to accept music like that if it's about crying over your coffee because your girlfriend has left you - whereas I'm a bit more about death than that.
Why do you think you've never turned critical acclaim into record sales?
JB: We did think at one point when we first started the band and were playing in London we'd p***** off a few people for unruly behaviour. But other people have been unruly, far more than I have, and they seem to have gotten away with it. I don't know, it's difficult for me to put my finger on. I don't really know the criteria for success in that sense. Without sounding pompous I've liked to do what I've liked to do and if the media pick up on it great, but I've never set out to work out how to do that.
We mentioned Guy and Craig before. Guy produced the first album Natural History, how have you found the experience of working with him again?
JB: I absolutely loved the production on the first album. We were rehearsing in Pete's basement and we had to be quiet because of the neighbours, who'd called the cops a couple of times. We were only really learning the songs at that stage but when Guy came down he said we should record it like that. We'd used quite a lot of reverb, so we went to a disused church in the Isle of Mull and Garvey brought a portable eight track. He says rather self-deprecatingly that he just pressed record but that's not true. He knew the atmosphere he wanted and found the right room and miked it the right way. There were overdubs and stuff but I think that's great producing because it's got that lovely atmosphere.
I'd imagine success with Elbow has changed him unbearably?
JB: (Laughs) Success has changed him. He's arrogant and overbearing. Seriously though, he's grown into himself. This is perhaps now who he really is. He's a bit a statesman these days - not in a Bono way - he's got a very genuine interest in other people's art and their music. I've known Guy for 18 years. He was working at the Roadhouse when me and Pete were working at Night and Day. I think I did an acoustic gig one night way back with Guy, we were talking about it recently but it's a blurry memory. He was like 'you were a real cocky f*****'. Craig is an incredible musician and a guy who can concentrate very hard for very long periods of time. He can work on something and after three hours you're saying 'I've got to take a break and come back to this tomorrow with fresh ears'. He'll say 'that's fine, you go home but I'll carry on'. And when you come back nine times out of ten he'd hear something in it that you didn't think was there.
Do you think you've suffered from the industry cliché of lumping 'miserable northern bands' together?
JB: There's all kind of clichés that you get lumped in with. Geography must play some part to the music you produce because there is a melancholia to a lot of Manchester bands. But then melancholia is not the same as miserable though. I don't know if maybe it's the rain. I remember when I started to play guitar in my bedroom with rain against the window. When I was eight or nine I definitely remember it and it was a case of staying in, I'm not going out. Maybe if I was in Brazil I'd be making music to get everyone out in the street dancing. But I wasn't. I was in my bedroom in Manchester. I try not to read what's written but there may be something in that. I'm naturally quite a reflective person. I am over sensitive and a reflective kind of person and I don't know if that's because I'm northern.
You've probably been asked this countless times before, but could this record see you 'do and Elbow' and be an overnight ten-year success? Would you like that to be the case?
AH: F***** too right. Guy's a big fan of the band and a big supporter. He wants the record to do well. It's always been very hand-to-mouth with us and I've just had a nipper so we need to make some coin. It's still play a gig and pay the mortgage. Still, I mustn't grumble, we've been getting away with it for ten years, which is success in my book. I know what it's like to work in a factory eight hours a day. It'd be nice not to have to worry about paying the mortgage. I've never wanted to be a millionaire through it, that was never the driving force. In any career after ten years you'd hope to be doing okay out of it. It's about the lifestyle more than the money. Who wants a Ferrari? We get up and do what we want.
JB: I really don't know. I'd be happy if it did, course I would. I like to go one day at a time. I've been doing music since I was very young. I first did a gig when I was nine and I just enjoy it - especially doing gigs. I enjoy the fact that this is what I do and for the last ten years of my life this has been all I've done.
Jonny, it's often been said you don't look like the quintessential rock star. What would you say to that?
JB: There are complaints about my appearance. Andy dresses very well and Pete too. I'm not the kind of person who can get away with a load of different styles. We were in Germany a couple of years ago and Andy put a deerstalker on and looked brilliant. I put it on and I looked f***** ridiculous. But I quite like that. When we first starting playing abroad I'd turn up and people would think I was the driver, or the roadie, or the manager. It was never the singer - there was always the 'who's John?' question. I always relished the surprise element. When we get it right people are a bit agog because I don't look like the rock star. But by the same token I don't like the Billy Bragg 'how smart are we, we're not rock stars either' thing because when the gigs are over I'm very much 'I'm the rock star, let's bring it on'.
Do you ever feel compromised in keeping your hardcore fans happy and attracting a new audience?
JB: No. I think you've got to do what is comfortable and feels right. There are bands that I'm really into and I don't like all their albums. I don't feel it should be religious.
Who would you cite as being your influences?
JB: My sister's record collection was a big influence on me. The two big ones for me are Simon and Garfunkle and T-Rex. The Beatles obviously, but the bands I'd go and see when I was gigging as a kid were Hawkwind and Motorhead. I saw Hawkwind a few months back. I did like the melancholic, melodic stuff too.
I was a Smiths fan and saw Morrissey's first solo gig in Bath - as long as you were wearing a free t-shirt. That was crazy, incredible. It was more euphoric than a Smiths gig. He hadn't been on stage for a long time at that point and it was weird - it felt like Beatlemania.
Christopher Eccelstone stars in the video for your single Northern Skies. He was also in the video for Proof (criminally not released by the record company at the time) - how do you know him?
JB: I'd talked to him on the phone but I was away when we shot the video for Proof. It seems to have worked for the Northern Skies video. We had a great day out and he did it for free. He's a massive music fan. We listened to Andy's compilation in the car and as soon as anything started he knew exactly what it was.
AH: He's funny, a very charismatic character and his musical knowledge is stunning. We were driving around in Pete's Merc doing the video and he'd turn around in the back to me and Jonny and it'd be like 'I know that face so well.' Bizarre. We went to a few boozers over a couple of days shooting the video, which was nice. I had to run up and down the hills, I was aching for days. I did a bit of acting. Being in the presence of Christopher Eccelstone made me try that bit harder. I was asking him about method acting: 'did you spend last night flicking burgers Chris?'
The film director Danny Boyle is another 'celebrity fan'. Is their any truth in the rumours you're looking to work together?
JB: His daughter was a fan and she gave him a copy of the Avenue of Hope. She thought the song fitted the film, Sunshine, and it actually does very well. He really does love our stuff and Frank Cottrell Boyce too - who wrote 24 Hour Party People - so there's talk of us doing something with the pair of them. But it's really hard - you can't plan for these things because of the finances a film needs to generate. Danny sat us down in Manchester to discuss a particular thing he wanted to do with us but that was two years ago. You only have to read about films and sometimes it's 15 years before something happens. This was before Slumdog and he said the kind of film he wants to make, you usually can't get backing for. He wanted us to do the music for it and he said what he really needed to do is have a massive hit to get the backing to do other stuff. Slumdog Millionaire came out six months later. He has been in touch recently and he's basically been going around the world for the last year-and-a-half with it. I'd love for us to do this idea that he's got for us, but I can only wait for a phone call. It worked well on Sunshine.
Righto, I know you're lapsed football fans but can I have your favourite World Cup memories? It's kind of why I'm here.
JB: I've got one pretty good World Cup story. My mate Saul had put a silly size bet on David Beckham to score first against Argentina at the World Cup in 2002. I think he put £800 on at 10/1 or better. Serious money. There was no score and then England get a penalty and we all thought 'that's it, Beckham's not going to have it'. When Beckham stepped up none of us could believe it. We went on a bender that went on for about three or four days to celebrate. The elation at England winning the match was eclipsed by him winning several thousand.
AH: He's gone to the football in South Africa now that fella. He's a barrister, they know how to generate money those people.
PJ: I remember being on a package holiday in Spain with my family and Trevor Brooking scored a goal where he drilled it and it went into the top left hand corner and stayed there. I was pretty young, it might have been 1982.
JB: Italia '90 was a special tournament for me, it was emotional, had it all really. Everyone lauds Bobby Robson now, rightly so, but people forget he got absolutely slaughtered in the press when he was England manager. We had a great team and squad but we were just unlucky.
AH: My memory is bloody appalling. I guess the thing that sticks in my mind is Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God'. That was the biggie. Everyone in the stadium, in the world, knew it was handball expect the ref. It's at that moment we all realised the referee's decision is indeed final. The guy's a legend though. I always remember his face scaring the cameraman after he came back for the World Cup in '94 and had crazy eyes. Raging, full on.....amazing stuff.
PJ: I used to go all the time to Newcastle when I was a kid. My dad actually played football until he had his ankle broken. He's called Michael Jobson and had a couple of first team games for Newcastle. He went on to play for Blyth Spartans and Berwick Rangers - this was like in the sixties. I played at school but was never as good as I should have been. I don't know if Jonny and Andy remember this but in 2004, it wasn't a World Cup but in the European Championship, when England went out on penalties we were doing a gig in Camden Town. We were playing Glastonbury the next day.
We waited until everyone had watched the football in the bar downstairs before we played. The game went on and on and for a minute it looked as though we were going to win before we bottled it on penalties. We went on and everybody was like 'f***'s sake, what's the point of this?' Our stuff is a bit dark, it's not exactly the most uplifting, it didn't go down a treat. I knew that if we lost the game the gig would be a nightmare...and it was. It was pretty rum but Glastonbury was good though.
Sky At Night was released on July 5th. Visit the band's official website to learn more here.