Incendiary chew the cud with i LiKE TRAiNS
It’s swelteringly hot. And in the press tent at Haldern pop festival, i LiKE TRAiNS sit, hunched and resigned; awaiting a day of interviews. They’ve decided to make a festival of the weekend, which involves camping out, watching bands, moseying around and answering fool questions from the likes of us. Without further ado it is decided that (in true Northern English tradition) it’s best to ‘get it over with’.
IN: When thinking of i LiKE TRAiNS, we’ve always sensed there’s an undercurrent of the Gothic. Is that a fair estimation of your music?
Guy Bannister: It’s Gothic, not Goth. Let’s make that clear.
IN: I wasn’t thinking of the Mission…
Alistair Bowlis: It’s more interesting than God’s music… (laughter)
IN: Is there a difference?
David Martin: Oh I dunno… a lot of our music is influenced by religious lunatics in some way, or it’s about them. How do we describe ourselves, is that want you want to know? (laughs)
IN: Well, I used the term Gothic as a sort of umbrella term; you always seem to write about people who suffer or have incredible journeys from A to B or people who struggle to get what they want from life, and in some ways sonically you try to pick up on this
GB: Yeah, that’s true but it (the music) is also about general life anyway…
DM: They are more interesting than us anyway. It’s an antidote to the kitchen-sink, instant melodramas that seem to be popular with everyone these days.
IN: The Joe Orton thing is very British though…
GB: And what’s wrong with a bit of widescreen now and again? Energy is important too, and although we have looked at these Gothic characters, we’ve stepped away from that on the new record to a certain extent. I hope so anyway.
IN: When you first came to people’s attention you had a very defined image. And it’s very much a British rock ‘thing’ for a band to say “here are our parameters, we attack on this defined way… And yet you have undergone a change. Defining an image is a dangerous thing, however seductive?
DM: Erm… I’m not wholly into subscribing to that argument... When you come out as a band initially, you can have a little time finding your niche, especially when you are not in the public’s eye… and then you need those sorts of things to differentiate you from everyone else. There are millions of bands at the moment and you do need people to take notice that you are different and I guess we’re undergoing an evolution and leaving lots of things behind, but that’s all part of the process.
IN: Fair point. I wonder whether it’s actually down to audiences now to allow you some space. I’m old enough to remember a time when rock bands had something called the third album crisis…
(Laughter from all of ILT)
DM: It was funny because we released our E.P., Progress Reform which was a collection of old songs, and then we released our first full length album and people were already complaining that this band haven’t evolved enough, (laughs) and that we, as a band were working to a formula and sticking rigidly to it due to a dearth of other ideas… We didn’t really see it like that; you know they hadn’t given us time to change our palette, there seems to be impatience about….
IN: I was going to throw a Julian Cope line at you: “My splendid art my sad profession” from a song called Charlotte Anne. That was written in 1985 or 86. Now I’d say that the two sides, art and profession are even more out of spiritual synch with each other now, despite the recent preponderance of ‘arty’ bands.
DM: It’s very difficult to make a career out of music that is artful, now, at any rate.
GB: I think it always will be like that; art by definition should be breaking new boundaries, whereas commodities are there to be sold, and can you sell something that is constantly evolving?
DM: But music has become more of a commodity now.
SF: The music that people will buy en masse has changed anyway.
DM: Thing is, there used to be artful albums that would sell anyway.
GB: But they were always the exception rather than the rule…
IN: The dusty corners of the music industry, where a band could happily crawl away and vegetate in seem to have been cleaned up. You couldn’t imagine someone like Robyn Hitchcock getting the freedom to make about 15 LP’s worth of psychedelic madness anymore… But then there’s this weird dichotomy: nowadays, everyone who is old (hits or no hits) is a hero. Anyone trying to, say, follow in the grand tradition of Robyn Hitchcock is instantly a fake.
How do you write something with this hanging over you?
GB: I think that feeling is really prevalent now. When you are writing you do have this thought of whether to appeal to more people or do it the way you really want. You try and walk that line don’t you.
AB: I mean we’re in the business of selling records and we want to sell records, but then there’s the point that you have to do right by the song itself.
DM: I think one of the really important things when you start out in music (or whatever) is the change in your moral stance. All new bands used to have a really strong morals; “I won’t have my music on adverts” or whatever... It’s not really an option for young bands anymore. You have to seek these other avenues out, in order to survive as a band. And it rankles when you see people looking down upon bands selling their music to adverts for money, but it’s one of the very few sources of income left.
IN: I have this typical, journalistic made-up-last-night theory that bands get a lot of unwarranted criticism.
IN: And I wonder whether audiences need to look at themselves a bit more for the state of music. They seem to want so much but give very little. It’s certainly not like 20 odd years ago, when the audiences could be as terrifying (and as creative) as the bands…
DM: I never had a problem with it, audiences, that is. As a general rule we have intelligent fans, and we’ve been really appreciative of everyone who has come along, and they chat to us… (Laughs). But I find it very interesting that everyone can be a critic these days, usually at arm’s length. They are not afraid to write what they think; so in some ways that’s not a wholly bad thing.
IN: You are a very visual band. You enjoy using visuals as part of your act. Do you use the visuals to express things you can’t express through the music?
GB: We don’t use them anymore…
(Laughter from all of ILT)
IN: That tells you something about when the last time I saw you live was!
DM: (Laughs) Well, we try to excite as many senses as possible. I think sometimes over-excite. We found that some people were commenting on the fact that they didn’t really know what to concentrate on. We’re just trying to do it a bit differently at the moment, and doubtless we’ll bring some ideas back at some point.
IN: Leeds. West Yorkshire. Is there something about the base that informs your music?
AB: No, because most of us aren’t from Leeds originally
DM: It doesn’t really ring true any more, the whole grimy Northern cities thing. Leeds is s really nice city.
AB: You always absorb something of where you are. But it’s not a conscious thing
DM: It’s a very fertile place musically, lots of great bands, good community…
Questions: Richard Foster