Piers Edwards talks to John Bramwell from the cult Manchester band, I Am Kloot.
Did you and the rest of the band pick this venue yourselves?
Yes we did, because it has a really high stage, people can have a sit down if they want and there’s a smoking balcony. People can get from the gig what they want, they can be right at the front or they can have a seat at the back, it’s perfect. If you think when we did the Academy 1, we played to 1200 people and we’re going to play to about 1100 people over these 4 nights. It’s the same amount of people but I think they get a much better gig, it’s much better experience.
(I mention the large mirror ball on the ceiling and how, during the previous night’s gig, you could see everyone in the room when the light shone on it)
Well I’m always unaware of how many people are actually in the crowd and that really was illuminating (laughs).
So these shows have been done to coincide with the B-sides album then?
Yeah, it’ll be properly released in time. We’re selling it at these gigs and we’re selling quite a lot, but then it will be released. It is very much an album for people who already know us. It’s got 28 songs on it, some of them were recorded in the kitchen, some were recorded in posh studios, it’s a real mish mash but I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the record.
And there are some songs on there that haven’t been released before. Are these recent recordings or do they span the whole career so far?
Well it’s 10 years of stuff that, for one reason or another, hasn’t made it onto a LP. Not necessarily because of the quality or of the song writing but because there might already have been something similar on that particular album. I think there’s 10 or 11 songs there that would make a good LP, a cohesive thing and then there’s some live stuff on there as well.
Is there a French version of ‘Twist’ on there as well?
Yeah, that’s from the first gig we ever played abroad, which was in Paris on Valentine’s Day.
And this is the gig where a French girl fainted while you were playing ‘Twist?’
High blood sugar, I think. (Laughs)
More and more people seem to be selling albums at gigs now. Is this a response to the fact that people can get music for free off the internet, if they want to? Is a gig a good time to sell albums, while people are in the mood?
I think that does help, but this isn’t like a proper release, we’re not sending this album out for any reviews. It’s being sold through our website so we’re hoping it’ll be reasonably quiet before the release of our next album.
So these little gigs are really for the fans?
Absolutely. I mean we’ve been in the studio for a couple of months and I thought, ‘I want to play.’ Not mentioning any names but some bands can go for years without actually doing a gig and I find that incredible.
Some say that, because people can get music for free, it’s pushing bands to perform live more often, as it’s harder to make money out of album sales now.
I think it’s, true that a lot of people that get music for free will then go and buy it as well. I think if you’re into the band, you’ll go and buy it, I do.
There are still enough people out there that have respect for artists and what they do and want to spend that £10 on the album.
Yeah and really it’s got to pay for the recording (laughs) so without that, it can get a bit difficult.
The artwork for the B-sides album was submitted by fans on your website, is that right?
Yeah, we had about 300 entries for that. They didn’t all make it on so I thought ‘we’re gonna get in trouble now,’ but the sleeve opens up into a poster with lots of ‘B’s on it. Every entry had to be a picture of the letter ‘B’ in some form. Initially, I was a bit sceptical about the idea but I actually really like that cover and all the poster work for these gigs too is great. I’m liking what we’re doing at the minute, artwork-wise. The brown colour on the album refers back to our first singles, which were sold in brown paper bags. We pressed up a thousand and we realised we could save a few hundred quid by not doing sleeves, so we put them in brown paper bags with a stamp on them. (Laughs)
You’re working on a new album, which I believe is tentatively called ‘The Sky At Night?’
I think it will be called that, yeah.
And you’re recording it with Guy Garvey and Craig Potter from Elbow (both will be producing the album). This is the first time you’ve worked with them since ‘Natural History’ (I Am Kloot’s debut album, released in 2001).
Yeah because we’ve always been out of sync really, when we’re recording, they’re touring. It’s just fallen back into sync now, which is great.
They’ve both always been outspoken fans of I Am Kloot, so was it their suggestion that you do this album together or did that come from your side?
We’ve wanted to do every album with them, to be honest, but we’d have had to wait 4 months for them to finish touring and we couldn’t actually do that. Although I would say that Chris Potter did a great job with the second album, I really like that album.
On a personal note, I’ve seen you live a good 5 or 6 times and I’ve never heard you play ‘Untitled #1’ from that album. Have I just been unlucky or is there a reason you don’t play that live?
It’s made of cuts ups, there’s one guitar all the way through and everything else is cut ups from bits of tape. We could have a go at it, but everything on it is very loud with a very quiet spoken word thing over the top. I think there might be a two acoustic guitar version we could do live but there are all kinds of things on there. There are a lot of children’s toy instruments on it and then there’s the guitar part, which still eludes me now. I don’t remember what I did. It’s very much made up on the spot that song, I really like it. It’s not even like a song; it’s more like a soundscape.
Every time I see you I think, this time maybe they’ll play it.
Well I’ve just realised the tuning I’ve got for ‘Bigger Wheels’ is the same so it is possible, I might be able to do it.
(John muses over some of the lyrics from this song, particularly ‘You say you're like a tree or a bus stop’ whilst laughing very hard. I mention another line I like, ‘He said he was a vegetarian, well there’s animals in water.’ )
Well that came from a programme I saw on the TV the night before, it was a programme about conscientious objectors. There was an old interview from the 30’s with a guy talking about his son being a conscientious objector in the First World War. While this guy was talking about his son, he said ‘my son was a vegetarian as well, (confused) well there’s animals in water.’ Which I suppose is a pretty good point. (Laughs)
You’ve been playing some new songs like ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Fingerprints’ live recently. Are these songs we’re likely to hear on the new album?
Those two may be on it, yeah. We’ve recorded about 16 songs so far, so we’re not sure which ones will be on the album yet, but there’ll be about 10 or 11 in the end. The reason for that being, like I was saying before, you can have songs on an album that have too similar a feel to each other. Within a collection of songs, which an LP is, they’re both doing the same job. ‘Black and Blue’ is one I really like, but I wrote is quite a long time ago and it never seems to fit in with anything we’re doing at the time. It never seems to fit right.
As time has gone on and more people have become aware of the band, have you felt any pressure from management, record companies etc to be more commercially aware? Have you felt pressure to write ‘singles?’
Well I write what I write and I’m not really in control of that. I’ve never consciously sat down and tried to write a single. I don’t even sit down and think, ‘well this is what this song’s about and this is how I want it to feel.’ I usually get a melody in my head and that suggest a lyric and that’s how I write. I play the guitar every day because I like playing the guitar. I know that some people can sit down and try and write a specific thing but I’ve never done it. We’ve always been left to our own devices; perhaps that’s not a good idea. (Laughs) I can only write what I write, to be honest. I think our stuff is very serious really and it doesn’t really fit in with a lot of mainstream stuff. We’ve got a song on this album called ‘Even the Stars’ which is almost like a single. The thing with singles is they tend to not have all the Kloot elements in them because they’ve got too poppy. But this song has got a real hook to but it’s still got a lot of the soul and ghostliness that all Kloot songs should have. I suppose ‘Over My Shoulder’ was quite a popular single. (from 2003’s ‘Gods and Monsters’ album) That broke into the top 40. It was 39. (Laughs) ‘Proof’ would have been a big single I think, but they didn’t release it.
I never really understood that.
I didn’t either. We got in Christopher Eccleston to do the video, we made a great recording of it, we thought it was perfect. In fact that’s when we parted company with ’Echo’ (record label at the time) after that, because we thought if you’re not going to release that, I don’t know what I’m ever going to give you that you’ll want to release.
If there was ever a song that would get you some serious attention that was it.
Yeah and some people think it was a hit. When we’re abroad and we say to people ‘we’ve never really had a hit’ and they say ‘yes you have, what about Proof?’ Well it can’t have been, it was never released but we’ve had a lot of people thinking it was. It still got played a lot on the radio, just off the back of that album and people still seem to sing that one.
(We talk some more about song writing and John mentions a new song that has taken him a couple of years to get the lyrics right.)
I got a good first verse and I like the chorus but after that nothing has been happening. I read an interview with Leonard Cohen where he said he waited about 7 or 8 years for the lyrics to come for the second half of hallelujah. He was waiting for the right lyric and it showed he really cared about the song, he needed it to be great.
Are touring and recording usually back to back for the band or do you have gaps?
Well, we’re recording now and we’re still doing these few gigs but it’s not really a tour. When the next record comes out we’ll probably be touring for a year.
Is the album due towards the beginning of next year?
I think it’ll end up being more like September (laughs). It won’t be out in time for spring and then no label will release it over the summer, for whatever reason.
I did an LP on my own, when I was a teenager called ‘You, Me and the Alarm Clock’ which The Guardian recently had in their top 10 greatest albums you’ve never heard. It’s kind of a back-handed compliment (Laughs) but I’m re-releasing that and I’m going to do some solo shows in December. I like doing small theatre gigs on my own, I quite enjoy them.
Do you have a particular favourite song to perform live?
Last night I genuinely enjoyed playing each and every one, I was really into them because they do different things. I always enjoy ‘Twist,’ I like the intrigue of it. I’m still intrigued by it. I really enjoy ‘Storm Warning’ as well. I sometimes read that people get sick of playing the same songs but we really don’t get bored of playing our stuff live. I suppose it depends what kind of a song it is but I’ve never really understood that.
(I discuss the fact that the line ‘I love you, there’s blood on your legs’ from ‘Twist,’ sometimes draws questions when people first hear it.)
I think it’s got quite a bit of ambivalence and intrigue to it. When I came up with the line I thought, ‘this is going to raise a few questions,’ but it does fit in with the rest of the songs. I suppose it’s about the feeling that love’s great, love’s not great; it’s got both of those to it. Because of the line ‘there’s blood on your legs,’ some people really don’t like it. I’ve had people say, ‘I really don’t like your band because of that song,’ but they probably didn’t like us anyway. I think that maybe says more about their minds than mine.
I was watching last night, with a friend that I’ve been weaning onto I Am Kloot for a while now, and he turned to me after about 3 songs and said, ‘Why aren’t they more famous?’ I didn’t have an answer for him, and this is a conversation I’ve had many time over the last 8 or 9 years. What’s your take on why the band isn’t as famous as many people believe they should be?
I think it’s what you said before about the fact that we don’t really release singles. Maybe the wheel will turn and next year more people will be listening when our new album comes out. We’re doing a few other things; we’re meeting up with Danny Boyle to discuss some more stuff we might be doing with him.
Your song ‘Avenue of Hope’ was used on the closing credits of ‘Sunshine.’ (Danny Boyle’s film from 2007)
It was going to be used on the opening credits but the film studio said ‘we can’t understand what this film’s about at the beginning, we need a voice over,’ so they put that in and dropped the song.
The new De Niro movie is out this Christmas and we’ve got a song on that. We went down to the screening of that the other day, and McCartney’s got a song on it as well, so I got to meet him. I was a bit gob smacked to be honest. He was going to zoom off but he could see that I was pretty thrilled to meet him so he stayed a bit. I was with my girlfriend, Eleanor, and he said ‘Oh I wrote a song about a girl called Eleanor once.’ Now I know the Beatles inside out but I was stood there going ‘..Eleanor….Eleanor ,‘ I went totally blank. (Laughs)
Thanks very much for your time, best of luck with the gig tonight.
Thanks very much.
I Am Kloot’s B-side collection, entitled ‘B’ will be released on October the 5th and can be pre-ordered through the band’s official website www.iamkloot.com