Regular readers may not know that yours truly is a fan of iLiKETRAiNS, the gloriously dolorous and history-obsessed post-rock outfit; I reviewed their debut album Elegies To Lessons Learnt back in 2007 or so (before I’d started up TDP), and fell for it right away. Stately, gloomy post-rock? Stately, gloomy stories from history? Lovely stuff.
Well, iLiKETRAiNS got caught in the backdraft when their old label Beggars Banquet collapsed; hence the paucity of recent recordings, though they’ve been out touring a fair bit. But here’s some good news: there’s a new album in the works, all recorded and ready to go. All the band need to do is get it mastered, launched and promoted… and in order to achieve that sans label support, they’re trying something a bit different. I emailed Davis Edward Martin from the band to see what was going on…
The Dreaded Press: OK, so, you guys have a new album called He Who Saw The Deep pretty much finished up and ready to release – how are you feeling about it so far? And any clues as to who the “he” of the title is?
David Edward Martin: Well we’re really pleased to be on brink of unleashing the record. It seems to have taken a long time to get to this point. We’ve been writing it for a couple of years and recorded the majority around Christmas time but it was never supposed to take this long! I think that the long gestation has ultimately benefited the record. We knew we wanted to change our sound but didn’t know how so the record took its time to figure out what it wanted to be! “He” is everyone I think. I don’t want to say too much about what it’s all about, as I’d like people to form their own opinions first. An internet search may reveal some clues.
TDP: Have you got a personal favourite on the track listing, and if so, what is it about it that you’re particularly fond of? Were any of them particularly challenging (or fun!) to record?
DEM: My favourite is “We Saw the Deep”. I guess it is the title track, so it sums up the record quite nicely. The most challenging song to record and mix was “Progress is a Snake”. It was pretty much the first song we started to write for the record, and the last one we finished. Once all the other songs had been written the original version of “Progress…” didn’t really fit in, so we had to give it a major overhaul.
TDP: I hear tell you’ve abandoned the history obsession that powered your previous releases – care to tell us what brought that on? And if you’re not writing about the black bits of history, what are you writing about now?
DEM: It is healthy creatively to change what you’re doing. To challenge yourself and see what results. We have taken the obvious step from looking at the past, to looking forwards. It’s still pretty bleak, but there are some rays of light shining through.
TDP: How did you reach the decision to make an album without the support of a label? What was it that influenced you to not just sit back and shop around for another offer?
DEM: The truth is we did look around for other offers, but there weren’t any around for us that we thought could take us to the next stage in our careers. There is only so long you can do that for, before you realise that you’re treading water. The only positive step we could make was to get in and record the album and to put it out ourselves. I’m genuinely excited as to what our future holds. We’ve been around and done it for a little while now, so have a pretty good idea about what we are doing, and have the contacts to put some useful people in place.
TDP: How was making a record under your own financial steam different from Elegies, with respect to the creative process – were you freed from creative dictatorship, or penned in by your own budgets, or perhaps both?
DEM: Our old label Beggar’s Banquet never really forced our hand creatively. They let us get on with what we wanted to get on with mostly. The best decision we ever made was to spend our record advance on kitting out our own portable studio. It means that we’re now in a position to record our records very cheaply. We find a place to record, set up our gear and away we go. I think that the biggest impact of going it alone was on the writing of the record, as we all had to juggle day jobs, which we didn’t need to worry about before. Things seem to take longer without a record label for this reason.
TDP: So run us through the process you’re using to get your fans involved in helping to launch and promote He Who Saw The Deep. A number of different artists, large and small, are trying different methods of publication at the moment; were there any in particular that inspired your own plans? Do you see these business models as long term solutions for creatives, or are they just a survival strategy while we wait for a new market to emerge from the wreckage of the old?
DEM: That’s the million dollar/pound question! We’re using a website called Pledge. The idea is to set a target for what you need, whether this is raising money for a record release or tour etc. You offer the fans a number of incentives which they will Pledge on. Ours range from hand written post cards and CD albums up to vinyl back catalogue box sets and executive production credits. The money doesn’t exchange hands until the target is met thus ensuring the record will be released or the tour will go ahead. This gives the consumer some piece of mind I guess. I never really liked the idea of fan funding initiatives. They always seemed a little bit like a charity case, and were riddled with pit falls if you failed to make enough. For me Pledge was the first one that seemed to answer all the problems. The fact that the fans get something in return was important to me. Even so it took me a long time before I was sold on the idea, and I talked to a number of our fans about what they thought of the concept. Now that it has gone live, the Pledging has exceeded our expectations and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. I think it’s a business model that could endure but only time will tell whether the public will embrace it in a big way.
TDP: It’s going well, then – I see from the Pledge site you’re actually over your target total already, and that you’re donating a percentage of the overage to Friends Of The Earth. Why them in particular?
DEM: Pledge tends to encourage the artists using their service to adopt a charity. We went with Friends of the Earth for a couple of reasons. A lot of my inspiration for the new record centred around research on the science of climate change and just how stuffed we are as a species. Certain climate change commentators, and James Lovelock in particular have persuaded me that whilst we have little or no hope of long term survival, its not to say that we shouldn’t try to make a difference. We were keen to adopt an environmental charity to be in keeping with some album themes and our old tour manager used to work for Friends of the Earth so we were familiar with the good work they do.
TDP: Isn’t musicians promoting good causes a bit of a dead scene, thanks to the blowhardery of the Bonos and Geldofs? Do you worry that people will decide you’re getting preachy?
DEM: I’ve had long and sometimes heated conversations about this with people previously. I can understand this view point but I think its a little sad if a few people have wrecked it for everyone. I think that if an artist has a profile whereby they can encourage young people to be socially aware then that can be extremely valuable. Its a fine line though. How to get people to think for themselves about certain issues rather than telling them what they should be thinking. Incidentally I’m not even pretending to have the sort of profile whereby I think I can influence anyone or anything, but I don’t mind letting people know what I think if they ask! I think Thom Yorke is a good example of someone who has lent his support to causes in a genuine and useful manner and probably influenced thousands of young people to be a little more socially aware.
TDP: Last but not least, is there an iLikETRAiNS tour in the offing?
DEM: Yes. Once Simon is mended! Watch this space.
TDP: I will do! Best of luck.
You too can pledge toward He Who Saw The Deep, the forthcoming iLiKETRAiNS album; click here and register your promise. Here’s the tracklist, for them what likes to know such things:
- When We Were Kings
- A Father’s Son
- We Saw the Deep
- Hope is not Enough
- Progress is a Snake
- These Feet of Clay
- Sea of Regrets
- These Broken Bones
- A Divorce Before Marriage