Thursday, 24 January 2013

INTERVIEW: I Am Kloot's John Bramwell

It's mid January afternoon and it's snowing. I've been outside and built my own snowcat, but now I'm indoors in the warm, listening to a stunning little song called 'Some Better Day'. It's a poignant moment of introspection that has actually moved me to tears recently. But it's one of those sad songs that somehow makes you smile. Utterly heartwarming and as charming as anything you'll ever hear, right now 'Some Better Day' makes a lovely soundtrack to the white winter scenery outside. Today I'm lucky enough to be talking to one of the three men responsible for this wonderful song, which you can find on I Am Kloot's new album 'Let It All In'. The man is question is John Bramwell, the band's frontman and songwriter, who is also liking the unusual weather...

Hello John! How's it going mate?
"Great yeah, I'm enjoying the snow actually!"

Oh yes, me too. People moan about it, but I like it.
"Well my day today is inside on the phone so it's perfect for me. I'm looking out now, ah there it is, very pretty. And not having to deal with it in any way, just loving it, but I will be going to be going sledging this weekend no doubt..."

So if any readers think they might have seen the singer from one of the UK's best bands zooming past on a sledge, you might not be hallucinating. The new album Let It All In really is an incredible album, a record that I can't seem to stop listening too. It's also the band's finest and most complete work yet.
"Well thanks for saying that, I like everything we've done but I've only just listened to it recently. Because after we've finished recording I don't listen to them, I need that break so I can get to a point where I can try and listen to it like anybody else, so I had to lay off for a while. But we were doing a video the other day, and when all three of us were driving back we went "come on, let's put it on". And we were chuffed. We were very chuffed. So we'd not listened to it for two or three months. But I like it. It's got an instantness and I think it's still got some things that grow as well, and yeah... I'm chuffed."

And so you should be Sir. From start to end, every track is a winner. With iTunes and the rise of single-track downloads, there's been talk that people don't care about full albums as much as they used to. As a band, do you still believe in the power of an album as an art form?
"I think that's been key with us. We believe in that so strongly, for us that is what it's all about. That and the moments on stage when there's a connection with the audience. They are the two things. And everything else is about making those two things work, the album and the gig. We've always felt like that, yeah. And I suppose in a way we're kind of out of step with things but maybe not, we'll see. The game's not over yet! But you know we had the Mercury nomination, and that prize there isn't about best band or best song, it's about what they think is the best album. To be honest it's automatic the way we think, it's not even open for discussion."

So did that Mercury nomination and the success of 'Sky At Night' perhaps give you a boost in confidence that may have had an impact on this album?
"Well I can only talk about that in a kind of an unconscious way. I play guitar every day, I sit and just enjoy playing but most songs that I write don't occur then, they occur when I'm out driving or walking. I always have my Walkman with me. So if I'm driving and something comes, I just carry on singing it over and over and recording in my head what lyrics come to me. Drive round, come back and work it out. And the songs that I've written this time, I'm not conscious of what key they're in until I get home really. Most of them have been in a major key, which is a more uplifting key than the minor. And I did wonder if that IS because of the things that happened with Sky At Night. Subconsciously I'm writing something that's... not quite upbeat I suppose, but in a major key. I know I went around the houses there to answer that, but maybe it HAS given me a lift in ways I didn't realise, you know?"



In your own words, describe the new LP to someone who hasn't heard it yet...

"Well, it's bookended by two songs, 'Bullets' and 'Forgive Me These Reminders', which have an almost haunted vaudeville feel of a lot of our previous stuff. That's the bookends, and then we go into songs where really I've brought my strongest melodies here for this album. We've got colour from a little bit of harmonium, a little bit of trumpet, a little bit of organ here and there, just little touches of colour, but mainly it is guitar, voice, bass and drums. I've had to bring forward the strong melodies, much like we did on our first album I think, songs like Mouth On Me, Masquerade and Some Better Day. And then punctuating this kind of uplift and freshness that we captured is the two big dramatic moments of These Days Are Mine and Hold Back The Night. 

Because we've been playing over 12 years, we recorded Hold Back The Night in one go, really let it loose, and we were able to do that because of the amount of time we've been playing together I think. It's quite a big dramatic piece. So there's something about the freshness of our very first record in this, but with a little bit more assurance that's come from just the three of us knowing each other so well now after all this time. And I think my lyrics are still in a similar place to where we've been before, I've written about the present day a lot more than on Sky At Night, which was a reflective album. But this major key thing going on, there's a more uplifted feel in the key of the songs than before, so there's kind of an optimism there. Talking about kind of alienation and things such as that, but with this feeling of hope I suppose... (Laughs) That's a book that answer!"

A bit of a long one yes! So during the making of 'Let It All In', were there any albums you've been listening to that perhaps influenced the record?
 "Well I think my influences happened to me when I was a kid. The White Album was on a lot, and it's a very sprawling, enormous and eclectic thing. That was on all the time when I was about 5, just before I started playing guitar and in a way that one album with its complete strangeness, sometimes very catchy songs, sometimes out and out weirdness like Revolution 9, which is cut and paste 'musique concrete' as they call it. In a way I use music as a distraction away from my own music, it's quite odd I suppose, that. But I had a lovely album on by a band called Lord Huron which they released at the end of last year, and I was lucky enough to get an early copy of it. That's a fantastic thing that I heard, a very uplifting record. And then there's a new band in Manchester called Olympian, and I've had that on loop on the Walkman when I'm going about. I wouldn't say they've influenced the LP, in fact both those records don't sound anything like ours, or even that kind of songwriting. But I think they kept me in an atmosphere that was good."

Nice. Two bands I must check out.
"Yes, do mention them, they're very good."



Do you still buy vinyl? If so can you recommend any good record shops?
"I do like vinyl, and I go to Piccadilly Records in Manchester. And obviously I did used to go to the HMV here in Crewe, but I go to Piccadilly Records when I have my trips to Manchester and I usually pick up a couple of things on vinyl. My Dad gave me his old music centre that he bought in 1972, a big old proper music centre with lovely old valves. And the records just sound really great on it. And then I suppose luckily for me, the newer stuff I get from the people who put out our records out in Europe. They release a lot of artists, they're a kind of umbrella music group, and that's where I got Lord Huron from."


So what are your opinions on the 'digital age' of music?
"Well there's pluses and negatives. I'm not vehemently against illegal downloading, but it could reach a point where people can't afford to record. There's a way of recording on home computers which for certain kinds of music is really good. For capturing a band that way of recording isn't very good, and good studios are expensive things. So if we completely go over to illegal downloading, basically we're not going to be able to afford to make that kind of record. So that's the negatives. The plus side is that all over Europe way more people are going to the gigs, and I think that's down to the internet. You know, someone's coming to town and you see it online, you can easily listen to their music straight away and then go "you know what, I'm going to go to that gig tonight'. So it's created a great ground for live music. A really positive thing there. So that's where I am on that. I think a lot of people who are into bands such as ours, a lot of our fans they may download our stuff but usually they go and buy it as well. I think they realise that CDs and paid-for downloads don't make a great deal of profit, but what profit there is really does go back into making the next record. That's certainly what happened with this one of ours, the money we recorded this LP with was basically the money we made from 'Sky At Night'."

The band have been around since 1999, which is a long time for groups to survive these days. But if you could go back, would you have changed anything?
"Well in a lot of ways circumstances happened to us. Sometimes things happen that are bad, but there are silver linings. For instance our first LP 'Natural History', about 2 or 3 weeks after its release, just as we about to have loads of media attention that had built up in the UK, the record label got into some financial difficulties. And it meant that all that hype didn't happen, because the CD wasn't in the shops for a while. And when that happened we went to Europe, because our CD was still being sold there, and we immediately started touring in Holland, Germany, France, etc. So we did that rather than spending a lot of that first year concentrating on the UK, and in the long run I think that's been a really good thing because we've built it up as much in other countries as we do here. In Holland and Germany, we have the same size audiences as we do in the UK. At the time it was like "oh shit, I can't believe this has happened" but actually I think it turned out for the best. I can't alter the past, so if there is anything negative, I'm very good at self-delusion so I just won't think about it!"



So what's next for I Am Kloot?
"Well we have the UK tour and the European tour, and while that's going on, we'll find out what we're doing after that gigwise, at the moment I don't know. But first there's the rehearsals for this tour, working out what the setlist is gonna be. We're going to be doing all the new album and then probably 2 or 3 songs from each of our previous albums I think, but how we're gonna do it isn't worked out yet, because we're gonna do some of the set as a three-piece and some of it with the extra musicians as well. So there's that to work out. We're all looking forward to getting on the road, we've been enjoying each other's company a lot and I think the spirit is high. And live, we're extremely powerful and together, and it's great. I think we're really firing on all cylinders now, and I'm looking forward to it..."


I hope it's many, many years away, but if I Am Kloot ever split, how would you like people to remember you as a band?
"As kind of bold and beautiful really. And a little bit mysterious in a way. But having said that, I just can't see me, Andy and Pete stopping this. We've been through some bad times and bleak moments but it's never even occurred to us to stop. Maybe we've slowed down, but we won't stop!"


Well it's been a great pleasure talking to you, and best of luck with the album!
"Yeah I've really enjoyed it! I'm gonna make a cup of tea, have a look at the snow, get your website up and have a good read!"

Cheers John, see you in Bristol when the tour rolls into town!

Let It All In is out now. Buy your copy HERE.

Read my review of the album HERE.



Written by Ben P Scott for God Is In The TV.

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