Sometimes in life, you’ve got a choice. The problem is always that choice. Our decisions are marked by that choice. What you want to do versus what you have to do.
My problem was: Do I go to a gig I’ve been waiting for or ditch it for a band I barely know nor heard of before?
Stupid plan warning: I can do all in one day. Sigh, the Nirvana fallacy is my best friend. Still, I arrive to the back garden of The Grapes and I see them, 6 people. Three dames, three gents. The one with the longest hair (Carl, guitar) greets me and I sit down in front of one guy who reminds me of Paddy Considine.
These people is the band called Is I Cinema. They all look dissimilar between each other, people you wouldn’t think they would hang with each other. But no, they do and they have been together for 18 months, making music. Strange but fascinating music.
I put the camera in the middle of the table and sit in a chair that’s ready to collapse under the strain of my weight. A couple of questions I had are mentally scrapped and I go for the obvious icebreaker.
“How did you meet each other?”
Oliver (drums, Paddy Considine impersonator) suggests Dominic (vocals, keyboard, drums) define the band. He and Helen (guitar) started playing some twee indie music, while Oliver was taken in after an acrimonious split from a previous band.
Then Carl (who also works as a graphic definer) joined too, bringing yet another influence: Shoegaze(and his pedalboard confirms it). My Bloody Valentine is mentioned, both as an influence and as an stepping stone.
Tanyeli (called Tan affectively by her bandmates) was taken in because she played “sleazy bass lines”. Amidst a few chuckles, Dominic says she still delivers a sound akin to a “red light district”.
After that playful, friendly introduction, Oliver talks about how their sound is simply each member bringing their own ideas. He has fun with the drumkit, while Tan grazes the bass with her “red light district” bass lines. Dominic sings, plays keyboard and sometimes drums.
Tan adds “Dom and Helen will fashion a melody, in a very rough kind of structure and, um, me and Carl will get involved, play our guitar parts to it. And then Oliver does his thing (laughs)”.
“I love my effects” says Carl very proudly. “Helen is the bedrock and I make noises on top of it”. He has an affinition of reverb and delay, but an emphasis is made in not being a shoegaze band. They love long songs, but they want them to go somewhere.
“Would you like to talk a bit about your lyrics?”
Dominic and Helen are bot graduates of English and both love their lyrics. “Helen studied English deconstruction of text, I wanted to write lyrics that are a little different” says Dominic, in a slightly shy but determined way. Like a storyteller, he tells how they started with characters from media (books, comic books, films) and from there, expanded. Oliver also contributed, sometimes using phrases from debates in order to get “oblique lyrics that not very necessarily have a narrative or a meaning, but [are] a bit more expressive”.
An example of this comes from quoting one of their newer songs. “Deliver us from the weekend. I had my fill of leisure”.
I honestly think about skipping my assignment tonight and stay with these chaps. Alas, I need to pretend to be professional (!). I go for the obligatory question we’ve been doing to a few bands.
“The album experience, is it alive or dead? If it’s dead, will it come back?”
“I think it’s not as alive as it was. Everyone probably in this table of our generation will listen to an album.”
“I think an album is a complete piece of work if it’s a proper album, the artists has made all the pieces and it’s a journey. It has a start, people think where it goes. Now with mp3s they listen only to a few tracks.”
“If it was on vinyl or tape, it would be from A to B, no skipping. Now you can, people don’t think too much into it. We tried to play connectors between songs, with little bits of melody linking them all together, thinking of a journey from start of the set to the end.”
“You drive in a car and you have shuffle on and the same songs come over again and again. The same shuffle patterns all of the time. And you want to listen to the whole thing.”
“[New bands]They got a song, they release an album, you got a debut record, songs you play night after night. Second albums just flopping and flopping. Why? It has to do with, um, they don’t have long enough to write an album. There isn’t any double album recently. It would be nice to have that type of ambition”.
“Joanna Newson released a triple album I have not heard it yet but I hear it’s amazing. Also, I still think it’s alive, bands like These New Puritans still release records, from start to finish you can tell it’s, everything’s there for a reason. It’s a journey. And I personally don’t have an ipod for a reason”.
“You can’t buy ipods in the red light district”!
I ask Helen, “Do you want to add something?”.
Not really (laughs).
“I read an interview with Paul Weller and he referred to the iPod, and I quote ‘It’s like a mini fridge with no fucking beers in it!’. I enjoy listening to it everyday, but I have a record player. Much more fun to watch the needle do its work”.
“Is vinyl coming back proper?” I ask after some nostalgic reminiscences of vinyl albums.
“There’s a minor vinyl revolution. Singles came back” says Dominic. “It’s a specialist market, I don’t think it will go”. Oliver and Carl nod.
“Would that be a route to consider?”
Dominic smiles. “You have the possibility of releasing pieces of music that would be like twenty minutes long, maybe, over iTunes or something, that could sound like 3 or 4 tracks gelled together, like a statement”.
“Maybe the idea of an album should be thrown to a wayside and go for extended singles. If that goes so, we’ll be the vanguard” finished Dominic and everyone laughs.
Still, it feels like an uneasy laugh from all of us at the table. The stark prospect of the album as the carrier of a message disappearing is not something to be cheerful for. I’m genuinely intrigued about what they sound like after having a great natter with them.
Dominic asks if I’ll stick around. I feel pretty bad about telling them that I have to skip over to a gig I already had to do that night. I thank them for their time and they go for their soundcheck. While the band walks up the stairs, I figure “fuck it, doors’ just opened and I’ll probably just be sulking by myself”.
I stay for the whole duration of their soundcheck, and I’m grateful I choose so. As promised, Helen plays rhythm guitar, laying a canvas where Carl will paint with an impressive, tinnitus-inducing array of effects. Dominic approaches lyrics delicate, slightly. Like a little moan, like a soothing siren. Tan plays a nifty bass that doesn’t sound that XXX to me, but still has some mesmerising effects. And Oliver has fun drumming around, sometimes following, other times leading.
There’s no bravado, there’s no showing off. Just all five of them, concentrating in their music. The guy at the mixing board is impressed. He’s not alone.
By the end, I approach Carl and talk a bit more about effects and the name of the last song they played at the soundcheck (‘Apocrypha’). We talk about the beauty of reverb pedals (“just crank it until you can’t tell what’s playing” he chuckles) then I bid farewell to all of them.
With a heavy heart I go to my assignment of that night, which, I really did enjoy. The next morning I got a text message from Carl, happy as the gig was well received. I reply then look out of the window, sighing. I survived my first interview and I got to know a new band. The perks of this job, I guess.
Words & Pics: Sam.
Please visit Is I cinema:
The band graciously donated a song for our free mix cd. You can download it here.