For Folk’s Sake interview: The Leisure Society (part 1)

The Leisure Society’s second album Into The Murky Water is out today on Full Time Hobby. Twice Ivor Novello-nominated singer Nick Hemming and keyboard-player and chief harmonist Christian Hardy (who releases solo music as Christian Silva) are the creative force behind the Willkommen band.

FFS: Did it feel different making Into The Murky Water, from when you made The Sleeper?
Nick: It was totally different, really, we felt a lot more pressure to be honest. There was no pressure on the first one – we were just writing songs for our own benefit. But we’ve got a publisher now and there’s an audience, we know people are going to listen. There was a lot of obsessive deliberating over lyrics, but it was an enjoyable process again.

FFS: With the first album there’s a real bittersweet feeling, the lyrics are quite often sad, but there’s really cheerful instrumentation.
Nick: It’s the same thing again really, a lot of the lyrics are quite dark but I don’t want to drag everyone down with me so I only really write when I’m a little bit unhappy. Happiness writes white with me – I need to have a little bit of trauma in my life to be able to write, so I create it for myself.
Christian: I don’t want to be scientific about it, but I honestly think the process of this band is that Nick feels something – and it’s often dark and a bit introspective – but there’s something very joyful about this group of musicians in our band. Sometimes we start somewhere quite dark and by the end fireworks are going off and we’ve tried to make him feel better with our instruments.
Nick: When we were recording this we thought it was going to be a really dark album and then as soon as people started listening to it they were like ‘it’s a real summer album, it’s really uplifting.
Christian: we’ve accidentally made a summer album, that’s our analysis.
Nick: This was written from a hopeful place, after years of being in unsuccessful bands to be doing it for a living, and we know a records going to come out of it and it was hopeful but looking back on darker times in an introspective kind of way.

FFS: What inspired the songs on Into The Murky Water?
Nick: ‘I Shall Forever Remain An Amateur’ was written after the last day of my day job. We went out for a leaving do and there were also loads of people being made redundant on the same day. So my leaving do was 20 people who were being made redundant and me who was leaving to follow my dream. So it was a really bittersweet, weird leaving do. They were all wrapped up in it because when the Ivors thing happened there were TV cameras coming into work and they were al in the background waving and stuff. So the next day I was in the garden, there was a white moon in the blue sky and I was ridiculously hungover, which is my favourite time to write. It’s bittersweet because I was doing what I wanted to do, but there was all that weird stuff going on.
And ‘You Can Keep Me Talking’ – that was written after we went to Brian Eno’s Christmas party. We got invited because he was a really big fan of The Sleeper and we were there with Coldplay…
Christian: …and Chris Morris from The Day Today who’s a hero of ours…
Nick: …and Joe Boyd who produced Nick Drake’s album.
Christian: Classic us, especially Nick, we just stood in the corner drinking
Nick: We went out for a cigarette outside and I’d put on a woman’s jacket that I thought was mine and I reached for my cigarettes and I realised I was wearing a women’s jacket. It was just me getting ridiculously drunk to compensate for my shyness.
FFS: Did you talk to anyone?
Nick: No!
Christian: There was a point where we were singing Christmas Carols and as always we were stood in the background…
FFS: Wait, you were singing carols at Brian Eno’s Christmas party?!
Christian: He has acapella gatherings in his studio in Notting Hill and he’s invited us to a few – yeah everyone was singing and we’re sort of stood in the background. And Brian Eno was stood next to Chris Martin and he shouted across to Nick and I “come on you two you’re the best singers here” and Chris Martin’s face just dropped at that point. And he would drag us into conversations and we would extricate ourselves awkwardly… and then turn it into a single called ‘You Can Keep Me Talking’.

FFS: You’ve got quite a few celebrity fans who champion your music.
Christian The director of the video we just did said we were the best networkers he’d ever met. But we’re not – people are just nice to us. I think they feel sorry for us. We’ve got no game, no swagger. Cos we don’t posture maybe it’s easier to support us.
Nick: That’s how we got Mark Heap for the video, because Olivia Coleman from Peep Show – she’s a massive fan of the band – and I just text her and said ‘do you know anyone who’d want to be in our video for not much money’ and she phoned up with a list of all of her famous actor friends and just said let me know who you want me to try and I’ll call them. She was just amazingly helpful.
Christian: We’re very lucky, very lucky.
FFS: And Dom Joly is a fan, and Dermot O’Leary.
Christian: Yeah he’s been great and his producer has supported us from the start. We’re spoilt.
Nick: The first one – John Simm was the first celebrity actor who started talking about us in the press, when people asked him what he was listening to. And we’re doing Loose Ends tomorrow morning and he’s going to be on Loose Ends too so we’re going to get to meet him finally.

FFS: What about other Willkommen bands, have you had to stop playing with them?
Nick: Totally yeah, it’s a real shame because I was playing in about six bands when we made the first album. It’s a bit of a shame but this album was just such a labour of love that I just had to focus on it.
FFS: how about your solo stuff, Christian?
Christian: It’s all there, my songwriting hasn’t gone anywhere but making music with Nick is very very very important to me and it’s not a sacrifice, I cherish every moment, but if there is a point when there is a natural break I’d love to do a solo record. It’s all ready to go. I’ve been building up my studio at home. Nick’s introduced me to ebay and my credit limit has gone up recently. It’s a very dangerous time for me! If it happens that I can have a couple of months, Nick’ll be the first person I call anyway so it’ll just be an extension of what we do now, it’ll just be a different perspective. But I don’t resent a second of it, I love making music with Nick but yeah I’m going to do one, it’s just a question of when it’ll work basically.

FFS: Are any of the other members of the Leisure Society writing their own music?
Christian: Our drummer is a composer, and a very talented musician, it’s quite rare for a drummer he’s a classically trained musician, and Helen’s composing flute pieces
Nick …and Mike and Will they write for The Miserable Rich.
FFS: Is it a difficult thing to take a song you’ve written to a lot of songwriters?
Nick: Not really because nobody’s egotistical about it at all even though everyone’s really talented themselves everyone’s really supportive.

FFS: How did you find all of the members?
Nick: it was an organic process, we built it up slowly with the Leisure Society. It started off with just me and Christian just playing an acousitc gig at the 12 Bar on Denmark Street and then gradually as we played in other bands we asked people to come in and do a session.
FFS: You stole band members?
Nick: Exactly, yeah, we poached all the band members from other places.
Christian: I remember very very clearly the day Mike Siddell, who’s a genius actually, he turned up to our house in Streatham and recorded some violin and the first track we recorded with him we glanced at each other and we both had a tear in our eye because It was just unbelievable what he was doing. Because he’s one of those guys who doesn’t write anything down, he’s got perfect pitch so you play him a song and he pours it out. that’s why he can play in 10 bands because he doesn’t have to think he’s just a musician and then that was the benchmark it was like anyone who wasn’t at that standard wasn’t going to fit in. Because he’s incredible so our drummer is probably one of the best drummers in the country, Bas, we’re very lucky.

>> Go to part 2 of the interview to read about The Ivors, covers and life in Burton-on-Trent

>> Read our review of Into The Murky Water

>> Buy Into The Murky Water at Rough Trade

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