Interview: I Am Kloot

Interview with I Am Kloot

I Am Kloot

Introduction

After a decade of hard graft, Mancunian folk-rock trio I Am Kloot finally broke through in 2010 with their Mercury Prize-endorsed fifth album Sky At Night. Here, affable Kloot front man John Bramwell explains what that Mercury Prize nomination meant to them, and discusses the inspirations behind latest record Let It All In.

Questions and answers

Hi John, where are you today?

I’m in Crewe, about to go to Manchester to do the Marc Riley 6Music show today. So yeah, we’re having a quick rehearsal and then going to see him, avoiding the pub.

We’ve been fans since Natural History. Why do you think it took ‘til Sky At Night for people to really take notice of I Am Kloot?

Well, I think that’s maybe more of a media thing, because the audience was always growing all the time. Before Sky At Night, we’d been playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Apollo in Manchester, and I always felt that wasn’t really noted. And then when we did get stuff written about it us, it was kind of like, “Oh well, they’re quite well-known in Manchester,” and, y’know, we’d just done a European tour. (Laughs) So [the media] were stretching the truth slightly.

But your debut album didn’t really get the credit it deserved.

I think because our first record label got into trouble, there was a bit of a stalling moment. When bands start out, they usually have this honeymoon period with the media and it grows from there. In our case, it all went a bit skew-whiff, so what we did was go round Europe for a year and a half, to basically keep the band going but also to build up our fan base out there. So in a way, it was a strange start to everything.

What did it mean to you to be nominated for the Mercury Prize?

Well, firstly it was a total shock. Our manager told us we had to go do an interview, and when we got there we thought, “Well, this is a rather nice set up for an interview, what’s going on?!” So it was a total surprise, which was great.

[The Mercury Prize] is not to do with the politics of the music business, either: it’s the one prize about supporting the idea of an album, and sustaining people who make albums. And that’s the perspective we’ve always had: we view things not just song-by-song, but as collections, really.

And then we heard all the other albums that had been nominated that year... I think it’s agreed that it was a pretty aggressive line-up that year, and we got every other album that was nominated alongside us and I really enjoyed all of them. So, we were gratified, I’ve got to admit.

Did you enjoy the night?

Yeah, I met Paul Weller. And I met Corinne Bailey Rae, actually, who they always make out to be a bit of a misery. But I can tell you she wasn’t: she was the one still dancing at the end. So there you go. (Laughs)

We went out to the party afterwards and we went round dive-bombing all over the tables, stealing a lot of record company executives’ drinks, because it’s very expensive at the Grosvenor Hotel. Listen to this: a Tia Maria and Diet Coke, and a half of lager or bitter, yeah? £21. F*cking hell! (Laughs) And just because you’ve been nominated you don’t get drinks vouchers or anything. (Laughs) So we were cruising the tables, stealing drinks, whilst other people were milling around.

Good work! So, given the acclaim that Sky At Night received, did you feel any nerves at all approaching writing this album?

Well I don’t really sit down and say, “Right, I’m writing an album now”: I write on the hoof, pretty much all the time. But it is a question of hopefully putting together the songs that fit as one, like a kind of editing process. I had a lot of the songs [for Let It All In] while we were finishing Sky At Night, actually.

What did you want to achieve sonically with Let It All In?

The key thing was that we weren’t setting out to make Sky At Night II. I mean, Sky At Night was quite an unusual album for us. It was made when we stopped running around – for the first time in about nine years –and actually just stayed in Manchester for a year. And that’s why I think it’s quite a reflective album. It was the first time we spent a lot of time on all the arrangements and strings too, so it was quite an ornate album, musically.

But it was very much a one-off. It was unspoken between the three of us and Guy and Craig, but we all knew Let It All In wasn’t going to be as elaborate in terms of instrumentation. And for that me that meant I had to choose the songs that I felt had the strongest, most immediate melodies.

The minimal production reminds us of Natural History.

Yeah, I feel like this record is a nod back to our first album, with the way we treated the songs. And there’s a song on the record called ‘Mouth On Me’ – where I was writing about my younger self – which I wrote in a way I did when I was younger. So that one and ‘Masquerade’ feel a bit like our first record.

We went into the studio just spending two days on each song and not doing loads of multi-tracking or anything; just trying to get as fresh takes as possible. Again, pretty much like we did on our first record. But I think the difference between the first record and this is that we’ve got these two moments of quite high drama – ‘These Days Are Mine’ and ‘Hold Back The Night’ – to punctuate it. Those two moments make it more of a journey. Well, I hope so anyway – we’ll see. And I think when we started out we couldn’t really do tracks like those, because we just hadn’t been playing together long enough.

You’re pleased with the end-product, then?

Yeah. It’s taken this long for me to get as near as possible to putting it on and hearing it as somebody else would hear it. But I listened the other week and I was like, “Every single moment here, I’m happy with.”

Is this the first time you’ve been completely happy with one of your records?

Erm, only in as much as that sometimes I’ve not been happy because we’ve put too many songs on. (Laughs) Individually, as songs and the recordings, there was no problem. But I felt on Gods and Monsters and Natural History there should have been maybe one or two fewer tracks.

I love that feeling when you get to the end of a record and you immediately go to put it back on again from the beginning. And I think how you do your track-listing and how many songs you choose, is key in that. But that’s only from my perspective and I’m often too close to the music to be able to tell.

When it comes down to a thing like me thinking there are too many tracks on an album, if everyone else thinks that I’m wrong then I will go along with them. That’s the only time I will admit to being wrong, under any circumstances. (Laughs)

Lyrically, would you say there are any specific themes that run through this record?

In the two dramatic songs I mentioned, I use the same line twice; that was deliberate just because they’re about the future. ‘These Days Are Mine’ is an embracing of the future and ‘Hold Back The Night’ is a borderline fear of it. [With the latter] I was trying to convey the feeling of someone running in a panic, just wanting everything to stop for a day, so they could sort themselves out. And in ‘These Days Are Mine’, I just felt that it was important to put something optimistic into the world.

Contrast is key on the record: one emotional thought can contradict another one and I like to put those things together. ‘Mouth On Me’ is about feeling like I didn’t fit in when I was young, and ‘Masquerade’ is about saying that I still don’t fit in, but so what? (Laughs) So it’s two sides of the same coin, those songs, but one’s a bit more confident than the other.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

I think all three of us all really like ‘Hold Back The Night’. It’s got that slightly haunted thing that some of our better songs have, but this time we’ve been able to get some real drama in there.

Live, I think it’s even better, particularly where the music takes over from where the lyrics left off. I mean, it sounds great on the recording but it needs to be live to really bring it home, I think. For us, the thing we’re always building towards are the gigs and the tours, because I think it’s at a gig that songs really find their power and worth.

Bullets’ I really like too. We felt that was really typical Kloot, so for people who’ve not heard us, this is kind of where we’re at. And for long time fans, it’s a way of stepping out from where we’ve been and into the new stuff we’re doing. Hand on heart, I can say I love every single track on this record; I think the songs are brilliant! (Laughs)