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Nick Hemming - The Leisure Society PDF Print E-mail
Written by George Shaw   
16 01 2012
ImageThe Leisure Society have been recipients of considerable critical acclaim since the release of their debut album The Sleeper, back in 2009. The band's debut single The Last Of The Melting Snow was honoured with a 2009 Ivor Novello nomination, but not a win, for 'Best Song Musically & Lyrically.' Last year the band released their fantastic, mischievous second album Into The Murky Waters. I phoned up front man Nick Hemming to ask him some questions.

Hi Nick! What are you up to today?
It's very boring I'm afraid. I'm trying to do a tax return with a very bad hangover. It's not much fun.

The glamorous lifestyle of musicians!
I know, it's really boring, almost putting me to sleep. But I've had a nice start to the year. I've been down on the south coast, doing some research for a song I'm writing about fishermen and boat building down there, so that was a nice to start to the year. Now I'm back to London and back to reality with a tax return.

Sounds fun. I was going to say, it's an appropriate time to wish The Leisure Society a happy new year. Happy New Year! How was 2011 for the band?
I think so. Happy new year to you too! It was good. It went in a flash really. Obviously we released the new album and we toured it on and off for a lot of the second part of the year. It was really busy, festival wise. We had festival every weekend in the summer. That was pretty mental; we were going somewhere different every weekend. It was a lot of fun but we were kind of glad when it was over really so we could have a bit of a rest. You just end up doing so much driving when you're playing a different festival every weekend. But yeah, a really good year. Really productive.

It sounds really tiring. I'm just tired from listening to you describe it.
(Laughs) Yeah, but all good fun. We've just got one tour left for the album, which was postponed from October but after that we'll just be getting into the studio. Finishing writing the new album, then getting into the studio to record it, we'll be off the road a bit and getting stuck into recording new stuff.

ImageCool. You mentioned your second album came out last year. Are you pleased with the finished album and the reception to it?
Yeah, definitely. It was quite an obsessive project. It took us about nine, or ten months to record it, which is quite a long time to concentrate on the same 12 songs. So it was a bit obsessive and I think we went a bit crazy. I definitely did. I think Christian (Hardy) did, when we were mixing it together. When you've spent so much time working on the same songs, you can't really listen to it again for a while. You need to give it a break. I've just started listening to it again recently and I'm really proud of it. It's definitely the strongest thing we've ever done. We're learning all the time about arranging and producing. We've definitely raised it up a level from the first album, so yeah, really happy with that.

Yeah, I was going to say, it really does seem like there's a strong musical progression from the debut to this record.
Yeah, we definitely wanted to be a bit more adventurous with it. I've always been into big arrangements and different sounds and the way different instruments work together. We had a lot more freedom this time because first of all we had a bit of a budget, so we could afford to get musicians in and we had time as well. We could just concentrate on it, we weren't doing in-between jobs so we could go away for a couple of weeks and just concentrate on recording. So we definitely were a lot more adventurous and it's what we've always wanted to do really, so we just made sure we made the most of it really.

Cool. So did you take a different approach to the recording of this album then?
Yeah, it was similar. We went away and hired a house in the countryside. We hired it for about two weeks, we set up all the drums, the bass amps and the guitar amps and stuff and we went through the songs for a bit. We tried to create a more live and bigger sound. So we did that for a bit. Then we recorded in this house, it had some really nice acoustics, some nice wooden floors and high ceilings, then we went away, came back and did another session there. The rest of it, which took a long time, was done in kind of the same way as the first album. We'd get musicians in, like harp players, or brass players, into my flat and we'd record them there.  So the first part, putting down the drums and all that, was a new experience for The Leisure Society, the rest of it was done with overdubs similar to the first album, just a lot more concentrated. That was along winded answer, wasn't it?

It was good. It means I don't have to speak as much. So did you not have any annoying neighbours popping in to tell you to keep the noise down?
No. I think we were the annoying neighbours. They were all pretty good. We never got a single complaint. I think everyone was out at work, because we did most of the recording during the day. During the summer, before the release, I spent about two weeks doing electric guitars. You need to really push an amp up loud to get a decent sound and because I was being quite obsessive about it, I'd try takes with lots of different sounds, slightly tweaking it, so I'd be playing a really simple riff over and over again for about an hour, if I'd have been one of the neighbours I would have been going mental. But we didn't get a single complaint, so either they're deaf, or they were just at work.

I would take no complaints as compliment.
Yeah. I've moved to a different flat, so we won't have to put them through that again. (laughs)

You'll just have to move again after the next album.
(laughs) Yeah, that's it. We've got one album in each flat.


How does a Leisure Society song come about? With so many members, you're all bound to have varying tastes in music.
Yeah. Well I write most of the songs. I wrote all the songs off the latest album, but it kind of varies really, how they actually start being written.  Like the one I'm writing at the moment I'm writing from the perspective of a fisherman in the 1950s, so I've been driving round the coast line a lot. I get a lot of inspiration from being by the sea for some reason. With Into the Murky Waters, I recorded a lot of rough demos of instrumentals I had and just drove around, visiting different places and singing a long in the car and trying to wait for some lyrics to come. So usually I'll just write an instrumental bit, with a vocal melody and one or two lines, then I'll spend weeks and weeks obsessing over the lyrics, just trying to get them right. Then I'll play them to the rest of the band and just pray that they like them. They usually do, I haven't had any negative responses. So far. We shall see on the next album.
Do you put that level of work and research into every song?
Pretty much yeah. Sometimes they come really quickly, which is usually the best way. There's a song off the first album, called We Were Wasted, that just sort of came from nowhere. It just sort of wrote itself. It's nice when it happens like that, but I do tend to obsess a little too much over lyrics. I just hate it when you hear a really good song and if you hear a really bad lyric, it'll just jar with you, it'll just ruin the song for you. If all lyrics are poetry, it's nice to make a bit of effort so it's just not clichés and it's actually saying something.

That's one of the things that would terrify me about being in a band, making sure you got the right lyrics for the right song, if you know what I mean.
Definitely. It's definitely the hardest thing. I spend hours and hours worrying and obsessing over it. It's just nice when they come and you've got something you're happy with. People might think I write some cheesy lines, but if there was a line that I thought was cheesy, I just couldn't bring myself to sing it. It's something I think about a lot. Probably much too much.

Well it won you a Ivor Novello award.
Yeah, that's right. Well, unfortunately it didn't win it. We got beaten by Elbow. We were nominated two years in a row. The first I was beaten by Elbow, the second year I got beaten by Lily Allen, which wasn't as quite as easy to take.

I feel bad for bringing it up now. Sorry.
(Laughs) It was really cool though. The first year, it was all an amazing experience anyway; I was working in a warehouse at the time, so it was just an amazing day out hanging out with loads of pop stars. Because Elbow won, Guy Garvey was there and he had championed the song I was nominated for, The Last of the Melting Snow, more than anybody else. Talking of lyrics, he actually read the lyrics out on his radio show. He asked me to email them to him and he read them out on his show, that was quite a bizarre, surreal, amazing experience.

That sounds mad.
It really was! I was really into them, especially the first two Elbow albums; I was a really big fan. Guy was one of the first interviews I did. I was on my lunch break at work and I went off and did an interview on the phone with him. I heard him on the other end of the phone reading my lyrics out as he was recording the show and I was like "this is just really strange."


How satisfying was the success of the debut album? Did it add any extra pressure to the creation of the second record?
Yeah it did. It really did. The first time round I was just writing to myself really. I didn't really know whether... well, one, I didn't know if whether we'd play them live, because we weren't really a proper band, and two, I didn't know if we'd actually finish an album and release it. So this time round I knew we had a fan base, so I didn't want to disappoint them and I'm quite enjoying being a full time musician, so I don't want to stop. I put a lot of pressure on myself anyway, while writing songs, taking it far too seriously. I did feel a lot of pressure. There were a lot of sleepless nights about lyrics and stuff but it's what I always dreamt of doing so it's good to have that pressure sometimes.

I'm sure having a finished record that you're proud of makes all those sleepless nights worthwhile.
Yeah totally. I have a real love/hate relationship with song writing because now it's my life as well; it's what I make a living from, it's kind of amplified it really. It's like when you can't write a song, or you're stuck, or you've got a block over a line or something like that, it's just hell on. It's ridiculous. I hate it and I feel really unhappy and depressed all the time, then suddenly just one line can just suddenly make your week. Yeah, so it's a love/hate relationship, but there's nothing else I'd rather be doing.

What inspires The Leisure Society? Anything outside of music?
I don't know really. I read a lot. I don't know, like I said earlier, being near the coast line really seems to inspire me personally, maybe it's something in the sea air that gets the juices flowing. My life is basically just a constant quest to try and write songs.

It sounds like a nice quest to have really.
Yeah definitely. But maybe after the next album I should go back to the warehouse for a bit and feel a bit of real misery.

What do you hope listeners will get from your music? Do you think the context of your work changes within the environment that people listen to it?
I don't know really. Everyone takes different things from music, some people will just love the beat of something or people are hooked by the melody. I really like it when get into the lyrics and actually listen to them. We always put the lyrics on the album booklet, in the vain hope that people really take an interest. But I don't care, as long as people get some sort of positive feeling because song writing, or any kind of art form, is about translating emotions, so if people pick up on that, or it stirs something emotionally inside them, whether that be wanting to dance, or shedding a tear, then that's kind of what you hope for really.

It really bugs me when bands don't print the lyrics in the booklets. I don't know why, but it always has.
Yeah! Often I think they're trying to hide something. Like maybe it's not a great line. It's nice to totally immures yourself in an album, like to have the artwork in front of you, to read the lyrics as it's playing. It's nice not to have it as just background music and have it as something you really concentrate on.

That's one of the reasons why I'm not a big fan of downloads, because what do you get?
Yeah, me too, it's definitely nice to hold something, as I can attest to by the huge wall of CDs and vinyl in front of me.

I know that feeling. It's quite a highly populated band, The Leisure Society, there's seven of you, isn't there?
They are seven yeah. We've kind of flitted between six, seven and eight for a while but now we're a firmly fixed seven. So that's what we'll be touring with in February. It does make it a bit tough sometimes, seven people plus the soundman on the road. It just makes everything that bit more expensive.

ImageI was going to ask, how do you deal with so many of you? Is there an itinerary or something to make sure you stay on track?
Everyone is fairly well behaved; we're not rich enough to get a tour manager or anything like that yet so we do it all ourselves. We all chip in a little bit and we all just get on really well. Everyone is pretty laid back and so we've never really had any problems yet. But maybe this will be the tour where we all go mental and kill each other. It does make it a lot more difficult, touring with a seven piece line up, but if you do a stripped  back line up with four or five of you, then you have to sacrifice something in the music, with the type of music we play. I think it's worth the sacrifice in not making as much money, but making it a more enjoyable experience. Which of your songs are you most proud of? If you can answer that, a lot of people refuse to.
Hmm yeah, I don't know. One that is particularly stuck in my mind at the moment is We Were Wasted, just because it's been used on a film so I've seen it loads of times with this film, so the combination of it being on the end of this really powerful film. It's called Tyrannosaur by Paddy Considine. So being in a cinema and hearing it really loud over those speakers is just really... well I found it quite moving. It's really nice to be involved with something like that.

I've been wanting to see that film for ages, that gives me a bit of extra incentive to go and see it now.
Yeah, it's amazing. It's on the BAFTA list, on the long list, so hopefully it'll be up for a few BAFTAs. It just won Best Independent Film, so it's doing really well. Also, I think it was produced by Gary Oldham and when he saw it for the first time he went up to Paddy afterwards and quoted the lyrics from the second verse from We Were Wasted, which is just like a mind-blowing thought. Gary Oldham quoting my lyrics. So I'd definitely have to say that's my most proud moment of song writing.

Amazing. Which song do you wish you'd written?
Ooh I don't know, because if I'd written it I probably wouldn't enjoy it so much. Maybe something by The Beach Boys. God Only Knows.

Great song.  If the world was about to end, what would be the last song you'd listen to?
Oooh I don't know. I could say something really wacky like It's The End Of The World As We Know It but that wouldn't be it. Can you call me back in an hour when I've looked through my CDs? My mind has gone totally blank.  

If you don't pick something, I'll just make it up.
(laughs) Oh shit! Oh let me think. Again I think it'll be a Beach Boys song because they're just a band I keep going back to. And this is the end of the world we're talking about, right?

Yeah, you've got five minutes to listen to one song then the world ends.
Maybe Good Vibrations because it's totally inappropriate.  

Good choice! Who would win a fight - The Sleeper or Into The Murky Water?
It would definitely be Into The Murky Water. It would be a knock out from the first few beats of those marimbas and tribal drums that come in on the Into The Murky Waters title track.


Can you describe the new album in five words?
Er... no. Orchestrated pop music. That's less than five words.

I'll let you off since you answered the end of the world question. Finally, what does 2012 hold for The Leisure Society?
It's going to be all about getting a new album together, finishing writing the songs, then we're going to go away for a couple of weeks and just jam through the new ideas then go and record a new album at the end of the year, which is quite an exciting prospect.

Cool, well that's it, unless there's anything you'd like to add
No I think that's it. Nice to speak to you!
And to you, see you in Newcastle!

The Leisure Society play The Cluny in Newcastle on 17th February, and their rescheduled UK tour takes place throughout February. For more information about the band, and links to buy tickets to any of their shows, check The Leisure Soceity's website here.

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