Stage appearances by Leeds band I Like Trains in their home city may have been a rarity in the last four years but this month they make a welcome return – to headline the High & Lonesome Festival at Brudenell Social Club.
The five-piece also have a new album out, A Divorce Before Marriage, the soundtrack to a feature-length documentary on the group, which is screening at Leeds International Film Festival on Sunday.
After the atmospheric electronica of 2010’s He Who Saw The Deep and 2012’s The Shallows the instrumental disc marks a return to the guitar-orientated post-rock sound for which they first became known a decade or so ago.
“There’s one track that’s entirely electronic – A Misspent Youth – but then a lot of it is a bit more organic,” says Dave Martin, the band’s singer and guitarist.
“We were working to a brief of sorts with the film makers, they suggested this sort of thing that they wanted us to do and a lot of what we were soundtracking was beautful landscapes of Leeds and surrounding areas, very cinematic, and I guess we were reacting to the stuff we’d seen and to the brief.
“I think a lot of it is generally very spacious, almost skeletal melodic piano lines and and maybe some ominous drones in the background.”
The ultimate goal was to make a sustainable career from this, in that respect we’ve failed, but it’s been a glorious failure.Dave Martin
However he cautions: “I don’t think that’s necessarily a signpost for what we do next.”
In the documentary A Divorce Before Marriage film makers Matt Hopkins and Ben Lankester charted the day to day lives of the members of I Like Trains over the course of four years. “I don’t think they had any idea that this was what they were embarking on,” Martin chuckles. “When they came to us said ‘We’d like to make this documentary’ to which I said ‘Go away and pitch it to us because I don’t want this to be a vanity project’. Then they came back and told us what they wanted to do – just trying to shine a light on a band that wasn’t necessarily hugely successful but was trying to balance being creative with raising families and careers and all the rest of it. That was a more interesting take on a rock’n’roll or a non-rock’n’roll documentary for us.
“Then they started filming and there was no obvious end point for us because none of us died and there wasn’t this moment when we all became wildly famous so it was ‘OK, where do we draw that to an end?’ and so they carried on until they felt they had some sort of story out of it.”
Martin admits being followed by a film crew was “weird initially but you get used to that”.
“Then you only realise that they’re there filming when the people I’m meeting with say ‘Isn’t it weird you’ve got these guys following you round?’ It’s amazing how quickly you get used to that.
“I’ve seen the film but I don’t know whether it’s any good because that was my life condensed into 70 minutes and that’s just an odd thing to observe,” he adds. “There was obviously parts of it that were taken out. It doesn’t tell the whole story, I can fill in the gaps, I can’t watch it without knowing that other stuff.”
The film was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. It’ll be doing the rounds of film festivals such as Leeds before it’s released on DVD. In the meantime Martin says the band are releasing the soundtrack on their own label. “We had this music and we’d like to release it as an album. I guess the motivation for doing it around this time was really Leeds Film Festival and we’re playing in November as well so it just felt like the right point to release it. It doesn’t clash with anything.
“Next year we’ll be looking to release another album proper, probably towards the end of the year. But it’s a good point in our schedules to release it.”
Martin reveals the band are already in the process of writing a new record. “We never really stop. Sometimes it can be a lot quicker than other times and family life and work gets in the way but we had a good session this weekend and we’re going to do some recording at Greenmount Studios again in December – that’s in Armley and we recorded the soundtrack there. It was a really great experience working with those guys, very relaxed.
“The project we were working on was very different for us but we weren’t having to edit ourselves strictly. We were just letting the music flow and hitting record. It was probably the most satisfying recording experience we’ve ever had in our 11, 12 years we’ve been doing it.”
Having been the subject of a film has also made the band “take stock” on their dozen years together. ““I’m proud of our body of work and our work ethic in doing this,” Martin reflects. “The ultimate goal was to make a sustainable career from this, in that respect we’ve failed, but it’s been a glorious failure which kind of mirrors some of what our songs are about so it’s hugely fitting somehow.”
A Divorce Before Marriage shows at Hyde Park Picture on Sunday at 8pm. I Like Trains play at Brudenell Social Club on November 19. www.facebook.com/HighandLonesome