Leeds band I Like Trains gear up for their first festive release
There's nothing quite like the jolt of your record company going belly-up to focus musicians' minds.
For some the loss of a prized three-album deal can spell the end, for others having to fend for themselves again can be revitalising.
Take Leeds band I Like Trains, formerly signed to Beggars Banquet. Back in May – just hours before they were due to play a headlining show at the Brudenell Social Club – they learned their label, once the proud home of Gary Numan, Bauhaus and The Cult, was to become "back catalogue only" – and the deal they'd signed a couple of years earlier was dead.
Onstage that night there was a mixture of bemusement and defiance – but as the band prepare to return to the venue six months on, there's a new mood of optimism radiating from the I Like Trains camp.
"It was unfortunate but it's the way things are at the minute – the whole industry is in a complete mess. It was inevitable but in a lot of ways it's not been a bad thing. It made us look at ourselves again," reflects bass player Alistair Bowis good-humouredly.
"It brought about a lot of energy. I wouldn't say we were getting complacent but it's brought new dimensions to what we are doing. It's opened up a lot of possibilities. One door closes and you've got other doors that you can choose between."
One of those doors led to the recording of a new instrumental work, The Christmas Tree EP, which is out in limited edition CD and DVD format (as well as download) through Fantastic Plastic.
Like many an ILT release, it's based on a historical event – this time the sinking of the rigger the Rouse Simmons on Lake Missouri in November 1912. The ship, skippered by one Captain Santa (Hermann E Scheunemann), was carrying a cargo of Christmas trees from Canada to the USA.
"There was a huge storm. Among others, that ship was wrecked and all hands lost," explains Alistair.
"We just thought it was quite a dramatic tale – something that should bring happiness to America, it all went horribly wrong one night."
A short film has been shot to accompany the EP – but for the first time it's been made without the assistance of the band's sometime cornet player, Ashley Dean, whose distinctive animation – inspired by Czech film-maker Jan Svankmajer – was such a feature of the band's videos and stage shows. Instead the band opted to work with a young video-maker, choreographer and dancer.
"Ash has gone back to university," reveals Alistair. "He's doing a masters degree in animation.
"It was a tough thing but it was kind of the right thing because we are moving on with our design. He's got lots of things going on with his animation. It will let him spread his wings and fulfil his potential as an animator.
"Who knows? Maybe one day we will collaborate again. It's a fresh start that's come about partly as a result of the whole label debacle."
While the band works on new material, the EP serves as a handy stop-gap. It will though, says Alistair, probably be the band's last release with a historical theme.
Though keeping his cards close to his chest about the new "concept" they are working on, he says: "We are actually moving away from the historical things with the stuff that we are writing now. It's really interesting and great but we don't want to get stuck as the band that do historical songs. We'll always have things that mean things in our songs but it's time to move on and look towards the future."
I Like Trains began work on their new songs in the wilds of North Yorkshire.
"It's a house that a friend has up there," says Alistair. "It's empty most of the time. We were trying to find a new place to do some recording. We needed somewhere fresh. It's a really beautiful place, right out near Settle, on the outskirts of a village. It's a mile or so from the nearest house. You can remove yourself from any distractions at all – it's far away from a pub.
"It was raining outside. We had no possible thoughts of going out; we just sat down and wrote – and tried to figure out how to work an Aga. It took us four hours to cook a pizza on the first night but we got there..."
The sessions proved fruitful but, says Alistair, there's still some way to go with the follow-up to their debut album, Elegies to Lessons Learned.
"We're still writing at the minute. We're on the way. We're definitely aiming to record in the first quarter of next year, if possible. It just depends on how long it takes to write. We don't want to rush it. That's partly why we've released this EP – to bridge the gap."
The band are currently on tour in Europe at the moment but they return to Leeds for a gig at the Brudenell Social Club on Thursday, December 11.
If things go to plan, it should be the first chance for fans to hear some of that new material.
"We will be doing some new songs in there. We've got a few we have been playing lately," says Alistair.
"We probably won't be getting into the EP. It's a 25-minute piece of music it would be difficult to get into the rest of the set. It would be nice to do it one day, though."
Tickets for I Like Trains's Leeds gig are available from Jumbo and Crash Records. The Christmas Tree EP is available to order from www.hmv.com and various other outlets.
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