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26th February 2013

Interview: I Am Kloot

The local boys done good spoke to Joe Goggins on breaking through, working with Elbow and their own Bohemian Rhapsody

“Things are picking up, man! This is as good as it’s ever been for us, it’s fucking brilliant.” Pete Jobson is in buoyant mood as he speaks to me from the back of the tour van, en route to Leeds “in a snowstorm” after opening night in Glasgow. “I won’t lie, the first gig’s always a bit seat of the pants,” he laughs, “but we managed it. We’re getting there.”

Those three words sum up, pretty poetically, where I Am Kloot stand in 2013. After a little over a decade of modest success in their home country, their fifth studio effort, Sky at Night, saw them make their breakthrough as radio play and a Mercury Prize nomination came calling. With new record Let It All In, released last month, they’re looking to cement their place as one of the UK’s premier purveyors of intelligent indie rock, and Pete reflects on how things began for the band in the mid-nineties.

“For me, it all started when I saw a documentary Tony Wilson did, which had (legendary Mancunian performance poet) John Cooper Clarke on it. I remember seeing him and thinking he was a fucking genius, and that I needed to be where he was, so I came down from Northumberland to study music in Salford. On my first day, somebody told me that if I went down to the Night and Day on Oldham Street, I’d meet plenty of musicians. Sure enough, that’s where I properly met (frontman) Johnny Bramwell.”

Despite striking up an immediate friendship, actually forming a band and making music together was something of a last resort for Johnny and Pete. “I first saw him play at Castlefield Arena; funnily enough, it was the day of the IRA bomb. I just remember being taken aback by this song he did called ‘Twist’, but we never thought we’d be in a band together. We worked at the Night and Day for five years before we got sacked, and it wasn’t til we were really desperate that we started making music together. We were called The Mouth originally; me, Johnny, Andy (Hargreaves, Kloot drummer) and a friend of ours called Bryan Glancy.”

Glancy, who passed in 2006, is probably better known to wider audiences as The Seldom Seen Kid, the man who inspired Elbow’s hugely-successful 2008 record of the same name. The Bury outfit have been closely linked to I Am Kloot since their inception, and production duties on both Sky at Night and Let It All In were handled by their singer, Guy Garvey, and keyboardist Craig Potter. “We recorded the tracks for the new album just as a three-piece, in a few studios around Manchester,” says Pete. “Then we had six weeks with Guy and Craig, where they mixed it and we added a few things and took a few others away. Guy actually recorded our first LP twelve years ago, and obviously he’s learnt so much from his own band since then – both him and Craig are technically brilliant. The fact that we’ve been such good mates for so long meant it was a really quick, spontaneous process, without too much discussion, which is the way we like to work. It’s a match made in heaven, really.”

Sky at Night was unquestionably the band’s most ambitious effort to date – as Pete puts it, “we went all out with the orchestration and didn’t worry about whether we’d be able to play it live” – but Let It All In is a more intimate affair. Was this intentional, I ask, or just reflective of the way the songs developed? “A bit of both, I think. We had such a clear idea of what Sky at Night was going to be; we had the title early on, and we knew all the songs were going to be thematically linked. I think we were just keen to make sure we didn’t do the same thing twice.”

That’s not to say, however, that there’s no connection between the tracks on Let It All In. “There’s definitely cohesion there; it’s a body of work, not a collection of songs,” says Pete. “It’d really sound nonsensical if the songs weren’t linked, and we dropped some because they didn’t fit. You can hear it in the lyrics mainly; at this point in his life, Johnny’s only really looking forward.”

Johnny might be looking forward on Let It All In, but he’s also recently reissued his old solo record, You, Me and the Alarm Clock, which The Guardian once described as “one of the best albums you’ve never heard”. “Johnny, why did you reissue your solo album?” shouts Pete across the van, relaying the question I’ve just asked him. “He said it was a combination of vanity and fiscal desperation,” he laughs. “Nah, that’s not true. Really, it gives diehard Kloot fans a sketch of what the band used to be. You can trace us back to that album, because that was what I knew of Johnny, musically, early on.”

Speaking of sketches of what I Am Kloot are, Pete speaks with real enthusiasm about ‘Hold Back the Night’ from the new record, which he describes as “the song I’d play anybody who asked me what Kloot are all about. It’s all in there, all our diverse influences; you’ve got your chilled-out hip hop drumming, you’ve got your London Calling guitar, your fucking crazy Led Zeppelin strings, your Jimi Hendrix, ‘Crosstown Traffic’ vibe, and it all comes together like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which is fitting because Queen have always been pretty important to us.”

Rumours had it that production difficulties and scrapped material had plagued the early stages of making Let It All In, and Pete’s earlier admission that songs were left off the record had piqued my interest in this regard. “I suppose that’s kind of true. Honestly, we’ve had some of these songs for a long, long time. We’ve recorded them for previous albums, then realised they didn’t fit, so when it came to making the next one we’d revisit them and record them again and try and make it so that we could get them onto the next album. ‘Let Them All In’, and ‘Even the Stars’ – they’ve both been a long time coming.”

It was Sky at Night, though, that saw things move up a level for Kloot, and it’s difficult to find much press coverage relating to it that doesn’t use the word ‘breakthrough’. “That was definitely where things went up a gear, in the UK at least. We got played on the radio, which had never happened before, and then to be nominated for the Mercury was massive for a band like us – we’ve always been about word of mouth.” Pete does reveal, though, that a more settled atmosphere around the group has also proved vital; “we’ve had the same bunch of people around us for the last two albums now, and I think we’ve become better at letting other people help us out and give us advice. It’s a big help to be in such a comfortable place.”

If ‘breakthrough’ was a term liberally applied to Sky at Night, then ‘underrated’ is the equivalent when it comes to discussion of I Am Kloot in general terms. After all this time, is that an irritating tag? “We’ve noticed it less with this record, but to be honest, that’s just the way the press are in this country; they want to be negative about you a lot of the time. They only measure your career within this country, but we’ve headlined festivals in Europe. The ‘best kept secret’ thing doesn’t seem as important outside of the UK.”

This current tour saw the band take in their biggest Manchester headline appearances to date, with two nights at The Ritz; I spoke with Pete just before the dates, and the scale of the sold-out shows certainly wasn’t lost on him. “We’re very proud of that; it was a bit of an ask, two nights there, but we’ve pulled it off somehow. I never cease to be amazed by the appetite for music, and entertainment generally, in Manchester. I remember Johnny saying to me, years ago, that if the crowd here likes you, they’ll be really passionate, and partisan, and they’ll take you to their hearts.” He pauses. “But then he also said that if they don’t like you, they’ll do their best to fuck you up,” he laughs. “There’s a lot of truth in that.”

Let It All In is out now on Shepherd Moon

Joe Goggins

Joe Goggins

Music Editor.

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