Louder Than War Interview: Lee Knowles of The Incredible Magpie Band
Louder Than War’s Carl Stanley thinks it’s time you were introduced to the sound of The Incredible Magpie Band, whose articulate, memorable and timeless melodies, as well as Lee Knowles meaningful lyrics, are all over their outstanding debut album, Introducing, which was released earlier this year. Check out standout songs on the album such as Straight Lines (which has an amazing likeness to that classic sound and feel of ‘The La’s’) and Castles in the Sand (a stunning Ashcroft and Verve-esqe number) and you’ll see exactly he means. The incredible Magpie Band are truly a gifted group. Despite still being relatively new to the music scene they are already armed with a strong and beautiful set of songs.
It’s inevitable, we think, that 2014 will see the continued rise of The Incredible Magpie Band.
Lee Knowles is the lead singer and guitarist of The Incredible Magpie Band and he recently took time out to talk to us about how the 5-piece from Wakefield came together, how they found their sound and how they then laid it down to create their debut album. During the chat we also talk about their influences, their thoughts on today’s music and what they have planned for 2014.
Louder Than War: Hi Lee, cheers for chatting to Louder Than War … loving the timeless melodies and beauty of The Incredible Magpie Band. How did the band originally come together?
Lee Knowles: Hello Carl. Cheers, glad you like the album. We’ve all known each other for years now, were all from the same town, Normanton, which is just on the outskirts of Wakefield. Lou (bass) Ben (Lead guitar) Matty (rhythm guitar) Andy (drums) were all in a band together and I’ve (Lee, Lead vocal and guitar) been in a few bands over the last few years so we’ve supported each other and helped each other out. We all drink in the same pubs, go to the same gigs and at one point shared a rehearsal space. Someone asked us to play at their birthday party, just doing some covers, so we booked a practice room and when we got in there and started playing together it sounded great, like we’ve been playing together for years. The seed was planted then really, but it took a couple of months before we got it together even though it was inevitable really from the first rehearsal.
How did you get the name Incredible Magpie Band … is it derived from the bands knack of picking up on a selection of styles and sounds (from say Dylan to The La’s) or something else?
Yeah, that’s what we set out to do, trying to keep the music real and true to the artists that really inspire us. We wanted to wear our influences on our sleeves and that’s what comes out in the music, we hope. If someone plays something that sounds like a band we like we don’t all stand around sucking our teeth going “you can’t play that, it’s too much like…” we go “yeah!! That’s great!! Leave it in!!” As a band you wanna play the music you wanna listen to or what’s the point? But the name actually comes from a music documentary I was watching, someone we all like was described as “an incredible magpie” and we all thought it was a cool name and it described what we wanted to do too.
Influences wise … I hear maybe a bit of Star-sailor? And The Verve, especially in tunes like ‘Castles in the Sand’ and Straight Lines’ … but what are the group’s core influences?
Definitely The Verve, but also The La’s, Oasis, The Coral, The Stones, Dylan, The Beatles, Love, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Smiths, The Stones Roses … the list goes on. There’s a lot of sixties stuff too … but not so much Starsailor; I thought their first album was really good though, especially Fever.
Are you the groups only writer or do you all contribute with lyrics and so on, and what would you say is the bands most popular tune to date?
I’m the main songwriter, but Lou is a great songwriter along with Ben. We’ve written songs together too, some tracks on the album are collaborations, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback at gigs from people all liking different songs. The ones that seem to be going down really well are Money” and “This Chose Me. We’ll be heading into Zak Starkey’s (ex-Oasis and The Who drummer as well as the son of Ringo! Had to get that in as we’re buzzing about it) studio at the beginning of February to re-record them and then release them as a double A side.
Yeah, we all have jobs. I wouldn’t say it’s hard being in a band, its amazing being in a band! I don’t know if there is less money about or the people are not as willing to part with it! Betting on the safe option, the sure thing! But who knows? It’s evolution though isn’t it? Things change and that’s something that will never change, there is no point moaning about it, we have to look forward and find another way to carry on. Bands can get to a certain level on their own now though, by being more proactive and developing without anyone breathing down their necks. People are releasing records on their own labels etc. If you meet the right people, work hard and if you’re good enough you’ll get noticed and people will listen to you, if not make sure you enjoy the ride!
What’re your own thoughts and feelings on British music right now?
Most of the stuff that’s in the mainstream is drivel, watered down rubbish. There is some good music in there, but for the most none of it does anything for me. But that’s just my opinion and we all have one. I think there are a lot of great bands out there if you look a little farther than radio one though. Music seems to be more diverse, there is everything out at once, different movements all going on together instead of one genre being at the forefront, it’s more disposable than it was. Like everything I suppose.
The album was recorded in Leeds by using a vintage recording process, can you tell us more about that?
We recorded at Greenmount studios in Leeds, all their equipment is old 60s and 70s stuff. It’s all recorded straight onto tape, they use pro tools also to make things a lot easier. We set up in the live room, all the band playing at once, we wanted to capture the live feeling of an actual band playing together, even if it didn’t sound perfect, bleed on the mics and the odd change of pace included. I think we had the eleven tracks done in a couple of days, then we just overdubbed the vocals.
Stand out songs on the album, personal favorites and why?
Castles in the Sand I like, it’s a nice change of pace on the album and the lyrics are great, uplifting! Round and Round; the drums sound great on that one and it has a huge, “day in the life “ ending. And I really like the organ on The Night Wont Wait, a guy called Ross came in and did that for us, he plays with Bad Manners among other bands. But I like them all to be honest.
Describe the band live, what’s an Incredible Magpie Band show really like?
Loads of energy and passion, the songs are probably a little heavier live, not heavy metal heavy, maybe Neil Young heavy! Ha! For a stand out show I would have to say our first London gig at The Purple Turtle at Cherry Cola. We had made some raw acoustic videos that we recorded in an old chapel with a friends 8 track and posted them on YouTube, just to get some videos up before we do an official video. We received a message on Facebook from a guy called Frankie Rizzo, he is now our manager, saying he really likes the band and he wants to arrange a gig for us in London. It’s a great venue and night and the sound is great, I think we played well too. It also turns out Frankie brought Liam Gallagher and Bonehead with him to that gig to see us, to say we were buzzing is an understatement!
What have been the biggest highlights up to now since the band formed just two years ago?
It’s been full of highlights from us all just getting in the same room and playing together, to playing our first gig at The Hop in Wakefield, to recording the album, to getting airplay, to going to London … it just keeps getting better! But we’re ready for the rough as much as the smooth, it’s all a highlight, I love it!
… and lastly, plans for The Incredible Magpie Band for 2014, what’s next?
Our next gig is at the Purple Turtle at Cherry Cola on the 8th of February and the week after that we are going in to record our single. We’ve got some great gigs in the pipeline and hopefully festivals next year. We’re looking forward to 2014.
You can get the band’s debut album ‘Introducing’ at iTunes.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.