I Like Trains- interview by Cath Aubergine
I Like Trains have been around for a couple of years exploring the same kind of fascinating terrain as British Sea Power captivating many people with their brilliantly original music including Cath Aubergrine
It was the name that caught my attention first: iLiKETRAiNS. After a couple of failed attempts I finally got to see the oddly named Leeds-based band in 2006 just before they released their single “Terra Nova”Â, a beautifully sweeping piece of Icelandic-influenced (musically, that is) post-rock whose lyrics detailed the tragic final expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and even quoted from his final writings. They were wearing brown 1970s British Rail uniforms and featured a live projectionist displaying his own artwork (as well as playing the cornet on some songs). A few months later, at In The City 2006, they announced they had signed to Beggars Banquet and a debut album “Elegies To Lessons Learnt”Â followed in mid-2007 ”â here the subject matter included the strange story of failed yachtsman Donald Crowhurst (already the subject of a few films; well worth a Google if you’re unfamiliar), the Salem Witch Trials, the Great Fire Of London and Spencer Perceval (the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated in office). Definitely not your average guitar band, then. Fellow indie individualists British Sea Power liked the band enough to take them on tour and invite them to play at their self-curated Tan Hill Inn festival ”â twice.
iLiKETRAiNS – TERRA NOVA from Ashley Dean on Vimeo.
By this point, however, they were without a record label, having been a casualty of the Beggars Group restructuring; and the projectionist left (amicably) to pursue his film-making. Some bands might have thrown in the towel – not this one. Changing their name (slightly) to the simpler I Like Trains, they set about writing a new set of songs and after self-releasing a single (“Sea Of Regrets”Â) in 2009, they made their second album completely independently. Recordings complete, they invited fans to pay upfront for their copies via a scheme called PledgeMusic in order to pay for its mastering and manufacture ”â the result was 2010’s exceptional “He Who Saw The Deep”Â, considered by most fans and indeed critics to be their finest work to date. The album sees a harder edge to their songwriting, whilst its lyrics focus heavily on rising sea levels and a future that doesn’t look at all bright. That the album exists at all, however, is a rare story of positivity in today’s shaky and unpredictable music industry ”â yes, Marillion (and others) have been doing something similar for some time now, but I Like Trains don’t exactly have a Marillion-sized global fan-base. They found, however, that what they had was enough ”â and are currently ten dates into a lengthy European tour”Â¦
So, where are you right now?
Somewhere between Hamburg and Dresden after a quick curry wurst stop.
Looks like the tour’s going really well out there – sold out gigs, sold out items from the merchandise – you enjoying it?
It’s better than we could have possibly hoped for really. We’ve always enjoyed coming to play shows in Europe, but this time there seems to be some real momentum for us. It’s difficult to explain, but there seems to be a real hunger from the fans. That anticipation spurs us on to put all our energy and more into the shows.
Any good tour stories?
Everything is all going a little too smoothly. No robberies or near death experiences so far. We’re just waiting for something bad to happen as it always does. So nothing too juicy on the tour story front as yet. We were playing on the same night as Godspeed in Brussels and managed to sneak into their sound check and caught the last three chords. They were good chords.
Which dates have been the best so far?
Everything has exceeded our expectations, but the best show for me was the Botanique in Brussels. The combination of a fantastic venue, a hungry sold out crowd, good sound and managing to play mostly right notes!
OK, let’s backtrack a bit. You released your second album entirely independently through PledgeMusic. Now I believe that when you parted company with Beggars you did have a bit of interest from other labels – why did you decide to do it like this?
There was some interest, but we felt the offers wouldn’t do the record justice. We have released the record on our own label in the UK and licensed it to labels across Europe. In this way we know that everyone involved in the record is genuinely into the music, and I would put a great deal of the momentum we’re feeling in Europe down to that. Self releasing the record has been a great deal of hard work, but we are beginning to see the fruits of that hard work, and that is extremely satisfying.
They say people really find out who their friends are when their luck’s down, I guess this is the band equivalent – you really find out who your fans are, or at least how many there are and how much they care. Was there a bit of apprehension there when you launched the scheme?
Absolutely. Its overwhelming to know that over 800 people cared enough about our band to put their hard earned money into a record that they hadn’t heard yet. We really had no idea whether anyone would notice when our Pledge campaign went live. We thought that it might be a long hard process to get to our total. To reach the total in a little over 24 hours was extremely gratifying and totally unexpected. Every time I meet someone who Pledged I thank them for helping us to release the record.
Some of the stuff you had up for grabs on the Pledge site was pretty unique – things like handmade lyrics books are definitely going to appeal to a certain sort of person – do you think the sort of people who listen to ILT helped here, at least at first? I couldn’t see fans of a lad-rock band paying what was, I seem to remember, quite a lot of money for something like that…
We’re very lucky to have the sort of fan base we do. It wouldn’t work for all bands. I guess we’ve always tried to create our own world with the subject mater of our songs, and with that we are beginning to foster a strong community.
What about the “game of Scrabble with Alistair” (bassist)? Did that happen in the end?
It hasn’t happened yet, but it will. Alistair will win, or there will be trouble”Â¦.
And now you’re being held up as a success story for this approach every time there’s a press article about it. Is this the future of the (non-chartpop) music industry we’re looking at?
I have no idea. It worked for us, at the stage we are at in our career. It is different for bands starting out who won’t have fostered the same fan base, but the Pledge concept can work on a smaller scale too, to release a 7 inch single for example, and build it up from there. We need to wait for someone to build a sustainable career from scratch before we declare it the future of the music industry. At the moment it is a potentially viable alternative to the conventional record deal.
So the tour started back in mid-January; you’ve done Belgium, Holland and Germany; then you’ve got Italy and Switzerland and a full eight dates of UK tour to come. Did you arrange all this independently as well?
Er, no. We’ve stuck by our booking agent, and they’ve stuck by us!
How do you manage it? I’m guessing you’ve all got jobs back home?…
We do have day jobs, but in releasing the record on our own label we’re beginning to see a route out. There are fewer people taking a slice of this particular pie. This tour has also been quite lucrative with the merch doing very well.
OK, let’s talk about the music a bit. The first album was mostly about dead people with a particular leaning towards those who died in unfortunate circumstances (Donald Crowhurst, Spencer Perceval, plague victims) but you don’t seem particularly miserable as people ”â where did all that come from?
There is a dark side to all of us, non? The people we wrote about had more interesting lives than our own, so seemed more deserving of attention than my inner demons or struggles with the rent. I genuinely enjoyed the research that went into writing those songs, and in picking particular subjects we could hold a mirror up to society.
And by my reckoning the second album’s got an even higher body count as it seems to allude to the end of days, an imminent environmental catastrophe…
I guess you’re right! My research centered around the science of climate change, and the projections don’t paint a particularly positive picture. I find it interesting that many of the reviews for the album seem to suggest that this is a more personal album. It’s not something I intended, but it’s difficult not to get caught up in how this will affect us, if you choose not to ignore it! It was important for me that it wasn’t an album that was going to preach to people, to tell them how to live their lives. I’m merely telling it how I see it.
And then before the album was even released we saw the horrific flooding in Pakistan, and now there’s been flooding in Australia of all places. Add to that the other weird shit going on, flocks of dead birds falling out of the sky. It’s like you’re the prophets of doom here…anything else you need to warn us about?
Rivers of blood, plagues of locust etc etc. Exciting times”Â¦
Finally, what other music are you enjoying yourselves right now?
We’re touring Germany with a band from Finland called Delay Trees. They’re quite splendid. The forthcoming album from Jeniferever is also a belter. Its time to move to Scandinavia. Closer to home, check out Stalking Horse. You may know him as Wu from This Et Al.
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I LIKE TRAINS ON TOUR NOW”Â¦
24th Jan 2011 Kranhalle ”â Munich”Â¨26th Jan 2011 Chelsea ”â Vienna”Â¨27th Jan 2011 Ligera ”â Milan”Â¨28th Jan 2011 Bronson ”â Ravenna”Â¨29th Jan 2011 Rote Fabrik ”â Zurich”Â¨30th Jan 2011 Rocking Chair ”â Vevey”Â¨31st Jan 2011 La Rocher Palmer ”â Bordeaux”Â¨2nd Feb 2011 The Hope ”â Brighton”Â¨3rd Feb 2011 Moles ”â Bath”Â¨5th Feb 2011 Norwich Arts Centre ”â Norwich”Â¨6th Feb 2011 The Jericho – Oxford”Â¨7th Feb 2011 Nottingham Bodega – Nottingham”Â¨9th Feb 2011 Fusion ”â Sheffield”Â¨10th Feb 2011 Shipping Forecast ”â Liverpool”Â¨11th Feb 2011 The Duchess ”â York”Â¨10th March 2011 Camden Barfly ”â London