I Like Trains play a one off hometown headline set at the High and Lonesome festival in Leeds and here singer/guitarist David Martin reflects on a new film that traces their struggle to survive after being dropped by their record label.
For most bands a music documentary is a chance to reflect on a long and successful career but for Leeds indie rockers I Like Trains it was the exact opposite.
Their new film A Divorce Before Marriage traces the aftermath of being dropped by their record label, which is usually a death sentence for most bands, but the filmmakers spend long periods with the five members as they fight back while balancing new careers and in some cases fatherhood.
“It was shot over about four and a bit years and seeing that amount of your life condensed into 70 odd minutes you can’t tell the whole story so things are streamlined for cinematic effect, and for me watching I can fill in the gaps about what is happening at that time,” notes singer/guitarist David Martin.
“It’s hard for me to judge as I don’t have the critical facilities to judge if this is a good film, and it’s a very strange experience.”
I Like Trains trade in complex brooding epics, with an often pessimistic worldview, that have featured in Hollywood movies and TV shows. In some ways the film’s dark look does complement their recorded output without always capturing the band’s internal dynamics.
“From my point of view the film focuses on a struggle, and that is the narrative, and I guess you don’t see us as people in the way we often are, which is generally fairly light hearted and we obviously enjoy what we do otherwise what we wouldn’t be doing it.
“It’s not a life or death situation, but it is something we are passionate about, and do it to the best of our abilities juggling that with careers and starting families.”
Even the very best music documentaries – like the Jonathan Demme directed Stop Making Sense – seem to be an uneasy collaboration between two forces as musicians and filmmakers try to make sense of their two very different creative processes.
“One of the questions that came up at the premiere was that the filmmakers had a story they wanted to tell and not necessarily the same story we would tell.
“I didn’t want it to be a vanity project, and the filmmakers to make the film they wanted to make, but I guess part of the motivation for being in a band lies in what we get back from our fans and there are a lot of positives. I don’t want us to come across as bitter people as we were given incredible opportunities as musicians with the record deal, and we are incredibly proud of what we have achieved through our own hard work, so we’re grateful for that.
“We’re probably not miserable as we sometimes make ourselves out to be or as the film might suggest.”
A Divorce Before Marriage is directed by Matt Hopkins and Ben Lankester, but in order to spend the time they did with the band they needed cash, so they decided to see if the band’s hard core fan base would support a crowd funding call. They clearly did as the film got made, but the directors were shocked at the instant online response raising a staggering 28 grand as the fans dug deep to help.
“These are the moments when you take stock of what it is you have done and some days it can get you down that there aren’t infinite budgets, and the rest of it you get from being on a label, but when you see people willing to invest their own hard earned money you realise why you’re doing it. It makes it worthwhile that people are interested enough in what you do that they are willing to invest in it, and that means everything.”
The completed movie is a beautifully shot look at the highs as well as the lows of trying to stay viable as an act, but there must have been times during the darkest times when the five band members contemplated just calling it a day and getting proper jobs?
“As you get older, we’re all in our mid-30s, and maybe have other priorities, but it’s never got to that point,” muses Martin, “That thought is there, but I don’t know that we sat down and said we can’t carry on. We need to look forward and focus on what it is we want to do next. There are many reasons why it would make life easier if we did stop, but it’s always about the next album, the next tour and whatever we have got planned.”
If having a film made about your struggle to survive in a world when the Internet makes it ever harder for bands to earn a living was not surreal enough, it then got even weirder when the band were asked to write the soundtrack for their own life story.
“The biggest challenge for us was the time constraints after the filmmakers asked if we would like to do this, but the answer was of course.
“It was the time to edit and they like to edit to music, rather than vice versa, and we had to turn it round in a few months. We had to work quickly which was a brilliant experience as we tend to labour over everything we do and make sure everything is exactly in the right place.
“This time we had to work on our instincts and produce music very naturally. It was a shot in the arm to realise we could work in that way and that is feeding how we work now as we don’t have the same amount of time we used to have. They were some of the relaxed recording sessions we ever had.”
Inspired by that experience of being unlikely film stars I Like Trains are going into the studio in December to record a new album, but before that they will be road testing some new material alongside older tunes during a one off High and Lonesome Festival headline set at Brudenell Social Club on Saturday November 19. To book go to www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk.
All words by Paul Clarke. You can find more of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.