It’s just over two weeks since the release of Ist Ist’s debut album Architecture which hit top 5 in the independent and physical album charts. A huge achievement for this fiercely independent Manchester band. Nigel speaks with bass player Andy Keating about the lockdown, the development of the band’s sound and aesthetic and what to look forward to after lockdown.
How’s the lockdown going Andy?
I worked from home occasionally as an antidote to working in the office and now it’s not that novel anymore! We have an office in the house, but it has kind of blurred the lines of where you live and work.
Everyone is out on their bikes and it’s like, you didn’t have a bike two weeks ago? and look at you, you’ve never been out jogging! I get that people need to find things to do but it’s just shifting people out of pubs and down the canal!
Joel and Mat are both on furlough but me and Adam are both working from home. They both work in music shops, but they’re still operating online, like a musical Argos, so you can still go to the store, but they don’t need 12 staff in because you can’t go in and try and drums and guitars.
When it all started in January no one would have expected it to go on like this. We had to postpone our wedding. I was due to get married at the end of March! If anyone had said in January that we would have ended up cancelling the wedding, you’d have said fuck off!
Let’s talk about the Ist Ist and the new album – How’s Adam?
He’s alright yeh, we are obviously still speaking all the time every day but it’s just fucking weird, isn’t it?
It must be exciting that you’ve gone from releasing limited edition CDs to where you are. It’s quite a jump, isn’t it? You have invested quite a lot of time and presumably money, to get to where you are?
The money side of it, everything we’ve ever earned has gone back in, none of us has ever taken a kind of dividend from the band. I remember once on Twitter because Twitters’ a fucking cesspit isn’t it? Someone commented around the time we released one of the bootleg CDs, one that Dave Brown had recorded at the gigs. I think it was the first Gorilla one. We upped it to 100 copies and sold it for five or six quid, and some smart arse commented saying ‘I can’t believe you’re making money off shit recordings’ or whatever. I didn’t reply to it, normally I would be like ‘Right! You can fucking have this’, but I was like no, I’m leaving that. But that’s perception, whether it’s shit or not – what you deem as shit, others might think that’s a really raw and visceral recording, but we sold 100 of them at what? £6 and that was £600 towards us recording our first EP.
We went in the studio to record our first EP, so that’s snowballed every time so that all the money from the first EP went back in the pot and paid for our tour. All the tour fees went back in the pot, paid for the second EP. We did that double live EP, paid for the album, so it’s just been baby steps every time, in little increments.
It’s taken time and dedication hasn’t it? A lot of bands would have given up.
It’s almost 4 years to the day since our first single White Swan, and we’ve been gigging since 2015, getting fans and getting our name out there. So, before we’d even released that we were active. Everyone does things at their own pace though, don’t they? Some bands hit the sort of jackpot and go ‘right we’ve written our album we’re going to leave and it and bang!’. They’re stars within two years. Other bands like us we just work at a different pace.
But you are more seasoned performers, you’re not young kids.
You just cast your net slightly further, you have the bigger picture in mind. The way I look at this is we didn’t really have a sharp increase. It’s not an overnight success like ‘right you do realise that because you are an overnight sensation that you’re also gonna go away rapidly?’. We can at least sustain it as we are already like are doing.
There is a maturity in the development of the band and the business side has been handled in a methodical and business type way, as opposed to four young kids getting pissed off because it’s not happened right away, and that has kind of underpinned everything hasn’t it?
I don’t see the business side of it taking the fun out of it as it’s just another element of being in a band but we have been quite methodical like, everything that we’ve done, has been considered, and whether that’s boring or not, I don’t think it is.
D’you think it’s an age thing because you’d each got jobs whereas if you were 18/19, you’d be looking to grab the cash and spend it on beer?
That was the thing. If we were going to do a thing for money it wouldn’t be being in a band either! It just wouldn’t be. It’s age and experience as well. Me and Adam met 12/13 years ago. We used to play in a punk band – we knew Joel because he was in bands at the time. We’ve done our 18-year-old/being in a band thing – get £50 because you played and go and get a fucking bag or whatever, you know? We’ve done that and we’re not interested in that now we’re doing it to make something that leaves a footprint. We’ve kind of had our eye on that for three or four years really. ‘Right, whatever the next release is it’s got to leave a footprint and we wanna do it bigger and better next time’ and how do we get there and that’s like, live CDs feed in, that’s where the EPs feed in.
I feel there is real diligence to the band – of a knuckling down and always looking forward.
Yes, I think you can map that in some of the lyrics as well, it just sort of conveys something different and it’s not being sort of, frivolous. ‘Oh, right we’ve done an EP, so I’ve got to write a song about that’, like it just sort of maps out a journey. Things change in the space of 5 years and I almost think that if you didn’t change your style of music in that five years then what have you been doing? Surely what you’re doing affects what you then write about I mean, I don’t write the lyrics, I purely do bass and visuals, but yes, the maturity. When you think about it we’re five/six years older than when we started doing this. You are bound to become a bit more savvy and diligent.
I think we are releasing it at the right time, I don’t mean the current climate but for people, us as people, we are at a point in our lives where we can back it. You know if we needed the backing financially, we could have, it’s just that it more than backs itself. We are at a point where we can release this and we can go out and tour it and we can sustain our jobs. It’s not like we need to quit our jobs to go on tour. Like I said it could have bred resentment where you go ‘right we thought our tour was going to make us millionaires, but it didn’t, because we didn’t play to enough people every night and now I’ve come off tour what am I going to do with my life’. That’s not going to happen with us.
There have been pivotal moments in the development of the band, and I think possibly the first one was the dumping of Rats, as that was a determination not to be labelled with something you weren’t comfortable with.
I’d like to say that wasn’t a conscious decision, but it was.
Our main goal was to have fun playing live, not releasing an EP and album. At the time our sort of crowds we’re more lively than they are now. We enjoyed having chaotic live shows but there are different ways of making an impact on people.
Like the Holy Trinity gigs, much more demure, much more measured
Yeh exactly. The first time we played Sacred Trinity that was full-on trauma wasn’t it? Loads of strobes, aggressive songs but there are several ways you can go about it. Before, it was a hammer, whereas now it’s a bit more like a scalpel. It’s a bit more precise.
You can still blow people away with your live show without doing it in the most obvious way. That’s not to say one way’s more right than the other, you kind of just develop with it. It was conscious because you got a lot of people shouting Rats at gigs, I’d rather people do that than stand there in silence. I’d rather they be that devoted to it than nothing but you go too far down that path and indulge it too much, and they go ‘That’s the fucking band that shout Rats all through the gig’ and on top of it, the absolute bottom line is it wasn’t actually that good a song! You don’t want to be known as ‘that’ band. If that had been a success there would have been an emphasis on us to play more of that.
The second pivotal moment was when Adam started to experiment in the studio introducing electronica into the recordings.
Yes, and that’s why Mat joined the band. Mat plays the guitar as well, you know Mat’s like having another extension of the band. If a song needs guitar, he can do the guitar, but he can also keyboards and sort of launch the drum machine. Adam would do the drum machine stuff, and I did some keyboards. We had always wanted to play live; we didn’t want to play with backing tracks.
Even if it was someone hitting a button it was live. We were dabbling with that, but we were finding it harder and harder to replicate it live. You either enter a situation where the live show is vastly different to the record, which is not the end of the world, but it’s not an ideal situation, or you get someone in. We were never precious about the three-piece thing. So, it was right what do we need to do?
Even in a band like The Experience there were holes. With only three people in a band, you will get gaps without a backing track or a virtuoso performer like Hendrix.
A once in a century talent!
Adam’s not a bad guitar player but not a solo player, he’ll tell you that. It was very much in the early days a bass and drums arrangement, quiet-loud. You get to the point where you go, ‘we can either pin ourselves to this cross forever or we can get another person in’. Mat worked at the same shop as Joel so it wasn’t like we needed to do auditioning. He knew he played in bands. Mat used to be a drummer as well! We did three rehearsals with him before he joined the band. It was very obvious that this was the right person at the right time. Even the writing element takes on a different form.
He doesn’t look like the ginger-haired kid playing the drums who doesn’t fit it – he looks a part of the band.
It’s not like we are going to have him at the back of the stage because he makes good noises with his keyboards, because we don’t really like the look of him or whatever. it was very much, the right person in more ways than one. That’s why the album sounds like it does as there are very much four different inputs. As Adam was writing theh keyboards it was almost like ‘I’m writing these for the album but not for live’.
Then the next thing is maturity. You’ve been around for five years. You’ve thrown away the tracks you don’t want to play anymore and re-recording for the album those tracks which were not recorded as slickly as you have liked. So you’ve reached the level of maturity where you can release the album that you want in the way that you want with the people that you want. Ditch what you don’t want and redo what you consider to be still a part.
There was no compromise with the album which is part of the joys of self-releasing yourself anyway. It was very much that the tracklisting we want, that’s the sound we want, this is the producer we want who has produced all bar White Swan and Night Arm anyway. He has grown as a producer and got better at what he does.
Who is it Andy?
He’s a guy called Michael Whalley – he is a roadie for trade Echo & The Bunnymen but his passion is producing and recording!
A good producer needs to understand the way a band wants to sound while putting something of himself into it
Exactly. We’ve always seen him as a sort of ‘fifth Beatle’ type of thing In a sense, it’s like that, where we respect his input as much as we do ours.
It’s like someone has really worked hard on the field of sound, moving the drums over here, the bass over there, it’s really polished.
For the first time, we never sat down at the desk and physically mixed with him. It’s very difficult for example, to move a drum, say in the mix over email. Sometime sit was literally like grabbing one of the faders and saying that’s where it needs to be. And he is not precious in that way at all. I mean look at the result. We sat there at weekends and evenings making tiny tweaks. Say, for example, Joel didn’t quite like the sound of his snare drum but rather than articulate that you might end up settling with something you’re not 100% happy with. Partly because you might go ‘Fucking hell I just don’t have the time to critique every single element of every single instrument, and every single song’ whereas this time it was very much ‘right just change that’, building up the trust with the producer!
How about the design of the product Andy – It feels that all it’s right now; the art supports the look feel and sound?
The logo, we wanted something that you could recognise without the band name being on it. Like if you see Coca Cola it’s like that white sort of swirl? with a red background. So if they saw those triangles they’d do ‘ah that’s Ist Ist’ but you just kind of, you don’t want to make it too contrived, but you just want to make it that aesthetic that backs up the sound. That even extends itself to the live show.
Some bands trend on not having any kind of aesthetic and they’re almost completely garage and DIY. You get some bands and you’re thinking ‘God the music sounds great but they look like shit’ and you see them live and they look like shit. They all dress differently you know? Can you imagine if we all went on stage and we’d just got like, baggy jeans? and trainers on you’d be like?
You have a very strong aesthetic and it’s unusual, it’s unique. Frankly and I know Adam hate this, and you hate it, it’s a little bit Joy Division. You know what I mean? The black and white, the architectural pictures, like Kevin Cummings?
I have got no problem with the Joy Division comparison when they are made properly, but like that, Joy Division had this whole factory records thing. I grew up listing to Joy Division and we probably have got subconsciously influenced by them as a designer but it’s when you hear a song and they go ‘fucking hell they’re just copying Joy Division. Oh my god fucking hell, I can’t be arsed explaining that it’s not copying it but whatever.
I just feel again that without it being contrived and stuff like that, it’s not like you’re doing fancy dress, but I feel as though when you go and watch a band and if you pay quite a bit of money to watch them, you almost want to buy into that ‘wow they look fucking good’ you know? Or you buy the album and you’d be surprised, well you wouldn’t because you buy loads of records like I do. You get a big band and you get the record and the product’s shit, you know? It’s like a cheap record.
You know, in the past our EPs, they weren’t heavyweight records because we couldn’t afford them, but this album is like heavyweight vinyl, in a gatefold sleeve. The artwork is really fucking nice, but some, bands, big bands, and it’s an absolute piece of shit record, and you’re thinking, ‘this is a big band who must have the money to do it’, you don’t almost buy into it as much like. ‘I dunno, maybe it’s not as good as I thought it was’.
Remembering back when we used to buy vinyl albums and singles, the very act of sitting there and opening the cover and getting lost in the lyrics – it was just that moment of getting it, smelling the cardboard, smelling the vinyl, as it slipped out of the sleeve, and just having that tactile moment and connection between aesthetic, smell and sound.
An experience as opposed to… and that’s why we did the CDs as well, we could have easily put them up on Bandcamp. On those early CDs, there was no artwork or anything. This record, it’s a nice gatefold record it’s got a pull-out sleeve, it’s got the lyrics in there, and everything like that a nice photo on there. It is very much an experience, you are then more inclined to lend it your ear.
I remember going into a record shop and looking at an album, looking at the sleeve and buying it on the basis of what it looked like.
I’m glad you said that. When we did Spinning Rooms and it had that chimney on there, I remember when it was stocked in Piccadilly records, and they all sold out and we sent them a few more copies. The guy behind the counter at Piccadilly said, ‘Someone bought it, and he said to the guy, just because of the cover art. He’d never heard of us!
I did it once when I was in a New York record shop with some American Indie band so it was the same as us being stocked in Piccadilly.
The artwork and the whole aesthetic has got to be all symbiotic really. In the sense that when you see a band on Social Media and they look dead cool and imposing, like on the videos and then you see them live, and it’s like four fucking lads on stage, and they are fairly introverted or something. It’s like ‘ah right, that’s really let me down that has, as it’s not what I thought it would be’. It’s all important. It all has its place in the band mix.
So, the third stage of Ist Ist is it’s established. All the ducks are in a row. The sound, the look, the aesthetic, the imagery. Everything seems to be sorted now. I don’t want to blow smoke up your arse, but I feel it’s your time.
That’s because we didn’t blow our load too early. We could have put an album out three years ago, but we didn’t have enough fans to. I know we sold out of those CDs but 100-150 CDs is not enough to do an album.
We have had it in our minds since Spinning Rooms that if it does happen, then we want to be ready for it all. So, it does feel like if it is going to happen then as you say all our ducks are in a row.
It feels right, doesn’t it?
Yeh and if someone had approached us two years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been ready to walk through the door. If someone had said ‘right you need to take a sabbatical from work because we are going around Europe for two months, but you are going to get paid this much, and then you need to do that in the studio’ a couple of years ago, I don’t think we would have thought we had our shit together, But now we’ve got an album behind us, loads of merch, we’ve got loads of fans in parts of the UK. It’s very much a case of lining them up one by one.
I was talking to some guy on Twitter who was asking about old tracks and I told him they were on Spotify. When I looked, they had gone!
Yeh, you know what we pulled them on the Monday, two weeks before the release.
It was because the album was about the drop., I like the older ones, it was a point in our lives, but they just didn’t stand up quality-wise to what was about to come out.
Only production-wise, the songs are still great.
I am talking purely from an audio perspective, but in a way, I want people to go ‘Where can I find this’ and it becomes a bit of a sub-culture.
Imagine the demand if the band really takes, off for those early CDs – it will be ridiculous!
Who most influenced you Andy?
I grew up listing to a lot of punk as my dad’s into it. Jean Jacques Burnell from The Stranglers. Early hefty bass but then to Joy Division and Interpol.
Who do you rate now?
International level Protomartyr, The Preoccupations. My favourite record last year was Lana Del Ray! I love that shit me! We played with a band in Hull, the second EP tour, they were called Autosuggestion, but they were really good live; a bit raucous, a bit like the Fall. A lot of time when I could be going to gigs, I’m working or recording, so I don’t get to so many up and coming gigs.
What’s coming up then Andy with lockdown in place it must be difficult?
We’ve got the tour coming up in October now. We were planning for this in May, then do Europe but everything has been pushed back.
What about after lockdown Andy?
I just hope that people come to realise what’s most important in their lives are, as opposed to everything being superficial. You know ‘When I was locked down in the house for 12 weeks I really took stock of what mattered’ – such as beers at any time of day!
Ist Ist Architecture here: Buy Here