After the successful release of their Spinning Rooms EP earlier this year and a sold-out show at the Deaf Institute in Manchester as part of their first UK tour (with a Berlin show thrown in for good measure), Ist Ist return for a one-off show at the spectacular St Philips Church in Salford on Friday night. We caught up with bass player Andy to discuss the EP, expanding the band to a four-piece, why old crowd favourites will be lost forever, trying to change the public and industry perception of them and their plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond.
It’s been a few months now since you launched your Spinning Rooms EP. The CD has sold out and we understand the vinyl is close. Were you surprised by the pretty much universal positive response to it?
We were certainly surprised by the response and to an extent the sales figures. Having done a number of physical releases prior to the EP, we felt we had a good idea of how many we could sell, but the reality still exceeded expectations. Concerning the reception, we were proud of the record but seeing everyone else really appreciating it validated everything. Louder Than War rated it 10/10 and said something along the lines of “one of the best debut releases by any band.” I’m not sure I agree with that but clearly it’s made an impact. Several other blogs who hadn’t written about us before picked up on it so it was good to see that the record had made enough of an impression elsewhere for people to feel compelled to write about it.
A lot of bands comment when they release something physical that they find they’ve got an audience in places where they never expected. How far and wide did you send the EP?
A quick look at sales map and report from our online store tells me that the EP went out to the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, USA and Canada.
Three of the tracks have been played by Steve Lamacq on his 6 Music show. For a band without a manager or radio plugger pushing them that’s a great achievement. How did he come to hear of you?
I sent him a vinyl copy and a short letter saying who were, a bit about the release and why we think he’d like our music. We’re regularly told by people after shows that John Peel would have loved us and we’d have done a session with him by now. Whether that’s true or not it’s not possible to say, but as far as I’m concerned, Steve Lamacq is the closest thing to him on the radio now, so it made sense to see what he thought and if he wanted to play it. Thankfully he did.
The first song he played was I’m Not Here, which is the second track on the EP – so he clearly listened to it in full and didn’t just take the easy option of putting the lead track on the radio. It goes to show that the more human approach of sending something personalised can still work even if the world of social media, PR etc.
You did your first nationwide tour earlier in the year. How were you received outside of Manchester?
We were well-received almost universally, barring Newcastle because barely anyone turned up to the festival. Starting the tour in London was a good move and considering it was only our second time playing there, the crowd was big and surprised us. It’s Ist Ist folklore now, but I missed my flight to Berlin, so that show nearly didn’t happen but when it did it was brilliant and people were into our music.
Playing a Rough Trade venue in Nottingham was like a rite of passage and we sold more copies of the EP that night than we did at a sold out Deaf Institute. Sheffield was like a hometown show and the venue was close to selling out on Thursday night. Pound for pound, Sheffield might have been the best show of the tour, considering it was a weeknight and out of town.
You’ve added a new member Mat since your last show at the Deaf Institute. What brought you to bringing someone else into the band?
This had been mooted and had been in the pipeline for a while but we needed to wait for the right time and opportunity. Barring White Swan and Right Before Your Eyes, every song we’ve ever recorded and released either had extra guitars or keyboards on them and until the last tour we’d never tried to incorporate those elements into the live show. Spinning Rooms felt like a bold statement of intent so recreating those songs as close as possible to the record live was imperative. We went down the backing track route for some of them on the last tour. That worked fine but afterwards, bringing someone in to play extra parts live felt like the right move, plus someone else is bringing different things to the table during the writing process.
What differences in sound can we expect to hear with keyboards now part of the mix?
We’ve been careful not to change the essence of the songs; we’ve not rewritten history and changed anything fundamental. For example, Silence still sounds like Silence, Emily still sounds like Emily, but there’s another layer of sophistication there and Mat’s playing has given them a bit of new freshness and a slightly different edge. Some of the bits he’s added are really tasteful and its bittersweet because it would have been good to have him playing on the songs when they were recorded, but listening to a band’s back catalogue should always be a journey and represent some form of evolution of progression, and ours does that.
Have you been writing new material together?
The immediate priority was for Mat to become familiar with the existing songs and the songs that would likely form the setlist moving forward. That was so much easier than we anticipated. We made the decision for Mat to join even before the Deaf Institute show, but held off rehearing until after the tour. During this time, he’d been listening to all the songs so when he came in he already had a good idea of what he wanted to play on them. But yeah we’ve been writing and it’s been so exciting and easy to get things done. We’re confident that what we’re writing now is our best material to date.
Will we get to hear any of this at your St Philips headline show on Friday?
The setlist for Friday is all the singles, Spinning Rooms and the as-yet unnamed EP 2. 14 songs, so we’re essentially into stadium rock territory.
And are there plans to record and release it?
Unless there’s a seismic shift, we’re fully settled with and committed to the four songs, which are earmarked for EP 2.
With two EPs and five singles under your belt, are there plans for an Ist Ist album in the pipeline?
We’ve always got one eye on an album, but it has to be the right time. Material isn’t the reason we’ve not released one yet, because if it was simply a case of having the songs we could have recorded and released two by now. But we don’t feel enough people are knocking on our door for an album yet.
We’re selling quite a lot of physical copies of singles and EPs but as far as we’re concerned, not enough to warrant an album. Other bands will disagree but we’re unshakable in our belief that our way is the right way. It would break my heart to commit so much time, effort, emotion and money to recording, releasing and touring an album and for it to not leave a considerably larger footprint than an EP. Until we’re certain we can make a genuine impression with an album, we won’t make one.
You do have a whole set of songs that you’ve played and dropped from your set over the past few years, songs that other bands would kill to have in their set. Are the likes of Animal, Love Song and Left For Dead consigned to the past?
I think so. I can say with some certainty that those songs along with Brutalize, Things Will Never…, Ghost, etc are gone. Within the band, we feel as though Spinning Rooms set the bar and the standard so anything in the set and anything we write moving forwards has to adhere to the standard and those songs do not. The songs we’re writing with Mat need to be heard, so dropping the aforementioned songs wasn’t and isn’t a difficult decision.
St Philips is an unusual choice of venue for you and not one that’s often played by bands. What made you decide to play there?
It was a toss up between St Philips and Deaf Institute for the Manchester date on the last tour. After playing Sacred Trinity Church in February 2017, it became clear that these sort of alternative, atmospheric venues suited us and St Philips capacity was appropriate for where we are in terms of fan base and ticket sales. It’s a stunning venue and Scruff Of The Neck and ourselves have meticulously planned the whole thing from the sound system to light show to stage setup. Nothing is being left to chance and there are no half measures, so this will be Ist Ist in the most appropriate surroundings.
You released a guerilla-style recording of your Gorilla show that sold out in an hour on the strength of your live reputation. Do you have plans to capture that Ist Ist live experience for wider consumption?
It’s just became apparent that we missed a trick not calling that release ‘Guerilla.’ The plan is to record this show from the mixing desk alongside having the show professionally filmed. We’ll see what we can make of the end product and if we can release that as another live album or EP with footage to accompany it. That’s the plan.
One thing we’ve noted is that you don’t do support slots or haven’t done. Is that some sort of Stone Roses arrogance or have you just not been offered any? I can imagine you’d be quite a challenge to a headline band to match.
No absolutely not; we’d kill for some of the support slots we see other bands around us getting but no-one seems interested in coming within the same post code radius as ourselves. There’s still a misplaced conception that we’re a heavy sort of band and that may have been true around the time we were releasing our first singles but it’s not the case now. I find myself perplexed when people describe us as such. We place so much emphasis on melody and structure within songs, but it’s almost as if people have their settled preconceptions, so regardless of what we do, people have decided it’s either like Joy Division or it’s some really violent kind of music. One of the new songs we’re playing at St Philips should make people re-evaluate their predispositions shake their core beliefs of who were are and what we do, and if this song doesn’t then nothing will.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
We’re heading into the studio in mid-September to record the second EP. We’ll base everything else for 2018 and early 2019 around that EP. The recording, mixing, mastering and record pressing timescales will influence when we’ll release a single, release the EP and subsequently go on tour. Maybe we’ll have time to fit in another Manchester show by the end of the year but it’s a distinct possibility that St Philips will be our last of the year, which is absolutely fine because of the nature and scale of the show.
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The Spinning Rooms EP was released on April 6 on CD and 12" vinyl and is available to order from the band's shop. Our review of the EP can be found here.
They play Salford St Philips Church on Friday (August 17) supported by Darma and Dear Caroline. Tickets are available here.
Photo credit - Trust A Fox