Ist Ist are in the middle of a tour to promote the release of their second EP Everything Is Different Now. We caught up with bassist Andy Keating for a chat ahead of their hometown Manchester Gorilla show about how their sound has developed, those Joy Division comparisons that dog them and their plans for an album.
You’ve just released your second EP Everything Is Different Now to pretty much universally positive reviews. Has the response to it surprised you?
It has. We were proud of the record as soon as we wrapped up in the studio and you should write music for yourselves first and foremost, but when you see that it's moved people enough to write a review, and be positive about it, it validates everything you’re doing.
Your audience is very much the type that will buy physical product and merch and stay loyal rather than skip from band to band based on Spotify playlists or “tastemakers” - the EP was pressed on beautiful red vinyl for example. When you’re recording and planning releases, is physical very much your focus?
Physical is absolutely the focus. How good is it when you get a new record you’ve been waiting for and you get it out of the sleeve and look at the vinyl and look at the artwork and cover notes?
It's great to be on all the streaming sites and you have to be on there or else your reach and listenership is reduced, but releasing physical copies is the thing which really motivates us. Yeah it's good to see when people are sharing pictures of their Spotify playlist and we’re included, but seeing all those pre-order copies of the red vinyl on people’s turntables was beautiful.
The sound of the EP has very much evolved from the previous one Spinning Rooms. Was that a conscious or a natural process?
Being the type of band we are, evolving the sound is something we do subconsciously and always have done, but bringing Mat in was of course a conscious decision and he’s changed the dynamic and the blueprint for us writing music. With a fourth member and dedicated synth player and extra guitarist on some songs, the sound was always going to be different, but we’re always going to retain that Ist Ist sound.
We feel as though these two EPs are two markers for who we were at the point of recording and release. I’ve got great memories of being in the studio recording Spinning Rooms and doing our first national tour in support of the record and I hope when people listen to the records they have their own memories attached to them.
Those lazy Joy Division comparisons are still there though as if people haven’t listened to I Want To Disappear and Undignified off the EP. That has to make you want to tear your hair out?
I’m trying to find a way to articulate how it makes me feel without it coming across as though I’m saying I like the comparisons when they’re positive and dislike them when they’re negative. I think when people say things in passing like “Ist Ist are a Joy Division covers band” that’s its just disrespectful and quite frankly, fucking bollocks. People saying that either haven’t listened to enough Joy Division or enough Ist Ist.
I’m absolutely fine with it when people say they saw Joy Division back in the day and we remind them of that era or whatever, because that’s coming from a point of experience and knowledge. The comparisons have been there since day dot so they’re not going away and there are far worse bands to be compared to; ‘Closer’ is one of the jewels in the crown of the post-punk canon, but let’s not take the piss, our music sounds nothing like that and it never has. It doesn’t really anger me, I just don’t understand why bands have to be compared to other bands so readily.
You’ve had some excellent support from Piccadilly Records who stocked your debut but have had the EP in the window for six weeks and made it their release of the week when they had pre-release copies. Does the support of an iconic local record shop feel like a vindication?
Piccadilly Records is the best record shop in the county – having our record in the window for six hours would have been good enough, but release of the week too! Blew my mind. And to have our two vinyl EPs stocked there and have people buying them is brilliant. We’ve won as far as I’m concerned.
You’re playing your first Scottish gig at Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh on March 30th and you’ve just played busy shows in Leeds and London. Is it exciting to be going out to play to new people in different places and having bigger crowds each time?
Being out on tour and getting back into a gigging schedule is when it becomes real. I love the excitement of receiving a test press of your new release and seeing those red vinyls for the first time, but when you’re on stage playing the new songs and people are singing them back at you – give me that every time. That’s why everyone starts a band, surely?
About the venues, we’re playing a couple of the same ones as we did on the Spinning Rooms tour. That was a deliberate decision because we wanted to compare crowd sizes and compare the sort of reception we got. When we played the Sebright Arms in London this time round there was literally double the amount of people who were there in April 2018. We’re a DIY band, we don’t have a label, we don’t have a manager or booking agent and we don’t get national radio play, but we’ve just travelled down to London from Manchester with two EPs under our belts and put 100 people in a room on a Friday night.
Live, it has felt the last few times we’ve seen you, at the sold out Trades Club Independent Venue Week gig and in Leeds, that you’re more relaxed on stage and creating more of a connection with the audience. Do you see it that way too and what do you think is behind that?
Definitely. I think we’ve really started to settle on our identity as a band; who we are, what we enjoy doing and how our live shows should be. A couple of years ago we wanted to blow people’s heads off with the sound but you change and you grow out of it. You learn that there are different ways to make an impression and different ways to go about playing music live. Some bands come to that realisation very early on, some take longer.
We’re rehearsing a lot more than we used to and we don’t leave anything to chance either. The tour setlists have been planned since the back end of last year and we’ve worked really hard on them. When you’re growing your audience and you know 120 people are going to turn up on a weeknight in Leeds having paid for tickets, you also feel an obligation to be the calibre of band they expect you to be.
It does feel like most of the rest of the Manchester music community sees you as outsiders as you have very strong views on how your music should be presented rather than conforming to a catch-all template. Is it frustrating that you’re not getting opportunities, airplay and coverage that your ticket and record sales suggest you should?
Sometimes I find myself being really frustrated at seeing other bands having doors opened for them and getting some amazing opportunities, but then I catch myself and don’t want to take for granted what we’re doing. The grass regularly seems greener and given how much smoke and mirrors and bullshit there is in the music industry, it's better to just focus on yourself.
We sold out Hebden Bridge Trades Club in Independent Venue Week, we should be proud of that instead of worrying about what other bands are doing. We’re laying foundations and we’re in this for the long haul; the people who listen to us today will still listen to us tomorrow and we want to grow that number steadily.
You can’t put a price on integrity either, maybe we’d get more opportunities, airplay and coverage if we changed our sound and style and got into bed with certain people, but we want to be in control of our art first and foremost. Sorry if it’s pretentious, but people should see their music as art.
That awkward reputation you seem to have, do you feel that’s justified or does the band’s focus and adhesion to its principles create that impression?
I don’t feel like it’s justified at all. You’ll attest to us being a decent bunch of guys who just happen to feel strongly about their music but are a band who are willing to go the extra mile for their fans. Yeah fine we’re not a sunshine and rainbows band but then we’re not like that as people either. Maybe the music being non-mainstream makes us seem awkward but I genuinely adore the people who support us and anyone who comes and has a chat with us after shows and wants a record signing or a picture taking will see us as anything but awkward.
So we won’t see you changing your image and prancing around in colourful shirts any time soon?
Will you fuck.
You’re now two EPs in and you’ve been playing a new song Black at your recent shows. Is there more new material in the pipeline and can we expect an Ist Ist album soon?
We’re currently writing an album. We’ve got about six new songs we’re going to demo after the tour but we want to write a lot more so we have plenty to choose from. If you wanted to release a ten song album and wrote ten songs but stopped there, how would you know what the eleventh song would be like. What if that was the best of the lot?
I’m not prepared to set a date for release because as I’ve alluded to in previous interviews, I feel the art of an album is sacred and no band should ever rush something like that. You only get to release your debut album once. We’ve written and gigged enough songs to have released three albums, but what’s the point if they don’t form a genuine album? Albums should take the listener on a journey from cover to cover and that’s what we intend to do.
You’re going back to Gorilla on March 16th. Who have you got supporting you at the gig and what can we expect from your set?
I suppose it’s spoiling the surprise but the setlist will be all the songs from both EPs, a few of the singles and the new one, Black. That takes us to about an hour. When you get back out touring and gigging you begin to really hit your stride, so by the time Gorilla comes around, the set and show are going to be Ist Ist at their best.
Support on the night comes from Red Light Effect and Cavana.
And finally what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
We’re booked at play at Kendal Calling which is very exciting and we can’t wait for that. We’re going to carry on writing songs for the album and start recording demos of them so we can start to get a feel for how we’ll approach the recording process. We didn’t gig as much as we’d have liked to last year because baby Betty arrived but we’re aiming to go back out and do another tour later in the year. This has already been a good year for us but we’re really eager to see what we can do for the rest of it.
Ist Ist are on Facebook and Twitter.
Ist Ist play this month atSheffield Cafe Totem (9), Nottingham Rough Trade (15), Manchester Gorilla (16) and Edinburgh Sneaky Pete's (30).
The EP is available on red and black vinyl and CD to order from their website alongside limited remaining copies of Spinning Rooms
Photo credit - Trust a Fox Photography