INTERVIEW: Talking Trump, Brexit and Breakups with The Leisure Society
Updated: May 1, 2019
The Burton born indie folk band, The Leisure Society, have just released their latest album, Arrivals and Departures and are set to start the first leg of their UK tour next month, stopping off at Nottingham’s Glee Club on 23 May. Before the tour begins, we caught up with lead-singer Nick Hemming. We talked everything from Donald Trump to Brexit and break-ups.
Hi Nick, first of all congratulations on the new album.
Thank you very much.
This is your fifth album, are you just as excited about this one as your very first?
More so actually. I’m a bit apprehensive about this one to be honest as this one took so long to complete. Usually, we release one every two years, but with this one it took four years. Mainly because I was living out of a suitcase for two years, so it made it quite difficult to get things finished.
Yes, I heard it was recorded all over the country, including the Cotswolds and the Peak District?
Yes, Richelieu in France too.
How did you find yourself there?
It was actually inspired by a relationship break-up after I split up with the flute player in our band. After the split I moved out of our home and actually found myself homeless as I just couldn’t afford to rent anywhere. So, I was basically just staying with friends and if I had a friend with a big kitchen, I’d set up my studio there when they went out to work and carry on working on the album. This just made it a really long process and also whilst I was doing all this travelling, I started writing loads more songs about what I was going through. That’s why it became a double album really, because of the long, long recording process.
Do you feel it’s easier to write songs when you are going through something tough like this?
Definitely, yeah definitely. I’ve always been inspired by heartache really and the first album was inspired by the same thing. That’s how I started writing songs really, just as a way to deal with the stuff that was going on in my life. I’ve always found that happiness kinda writes right with me. If I’m happy there’s nothing to write about as I’m just living life and just being happy. The trouble with that is I’m only really ever happy when I’m writing songs, so it means I’ll never ever truly be happy *laughs*.
Oh no, that’s a tricky situation you’ve got there. The song ‘God Has Taken a Vacation’, is that about the break up?
Yes, partly yes. At the same time as I was writing and recording it loads of weird stuff was going on, like Trump getting elected and the country being divided by Brexit. Everything just seemed a bit chaotic and crazy, which echoed what I was going through in my personal life, so it’s probably a mixture of everything really.
Does that mean ‘God Has Taken a Vacation’ is the song that means the most to you or is there another song on the album that you prefer or also feel means a lot to you?
I think probably the title track, 'Arrivals and Departures’. I think that one because I actually recorded the vocal to it just before I left the house and I had the studio in the house that I shared with Helen. I just had the feeling in my heart that I had to record that vocal now and we’ll work around that just because I had that feeling I wanted to distil and record and capture so that one kinda sums up the whole thing I was going through at the time.
And the title of the song and the title of the album, ‘Arrivals and Departures’ – is that based on the restructure of the band?
Yeah, partly yes, because that wasn’t actually going to be the name of the album, but we did a tour when I was probably at my most vulnerable and damaged, we did a tour of Italy. It was just me, Mike and Christian in a car performing acoustic shows at really small venues and we started playing that song. It was the first time we’d played it as I’d literally just written it, hot off the press, and as we were just meeting loads of beautiful people and moving onto the next town the song just seemed to tie in somehow with how people just come into your life. Life’s rich tapestry if you like.
It sounds like you use music as a coping mechanism or a way to just process what’s happened – would you agree?
Yeah, it’s definitely like therapy a bit. If you’re feeling really low and a really like rock-bottom, I find that if you can make something out of that, like a song or piece of art really it immediately makes you feel better as you’ve created something positive out of a really negative situation. So yeah, it’s really a catharsis for me anyway.
I definitely agree with that. So, is music your one love at the moment or have you got any other pastimes that help you with this?
Music’s like all consuming and it has been since the first day I picked up an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar when I was just seventeen years old. I’ve just been obsessed by writing songs ever since really. It doesn’t really leave much time for anything else, although I like growing vegetables I suppose and anything outdoors – I like exercising and swimming and things like that.
Were you always going to be a musician or did someone need to inspire you to pick up that guitar?
I was always into music, even when I was little. I was into 60’s music for some reason when I was a little kid and I’ve always had this love for bands like ‘The Kinks’ and ‘The Jam’, I was a little mod when I was a kid. But I’m just trying to think and weirdly the thing that actually made me start writing music and learn how to play an instrument was ‘Guns n Roses’ – ‘Appetite for Destruction’. I was just obsessed with that when I was 16 and I just couldn’t stop listening to it. I think it was just I was going through that slightly rebellious teenage thing and it doesn’t really show in the music as you know.
I was about to say, yes. Would you class them as your heroes then?
No, no just at that time. I’ve definitely grown out of ‘Guns n Roses’. I’ve still got this nostalgia for it, but I would never stick on a ‘Guns n Roses’ album at home. I think what got me into making music more akin to what I do now is Brian Wilson. I had a little bit of a ‘Beach Boys’ obsession for a while and I just spent quite a few years messing around in studios, inspired by ‘The Beach Boys’ and their instrumentation. We just got loads of different instruments together and getting off on the way different instruments sounded together, so that was definitely a kinda Brian Wilson thing, which really kinda formed the first ‘Leisure Society’ album in a gentle, folky kinda way. I was just kinda trying to do a Brian Wilson, ‘Beach Boys’ thing – just on a real budget!
Just a bit less than him I imagine – talking of Brians, you worked with Brian Eno on this album. What was he like to work with?
Well we weren’t actually in the same room. I’d just written a song with live piano and vocal and I was just working on it with Christian. We were in a little farm house in the Peak District and we were recording the Sheep outside the room we were in and putting it onto the track. It created this kinda weird countryside ambience and we’d met Brian you know before and I was like “why don’t we ask Brian as this is right up his street” so I emailed him the track and got back to us saying “I’m currently on a train, but as soon as I get back to my studio I’ll have a crack at it” and the next day he emailed back four tracks of really melodic synthesiser. It wasn’t really what we’d asked for, we wanted something atmospheric, but he’d sent us these beautiful melody lines and he said just use what you want, so we mixed it to the track and it really set it off brilliantly.
So, it was even better than you were expecting really?
Yeah it was, I was just expecting a song with some weird noises in the background really, but yeah, he just did something different and it’s just beautiful. That’s my favourite recording on the whole album. If you stick it on really loud at night after a few drinks the music just seems to really swell and move in a really interesting, organic way.
Wow, I’ll certainly try that later. You begin touring next month and you‘re performing in Nottingham’s Glee Club – have you performed in Nottingham often?
We have, but we’ve always done the Rescue Rooms previously and we’ve never had a really good sound in the Rescue Rooms as it’s quite cavernous and doesn’t suit our sound particularly. We’re trying the Glee Club this time, which I’ve never been to, so I don’t know what it’s like.
Have you got a particular venue or city you look forward to most when touring?
Manchester is a real good one for us. Everyone in the crowd just knows all the lyrics and in that typical Mancunian kinda way with that swagger they’ll just be punching the air and singing every word. It really chokes me up actually when I hear people singing our lyrics as they’re such personal lyrics and it’s great to see they’ve had an effect on someone – it’s really quite moving. The Nottingham show’s going to be interesting as there’s loads of friends and family coming to that one. It’s actually a bit terrifying playing to loads of people you know.
Is it virtually a home-gig as you’re from Burton, aren’t you?
Yeah, it’s the closest we go to a home gig so lots of old faces from the past coming to that one.
You spoke about how people singing lyrics back at you really moved you, did you ever think that would happen, especially in the early days?
God no. I was always more of a guitarist going back to my rock beginnings and I only really started writing lyrics late on. I think I was in my 30’s when I wrote my first proper song with proper finished lyrics. So yeah, I was a really late starter and I couldn’t even sing in front of my girlfriend I was so nervous. So, to be on stage and to sing songs that I’d written, and hearing people sing them back at me is just completely surreal.
How did you manage to build up that confidence?
Just very slowly over many years. I’d actually say only in the last few years that I’ve actually really felt comfortable singing in front of an audience. I still get nervous, but I feel much more confident than ever and my voice sounds better because of it as you need a certain amount of confidence to sing in the first place.
I’m a terrible singer so maybe that’s where I’m going wrong!
It’s difficult and the more nervous you get, the more difficult it is to sing. It’s a vicious circle really.
Do you still look forward to the touring or is it all about the writing?
Oh yeah! I love it. I think you get so much into your own head when you’re writing that it becomes an obsession and there’s no one really to bounce ideas off. So, when you go on tour and all the songs are finished and you go out playing to an audience, providing there is an audience it’s the best thing in the world. It’s wonderful. We’ve only ever done it in short bursts, so I haven’t had time to get sick of it and it’s still like a novelty to me to go on tour.
That sounds brilliant. Finally, what aspirations have you got for the band moving forward and when will work start on the next album.
Well, because this one took so long, I’ve already pretty much written another album. As soon as we can get some time to record it, we’ll start. But yeah, we just want to keep making albums as long as there’s an audience there that want to buy it and want to listen to it and want to see us live we’ll carry on doing it. We’ve not got any lofty aspirations, but we’d like to fill some bigger venues and make a decent living out of it, rather than travelling around with a suitcase with a studio in it.
The Leisure Society will be coming to Nottingham's Glee Club on 23 May, click here to grab tickets.