A few weeks ago I reviewed Leisure Society’s album Into The Murky Water. If you haven’t listened to it yet you really should. It’s a gorgeous exploration of what it means to be English; a wistful and beautifully romantic folk album packed with melodies that stick indelibly in your brain.

It also built on the momentum that the band has been enjoying. Their debut The Sleeper gained rave reviews (from none other than Brian Eno – more on that in the interview) as well as two Ivor Novello nominations and the Rough Trade Album of the Year.

The 405 caught up with songwriter Nick Hemming to discuss the pressures of producing the follow up to an acclaimed first album; why they savour every sold-out show and the reasons there were no children's choirs on the album. He also reveals that they’ve just been in the studio with Ray Davies. So, why not read on....

After the acclaim the first album received did you feel under pressure with this one?

 

Yes there was definitely an added pressure this time around. When we recorded The Sleeper we were just making music for ourselves, not even knowing if it would be released. This time we knew we had an audience and we didn’t want to disappoint them!

 

What did you hope to achieve with this album?

 

We wanted to make something bigger and more visceral than The Sleeper. I think that largely came from playing live as a proper band, something we’d rarely done before releasing the first album.

 

How did writing and recording in a proper studio change the sound compared to writing it in a bedroom?

 

To be honest not much changed at all. I bought a couple of new microphones and compression units but it was recorded in a similar way. We did hire a house in the country for a few weeks to record drums and make use of the wooden floors and high ceilings but most of the instrumentation was recorded in my flat.

 

Was there a certain sound you were aiming for with this album? Did you want it to be different to The Sleeper?

 

There wasn’t really any master plan but we did have a lot more time to try things. For instance I recorded three different marimba players on the title track before we managed to get the sound we wanted. I’ve always been really into the way different instruments work together, Helen is studying for a Masters degree at Trinity College of Music so if we decided we wanted a harp, saxophone quartet or a harpsichord we could get it.

 

How would you describe the difference in sound between the first album and this?

 

I think it’s bigger and more exciting. The arrangements are a lot more considered and we’ve honed our recording techniques a bit so hopefully that shows.

 

Did you worry about succumbing to second album syndrome - adding a children's choir to any of the songs?

 

Haha no children’s choirs as they either end up sounding too saccharine or too creepy.  It was inevitable that we’d try everything else though!  I’m a massive Beach Boys fan and I love listening to all the old outtakes of the Pet Sounds sessions. It’s fascinating hearing all the different permutations of instrumentation and hearing how everything just suddenly clicks into place. On the title track of Into The Murky Water there’s a 20 second section at the end that involves a theremin, tuba, opera singer, ebow & pedal steel guitar coming in – it may seem excessive but it just didn’t make sense until all those sounds were working together. Luckily I had Christian to mix all these flights of fancy, the mixing required a great deal of skill and patience!

 

Is this album intentionally darker in lyrical tone than the debut?

 

It wasn’t intentional at all, although the first lyric I wrote was “Blood on the rocks, fire in the sky, a crack in the cloud where the misshapen moon is”. I thought it’d be nice to start the album with something a bit cataclysmic. I rarely try to write in a certain way though for fear of sounding contrived, I just have to work with what comes out naturally.

 

Melody and lyrics seem really important to you - which comes first when you're writing?

 

Melody and chords always come first. I do keep a notepad of lyrical ideas that I sometimes dip into, but my songs always start with the music. I usually end up obsessing over the lyrics for months after the initial melody and structure has been written. Believe it or not the title track took me nearly three years to finish!

 

Which bands do you feel Leisure Society have similarities with? I could hear a lot of New Pornographers in this album?

 

I think we have a lot in common with The Divine Comedy in terms of pop orchestration. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never listened to The New Pornographers but I shall check them out on Spotify right now!

 

Do you feel yourselves maturing as songwriters?

 

Hmmm not sure, I don’t want to mature too much! I think it’s best to maintain a certain amount of naivety when writing songs. I’m definitely more proud of this album than anything I’ve ever written.

 

How would you describe the dynamic between the two of you when writing?

 

I can only really write alone, I’m far too self-conscious to present half finished songs to anyone. I have moments of confidence in my songwriting, but they are always fleeting. Christian is the one who initially coerced me into getting an album together. He’s the one who steps in and injects momentum and energy into the recordings when I start to flag.

 

What song would you pick out as a standout on the album?

 

My favourite is probably 'Just Like The Knife'. I like the way it progresses through three different moods – the dark intro, the wistful middle section & the almost calypso outro. It’s basically an ode to infidelity.

 

It's taken you a while to reach this point - do you feel you appreciate this success/acclaim more?

 

Definitely, we savour every radio session and every sold-out show like you wouldn’t believe. I spent over a decade languishing in obscurity so I’m immensely grateful to finally be in a band that people are actually listening to.

 

What does it feel like when someone like Brian Eno says they are a fan?

 

When I heard Brian Eno had been evangelising about The Sleeper it pretty much blew my mind. He’s been involved in so much incredible music so to have him say how much he loved the album was amazing and unexpected. He invited us over to his studio for cheese and biscuits, we were incredibly intimidated but as it turns out he’s as lovely as he is talented.

 

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

 

We’re off to France tomorrow, the album is being incredibly well received over there which is quite exciting. Yesterday we were in the studio with Ray Davies! He’s been a hero of mine since I was a 10 year old Mod wannabe, so to be sat opposite him playing guitar was like some far fetched childhood dream come true. We’re going to be playing a few songs with him at Meltdown this year. After that it’s a summer full of festivals and hopefully a bit of downtime so I can start obsessing over lyrics for the next album.

The Leisure Society’s second album ‘Into The Murky Water’ is available now through Full Time Hobby. The next single to be released from the album is ‘You Could Keep Me Talking’ on the 11th July.

The Leisure Society forthcoming live shows:

June

  • 12th London Royal Festival Hall (Meltdown)

July

  • 2nd Tonbridge Hop Farm Festival
  • 9th Eastleigh Eastleigh Festival
  • 17th Southwold Latitude Festival
  • 23rd Topcliffe Deer Shed Festival

August

  • 19th-21st Glanusk Park Green Man Festival

September

  • 2nd-4th Larmer Tree Gardens End of the Road Festival

October

  • 15th Norwich Arts Centre
  • 16th Cambridge Junction
  • 22nd Clitheroe The Grand
  • 23rd Sheffield The Harley
  • 24th Newcastle Cluny
  • 25th Birmingham Glee Club
  • 27th Belfast Black Box
  • 28th Dublin Whelans