It's been a strange year. Some albums were not recorded that should have been. Some were recorded that shouldn't have been. It has been the year of the 'Lockdown Album'. Adam Hammond talks to Ist Ist's Andy Keating about the genesis of The Art Of Lying, the band's unexpected second album, and how the lockdown affected them all.
We caught up with Andy just before the last gig of Ist Ist's UK tour at Manchester Academy 2. This was the biggest venue the band had headlined to date and it had already been postponed twice due to corona-virus restrictions. The plague was stirring again, rumours were abounding about new lockdowns, and Ist Ist were simply relieved they were going to be able to complete their schedule.

Andy, you've lived through a year that has been unprecedented. No bands in history have been affected by such government lockdowns and regulations. How exactly has this affected you all?

Personally, I postponed my wedding five times. There’s no need to say anything more about the affect on my life. From the band perspective, I think we’re closer now than ever. We’ve always been friends. I know you get those bands who have been round the block a bit and they're not really on speaking terms. They are not friends but it's a professional gig and they get paid. That isn't us. We have always been close, we’re good mates. We meet up, we drink, we hang around outside of the band.

I think it was one of them where we understood fairly early on that it wasn't just an industry-wide thing, it was affecting every facet of society. There’s not a lot you could do, you couldn’t be bitter about it. If we were on the cusp of going on tour and one of us broke our arm or leg you would be complaining and taking it personally, but in these circumstances you just have to make your peace with it.

The wedding thing was a bit different as not everyone wants to get married or was due to get married on 28th March. I had my stag do and came back and the following Tuesday I was in lockdown. It was a week away from the big day. You are a bit bitter about that and you do struggle to reconcile it. With the band we just thought everybody was affected. Hospitality shut down: bars, restaurants, gig venues, theatres - so you just have to accept it.

We usually rehearse two or three times a week and we didn’t have that. Our rehearsal space was closed; even if we had wanted to break the rules we couldn’t get in, so almost immediately we started doing things remotely just to keep ourselves sane. It’s a hard slog working from home and then having nothing else going on in the evenings so we got on-line and started kicking ideas around, whether that was bits of drums, vocals, piano, anything like that. So that's what we did at first. It wasn’t until we got back into the rehearsal room in maybe June that it dawned on us that we had at least half an album. And the rest of it was like dominos falling –  bang, bang, bang –  and we arrived in September going, “Shit, we’ve written an album”. There was no intention to do that.

So, you had written a new album but you hadn't even had time to tour Architecture?

There were discussions that we might be going round Europe with the Pixies and then doing UK and Europe in the autumn. So two of those things have never happened and the Architecture tour is the tour we are now on, but obviously it's not called the Architecture tour any more because of the new album. It was an odd one. It snowballed really. I don't think anyone expected another album from us so soon. No one was knocking on our door for it. At the time we did Architecture there were people knocking on our door because we had been a band for four years or so and that was the next logical step. A few EPs, lots of singles, live albums and some Peely-like sessions - the album was blatantly the next logical step and a second album the year afterwards was not expected, so when it became obvious that we were working an album there was no need to announce it or anything. It just took the pressure off us and that came across in that there are quite a few styles in there. We just wrote what we wanted to write; there was no expectation at all.

We get people coming up to us after gigs going “Oh, Architecture, that was my lockdown album" as it was released just on the edge of lockdown and that is what they had listened to. I see the second album as our lockdown album because it was written in lockdown. With Architecture we went on tour at the end of 2019, I went on holiday to New York in early October and two days afterwards I went into the studio and recorded the album. I loved that time of my life, it was great. We played lots of gigs and we played a gig in Porto after recording the album which was brilliant. It’s funny then to hear people say that Architecture was their lockdown album as it doesn’t remind me of lockdown whatsoever.

A lot of records that were recorded in lockdown have proved to be extreme and bitter, blatantly a comment on the world situation. One or two have looked for the positive and it strikes me that your lockdown album is far more positive than most.

Yeah, I think so. I don't know if that was a sort of a subconcious thing where we needed to lift our spirits and it came across that way. Possibly. I never really thought of it like that as a lot of reviews and blogs and writers talk about how downbeat it is. I don't think they’ve ever heard downbeat music! I think it is positive compared to Architecture, which funnily enough was written in brighter times. That's a lot more downbeat and introspective, whereas the new one is a lot more upbeat, a lot more melodic and I think a lot of that was due to the pressure being off. But I do think there was an undercurrent of we need to gee ourselves up a little bit.

Your whole existence as a band has been immaculately mapped out, planned in detail, and suddenly this thing comes along and blows everything out of the window...

It’s nice to know that’s not lost on people because it is the truth. I can’t remember who I did the interview with but they mentioned something about how well the artwork ties in with the music and blah blah blah. That’s not by chance. It's not by perfect design but the structure of it is planned and mapped out. It was a tough pill to swallow but you could reconcile the situation a little easier as you could think at least we're not the only ones.

I think it's great that something so cohesive can be born out of that sort of chaos. You have to bear in mind the demos for this album that we recorded remotely sounded wildly different to what was actually released. If we had just put out those demos our album may have resembled something a bit chaotic, but once it became apparent that we had a second album we quickly switched back into our usual mode. Right we’re back.

There are tracks that were cobbled together from remote ideas, such as 'Waves'. That was a real difficult one to do because there were four different parts that were stitched together, so we had the verse which is all ambient with an electronic drum, then the guitars and there’s a chorus and then the outro. The outro was written as a totally different piece of music and trying to bridge that gap from the chorus into the outro was difficult. It was only when we were in the studio with our producer that we asked how he thought we should do this because we had our own sort of way of bridging it but it was quite clunky and forced. He just said, "Let’s just do a slight key change and drop the drums down to nothing and it will be fine." We must have well overthought what we needed to do to get it from A to B and he got it straight away. If we hadn’t been at the studio we wouldn't have been able to do that because it got inside our heads and we were over-analysing it. You need someone slightly detached to be able to step in. Obviously he’s someone who is well linked with the band - he’s been our producer for five years. I do think if we had not had the liberty to go in and demo it like that our album may well have resembled something quite a lot different.

On occasion on the album it feels as though you are so relaxed, you are really going to let go and take off, 'Heads On Spikes' for one.

The original version of that was really tame. It never really got going. Michael Whalley, our producer, has a term that he uses for songs that don't have guitars and live drums, he calls them "Loser Songs". The first track is a loser song and 'Don't Go Gentle' is one. 'Head On Spikes' was originally a loser song and where it has stabbing guitars now it used to have just a swell of keyboards and it didn’t pep up at all. That was one of them that was written in lockdown and it was only when we got back in the rehearsal room when we had our guitars and live drums we thought it needed to go somewhere. The tempo doesn’t change but the attitude sort of does.

'Extreme Greed' is another...

Mat plays on so many levels here. It is the epic song on the album. None of that was done remotely, that was all done afterwards. I think it was the first song we wrote when we were back in the rehearsal room. It was literally a case of go in and start making some noise. I couldn’t get my amp or my pedals out of the room during lockdown. I had one guitar at home and a couple of spare pedals, so I hadn’t had the full arsenal for recording. I wanted to run my fuzz pedal through my amp again so I asked Joel to give me a beat and I just started riffing over the top of it and that song was written in a day. Some of the other bits like the guitar and the layers of synths were a studio thing. Sometimes you can only start to add things when you hear a song back. When it's so loud and full on in the rehearsal room you sometimes don't think it needs a bit more, but when you hear it through the studio monitors you realise it’s lacking a bit here and there and that's where the layers of guitars came in.

That was jam song. That was our version of jamming, anyway. We're not totally methodical. You’d be surprised how many are jam songs. 'If It Taste Like Wine' was a jam song. It’s probably the one I go to least on the album, that or 'Watching You, Watching Me'. I don't mind it. Since we’ve started playing it on tour I like it more. It’s not like we were struggling for ideas: at the time it just seemed to fit in. When we were touring in 2019 that was with the view that we could make sure we were happy with the songs going on Architecture. We were looking at the reaction of the audiences to different songs. If we staunchly believed that we had a great song and the crowd didn't like it, we'd say fuck the crowd and just put it on anyway. Songs like 'Wine' and 'WMWY' we may have tested live and if they weren’t getting a reception we might have considered dropping them. But we had no reference point as they were all done in lockdown so you just have to trust your own instincts on that. There’s little things we've added to those tunes since we have been able to play them live. That's what you miss out on with the lockdown. You miss out on that jamming out live and finding little bits and pieces that can improve the songs.

Given that you can adapt songs in this way, would you record a "non lockdown" version of the album?

No, we’ll just do a third one. You know what we’re like. We don’t really reissue a lot of stuff. The EPs I don’t think we’ll ever reissue. I don't see the point in it. There is an appetite for it but I don’t care. From my perspective they are worth any money in the world but they are also worthless. That was a time and a place and I do like the integrity of that. We pressed 300 copies and that was us at the time. I don't even have some of the early CDs myself. I've got the digital version and I don't care about a black CD in a white slipcase. I understand why people do care; for some people that is like gold dust. The Art Of Lying is also where we were at a certain time.

Do you think of how the second album would have been had there not been a lockdown?

No, I can’t even consider it because it is so of the time. It's hard to even envisage it. To be honest, I don't think we would even have written it yet. The tour schedule would have been quite intense and our focus would have been touring Architecture and trying to grow that. It’s not even worth thinking about what it would have sounded like because it would have been different. And with the vinyl backlogs, it wouldn’t have been coming out until the end of 2022.

It makes this record very special as it's an odd beast. Whatever your next album sounds like it will be different because of what you have done here.

Yeah, it's very unique and it's only here because of the circumstances we found ourselves in. You are right, it will become a term and there may well be covid albums as well when there hasn't been so much of a lockdown but they are written in the covid era.


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