John Bramwell from I Am Kloot, interviewed by Rocksucker
Interview: I Am Kloot
Published on June 9th, 2010 | Jonny Abrams
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John Bramwell likes to laugh. A lot. Heartily and infectiously. As such, I decided not to bother mentioning each of the many instances of it in the transcript of our interview with the intensely personable I Am Kloot frontman – in fact, it would have been borderline farcical. Just know that the following interview was, in real time, heavily punctuated by chuckles, guffaws, belly laughs and the odd hysterical cackle (most notably while discussing the ‘genius’ of U2’s Zooropa makeover).
And well might he be in a good mood, because I Am Kloot are set to unleash yet another masterpiece (if a band is allowed to have more than one) in new album Sky at Night, a lush and stirring set of nocturnal meditations produced by Elbow duo Guy Garvey and Craig Potter; and, of course, Bramwell’s dry wit and black belt level wordsmithery come to the fore once again. Rocksucker caught up with him to discuss Sky at Night, Garvey’s penchant for expensive shoes, an unwanted conversation with a masked man, busking in Paris, the evils of Special Brew and the belated smartening up of his appearance…
So John, how are you?
I’m a bit hung over, actually. There’s a guy called Bruce Mitchell and he drums for Durutti Column – it was his 70th birthday last night. It was at the town hall in Manchester and he was given an award by the mayor at his birthday party. And I got really pissed. I feel that a huge wave of embarrassment is going to hit me some time today – I think I got up at one point and started playing someone else’s guitar along to what the DJ was playing. Not good!
Right, onto your hotly-anticipated new album Sky at Night…
Something a little bit strange happened with this record. Normally I’ll have more songs than we need but with this record I just had the ten songs and they’re all I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It wasn’t until we were just about to start recording that I realised that most of the songs if not all of them deal with night. That’s why it’s called Sky at Night – they either mention stars or astronomy or insomnia or street lights and the effect that their glow has or the idea of the night as a metaphor in life for the darkness. The song ‘Radiation’ is about the feeling of light and warmth and the sun falling over you, so I suppose it doesn’t fit…but, then again, the sun’s a star and the song’s at the end of the album so it’s like the sun coming up at the end of the night. That’s probably one of the most pretentious descriptions that anyone’s ever likely to give you but I’m going to stick with it!
Have you read Frank Cottrell Boyce’s verdict on the album?
In it, he says: “If it did inspire a movie idea it would be a movie about a man walking back down the mean streets from his latest heartbreak, glancing up at the sky and realizing that Greater Manchester has somehow cut loose from Earth and is in a perilous orbit round the rings of Saturn.” Any thoughts on that?
Yeah! You know, I’ve never met Frank but, from what he’s written there, I would like to go for a drink with him and cut loose from the gravitational pull. Sounds like the guy could maybe do it.
Any other noteworthy fans that you’re aware of?
I’ve seen John Simms at one of our gigs. Chris Ecclestone [who stars in the video for ‘Northern Skies’], obviously. Steve Coogan. John Cooper Clarke. There’s a newsreader but I can’t remember what he’s called. It’s probably best that I don’t know. It would be a bit off-putting to see Paxman sitting in the audience!
What’s your songwriting process like? Is it just you sitting in your room with an acoustic guitar? Does it come in fits and bursts, or at certain times of day/year?
I’ve been writing since I was nine and the major thing about songwriting I think is that you don’t have a set way of doing it. Sometimes you’re walking down the street and something pops into your head. Sometimes you have the music and the lyrics all together. You spend so much time sitting and playing and writing that it gets to a point where sometimes you don’t actually need the instrument with you – it’s kind of all going on inside your head. The best songs seem to come fully-formed into your mind and you can hear where they’re going to go and you’ve pretty much got all the lyrics in one blast. There are some songs that you might get stuck on but you come back to them months later and it comes unstuck – and you can write other things in the mean time. There are some songs that really work over a long process of elimination and some songs really work because they’ve come to you in almost the amount of time that they last – they literally take only a few minutes. I don’t know why that is.
Do you carry around a Dictaphone or somesuch to record ideas on?
I’ve been using my phone to record ideas for a long time but Guy Garvey from Elbow has bought me something called an Edirol. It’s by Roland and it’s a very posh microphone recorder that fits right in your pocket. So I have that with me but, as Andy and Pete have pointed out, the problem with that is that it’s only a matter of time before I lose it. The idea is you take it with you everywhere but, in fact, it never leaves my house because I’m just going to f***ing lose it!
Has Guy changed at all since Elbow became massively popular?
Oh god, he’s an overbearing and humourless automaton. He used to be a lovely lad but now they’re all pricks. All of them!
The media war of words starts here.
Actually, I did an interview just the other day where I was just having a laugh and they printed it in such a way that it looked like I meant it! No, he hasn’t changed much. He’s happy. But he’s occasionally bought something where I’ve thought, “That looks a bit expensive!”
Unless it’s something for you, like the Edirol.
Absolutely, I can’t fault him on that! He’s bought me the Edirol and here I am complaining that his shoes are a bit expensive! Anyway, they’ve been together for eighteen years and their main focus is Elbow – the five of them, how they work together and what they’re up to. So what’s been going on has been a huge thing for them…but I think they’re still in their own bubble. They’ve started recording their next LP and they’re going through all the ups and downs – “oh this is great”, “oh this is sh*t” – just like anyone else. Because they’ve been together for so long as friends and brothers-in-arms, they haven’t changed much.
If I Am Kloot were to “do an Elbow”, how would that sit with you?
“Do an Elbow”! God, someone asked me this the other day. I’d f***ing lose it, there’s no doubt. I’d go over the edge! I’ve always thought – and I think you’ll agree with me – that I should be carried everywhere. Just to the shops, or down to the bus stop.
While you’re being fanned and fed grapes by scantily clad women?
That’s a bit extravagant, now. [But seriously] we like doing what we do and I find it very exciting and I think our music can potentially affect a lot of people. Whether or not they get to hear it is not in my hands.
How do you feel when you find yourself faced with a rabid fan who’s intent on cornering you?
Sometimes people seem to know more about you than you know yourself! Obviously that’s a little disconcerting but usually you have a bit of a laugh and they’ll back off. I did lose it onstage in Munich once – I walked on and there was a guy in the audience stood right in front of where I was singing. He had a sort of Halloween mask on and he wanted to have a conversation with me in between each song. I don’t mind the odd bit of stuff going on – harrying the odd heckler, I suppose – but this guy wanted a conversation. He had a Halloween mask and it didn’t seem to occur to him that I didn’t know who the f*** he was! It was pretty spooky. I lost it in a big way and Pete had to get up to restrain me. I’d said, “Perhaps we can talk later, without the mask,” but it was still going on after the fifth or sixth song. I wouldn’t have done anything to him except take the f***ing mask off. You can’t talk to somebody who’s wearing a mask.
You’ve got masked weirdos here, newsreaders there…
Yeah. I’m talking to a guy in a mask with Paxman and John Simms looking on! The whole thing’s disconcerting.
So where does one get the very best quality of disinterested twat?
I think that’s Paris. That’s just with busking – we’ve had some very nice gigs in Paris. It’s a terrible place to go busking though. I busked in many different cities when I was a teenager and Paris was dreadful. Nothing. It may be difficult to believe in the current financial climate but you’re better off busking in Athens than you are in Paris. And that’s saying something.
Can you envisage a time where I Am Kloot albums are released independently of any record label?
In a way this one is, although we didn’t have any money to actually manufacture the record so we had to go to a record label to do that. But yeah, absolutely. In fact our last one, Moolah Rouge, was completely our own release. And the b-sides record. We could release these ourselves in Britain but, in Europe, you have to go to a record label because we can’t be everywhere at once.
I have a couple of questions from friends of mine who are I Am Kloot fans. The first one is, and I quote – “How come you still look like a busker? Smarten up, look what it did for The Beatles!”
They’ll be pleased to know that that’s actually happened! I’ve pre-empted them, unbelievably. I had a long conversation with Richard Hawley about it – I’ve always maintained that I’m too short to have a suit but he convinced me it was worth spending some money on it. But I’m still offended by what your friend had to say and you can tell them from me to go f*** themselves!
I shall take great pleasure in doing so. Congratulations on the image change, by the way – or “reinvention”, as it would be called if Madonna did it.
Yeah it’s like Bowie, isn’t it? “It’s amazing, he’s like a chameleon!” Me and my mate Bryan Glancy, who’s no longer with us, were in hysterics when U2 did that Zooropa thing. Everyone was saying, “They’re like chameleons, they’ve reinvented themselves completely!” “God, you’re right, it’s amazing!” And we were like, “No they haven’t – they’ve just put some glasses on!” It was just hysterical. Reinventing yourself? You just take some clothes off, have a haircut, put some other clothes on. How big a f***ing deal is it? There’s only one person where you think, “Jesus, what am I looking at here?” and that’s Bowie in 1975 when he did Man Who Fell to Earth – I think people then thought, “F***ing hell, I think he IS from outer space!”
It’s genuinely impressive though how some musicians can use “reinvention” to cement genius status despite not making any decent music.
Oh yeah. Why bother with the music? Just put a f***ing hat on! “We’re thinking of working with a new producer.” “Really? Why? Here, look at this hat! Just stick that f***er on!”
We don’t subscribe to that editorial practise of extracting one choice quote and sticking it on the side of the main article in big letters but, if we did, then “Why bother with the music? Just put a f***ing hat on!” is a sure-fire winner.
Anyway, another friend wants to know if you got any free Special Brew out of featuring a few cans of it on the front of your Natural History album?
We could have but I stopped drinking Special Brew when I was about 19. It’s death juice, isn’t it? For some reason, when you’re about 18 you think, “I’ll drink Carlsberg Special Brew and pernod and black.” F***ing insanity! I went to a Motorhead concert once drinking special brew and the hangover I had the next day was dreadful – it’s like you can feel the gap in between your skull and your brain and sometimes your brain rattles into your skull, while sometimes it sticks to it and then comes away again. That kind of pain. F***ing awful
Well, you’re not getting any free cans now.
No. It’s not for any kind of ideological reasons or out of morality but we’ve been sponsorship-free from the word go! I think. I’m pretty sure.
What is your tipple of choice now?
You’d go a long way to beat vodka with tonic or orange because you can survive that. All three of us have been Guinness drinkers for a few years but I’ve been coming away from that a little. I like white wine – Chablis, properly chilled. Red wine, Australian and Chilean. Shiraz is really nice and really cheap as well. I’ve only just started drinking red wine properly, which is just to put a little in your mouth at a time – one glass can get you pretty zonked and it’s a pleasurable experiences!
Finally, this summer…
…we’re going to Glastonbury to play Emily Eavis’ new tent or something. I think that’s the only English festival we’re doing – we’re doing some in Belgium, France and Holland. I think we’re going to start gigging this record properly in September and then next year we’ll do a lot of festivals in England, hopefully. I’ve got to say I’m enjoying the relative quiet. Sounds great, just loafing about! July’s perhaps a funny time to release a record because you can’t really tour until September due to all the festivals. So I don’t think this record will really kick off until then, although the radio’s been playing us quite a bit, which they’ve never really done before.