Chatting with London band Leathers

Interview

Leathers

By John Clay, Rock At Night London

John Clay – Director

‘Noisebeat’! That’s the new album by Leathers folks, and so it’s time to read about some of its themes with Chris (guitar/vocals) and Edward (drums vocals). In this in depth interview with UK correspondent John Clay, the duo discuss toxic masculinity, authentic performance and the strong near psychic bond between their partnership.

‘I think that all “art” should make time stop while it’s happening.’ – Edward 

Time for a Leathers interview? Yup, I think so too! How are you people doing in this exciting time of your impending album release?

Chris: Hi, John,we’re great! Looking forward to getting the album out. We’ve done a couple of EP’s but it’s great to release a bigger body of stuff. Just had a weekend of gigs which were amazing also.

A weekend of gigs? How many did you play and how good does it feel to be able to play live music again after a long period when you couldn’t?

Edward: So great to start off the year’s gigs with two back to back.

Chris: We played Friday and Saturday night. It’s great to be playing live. It was hard not playing for ages.

Edward: We did a fair amount last year but now it really feels like it’s really back full fat. Not playing during covid was really tough.

Chris: We did a few last year also but this year will be busier, for sure. Many guitar and drum two pieces have graced the stage and caught our imagination.

What’s the appeal for you in the set up?

Chris: I think it’s the simplicity of it really.

Edward: So nice sound checking in ten minutes. Haha

Chris: We always talked about doing it one day and the opportunity came about so we went for it.

So you never tried out any bassists or keys players?

Chris: It’s been great fun.there are some great 2 piece bands around. We didn’t entertain it, just wanted to keep it between us two.

Edward: We make a pretty huge sound so it never feels lacking sonically.

Chris: I wanted that pure sound. No pedals, two vocals and stripped back.

Edward: Paring down the drum kit was always a goal too. It feels really great to just keep it to the essentials.

Chris: It was good enough for Bo!

Didley’s a master of stripped down, for sure.

Edward: Love the look of the guitar just going straight into the amp. Sounds great too.

There’s a running theme of simplicity and a streamlined economy. Even your new album is a quick run through of eight tracks. Does the focus of what you’re doing revolve around the ability to do what you’re doing without any chance of stress? Tell me you’re both high powered CEO’s in London’s West End as a justification for this high speed rock and roll relief?

Chris: Haha, I think it was a conscious decision to just keep it simple sound wise…i liked the idea of maybe that Motown type sound kicking out garage rock.

Edward: We both have busy lives for sure but with the band we’ve just worked out the sound we make. Or at least we’re getting closer to that with each new song. Old Stax and Motown records are a constant for us both, as well as The Cramps and The Gories. There’s a real art to less is more.

Chris: Yeah for sure. It makes you more aware of what you play.

Edward: It’s nice to have nowhere to hide in that regard. Audiences react to that too. They feel really close to what’s going on.

Chris: if you do muck up though it’s there for all to hear. Haha.

“We have an uncanny symbiotic relationship rhythmically that underpins everything.’ – Ed. Chris, is this true for you as well? How much time do you spend together and are there any artists or political views where you find you have to respectfully disagree?

Chris: Yeah, we definitely have a bit of a weird connection and sort of know without speaking what is going to happen sometimes, which is ace.

Edward: Chris and I are like brothers in many ways. I realise that’s a rock n roll cliche but it’s true in our case. It’s spooky sometimes musically.

Chris: I think we have a common bond running through lots of things in life.

Edward: Twenty years is a long time to play together. We’ve never had a row or a falling out. All the tension is in the music.

Chris: It’s great we found each other… getting a bit mushy. Haha.

Edward: A lot of bands thrive on conflict but we’re not one of them.

Chris: No if it had been that way we probably wouldn’t be talking to John now, haha.

That’s commendable, and the lack of rowing is rare. There seems to be an absence of ego between you, and it permeates your live work as well. A lot of obstacles in the writing and recording process must be a delight to overcome seeing as you’re not in competition with each other. Do you ever think about the rather toxic ideas that have been handed down by talented (and not so talented forebears? From Jerry Lee Lewis to Sid Vicious. From the Gallager brothers to, well, you get the picture).

Chris: I personally couldn’t operate like that… I’ve been in bands where there is a person running the show and it’s pretty crap.

Edward: It’s baffling to me why something so fun and life affirming should be such an ego trip for some folks. I understand that “attitude” is for some what it’s all about and that it motivates them to carry on but I can’t be like that. I want all my energy to be in the music.

Chris: That’s not saying that way doesn’t create some great results… look at James Brown.

Edward: Indeed! Zappa too was a real tyrant. But there’s nothing wrong with that, you do what you have to do to get the results you want. We fortunately don’t need that aggressive friction.

Chris: I guess with those guys it was their thing totally and others had to tow the line. Not a band as such.

Edward: We’ve always been happy though, much to the confusion of some people.

Thing is, James Brown probably couldn’t do what he did in our age. The question is, did he really need to in order to get those results, or do we on some level pay him no mind because the music is so powerfully persuasive?

Edward: I think this comes back to the big band dynamic. Brown and Zappa both had 10/15 piece bands. Can you imagine! What a nightmare.

Chris: For sure today he’d get called out but yeah, I think maybe he did have to be like that as crap as it was probably for his band.

Chris: Yeah, imagine organising band practice! There’s probably band leaders like it today though.

Edward: Haha. Imagine going on tour! He had that rep but after him you had a career. Same as other famous tyrants like Miles Davis. You knew what you were getting into.

Chris: For sure.

Leathers

Well, Feel Kuti had big band ensembles, but was he as big a tyrant as Brown? Perhaps we’re socially conditioned to hold admiration for certain types of male musician since they can operate seemingly without having to consider the compromises that occur in a democracy? The lone cowboy archetype rearing its head in a medium which is really about dialogue than anything else.

Chris: Yeah I’m sure Fela was cooler. You don’t hear those stories like you do with James Brown. I guess he assembled his band for his vision and was pretty bloody minded about getting there.

Edward: For some music is a huge act of will, especially if you want to have total control over it. We are lucky in that respect in that we are both together in how we look at what we do.

It’s fair to say that audience mentality before, during and after a gig can be crafted by charming stage presence, let alone skill of a front person. I’d find it hard to imagine that Leathers have anything other than a wonderful crowd. Tell us more about your live shows and how your new material has gone down?

Chris: Yeah, we definitely try to get the crowd with us from the off. Call and response shout outs get people to feel like they’re part of the band. The new songs have been great to play live and had ace reactions.

Edward: We’ve got some great folks who come and watch us every time we play. We try to bring everyone into what we’re doing by enjoying it and being open hearted in our approach to each other and the music. Folks want to be a part of that energy. It’s contagious.

Chris: I try to channel that inner preacher.haha

Edward: I think Chris’s power of personality disarms people.

Ha, good on you guys! There seems to be a shift in how men relate to each other, although there is some way to go. It’s still fashionable to be an edgelord malcontent in some quarters, but for the most part, being toxic to each other is less emboldened than say thirty odd years ago. What thoughts do you have on mindfulness, especially in the context of a live show? Have you had to shut down some behaviour at gigs where you’ve had to play for other band’s fans?

Chris: I don’t think we’ve experienced much of that…toxic masculinity has no place at our table.  Maybe the people we played with and venues aren’t draws for toxic males.

Glad to hear that.

Chris: Which is a good thing!

Edward: We’ve been really lucky in that regard as far as our own gigs go. We’re not like that as people but you hear things, especially in the garage scene. Some people equate rock n roll with dickish behaviour.

Blame Sid Vicious for making that a thing, dare we say a marketing thing.

Chris: Yeah he was a poster boy for that.

You’ve gone on record saying that you’re fans of the one take. What songs off your long player were done in one take, or is that a closely guarded secret? Tell us everything!

Chris: I think ‘Free’ was def one take.

Wow, really? It’s so tight.

Chris: We definitely only did two takes max of most songs. I can’t think of which ones, but few of them were one take. When you’ve got it down and know that’s it you leave it.

Wow, what were the more difficult tracks and what were the specific issues that you had to work out?

Chris: I think it’s getting over the red light going on. Red light fever we call it.

Edward: ‘Loosen Up’ was a harder one because the drums kept malfunctioning, haha. We did a perfect second take but some rattle was found on the playback so had to redo it.

Chris: Just gotta chill a bit, have a few run throughs before you start. It’s practicing hard beforehand, also, we knew the songs well when it came to record.

Edward: Once we’ve passed that first song and got used to the red light it just clicks.

It’s what the red light signifies, right? Like it’s a warning that everything you lay down will define the expression and your right to share it, right?

Chris: Yeah it’s that this-is-it moment.

Edward: We’re very well rehearsed and for me that’s where the confidence to really PLAY comes from. We used to not be prepared enough sometimes when we got to the studio and that created insecurities.

Chris: I think if we take too many takes we start getting a bit jaded also…those first takes got the spark.

Running things through normalises the moment, which is ironic given that your intention is for people to be blown away by something hopefully out of the ordinary.

Chris: Look at all those old 60’s songs all done in one take. Classics.

If you can make the strange normal for you but inherently wild in the performance then that’s a good balance.

Edward: A lot of the recording process can be quite unnatural and non instinctive but we’re good at transcending that.

Chris: We recorded at the studio we practice at which helps. We know the space.

Edward: Also we’ve worked with the same guy “Hey Ben!” for the last few records so that helps too.  We work very fast once we get going.

Chris: Yep, shout out to Ben Turner at Axe and Trap studios in Wells, Sommerset.

Edward: The idea of spending months on a record is a bit strange to us.

Thank you Mr Turner, wherever you are. Before we close, it would be remiss not to touch upon the subject of performance and authenticity. In a way, it shines a light on that old debate as to whether authenticity is possible, given how much psychology and philosophy goes into the process. It’s all about presenting a performance in a way that doesn’t take one out of ‘the dreamscape’, so to speak. Not that there is no merit to something willfully meta.

Edward: I think that all “art” should make time stop while it’s happening. It’s what I gauge good art by. Being totally in the moment. We really do that more and more I think.

 

That’s what I like about ‘Surprise Party’ off the LP.

Chris: If you believe what you are doing and present then yeah, i feel it’s authentic. You know we’re playing songs in a band we believe in and love being in. If I was singing Korean pop in a barber shop quartet then I’d say I was being fake to who I was. Although, that sounds like a blast.

Well, that’s the thing. When we say authenticity in the context of performance there is the idea that once you press record, or step out onstage or place a camera in the room, there will be a required and understandable transformation in the relationship between the performer and the music. Your performance is most certainly heartfelt, but that is an aspect of the band which isn’t in question. What we’re dealing with here is the mode of presentation being affected by context.

Chris: Yeah I think maybe the performer comes out but i think all musicians have that other person that’s not to say its not authentic.

Yes, there is the ‘other person’ idea. It’s part of the fun of performance, and perhaps there is an authenticity to letting that person out when perhaps offstage there are social rules and boundaries which cage that person in? When someone says they can be themselves up there, what are they really touching upon?

Edward: Performing is a trip into another place and it opens up a part of us that is normally closed. That’s a very liberating thing to do. It’s another self but it’s still you or us.

Chris: Yeah for sure…I guess it’s letting something out that in everyday life you can’t do. If I walked down the street telling everyone to C’Mon I’d be called some kind of freak, but I guess I’d love to do that. Onstage that can come out.

Intriguing. I’m sure we will pick this up again in a future exchange, as you guys are so easy to talk to. Let us know when your album is out and hey, will there be a launch party?

Chris:  The album is called NOISEBEAT and ill be released on March 24th on KMRECORDS. Yeah we have gigs in Bournemouth and Bristol around then to coincide.

Edward: Really excited for the album to come out. Can’t wait to share it with everyone!

Chris: if any people want us to come play in your town hit us up. we’re ready!

Wonderful! You guys were awesome. Thank you for your time!

Chris: Great to talk to you John. Hope to see you soon.

Edward: You’re awesome John! Thank you for having us. Great to talk to you!

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