A nice mild Friday evening in early March sees Phil Chelmsford, and his assistant Lisa, heading off to Denmark Street in London to meet Andy Rowberry and Nick Jackson, from the band IT, and talk about their new album We’re All in This Together, released on 1st March 2017, including why the album took so long to make, the influences behind the songs, what motivates these musicians to do what they do and their plans for a Christmas single. As ever with IT, it’s fun and very interesting and there is always plenty to say…
So how has the album launch been going so far?
Nick Jackson: Since the launch day I have been to the post office every day posting off CDs and introduction packages (the release special packages included IT postcards, T-Shirts and a limited CD/DVD edition of the new album). So far we are pleased with the interest in the album and sales. Compared to our last album, Departure, the initial sales are already up on that so that’s a really good sign.
Andy Rowberry: I think this album has more attraction and is differently promoted. We were more focused this time. We got promotion started early, had an official album launch and got review copies out well in time for the release date.
Nick: We have a couple of articles and adverts lined up in various magazines from the U.K., Poland and Canada so far.
Good to see things moving well. The last time we spoke (in this capacity) was 4 years ago. You were making the album then. What on earth have you been doing for 4 years?
Andy: Nick now has a brand new studio. That took a lot longer than anticipated. Of course the studio was quite pivotal to our recording process.
When I saw you 4 years ago you estimated then that this new album would be released later that same year…
Andy: Well so much happened shortly after that… I became a dad, Nick had lots of other work coming into the studio and of course later there was the studio renovation (which also flooded whilst works were in progress). The focus just went off of the album.
Much of the album had been actually written though at that stage 4 years ago. It was just piecing it together. I think it did us a favour in the long run as we were not in the right frame of mind for recording or finishing off songs. We almost had a year where most things IT were pushed to the background. We were always in contact and still socialised.
Nick: There were 3 or 4 tracks that we were just not totally happy with at that stage. We actually ended up re-recording them at a later stage as we didn’t like the sound and feel of the songs.
Andy: We were jaded and had too many distractions away from the band. It all felt so fresh and right when we eventually revisited the material.
Nick: The other problem is that we are own worst critics. If we are not pleased with how a song sounds and feels then we just won’t entertain it.
Andy: That’s another reason why we take so long recording, etc.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. You invest time and money into these projects and you have to be happy with it before anyone else is. A lot of musicians, artists, etc. are like that, I believe.
Nick: We have had songs that have been played right, sung right but for some reason (sometimes unexplainable) it just doesn’t seem or sound right. There is something missing, something there that shouldn’t be… just not right!
How long has this collection of songs actually been written and when was the last one written?
Nick: The last track to be written was The Path of Least Resistance and it’s actually also the longest.
Initially it was intended to be a 3 or 4 minute track but it didn’t feel right at that so we continued pursuing the song and ended up with it running out at over 11 minutes.
Andy: It has been within the last 12 months.
Nick: The first track we actually wrote, that appears on the album, was Last Chance and that was about 5 years ago. The actual first track we wrote, which only features as a bonus track to the CD/DVD version of the album, was called Out of Time.
Andy: The early demo versions of the songs sound so very different to the versions that made the album.
… Have you kept those demos?
Nick: We did consider using them for a special edition of the album but Andy can’t stand them.
Andy: Yes… some things are just best left private (all laughing!). If someone has just listened to the complete as released album and then listened to the demos they’d be thinking how the hell did they get from that to this. Is it really the same band?? (laughs!).
But some of those songs did take a long long time to develop and get them to where they are today.
Nick: The track Voices actually took the longest to write and finish and doesn’t resemble anything like the song we started with.
Andy: That is the longest writing process of a song I have ever been involved with. Even when we were recording the last few parts of the song I was saying “this isn’t going on this album”… and Nick said “Yes it is!”. The irony of it is that it has turned out to be many people’s favourite track on the album. I really didn’t see that coming.
I must admit, for me there isn’t one stand out track. I just love the whole album and the way each track flows from one to the other.
Nick: I must say with the feedback I have had, it seems that people have picked different favourite tracks. In fact at least every track on the album seems to be someone’s favourite. I’m happy with that.
How has the writing changed from the album Departure as Andy joined during the making of that album?
Nick: I already had some songs in the bag from Departure when Andy joined. He then helped with writing the rest of the album. Of course now all of the new tracks have both Andy’s and my stamp on them and we have had a consistent band throughout the entire recording. This album feels more like a complete band effort and more cohesive. Three of the tracks were co-written with James (Hawkins – bass) and Will (Chism – drums).
Andy: We probably notice more than the listener but if you compared the two albums quite closely you would notice the better coherence of the new album due to the consistent musicians. IT are finally a band and not just a project.
When we talked about Departure 4 years ago you told me you couldn’t have written the album without George Bush and his politics/antics, etc. Who was the person that needs to take the credit for your writing on this album?
Andy: Well that’s easy. The clue is in the title of the album……We’re All in This Together… it’s David Cameron.
With Departure we didn’t hold back. What with everything going on at the time it was great fodder for our writing and what we wanted to say about it. George Bush just gave us so much material to work with. With the new album it’s a little more subtle although the political and social references are still there.
In fact in many ways this new album is a follow on to Departure as what we are writing about now is as a result of what happened back then under Bush and Blair.
Nick: The biggest thing for me is that I didn’t want to make any American references with the new material, I wanted it to be about what’s happening here in England. Hence the title of the album being a statement made by Mr Cameron and the street scene graphics on the album packaging and promotion, etc.
Andy: Don’t worry… Trump’s next!!! We could make a double album about the things he’s said and done!
I think it could even be a triple album!
Nick, I believe you have had a sort of political up bringing, is that right?
Nick: Yes, my dad taught Political Science.
So you find writing about politics just to be a natural thing?
Nick: Yes, it’s something I grew up with and it’s just in me. It’s something I have an interest in and it inspires me.
I think it’s good that you write about meaningful subject matter. You don’t just write a song for the sake of writing a song which is full of clichés, stock phrases, wizards, dragons or love songs.
Nick: I watch the news and see something that has happened and it really gets me fired up and then it inspires me to write about it.
Do you have material sitting there in the background already that hasn’t yet been recorded?
Nick: Oh Yes! I have a couple of tracks already. I keep sending Andy song titles, parts of lyrics to look at. The thing is about the world we live in and experience there is always something to inspire you.
We actually have a track that was left over from the last sessions that we were thinking of releasing for Christmas… A Christmas single if you will.
Andy: It could have been on the album but we decided to keep it back. It’ll come in handy one day. So we thought we’d hold back and have a Christmas release. Nobody does that anymore!
Has anybody questioned or criticised the subject matter of your lyrics?
Nick: Not that I can remember… specifically!
Andy: Some people might not like it but that’s what we do! Some people think that musicians shouldn’t express political opinions… That’s utter nonsense! This is how we express our thoughts, opinions, get our point across. We don’t preach; we just write about what we see and how it makes us feel.
Nick: We have had a complaint about one of the samples we used. The George Galloway sample…
Andy: Oh yes, of course… People shouldn’t get hung up on who he is but rather what he says in the sample we used. Everything in the statement sample is a fact!
I personally don’t have a problem with it. I love the fact you write about what you are passionate about. Some artists/bands try so hard to write about something profound or different they end up just being a cliché of themselves.
Andy: If we were writing songs about love (or even dungeons and dragons etc…)…(laughing) then from our point of view that would be false.
Nick: There have been a couple over the years that you could say are relationship based, but they are still based on my own experiences.
Andy: Hey… don’t start expecting the next material we write to be ‘Love Songs by Nick and Andy’! (laughing). If that ever happened then put me down. We will continue to write about what we believe in and be honest about those beliefs.
Mind you… you haven’t done it in a way that you are trying to preach to the listener.
Andy: As with anything the songs/lyrics are still open to interpretation.
I must admit for years I was only interested in the melody and music in general. I listened to the lyrics but never tried to read in any meaning. But then I’m sure that many people are the same.
Moving on… The band line up is finally more stable…
Andy: No band line up can ever be described as stable if a drummer is involved (laughing)… no drummers are stable!
Nick: Will has worked with me previously on other projects but has been in IT for around 6 years.
Andy: He started as a dep… But then quickly became part of the band. We realised that we really liked him and, let’s face it, you want to be in a band with people you like and don’t mind spending a lot of time with which is so important to the a band scenario.
Nick: The keyboard player, Ryan, hasn’t been with us that long. He came in quite late towards the end of making the album. He is a wicked keyboard player though and also plays sax. His day job is working on cruise ships so that means that he often isn’t available to us for a few months at a time.
Andy: Typical of us to pick a band member who has that kind of outside commitment… (laughs)
Nick: James came on board about 5 years ago and has been a friend of Andy’s for some time before he joined.
Andy: James and I lived together for a little while before I met my wife… he then ended up moving into a house just down the road to me. We were chatting one day and I said to him… “you play bass don’t you… do you want to be in a band?”. Of course he said “yes, why not?” and has remained since.
There have been some similarities drawn with your sound, and ethos, to Porcupine Tree. I don’t think that’s a bad accolade by any means but I assume that’s not deliberate?
Nick: Well I have followed Steve Wilson’s work for some time. We have trod similar artistic paths with us both starting as project artists them morphing into a band. We are also both producers. Of course Steven is far more successful and is well known. My time is yet to come.
Andy: I think that’s a great compliment if people compare us to Porcupine Tree. We are both huge PT fans so the influence will be there. We will not hide or deny that.
Nick: One reviewer recently compared our lyrical content to that of Roger Waters and Steve Hogarth… Again both great compliments.
Andy: Again we are both great Pink Floyd fans and Nick is a huge Marillion fan so those comparisons are not surprising.
Nick: We have even had a Simple Minds comparison which neither of us had even thought of. When we thought about it again we could see what was meant.
Of course what we all want to know now… Any plans to play live?
Both Nick & Andy: It’s coming, It’s coming…
Nick: We have one date planned to date. It’s on 29thOctober at The Bedford at Balham. The plan is then to try and fit other gigs around that date to get some momentum.
The thing I really want to do is perform the album in its entirety at a small venue somewhere where we can put on the full visual experience. I’m looking at the smaller theatre at The Roundhouse where hopefully we can do this. Watch this space.
Andy: That’s not the gig you want to throw yourself into straight away. We need more shows before that to get our stage show finely tuned. What really takes the time with gigging is getting the band together for rehearsals, getting the dates booked based on everyone’s availability, etc. That’s the hard bit… the gigs are the easier part of that process. Nick and I are really keen to get out there and playing.
Andy… I have a question directly for you… Since we last spoke 4 years ago much has changed in your life. You got married, you have a daughter… How has that changed your life and perspective on music?
I drink less for a start… but the biggest change is that I have to be more organised when it comes to anything band related. I have to think about things, how they affect my family and the time I get to spend with them. The time I get to spend with my daughter and Claire, my wife, are very precious to me.
Of course Claire understands she is married to a musician so that comes with certain restraints to our time together. By the same token I cannot neglect one side of my life while having fun with the other… It’s all a balance. I love spending time with my daughter and hate leaving her to go off and do other things.
So just briefly coming back to the album… I believe that you travelled the country to get the photos/artwork for the album?
Nick: Yes we did… my friend Melissa, who lives in Canada, she is an amazing photographer and agreed to come over on a kind of working holiday.
We both jumped in the car and drove to Barnsley. A couple of years ago, when visiting Barnsley, I saw all these derelict houses there and of course when we arrived we found that they had all been demolished. By now it was around 4.30pm on a Spring afternoon and I’m now thinking we’re not going to get the shots I wanted. So I then had to make a decision and a change of city so we hastily made our way to Liverpool. We thought we could just make it before the sun went down. We arrived in Liverpool and made our way to Toxteth and found five streets of empty houses. I found our photo opportunity… much to my relief.
The photos were taken and Melissa took them away, returned to Canada and applied her magic. We ended up with the album art we have today. She has also helped out with shooting a couple of the promo videos. She is a very talented lady and proved a very good friend.
Just to finish up then… Do you remember the last time we spoke I told you both of famous people with whom you shared birthdays? Well obviously I couldn’t do that again so, with the political flavour to your songs, I have two political based facts that coincide with your birthdays.
So Nick on your birthday, in 2002, George Bush made his ‘Axis of Evil’ statement and of course it’s used in your song Killing Me from the album Departure.
Andy: That’s brilliant! I love it… (laughing)
Nick: What about Andy.
Well for Andy on his birthday in 1984 Ronald Reagan tried to make a joke during an election campaign by saying “I’ve signed legislation to outlaw Russia forever and we start bombing in 5 minutes”.
Nick: Wow!! That’s so cool!
Andy: That’s amazing! I so love that.
Good to finish with a bit of fun and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Needless to say the conversation then moved to the pub!