Since forming in 1999, Manchester three-piece I Am Kloot (John Bramwell, guitar/vocals, Pete Jobson, bass, and Andy Hargreaves, drums) have become the ultimate band’s band. Often compared to The Beatles and The Kinks, they deal in the kind of classic pop songs that have you humming along on the first listen as though you’ve known them all your life.
Let It All In is their sixth studio album, following on from 2010’s ravishing Sky At Night, which was nominated for the Mercury Prize. This one, also produced and mixed by Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, is another Kloot classic and an early contender for album of the year, says Chitra Ramaswamy, who spoke to bassist Pete Jobson about Manchester, success, and drinking with Guy Garvey...
Let It All In is your sixth studio album in more than ten years. How does this one compare to the others?
I think this LP harks back to our first, Natural History. Guy [Garvey] produced that one too and it was basically just us with some microphones playing live. I love it because it sounds very warts and all. There’s something nice about a debut album showing promise but not being flashy.
People always say you’ve been around a long time. Does it feel that way?
We always thought we would play it until we die. That’s still the plan.
This album is a much more stripped back affair than your last, which had a lot more Elbow-ish orchestral flourishes. How did that come about?
As soon as we finished touring Sky At Night we were straight in to recording, just the three of us. We went to various studios around Manchester and the north west and recorded it ourselves. Then we had about six weeks with Guy and Craig. It was very much back to how we started.
You’ve had a notoriously chequered history with labels. Why?
We seem to have been the kiss of death for a lot of them. As soon as we signed to them they went out of business. Now we’ve matured a bit and are letting ourselves be managed. Before, because of our history – we worked as booking agents in clubs and had been in bands – we knew a little bit about the music industry but we thought we knew a lot. We didn’t really let managers do their job properly. It’s all come together now.
How did life change after the Mercury nomination?
People do look at you differently. They consider you. It wasn’t that all of a sudden we had s***loads of money. But it made us more confident about what we were doing. It felt like a justification. When we were nominated the first thing that Johnny and I said to each other was they can’t take that away from us. That says a lot about us. We were brought up in a time when our mothers and fathers never dreamt that you could make a living out of playing music. My family are farmers in Northumberland. Music was something that other people did.
Do you get fed up of being referred to as an overlooked band?
After all this time I think... change the record. In this country people talk about your career and success more than they talk about the music. When you go elsewhere in Europe, they don’t care how old you are or whether you think you’ve had enough success. It’s pretty refreshing.
John Bramwell says your songs are about love and disaster. Are you a depressed bunch of northerners?
[Laughs] We’re definitely self deprecating. I don’t think there is any charm at all in going around saying aren’t we brilliant? That’s just bulls***. We’ve had highs and lows. It depends how you measure these things. But I’m not one for too much self deprecation. We’re ambitious bastards, us three. Otherwise we wouldn’t still be doing this.
There must have been advantages to remaining on the fringes and not being sucked into the vortex of mainstream pop?
You know you’re the first person who has said that. And you’re right. You learn to be self-sufficient and you have the time to develop who you are and what you’re doing. You’re not suddenly thrust into this inhuman and unnatural spotlight. We subscribe to the old idea of investing in artists, taking time, letting them get better. That’s how you get the best out of people.
You’re often mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles and The Kinks. Who are your influences?
Johnny has been massively influenced by The Beatles. When he was a kid he thought the Beatles was another country, not a band. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were true? He writes the songs on guitar and pretty much comes out with them spontaneously, lyrics and all. Some of my favourite times with the band are when he comes and knocks on my door at some random hour of the night. I’ll open the door and he’ll say ‘don’t say anything!’ We go upstairs to the studio, the microphones go on, I press record, and he plays a song straight off. It’s so enjoyable to watch. And like a lot of Johnny’s songs, you feel you know them already in your bones. The way he writes songs is so spontaneous that I often worry that one day it will just dry up. It’s like he is a conjurer.
What songs on Let It All In came about that way?
The very first song, Bullets. It was pretty much all recorded in my back room apart from the drums. Johnny came in, ran upstairs as usual, pressed record and sang it twice. The second version was good but the first one is what’s on the record.
John has said your first rehearsal together was like a key turning in a jammed lock. How did you meet?
I came from Northumberland to Manchester to study music. On my first day I was told by a teacher to go this cafe called Night And Day in town. I met Johnny there and we ended up working at the bar, booking bands. But the first time I saw him play was the weekend the IRA bomb went off and blew up the centre of Manchester. There was a concert in an open air arena and at the end of the night this little fella came on stage with a borrowed guitar and played a few songs, one of which was called Twist and ended up on our first LP. The lyrics are so extraordinary. I was absolutely blown away. I always thought Johnny was the best songwriter in town. Now I think he’s one of the best songwriters anywhere.
Didn’t you end up putting a lyric from Twist all over Manchester?
Yeah, I used to print posters for clubs and had just printed these massive ones for an campaign calling for blood donors. I had all of the leftover red ink so we did 100 posters with a lyric from Twist – ‘There’s blood on your legs, I love you’ – and put them all over the city. It created quite a stir. When our first single came out on Valentine’s Day on red 7-inch vinyl, everyone realised who it was. That lyric went a long way towards us getting our first record deal.
How did you meet Guy Garvey and the rest of Elbow?
We were all in Manchester at the same time and met in the Night And Day cafe. Everyone in there was an artist, photographer, video maker or musician. You could get a hell of a lot done. Everyone shared everything because no one had anything. It was a very creative place. We used to book Guy’s band, who were called Soft at the time and were a kind of jazz/funk meets Smiths band. I remember paying Guy £20 in coins after a gig and how chuffed he was. I think we drank it all that night. We’ve been mates ever since. Now everyone apart from me and Guy is pretty much married with kids, so we’re drinking buddies.
What’s touring in your forties like?
We go around with a van, stay in a hotel, and on a day off we walk around the city, do cultural stuff, and eat in a good fish restaurant. It’s not a bad life really.
• I Am Kloot play Oran Mor, Glasgow, on 12 February, and the Liquid Room, Edinburgh, on 18 April.
Let It All In is out now. www.iamkloot.com