Sky Larkin, Interview
2009 may only be one month old but it's already shaping up to be a year of many staggering new releases. One of those belongs to Leeds based trio Sky Larkin, whose debut long player 'The Golden Spike' hits the shops in a fortnight from now (9th February). They've also just completed a Huw Stephens endorsed tour with fellow Yorkshiremen Pulled Apart By Horses, and Contact managed to grab a few words post-soundcheck with Katie, Nestor and Doug (aka Sky Larkin) prior to their sold-out Nottingham show the other week.
How did you get involved with Huw Stephens for this tour?
Nestor: We first met him when we were doing the 'Introducing.' stages at the Leeds and Reading festivals. It turned out he really liked us and he offered us a slot on this tour. He's really into a lot of the bands who we like and makes every effort to big them up on his radio show, like Pulled Apart By Horses, so.
Leeds at this moment in time seems to be the place to be as far as new music. Obviously there's you guys, Pulled Apart By Horses who you've just mentioned, Grammatics, Dinosaur Pile-Up, Wintermute and so many others.
Nestor: Yeah it is at the moment. The city is literally bursting with new talent!
Katie: We were talking about this on the way down, and how pretty much every band in the city is linked to each other in some way. Pulled Apart By Horses have an ex-member of Mother Vulpine in their line-up, and Mother Vulpine's old bass player Lindsay (Wilson) used to be in Sky Larkin. Another of their old line-up is now in Dinosaur Pile-Up. It's quite strange when we think back to being at house parties together a few years ago and we'd all be saying to each other 'You should form a band'!
What makes it even more exciting is that none of the bands look or sound the same, even though you're all obviously part of the same scene as it were.
Katie: I think there are enough people around in Leeds to actually make something happen rather than constantly having to look over your shoulder all the time. There are a lot of resources there too, even though Leeds in comparison to many other cities is fairly small. It's also worth noting that there hasn't been a band come out of Leeds that defines the city's sound in the same way as, for example, The Smiths or Oasis do with Manchester. The thing with a city having its own sound is that it can be both a blessing and a curse, as there is an expectancy for every other band in the future to sound the same while at the same time a major sense of disappointment if every subsequent band is just the latest version of what's gone before.
Everyone seems to work together too, from the bands themselves to the promoters, venues and local record labels.
Katie: Definitely. I think that comes from Leeds having no Arena-sized venue, so the scene is more diffused across all of the smaller venues instead.
Nestor: It is an amazing community in that we're all friends in one sense but also work colleagues in another as far as creating something positive for the city goes.
Your debut album, 'The Golden Spike', is released in a couple of weeks. It's been a long wait between your previous singles for the record to finally see the light of day.
Katie: I know what you mean, although if you think back to before the internet it wasn't that uncommon for a band to be around for a few years before releasing an album. I think the other side of the coin is the industry's fascination with the 'next big thing' though; take Florence And The Machine for example. They've already been nominated for a Brit award without anyone really knowing anything about them and you wonder where they can go next. Record an album? It's baffling. It puts so much pressure on them as well at such an early stage in their career. For us, we were all living in different places until quite recently.
Nestor: I was the only one who was based in Leeds, as Katie was at University in London and Doug was studying up in Scotland. We weren't prepared to rush making the album as there really would have been no point.
Quite a few of the songs on 'The Golden Spike' are re-recorded versions of your earlier singles.
Katie: We wanted to make a debut record that would hang together properly, and we toyed with the idea of using the original versions of some of the songs, and even had other songs lined up for the record that eventually didn't make it. I think one of the reasons why most of it was re-recorded actually comes down to having more options by way of the fact we had so much time in the studio.
Nestor: We've never recorded for more than two days in one go before so we wanted to make sure the added time we got in recording the album was used positively and constructively.
How was working with legendary producer John Goodmanson?
Katie: We didn't know what to expect. Initially, our label Wichita asked us who we wanted to make the album with so we drew up a list and John's name was at the top. Fortunately he wanted to work with us. It turned out really well in the end as he was really sweet, really good fun to work with. It sounds clichéd but he has a great pair of ears for music; he's a mixer as well as a producer and he's remixed people like Wu Tang Clan and Hanson too.
You're signed to Wichita Records, home of Bloc Party and Los Campesinos! Among many others. How did this alliance come about?
Katie: We sent them a demo ages ago and they came to see us when we supported Broken Social Scene, and then were got on the Los Campesinos! tour as main support and they started coming to more shows..
Nestor:.so we actually got to know them as friends a long time before they signed us to the label.
Katie: I think that's why I respect them even more because they've actually watched us develop and then signed us without any pressure or expectations, whereas if some A&R man from a major label who'd never seen us came along and offered us a ridiculous contract on the back of one song.well, would you trust him?
So the label have been supportive all the way?
Katie: Definitely, yes. They haven't pressurised us at any point about putting out an album or selling units. They're genuinely into music themselves and Mark (Bowen) from the label really believes in every artist they sign. He's a fan, and I think it shows in the acts he signs and how they behave too.
Nestor: Take our label mates The Cribs for example. They operate in an almost unique manner to pretty much every band we've ever met, record on their own terms, release their music on their own terms. To me they define what independent music should be all about, and that's also the case with Wichita.
You've built up quite a fanbase via blogs and music based zines on the internet. Do you see this as being something many more bands will aim for in the future?
Katie: Definitely. Our manager calls us 'Band Version 2.0' because we're always sticking our latest demo recordings on the internet.
Nestor: I think it's a good way of getting your music heard by many, many people.
Katie: I also think it makes the band seem more genuine and approachable; I mean, if you see an unknown band on the cover of a magazine before you've actually heard anything your initial reaction would be to question just how much money has been spent on marketing them rather than the actual music.
Doug: I think by using message boards we can actually keep in touch with people that want to know about the band and it gives them a forum to speak to us too.
Nestor: It's really liberating as well, because it gives people an outlet to know what to look for.
What plans do you have for the rest of 2009?
Katie: We're going to Europe with Johnny Foreigner in February, and then we're off to Texas in March for South by Southwest.
Nestor: And eating ribs!
Katie: And drinking root beer! There are only two places in this country where I've found root beer; the American shop in London where its £7 for a litre bottle or the Chinese supermarket in Leeds.
Doug: We're also going to be doing quite a few of the festivals during the summer.
Katie:.as many as we can because festivals are great!
And new songs?
Katie: I'm always writing, constantly putting together new songs so yeah, there's a fair few ready to record but we're concentrating on playing this album first. I actually think someone should write the definitive second album so one doesn't have to be made any more.a song called 'I Hate Being On Tour', one called 'I Cheated On My Girlfriend', one that has a really long string section in the middle, one with a children's choir in it.
Nestor:.and then a really long video of it all where you're sat on the back of the tour bus.
Katie: And the odd celebrity guest appearance on several tracks too!