Ahead of the release of his debut studio solo album Leave Alone The Empty Spaces and upcoming tour, we caught up with John Bramwell, lead singer of Manchester rock band I Am Kloot, to discuss going it alone.
John discussed his time travelling and the creation of the nine-track record, as well as his unique experiences visiting new locations and venues with just his guitar and dog.
He also told us about life away from I Am Kloot, his opinions on today’s music industry and what’s in store for the future. Here is the interview in full…
So the album is ready, how long has the solo record been in the making and what are your feelings pre-release?
“It hasn’t been too long in the making actually. I finished the last tour with Kloot, the Let It All In album, and then I got straight on the phone to my mate who lent me a Mercedes Sprinter van which we converted. I went on the road for three years with just my dog and my guitar, coming home most weekends I must add, but I didn’t think about writing at all.
“I just played every day. I’d been writing for 17 years non-stop, writing an album almost every year for Kloot. I was gigging and we recorded some of the early gigs, so the plan was to release a live album but nothing else apart from that.
“I wrote all of the Kloot songs so I was just playing fingerstyle acoustic versions of those songs, which I almost prefer to be honest. About a year ago I had a thought. I had seen people come and watch me play at some beautiful venues and it had been lovely – it just worked.
“I’d saved up enough money over the three years to release an album myself rather than borrowing money off a record label to do it. It was a holistic plan, a plan of life, finance and art. I only started writing a year ago and I have already decided that what I write over the course of an 18 month period will be the next album.”
Will this be another solo record or will you be writing new material for Kloot?
“I’m just going to keep rolling with this now. It has taken me a while to get my head around the ins and outs of setting things up on my own, the internet has been a blessing and a curse but I just feel like this is what I’m doing now. It is a different life for me, so to speak.
“I am by no means saying I wouldn’t do anything with Kloot again, but I’m just doing this now and not thinking about it. I’m just involved with the adventure of things and the follow up could be released as early as January 2019.
“This tour hasn’t even started yet and I’m already recording the next album, so it’s just an ongoing thing. You can never really be sure of how long things are going to take.”
What was the transition like going straight from the band into a solo environment?
“Well like I say I didn’t really bother writing anything at first. All I was interested in after the last Kloot tour was sitting and playing guitar for its own sake. No writing, just purely enjoying playing music again. I had been in a band environment for 18 years, and it had nothing to do with the actual environment as to why I have took this path it was purely down to the length of time I had been in it.
“I have certain things I want to do in my life before I die, and I know people who have passed away at a fairly young age. I just think if there are things you want do in your life you need to just go out and do them.”
You’ve worked with the likes of Guy Garvey in the production of the Kloot albums, did you work with anybody else on this record?
“I worked with Alan Lowles from Airtight Studios in Chorlton, Manchester. He is a very experienced musician, sound engineer and friend, and thankfully he overlooked what he described as my ‘unusual recording techniques’.
“I have two really good microphones, a quarter inch tape and an Apple Mac. I record my voice and guitar in every song first in either my kitchen, garage or living room because there is a different sound in each. Most of the overdubbing took place in my garage and then I took it to Alan who added in the extra cello and drums.
“I’m not entirely sure what the word producer means, I find it a made up term if I’m honest. The same goes for a writer. I am noted for my lyrics but I don’t really think about it as writing I think of it as making stuff up. The more playful you are with it the better, and that includes the more serious songs.
“The more playful you are in the attitude and mind the better the outcome. If you sit there thinking you are a writer or a record producer then it won’t be a good end product. I’m always wary of anyone calling themselves a producer. I understand that I sing, there’s a microphone and somebody needs to set the levels but I can do that myself and add instruments in as I feel. Usually the song tells me which instruments to add.”
So what can we expect from the album?
“I’ve used fingerstyle classical guitar a lot on this record, this has been the key for me really. It’s what I started off doing as a kid. I’ve been travelling to gigs, sound-checking for five minutes, having a pub lunch in the day and then I’d literally just be hanging around playing the guitar with my dog falling asleep next to me (a bit like what he’s doing now)!
“I’ve played everything myself apart from the cello and the drums in one song – my attempts at playing the cello would be of better use in a psychological drama. I don’t like to describe my own stuff as I like people to make their own mind up. Talking about music is like dancing about architecture, something like that.”
What have been the key inspirations behind the record?
“The album is very much inspired by my travels and a feeling of freewheeling, I’ve travelled to places I’ve never played before. I made a post on my website asking for people from small towns or villages, who never get gigs that aren’t cover bands, to talk to their local pubs with a room ready for a gig so that I could come and play.
“I’ve done quite a few of those, travelling to places in the UK that you won’t have heard of. If you build it they will come, because there’s not usually anything like that on. There are plenty of enthusiastic promoters who just want something to be happening in their town.
“It was great fun and a great experience. It pays pretty well and you get to play intimate gigs in front of people who have never heard your stuff before, so you can meet new people and new fans.”
Do you think there is a stand-out track on the new album?
“The track ‘Who Is Anybody?’ was the first to go to radio. It has been played on Radio 6 and Radio X, but my favourite changes all the time. I finished mastering the album a few months back and it was on in the car the other day. I gave my girlfriend the CD so she could review the driving experience, which is an important thing for an LP.
“We put it on random shuffle mixed in with some other CDs so that I occasionally heard the new songs, which was good. Is there a favourite? No. It’s a nine song record and they are all little gems. If I had to choose one right now it would be the last song on the album, Meet Me At The Station, but like I say it changes all the time.
“I love the lyrics and the melody, but to be honest if I don’t love it I don’t put it on. The album is only about 30 minutes long but I’m really happy with it.”
The tour starts on 15th November, are you looking forward to getting back on the road? Are you visiting any new places or new venues?
“Yes, I’m going back to the Union Chapel in London which should be great. I’ve never been to the City Hall in Sheffield but I’ve seen photos and it looks lovely. The Sage I’ve been to and I played the Royal Northern in Manchester last year, but this time I will be playing the other room and putting my theatrical skills to the test. The whole tour should be great.”
What are your plans post-tour?
“I’m doing about 40 dates just me and my guitar again in Spring next year, I see it as perpetual to be honest. We’re going to do the sit down theatres and the album, but next year I want to start playing the new songs. I even think I will play a few of the songs from the second record on this current tour.
“I’ve really enjoyed this new chapter and it has been very interesting and rewarding. I knew quite a bit already but putting it into practice has been much harder, so I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
And on a final note, what are your opinions on the current music scene? Who are you listening to at the minute?
“I’m going to be brutally honest here. Because of lyrics and because music is for me to enjoy, listening to other people’s lyrics just kind of bugs me. It’s only because I’m automatically tuned in to lyrics. I have in fact been listening to Classic FM when I’ve been driving, I find it really inspiring because I don’t have a great knowledge of classical music and I haven’t listened to much of it.
“There is so much out there I could listen to it all afternoon because most of it I haven’t heard before. It is enjoyable and doesn’t involve lyrics so it lets me unwind and get into it. It’s the kind of music that’s new for me. I don’t want to slag anyone off but there seems to be an 80’s revival thing going on at the minute. I remember the 80’s from the first time around and I don’t need to hear it again, it bores me.
“There’s a band doing really well at the minute and I remember hearing one of their songs and saying ‘this is a New Order track I’ve never heard before’. I couldn’t believe it. The keyboard sound, phrasing, vocals, everything, it really was just like a New Order track. I asked which album it was from and it turned out it wasn’t New Order at all.
“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the sound or the effect. It has just been done before, leave it be. It’s not just the fact that it’s been done but it is being re-done in a way that I’ve already heard and I don’t get anything from that. Music is so brilliant, you don’t want it to get to the point where it annoys you or bores you. You need to find things you haven’t heard before and the irony in my case is that it’s 300-year-old stuff.”
John Bramwell’s tour kicks off tomorrow night at Pocklington Arts Centre. Make sure you subscribe to the website as John has some brilliant plans in the run up to Christmas. If you are attending any of the gigs, John says there will be a merch stand and a bar, where he will always be up for a chat.
Leave Alone The Empty Spaces is out now, so go and check it out if you haven’t already!