If it feels like ¡Forward, Russia! have been away for a long time that's probably because... they have. 2006’s debut LP Give Me A Wall was followed last year by limited-edition single 'Don't Be A Doctor', but since then, until now, nothing. At least, nothing we could get our hands on.
A handful of intimate shows at the tail-end of last year showcased material from their second LP Life Processes, recorded in Seattle with Matt Bayles - ex-member of Minus The Bear and producer for them, Pearl Jam and Mastodon amongst many others - in Summer 2007, and the signs were good. As those who've heard the finished album ahead of its April 14 release will testify, 'good' is something of an understatement.
Life Processes might be a challenging first few listens for fans of Give Me A Wall but extended plays reveals it to be an ambitious, uncompromisingly heavy record that takes the debut's visceral blueprint and expands it into a more cohesive, compelling, whole. But more of that here.
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We meet Whiskas (guitars), Katie Nicholls (drums) and - eventually - vocalist Tom Woodhead on a Friday evening at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, one of the most agreeable places to watch a gig in the UK. It doesn't appear to be much from the outside (it's basically an old working men's club in a suburb of Leeds) but venture inward and it's like the gig venue forgot, a mecca of refreshingly dilapidated decor, cheap beer, great bands and locals in flat-caps. Needless to say, it's an experience that compares favourably with visiting any faceless chain 'venue' you care to name.
Usually, it would also be the ideal place to conduct an interview but tonight it just so happens that Leeds Rhinos are playing St Helens at rugby. A pretty big deal in these parts, apparently...
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How different was recording Life Processes compared to making Give Me A Wall?
Katie Nicholls: Really different!
Whiskas: About as different as you can imagine two very different things being.
Tom Woodhead: It wasn't sandwiched in between a lot of hectic touring, we got to take our time over it. And we were in a different country. It was a lot less stressful, I think that's the best way to describe it.
How long did it take you to make the record?
TW: We were out there for nine and a half weeks, including mixing.
W: We came back after that with the record you're hearing now.
Would you say you had more fun making Life Processes?
TW: I don't know... the first one was fun in its own way but just a bit more hectic.
W: The first album was something we had to do rather than something we cared about. Not that we didn't care about it, but we just had to get it done rather than get it right. It was getting done right if it was getting done, if that makes sense. This time it was enjoyable because we had the time to enjoy it.
TW: We didn't have to fly to Norway the day after we finished it either! If we hadn't done that we'd have had an extra two or three days to spend on it. We could have done with not doing that gig in Norway, really. Reviews of the album would probably have improved by a point if we hadn't!
W: Basically the album got cut short because the NME flew us to Norway to do a feature. We played a gig at midnight and then had to be up at 8am so they could take photos of us by a river. It was in the most northerly city in the world, in February. And we were in our t-shirts. Pretty cold.
KN: Yeah. It's on the Arctic Circle, where we went.
TW: Pretty damn cold.
So how did you end up working on the new album with Matt Bayles?
TW: We had a list of people we thought we'd like to record with and then narrowed it down, eventually, to two people. And then we found out the other one only had three weeks available. We'd emailed Matt early on and he seemed like he was up for doing it.
Are you fans of his old band Minus The Bear?
KN: Yeah, and also loads of the stuff he's recorded.
W: It's nice to think there's a family to it, that people actually trusted him. Bands keep going back, which I think says a lot about him. I'm a fan of most of the stuff he's done.
What do you think he added to the sound of your record?
TW: He would let us try whatever we wanted to try. He'd encourage us, in fact.
W: He threw a lot of ideas and enthusiasm into the mix, and was very enthusiastic about how it would work.
TW: He's very good at helping you turn ideas into things... that aren't ideas. He helps funnel that initial idea that you'll just play once and think it sounds alright into something more concrete.
(A group of men approach the table, and enquire as to whether they can turn the TV on to watch the rugby. Kick off is in 15 minutes so they agree to wait until then. The tape is stopped. We consider moving, but decide in favour of carrying on, and hopefully finishing, before the match begins. In any case Whiskas, has an impending date with a curry house...)
Right, moving swiftly on. When you went into the studio did you have a clear idea how you wanted Life Processes to sound?
KN: I think that's why you go to work with a producer, because they're going to put in ideas you haven't already thought of. We had an idea how the songs were going to be, but we were totally open to input from Matt.
TW: In terms of the overall sound of the record, I think it sounds how I'd imagined it would.
W: I don't think it sounds a particular way. I think it sounds good.
Video: 'Breaking Standing'
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A few people have questioned the decision to make 'Breaking Standing' the lead single (review), and it's also been suggested that it wasn't necessarily your decision to release it...
W: When you say that, what you actually mean is Katie's housemate has said that. It's really out of order.
I think I read it on the DrownedinSound boards...
W: Yeah. Her housemate's MattJ. He wrote it on DrownedinSound.
KN: It's not the truth.
TW: Basically, that was the single the label wanted to release. But it's not like we said 'no way'.
W: It's not even like that. No one in the band had a strong opinion. The label thought it'd work well and we fully supported them in their decision to do it. If everyone was sat around not caring what we put out, we'd be in a lot worse situation.
KN: That was definitely one of the tracks we picked out as a possible single. It's not like (nine minute long album closer) 'Spanish Triangles', which would be a ridiculous choice.
W: There are three or four potential singles on the album. But if you play the album to the whole world, we think more people will like 'Breaking Standing' than any other track.
In the context of the album, I think 'Breaking Standing' works really well because it's sandwiched between two of the longest, heaviest tracks...
TW: If you played it to mums everywhere, that'd be the most popular song. Maybe we're just trying to appeal to mums!
Given that the recording was wrapped up by the end of last summer, why has it taken so long to release the album?W: It took us four months to find a label...
That's something I was going to ask you about actually. The new album's coming out on Cooking Vinyl, and not the label you famously started, Dance To The Radio. Why is that?
W: It was just easier. It can get quite complicated when there's a lot of people working closely together so we decided to do it on a separate label.
TW: It makes it easier to have a more defined boundary between the label and the band.
People automatically associate ¡Forward, Russia! with Dance To The Radio, and assume that you'd work together. That's not the case?
W: Well, I think people still do [associate the two]. And they still kind of should. ¡Forward, Russia! helped bring Dance To The Radio to what it is... we are quite closely linked. But they're not releasing the second album. It's not all about the here and now. (Looks at Katie) What?
KN: You're making the Dictaphone wobble.
W: ...But, yeah. Controversially, music and the world isn't actually all about the here and now. They are still quite linked, but what we're doing right now is separate to Dance To The Radio. And what Dance To The Radio's doing now is separate to ¡Forward, Russia!
TW: But there's no big feud or anything like that.
W: I wasn't going to say that, more... it's a comfortable situation.
Does that mean you're full-time musicians at the moment?
KN: Rob [Canning, ¡Forward, Russia! bass player]'s got a day job. I'm doing a part-time job.
W: We're certainly not full-time musicians.
KN: No. We do need an extra income.
W: An income.
KN: We couldn't live off the band financially.
W: We've never really been able to do that!
So people should buy Life Processes and help you out...
KN: Only if they like it!
W: I'm sure they'll download it and tell us how much they liked it. Or hated it.
'Life Processes preview'
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Let's talk about the music scene in Leeds at the moment. How does it compare to when you first started out as a band?
W: The best bands in Leeds at the moment are the same ones that were best three years ago. Duels, This Et Al...
TW: What about Grammatics?
W: They're not as good as Duels, This Et Al or iLiKETRAiNS though. And that's what I mean... and then the next, like, good bands... (Looks at Tom) I'm not being a fucking cunt about it!
TW: I'm not saying you are!
W: You're looking at me like I am...
TW: Okay. Sorry.
W: Nothing can come close to what those three bands have done. And then, yeah, definitely Grammatics. And Sky Larkin. It's like a sliding scale. It's not that the bands have got worse, but I think you can really tell the people who've been around the block.
TW: I see what you mean. But I'd say Grammatics are probably as good as those bands.
W: Duels and This Et Al still don't get the praise they deserve though. Even iLiKETRAiNS don't.
Don't you think the second Duels’ album (The Barbarians Move In, released April 28) is way better than the first, though?
W: Definitely. That's what I mean. I'm saying what they're doing now is better than what those new bands are doing.
TW: I suppose that's the way it should be.
And then, conversely, in a couple of years Grammatics and Sky Larkin might be releasing great second albums...
W: But then the third albums from Duels and This Et Al might be even better!
TW: Well, we'll see.
W: Yep, we'll see.
(The rugby is switched on at Dictaphone-bothering volume. Time to wind things up)
Erm, right... last question while we can still just about hear ourselves. Given Life Processes has been finished for some time now, have you started thinking about a third album yet?
TW: The answer to that is... no! We haven't really thought about a third one. I think we're going to see how things go with this one and see what happens. We certainly haven't talked about it.
Was your deal with Cooking Vinyl just for this album?
TW: No, it was a three album deal. So we certainly can put out a third album. It certainly can happen...
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Life Processes is released by Cooking Vinyl on April 14. The single Breaking Standing is out now on 7", CD and download. MySpace HERE, and DiS-sponsored tour dates are as follows (check MySpace for supports, including Johnny Foreigner and Errors):
15 Glasgow King Tuts
16 Aberdeen Kef
17 Dundee Fat Sams
18 Newcastle Academy
20 Liverpool Barfly
21 Bristol Thekla
22 London Kings College
23 Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
24 Kingston New Slang @ The Works
25 Birmingham Barfly
27 Manchester Academy 3
28 Leeds Cockpit
29 Nottingham Rescue Rooms