Leeds’ iLiKETRAiNS’ Elegies To Lessons Learnt album (review) has received the DVD treatment courtesy of the band’s own visual contributor and cornet player Ashley Dean. A collection of animations combined to create a feature-length film, the DVD is available now, supported by the release of new single ‘We Go Hunting’ (read an essay on the song here and a review here) and UK tour dates (see article’s end).
DiS questioned Ashley to discover more about the Elegies… DVD project…
Video: Elegies… preview trailer
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Ashley, as you are essentially the Broken Pixel company that made the film, can you tell us about how the visual side of iLiKETRAiNS has developed over the years?
When I joined iLiKETRAiNS my job was to create live visuals, I used old Super 8 projectors and slides to try and get across a bit of extra context and emotion at our gigs. I then started working on our music videos and the visual style began to develop and evolve. We've played around with cardboard, clay, wire, polystyrene and gaffer tape to create the worlds our characters live in, whatever we could afford or find, we used. I think is how we reached our current aesthetic.
What inspired you to go the extra mile and make a full feature film to go with Elegies To Lessons Learnt?
I had tried to make a film for every song we released and when we started planning the album, it seemed like the natural thing to do to make a feature length film to fit the music. In hindsight it was a little too ambitious to try and make a fully animated film in the five or six months we originally set aside, but a year and a half later I think it was worth the effort.
Who were your inspirations for your style of animation? There seems to be an intriguing mix of Jan Švankmajer, The Brothers Quay, and Morph.
It's funny you mention both Švankmajer and the Quays. I had seen Švankmajer's Little Otik a few years ago but hadn't seen any of his short films. It was only well into the making of Elegies… that I discovered the short films of Švankmajer and the Quay Brothers. I was shocked at how similar some of their work was to mine and how far beyond what I was trying to achieve they had gone. It seems I had been working along a similar path in isolation for years, but now I have seen their work I am eager to diversify and create images that have never been created before.
Morph is a constant inspiration.
How did the different members all get involved in the process of making the film?
The most important thing was to write such atmospheric songs with deep and complex backgrounds to draw inspiration from. As far as animating is concerned, they tend to leave me to my own devices; I work pretty unsociable hours.
Did you have a bigger budget than the earlier films? Did this actually create any new challenges?
We have always tried to get the best out of our abilities, equipment and budget. We did have more money to spend than on previous projects, it allowed me to have a studio to work in, buy better equipment and use proper armatures for the first time. But I think the ethos was the same as always; use what we can and make the most of limited resources.
How much time did you spend working on the film?
It is hard to say, I started making the film in November 2006 and finished in February 2008, but in that time we also had two major tours and I made several other films for other bands. The different songs varied in the time they took to make, ‘Spencer Perceval’ was the first to be made and was the product of almost two months constant work. The last to be made was ‘Come Over’, where me and the costume maker Kevin Roper completed it from start to finish in an 18-hour stint.
Was there anything you wanted to do but were unable to make happen?
I had big plans for ‘The Voice of Reason’. It was a song with so much interesting detail, I was going to build a scale model of Drury Lane Theatre, have a scene from a battle in the First World War and I story-boarded a ballroom full of asylum patients waltzing to the end of the song. But as deadlines drew nearer, a lot of ideas had to be reigned in for every song. I'm confident we can make anything happen in animation, but time is always the defining factor.
Video: 'Spencer Percival'
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What was the most difficult scene to shoot? The graveyard running down the hill in 'We All Fall Down' looked pretty tricky.
That was indeed a painful scene to shoot. Myself and my girlfriend Lydia were on that hillside for over an hour animating that one shot, by the time the light started failing we had completed 18 frames, not even a second. There were lots of problems with shooting outside, the main one being in ‘Death of an Idealist’ when a gust of wind blew my camera off of its tripod into the sea. It was ruined and I was very cross, especially as later that day there was a terrific sunset over the sea, the very reason why we travelled to shoot on the East coast. All I could do was sit and watch the sky become increasingly beautiful with a dead camera in my hands.
Your promotional material refers to the Elegies… film as "A broken man's epic journey through history and remorse", something that works very well in the film through the featureless face of the 'man', and linking the events by stating how many years took place between them. Was that concept in your minds when you were writing the album?
I had to write the film alongside the album so the ideas developed in tandem. It was a tricky task to try and tie together all of the historical characters to one coherent story line. I thought of reasons why someone would become all of these different people (without directly ripping off Quantum Leap) and settled upon the idea of a man in a coma after a car crash, experiencing his last conscious sensations, hence the telegraph pole for sight, broken glass for touch and the iLiKETRAiNS album for sound. The DVD cover will have a scratch and sniff scent of upholstery and if you lick the DVD itself it will taste of wood and grass*.
(* Not at all true)
Your songs already have a great narrative sense, what do you feel the film does to enhance the experience?
I hope that the film will help illustrate the stories of the characters involved, although these four-to-five minute animations can only look upon brief elements of these people's lives. The idea when we wrote the songs was that the album, film and essays would combine to give a rich and colourful insight into the lives of some people forgotten by mainstream history.
Music journalists were lucky enough to be sent the booklet of essays that gave the historical narrative to the album. Why did you feel it was important to give the background material?
I think the lyrics that Dave and Guy write are brilliantly concise and efficient, but there is no way you can get enough information across in a song to do justice to these stories. I hope the essays that Alistair (Bowis, iLiKETRAiNS bassist) wrote form a good basis and inspiration for people to do their own research in the histories.
How do you see iLiKETRAiNS developing in terms of combining the visual with music?
Over the summer, I am due to make an animated short with dialogue and a plot divorced from the music, so it will be interesting to work with the band from the other side, creating a soundtrack to complement the images, rather than the other way around. As far as the next album is concerned, I am looking forward to approaching the visual work from new angles, maybe by exploring different mediums and processes. Simon (Fogal, iLiKETRAiNS drummer) is making some really entertaining tour diaries for YouTube at the moment (link), so maybe we will do some kind of documentary work around the next album. Anything is possible though. All I know is that our next music video will be the culmination of everything that has gone before, so it has to blow everything else away.
Video: 'Terra Nova'
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The album and DVD of Elegies To Lessons Learnt are out now via Beggars Banquet, with the single ‘We Go Hunting’ also available on limited-edition seven-inch. For Alistair Bowis’ essay on the band’s latest single, click to The Quietus here. iLiKETRAiNS tour as follows (support from Kyte):
22 London Bush Hall
23 Colchester Arts Centre
24 Oxford Academy 2
25 Nottingham Bodega Social
28 Lancaster The Library
29 York Fibbers
30 Manchester Roadhouse
1 Leeds Brudenell Social Club