Last month, Money released their long awaited follow-up to 2013's impeccable debut The Shadow Of Heaven. Entitled Suicide Songs, it heralded a marked departure from its predecessor but was no less enchanting, culminating in a 9/10 on this here site.
A couple of weeks ago, DiS caught up with singer and songwriter Jamie Lee prior to their headline show at the Bodega in Nottingham. It's the first night of the tour and the amiable frontman is understandably nervous. Of course, that all dissipates when he and his band take to the stage a couple of hours later, their flawless performance simply breathtaking.
Beforehand, he spent forty-five minutes talking about difficult second albums and having a third one ready to go, his disillusionment with Manchester and the art of balancing a ladder on one's chin.
DiS: Tonight is the first night of the tour. Are you looking forward to being back on the road again?
Jamie Lee: Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it. I don't know what it's going to be like. We haven't practiced in a while so I'm a little apprehensive. I'm doing everything sober now so it's going to be challenging.
DiS: What can people expect from the current live set? Will it be a mix of both your albums?
Jamie Lee: It will mainly be songs off the new record. I'm always writing new songs so the older ones are starting to feel a bit defunct. I just want to play the new ones really. We'll see... We tend to make our minds up as we go along.
DiS: The last time you played in Nottingham at The Corner in November 2013 was quite a memorable show for various reasons. Firstly, you opened the show with an acapella rendition of The Pogues' 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes', and then a member of the audience played guitar with the band for the first half of 'Bluebell Fields'. Are you hoping for a repeat performance this evening?
Jamie Lee: Maybe. I've got this brand new acoustic song ('Lonely London Lady') that I'd like to do at the beginning but we'll see.
DiS: And if any audience members come and join you on stage?
Jamie Lee: If they want to take my place they're more than welcome! We're still getting paid aren't we!
DiS: Although 2016 is only six weeks old Suicide Songs is already being cited as an album of the year contender - including a 9/10 on here - and almost certain to be high in many people's lists come December. Did you expect such a universally positive response?
Jamie Lee: Firstly, thanks for giving us a 9. We went the next album to be so good you give us a 10. But then it's also put a lot of pressure on us for the future. In a way, I actually think a bad review can be a good sign because then you're really challenging people's expectations. You feel as if you're doing something brave.
DiS: This record does feel like a significant departure from the first record in both structure and musical styles. It's a lot mellower for starters.
Jamie Lee: I think it's definitely a better record. This one sounds like music to me whereas the other one doesn't. The other one just resembles a bunch of sounds where people are playing their instruments. With Suicide Songs, the songs are so much better. They're more honest. They sound as they were written. Most of them were written on an acoustic guitar so why change that? Stay true to that sound, that's why I like it. Whereas the last one we recorded it more democratically as a band in the practice room.
DiS: How long did it take for Suicide Songs to materialise? Which is the oldest song on the album?
Jamie Lee: 'I'll Be The Night' is a really old song that we never quite managed to work out as a full band. That's the only one that got drafted over from the past. All the other songs were written during the recording period pretty much. I want to get better as a songwriter and I think those songs highlight that.
DiS: Was there ever point where you thought there wouldn't be a second Money album?
Jamie Lee: We all like different music and often find it difficult to agree on stuff and we wind each other up. But then I guess that's to be expected so yeah, there were some tense moments where we weren't happy with each other. I was drinking a lot and sleeping in the practice room and they'd walk in on me half naked with a can of beer, smelling pretty disgusting. And they'd be saying, "What the fuck are you doing?" We were supposed to be writing a record and had lots of ideas. But Charlie (Cocksedge, guitar/keyboards) and Will (Byron, drums) were going in one direction and I was going in another. So none of us were interested in what the others were doing, and then we changed management and got a new manager who became the central point that kept us all together. He's like a counsellor, manager and a father figure rolled into one. He sorted us out when we needed it and supported the acoustic songs. Then we met Charlie Andrew who produced the album and things started to fall into place.
DiS: How did the meeting with Charlie Andrew come about? Are you a fan of his work with other bands?
Jamie Lee: Me and the rest of the band all come from different schools of thought whereas he sits somewhere in the middle. To me, the reference points on the record are quite clear as I'm sure they are to anyone that listens to a lot of alternative guitar based music. He gave it a brightness that we were all really proud with. Also, his wife did all the string arrangements which is the most defining thing on the record for me. That's what makes the songs a lot better than those on The Shadow Of Heaven to me. Even the practical things like getting us all together in a room and making sure it got finished. Charlie was instrumental in that. Giving us encouragement throughout.
DiS: Did he make any major changes to the songs at any point?
Jamie Lee: There was no editing with the songwriting at all. It was all down to recording techniques and how we performed on the day.
DiS: Although Money are now officially a three-piece, you've mentioned the additional strings on the record while Marika Hackman also contributed backing vocals on parts of the record. Will you be playing live as a three-piece or will there be extra musicians for this tour?
Jamie Lee: No, we have a bass player with us, Nick Delap who used to be in Egyptian Hip Hop and is also one half the tour support act, Bernard & Edith. Then there's two string players as well. We'll have to see how the gig goes. It might sound a bit ropey. I really want us to sound like Galaxie 500. I've been watching their live videos on You Tube and they sound so fraught yet also ridiculously tight as a band.
DiS: Were they any other songs that didn't end up on Suicide Songs which might be revisited in the future?
Jamie Lee: We scrapped two songs that didn't make the album. They're both on the b-side of the 'I'll Be The Night' single ('Do I Have To Die Just To Get Into Heaven' and 'Three Days Drinking And As Many Lovers Too'). That's about it really. We used everything we had. I think we're quite slow at working.
DiS: Some of your songs contain several religious references. 'So Long (God Is Dead) and 'The Shadow Of Heaven' off the first record for instance, and 'I Am The Lord' off this one. Is religion something you're particularly fascinated with?
Jamie Lee: I don;t know... It's more a case of being interested in it really and reading ideas. All these big questions about God being everywhere. Philosophical things. I was thinking about those things at the time so they crept into what I was writing. Also, because I was a raging alcoholic and some of those questions that aren't answered lead you to drink and you end up becoming detached and start to think funny things. Literature is everywhere. How do we place ourselves on that scale between Godliness and the other side of the spectrum? This is too pretentious to get into but it's everywhere.
DiS: There's also a couple of references to childhood in 'I'll Be The Night' and 'Cocaine Christmas And An Alcholic's New Year'. Was that an influence on parts of the record as well?
Jamie Lee: No. I don't really have this romantic notion of childhood. I thing child was the wrong word to use now in 'I'll Be The Night'. I can't play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix nor am I the greatest writer in the world. And I think that's what I was trying to say in that song. I doubt I'll ever be able to reach the heights I aspire to. But I try to write as best I can otherwise there's not a hope in hell. Maybe one day I'll get there? Who knows. So I guess that song is actually quite self pitying in many ways. I'm not as good as I want to be, basically.
DiS: You relocated to London during the making of Suicide Songs. Did that have any influence on your writing or bearing on how the songs turned out?
Jamie Lee: It gave me a lot more time to focus on songwriting rather than turning up at the practice room every day trying to flesh out songs from scratch or little ideas.
DiS: The other two guys in the band are still based in Manchester. Do you ever see yourself moving back in the future?
Jamie Lee: Not in the foreseeable future. Maybe if I want to die then I will go back! If I decide that I want to drink myself to death then maybe I'll go back. I've done that place to death so wouldn't really want to go back. It's got a lot of unhappy memories for me. I guess we'll have to see what happens and whether we make another record before saying where any of us will end up in the future.
DiS: The artwork for the front cover of the album is very striking. How did that come about?
Jamie Lee: Someone said the other day that it was quite Monty Python-esque. And that upset me. Maybe I take myself a little too seriously sometimes but I thought that was a perfect image which summed up the record. This poise, this grace, thinking about the scary facts of life. The idea came from a friend's brother who was really good at balancing things on his head. I remember he once balanced a ladder on his chin and that kind of stuck with me. We used a fishing rod with the knife dangling off the side. I can't balance a knife on my head!
DiS: Were Bella Union quite supportive over the time it took between albums one and two?
Jamie Lee: Oh God, have they! I've heard horror stories from other bands about their labels getting involved. And not even majors either. Mostly bigger indies that just take away the enjoyment and trust. Telling them to do things they don't really want to like bring in a co-writer and write ten radio friendly songs rather than an actual album. Simon (Raymonde) has been really great. He's been so supportive and encouraged us to do whatever we want. Which then fills you with confidence and leaves you to your own devices. You can't ask for anything more than that.
DiS: You mentioned a new song you'd written earlier that might be in tonight's set. Have you started working towards a third album?
Jamie Lee: I've got a few songs that are ready to go. Some of them might appear at different points throughout this tour. Let's see how we go. I've got an idea of how I'd like the next record to be.
DiS: In terms of sound as well as song structures?
Jamie Lee: I'd like it to sound like Rowland S Howard from The Birthday Party. Something dirtier and more lo-fi. I actually tracked down this producer called Lindsay Gravina who did a lot of the recordings for Roland.
DiS: What's next for Money after the UK and European shows?
Jamie Lee: We're off to South By Southwest. Then we have a couple of shows in New York and after that we'll come home and play a few festivals. I wanted to cancel this tour and make another record but I was talked out of it.
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Jamie Lee: I have no idea!
The album Suicide Songs is out now on Bella Union.
For more information on Money including tour dates and future releases, visit their official website.