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The I Like Trains interview: singer Dave Martin answers my Q&A

I Like Trains have been one of my favourite bands for a long long time. After a significant break they're back with a brand new album and tour... as they embark on their UK leg I found out how it's been going so far, and how climate change inspired the lyrics for He Who Saw The Deep.

Written by Amelia Gregory

I Like Trains by Gemma Smith
I Like Trains by Gemma Smith.

You are currently on a very extensive tour: what prompted the decision to do such a big tour?
The best way to promote an album is to get out there and play it to as many people as possible. We’ve done more extensive tours than this in the past, so we know we have it in us. It can be hard work, but also a lot of fun. I guess we must be a pretty good live band as we’ve always had the ability to win over an audience. We’ve been playing together for 6 years, and it feels like we continue to improve as a band.

I Like Trains by Calico Charlotte Melton
I Like Trains by Calico Charlotte Melton.

You pride yourself on being “fiercely independent” – which was one of the things that first attracted you to me. Why do you think it is so important to take control of your own destiny?
I think it comes naturally to us now. You can sit and wait to be discovered, or you can get out and make the first steps on your own. Pretty soon the second and third steps will become obvious too. Coming from Leeds has helped in this respect, with bands before us making a success on their own terms. It showed us the way.

Why has it taken so long to get your second album finished? What have you been up to?
The main reason for this record taking so long to be released is that our label Beggars Banquet ceased to exist. We spent some time talking to other labels, but decided that we would be best served to release it ourselves. All of this took a lot of time. We also spent a while developing a new sound for the record.

I Like Trains by Karolina Burdon
I Like Trains by Karolina Burdon.

You made the album through an innovative pledge system. Can you tell us a bit more about this process?
Pledge Music is a website which facilitates fan funding of an album. We set ourselves a monetary target for what we needed in order to set up our own record label and release the album. We came up with a number of incentives for people to Pledge on, signed copies of the album, hand illustrated lyrics books, access all areas passes to gigs etc. The key thing about the Pledge system over some other fan funding initiatives is that no money exchanges hands until the target is reached and the album is guaranteed to be released. We were also keen to offer people value for money. The response we got when we went live completely blew us away. We weren’t entirely sure if anyone cared about us anymore, but we reached our target in about 24 hours and over 800 people went on to put their hard earned money into an album they hadn’t heard.  

I Like Trains by Rukmunal Hakim
I Like Trains by Rukmunal Hakim.

Has it been hard to do everything yourself? what are the hardest things about this approach and what are the most rewarding?
It has been hard work. It’s been a steep learning curve to release our record on our own label, and that has been the most difficult thing. Not knowing exactly what steps to take to get it into shops. I also feel as if there is some sort of stigma in releasing a record on your own label. Some people seem to perceive releasing a record via the more traditional record company route as a mark of quality control, and that fan funding bypasses that. For me it is a much more democratic model. If there is an appetite for a record then it will get produced whether or not one or two money men at a record label think they can make some money out of it. It is extremely rewarding to see the album in record shops all across Europe, and to know that it is down to our hard work and the faith of our fans.

I Like Trains by Jess Holt
I Like Trains by Jess Holt.

What is current single A Father’s Son about?
It is about population pressure. I don’t want to say too much as I’m keen for people to draw their own conclusions, but the record as a whole is looking at the future for the human race. I did a fair bit of research into the science of climate change, and took my inspiration from that.

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Where was the video shot? It looks cold. And who is the kid?!
It was shot on the North Yorkshire coast around Saltburn. To be honest we didn’t have a great deal to do with the video. It was done by a company called Progress Films. We’d been admiring their work for a little while so trusted them to do a good job. They sent a few treatments over to us, we made some tweaks and then left them to it. We were pleased with the result.

Illustration by Sarah Matthews
Illustration by Sarah Matthews.

You released a solo album last year (which I haven’t heard) – how did this go down? and how does promoting a solo album fit in with promoting a group album too – is he supporting the band on tour?!
I’ve been asked about this a few times. This was an April Fool’s joke by our fan site: I think it says that it includes a Britney Spears cover. I have as yet, not done a Britney Spears cover! *the cheek!*

How did you choose support for your tour, and in particular Napoleon IIIrd of whom I am a big fan too?
Well it is as simple as us being big fans of his too. We were very pleased that he could do it. He actually went to the same school as Guy and I did in Evesham, Worcestershire. We didn’t really know him back then as we were in different years, but we recognised him when we got to Leeds. It’s a small world.  

I Like Trains by Bryony Crane
I Like Trains by Bryony Crane.

You lost a band member in Ashley Dean, do you think you might work with him on any new videos? Are the rest of you involved in other creative projects too? and if so what?
I would never say never. We’re still in touch with Ashley and its great to see him doing so well with his videos. Guy has taken on the graphic design for I LIKE TRAINS now.  

You seem to have become slightly less introspective in new album He Who Saw The Deep, and are looking to the future rather than the past. What prompted this change of perspective? 
It was just a desire to keep challenging ourselves, to keep things fresh and exciting. We didn’t want to make the same album twice. For the first 4 or so years as a band we worked hard to create an identity. With HWSTD we took all of that and turned it on its head. We’re happy that it still sounds like an I LIKE TRAINS record, and it has given confidence to continue developing and evolving.

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You released a free download just before xmas – a cover of Wham’s Last Christmas. Why did you decide to cover this song? And did you have trouble keeping a straight face whilst you were recording it? I imagine it might have been a bit hard to do in a po-faced manner!!
It was fun. Again something we almost certainly wouldn’t have done 3 years ago. We were asked to contribute something to the Leeds Music Scene advent calendar. It was a few days before December so we knocked the cover out very quickly. We chose it because underneath all the sleigh bells and fake tan there was a certain darkness. We had a great reaction from it.

Where are you now? and how is the European leg faring… any highlights so far?
We are somewhere between Milano and Ravenna dodging some flamboyant Italian traffic! The tour has been fantastic, exceeding our expectations. There seems to be a certain momentum for the record in Europe, and an appetite for I LIKE TRAINS that we haven’t really had on previous trips. The highlight for me was the Botanique in Brussels. A sold out show at one of our favourite venues in the world. Everything seemed to come together for that gig.

Why should people come and see you on tour when you reach the UK?
That’s not really for me to say, but we can promise to give it our all and thousands of people across mainland Europe would probably back me up on this one.

The new album He Who Saw The Deep was one of my favourite albums of 2010. I Like Trains begin the UK leg of their tour today: and continue right on through to the 10th of March. Our full tour listing can be found here.


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