The Leisure Society’s music is the type you always hope to come across. Intimate, intricate and moving, each song in the folk-pop group’s latest album, ‘Arrival and Departures’, seems equally focused on telling a story through its works, then just refining the music itself. The result? A beautiful series of pieces that combine some impressive folk arrangements with equally stunning lyrics. It’s an album you can come back to and still find something new. Following the well-deserved praise from the release, I sat down the man at the centre of the band, Nick Hemming, to discuss the groups plans for tour, reactions to success, and the song writing process.
You’re a pretty big group, how did you guys all meet?
We’ve actually slimmed down in the past few years, we’re playing as a tight and taught 5 piece now. When I initially moved down to London to play in Christian’s band, I was also playing in the Brighton based Willkommen Collective, that’s where I first met our violin player Mike and flautist Helen (and a few other musicians who have contributed to the Leisure Society over the years). Then, we met drum genius Sebastian in London as he started playing drums in Christian’s band. Finally, Jon joined on bass, we’d auditioned a few bass players, but as soon as Jon started playing the first song we knew he was a cut above.
Your latest album came out this year, what has the reception been like?
The reception has been incredible, it was a huge relief. We’ve been working on it for four years, and when you go away for that long you never know if people are going to still care when you come back.
Your album is unique in the way that it’s thematically split – what was the inspiration behind that choice?
It was a natural evolution during the recording process, using the album to articulate the emotionally turbulent time I was going through – dealing with heartbreak and living out of a suitcase. I stayed with a drummer friend for a few months and he kindly let me set up my studio in his kitchen. In the evenings we’d jam new song ideas and drink into the early hours, that’s where a lot of the Departures songs came from. The strange political climate – Trump and Brexit happened around that time – also fed into the mood of that half of the album.
The songs on your latest album are so intricate, both lyrically and musically – how important is building a narrative in your song writing?
I always obsess over the lyrics and arrangements and I like the two to reflect one other. To me, one of the main purposes of songwriting, or any art really, is to share an emotion. Sometimes a lyric on its own might not do a great deal, but when you apply it to a melody and an intonation, it suddenly sparks. There’s a lyric on the title track that goes, “I wait for the cactus to bloom” – every night I sing it I get a little shiver. I’m transported back to the front room of my old house, feeling desolate and desperate. But there’s some strange comfort in that and although I wrote it specifically about my experience, lots of people have come up to me after shows and picked out that line as being special to them too.
The album features a few guests such as Liz Berry and Eno, how do you think the contributions from guest artists helped shape the album?
The song that Eno plays on, I’ll Pay For it Now, is one of my favourite TLS productions ever. It’s quite sparse in places, but I love the way it rises and swells. We were already messing about with textures, filtering sheep sounds and radio broadcasts through Moog synths, but Brian added some lovely crystalline melody lines that raise the track to another level.
I’d never met Liz before, but I’m a huge fan of her collection Black Country. The outro to ‘Leave Me to Sleep’ was sounding beautiful, but it lacked a focal point. I mailed her and asked if she’d read something for us – I’d heard her reading on Cerys Matthews’ 6 music show and had been completely floored. Within a week she sent me a verse she’d written especially, it was the perfect epilogue to the song, crystallising the themes in a very Berry way – I still feel incredibly honoured to have two heroes on the album.
You’re about to go on tour- Are there any particular cities you’re looking forward to playing?
I’m really looking forward to Paris, we haven’t been there for a while and there’s been quite a buzz about the album in the French press and on the radio. I’m also looking forward to going back to Belfast and Dublin – although it’s been about 7 years since we last played there so I’m not sure what to expect! Having three weeks of intense playing is going to be wonderful, it’s the biggest tour we’ve done since we released our debut album in 2009!
Does the fact that you’re quite a large group present any challenges while performing on the road?
It really does, mainly financial ones. It’s a little easier now we’ve slimmed down to a five piece, it makes soundchecks a lot less stressful. Having lots of acoustic/orchestral instruments and mixing them with drums and electric guitars is a soundman’s nightmare.
What’s been the highlight of the last year?
I think our Manchester show in May was my highlight. As I say we’d been away for so long, I didn’t know if we’d still have a fanbase. But we had to upgrade the venue and then played to an ebullient crown – it was joyous and emotional.
What can we expect after the tour?
I’ve written a new album. It’s very different to Arrivals & Departures in that it’s full of uplifting 3 minute banging pop tunes, I think it was the pressure valve popping up after all the darkness and melancholy that consumed me for two or three years. I’m very excited about it, so as soon as we get home I’ll be desperate to get into the studio.
You can listen to the band’s latest album ‘Arrivals and Departures’ here.