At Blue Whale, not only do we like to look after our bands, we like to know what makes them tick. When they came in to our studios to record, Is I Cinema kindly granted us an awesome mix of tunes that you can check out below;
We also fired a few choice questions at lead singer, Dom, unraveling a depth of literary and cinematic references that help to concoct the Is I Cinema sound, just don’t call it an aesthetic….
Dom, your lyrical content can stem from graphic novels / comic books with detailed analysis of their characters- would you describe yourself as a comic book geek? What is it specifically about graphic novels that moves you to use their subject matter / characters for lyrical content?
“I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘comic book geek’, I am not hanging around Nostalgia and Comics, not buying monthlies and I certainly couldn’t name jobbing graphic artists or writers. The comics that I have referenced are probably some of the most widely read and critically acclaimed – Gaiman’s Sandman and Moore’s Watchmen. Both have extremely well written characters and well developed narratives; they are endlessly intriguing. Really my use of graphic novels has stemmed from my use of other novels, films or other mediums. The first lyric I penned was a love song to Audrey Horne from Twin Peaks… The reason I have developed this character study aesthetic was to try and create a lyrical style that was a bit more unconventional and had a clear aim. Either that or lack of any real inspiration…”
Would you describe yourselves or agree with the description of being a ‘booky’ band?
“We are all unable to deny this claim. How many other drummers are bringing Kafkas Complete Works to rehearsal? I think every member of the band is always reading a book – currently Olly is on JG Ballard, Helen is reading Nietzsche, Tan Faulkner, Carl is reading A Brief History of Time and I am reading The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk. Other Cinema favourites include Martin Amis, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Raymond Carver…”
Your collective tastes in music are extremely wide- from King Midas to Lady Gaga to Spiritualised. Are there ever any creative schisms when trying to build a song? How does the writing process start, where does it go and is it ever finished?
“Current listening habits will always permeate what we are writing at the time but we would never pick a song and aim at that particular sound. Actually our writing process has become hugely formulaic and now follows a strict critical path:
Phase One The Bedroom Conception – Helen fingers a melody from the guitar.
Phase Two Literary Management – I will add a piano melody, some riffs and hop to the bookshelf for lyrical inspiration.
Phase Three Canvas Colouring – Pre practice proper Helen, Carl and myself will jam over the song finding countermelodies and textures. This part of the process can take up to four weeks.
Phase Four The Agony of Craft – Drummer Olly is brought in as a sort of Ofsted inspector and project manages arrangements. Like end of year acounts every bass kick, keyboard flourish and feedback loop must be justified and economically viable.
This final phase has, on occasion, led Helen to despair and she was once heard seething ‘What are we doing today? Crafting the joy out of Apocrypha?’
I think that there are always small personal tweaks to make in individual parts you do have to ‘finish’ a song. After this process the song is done; it is the band that should evolve, not one melody endlessly. It’s not like it’s some big performance art project…”
You script write and occasionally act together with Is I’s drummer Olly, does Is I Cinema not satiate your creative needs? How does this impact / influence on the band’s music? Is it all part of the song writing process? Do the two mediums cross over at all and affect each other?
“I think it would be pretty impossible not to write an extended narrative piece, with all of the research that that entails, and not have some of that research make its presence known in a song. Olly and I had, for a long period of time, been working on a full length called Trial & Improvement.
“This was a comic dystopia about branding and consumerism and a handful of the ideas and utterances from that period of research have appeared in songs, as well as our lockup being plastered in obscure business-to-business trade adverts. Astute listeners will hear a cry of ‘Nastro Perroni’ in the background of ‘Knox’. Having said that this advertising discourse forms more a part of our theatrical writing than it does in our songs. I have asked Olly if he would like to co write a lyric, but he is not so keen, so there is a different kind of style developing through Is I Cinema’s lyrics.
“Personally, theatre is a passion and, hopefully, a future career, not in playwriting per se, but rather in the field of dramaturgy. For Olly, a high hat can only satiate his lust for rhythm but not his lust for words. No youth should limit themselves solely to lagers; sometimes lime Hooch is a must… For more on the perils of alcohol watch our latest short.”
Helen is classically trained whereas this is Tan’s first band, how has this worked to create your sound? You have the highest skills at your disposal as well as the naive exploration and excitement of a beginner – is this something you’re conscious of when writing? Are you aware of the effect it has had on your output, if any?
“Vitally it isn’t just Tan, but also Helen’s first band so this naivety and intrigue is shared through the performers regardless of their technical prowess. Of course Carl Wells has been pedaling dreamy shoegaze across the Black Country for the best part of a decade and Olly has been directed by Duran Duran’s managers, Birmingham’s tweed literate and James Lissemore.
“The impact that this on the bands dynamic isn’t one that affects the writing process, rather forms a part of the bands DNA and mythology. It is well documented how Helen forced Olly to sit with his back to her in his audition for the band, now she is obviously comfortable in front of much larger audiences who offer her no choice but to face them head on. For both Olly and Carl being with less experienced performers has proved a galvanizing state, performing as mentors as well as members has given them much inspiration. Arguably Olly’s finest moment for Is I Cinema was the document on the etiquette of soundchecking he produced for the more naïve members.
“Critically, even if sixty percent of us haven’t toured the toilet circuit for years, I think we’ve paid our dues as listeners and, as a result, are always aware of what sounds to make, if not exactly how to make them.”
Is there a direction to Is I Cinema or is it the result of collaboration and exploration as a band?
“The bookish element will be severely highlighted when I tell you that early on in our lifetime I produced a working manifesto for the band. Wisely it was completely ignored – Carl claimed that he could sum it up in a paragraph while Helen took issue with the footnote referencing style. Recently Is I Cinema has been reasonably ad-hoc in its sonic development. I can sometimes find it quite upsetting to hear bands like The xx or Vampire Weekend, who have extremely strong aesthetics, when we don’t necessarily have a ‘sound’ as yet. However I think I would choose to see this as a strength that enables us to sound like blissful post-rock and rocky lo-fi in the space of a few bars.”
What other bands both in Birmingham and outside do you see yourselves in the same field / genre as? It’s hard to pin you down to a particular sound.
“The only local band I feel that we could be grouped with is Miss Halliwell. He is probably the best lyricist in Birmingham at the moment and has a truly inspiring sense of stagecraft. But there is a lot to like in Birminghams music scene, some really nice promoters and venues who have looked after us as a fledgling band. I will always big up the continuing endeavours of Capsule as well.
“I think I would feel a bit uncomfortable comparing us to any bands people have heard of; you run the risk of seeming arrogant or undermining them. My only real aim for the band is to one day be reviewed in the avant-rock section of popular beat journal Wire.”
You write the lyrics, who writes the words?