Club Smith are going through a bit of a transformation. Their drummer Vijay has moved on to pastures new, and the rest of the band are keen to use the opportunity to explore their sound a different approach to making music. The preliminary information I’ve had about this has been a little cryptic, so I’m meeting with Sam, Neil and Lee from the band for a chat and a plate of chunky chips in the Cross Keys pub, near their practice space in Leeds, to find out more.
The first thing I ask the band about is the departure of their drummer Vijay, who has joined the Kaiser Chiefs replacing Nick Hodgson on drums – and needless to say he is finding it hard to commit to Club Smith on a regular basis. Lee explains: “Vijay is very much a friend and won’t be replaced in that sense, but obviously he can’t play live with us any more, so it’s making us be more creative in the way we approach things. We have this ‘revolving door’ as Sam [our vocalist] calls it, where we are inviting different musicians to play with us live and adding new people in when we record as well. James Kenosha, who worked on our album, who is also a great drummer, played drums for us when we went to Europe recently, and we’re using a sax player too who’s played with us on a couple of songs. But we like the sound, so we’re going to look at maybe adding saxophone to more of our work. It’s a positive situation actually, because it’s making us look at new opportunities, opening us up to new people and new ideas, and we’re being more creative”.
“It’s also making us record in a different way” adds Sam. “We can’t get Vijay in the practice room so he’s been sending us his drums tracks electronically, and we’ve been adding our own parts on separately. We’re finding this is a really good way of working and we’ll be looking at doing it more. If you’re all together recording in one place at the same time, then if you all run out of ideas at the same time you can waste hours or days waiting for fresh inspiration. But with us all working remotely, we can all come up with different ideas at different times and keep the flow going. In fact Vijay is probably going to be more involved with recording in that sense because now he’s gone pro, he’s decided he needs some recording equipment and he wants to use it”.
So this brings us to the new set of recordings the band are releasing at the moment. First on the agenda is their new single ‘Beautiful & Useless’, out this month. Sam explains how they have been remixing tracks from their album ‘Appetite for Chivalry’ for release: “we decided to explore our tracks in a different way – revisit them really. The album’s been out since November and the response has been pretty quiet, but we wanted to do something different with the songs to keep it interesting.There’s a sense that once a track’s been released then it’s finished and out of your hands, but we didn’t want that. So we’ve been re-working some of our songs, and because Vijay’s moved on we’ve decided to get lots of different artists involved and asked them to re-write their own parts, like with the live video we did at Holbeck Social Club . We’re hoping to work on collaborations a lot more, it helps keep things fresh and look at things from a different perspective”.
Collaborations appear to be key to Club Smith’s immediate future (the band quite happily admit you can never tell what the future holds and that even the best plans can’t necessarily be relied upon especially in a small band). To go back to their single, ‘Beautiful & Useless’ turns out to be the epitome of collaborative working. “Well our album was distributed through PIAS [who distribute sales to retailers for the majority of independent bands in Europe]. The guy who’s working with us there of course has a lot of contacts, and he’s put us in touch with two amazing producers who have worked on the single to remix it. Lance Thomas, who has worked with Ladytron and PJ Harvey added more synths to the track, and Dave Bascombe, who has mixed Depeche Mode, Kylie and Goldfrapp mixed the track itself”.
The result as you might expect is an electrified single, reminiscent of Delphic. Take a look at the video. It certainly should go some way to helping Club Smith distance themselves musically from the lad-pop of The Pigeon Detectives, Kaiser Chiefs and Sunshine Underground, with which they have been compared, unfairly they feel, since working with and supporting all three bands. Sam feels they are much more diverse than that, especially in terms of their influences, which are so diverse the only album they can agree on all liking as a band is ‘13’ by blur. “It’s a more grown up sound from blur compared to their earlier albums, and I think that’s what appeals to each of us” says Sam. “We all have different influences”, continues Neil – I for one can detect some Editors and Sunshine Underground in ‘Appetite for Chivalry’’s offerings, as well as a more sensitive side. “We thrive on that” Neil continues, “but other people struggle to work out where to put us. We’re certainly not the boorish band that sometimes I think people think we are”.
So what does the future hold for the New and Improved Club Smith? Sam does his best to predict what can be very unpredictable for a small band: “There will be fewer live gigs, because we are having to organise live dates around different peoples’ different commitments, especially as we’re involving different people all the time. What we will be doing when we play live is do something different with the songs, depending on who we get involved at the time, so that there’s another reason to come and see us wherever we play. We’re moving on from worrying about people’s perceptions of our music and just having fun with it, concentrating on writing, working with new people, re-working what we have – it feels like there’s a lot of life left in the album yet, and we might re-release it later in the year. A remix album maybe, depending on how our revolving door of collaborations goes”.
Neil is positive too – “The single’s had really good response so far, and we’re really looking forward to exploring more electronics and synths. We’ll definitely do another live video and rework a few things on the album. It depends on the reactions really – the live stuff gets people interested and then if one song works really well live then we might change direction and react to the positive outcomes”.
So it seems Club Smith will be enjoying being kept on their toes for a while and will be busy making contacts and finding new ways of being creative. Whether they will end up collaborating with the superproducers again remains to be seen but they’re very much open to new possibilities, and ready for the challenge.