Q. Jeff, Katie and Tom first got together in 2014 to perform Sonic Cauldron. How did you first decide to get together? And how has the dynamic changed since then?
Katie: I first met Jeff at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds when he was opening for another band I had gone to see. It’s really the centre of the Leeds music community and this project is one of countless that the Bru will have spawned.
Jeff: I had actually planned to do the Sonic Cauldron as a solo show to begin with. Although I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do, as I knew a traditional Juffage concert wouldn’t have worked in the space, and envisioned a much more immersive and atmospheric approach in keeping with the acoustics of the venue. Then, Katie texted me out of the blue one day and asked if she could play in the concert. Once we started working together, it became obvious we needed more hands on deck, so Tom and Jenna got involved. I guess the dynamic hasn’t changed much since. Katie has been involved since the beginning, though more with the recording side of things as she’s been touring a lot with Sleater-Kinney and Flock of Dimes since we put the live band together. Tom has been a crucial part of the live band and it’s great having someone with such guitar and bass chops (he’s also my go-to French Horn player). Now I’ve got Alice and Sarah involved, who aren’t even on the record, but I couldn’t imagine not having them around anymore!
Tom: Jeff asked me to play the Cauldron gig, which was really fun and interesting, and then when this band came together I was the obvious choice to join it, as I knew how to play a bunch of the tunes already! The dynamic for the Cauldron gig was very much focused to it’s single performance as it was a one off event, whereas now it’s more of a standard ‘band playing gigs’ situation, but it’s great to play with Alice and Sarah who are both super-talented too.
Sarah: I was in the audience at the Cauldron gig, not imagining I’d ever be involved in some way, and you could sense what an undertaking and achievement it was. The dynamic as I saw it, in terms of the band or group of musicians, was a cauldron in itself. I’d been to a number of Juffage and Sky Larkin gigs and seeing a new branch grow was something pretty exciting for me, particularly as it was a complete one-off. Despite what’s evolved from it since, the night was unique and the atmosphere was testament to the collection of musicians involved, playing new songs unlike those I’ve known them write or perform previously. I’d love to live that show again, in hindsight, being informed about where the music has found itself shaped over the months and years afterwards. I’d be in Leeds muso-history nerd heaven.
Q. Tom and Katie, how different has this experience been to working with your other bands? Has it given you any ideas for new ways of working?
Katie: Jeff is a shredder on every instrument he picks up and he’s got wonderful attention to detail as a producer, which felt like a limitless combo when it came to creating together.
Tom: It’s a very different beast to Vessels but then most bands probably are, and Vessels now is very different to what it was five years ago, musically and in ways of working. It’s nice working with Jeff though to see his vision come to fruition, and his attention to detail and understanding of what make something good or not is always interesting and enlightening to hear. It’s also been good fun to record a bit of horn for the record, as I hadn’t picked it up for over a decade so it needed the cobwebs blown out of it!
Q. Sonic Cauldron was a complex, immersive project. Would you ever take on something of this kind of scale again?
Katie: Bring it! It was so impressive to see Jeff pull that off, from the overarching vision to the practicalities of uniting four borrowed PAs into one circular whole. It inspired us all to rise to the occasion. I’d love to see what else Jeff can do. The scale and scope of his imagination is very inspiring.
Jeff: Hah! Honestly, probably not! It was such an immense DIY project, with PAs cobbled together from everywhere, and took about a year in preparation. All the songs were new, which was crazy enough. We moved into Left Bank a week before the concert and set up all the PAs and barely finished in time for the gig. It took about 4 trips in a van to get all of the stuff there. I spent over a month building a computer programme to distribute the sound of us all playing live in real-time around an 8-channel ambisonic loudspeaker array. All of that for 45 minutes of music! I’m glad it was a success and really glad to have done it, but I’d rather spend that time recording another record now, I think. Never say never, though! It would of course be really fun to tour something like this. Maybe if we got a ton of Arts Council funding and could hire huge trucks to carry everything around?
Q. Jeff, after working in such an intensive way on your own, how easy was it bringing other people in? Has it changed the way you work/write songs?
Jeff: Honestly, it’s been really great. 2016 has been a really tough year, so having Tom, Katie, Sarah and Alice around has probably saved my sanity to some degree. So, it’s been easy and appreciated. It hasn’t really changed much in regards to the way I write songs though. Pretty much everything we play live is written and recorded by me and live versions worked out after the fact. I am really just always doing everything I can to serve the original idea of the song and the melody, and to capture a moment in time. So, really, it’s hard to say much has changed. At least, yet, but we’ve only been doing this for a few months.
Q. You just released your first album ‘Body is Working’. What was your favourite thing/moment working on this album?
Jeff: With the exception of a few bits, most of the recording process for this album was just me sitting in my house trying out various ideas until I found something I was totally happy with. One of these was the track ‘Trail Mix, pt. 2’. Here, we actually went back into Left Bank about a year after the Sonic Cauldron gig, and recorded the entire thing live with no overdubs. I played guitar, Katie played ebow guitar, Tom played bowed bass, and Jenna played viola. When you listen to the recording and know the space, it’s impossible not to think of Left Bank. The sonic footprint of the room and its insane reverb time is blanketed over everything.
Q. You tag yourselves as ‘Post Brexit core’. How has this strange time affected your music?
Jeff: When it seems like everything around you is turning to shit, and you can’t even write off the possibility of a total destruction of the planet, the short term seems more urgent. So of course, it seems more necessary and vital to discuss what’s going on in the world, go out and play shows, and finish more songs before we all inevitably die one day.
Katie: It feels like collaboration is the only way to face the challenges we have been presented at the moment. To me, this project represents the spirit of collaboration within the music community. The best possible outcome would be that it galvanises and emboldens people in any way to make positive collaborations in their own lives.
Sarah: Music can have this strange capacity to allow escapism and realism to intertwine and, if you allow, will alleviate certain frustrations. To imagine peace on Earth – whatever that means – is pretty impossible. There’s always something to write or talk about and there has been for a long time. Right now though, I don’t think anyone could dispute, is a particularly ripe and raw moment on the homeland and internationally. Questions about the relationships between responsibility, energy, apathy, accuracy, control, accountability and the rest feel constant, to varying degrees and contexts. It feels endless but I’d rather be involved with projects that try and explore than ignore them.
Q. With the addition of live members Alice and Sarah, with their experience and different styles, do you see the band moving in a new direction in the future?
Jeff: Well, it’s hard to say at this point. I still do all of the songwriting, which of course could change some day. But now, everything new I write I am subconsciously thinking about how the 4 of us can still play it live in the back of my mind, which I think that has helped out with songwriting in an economic way to some degree. When you are recording everything yourself and often writing while recording, it’s really easy to overdub a hundred instruments. But, from a songwriting perspective that’s not always what’s necessary, so I think it has helped me look at the bigger picture and not get sucked into the minute details of a song structure or a sound so much.
Sarah: It’s been cool for me to play without a kick-drum. The idea was daunting at first, the punctuating right leg is my favourite part, but it’s helped my hand technique come along so noticeably. The touring we did last year will have affected the writing of the songs, I’m sure. But Jeff will know more about that than the rest of us. I’m pretty excited to hear what’s to come. I’d be surprised if having a band set-up such as we do now doesn’t inspire the future Living Body. That said, ‘Body is Working’ sounds like a full band, more than one man’s singular mind prior to ‘us’ coming into being, which I think says a lot about Jeff’s dexterity and vivacious spectrum of ideas and his care for the craft of a song, rather than purely introspective and impulsive self indulgence.
Q. What do you think it is about Leeds that inspires people to join bands/make music?
Katie: Beyond the inspiring strength of the people that create in the city, the physical geography of Leeds is an inherited framework for making that can be reconfigured to serve contemporary goals. It is so valuable and important to have spaces to congregate away from the mainstream. Our post-industrial heritage gifts us warehouses, ex-working men’s clubs and (relatively) low-rent ex-mill worker’s accommodation. The vision of artists of all kinds in Leeds constantly transforms and reimagines these spaces.
Tom: I think the music scene here never feels egotistical, it’s very mutually supportive and plus there’s just a lot of good bands which makes people raise their own game so they don’t suck when they share bills together. Plus there are a lot of basements in the Hyde Park area so people living there can jam in their own house for free. Also a lot of people working for the love of it putting on shows for little or no money means that there’s nobody shafting the startup bands with pay-to-play nonsense.
Jeff: I don’t know what the magical ingredient is, but there does seem to be a lot of creative activity going on in Leeds and a lot of really great stuff happening here. Interestingly, it’s easy to kind of take it for granted too. But then you are on tour and playing somewhere, well, ‘less fortunate’ for lack of a better description, and it makes you realise there’s definitely something special going on here.
Sarah: I moved to Leeds about 9 years ago and I’ve always noticed a ‘can do’ attitude in the city. It struck me quite soon on that you could book a small venue for next to nothing and make fliers and get a gig going much more easily than in Manchester, which is where I’d lived until then. Manchester’s improved since, but still it seems like Leeds has a way of people coming together that feels special to it. There’s a large young population, brought by the universities and colleges and it being surrounded by a dozen smaller cities and towns which people move over from. The DIY practice space and venue collective that I help with, ‘Chunk’, aims to be as encouraging and welcoming as possible to people wanting to start bands or get to know the Leeds music community better. City-wide, and not that it’s a big place, there are always people wanting to share their experience and help make things happen. It can take a little bit of confidence on the part of those trying to nurture their own unestablished activity, and introductions go a long way when it comes to getting familiar with Leeds’ people and places. It doesn’t usually take long to get stuff off the ground with a bit of tenacity and openness to approach others.
Q. What plans do you have for rest of 2017? Are there any other projects in the pipeline (either with Living Body or your other bands)?
Jeff: Lots! We have been invited to play SXSW in March, and are organizing a lengthy tour of North America around it, with our first European tour to follow. I also have tons of half finished songs I need to finish, so getting some work done on Living Body LP2 would be really nice. Vessels’ next record will be out this year. I know it’s about time Katie recorded and released her Harkin record as well, so hopefully she’s working on that. It never ends! Hopefully we’ll meet lots of nice people along the way too…
Living Body have just announced a huge set of tour dates for February to April 2017:
February 25 | Bristol, UK – The Old England
February 26 | London, UK – Brixton Windmill
March 3 | Sheffield, UK – Outlines Festival
March 7 | Chicago, IL – Schubas
March 8 | Moline, IL – The Island
March 9 | Minneapolis, MN – 7th Street Entry
March 10 | Des Moines, IA – Kitty City
March 11 | Omaha, NE – Milk Run
March 12 | Lawrence, KS – Replay Lounge
March 13 | Oklahoma City, OK – Power House
March 17 | Austin, TX – SXSW – Esther’s Follies
March 18 | San Antonio, TX – Limelight
March 19 | Norman, OK – Resonator
March 20 | St. Louis, MO – Foam
March 21 | Bloomington, IN – The Void
March 22 | Columbus, OH – Double Happiness
March 23 | Dayton, OH – Blind Bob’s
March 24 | Harrisonburg, VA – Golden Pony
March 25 | Philadelphia, PA – Everybody Hits
March 26 | Washington, DC – Black Cat
March 27 | Brooklyn, NY – Alphaville
March 28 | New Haven, CT – Cafe 9
March 29 | Boston, MA – O’Briens
April 1 | Montréal, QC – Casa Del Popolo
April 2 | Toronto, ON – Burdock Music Hall
April 3 | Buffalo, NY – Mohawk Place
April 8 | Ypsilanti, MI – Grove Studios
April 19 | Toronto, ON – Canadian Music Week
For all things Living Body check out the Living Body.