Interview: Nick Hemming (The Leisure Society) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Breakups are never easy and the hardship that comes from them has inspired many an artist to do some of their best work. This is true in the case of The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming who during the promotion of the band’s previous LP, The Fine Art of Hanging On, broke up with his partner (and the band’s flautist) Helen Whitaker. This separation resulted in Nick moving out of their Brighton home and from one temporary accommodation to the next, which set the tone for the demos he recorded as he came to terms with the breakup. These demos would eventually become the foundation of their double-album, Arrivals & Departures (released on April 12th 2019), which was recorded in various borrowed houses, mansions and churches and features the likes of Brian Eno and poet Liz Berry.

The Leisure Society announced a series of live dates throughout September including a stop off at The Cluny on Wednesday 25th September. We caught up with Nick ahead to find out more about the album and how the break up has affected the band.

Tell us about your new album, Arrivals & Departures.
It’s been a long old journey. I started writing some of the songs back in 2014, I never anticipated it would turn into a double album – and I certainly never anticipated it would take four years to record and release! It’s been a real labour of love. I was going through a difficult relationship break up as I started recording the first songs and that definitely fed into the music. At the same time, it was also a kind of catharsis, to help get me through the grief of parting.

How did the uncertainty of temporary accommodation influence the songwriting process and the songs themselves?
My changing environment, and the uncertainty of it all, definitely influenced the writing and recording process. I spent a lot of time staying with an old drummer friend of mine, I was going through quite a dark, lost phase, drinking a lot and letting my frustrations out on my electric guitar. We were often playing into the early hours. I don’t often write on the electric guitar and that definitely helped shape the album – especially sides C & D, the Departures disc.

The album was recorded in rented and borrowed houses in the Peak District, the Cotswolds and a medieval mansion in Richelieu, France. How did you go about choosing the locations to record in?
It was part luck – our violin player’s wife’s uncle let us borrow his ramshackle medieval mansion – and part trawling websites for cottages and Air B&Bs that looked suitable for recording. Also, my drummer friend, who lives in the Peaks, let me set up all my studio gear in his kitchen (for far longer than was polite)

How did the contributions from Brian Eno and poet Liz Berry come about?
We met Eno back in 2009 when he showed an interest in our debut album, the Sleeper. We hung out a few times, but we hadn’t been in touch for a while. Christian and I were in a cottage in the Peaks, feeding the sound of the outside sheep into a Moog, and Brian sprang to mind! I mailed him the track and the very next day he mailed me back 4 stems of beautiful synth sounds.

I discovered Liz through Cerys Matthews, she played a reading of Liz’s poem Christmas Eve on her 6music show. At first, the Black Country accent lured me in – it’s quite rare to hear such a voice reading poetry on the radio – and by the end of the poem, I was in tears. It somehow encapsulated the emotion I was feeling, alone on Christmas Eve. I immediately ordered her collection, Black Country, and completely fell in love with it. I emailed her on a whim, and again, as with Brian, I got ludicrously lucky. I was expecting her to read something she had already written, but she wrote something specifically relating to the song – and it’s just perfect.

Gareth Jones (Grizzly Bear, Nick Cave, and These New Puritans) and local legend Paul Gregory (Lanterns On The Lake) mixed the album. What made you want to work with them on this project?
Christian and I were keen to work with a mix engineer, we always felt that our productions got to a point and then plateaued. We wanted someone to get the drum sounds we loved, but could never quite achieve. Grizzly Bear’s Vekatimest is one of our favourite sounding albums of recent times so we got in touch with Gareth. He agreed to squeeze us in on his days off, which was great, but it became quite a protracted process. Eventually, we realised the album was never going to get finished unless we went elsewhere. Simon Raymonde – of Bella Union and Cocteau Twins fame – recommended Paul, and he was an absolute joy to work with. We couldn’t be happier with what Gareth and Paul did with the recordings.

You’re touring between 17th and 28th September. How has Helen’s departure affected your live sound?
I think we’ve got much heavier and tighter as a band since Helen’s departure. I don’t want to belittle Helen’s input – she recently joined us for a rendition of the Last of the Melting Snow and she was soaring, we all had lumps in our throats – but it’s definitely a case of less is more. The 5 of us can make a mighty sound, which works particularly well on songs like Mistakes on the Field Pt. 1 and Leave Me to Sleep.  Helen’s a wonderful musician. I definitely think we’ll work with her again in the future, although I doubt we’ll tour together, after all, who wants to be stuck in a cramped van with their ex for three weeks – I’m sure Helen doesn’t!

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