Interview: Nick Hemming Of The Leisure Society
Since they released their debut single, ‘The Last Of The Melting Snow’, last December The Leisure Society have been on a bit of rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster, or perhaps a fragile indie-pop rollercoaster. Whether it’s gaining celebrity endorsees in the likes of Elbow man Guy Garvey, being whisked from your factory job to The Ivy, or being plucked from obscurity by that fateful Ivor Novello nomination. Yes, in the words of huggable poprechaun Ronan Keating, “You’ve just got to ride it.”
And ride it they have. Amiable frontman Nick Hemming would be the last person to brag about his life thus far, so Rivmixx has taken it upon itself to present this tale of ups, downs and further ups.
Speaking on the phone following the completion of a tour with one of The Leisure Society‘s many sister-bands, Shoreline, Hemming is apparently a tad bleary-eyed. However, despite having quit his much-publicised day-job, the humble singer is not yet beyond a pre-noon interview. What’s more surprising is that he still hasn’t tired of his Novello nomination war stories and nor should he be,
“It was just such an amazing thing to happen, it totally changed my life, so I’m happy to talk about it as much as people want to,” says Hemming. “It was an interesting, totally surreal experience, the whole thing, especially when they first announced it and all the press went crazy. There were film cameras coming in to where I was working.”
Strangely, the fact that Hemming had a day-job at the time of his band’s Novello nomination has been treated by a press – who seem to have forgotten that some musicians don’t just get signed on the strength of their page impressions – to be the exception to the rule. The singer has a refreshing sense of perspective though,
“It definitely helped me creatively – it was always jobs that I didn’t particularly enjoy – but at the same time it allowed me space to think about songwriting and it gave me something to strive for. Now I find that it’s very different because I think, ‘Right, I’m a songwriter now – this is what I’ve got to do today.’ It’s a lot of pressure, which isn’t a good way to be creative.”
Fortunately, the man has a back-up plan, “We’ll see how it goes,” he says. “I’ve got most of the next album written now anyway, so if I get writer’s block then I’ll have to just take a part-time job in a warehouse or something.”
Despite the apparently “bizarre and embarrassing” coverage of his factory worker plucked from obscurity rags to (critical) riches story, Hemming wouldn’t change a thing. “The publicity we got from it was just fantastic,” he says. “Because we’d done it all ourselves and had no money, we couldn’t have asked for anything more really.”
The group are not without their celebrity admirers either, rival Ivor Novello nominee and eventual winner of the 2009 award, Guy Garvey of Elbow, has been a staunch supporter of the group from day one – something the band are extremely thankful for. “He was just amazing,” says a still slightly flabbergasted Hemming. “He’s such a lovely guy. When they won, the first thing he talked about when he came out to do his interviews was that he thought ‘Melting Snow’ should have won.”
The Novellos of course brought a great deal of interest to the self-funded, run and recorded Leisure Society, but the various member’s long-slogs and an independent streak meant that the band have maintained, in their own words, “a healthy scepticism” of the record industry. In the end the group opted for a friendly face, that of Full Time Hobby founder Nigel Adams.
The group are still without a manager, though, preferring to remain hands-on, but their relationship with their recently acquired label seems to be an extremely healthy one and the group are slowly accepting the fact that a record label can be a good thing. “It’s just nice to have lots of people help us out really,” explains Hemming. “It’s just fantastic because, at the end of the day, we don’t want to sell-out, but we do want lots of people to hear our music.”
Still, things look to be going in the right direction now and The Leisure Society have exciting times ahead, not least in the recording of the new album, “My favourite bit of music really is the recording/creative processs,” enthuses the songwriter. “I’m just really eager to get back into that again.”
In addition, the months on the road over the summer have helped to cement this one-time studio project into a cohesive unit, “It’s really changed the dynamic of the sound, so I think it’s going to be more collaborative arrangement-wise. It won’t just be people coming in and getting told ‘Play this, play that.’ I think it’s going to be a much bigger sounding album as well, probably with a bit more of an edge to it.”
“Within the next couple of weeks we’ll hopefully have started the second album,” says Hemming, clearly ready to try and top his previous year. “We’re aiming to have it ready for next summer so we can start touring again and begin the cycle again.”
Whilst the future is indeed looking just peachy, The Leisure Society, as part of the Brighton-based Willkommen Collective – a group of talented folk-pop musicians who all feature in each other’s bands – are keeping their feet on the ground. “Obviously,” admits Nick, “We’re taking up a lot of time with The Leisure Society at the moment, so it is tough, but I’m trying to make sure that I don’t just leave the other bands and concentrate on The Leisure Society because I owe them a lot.”
Having said that, Hemming guiltily reveals that the ‘Collective – of which the aforementioned Shoreline are a regular feature – are putting together a new release in which all the various bands cover songs from ‘The Sleeper’, Hemming and Co.’s acclaimed debut. Therefore, it would seem, that the respect is mutual.
It’s nice to see someone deserving gain recognition, though, and the songwriter can now look his old friends, ‘This Is England’ director Shane Meadows and actor Paddy Considine, in the eyes knowing he has found acclaim in his own chosen creative path.
That said, Hemming still looks upon their shared adolescence with a friendly nostalgia. “That was a really formative period of my life really,” he states coyly. “Shane introduced me to all kinds of debauchery. He was a bit more experienced and he’d seen and done a lot, so he kind of opened our eyes to a lot of things. Some good,” he pauses briefly. “And some not so good.
“From that point I just used to skive off and go and play with the band every day and it was really inspirational. Paddy and Shane are just such crazy characters, just so much energy, particularly Shane.”
Rivmixx can’t help but wonder if there’s something in the water in their shared home town, Burton-on-Trent, or if the trio just happen to have a shared sense of determination. “I don’t know,” he hums pensively, “Because they had that determination and I really didn’t, I was a lot more insular.”
Considine and Meadows’ creative energy was put to good use early on in one of Hemming’s first musical incarnations, She Talks To Angels. “We had this really crap band,” he states flatly. “But Shane would just phone up record companies and stuff and just arrange things. He just had so much energy to do all that, whereas I was more inclined to just sit back.”
Fortunately, the Burton trinity are still in touch, not only that, but they’re still working together. Hemming even reveals that, as he did with ‘Room For Romeo Brass’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, he’s co-written a song for Meadow’s new film, ‘Le Donk And Scor-Zay-Zee’.
Starring Considine, it’s based on a local character that the three budding musicians met back home “who used to manage bands and stuff” and it’s been evoking frequent comparisons to Steve Coogan‘s ‘Saxondale’. However, according to Hemming it’s Coogan who is indebted to Meadows,
“Funnily enough, this Le Donk character has been around for years,” he is keen to explain. “They did some shorts and Paddy showed them to Steve Coogan about eight years ago when he was doing ’24 Hour Party People’, so I think Steve Coogan got a few ideas from that.”
Rivmixx is shocked and appalled, but that’s showbiz and having taken 18 years to get this far, Hemming and co. are enjoying it whilst it lasts.
Written for Rivmixx