It’s almost half a decade since their 2010 Mercury Prize nomination propelled I Am Kloot to new heights. Frontman Johnny Bramwell tells ANDY WELCH how he’s still getting used to it
Johnny Bramwell has a surprise day off.
“There’s no better kind,” he says, revealing his impromptu plan for a long walk with his dog, followed by a pub lunch.
“Then I’ll have a few coffees, call my girlfriend and get her to come to the pub for a pub dinner too. What a day!” he says, cackling.
You get the impression that a day in the pub isn’t a day idled away for Bramwell.
You never know, he might even emerge with a new album under his belt; the songs he writes for his band, I Am Kloot, often feature the kinds of characters or observations he might come up with after an evening in the boozer. It was extremely fitting when one of their songs, The Great Escape, turned up on Early Doors, a sitcom set entirely inside a pub.
The reason this day off is a surprise is because he got his calendar mixed up, and thought he was going to be rehearsing all day.
“We don’t rehearse all that much, really. I don’t like it, and you should never over-rehearse anyway,” says the Cheshire-born 50-year-old. “We might do eight or nine hours for this tour.
“I always like it when one of the others cancels rehearsing, then I don’t have to do it, but it’s not me that’s cancelled. I think the other two feel the same way.”
They will need to put in some rehearsal time for their forthcoming shows, however, as the trio - Bramwell, bassist Pete Jobson and drummer Andy Hargreaves - have been accepting requests from fans for long-forgotten Kloot songs. There may even be some they’ve never played live before, or some they’ve only played a handful of times.
“There’s nothing we’ve recorded that we’re embarrassed by, or don’t think is good,” notes Bramwell. “Well, I say that, but I don’t listen to the songs. When we finish an album, I think, ‘Great. We’ve done a superb job. That was all brilliant’, but who knows? In my mind they’re all great, but they might be terrible.”
With the way the music industry has shifted in the past 12 or 13 years (almost the entire life of the Manchester three-piece), these days, only a small number of bands tour to promote a new album. Musicians, by and large, record new music in order to give themselves a reason to tour. Live shows are where what’s left of the money is.
Going one step further, I Am Kloot are about to release their first live album. How very meta, releasing a live album in order to tour again. It’s a cycle that could go on forever... You could say we’re very clever. But you could also say, ‘Those Kloot lads have no idea what they’re doing’. I’ll leave you guessing which it is,” jokes Bramwell.
He performed around 50 solo shows last year, as ‘Johnny Dangerously’, the guise he used before forming I Am Kloot (the band is named after the left-handed card game described in Jerome K. Jerome’s novel Three Men On The Bummel).
He says he’s actually very pleased with their live album, Hold Back The Night, recorded during their year-long voyage around Europe in 2013. Their sound engineer, testing out some fancy new equipment he’d got, recorded their gigs - without telling them what he was up to. In many ways, it’s a record in the truest sense of the word,” says Bramwell. “It’s a real monument, and we had our friends Tom, Alan and Nicky playing with us, to do the songs from [fifth album] Sky At Night justice. We’re unlikely to have that many musicians on stage with us again. I think of it as the end of ‘Phase One’ of I Am Kloot.”
That does make sense. After releasing their quietly stunning 2001 debut, Natural History, the band built something of a cult following. They hit a new peak when the aforementioned Sky At Night was released, and were duly nominated for the 2010 Mercury Prize.
Bramwell believes the renewed interest in the band was down to the fact old friends Guy Garvey and Craig Potter of Elbow produced the album for them, but that does slightly underestimate how good it is.
Nevertheless, the record that followed, Let It All In, was put under more intense scrutiny when it was released in early 2013. It entered the album chart at No 10.
“That was incredible for us,” says Bramwell. “Although it actually sold the same amount as our other albums, it just sold the copies a lot faster. The achievement is even greater when you look at the bands that were around us in the chart that time, and think about their marketing budgets compared to ours. We just cobble together whatever money we can from gigs, really.
“We were very pleased, and it was interesting to find out just how great our fans are, and that we can actually have a No 10 record in this day and age.”
The live album may mark the end of Phase One, but Bramwell has no idea what Phase Two will consist of. “I was just making that [Phase One stuff] up to sound good!” he admits. “But really, I think we’re done with the way we normally make records, where I take some songs in to the others and we record them. We’ve done that, and I think we perfected that method on Let It All In. We don’t want to make a second-rate version of something we’ve already done. I think next time, we’ll all work on our own things and collaborate more, but who knows?”
For now, the tour is the main thing on Bramwell’s mind, closely followed by walking his dog and an afternoon pint.
“I liked playing songs on my own at those little gigs I did last year, just words, guitar and me, with no consultation,” he adds. “But having said that, I love everything that I Am Kloot is.”
Hold Back The Night, I Am Kloot’s live album is released on April 13. They begin a UK tour on April 9 (www.iamkloot.com)