Interview: Isaac

Burner, the debut album from Nottingham’s Isaac, is bloody great. Into big punk rock tunes? You’ll find plenty here. But there’s also a hell of a lot of thought too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not massively intellectual and inaccessible record, but it’s smarter than the average punk record, both in its structure and its lyrics. Burner is full of heart (and heartbreak), and grabs you right from the off. It’s been stuck in my car stereo for weeks, and I just can’t get enough. So, I threw a bunch of questions at Daniel, Andrew (Shanks) and Dave to find out just how you put together a record as good as Burner.

So… Ted Leo, huh? A train-ride home after a show can’t be the whole story so tell me, what’s the origin of Isaac?

Daniel: Well, we were all friends before that Ted Leo show. Dave and I have played in bands together for years and I know Andrew cause we both work at the same place, but we hadn’t really hung out that much as the three of us. Shanks and I had talked about wanting to play in a band that tried to do similar things to Titus Andronicus, Fucked Up, Bob Mould, Superchunk kind of stuff but the three of us going to that show really cemented it. It was the first time the three of us had really hung out for an extended period of time together. We pretty much just drank and talked about bands we liked for 48 hours straight with a stunner of a Ted Leo show in the middle of it all. How can you not start a band after seeing Ted Leo? Seriously.

Shanks: If you asked the 3 of us at any point what the unifying factors of Isaac are we’d say it’ll be that pitchfork brand of punk, name checking Ted Leo and Fucked Up, burritos and giving each other the right amount of constructive feedback that makes us grit our teeth and get on with being in a band. We’re not going to say anything cliché like “we’re a band of brothers and we’ll never be separated,” but we’re definitely a band of cousins who all live close to each other so hang out more than cousins should.

Dave: Don’t forget bourbon …

You’ve been a band for a while now, but this is your first full-length album, as opposed to an EP. What inspired you to push forward and go for a full-length record this time?

Daniel: Simple answer – YOLO. I’m kinda ‘go big or go home’ in my attitude to putting music out. If you are going to do it, just go for it!

It was a gamble in terms of having enough material to justify a full length but we feel like it’s paid off. We actually split the recording of the album over two sessions, which ended up having a six-month gap between them, so that meant the second session of recording had this added pressure of living up to the first set. I think if the second set of tracks hadn’t been as good we’d have ended up just putting an EP’s worth of tracks out but luckily it went well!

What’s your typical songwriting process?

Shanks: There’s no set way we do it, but I normally come in with an idea, we play it and see how it goes. I think we’ve heard enough music to know if a song is working or not. I’ve been writing songs for about nine years, but it’s only now that I’ve realised how to do it logically. When you grow up just hearing stories about how songs were written, the myth of a song y’know, you think “oh we need to write a new song. I’ll just take these sleeping pills, mix them with red wine and coke and then in about 15 minutes I’ve rewritten No Woman No Cry,” but unfortunately it’s a craft you have to learn and practice.

Dan: Could you attempt to write No Woman No Cry using that recipe?

Dave: It usually starts with us getting food. That sets us up. We usually add bits on at the last minute to tracks, but the main structure always is pretty solid. We may change it up a bit for the next record.

You’ve got equal parts huge punk rock bangers and slow burners (haha see what we did there?) on this record – which is your favourite to write, and which is your favourite to play live?

Daniel: It definitely feels like more of a challenge as a band to play slower things well, so I always like getting them to a point where we are as confident in them as the fast bangers. I appreciate playing them live ‘cause it gives me a break from the fast stuff! Our set is pretty relentless at the moment though, it’s all fun! DIPLOMACY!

Dave: I won’t sit on the fence! I think when you know a track works and sounds great you can’t wait to play it live. For me it’s ‘Ghosts’, which is probably the first song that was naturally a collaborative effort.

Shanks: Last summer, we were gigging a lot and looking at the bands playing at the same time. Everyone wanted to get ‘rad’ and jump around and be that ‘live’ band, but when we first played ‘Weeder’ as a band we realised we didn’t need to be anything like those bands. I remember reading about Black Flag and how they used to have these really long practices where they’d play the set half time and just chug through the songs, and I remember vividly, Dave said to me ‘should we play any slow songs?’ and I was like ‘nah no way, we’re not a slow band’. Then 12 months later, we’ve got two slow songs on the album and they’re some of the best songs we’ve written. I think writing ‘Weeder ‘and ‘Chirpse’ pushed us along a bit, but still, even though we have the slow there’s no replacement for a one minute and 50 second bike riding, coffee-drinking punk song like ‘Turtleshell Sunglasses’ or ‘Slab Square’.

You don’t really do backing vocals, which is a bit unexpected with this type of music, EXCEPT on track 10 where there’s this glorious ‘woah’. How come you went for that, and what inspired this style?

Daniel: I personally want to try and commit as hard as possible to the parts we’re playing, full sweatband, Neil Pert workout stuff, so I can’t let trying to sing as well get in the way of that!

Dave: I can’t sing at all, I leave it to the professionals. Unless it’s Gold by Spandau Ballet at karaoke, I’m out.

Shanks: Who doesn’t love a glorious ‘woah’? It’s the kind of sound that’s indicative of the music we play.

Lyrically, it’s all about real life, real moments and real emotions. How important is it for you to focus on personal experience when you’re coming up with lyrics?

Shanks: If by chance you listened to the album in a certain order you’d hear a true story of a year in the life of somebody dealing with a break up and all the insecurities and anxiety that go along with it. When we formed, we were all in a similar space emotionally so all the lyrics, as harsh as some of them sound now, felt totally justified at the time. Anybody who says songwriting isn’t therapeutic is a liar – we’re a long way off writing our rock opera, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about it.

Burner is coming out firstly on your own label, Golden Triangle Records, but is being released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in a couple of months. Why did you decide to split the release like that?

Dave: Err, because why not, mate? Not sure there is an exciting answer to this! The truth is though we’re totally blown away that Don’t Ask were even interested in putting out anything we’re doing. Feels everyone involved in the label and all the bands on the roster are all coming from similar places ideologically and musically, so it’s great to be a part of that.

Burner’s release is just before your own Clear Your Throat Fest, which is now in its second year. How do you pull your lineup together, and which band are you most looking forward to seeing there this year?

Shanks: We pick the lineup the same way you’d make a mixtape – we start with one band we want to see then think “who’d be cool to see them with?” We get a lot of people asking to play, which is incredibly flattering considering we’re still at our humble beginnings. We’ve started talking about CYT 3, and that’s going to be something special – we’re going to cast the net a bit wider and really push to make it bigger and better. I’m probably most excited about seeing Bluebird, Happy Accidents and Woahnows, but every band on the bill is worth watching.

Daniel: I’m very excited about seeing Doe. One of the good things about the lineup is that it’s made up mostly of bands we have played with in the past and we’re friends with. So Doe are probably the only band on the line up I’ve not seen before so NO PRESSURE DOE.

Dave: It’s always a great day, all of the bands who play are different in application but definitely have the same ethos and that’s what it boils down too. I’m pumped about seeing Austeros again, I’ve had their last EP Lessons Learnt on repeat for the past six months.

Any other tours coming up? Where’s the best kind of venue to see you guys in?

Shanks: We’ve always got things in the pipeline so the plan is to try and do as much as we can before the year is out. We haven’t really played anywhere too unusual to be honest, but we’ve talked about trying to play on a boat. The logistics are going to be ridiculous if we want to pull that one off.

Dan: We could play next to a boat, that’d be easier. We may have even already done that and not known about it. Plenty of boats about.

Dave: I like playing the more quirky shows, like at The Rathaus (Legendary house show venue) in Southampton or on top of a sewage pump station in Cornwall (that did happen years ago). We always like going out on the road, Shanks gets his bum bag out, which has a permanent bottle of Rose sticking out of it. I usually put dinks in our hire car and seem to get away with it, so it’s a laugh a minute. Expect more of that in 2015!

Isaac are Daniel England (drums), Andrew Shankland (bass/vocals) and Dave Deighton (guitar). Their debut record Burner is digitally out now on Golden Triangle Records, and will be released on vinyl by Don’t Ask Records in May. You can pick it up now on Bandcamp. They should totally play Thekla in Bristol because that is a boat.

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