Idle Jack And The Big Sleep are one of the most exciting alternative acts to ever come out of York’s scene. Blending the heaviness of Tool with the sweet sensibilities of early Muse and their own unique prog-rock stomp, the six-piece are at the top of their game and are coming to take over your ears and perhaps your soul. The band are about to record a new EP, as the follow-up to their critically acclaimed ‘Stone Tape Theory, Vol.2’, and we thought it would be a good time to share a pint in the Evil Eye with five of the members for catch-up…
“Now is the perfect time for us to strike with everything we’ve got.”
S] What do you guys think of the York alternative music scene currently?
Rob H] I don’t know everyone seems to be on hiatus at the minute or taking it easy, and we include ourselves within that bracket. The music scene is still strong and there’s many great musicians doing some great stuff but nobody’s really making waves at the moment.
Jack] Obviously a lot of the local bands here support each other, but for me personally and my tastes, it’s been a while since I’ve heard anything really fresh.
S] If each of you could sit down with one person (dead or alive) to listen to the ‘Stone Tapes Volume One’ and Two over dinner – who would it be and why?
Rob H] Bill Hicks.
Rob E] Michael Jackson.
Jack] Terry Wogan.
Mike E] (laughs) I’m not sure on that one…
S] Your live show has been hailed by many on the York live scene as the best around – how do you plan on expanding it over this next year with the new album arriving?
Rob H] We are actually keeping that under wraps at the moment but we do have plans.
Rob E] Are you not going to open that up just a little bit?
Rob H] No, and I’m not telling you yet either. (laughs)
S] How will the next stuff be an expansion on the themes of your previous work on Stone Tapes one and two?
Mike E] We’ve really had to shift things up a gear for this new stuff – up until this point we have just been playing gigs and writing whatever we want. For us ‘Stone Tape Theory, Vol.1’ was an introduction and ‘Tape 2’ was us stepping back and producing something that we wanted to produce that wasn’t necessarily commercially viable.
Jack] The next one combines the epic qualities of the second record and the well-crafted nature of the first.
Rob H] Basically we are trying to find some middle ground in all of this.
Rob E] Yeah, I think that we need to – we have really started to interact with the right people within the music industry, we are tentatively taking a little step forward so the next record is going to be about making sure that while we still enjoy it, the material is that little bit more accessible to people beyond our usual audience.
Mike E] There’s a lot of stuff around at the moment that burns brightly but for a short period of time, and we are trying to produce something that’s got a little bit more life in it.
Matthew] Well, this new stuff is my first stuff and I’ve really enjoyed working on it. I’ve always played other people’s songs on brass and for the first time I feel pleased that I am adding my own thoughts and ideas into this.
S] Do you think that Idle Jack’s new material represents the journey you have been on individually over the last few years while you have been taking a break?
Rob H] Completely, I mean we don’t write songs about cash machines, supermarkets and living in Sheffield. We’ve always talked about how we are and how we feel, and it’s often quite cryptic and that’s also why it’s so epic. We hide behind a lot of smoke and mirrors but it’s basically down to how screwed up we are. We’ve all had our personal trips over the last couple of years and it has slowed us down a lot but we are all pretty sorted now. That being said, we’ve still got a lot of stuff to write about. I think that people will be able to identify with a lot of it. Happiness is fleeting but misery is infinite you know?
Rob E] On a musical note, when we first started out we were really a disparate bunch. I mean my brother (Mike) and I have held it together but all the members come into what we do at very different angles. Obviously, when we first got together we chucked in as many ideas as possible; the second album was very much a litmus test for that. I think we this new stuff we are much more unified and we know what we want to achieve.
Jack] Also, outside of the music we all spend a lot of time with each other, whether we like it or not. I think we have grown-up together, we have written together and shared many a beer, I think that’s always helped what we do as a band. We all get on.
Rob E] I think that because there’s no one person that’s overly influential in what we do. Anything we do has to go through a very bureaucratic process to actually get recorded. Every single but of music is assessed by each of us, who have very different musical tastes. I think that works very well.
Matthew] I was invited to play the brass on ‘Volume 2’ and once I had met everyone, I found them all to be really humble who were and are very good at what they do. That appealed to me.
S] What about musically, I know some of you dislike the progressive rock tag, but are you still working along those lines for the new EP?
Jack] I think that having the brass on board this time has meant that there’s lots of possibilities. I mean we wrote a track recently and it just sounds really nice. I think that we will be much more experimental in what we do. There’s going to be a few more mood pieces and some nice ‘trippy’ stuff.
Rob H] We are progressing, and that’s the name of the game. We are just constantly trying to perfect what we do. I mean, our style is all over the place so we’re just trying to focus it all in. It’s certainly going progressive.
Mike E] When we recorded our last album, I think that we discovered so many different ways of doing things. We’ve learned a lot of lessons in what we can pull off in the studio and what we can’t pull off live. So we’re drawing things in a lot more but we are still pushing ourselves forward. Everything is definitely coming into focus.
Rob E] It’s very easy to go into the studio and record the ‘perfect song’ but the only problem is then, if you have a fanbase who wants to buy that album then come and see you a few months later expecting you to play that song absolutely as it is on the record. It’s an observation we made, if you over-produce something and you are unable to recreate that live, then you have fallen into the trap of providing the anti-climactic gig. One of the things we are trying to do now is reverse that idea, I mean the next album will be produced to the best of our ability but we will make sure that when we play it live, it’ either equal to, or better than what’s on the CD. We are all about keeping a little bit back, so that we have a few unexpected tricks to unleash live.
Jack] Yeah, for us it’s all about having energy on stage. If the crowd are into it then so are we.
S] You released a DVD ‘Sleep-O-Vision’ a while back, do you have any plans to document Idle Jack currently whether it be a live show or on the road?
Rob H] One day, but I don’t think we can do it off of our own backs again. It was quite an effort. I think we are going to wait until we don’t have to do it all ourselves. This time, we won’t be really drunk when we film.
S] Has your approach to recording changed with this new EP, you are down in London at Animal Farm studios in a couple of months – tell us about how you plan to approach it?
Mike E] As I said, I think that we learned a lot from our last record but we’re still putting ideas together as to how we are going to go ahead with the next one. There are a lot of things that we have to discuss. We have to really think about what we want to achieve. We want to discuss what has worked for us and what hasn’t in the past in terms of how our records translate to our live performance and start from a point where we have decided these things.
Jack] In terms of recording the new EP, the process is completely different. It’s the first time I have been in a studio of that size. Also, last time we were still writing a lot of the songs while we were recording. I have learned not to mess around so much too (laughs) and I think as a group we have learned to be a lot more professional. We are constantly in touch, and we all know what’s going on and are open to each other’s ideas. We are also a bit more democratic in the things that we do.
Mike E] It’s a very mature learning curb that we are on, having been very reckless in previous years. Now, we are more focused but we still have that reckless element. So there’s the excitement that’s always been a part of us, but there’s definitely some discipline.
Rob H] We’re just trying to find the centre of everything. I think now is the perfect time for us to strike with everything we’ve got. I thought we were ready in 2005 but we weren’t. I think now is the perfect time.
Rob E] When we did ‘Stone Tapes 2’ anyone who has heard it can hear that it was very strenuous and difficult thing to create. It would be ideal for me to say that we did everything easily and that we were all smiles, that we went into the studio and it all went great…I personally think that the album we produced is good. However, the amount of effort that we put into making it sound that good really took its toll and it was very, very hard. There was definitely a short-terms strain on relationships. I mean, we were all in this very tight little box and we were just waiting to burst out. Everything came out how we wanted it to but the journey was very fraught to put it mildly.
S] We read that you guys worked on some film soundtracks a couple of years ago, how does that work is it some members working together or just one of you, and is there anything new coming up in that area?
Rob H] There are a few new opportunities coming up actually. We’ve been used in a film called, ‘The Last Days Of Edgar Harding’ which is a short film about a rock band that falls apart. They thought that our track ‘Spark’ would be good to use in the intro. Our stuff is used all the time for various different projects, but when it comes to writing stuff, usually myself or Rob East does, and then we just pick whichever band members are around at the time to work on it with us. We like to mix it up by not using all of the band members to do it and just getting in different guys for different bits.
Rob H] It usually happens when the band is on hiatus, and when that happens we are never in the same room at the same time – so there’s usually only ever a couple of us to work on something. All of our stuff is very soundtrack-orientated anyway, and I think that us being on a film is what’s going to get the band noticed.
Rob E] It all started off with this flurry of students who wanted to use our tracks in their films, and of course we said, ‘take them’ as long as we get the proper credit, it’s fine. That’s gone on to almost unbelievable levels, I mean we ended up in Hollywood, man. Like literally, I was sat in this Beverley Hills Hilton sat next to all these film directors. I went to this award ceremony and they were, talking about this film, and then this film and then it was our film! It was very interesting. (laughs)
Rob H] We’ve just been asked to work on the soundtrack to a video game. It’s something about a time-travelling murderer – it all sounds very fun. I’m thinking that we should incorporate some ‘Iron Man’-style riffs for that one.
S] What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Rob H] It’s all about us writing these songs and getting the new EP recorded in London. Then we’ll just be rubbing two little sticks together to start a fire and then just building up from there. We want to start small and build from there. We are not going to play loads of gigs; we are just going to play some really important gigs that matter. Everything we do is going to be special and great. We’ve got a lot of things planned but as usual we are going to be mysterious about it. You can rely on us being around now, we’re not going to keep disappearing and everyone in the band is good. It’s taken us a while to turn and face the same direction but we all are.
Jack] I think that we plan to hammer as many festivals as we can next summer. We are going to just blast it out.
Rob H] Yeah, our sound definitely goes over better outside. Especially with the brass and all the other things that we incorporate, in a small room it tends to get a bit convoluted.
Matthew] Outside you can pick everything up, there’s so much going on and there you have a chance of hearing it all. It all makes a lot more sense outside.
Rob E] Yeah, and on a bigger stage I can dodge out the way of Jack’s kicks – he nearly broke my teeth last time we played.
S] A random question right now, I’m going to ask you to compose Idle Jack’s Frankenstein…if the music of Idle Jack had to be translated into physical form using body parts of various musicians – who would they be and why – think the hair of Bowie and the arms of Hendrix?
Rob H] I’d want Hendrix’s balls, and Trent Reznor’s shins.
Rob E] I’d like Chopin’s amygdale or at least his cerebral cortex that would be alright for me.
Jack] I’d have Bob Marley’s voice-box.
Mike E] It’s got to be Mozart’s sex-drive.
Matthew] I’d have to say Philip Glass’ heel.
Rob H] This is all brains and stuff, we need to mix it all together and put it in a big dude that’s good at playing the banjo.
S] What happened with Animal Farm in London – how did you get in touch?
Matthew] We put a press pack together and Ville Leppanen (who works with his brother Mat), just got in touch and asked if we, ‘Still needed some allies in this business.’ I think it was that phrase ‘allies’ that really resonated with us. We seemed to really click and we got a really good vibe.
Rob H] Yeah, he was saying that nobody starting out really gets a good chance to find their sound and develop themselves. People are forced to make an album very quickly, and sell it so that labels can move on to the next thing, and then the previous band is forgotten. These guys want to work with the band and help us make our sound better. Ville was saying that he wants us to create something with a little bit more heart than all of the other shit that’s going out. He’s been waiting for a band like us, and we need the contacts so, it really was a case of being in the right place at the right time.
Mike E] I think we are very excited to be going into it but we are certainly keeping our feet on the ground.
Rob E] We know what it is that we want to achieve and now we need an avenue to make sure that we can achieve it. Previously we have had industry affiliates approach us and we’ve not followed it through just because it didn’t feel right, but now it really does.
Jack] Everything happens for a reason…
Rob H] I never used to believe that but I think that you’re probably right! Karma owes us one.
For more information visit the band’s Myspace.
*Promo image by Chris Nutt / Evil Eye Pictures by Adam Peeroo