I Like Trains is a band that should be taken very seriously. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t funny people to be around, but these guys from Leeds are really a bunch of talented, respectful musicians who have always written profound concept albums about historical events such as the Great Fire of London, the assassination of British Prime Ministers and natural calamities, all narrated by melancholic, evocative vocals over beautifully dense soundscapes.
This month is their 10th anniversary and to celebrate, the band re-mastered two early EPs (Progress Reform was re-released last November and The Christmas Tree Ship is currently available for pre-order only via their website, shipping in March) and played a few shows in UK, France and Benelux. Singer/guitarist David Martin and drummer Simon Fogal catch up with me before the first show of the anniversary tour at London Jazz Café.
We find a quiet spot in the historic Camden venue – a tiny, very hot dressing room. I Like Trains started as a University project. David Martin and guitarist Guy Bannister grew up in Worcestershire. “It’s a pretty boring story,” David jokes. “Guy was playing drums at the time and I guitar. We went to the same school where not many people played instruments so we formed a band together”. Then when they got better they moved to Leeds and went to the College of Music where they met Simon Fogal. “ I got into music through 80s rock records. I was hitting things, like tables, constantly tapping,” he recalls. “Then when I was 13 I got a drum kit, my friend that lived down the road got a guitar and we started jamming songs of the Beatles and the Shadows”.
They all studied music technology at college, where whilst working on a project together, they recorded themselves making music and that’s how I Like Trains was born. Alistair Bowis later joined them on bass and more recently Ian Jarrold who, after touring with them for a while, became an official member before the recording of last album The Shallows. “Ian was in this band called Redjetson and we were touring with them in France on our first tour abroad,” David explains. “ We were on the same French label and we were getting along very well so we toured with them other times after that. Then when they split up we asked Ian if he wanted to play guitar with us.”
Over these 10 years, 3 full-lengths and 3 EPs, the band’s writing process has inevitably changed a bit and new sounds and instruments have been incorporated. When they start writing for a new record, first they usually spend a lot of time working out what they want to achieve with it, then they often get new equipment and play around with it for a while. “For instance, for The Shallows, we got new synthesisers, drum machines, electronics,” David points out. “We keep changing things enough that it feels different and exciting each time.”
Apparently they don’t actually talk during the writing process which I find a bit funny and weird. That’s also what Ian initially thought: when he first joined them for the last album he was actually a bit shocked! “It’s because we sort of can get frustrated while jamming,” Fogal explains, “so we do that on our own but in the same room and then we just see how it goes”. For their last two records they had a proper rehearsal space with a little studio. “That meant that we could record and work in a different way and immediately, rather than having everything finished before and then go to the studio to record properly,” David tells me. “I like that. It’s like having a place where you can sort of disappear from the world”.
Lyrics have always been such an important part of what I Like Trains are. For David, the relationship between words and music is never clearly defined and each song has a life of its own. “Often I just think of a good subject to write about, then I come up with a few lines, add some music around and then we play together as a band. That seems to work pretty well. Other times I just write some sounds and words and try to compose to it. If I had a routine that would no longer be as exciting as the creative process actually is”. David’s lyrics are full of epic imagery and reference to mythological characters which sound as mysterious and somehow contemporary. “The myths we refer to and that were in the Bible are stories that were written for a reason, to guide people. Neither I am religious nor do I believe in any mystical stuff, but I think a lot of them are still quite relevant to everyday life otherwise they wouldn’t have maintained that importance.”