The band discuss isolation, industrial influences and remaining independent
Since their early days of playing local gigs in their home city of Manchester, Ist Ist have always remained authentic. From staying obstinately independent of a recording label to keeping true to their ‘too out there’ sound, the band’s latest release, Architecture, is the work of a band who have avoided the mainstream treatment.
Ist Ist’s bassist Andy Keating chats to Cerys Turner about the band’s independence, releasing their first album in isolation, and the industrial influences that helped it take its shape.
‘We’ve been on that rollercoaster for the last four, five years and the records we’ve put out have been flags in time’
Architecture was released via Kind Violence Records on 1 May, a steadfast choice given how many artists are now delaying their new releases. However, Andy and the band were ‘determined’ to bring it out on time: ‘people were looking forward to it and there’s not a lot of good stuff happening right now.’
The album itself is certainly evidence of the distinct lack of 'good stuff' in our current climate. Whilst paying homage to the built-up skyline of their home ground Manchester, Architecture also reflects the structure of the human mind, with topics on mental health running throughout the dark and often nihilistic lyrics.
Andy makes it clear that it’s not a concept album, however. Based off of the ‘raw feelings and thought’ of their own personal experiences, Ist Ist's latest release reflects their typical gloom: ‘It seems that we naturally gravitate towards that (...) the world’s not an easy place to be and it hasn’t been for a while.’
‘everyone in a band thinks they're fairly unique but (...) it is slightly baffling when you get people who just seem hell bent on comparing it to something else'
A track Andy finds himself 'going back to listen to', ‘Under Your Skin’, is an example of their trademark darkness: there is something remarkably haunting about the repetition of 'I'm under your skin' throughout the chorus.
‘Black’ - Andy’s favourite to play live - takes a twist on devoted love: 'what's left is only black' is another lyrical echo that will send shivers down your spine.
You can see this gloom reflected in Ist Ist’s music videos, too: ‘You’re Mine’ sees the band playing in a dark studio, their bodies only lit by the fluorescent lighting behind them, whilst ‘A New Love Song’ is a collage of monochromatic clips of vintage kisses and eerie roads at night.
‘We don’t make cheery, colourful music’, Andy says, laughing at how photographers don’t even bother to send back their pictures in colour anymore.
Starting out in Manchester has certainly had an impact on the reception of Ist Ist’s music - a fact that Andy states is both a ‘blessing and a curse’.
While there are plenty of live venues to perform at in the city, starting out in a place with such a legendary musical history - birthing bands from Oasis to The Smiths -, results in instantaneous, and often unwanted, comparisons, says Andy.
‘What labels, management and a lot of mainstream radio stations are looking for is a fully formed, you know, super-slicked kind of pop group. We're not that’
Although he insists that Ist Ist aren’t bothered by comparisons to Joy Division - ‘people can interpret things how they want’-, he admits that he ‘doesn’t love readily comparing’ the band to other groups.
'Everyone in a band thinks they're fairly unique but at the same time it is slightly baffling when you get people who just seem hell bent on comparing it to something else. I don’t know if people need to rationalise it to themselves - ‘I need to put that band in a box’
However, he concedes that any comparison to the famed English rock band is ultimately a plaudit: ‘If people want to write that, it’s not necessarily the most inventive but still flattering’
Influences don’t only stem from music however: Architecture finds its sonic reflection in Manchester’s industrial hub: ‘The sorts of places where you rehearse as a band can sometimes influence the way you sound’, Andy remarks. ‘Manchester is a very industrial city, and our rehearsal space is in a big old mill. Even the setting that you rehearse in, I’m convinced has an influence on your sound.'
Architecture, a sonic hybrid of rock and electronica, is also inspired by the band’s own 50/50 split in personal taste: ‘myself and Joel (the band's drummer) are more straight up kind of rock, whereas Mat (the lead singer) and Adam (the keyboardist/guitarist) are more into their electronic music, so a lot of the electronic elements come from them.’
The album follows a similar trajectory to their previous two EP’s: ‘It maps a journey, without meaning to’, Andy says of their earlier release, Spinning Room. ‘We’ve been on that rollercoaster for the last four, five years and the records we’ve put out have been flags in time’
‘We don’t think we’re out there at all’
And where to next? Ist Ist have rescheduled their tour for late October and early November this year, and the uncertainty as to whether gigs will be reinstated in the autumn is a worry shared by the band too: ‘things become clearer every day’, Andy comments on whether their promotional concerts will actually go ahead.
He remains hopeful, however: ‘One things with bands like us - we’re not a huge band by any stretch - a lot of the venues that we play are two, three hundred capacity.’
‘A lot of these venues will go under if they don’t open up relatively soon- they’ll never come back. That's the problem but I'm not saying that should be top of the agenda because people’s health should come first. However, if there is a point where it is okay to reopen I hope they’re given the OK to do that.’
‘Anyone in the band is guilty of finding it hard to describe what they sound like’
He’s not worried about the commerciality of their new release, either. Ist Ist have prided themselves on their independence - not necessarily because they’re against labels, but more so because they've ‘never had a offer worth taking’.
‘It’s nice that we can call the shots’ - the band work with the same producer and write all of their songs- ‘It’s verging on pop band territory if you give too much power to the label’, a type Ist Ist vehemently doesn’t want to be cast in.
‘I think maybe what labels, management and a lot of mainstream radio stations are looking for is a fully formed, you know, super-slicked kind of pop group. We're not that.’
So who are Ist Ist? ‘Anyone in a band is guilty of finding it hard to describe what they sound like. We don’t think we’re out there at all’ Even if they may not realise it yet, I'd say Ist Ist have it all figured out.
Images: Ist Ist