Features - Interviews

Video Premiere + Interview: Carnivores – Apathy In The UK

Carnivores - February 20, 2014 (21 of 59) (1)

Set to headline the next Smalltown America Records All-Dayer on Friday, July 31 – co-promoted by yours truly – Scottish alt-rock trio Carnivores underwent some elated highs and crushing lows during the making of their stellar debut album, Let’s Get Metaphysical. Touching upon that process, the band’s love of Northern Irish alt-rock and signing to Smalltown America, the band’s frontman Kenny Leckie chats candidly with Brian Coney

Go here to buy tickets to the All Dayer and check out our premiere for the video to ‘Apathy In The UK’ below.

Hi Kenny. First off, ‘Apathy In The UK’: the song obviously has a very overt political/moral stance, but could you elaborate what lead to the writing of the song and what it’s about?

Like most of our songs, the title came first. I always have a big list of potential titles that are totally over the top as you can tell! Unusually for us though, the lyrics came first. At the time of writing this album, Autumn  2013, I was still working a terrible retail job and it was the build up to the then forthcoming Scottish Independence vote. I scribbled down the lyrics to this song in the staff room on my lunch break after listening to  some of the staff debating more about Strictly Come Dancing and talking idle celeb banter rather than engaging in something that was legitimately important. So this track along with another on the record, ‘John Maynard Keynes’ are about previous generations – mainly the Baby Boomers – showing apathy towards having any sense of social responsibly, engagement in politics or finance which has come back to bite us all on the arse!

It’s taking from your debut album, Let’s Get Metaphysical, released via Smalltown America Records. How did you working with STA come about?

I’ve been a huge fan of the label since I first heard Jetplane Landing in 2003 so I always kept an eye out for STA bands touring or releasing records. STA always served as a signpost of quality for me. If I saw a new release I’d invariably check it out as the folk running STA seem to have similar tastes to myself! I think we’ve toured with nearly every band on STA over the years and I helped book an early tour for More Than Conquerors so I think word got back that we were worth a checking out and after we met Andrew on the Jetplane Landing tour, we took it from there’.

I can hear parallels to STA bands, not least Jetplane Landing. Do you have history there? (And not to put you on the spot…!) would you consider them influences?

100% yes, STA very much influenced who were are as a band. Our producer, Bruce Rintoul remembers me saying during our first session in 2009, ‘The only UK label I’d sign to is Smalltown America’. JPL, Fighting With Wire and Fickle Public were all influences when we first started. That combination of tension, melody and noise has always appealed to me.

As for the album recording, what has been the gestation period for the material?

The writing and recording process was very, very quick out of necessity. Our current drummer, Martin joined on January 1st, 2013 and we toured pretty solidly for six months until the summer before we started to write new songs, dropping them into our set as we went. At first we wanted to just do a four track EP so we wrote and recorded that in August 2013. We recorded it in two days, totally live and the results made us want to go back and write an album to match the intensity of those songs. Because we all worked full time and Martin was at uni, we’d rehearse for like 3 hours once a week for four months so when you break it down we had in all honesty about 48-50 hours in total to write and rehearse the record! Looking back it was fucking madness!’

Where did you recording and how did it go? Was it smooth sailing or was there some challenges you collectively overcome?

We recorded the rest of the record, 9 songs and mixing, totally live in 4 days. We recorded in a really horrible area of Glasgow with our friend Bruce Rintoul starting 2nd January 2014. In Scotland, New Years Eve parties are notoriously balls out affairs. We were playing a gig on New Years Eve which ended up with my then girlfriend and I DJ’ing til 5am and all our gear getting covered in drink and god knows what else! On the   2nd we had to shake off our hangovers, clean our gear and push ourselves into making a great album. The recording was pretty straight forward but the pre-production period was really hard. I had a bit of a breakdown due to how hard I was pushing myself. My day job at the time was assistant manager in a retail store, where I was working 12 hour shifts every day and I would go straight home to work on the songs or go straight to the practice room. Like every day for four months. I was totally obsessed about trying to make a good record to the point that I think I went a bit Brian Wilson. At the end of the recording sessions I was totally wiped out, I knew it was a pretty good record but it wasn’t until I started to play it for friends that I realised how intense a listen it was and how dark the lyrics got at times. I’m glad we made it but doing that record totally damaged my mental health, cost me my relationship and nearly got me fired from my job. Sounds totally dramatic in retrospect. I remember my girlfriend at the time saying “why are you getting so stressed, it’s only an album!”, which looking back is totally correct but at the time I had it in my head that this was my life’s work and all that bullshit!

The title track from the album brilliantly captures what you’re all about as a band. How is the current writing process for material such as that track, and the rest on the album? Does it start from a specific root every time?

‘This song started in the middle of the writing sessions. This song is about long distance running, sort of! I started to realise that anytime I’m going through a bad patch, I always seem to force myself to go on long distance runs. So the song is about the moment you realise that running away from your problems never solves anything. Musically, I wanted to have a song that was very euphoric. I had been listening to bands like Los Campesinos and Say Anything. I liked the way those bands matched very ‘up’ music with tense lyrics. Interestingly, the guitar is in a really weird tuning. Martin, our drummer was using my guitar at practice    to work on a song called ‘Goose Steps’ for his band Pronto Mama and when I got home, the guitar was still in the same tuning so I made a wee adjustment and wrote ‘Let’s Get Metaphysical’ quite quickly. I sort of view those two songs as like sisters, they kind of share a blood line which is really cool.’


You’ve a string of shows coming up at the end of July, including Belfast, Portrush and the STA showcase. What can newcomers expect from your set?

When we play live, we always go at it 100%. If you’ve never seen us live you can expect a loud rock show with plenty of interaction with the audience. Our gigs are never just about three guys on stage, it’s always about us and the audience having fun together and having some sort of communal experience. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show where we haven’t left the stage feeling like we could have gone harder or given any more. The audience is as much a part of the band as the bass player or the guitarist to us.

What compels you to jump in a jump and do this week-after-week? Are there any “end goals”, or just the process worth doing for its own sake?

We have no end goals, we do this for the love of creating something from nothing. This band started as a means for me to express myself and write songs. In the grand scheme of things, our band is a tiny speck in the musical stratosphere but these songs have still aloud us to have so many amazing experiences. The fact we have music on vinyl or can come over to Northern Ireland to play a few gigs is a huge achievement. I used to get quite bitter about seeing other bands go on to big things while we still have day jobs but when you take a step back, we’re lucky that we have an outlet for our creativity and that a small amount of people give a shit about it. Saying that, if this was the 90’s or we were American, we’d be huge!

One pitfall of that constantly moving and keeping things happening is burn-out. You’ve spoke about how you worked yourselves to the bone last year and needed a bit of a break. Do you think you’ve learnt any lessons there or was it just a one-off thing?

There’s definitely lessons learned from how the making of this album went. I’m in a totally different place than I was in 2013. I took all of my frustrations with my life and pummelled them into making an album and that most definitely made me a total shit to be around. At the time, the music we made was the only thing I had control over. If we started a new album tomorrow it would be 100% different. We wouldn’t make the batshit decision to try recording 13 songs in 6 days, totally live with no metronomes, edits or guide tracks. When I look back on our time as a band, I don’t remember enjoying a lot of it because of the stress I put myself under and the anxiety I have in everyday life so anything we do now, I always try to take a step back and remember that I’m supposed to be having fun!

Carnivores - February 20, 2014 (10 of 59)

One thing I really like about your stuff (and this is largely to do with bands who don’t do this) is how you’re not afraid to sing in your own accents.  Is that a conscious thing or just something happen because it’s, you know… your voice?

That was a very conscious decision. I always hate when you see a band where the singer has a put-on accent. As a relative late-comer to singing – I only started singing when I was 17 even though I’ve been playing guitar since I was 10 – I purposely chose to sing the way I spoke. I wanted it to be real. My accent is slightly different from other Glasgow bands in that I’m from Paisley, which even though it’s only a few miles away, it’s a very different accent. It’s harder and more pronounced. Just listen to Mhairi Black MP, she’s a good example of a Paisley accent! My singing voice is just a slightly louder, more tuneful version of how I speak. I’ve always been a firm believer of being proud of where you come from and never hiding from it. I’m from a total shit-heap of a town but I’ll never deny that I’m from there.

Lastly, aside from promo for and touring Let’s Get Metaphysical, you’re planning to record a live album in STA studios. What’s the plan there and what compelled you to do one?

For us, we’ve always been aware that we’re better live than on record. In a live setting, we’re much more relaxed whereas on record can sometimes come across as a bit stiff. Every show is different and we’d been thinking about doing a live album for some time to document this point in the band’s history. There’s something about the raw energy, intensity and sheer power of the three of us playing together that we’ve not yet captured so hopefully we can play a good show can get that feeling down on tape. It’ll also be a good way of showcasing some of our pre-STA songs that we still play live but have never recorded with this line up of theband. Songs are living things, they aren’t designed to be played the same way every time. When we play live, we can alter the songs quite drastically. We improvise a lot, add new parts, cut the fat off and generally get  a chance to stretch out as musicians. Plus, recording in Derry is a cool thing. So many of our biggest influences have came from Northern Ireland – Therapy?, Ash, Jetplane, Fighting With Wire etc. so for us to come  over and add our own tiny bit of musical history to the country is very cool!

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.