Alex Yau 07/12/2010
GIITTV's Alex Yau caught up with Lewis Bowman the vocalist and lyricist of one of this year's most talked about bands in the UK: Chapel Club.
Delving into the sessions for Chapel Club's forthcoming debut album, the songwriting process, how the 'limelight' was affecting them and why they recently crossed Abbey road in Animal masks.
Your band name has been inspired by your interest in religion and religious imagery. Could you tell me how it has been an inspiration?
I can't say it's been an inspiration for the other guys really. I'm just interested in it non- exclusively as well as a lot of other stuff. The idea of religion did appear on a couple of the songs on the album. The Shore includes the idea that we're living in a post religious world and the way it affects the belief system and how people react to grief. I mean it in the sense of my own experience. It kind of made me think of the way I was raised which wasn't religious but I was told there was Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil and they weren't rammed down my throat. Father Christmas was something I thought of while growing up.
I thought it was just the way it but it got to the point where you think “Okay maybe that's not the way it is.” It got me thinking like that over the past couple of years. I just find it really interesting how we are all God's widows in a way and we're all trying to formulate some moral understanding of where we're at and where we're going. It's a sense of hope like existential hope despite the fact that most of us nowadays have a strong feeling that death is the end. That sounds really depressing but it's not that informed and it's not a great deal of Chapel Club's music.
How has the recording of your debut album been so far?
It's been good. We did it a while ago now so it's kind of something I've talked about a lot so far. We've been lucky to work with Paul Epworth who's incredible and a well-known, respected producer. It was quite a surprise for us because we were an unknown band when he got on board. It was an amazing experience. We recorded at a really lovely studio called The Pool in south London where the producer sits in the same room and not everyone's separated in booths. I can't imagine recording in any other way after that. Paul's a genius who came and spoke to us about the songs. He told us what he thought they were about lyrically and musically. He told us where he thought they came from and where he thought they could go. We had a really nice time. It was done in the spring and I can remember going in everyday and staying really late. There were disco balls and incense. Paul's into creatinga vibe and the whole thing suited the tone and colour of the album. I'm excited about it coming out because we've been waiting a little while now. I'm excited for people to hear what they haven't heard before. There's 60 percent which haven't been released as singles and I'm excited to celebrate the release on the album tour next year.
Is there anything special that Paul's brought which might have never made it to the final album?
Speaking from my point of view, it was my first time recording in a studio properly which was daunting because it was with Paul Epworth and I was like “Jesus man I've gone in at the deep end here because I'm new to being in a band.” I'm sure I didn't really know how to sing back then. I'm sure I don't now but it was amazing because one of the key things is that he makes you feel so comfortable working with him and comfortable with what you're doing. It sounds really corny but he made me feel at ease and he made me feel able to try anything at all with the vocals and I'm sure this is true with the other guys in the band. He had this way of making you feel that it doesn't matter what you do, it doesn't matter if what you try basically fails to your ears. All that matters is that you've given it a shot. It meant that the recording sessions were full of people experimenting with different ideas; different song structures and we said to him “We're looking forward to working with a producer and seeing what they bring to us.” We were still half performed because we got signed quickly.
He understood where we were at and made us feel comfortable with negotiating a studio identity. It was nice because of the fact that he's a genius and his collection of reference points is amazing. Any band you've heard he knows about and whether he loves it or hates it he can back it up really articulately. He understands other stuff too. He's used to live sound and he used to be in a band. He brings an understanding of the world outside of the studio and how that applies to what you understand.
Lyrically you're influenced by literates such as Hemingway, how does this spill out into your writing? Do you worry that there's an element of cliché to it?
I am influenced by literature in the way that I read it. If you read other people doing amazing things with language hopefully it makes you better. I can't generalise an effect out of it and say “I read this and this and it does this.” It's not like I've sat down and said “This is what I'm aiming for.” I'm sure there's some lyricist in the past or present that's said “This is what I want, I want stream of consciousness, cut and paste,” and they sit down and explore one avenue. I'm most influenced as far as I'm aware by people like Ted Hughes and RS Thomas.
Frederick Seidel was a big one during the album recording who was a New York poet. I suppose they've influenced me to retain a degree of clarity without being cliché and overly simplistic. That's a general and vague thing. If anything, it comes out in specific songs like the tone of voice or certain phrases. The author I've read the most of is Shakespeare. I've set myself the task of reading everything I knew of Shakespeare which I did that a few years ago whilst at university. Even now I'll write sentences and lyrics and think “wow that's someone who's trying to sound like Shakespeare” and it doesn't fit into our style so it doesn't' end up in the song. I think it's a case of everything that influences you. All the arts, your life and people you speak to. I constantly write everything I overhear people say on buses toconstantly get a grip with how people speak. I think it's one of my weaknesses. If I was writing a play I'd find it hard to write realistic dialogue. It's a case of absorbing everything you can and not worrying how it affects what you write. I soak it up and whatever happens, happens. The alchemy of that is something I don't understand.
You've said before that you like your alone time. Is this crucial when writing songs and lyric or are you more effective when writing with the band?
I like my alone time in general. I don't really massively like being on the road. I've got a girlfriend I'm into as I should be, I've got friends, family and a life back home. I like to travel but not in the way with a band driving in a van for 10 hours, go to a venue that looks like the one yesterday, put on the show which is the big part and get in the van again driving for three hours to the hotel. It's just not the way to see the world. It's a brilliant job and I'm not ungrateful. I'd rather do this than any other job right now. It does get wearing when you wake up in the morning and say “I know exactly how this day is going to go.” It's true when I used to work before the band in bars. It's that kind of thing about the grind and repetition.
I don't like being told what to do and I don't like having to meet appointments. It's difficult when you're in a band because you can't say “I want to escape this.” You know it's for your benefit. It's your creative project. I start to bridle when people tell me I have to be here at this time and I start to bridle when I see the other guys in the band being happy to go on tour. I get this weird internal feeling about why they're fine with this. But I say to myself, “Of course they're fine because there's nothing bad with it.” I'm just strange like that. I tend to hate anything that isn't totally free. Being in a band gets exhausting. When it comes to song writing I love it. It's my favourite thing being stuck in a room with other guys for hours and hours and it doesn't bother me because we're doing something creative and constructing.
When I'm writing lyrics I'm generally on my own because those guys don't shut up or they may you laugh.
You've played some interesting venues such as the Shacklewell Arms. How would you describe the atmosphere of this venue compared to the ones that you play now?
The Shacklewell gigs were special because they were our first gigs and we put them on ourselves. It's such an amazing little pub. The vibe was very different because I was so much more frightened. I thought no one would turn up or we'd do terribly. They were our first gigs as Chapel Club. I couldn't hear myself on stage. We didn't know anything about sound. It was an ordeal and at the same time, because people showed up it was a lot of fun. I was smoking and drinking a lot more so it was more fun back then. We've lost a few things because have to be more professional now. I can't get wrecked as much so I've lost a measure of fun after gigs. Playing in bigger venues is amazing. Some of the guys have said I get nervous going out on a big stage but for me it's the opposite. I find it much more nerve wracking playing to 30 people trying put across the intensity of emotions behind the songs and the lyrics. In that environment where there's a big stage, it's almost like it distances you from the audience. Not in being unable to connect but in a physical separation of a few feet.
Most people say the opposite and prefer to be nose to nose with the audience. I feel like that's the way we perform. We're not a punk band. We're playing a gig in Manchester at achurch which is all seated and I like gigs like that where people can be picked up like a flood. If there's a bigger venue and more sound then I feel more able to enact the role in order to get across the sincerity of the songs.
You've been thrust into the limelight in short time. Has this been stressful for you? How are you handling it so far?
I wouldn't say I'm in the limelight. I don't think most people know who Chapel Club are never mind Lewis Bowman. I never read that much about us. We don't get sent press clippings but every now and again we get sent a major thing. Generally I don't know what's going on unless it's on Facebook. Some people say awful things but I'm aware that's part of the cause. It doesn't bother me and I don't think of it. If people love us I take that with just as much a pinch of salt as people who despise us. I know the songs and lyrics, I know they're not the best thing…yet because you're always working to be better. I know we're better than a lot of things out there. All the other stuff is beside the point. It's not like I'm feeling stressed, my life hasn't change and I'm not expecting it to.
Do you have any interesting habits or rituals you like to do in preparation for a show?
I drink a few beers and I sing the first line of the first song enough to annoy everyone. Lately we've been supporting. We get in to sound check and we only have an hour before we go on stage so we haven't got much time. In the past I remember someone in the band who I won't name that would gather everyone together and it'd be like a circle. I was never part of that because I was like “You're making me more tense with all this brothers in arms stuff.” I don't need that. We're close as a band; we're all friends, we like going out with each other and enjoy hanging out. There are no problems thank God so I don't feel the need to amp it up and be like “Come on Chapel Club.” I don't find it easy to show my emotions so I don't want to do that before a gig which makes me feel awkward.
You did a photo shoot on Abbey Road wearing animal masks. Tell me the idea behind this?
It was an edition of Q magazine for a Beatles edition. They said do you want to be a part of it and we said “Yes.” We chose the butcher cover which the Beatles did in America sat in white coats with blood, pieces meat and doll heads. Q understandably said “You're not doing that.” They said “Can you do Abbey Road?” We thought “Well its Q, we're nobody, we should do the magazine.” We asked “Can we do Abbey Road with the animal mask to be different rather than 5 idiots walking across the road? “And they said “Yes.” I think we have a desire, we realise we're not an Avant Garde experimental band.
There's also a love within the band of classic song writing which is why there's a focus on lyrics and melody. We don't want to be pure pop. We're interested in making music simultaneously accessible, melodic but we taint that with strange flourishes or quirky reference points. We just finished the video for Surfacing and that is the best we've done yet in terms of presenting the music visually in truth to us. It's not dark so much but it's twisted and quirky. The rabbit masks in Q were a part of that. We thought “Let's be just slightly less boring. Let's try and do something odd.” We weren't allowed to do much with Q so that's what we got away with.
Chapel Club play special one-off show at Salford's St Phillips Church on December 9th.
The band will also be releasing a brand new limited edition 12” EP.
The 'Wintering EP' features four brand new songs; 'Roads', 'Telluride', 'Bodies' and 'Widows', which will be available to buy exclusively for those attending the Salford show.