Meet: I Like Trains’ David Martin on new material, how they work, lockdown and more

It’s been eight years since we last heard from I Like Trains, or at least that’s when their last album dropped. Maybe best remembered for their first two records – 2006’s Progress • Reform and Elergies to Lessons Learnt from a year later, they produced epic post/indie-rock anthems of a dark and emotive nature that really touched fans and critics alike.

They went on to release a couple more records (and a couple of live albums) on their own I Like Records label, both of which are as worthy of investigation as their early output, before recording the soundtrack to the documentary about the band – A divorce before marriage. But since then (2016), save for sporadic live performances there was very little.

So we were delighted when we were sent a new single The Truth, more delighted still when we realised how good it was. More news filtered through they had signed to label Atlantic Curve, and that a new album KOMPROMAT was on the horizon.

We managed to talk to singer and lyricist David Martin from the band about the album, the band, lockdown and more.

Hey David, thanks for talking to us – firstly, how are you coping with lockdown? Has it affected any plans? Or rather, how much has it affected plans?

Lockdown is fine thanks. Juggling work, family and album announcement. Not the romantic time for self-reflection, books, films and song writing I’d really like it to be, but we’re all fit and healthy. We’ve had to delay our big Leeds International Festival show. We had some ambitious plans for that which were just starting to come together. We’ll pick it all back up when we can. We’d started to look at touring periods for the rest of the year, but it soon became clear that wasn’t going to happen, so we haven’t had to unpick too much planning. It could have been worse.

Have you been able to do anything creative in the time?

Does creating a giant spider web for a home school art project count?

Whats been soundtracking your lockdown? Any particular albums or artists or what have you?

I’ve doing an album of the day thing with a few friends, with each person taking turns to pick. So we’ve been covering a fair bit of ground… Nina Simone, David Sylvian, Dusty Springfield, Bill Callahan, The Beastie Boys. My picks have been The Teardrop Explodes and Serge Gainsbourg in case you were wondering.

So back after eight years – where have you been? Does it feel like a new start? Why so long? 

Honestly I have no idea how eight years have passed since our last studio album. We’ve been working on music on and off. We recorded the soundtrack to our documentary film A Divorce Before Marriage. We’ve been playing a handful of gigs each year, and slowly chipping away at this new record. We were never particularly prolific and now there are seven kids between us, so that’s slowed things down even further.

We loved the recent single ‘The Truth’ – have you been sitting on that one a while, or is it recent? Whats it about and when/how/with who did you record it?

I guess all the songs have been around for a little while now, although ‘The Truth’ was the last one to come together. We were a little bit concerned the world would have moved on by the time we got around to releasing it. That we’d have turned a corner and have elected some progressive world leaders looking to a brighter future. We needn’t have worried!

The lyrics came from a list I’d been keeping on my phone. Things I’d hear or see on the news or on social media. Some outlandish lies by politicians. The general public adding noise to the discourse. Journalists trying to be the first to break the news, and in doing so muddying the water further. I didn’t really know why I was keeping the list. I wasn’t really trying to make any sense out of it. I knew that was a lost cause. But I think that’s the point. We’re bombarded with so much information we can’t possibly comprehend it, and that state of confusion is being used by those in power to grab more power and wealth.  

Tell us about the album KOMPROMAT – how long has that been in the making? Whats are the underlying themes of the album – did it take long to write? Who did you work with?

The record is about information. How that is shared in the news and online. How personal data is used for marketing or political gain. I didn’t set out for it to become quite so political, but all of this stuff became a hot topic in the wake of Brexit and Trump. How that data was used in those campaigns without regulation, and how the press was unable to hold those people responsible to account. Not to mention the influence of foreign actors in all of this. It’s difficult to see a way back for a functioning democracy at this point. 

I guess the way this subject matter progressed over time may account for why it took so long to finish! It all snowballed very quickly.

We recorded it at Greenmount Studios in Leeds. Sessions took place over a couple of years in the end. Three or four days here and there. It was never weeks on end, so I think that helped us to keep some perspective on its progress. Lee and Jamie kept us moving forwards and also make excellent coffee.

Was it just like settling back in, getting used to each other again in the studio, or has time meant changes in how you do things?

Less time together generally meant not overworking things. We left a lot up to chance in the studio, so I think there was more room for spontaneity. We like to challenge ourselves. We’ve been doing it for a long time, but there’s still a spark when we all get together and thrash out the ideas. 

And what was is the writing process like with I like trains? Has that changed at all? Who does what?

There’s no set routine. I write the lyrics. Sometime they come before the music and sometimes afterwards. The album doesn’t really start to take shape until I come up with a theme to hang it all around. Honestly, I don’t really know how it comes together. You just have to trust that it will.

What’s your favourite track on the record and why?

They’re like children, I don’t have a favourite. Sometimes I have a least favourite though. It depends how they behave. I remember being particularly pleased when we heard Anika’s contribution to ‘Eyes To The Left’… 

Tell us about the deal with Atlantic Curve – How did that come about?

It’s a new venture. It’s exciting to be here at the start of something. We’ve put the last two albums out on our own label, so getting a new energy feels good. It came about because Thomas from the label saw us play in Leipzig in November. We were doing a fair few new songs at that point. We got an email a little while afterwards, and the rest is history!

Difficult but any plans for the next few months, – if and when lockdown is lifted. 

Get together for a drink firstly. Then we might get the instruments out again. 

KOMPROMAT’ will be released on August 21st via Atlantic Curve. Pre-order it here.

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