Leathers share their love of Nigerian funk, Southern Preachers and their fierce stance on no pedals for their guitars. John Clay gets the lowdown on their upcoming debut LP, Noisebeat.
“Let’s all go back to mine type of thing. They always end in carnage though and some person you never met in your bathtub.’ – Chris Mitchard on new track ‘Surprise Party’
Time for a Leathers interview? Yup, I think so too! How are you people doing in this exciting time of your impending album release? You use a hell of a lot of Americanisms in your music (hard to escape ’em, as this question clearly illustrates)! You sell it well, and much like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, you tread a fine line of genuine enjoyment and sending said colloquialisms up. Tell us more about your decision to sing this way?
Edward: Chris has always sung in an American accent. Funnily enough, a person at our last gig was convinced he was from there. To be fair it’s not that far away from a West Country one.
Chris: It’s not really a conscious decision it’s just come out that way, I think it’s the thick Somerset accent. I love all the soul screamers though, the southern preachers and the like. it’s not a gimmick that’s for sure. Yeah I’ve had that “where are you from in the states” query. I’m from the west country, and proud!
I’m sure you are! What is it you hear in the soul screamers and southern preachers that speaks to you?
Chris: Just the passion I think. Getting lost in the moment.
Edward: There’s a real directness there I think that comes from that raw approach.
Chris: The music is badass though as well. I love gospel music.
JC: A useful quality in perhaps an age given to a certain slickness and refusal to genuinely let go. Debatable perhaps. The call and response interplay must get people going at gigs. How much of what you do is carefully laid out beforehand, or does the music come from jamming?
Chris: Some songs sorta get laid out but we jam a lot on a groove.
Chris: I might start a riff and Ed knows what to do with it.
Edward: Most everything comes out through jamming. I hardly did any singing in our last band so doing it now is great. We have an uncanny symbiotic relationship rhythmically that underpins everything.
Chris: A lot of songs have come together that way.
JC: The music has a no nonsense/no studio tricks approach. Was this tough to stick to, or is keeping things pared down second nature?
Chris: No it was an easy decision.
Edward: Totally. We look at doing a few overdubs as excessive.
Chris: From the outset with Leather’s I’ve just plugged straight into an amp with no pedals, keeping it as pure as possible I guess. Defo wanted the songs to do the talking rather than adding tricks so to speak.
Edward: I think that really comes through live and on this new album.
Chris: We recorded the album pretty much live.
Edward: We’re the one take kings!
Chris: Haha, no more than two!
Edward: Once we’re in the groove it just flies out.
JC: Have you been there and done the whole pedal thing in other set ups then. What don’t you miss about having loads of FX in the mix?
Chris: I’ve never really been a pedal guy. I played bass in Rusty Springfield and switched to guitar in The dynamite pussy club which were the bands Ed and I did before Leathers. The other guys in those bands did pedals.
Edward: The last band had loads of pedals and huge washes of noise in it and that fit then. Now being stripped back just holds way more interest. Chris never really used pedals back then either so it’s just really natural to not now.
Chris: I just did the grooves.
JC: Sure, it means less tap dancing during the live shows, right? Easier to connect to the audience too, yes?
Chris: Defo. Pedal drama is something we can do without! Pedal drama. Now, there’s a band name.
Edward: Audiences always react to the rhythmic power. We always had loads of pedal frames before.
JC: Pick a song each that grabs you lyrically and you’d like more people to know about.
Chris: It’s hard to pick one but I guess ‘Free’ which kicks off the album and we put out as a taster is a good one.
Chris: ‘Free’ is just that; a call to be free.
Edward: I really love ‘Jaywalking’. I sort of do a lead vocal on it so it’s always a highlight for me.
JC: Care to break down the message/meaning behind Free?
Chris: Do what you want. Love, live, be who you are.
Edward: You do that great Aretha Franklin vamp in it too.
Chris: Respect others for who they are. It’s a bit of a rallying cry, maybe. R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
Thought so. Good sentiments there. Was it a big step for you to do a lead vocal on Jaywalking Ed?
Edward: Yeah it was confidence wise. Playing and singing at the same time is a different mindset but a great one to get used to.
Chris: It’s been great doing vocal stuff with Ed.
Edward: Some of my favourite drummers are singers too.
Chris: Call and response type vocals rather than boyzone harmonies.
JC: More to come in the future then? It really works.
Chris: Yeah, I think it’ll stay that way. It adds to the music also.
Edward: As long as Chris keeps writing the lyrics. Haha.
Chris: That ain’t stopping! I just wrote some… pedal drama!
Edward: It all came about really naturally though like all of it does.
JC: Post Bowie, New York’s original New Wave scene and various contemporary offshoots of such, it’s arguable that there’s been a non-too- subtle pressure for musicians to have something to say. Is it fair to say that your music is designed to feel more than to think to?
Chris: Yeah definitely aimed to get you moving but that’s not to say we’ve not got a message sometimes.
Chris: It’s very primal rhythmic music.
JC: Well appreciated.
Chris: Personally sometimes I just want to hear something that hits me loins and feel it.
JC: Is the music of Leathers a reaction to the aforementioned social expectation of intellectualism, or do you write independently from the past or contemporary context?
Edward: It’s gut based music, but authentically so. We both listen to a lot of different stuff that comes out in the band in unexpected ways I think.
Chris: Not at all. It’s not a conscious move to any one thing. It’s what moves us I think and what we want to play.
Edward: I’ll hear grooves on old Nigerian funk records and go “That’s it”.
Chris: I think maybe there are a lot of bands who got things to say on this and that, which is cool.
Edward: Then Chris will come at it from his point of view. We both have the same goal with the band which is rare I think.
Nigerian funk? Interesting. Should we hold out our hopes for Leathers covering Fela Kuti, or is that madness?
Chris: No, we defo dig that one chord funk.
JC: Wow. Well, there’s a scoop.
Chris: We sort of get into that a bit now.
Edward: Well stuff like that has been a heavy inspiration for us. Payback era James Brown, Fela, Can. That idea of one chord as Chris says is very intoxicating.
Edward: Not to mention hypnotic.
JC: Wonderful. ‘Nightbus’ is the standout track for me. Right up there with ‘Free’ and ‘Surprise Party’ (more on that last one in a minute). Tell us something people don’t know about either of those lovely adages to the Rock and Roll cannon.
Chris: We both love all the African music… that music is all about the feel a lot of the time. Fela rules!
Chris: ‘Nightbus’ maybe hints at that fela thing.
Chris: ‘Nightbus’ is great to play, it’s quite krautrock meets blues. ‘Free’ is a straight out of Motown garage sound.
Chris: Motown in the garage!
Edward: All we’ve been aiming at up to this point really came together on the new record I think.
Chris: Glad you picked out ‘Nightbus’.
JC: If only you fit all of Motown in a garage. That’s some Doctor Who Tardis physics going on right there.
JC: Before we get to plug the release of this album, to tell us, what’s the story behind ‘Surprise Party’? Feel free to omit anything from the public record should that be required.
Edward: We were talking about how horrible surprise parties are, haha.
Chris: I guess it’s about that time when you come out of a club with all your friends at 3am and just want to carry that night on. Let’s all go back to mine type of thing. They always end in carnage though and some person you never met in your bathtub.
Edward: And how fun an off the cuff one can be. As we all know they’re often the best ones.
JC: Is that the aftermath of your fav shows? Do you invite fans to the homestead afterwards?
Chris: Haha, not these days. Had some great ones in the past.
Edward: No sleep til bedtime!
Chris: House parties seem a thing of the past post covid.
Edward: The carnage was pretty severe in the last band. it’s all very chill this time around.
JC: Fair enough. So, when is the album going to be out, and will there be a single and perhaps a video to promote it?
Chris: Noisebeat is out March 24th on CD/Cassette/DL.
Chris: Yeah we’ll definitely be doing a video or two.
Chris: I think ‘Surprise Party’ would be a good one.
Edward: There is a video in the works. We have some great ideas for it. Chris is a bit of a genius for this sort of thing.
Chris: We’re pretty inhouse with all our videos, artwork stuff.
JC: Glad to hear it. Deffo get all your mates round yours and play the track with them I reckon. Simple, but fun. Gents, this has been great. Let’s do this again sometime soon.
Chris: Defo, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you John.
Edward: Nice one John! Thank you for having us.
Interview by John Clay