Interview With Athlete - 10th October 2007
Photo Of No Machine © Copyright No Machine Thom caught up with Tim Wanstall from Athlete at Southampton Guildhall during the bands headline tour across the UK to talk about the bands current album and summer 2008 festivals.

So what have you been up to today, thus far? Because I know you didn't play anywhere last night...
No we didn't, we had a day off yesterday, so we were home in London. So, it's been quite nice, we got to wake up at home, instead of just sleeping on this (we were on the tour bus) overnight and travelling from gig to gig. It's quite nice to go home and then literally just travelled down at lunchtime today.

How's the tour been going so far?
It's been brilliant. Yeah it's been amazing. It's been almost a full two years since we've done a tour in the UK at this kind of level, so, you know, after that amount of time, playing to a couple of thousand people a night again, you know, we've done quite a lot of little one-offs, we did a load around the record coming out, in little bars, and places that gigs aren't usually in. And they were kinda like free ones, for people who queued up and bought the record. Three-hundred people per night and you know it was wicked, like it's a totally different vibe, but doing it with a couple of thousand people and going to town with the lights and stuff, it's pretty special. So yeah, it's nice to be doing it.

And you're off to the US next month...
Yeah we're doing just a real quick main city tour. We're just doing like, New York, Toronto, Vancouver, LA, Chicago, yeah, literally five or six gigs just to get the ball rolling there, and then after Christmas we'll go back and do more of a full on five week trip.

Have you toured much over there before?
Well we've done a reasonable amount. The last record we spend three or four months there, not all of it was touring, some of it was like going round doing really rubbish things like, you know, they're really into their 'meet and greet' sort of thing, you know. It's a completely different kind of way that things work, so, often before you even go in to do a radio session at XFM, you might go in first to meet the staff and have lunch with them, and do a session in their boardroom, but not one that goes out on air, you know, so we spent a month doing stuff like that. Probably did spend about three months touring though, yeah.

Your support tonight, who have been with you for a few gigs, are Loney, Dear.
Yeah Loney, Dear are the main support. We had Fonda 500 for like, the first couple of gigs, who we've had, you know, they've done the odd gig, you know they're from Hull and they've all got jobs but they're on this little label, and they've been doing their thing for years, and it's always been good fun so we've always had them for one offs, so they did the first couple because it kinda worked out for them. And then this band Loney, Dear, they're from Sweden. I don't think many people have heard of them here at all.
I've heard of them.
Ah well there you go, you're one of the lucky few.
Are you fans of theirs or was it the label that brought you together?
Well we found out about them because their record in this country is put out on Regal, which is related to Parlophone where we put out first little EP out. So, yeah friends at the record company were just like "yeah we're putting this out," so we gave it a listen and it's just a great vibe. It's kind of, erm, I don't know, like live, the songs are almost stronger, you know, and they've got a couple of tunes that are almost like, lost Beach Boys numbers. It's not throwback, but there's something quite timeless about it, I think, and you hear a tune and you think you've heard it in a great moment in a film, but actually you're just hearing it for the first time tonight. But you're humming it for the rest of the day, and yeah they're brilliant.

The new album, are you happy with it?
Yeah ecstatic, totally. I think in some senses it's erm, it's the most "us" thing that we've done so far. Just because nobody else has been involved in it. And you'd certainly expect we'd be none other than proud, because every little decision along the way was, you know, the four of us making our call, because we weren't working with anyone else.
It's a very different sound to the other albums, what influenced you to change?
Making it ourselves, affected how it was going to sound. I think it's erm, certainly compared to Tourist, it's a much messier record, in terms of, the recording isn't quite as pristine. You can hear people walking around the room and chairs squeaking, and you know it's not perfect recording. This is the first time we've recorded ourselves, but I think as a result of that, it's erm, I think it's more lively. Tourist was a beautiful sounding record, but this one, you can tell a bit more, it's played by real people sitting in a room together, it's not perfect. And, I think another thing that meant the sound changed was that there wasn't, well, on the last record, we had "Wires" right at the beginning, and as a song, to a certain extent, it dictated the tone of the record a little bit, because, from "Wires" to "You Got The Style" is such a big jump, I don't think this record as bigger jump as the last one was from the first one. Whereas this time, there was never one song where we were like "that's the sound of the record." So right up until the last session I don't think any of us knew what kind of record it was going to be, we were just having fun, and I think that comes across. There was a certain playfulness to the first record, which I think a lot of people found charming, and I think that was because we were having a lot of fun making it and hanging out together. I think this record is a lot more upbeat, certainly not as moody as the last one, and I think that playful vibe is coming back across a little bit, in some of the electronic flourishes, and some of the twists and turns.
You built your own studio for the new album. As well as the good points you mentioned, were there any bad points about doing it all yourself?
It means it's taken us longer over all, to get a record out, erm, because, we were probably pretty much ready to start writing tunes and we didn't have a home to go to. So we didn't start, you know, we were working on things at home but we couldn't sit down and play together. I think that, aligned with, building the new studio, finding a new one, because we moved out of the old one as there wasn't room for all our gear, it probably means it's taken us six months longer, than if we'd just stayed where we were, and paid someone and just gone into a studio somewhere else. That said, we're kind of up and running now, so I'm guessing we'll probably stick with it for the next one. So yeah, probably just means it took longer because of the steeper learning curve, you know, we weren't worried about producing the record, because to a certain extent we've always produced our own records because we've always made demos and gone into studios knowing what the finished thing was going to sound like, but the physical mechanics of getting it into the computer was slightly more worrying. But it seems to have come out alright.
How do you feel about the mixed reactions and responses to the new album? Some are saying they're a bit disappointed, and some are saying it's just a massive sidestep.
Ultimately it doesn't bother me hugely because we've done something we're very very proud of. I think it's a harder record to get your head around, than certainly the last one, probably the first one, because it's not as... I think we definitely enjoy like, our melodic, poppy kind of hooks, but I don't think its, you know, the first record was obviously very very cheery, you know, very 'arms around your mates after the rugby match, sing-along with your pint' kinda vibes, and we've always wanted to keep something of that in our sound, always wanted our tunes to have that. So I think they have across all three records, but I think on the last one, because it was about a band being away from home, getting used to touring, and the struggle of keeping family life going, and dealing with what happened as Vehicles and Animals took off. And it means it's a record where the lyrics have got quite a lot of relational sort of vibes to them, so I think instantly it's a lot easier to tap in, because even if you're not in a band touring round the world, everyone knows what it's like to have a sense of missing and longing. So on this one I mean obviously musically, we want to push our playing, and I think our playing on this record is much better than on any of the other two, and then lyrically, you know, we weren't interested in, well, nobody needs to hear us wallowing again about being stuck on a tour bus for half our lives. So again that moved on and it meant that we looked outside of ourselves a little bit, and so I think the result in a good way, Joel's lyrics are a lot more poetic, but there aren't so many songs that could have that universal 'Dawson's Creek' love thing going on. Quite frankly I think that's a really good thing, but it makes it harder work to get your head around straight away. But in the long run, for me, that's because it's a better record. So we've got every belief that when it's given it's time and when it's run its course, in a similar way to how Vehicles and Animals was a very slow burner, you know I think this is one of those records where every single, people will hear a different side to what we're doing, and fall in love with it that way, that's fine by me.
Considering these reactions, it still got to number 5, you must be pleased with that.
Absolutely, yeah. Both of the last records now, going into the top five. Yeah it's amazing when you kind of think, for us, we've been doing it for that many years, and even to make a third record is a huge deal these days, you know, for most bands it really is downhill from the first one, but I feel for us it's a nice pat on the back because we've worked hard and toured hard, and the fact we've got a third record still going in at the top five, and it's life's only just begun. We're just about to take the second single to radio, and there's four or five crackers on there. Yeah, it's really exciting. Still playing to thousands of people per night and internationally there's signs of things coming together a bit more than they have done so far, so, yeah lots of things to look forward to.

Is Beyond The Neighbourhood your favourite of the three albums?
For me right now, it's our best record, because obviously we're in the middle of it, and it represents where we're at right now. But in terms of, I think, favourites can also have associated memories, so, because we're still in the middle of it, in another sense, Vehicles and Animals would be my favourite, because it's the one that I'm most nostalgic about now, because looking back, the things that were happening to us and the experience of going from a dirty little basement to getting signed, you know, really really special times. And it's really hard to detach those kinds of sentiments from, you know, that record is really really special. Because of the life that went with it, which is my life. So I couldn't choose between them in that sense, at this moment in time, but in terms of trying to look at it critically, and the quality of the song writing and stuff, yeah, I'm in love with this one right now.
Do you have a particular favourite song?
*after a gargantuan pause.*
I don't know, it would be a hard call. I certainly think "The Outsiders" and "Westside" would certainly be up there, near the top of my, I don't know if they're my two favourites, but they're probably the first two that come to mind. Yeah for me, "The Outsiders" is really, one of, if not the best thing we've done so far, and I love it to pieces. And then "Westside" was really the tune that we got our record deal off the back of, most of what's on the record is actually the demo that we sent to record companies, erm, and I never tire of playing that one live. So they'd be my two, at the moment.

Given the personal significance of "Wires," especially to Joel, did it mean a lot when it won the "best contemporary song" award.
Yeah well it meant a huge deal that it won it, because erm, you know, it was really one of the big songs of that year, and the Ivan Novello award, from a musicians point of view, is not only the most prestigious award, but some say it's the only one that they seriously take note of, and would all consistently bother turning up to the ceremony for. It's a very internal thing, it's not, I mean people are beginning to hear about it now, but to date it's not something that you've seen televised. You know, it doesn't sell anyone any extra records winning it, erm, you don't see stands in Virgin of "The Ivan Novello nominations," but you get it for everything else. So from that point of view, it was a huge well done, and it felt particularly satisfying because, you know, this week we went to the Q awards, because "Hurricane" was nominated for best track, but by all accounts, the fact that people didn't nominate "Wires" for best track in the year that it was out, is kind of baffling by all accounts. So it was lovely that at the end of it all, the one that people say really counts, wasn't really worried about the core factors, and was happy just to say "well a good song, is a good song."
Are any of your other songs about such key moments, as it were, because "Wires" is about Joel's new-born child.
Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to name them, there were a lot of tunes on the last record, because of it's nature, you know, keeping our personal stuff going as well as being in a band, so there's definitely a lot of strikingly personal stories on that one. Again, the first record, everyone knows, is very much rooted in our little community, our friendship circle at the time that we were writing it. So, you know, a lot of them are kind of genuine experiences. But you know, maybe not to full on. And then with this record, there's erm, "It's Not Your Fault" carries a story that is very close to home, but, I don't know whether that's something I can talk about.

Were you disappointed with the placement of "Hurricane" at number 31?
Not really actually. Well, one reason is, apart from "Wires" we've never been a band that have had that good single placings, you know I think it was about our joint third best single anyway, and erm, you know, most of them tend to end up between about number 41 and 43, so it's pretty good going really. And you know we said all along that we're really fiercely committed to albums, you know we're more interested in selling them and touring, than we are in singles. And we try to make a bit of an effort to put weird b-sides on and do things because we know that from a fan's point of view, if you're hardcore, then collecting those little things is special, but, erm, we're not gonna prostitute ourselves to get five places higher up the singles chart. I'd rather sell a few extra copies of the album. And the other reason is, it's a bit weird now with the whole download thing, I mean we made the track available for download two weeks before it came out physically, and most people unless they;re huge artists tend to do it only a week before, some of them just wait til the week. And I think if we'd have played it more carefully then we could have possibly had more sales in one week and then it would have charted higher, but you know, currently it's sold 20,000 copies as a single, which, is actually a lot more than probably everything apart from "Wires" so far. So in that sense, it's actually done really well as a track, but because of the way they're spread out over a few weeks, it ended up being at number 31.
Do you think your fluctuating chart positions have a lot to do with radio airplay?
Quite possibly. Yeah. I mean "Wires" was very unusual because it was such a phenomenally big song, you know, it was the most played in the country for pretty much a full month, I think it got knocked off the top at one point by Eminem and then knocked Eminem off the top and stayed up there for a couple of weeks, you know so it was such an unbelievably massively played song that it couldn't really fail to have been a big hit in terms of charting in the top 5, and then beyond that I don't really know. It got played quite a lot on the radio, so I dunno, I think "Hurricane" still ended up spending a couple of weeks in the top 10 most played songs in the country, so I think by all accounts, it says more about the kind of people who like our music, which is, they like to buy albums over singles, with the exception of "Wires" and maybe "Hurricane" to a certain extent.

So you've been recording all Summer, you didn't attend any festivals, but now the album's out do you reckon next Summer you'll hit a few?
Yeah definitely Yeah, do whatever we can really. It was a hard call to make this year because we didn't know when the record was going to come out. Originally we were aiming to get it out before the Summer, but it would have been silly to have a record out before the Summer and not been at the festivals, but the festivals books January, February, early March time so you need to know then, what your plot is, and we couldn't say for sure, so it made more sense to not put the word out that we were doing them, and save ourselves for next Summer. So yeah, definitely, we're looking forward to a Summer of doing every one we can get our hands on.
Happy days.

Well I think that's about it, thanks a lot.
No worries, thanks for coming down.

Interview By Thom
 Band Members

Joel Pott (guitar, vocals)
Carey Willetts (bass)
Tim Wanstall (keyboards)
Stephen Roberts (drums)
 Latest Releases
Athlete - Beyond The Neighbourhood
Release Date - 3rd September 2007

1.In Between 2 States
2. Hurricane
3. Tokyo
4. Airport Disco
5. It's Not Your Fault
6. The Outsiders
7. Flying Over Bus Stops
8. Second Hand Stores
9. In The Library
10. Best Not To think About It
11. This Is What I Sound Like
 Band Related Links
Athlete My Space
Athlete Official Site