11 February 2011 (released)
11 February 2011
There can only be those living a hermit-like existence in some deep forest enclave who have not happened upon the name of Chapel Club sometime over the last year- more often that not accompanied by the terms ‘dark’, ‘intense’, brooding’ to describe their musical and lyrical output that seems to capture the attention of all who fall under its spell.
The Chapel Club inception took place in late 2007 when guitarist Michael Hibbert (formerly with indie rock outfit Hope of the States) met the then 17 year old Liam Arklie (bassist), later to be joined by Alex Parry (guitar), drummer Rich Mitchell (who has also played with Florence and the Machine and Paul Weller), and Lewis Bowman (vocals). With the line-up complete, the band began to rehearse and play a few shows local to their east London base under the names of Palace and Golden Age. By the autumn of 2009 they had embarked on hosting their own residency at the Shacklewell Arms in London’s Dalston and adopted their third, and final name: Chapel Club.
Throughout the course of 2009/10, Chapel Club although receiving radio airplay with their first ‘intended’ single ‘Surfacing’ (aborted before actual release due to copyright issues over the Dream A Little Dream Of Me sequence and finally released last month) and follow-ups ‘O Maybe I’, ‘All The Eastern Girls’ and ‘Five Trees’, playing a host of festivals across the country (including Glastonbury and Reading/Leeds), they have remained firmly on the ‘ones to watch’ lists, without kicking into touch. Now, with the long-awaited debut album revealed and received to overall approving commendation (charting in its first week at #31), Chapel Club are one of the most talked about - and must-be-seen - bands currently in the UK. On their first headlining tour, Music News catches up with the fast-rising Lewis Bowman and Michael Hibbert.
Music News: So, the album is finally out and you are about to start your first headlining tour – how are you feeling?
Michael Hibbert: I’m feeling good. Quite relieved that the album is actually out. It was recorded over six months ago, so I think for any band to sit on something for so long, it is very frustrating – especially as we write quite quickly and have been pretty prolific of late. So, yeah, it’s a relief to have it out! And we’ve got the tour too. In fact, we’re pretty much on tour until the end of the year now. I’m very excited.
MN: Is the final Palace product what you envisaged at the start?
MH: Yeah, I think we probably exercised a little restraint when we were starting out, but yeah, pretty much how I’d imagined it. Blind is one of my favourite tracks, and I think that will be the next single. It appears to be a bit of a stand-out on the album from what I can gather reading the reviews. We haven’t played it very much live either as it is quite a hard track to recreate live. I think that’s why it still sounds fresh to us, compared to some of the other songs.
Lewis Bowman: I think Palace is a very honest depiction of where we were at, at that time. The songs all came from the earliest period of our being a band. The songs have really strong lyrics, and I’m pretty proud of it all, and that people seem to have got into it and are really feeling it. The tour is going well, I think. The first show in Bristol sold out on the night, which was a good start. Some people were telling us afterwards that the set was too short. We tend to kind of underestimate, I think, how much people actually want to watch us (laughs), so we have been extending the set.
MN: Have you noticed any change in audience reaction this time round, now that people have had a chance to hear the album?
LB: There’s definitely a more varied audience from the last UK stint we did. A lot more younger people than in the past. And, yeah, a lot of singing along on The Shore and All The Eastern Girls.
MN: You have tasted a little of what success is like with Hope of the States [formed in 2000 and split days after playing Reading festival in 2006, their album, The Lost Shots, making the UK Top 40] so are you able to take a more laid-back approach to all that is happening now for Chapel Club?
MH: My role in the States was quite minimal really. I didn’t have much say in the band. I basically did my part, did my thing and played guitar and left it at that really. This time round with Chapel Club I made sure I am far more involved.
LB: We are very democratic. We have to be like that because everyone wants to contribute. We’re not like a band where just one person seems to have a singular vision for the band says this is the way it’s going to be and come out with an album that is entirely the product of that one person’s focus and vision.
MN: How did you all come together?
MH: After States split, I spent a year doing nothing really. I needed a little time to think about what I was going to do. Then I met Liam and we discussed the idea of possibly writing some music together. We just wanted to have a little bit of fun. And it all progressed from there. I met Alex, Lewis was a friend of a friend, Rich got involved and it all snowballed…a very, very slow snowball! (laughs). I was in no rush to go out and tour or whatever I wasn’t happy with, or be on the road with people I didn’t like. I’d done all that before and it was quite exhausting.
MN: You obviously felt you could work with these other four?
MH: Yeah. We’re all very close. It makes life a hell of a lot easier. We enjoy each other’s company, and when it comes to writing and touring, it makes that a pleasure.
MN: You elected on the title ‘Palace’ for the album. Given that was the name of the early Chapel Club incarnation, wasn’t it a step back?
MH: No, it’s relevant for a number of reasons. It fits with the whole thing of the last two years. A lot of the songs were written around that time when we were toying with the idea of calling ourselves Palace, and it’s a rich, grand-sounding record, so the title fits perfectly, I think!
MN: Lewis, you have called The Shore ‘the heartbeat of the whole album’. This is one of Chapel Club’s first penned numbers, isn’t it?
Lewis Bowman: Yeah, The Shore was one of the songs we did in the first sessions with Paul [Epworth, producer of Palace] when we were still trying to decide on a producer; it was one of the songs we did then. It has literally got this pulsing, wave-like kind of undertow to it, so that is the ‘heartbeat’ part. When we did it, I think it was Paul who said that he thought this song could be the way for how we approached the album. It was the first song that we thought this works so well with this kind of production. It acted as a reference point for the songs we recorded afterwards. It’s my favourite song on the album, actually, by quite a stretch. I’m pretty happy with that one.
MH: It made it easier, I think, working with someone like Paul whom I already knew. I bumped into him in Denmark Street one day and we discussed the idea very briefly over lunch. By the end of the lunch, we’d pretty much decided we should work together. We went into the studio and did All The Eastern Girls in two or three days. The results were very much how we’d imagined, so it was all quite quick and stress-free!
MN: When you have come up with a lyric and take it to the others, do you ever get that ‘what the hell is this one all about?’ reaction?
LB: They’re musicians (laughs), but I’m not saying it’s not possible! Every now and then, yeah, they will say ‘What is that about?’ Sometimes they’re impressed, sometimes they’re bemused and bewildered by the answer they’re given. But generally they have faith in me.
MN: Lewis, you made reference once to our being ‘all God’s widows in a way’. I wondered whether that has any relevance to the lyric of Widows [from the Wintering EP] itself?
LB: Erm, no…I think I was probably talking about The Shore or something – maybe in a very light and frothy way, about the issues encountered to do with faith and stuff. Widows as a song is pretty simple really. It’s about a relationship – as so many of the songs are - about a girl…
MN: It’s one hell of a song.
LB: I think it’s definitely the best thing we have done so far.
MN: Will you be including Widows on this tour, or In My Moments [B-side to Surfacing single]?
MH: Widows we will be doing, certainly in London and possibly at some of the other shows [it made its live debut, as it later transpired, at the Sheffield Leadmill on the third night], but it’s like, eight minutes long! (laughs) In My Moments we haven’t rehearsed or played in a long time. It may make an entry at some point, but not on this tour. There’s a couple of songs on the album we won’t play – and probably won’t ever – but In My Moments...yeah, I’d forgotten about that one, actually. Alex is quite keen to do it at some point, and we’ve got a lot of gigs this year, so I’m sure we’ll be mixing the set up.
MN: The later Wintering material is very different to Palace. Will this sparser sound be the way forward for Chapel Club?
MH: I would say the EP is definitely more an indication of where we’re going. It’s a massively different sound.
LB: Basically, we recorded Wintering a good six months after the last Palace song - which was Fine Light - was written. I think that stylistically we are all pretty open and will do whatever we want. We don’t want to be hemmed in or pigeonholed, or feel like we have to do something in a certain Chapel Club way. We don’t want to be anything other than ourselves and see where that takes us because that will be more interesting.
MH: I don’t know of many other bands who are doing something like that right now, which is why I want to get the second album done quickly because I know it’s going to have a lot of elements like that on it. I want to do it before someone else steals it! (laughs). It’s a bold move, even though I say it myself.
MN: Do you have an idea as yet when the second album might be forthcoming?
MH: We’ve already demo’d four songs, and have got a couple more on the back-burner. We’d like the next one out by the start of next year, but whether that will happen or not is another matter.
MN: Do you prefer the writing and recording side to touring?
LB: I definitely prefer it. I can cope with the touring because I get on with the guys well and it’s a privilege to be able to do it rather than having to go into an office, 9-5. But I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed the kind of lifestyle it demands. I’ve got a fiancée and a life at home. I know I sound ungrateful and the other guys are always telling me, oh how can you be like this; this is the most fun you can have in life! But I just…I’m pretty attached to the quiet, the calm. And I find singing live, being that emotional on stage every night, quite exhausting.
MH: I enjoy the touring. I feel very, very comfortable on stage. Every album we tour, I want the tour to be a very different experience, so rather than watching a band play all their hits or whatever, it feels like a show tailor made to that venue and that night. That’s ultimately the goal.
MN: Are there some songs more difficult to others to translate from record to live performance?
MH: We don’t try to recreate every track. I think for a guitar band it is quite important to actually make some of the stuff sound slightly different live. And certainly that’s the case with this particular album. I don’t know if we will always do it that way, but for now we work on each track as it feels. The track leads its own way really and you know pretty quickly if it is working or not. It’s not something we put a huge amount of thought into: what works, works. There are no hard and fast rules, like we will never use a backing track or whatever. I like the idea of boundaries, but I don’t like the idea of rules. I think it restricts you as a band.
MN: You’re going to be quite busy over the next months: UK tour, then touring the US and Europe. Will Palace be released in the States?
LB: It will be, yeah. I can’t remember when they were saying it was going to be out? I think it might be around May, not in time for the tour, unfortunately.
MH: It’s out biggest headline of Europe. I think we’re away for about 3 weeks or something. It’s going to be quite a slog – for us, anyway. I’m really excited about going over to the US. We’ll be going to San Antonio – somewhere I never thought I’d go in my life – driving through Nevada, Arizona, Texas, playing SXSW festival, Minneapolis, Chicago. We’re not doing that many shows, but we get to drive right through the country.
LB: There’s a lot being discussed. It’s all to do with how much we can afford to do, because it’s hard making money touring, especially in the US, when you’re a band of our size and pretty new. Well, we don’t make money yet, but it’s hard to make ends meet. But it's going to be a good experience.
Palace is out now on Loog/Universal.