Interview: Islet

This interview was originally published in Issue #14, October 2010.

If you’ve ever been to one of their gigs you’ll understand why Cardiff four-piece Islet are increasing in popularity every day. Their fast paced, frenetic experimentalism creates an unbelievably charismatic live atmosphere, and on record the sound they capture is as compelling, as recent mini-album Celebrate This Place proves. Composed of members from various other acts, including attack&deffend and Victorian English Gentlemen’s Club, their eventual debut already seems a sure fire must have and is highly anticipated amongst fans and critics alike.

DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels talks to multi-instrumentalist Mark about their ethos, fanzine, and doing things their own way:

How are you?

I’m good thank you, how are you?

I’m alright, thank you! How did you decide on the name Islet?

You know ‘island’… An islet is a hamlet on an island.

What made you compare yourself to an island?

It just kind of happened, you know. We tried to think of some band names and that one seemed to work, and it made a lot of sense to use it because we couldn’t find any other band called it! That’s always a good reason. Also we wanted quite a short name, and it works quite well because we wanted to create something, and the definition of an islet fit in with wanting to make our own space in the world.

How did you all meet?

We’ve known each other for years, and two of us are brothers. That helps – we’ve certainly known each other for years! We were all in Cardiff, watching each other’s bands.

Obviously you can only speak for yourself, but what inspired you to get into music in the first place?

I’ve always wanted to play music, you know, I’m a music fan. I grew up on a farm with my brothers, and there wasn’t a lot to do so we quite often jammed. We clumped together to buy drums. Our parents gave us a lot of musical instruments as presents, rather than computer games, which was really annoying at the time, but it’s worked out well in the end.

Did you consciously avoid using the Internet at the beginning of your career? You didn’t have a website for a long time, did you?

I suppose we didn’t consciously avoid it, because it all happened in quite a rush and we didn’t have any songs recorded, and we’d only just got a name. We didn’t have any photos of ourselves to put up. We just started doing gigs, and the gigs…people seemed to get very interested, but we didn’t get a website for ages because we still hadn’t recorded any songs and we didn’t really want to start a site without that. It wasn’t a massive master plan, it just happened that way. We actually bought a web domain ages ago - the site’s been around a lot longer than anyone knows, but we never told anyone because there was nothing on it.

Do you think the DIY aspect of your music ties in with your convictions? You were saying that you got gigging and were focusing on that more at the beginning of your career…

Yeah, the main thing we wanted to do when we started the band was play live and really enjoy it, and whatever else happened would happen. Yeah, we just went from there really and went along with it!

Did you start your zine Isness before or after the band took off?

That started right at the beginning! It was our first idea. This kind of ties in with us not having a website for so long. Growing up in a world where everyone bombards you with information, we thought, we don’t want to do that. If we’re good people will like us, and we won’t give in to commercialism. The same goes for the fanzine, we kind of made this…thing! It ties in with what we’re doing.

People have to send us their address and they’ll get one by Royal Mail. You know what it’s like! Because it hasn’t got any deadlines, it’s a bit sporadic. It’s things like [DrunkenWerewolf] and the art you don’t see in an Art Gallery - that’s the inspiration behind it.

Will you continue to put it together in the future?

Oh yeah, definitely! But because it’s basically a free gift, and it hasn’t got deadlines or anything…I think we’ve done four so far. We’ve been so busy, it’s one of those things. We haven’t had a chance to do it. We’re always talking about it though, so it will come.

Given the choice would you prefer to be covered solely by the independent or mainstream press?

Given the choice …I don’t think we’ll ever get that choice, but if we were given the choice then I guess we would go with independent.

What do you think are the pros and cons of mainstream?

Well I guess more people see mainstream, so you’ve got a bigger potential, and more people are going to see it and maybe like what you’re doing.

…But you’d still choose independent given the choice?

Yeah because that’s what we believe in!

Your recording process must be quite complex. Do you write as a band or as individual songwriters?

Generally so far we’ve written as a band - mainly off the back of a gig or jam. When we started and we just have two drum kits and some other instruments, with anyone playing them at any time, and we just put a pile of percussion on the stage. The main thing when we started, again, was that we wanted to enjoy playing in the rehearsal room and recording as much as we did live. I think a lot of bands don’t really enjoy each other’s company! We try to practice as we perform.

Does that translate in the recording studio? Do you have a jam session and then try to remember what you’ve played?

I wouldn’t want to call them jam songs, because we do sort them out. In practice we tend to say, “oh no let’s not do that, let’s do this”. By the time we actually start recording them, I would say they’re 90%, as in we know how long they’re going to be and what’s going to happen. There’s always a bit of improvisation, but the structure is there.

Do you find the transition from live to record hard?

Not hard, no. So far we’ve recorded two mini-albums – although that’s not what we want to call them! – But we’ve done them ourselves and it’s not hard because we’re just there recording it, and enjoying it. I think people think that when a band are quite technical and play live like we do, they assume the recording process is hard, but it’s not at all!

I suppose, because you set out to do things so differently – having two drum kits and band members swapping instruments mid song – it seems less structured, but it still is when you think about it.

Yeah I guess so, yeah. If you want to be a recording artist you have to have a sort of structure. It’s the same with making a zine, I guess, once it’s done, it’s finished. But I think we’re also kind of continuous…we’re always writing, and thinking about things, so…

Do you record live or in segments?

It really depends on the track. Lately we’ve been a bit, “let’s just record bass and guitar for this one, then the drums, that might work,” and that’s what we end up doing. We have some songs that are recorded completely together, and then some songs where all of the instruments are recorded on top of each other - quite different, really.

Critics have quite a hard time defining your sound. What genre would you place yourself in if you had to?

I think we’d probably struggle to! I know all bands generally say that, but I don’t know, we do quite a lot of different things. I think we’d genuinely struggle!

Is there any description you particularly dislike? That would be another way of looking at the question…

[Laughs] No not really, actually. I’m always intrigued when someone describes us in a new way. I think, like you say, because at some points we’re quite heavy and loud and then at other points we use tribal drums, it’s hard to make a genre fit. I don’t really like saying genre.

Make one up!

Isnessmusic-ish!

How did you get involved with Turnstile Records?

I can’t remember! They’re in Cardiff as well, and they’re run by Los Campesinos!, who we toured with at the beginning of the year. We were already talking to [Los Campesinos!] at that point, but that tour kind of finalised us working with them. Celebrate This Place [Islet’s mini-album] is released on Turnstile, but also it’s released on Shape, which is the label that I run with my brother. In this case, they did all the work!

You were saying before that you recorded Celebrate This Place by yourselves, so are they not involved in the recording process at all?

No, they are now, even though we just recorded the follow up to Celebrate This Place ourselves, but with their backing, as it were - getting a bit of recording gear together. From now on, they’re going to be more involved. We’re not that desperate to record ourselves exclusively. We’re quite keen to work with someone else as well.

So you’ve been recording recently – what’s that, is it another mini-album?

It’s another mini album. It’s the brother, or sister to Celebrate This Place, and it’s going to be the same – 500 or so vinyl. It’s just going to be out when it’s out. I mean, it’s finished; we got the masters back today, so hopefully it’ll be out in time for the tour.

And what’s that called?

It’s called Wimmy. That’s an exclusive!

You played a few festivals this summer – which was your favourite?

Favourites…well, we played…possibly my two favourites…argh!

We played Truck in Oxfordshire, and you can feel the community feeling there. It’s still massively got that feeling, and that was really appealing, we really enjoyed that, played in a cowshed! Have you heard of Upset the Rhythm in London? They put on all of these really DIY gigs in various type places, and Green Man, because I’ve been there so many times.

Do you prefer or think that your music translates better at a festival or on tour in venues?

I think festivals are good because people have a different mind set, because people can watch something and think, “that’s not my thing,” and leave, whereas at a gig they have to stay there and try to enjoy it. Also at festivals, there are so many people there that don’t know what’s going to happen and end up enjoying a set anyway. Then I suppose at gigs they’re already interested…

What’s the worst reaction you’ve had to your live performances when you jump into the crowd and chase people with your tambourines?

I don’t think there has been a bad reaction!

What’s the best reaction?

Sometimes people get overexcited, but that’s not always what we’re hoping for because I think sometimes people think we’re confrontational, but we like to get involved!

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