Featured as New Band of the Day recently, I had a chance to speak to Ian Jeffs of Twelve Clay Feet. He and his twin brother got the band going and now they appear to be on the cusp of big things with their new album More Naked Than Obscene getting very good reviews in the press. It’s out on November 11th if this interview and any samples you get to hear pique your interest.
The QA below is an “edited highlight” of the interview. The complete recording should be available shortly, minus some waffling at the start about football (and my baby daughter kicking off as I wouldn’t let her eat the microphone…)! For the record, Ian and his brother are Liverpool fans (family loyalties) whereas drummer Bob Radford is unfortunate enough – as I am – to follow Newcastle.
MT: So are you all from Cambridge, then? Obviously you and your brother will have been from the same area as each other [they’re twins]
IJ: Yeah, well from small villages around it. There’s no Dani DeVito/Arnie thing going on with Jay and me! We very much grew up together. We were more Fraser and Miles than Liam and Noel, I guess.
[cries and screams as my daughter decided she was bored]
IJ: That is the worst response to an answer I’ve ever had!
MT: Sorry about that! Just glad we didn’t end up with twins when that one came along.
IJ: The thing with twins is that if you’re the second one born you know you weren’t wanted.
MT: As we’re talking about you and Jay, was it always the case that you’d be working together; him on guitar with you on vocals?
IJ: Jay can sing as well. When we were teenagers, I don’t think the idea of being in a band together appealed much. It just happened that I’d started a band and he was playing bass in another. When his group broke up, I was doing a lot of songwriting and he’d end up putting the guitar lines on. More than the guitarist I had at the time, actually! So it was my baby initially and Jay came along a bit later.
MT: So how did you meet Bob and Ollie?
IJ: Bob was in the year above us at secondary school and Jay was playing with him in another band. Ollie knew Bob as they were both doing some youth drama thing. Bob was playing the lead at the Corn Exchange, and Ollie was on bass. So we went to see a show and “auditioned” him that way. The bad was officially set up in 2010, but we’re been playing together in different combinations since we were kids.
MT: So where did the band’s name come from?
IJ: It was a song title from another band I was in. There were six of us and we weren’t particularly motivated! When we first started Twelve Clay Feet, there was a kind of swampy blues feel to us that seemed to fit.
MT: Your first album was Totem Bells in 2012. Was it a lot of work to get that out of the door?
IJ: We recorded all of the songs ourselves. We met Fraser (producer) later. We went through loads of equipment. In fact, we probably recorded that album three times. We’d finish a track then get some new kit and think “wow, that song would sound so much better with this…” and go off and re-record it. It was all self-financed and self-organised. We recorded it all in our rehearsal studio at the time, using the money from 9-5 jobs.
MT: How did you distribute it?
IJ: Online and at gigs. A lot of sales in Cambridge and then around the UK when we toured. Mainly singles online – it seems to be the way people buy now. But it always sells well at gigs. I’ve had people buy the CD then not bother putting it on their computer so they download a copy as well.
MT: “Hailstones”, your latest single, is out on limited vinyl as well.
IJ: That’s more a dream from childhood. Being able to release something on vinyl. You put it on and hear that crackly and think “that’s it – I can die happy now!”. We had 250 pressed and there aren’t very many left at all now. We’re going on the road after the album launch, so we reckon we’ll get rid of them then. After that, I guess it’s downloads.
MT: Have you played many gigs outside of Cambridge?
IJ: Yeah, London was first. Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke, Norwich, Oxford… Bristol soon – it’s the first date after the release. Birmingham O2 was really good. We were playing support to an American band called Ex-Senators and I don’t think the crowd knew a thing about it. We started off with people staring at us and by the end they were really enjoying our set.
MT: What sort of mix do you think you’ll have of old and new tracks when you’re playing live?
IJ: Mostly new stuff, but with a few of our favourite older ones. This album was written in a tighter timeframe so it has a sense of unity. It’ll be goo to play them all together. The gigs are a mix of headline and support slots. Our first Cambridge is a support slot, but in December we’re back headlining. But we have a lot of songs now. We recently played Bob’s mum and dad’s 40th wedding anniversary and they were requesting songs we couldn’t even remember how to play! We’ve had gigs where we’ve been asked “can you play on for a bit” and we’ve just ended up jamming to fill the time. In fact, we had one gig when we were asked to fill two hours with forty-five minutes of material!
MT: The sound of the band is being compared to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc. from the rockier perspective. Is that fair?
IJ: Well, everyone I know has a point in their lives where Pearl Jam has come in. I’d say we’ve avoided playing just like our favourite bands. There’s been influence, but we’re not trying to be anyone else. We’ve all got such different tastes, but it’s a combination we’ve got which gives our own sound. Hopefully that’s what we’re doing anyway!
MT: I notice you use a lot of social media to spread your work online – soundcloud, youtube, bandcamp, last.fm, myspace… Are the days of a band playing every small venue from Land’s End to John o’Groats to gain fans over?
IJ: It’s just a way of communicating that when I was small I’d never have believed possible. Being able to contact a band and tell them how much you like their stuff. But actually going out and playing to people… the ones who see you live feel that they’ve “found it”. They’re the ones who’ll tell all their friends. It’s easy to flip to Spotify, MySpace or wherever and listen to a few seconds of each. Next, next, next until you find one you like – very little investment. We sort of use it the other way around. People can hear us and then we can tell them that they can find us on certain sites or Google us for more information. But there’s so much out there that it’s hard to be heard above the crowd without screaming very loudly. Which is what I do!
MT: Another way if getting noticed is to use videos, and I notice you’ve got a surprising number for such a young band. “Wrecking Ball” is the current one, but… what the hell is going on in there?
IJ: We’ve been really lucky. A guy I’ve known for many years – Mark Pickering – is a video director. He’s just been behind the band since the first day he saw us. He offered to do our first video, “Cornfed” from the first album. But the idea for “Wrecking Ball” was all his – I don’t think anyone else could have convinced us to put on pig masks! What’s going on in the video? The way he explained it to me was that there’s a sense of outside pressure from other things. The pigs represent that pressure. I mean, he could have has me naked, swinging on a wrecking ball, but nobody in their right minds would do that for a video. The guy with the big beard is the other next door neighbour that Mark was in with. He’s been in every video that we’ve done, a bit of a tradition that we think we’ll keep going.
MT: Out of curiosity, who’s in the pig masks?
IJ: There are some scenes which flash between us and the pigs, so it’s obviously me and my brother. I’d like to say we hired really expensive Steven Berkoff type actors to fulfil the roles, but it was just us! I’m a method actor myself, so I did spend a few weeks in a sty to get a feel for it. We’ve been really lucky with Mark doing the videos on almost no budget, and my girlfriend Amy filming the one for “By The Station Light”. Friends and family have had a lot of faith in us and really helped out.
MT: Any chance of a video for “Rags and Bones”?
IJ: Our plan is, hopefully, to put up a video for all of the tracks on More Naked… That track was actually more of a “band jammed” one than one which someone brought to the table one day. It feels like one of the more… open composition tracks.
MT: Do you and your brother write most of the tracks?
IJ: It’s very much a band thing. One of us might bring in the bare bones of a tune and we’ll play with it. The first recording might be thirty minutes long and we’ll pare it down to a song. There’s a definite jam element to what we do, but the finished product on this album has been a collection of more succinct songs rather than letting our fantasy selves have their own way. We wanted to get some clear songs across.
MT: Well, the album’s out on November 11th. It’s good, solid and doesn’t have a duff track on it! Best of luck with it and hopefully we’ll see you as far north as Glasgow one day!
- New Band of the Day: Twelve Clay Feet (moshville.co.uk)