IT Interview Notes (pronounced IT not I.T)
Nick Jackson and Andy Rowberry Interview by DPRP’s
IT are a band that had its roots in Canada but ended up in London with a truly British style and influence about them but music that is very cross genre.
DPRP were invited along to the Studios of Nick Jackson, founder of IT, for a chat about who the band are, how did they come to be, how they balance a band with day jobs, what can you expect from an IT album and live show, George Bush plus much much more. We were also joined by fellow IT member, song collaborator and lead guitarist Andy Rowberry. Two very nice guys who run a fantastic band whose music deserves much more exposure.
Phil: Whats the background of the band? How did you get started?
Nick: Well it started in 1993 out of the fragments of another band I was in called ‘Illegal Tender’. I suppose the music I started creating then was in a kind of similar vein to ‘Illegal Tender’ which was more of a pop based thing. So when that band dissolved, and I started writing on my own, I just took the name Illegal Tender and abbreviated it to IT.
Phil: Of course we must emphasise the band name is pronounced IT (as in the word) and not I.T….
Nick: Yeah that’s right
Phil: I must say though… from a web searching point of view it’s a nightmare (laughs)
Andy: Oh! Yeah we like to be inconspicuous (all laughing)
Phil: So whats the best way to search out you guys?
Nick: Well if you search the band name with either mine or Andy’s name you’ll find us or the name of the studio we’re in called ‘Spacehouse’. Spacehouse was also the production label name before we signed to Sonic Vista (more about this later in the interview). The website is www.spacehouse.tv but we are thinking of changing that by the time the next album is out.
Phil: So when the band first kicked off you were in Canada I believe?
Nick: The fragmentation of the old band was in Canada but I had already then spent a year living here in London when I was 15 so had established my roots here and then came back in 1993 which is when the first IT album came about.
Phil: So are you Canadian or hybrid..?
Nick: My parents are Canadian although I was born in England way back in 1973. I then grew up in Canada and when I eventually moved back here (in 1993) I started the IT project. The IT debut release was called ‘Stranger inside the Cell’ which was a cassette demo, as was the case with demo’s in those days.
We actually did 2 albums. ‘Stranger Inside the Cell’ which I think was released in early 1994 and then a year later but an album called ‘Two Worlds’ .
Phil: You managed to land an appearance on the James Whale Show. How did that come about?
Nick: Well… it came about as a joke actually! This was way before Andy joined the band and I was working with a good friend of mine called James Johnson who was into visuals and film Directing etc (which is how the visual element came about on our live shows). He said one day ‘I’m going to contact the producers of the James Whale Show and see if we can get on there’ . So he sent them a cool but semi sarcastic letter and of course a Demo tape. But what he did was send the demo tape inside a paper mache egg (the reason being the concept of the album ‘Stranger inside the Cell’ was the breaking open of an egg or the birth of something). Along with this Paper mache egg, with the demo inside and set in a basket full of straw, he sent a hammer with the instruction that ‘to get to the demo tape they had to break open the egg’. 2 months later we performed 2 songs on the James Whale Show.
Phil: Wow! What a brilliant idea. Have you not thought about using that demo inside something you have to break open again? What a way to be remembered.
Nick: Yeah I think we will have to think something up like that for the next album.
Phil: Make it an Easter release and put it inside an Easter egg at least they Chocolate too (all laughing)… So IT have been going in one form or another for about 15 years??
Nick:Yeah we discussed the first release in 93/94 and the next album in 95… but then there was a huge gap. The reason for that is that I moved to where I live now, from a flat just down the road, built this studio we are sitting in now. That became a 2 to 3 year project getting the studio up and running as well as working on the beginnings of the ‘Over and Out’ album. For that album I wanted to make sure that everything was right and top notch before I recorded or released it, as opposed to the demo tape releases previously.
Phil: OK… I have to ask you this question…. As a Canadian living in the London… How many times do you get mistaken as an American??
Nick: Ohhhh wow!! ALL THE TIME!!!! But not only American…. Also Irish or Australian. That’s almost everyday!!
Andy: Yeah and I went to Canada and get called and Australian.
Phil: So Nick.. you do this Professionally?
Nick: Yeah I do… I do a lot of producing, which is the main money earner for me. I love producing other artists as it opens me up to other influences and music styles that I can sometimes incorporate into my own song writing. I have bands, solo artists, singer songwriters etc etc come here to record.
Phil: Anyone we may have heard of?
Nick: Well last year I finished producing the new album by ‘The Fixx’, who are an English band that never quite made it here but had N°1 hits in the States back in the mid-80’s. The album was recorded here also. This was their first album in 10 years which should be out around July (I believe).
I also work on a project with the singer from The Fixx (Cy Curnin) who also releases his own solo material. In fact I have worked on two of his albums now.
Phil: What type of music are they?
Nick: Its kind of like Pop, 80’s (I hate to use the 80’s tag) but with more finesse. Great song writing, awesome singer and very much band based material. Some of their stuff can reach into Prog because they have some really cool guitar sounds happening, great synth parts and all round great musicianship.
Phil:… and of course its this type of work that pushes IT to the background while you concentrate on your ‘Day Job’ as it were.
Nick: The only reason that IT has not released as much as we would have liked is because we all have day jobs so it’s a lot of juggling. At the end of the day we need to earn money to help finance our IT fix (see how Nick gets the two names of bands he is involved with in one sentence – IT and Fixx)
Phil: Ohh I’m sure… you have to keep the wolf from the door…. Anyway young Andy has been sitting over here very patiently whilst we talk over things that were before his time. Let’s come up to the point of how Andy got involved with the IT project?
Andy: Well we both used to work in central London (Denmark Street) and used to socialise after work . That whole area of London is filled with musicians and so you are never short of spending time with people who like making music. We knew a lot of the same people and at times we used to come up here to Nick’s studio.. have a drink, a chat and a jam etc. So as I was spending so much time with Nick and here in his studio it made sense that I joined the band (laughing). It basically evolved like that.
Phil: So Nick got you into the band while you were in a drunken stupor…. and which one has regretted it since (all laughing)
Andy: Yeah I think that must be how I agreed to it…
Nick: I actually remember the tracks that I already had written, Standback, Safe and Disappear and I played them to Andy. He said I love that I think I can really do something with that. He plugged in his guitar and has been in the band ever since.
Phil: Andy… was Departure the first album you appeared on?
Andy: Yeah… well Departure was half finished when I joined and we then set about writing the remaining songs in our spare time in and around our work schedules. We actually started gigging first before we finished the album playing some of the older songs etc….
Phil: (interrupting)… sorry to interrupt but you (Andy) feature on the DVD that comes with the Departure album. That was filmed in Canada was it not….
Nick: Yeah that was through my contacts from there.. We actually took the band to Canada 3 times doing some small tours and Andy did all three.
Andy: Well if we were going to go abroad why not go the whole hog and travel a few thousand miles go to Canada. It was a great experience actually and we did a whole load of writing on those tours
Nick: Apart from the fact we done some great writing, it also gave us the chance, prior to the release of Departure, to think of formats and options we had for its release. The free bonus DVD of us playing live which was, as you said filmed in Canada, gave us a chance to show people what we are about and what we do.
Andy: The DVD footage also has our full stage show with back projections etc. We spent a lot of time bonding and writing on those tours and I think we are a better band because of it. Every time we went to Canada we took a variation on the band with different members which in turn helped our development as every band member brought us something new. These trips gave us the chance to try out the material we had for Departure before we recorded it. We were always changing it and tweaking it still.
Back home we spent a lot of time getting it right, a lot of time holed up writing, practicing, trying ideas etc which meant it took longer than it should have done and ended up with an album we are happy with (well musicians are never totally happy with anything they do… any musician who says otherwise is not telling the truth… its just the way we all are). We put everything into this album.. not only the writing and recording but also the album cover and all the video editing etc so it was a 100% in-house project… which of course is another reason it took us so long to get it out.
Of course, as we have touched on, we have to balance our IT commitments with our daily lives and our work whilst dedicating as much time as possible to the band.
Phil: Well you still have lives to lead and life commitments to maintain.
Andy: In many respects its an amazing hobby and we can only do it with the time we have available. Of course you get so engrossed in it that you end up making whatever time you can to help make it happen. You have to love what you do and the music to do this… otherwise it would drive you to suicide (laughing). If musicians worked out their hourly rate for all the work they put in to recording, writing, rehearsing, touring etc from the money they make… they would be way below minimum wage (laughs) (Nick nodding in agreement)
Nick: When we would have a planned 3 hour rehearsal the other guys would go home and myself and Andy we still be here at 3am after talking over and jamming new ideas etc.
Andy: Of course that was more like that in the beginning… we are all a bit older and wiser now, I’m getting married in 2 months, James the bass player is now a dad so our lives change again.
Phil: Well congratulations on both fronts. What does your wife to be think about the band thing?
Andy: Yeah she is very cool with it and very into music which is part of the reason we get along so well. She knew what I was involved in when we met. In fact she plays Bass guitar….
Phil: She’s not depped for you yet then J
Andy: Nooo!! She won’t even take Bass lessons from me.. but then again never let your nearest and dearest be your teacher for anything!! It won’t end well (laughs)
Coming back to Nick and I… of course we work slightly different nowadays because of our circumstances. Nick has this studio and now I have my home studio… where as before we always came here.
Nick: Now with technology we can record ideas at our respective studios and just ping them across the internet. We do not have to be in the same place every time.
Phil: Nick… you used to be the only creative force in the band… I take it you now share that completely with Andy?
Nick: Absolutely… before Andy Joined it was just me song writing (a bit like Steve Wilson in Porcupine Tree scenario) just one guy with a band name around him. That was definitely the case with the first 3 IT albums, although with the ‘Over and Out’ album I suppose it started to change a little as my brother contributed to a couple of tracks on the album as well as playing a lot of guitar on the album as well. As son as Andy joined it became a full blown collaboration between the two of us.
Phil: Not having heard the first two albums I can’t comment, but I have heard the third album and there is quite a difference between that and ‘Departure’… In fact you could almost call it a departure.
Nick: Actually you’re not far off the mark there… We had written the track Departure and James (our old guitar player) came in and listen to what we had done with the new album and he said ‘It sounds like a grand departure’ and I thought ‘What a great name for the album…Departure’ . So there it stuck…
Phil: One thing that is fair to say is that you are quite politically influenced with your lyrics?
Nick: I guess so… my father is a Political Science teacher and my brother is studying a PHD in Political Environmental Studies. When I was growing up I was always having politics being discussed around me and it kind of rubbed off.
Andy: When I joined the band and we started writing material for Departure the world had changed in a big way with the likes of 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, London Suicide bombings etc etc. Anyone that says those events didn’t have an effect on their life, in someway, is either blind or ignorant. So we thought that subject matter is something good to focus on. You couldn’t turn the TV or radio on without mention of it in some way, in fact it was virtually impossible to escape it. Lets face it George Bush’s face, comments, speeches and gaffs were always on the news…. Now if that’s not inspiration for any song writer I don’t know what is (laughs). In fact we probably should have credited him on the album because of the soundbites we used of him talking (all laughing). We just fed off of the stupid absurd things that he would say… it was funny but in an ironic type of way.
One problem with music these days is that no one really writes about anything meaningful, well definitely not in the mainstream anyway, and George Bush just made us laugh, frustrated and touched a nerve all at the same time that it just couldn’t be ignored. We had a focal point, we had a subject, we had inspiration. We had so many George Bush samples available to us that we had to o many to choose from, those we did we had to edit them to get them to fit the fabric of the track without it being overkill etc. In fact we had so many great George Bush sound bites we could have made an entire album of them.
Phil: Whenever I saw George Bush I always imagined him as being a version of his own Spitting Image puppet, if you know what I mean.
Nick and Andy: Ohh yeah totally (laughing)
Phil: So Andy do you actually get involved with the lyrics?
Andy: No I leave that to Nick… but if I don’t like what he was written I tell him (and vice versa with my guitar parts by the way). To be honest I try to shy away from writing lyrics as I find it hard not to write lyrics that make me cringe. We sometimes discuss phrasing and the use of the odd word but that’s about my limit.
Phil: So with this political edge in the lyrics do see that as a way of just expressing yourself or sending a message?
Nick: I don’t know about that to be honest… Our lyrics and use of samples are not preaching to people or telling them what to think etc. The samples just set up a backdrop to a song and bring some theatre to the album in a manner of speaking. We are not politically motivated just inspired by certain events.
Andy: Like any song the lyrics can be interpreted differently depending on the listener.
Phil: Also how many people really take note and analyse of the complete fabric of a set lyrics on anyone album. Not many would be my guess…. And do they really care? Then how many of those that do analyse them get it completely wrong from what the artist was actually writing about?
Nick: Yes exactly and I think that is great. Everybody should gain their own experience from listening to music.
Andy: Actually in many cases, when writing songs, they start as one idea and finish as something completely different
Nick: That’s a good point Andy… The track ‘Burn’ (for example) from ‘Departure’ is essentially politically motivated but the essence of the original idea was completely different
Phil: Well now I want to put you guys on the spot… Please describe IT’s music to any potential listener.
(pause while Nick and Andy banter about who answers first – Nick gets the short straw)
Nick: Well I would say if you like a bit of Pink Floyd, a bit of metal, melodic song writing mixed with some interesting sounds then that’s somewhere near what we might sound like. I would say its accessible music, something that people can easily listen and relate to without there being over the top technical barricades that some prog bands can be guilty of.
Andy: The problem is people just want to pigeon hole everything… ‘ Music MUST seem to fall under a certain genre’. We do not sit down to write any songs in any particular style we just write and record what we like and what influences us and see where it takes us.
Nick: If you listen to Departure you will hear Blues, Country, Rock, Pop, Funk… just an eclectic mix. That’s what I see Progressive music being. Pushing new boundaries, trying new ideas and styles but not just being a band paying homage to the past.
Phil: I totally agree… there are too many Prog fans stuck in the past who count Prog only as anything that is or sounds like Floyd, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson etc then its not proper Prog… Which by sticking a stake in the ground and taking that stance those people are being the opposite to what Prog is. (yes the writer has mentioned this in previous interviews… it is a bug bear of mine J)
Andy: Ironic isn’t it! If someone asked are we an out and out Prog band… we would probably say no… not if you’re expecting us to be like those bands you mentioned (and we do actually like those bands by the way)
Phil: One of the beauties of prog is that is so varied and eclectic… for me that’s what makes it such a compelling and interesting genre. Which also makes it difficult to slap exact pigeon holes on some artists that come under the banner of prog.
Nick: What I do find with the whole Prog genre / labeling is that the fans that support it are real fans. They know their music, they know their musicians, they buy the CD’s, they still go to gigs, they love the artwork etc etc… its more than just the music.
Coming back to your original question though… I would say the hardest thing for any band to do is describe themselves… (Phil: That’s why I asked the question J) I would much prefer to say… here’s the CD you listen and you tell me.
Phil: I must admit.. when I first heard you guys you were supporting The Tangent at The Peel (London) and I loved what I heard straight away. My initial thoughts were you had a sort of Porcupine Tree feel but with an Indie pop edge.
Andy: I think that’s a fair comparison…
Phil: Talking of seeing you live leads me nicely into the next question… Tell me about the visual montages / back projections in your live shows
Nick: In the past we have used back projections and visual montages quite a lot. I have also experimented with Quadraphonic live sounds bouncing around the venue etc. For the gigs supporting Departure we did use video projections for a few shows if we were able too but it wasn’t always possible. What we would like to do with the next album is do some larger venues with a specific show to support what we are doing. Make it an event rather than just another gig.
Andy: The biggest issue with doing all of that is of course the practicality… the organisation, the extra people you need off stage, the equipment etc. Then you have to make sure that all the images and projections are in synch with the music which takes a lot of preparation. The projector was effectively a member of the band when we toured. Like Nick said we hope to do more of it next time around but only if its viable and the venue is right etc.
Phil: Well I look forward to that then. Let’s talk about the label you are with… Sonic Vista.. How did that come about?
Nick: Well Departure was the first album released through Sonic Vista and it came about in a kinda strange way. I was actually back in Canada for 6 months, in the final stages of Producing and mixing Departure, and a friend of mine, who is into PR, got asked to do some PR work for a label based in the UK. We all ended up meeting in Toronto at the Canadian music week / expo and Ken Foster (from Sonic Vista) was there to promote an artist on his label. My PR friend introduced us and we started to talk… in fact Ken wasn’t even looking to sign another band.. but he liked what he heard of Departure and asked if would like to put it out on Sonic Vista. I said yes of course.. and that was it!!
Phil: has it been a good partnership?
Nick: Fantastic!! Ken has a really great handle on PR. We were the first Prog based band he had signed so he had to start building up his contact base for a genre he didn’t usually cover.
Andy: In a round about way he is the reason how we come to get to know more and more people in and around the Prog scene, like yourself at DPRP, because he got us looking for and talking to the right people. He has been a great catalyst.
Nick: We didn’t really consider the Prog scene seriously before we met Ken, I know we had the Pink Floyd reference, but I always thought we were too melodic and song based to be considered Prog. Ken started to ask questions like Who are you aiming this music at? Who is your fan base? Who do you think will buy your music? It sounds basic but Ken really put that into focus for us.
Andy: Ken set up the Electric Garden Festival in Blackpool last year (Headlined by The Tangent) and out of all those bands there we were probably the most different in terms of the style of Prog we play. I think that was really good though as it meant we stood out as we were sandwiched on the bill between some really good Prog bands.
Nick: When we supported The Tangent at The Peel (Kingston, London) it was Ken that set that up for us. Andy and Sally became good contacts and people to know. It was at this gig where we first met you Phil…
Phil: Yeah it was… I was hooked after that set onwards with the Departure album. Well we all know that the music business know matter what part of it you are in is about who you know as much as about what or how you play.
Andy: Yeah exactly! Ken has helped us open some of those doors.
Phil: OK lets get right up to date then.. Whats next for IT?
Nick: We are working on a new album which is coming together quite nicely and hopefully at some stage we can put together that special one off show we spoke of earlier with the video and visual effects as part of the show.
Andy: Hopefully James our bass player will bring something new to what we do as he has become a main stay now and brings some really good ideas with him.
Phil: Do you have a aim for when the album should be finished and available??
Nick: Hopefully September / October time. But I would like to package the CD with a DVD again (like Departure) so that also depends on getting that sorted out.
Andy: The whole album is still in s state of flux at the moment so things are changing all the time. I think it’s a case of its ready when its ready but October(ish) is the current guesstimate. Whatever happens though I think we agree it has to be this year.
Phil: Its fair to say that Departure has been your best received album to date… You don’t want to let that trail run too cold before the next release.
Nick: For sure… and that’s the hard part playing the balancing act between being happy with what we write and record, the time we get to do it around our day to day lives and not leaving it too long from the last release.
Andy: To be honest we could have put the album together quicker, but there would have been songs that we would have never been truly happy with. At the end of the day we also need to be out gigging and letting people know we are still here.
Phil: When did you last play live?
Nick: We did a bunch of gigs early December which gave us a chance to try out 4 of the new tracks that are more or less finished.
Andy: It also gave us a chance to try out other musicians (yeah I know that sounds a bit Spinal Tap) but we have used some different drummers (for example) who all bring something new to what we do and want to try.
Phil: OK… my parting piece as ever in my interviews… I want to ask do you know who you share your birthdays with?
So Nick your birthday (29th Jan)… you share it with WC Fields, Tom Selleck , Oprah Winfrey, and a musical connection (which I really struggled with for you) I found David Byron (Old Uriah Heep singer)
(Andy found the Tom Selleck and Oprah Winfrey connection rather amusing)
Andy your birthday connections (11th Aug) are Hulk Hogan (Andy goes into raptures as he was already aware of this shared birthday) Joe Jackson, Eric Carmen (who had hits with All by Myself and Never Fall in Love Again in 76) but one you may like the association with is Sandy Thom (who is married to Joe Bonamassa)
Andy: Wow that’s brilliant!!!
Nick: Love it.
Phil: Well lads thanks for inviting me down to your studios. It’s been great fun and I’m really looking forward to the new album.
Nick and Andy: Thanks Phil and to DPRP for giving us this chance to get people to know more about us.