You might not know it yet, but there’s a good chance you already like the work of many of the musicians involved in Living Body. Principally the project of Leeds-based Chicagoan ex-pat Jeff T. Smith, he is joined by a collection of musical luminaries including, Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin, and touring member of Sleater-Kinney, Wild Beasts, and Flock of Dimes), and Tom Evans (Vessels). Formed on the back of the one-off performance event, Sonic Cauldron, Living Body are set to release their debut album, Body Is Working this Friday through Kingfisher Bluez (US) and Barely Regal Records (UK).
Body Is Working is an intriguing collection, showcasing the versatility and quality of both Jeff’s songwriting and his talented contributors. Opening track, Declaration Of Independence fuses math-rock tinged guitars with a Mountain Goats-like vocal melody, before sliding easily into recent single Choose, an ambitious track built around a bombastic guitar line, jerky rhythms and huge horn-drenched crescendos. Elsewhere the two tracks where Katie takes lead vocals offer moments of focused beauty; I Recollect is a fluttering prog-folk influenced number bringing to mind The Magnetic North or Laura Groves, while Last Few True is the albums most fragile and beautiful moment, all shimmering Lanterns On The Lake-like guitar textures and achingly sad, echo-drenched vocals.
Perhaps the highlight is the album’s epic middle section, Trail Mix Pt.2 and Heirloom, which will be of particular interest to fans of all things post-rock; recalling many bands who walked the UK underground scene in the mid 2000’s, the expansive but unpolished soundscapes bringing to mind the likes of I Like Trains or Jenniferever. Like any number of the great post-rock records that emanated from Jeff’s hometown of Chicago this is an album that flows beautifully, combining seemingly disparate ideas into a singular and cohesive whole.
To celebrate the release, Living Body are also heading out on the road starting in Sheffield on December 8th (full dates at the bottom of the article) – ahead of those dates, Jeff from the band was kind enough to tackle our questions, taking in topics from Living Body’s intriguing formation, through to being labelled a supergroup and the state of the music industry.
FTR: Who/what are Living Body?
Living Body are myself (Jeff T. Smith), Tom Evans, Katie Harkin, Alice Rowan, and Sarah Statham. We’re a band from Leeds, West Yorkshire.
FTR: You’re seemingly all involved in various other projects, does that make Living Body a supergroup?
Interestingly, we have often been described as one. Living Body is definitely my baby, but I’ve been fortunate enough to find some really great people to help me perform and actualize these songs. I think I was a solo artist for so long, at least partially, because I hadn’t found the right people yet. Good people are hard to come by, and of course, probably going to be involved in a number of other creative pursuits or they wouldn’t be very good at what they do. Hence the supergroup tag, I guess.
FTR: Your new album, Body Is Working, is out next month, what can you tell us about recording it?
Recording is an all-consuming process for me, and a huge black hole for time. With recording and songwriting, I’m just trying to uncover some truth or greater understanding of what a song is really supposed to be about, and serve it justice by turning it into a reality. I guess since I record everything in my own studio, I have this luxury of time most bands don’t have. But I guess it can also be a detriment since my last record came out in 2011! It’s hard work but can be incredibly rewarding. But mostly, it’s just me in a room, writing, recording and deleting things until I end up with something I feel is completely bulletproof and that I’m totally happy with.
FTR: Jeff, you’re originally from Chicago, how did you end up in Leeds?
Good question, why does anyone do anything?
FTR: The Leeds music scene remains incredibly prolific, do you feel part of it?
Oh yeah, for sure. Some of my favourite bands are from Leeds, and we have places here like CHUNK, Wharf Chambers, Leeds Music Hub, Greenmount Studios, and the Brudenell to keep us all going. It’s a large city but not too large, so it seems very community-oriented and that it can still be a place where everyone knows everyone else to a certain degree.
FTR: What other Leeds bands should we be listening to?
The bands playing our album launch show at the Brudenell are all worth checking out – Autobodies, Bilge Pump, and Matthew Bourne, the latter two basically having legendary status in my opinion. Shout out to the likes of Bearfoot Beware, Mi Mye, Unwave, Magnapinna, and These Men as well.
FTR: What can you tell us about Sonic Cauldron? How did that feed into Living Body?
That concert was sort of a period of insanity for me, and an example of how ridiculous ambitions can take over one’s life. It was also kind of a fluke. First, I was approached by the programmer of events at Left Bank about doing a Juffage concert there. I thought a standard ‘old-school’ Juffage set wouldn’t work in that space, so I presented them with the idea of a performance utilizing live multi-channel audio, to essentially use the venue as a musical instrument. By surrounding the audience with loudspeakers, I had the ambisonic context in mind before anything else. Initially, I just thought it would be fun to drone the shit out of a huge church. Then Katie Harkin called and asked me if she could play in the concert. At this point, I was also finishing up a lot of new songs like I Recollect, so we started working together on it, and it became apparent that we were going to need more people. Tom & Jenna seemed up for the crazy idea so we actually moved in there long before the concert took place and started working on it. It was completely DIY and took us an entire week to set up all the PA’s and everything to do the show. In addition to designing my own computer program for the concert to distribute the sound of us playing the songs, the songs themselves were also all completely new. At the end, we had all these new songs, and it just kind of turned into a band.
FTR: Why do you make music?
Again, why do people do anything? I think the process of songwriting and communicating songs is pretty much the only thing I do that makes me feel any genuine sense of purpose. I think it’s in our human nature to try and understand or to uncover some truth about the world in some way, and for me, this seems to be the way that makes the most sense. And it’s taken over my life. And it’s not always enjoyable. But, if I get hit by a bus on my bike tomorrow and die, no one is going to care that I dusted that bottle of wine on a shelf at my job, but those songs will still be there.
FTR: We’ve noticed a political leaning in some of your songs; do you feel it is part of a musician’s job to be politically active?
Like I said, I think most musicians, at least if they are coming at art from a position of honesty, are simply trying to make sense of the world they live in. I’m not sure it’s a musician’s job to be politically active, many are just trying achieve a greater understanding. And right now, there’s a lot to grapple with and make sense of. I never thought of myself as a deeply political musician in the past, but look around you, it’s almost like there’s nothing else to write about now! We’re going to get a lot more political, because if you have that platform why shouldn’t you use it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Living Body live show? Do you have any dates coming up?
The new live band is sounding impeccably tight. They’re all great people, and singing with Alice is a joy. Our new album is coming out December 2nd, and we have a UK tour around the release.
FTR: Which do you prefer – playing live or working in the studio?
Both can be really great and really difficult experiences. It’s situation-dependent! Shows can sometimes be really fulfilling and sometimes soul-crushing. With the studio, you know more of what you’re getting into and sometimes you can have a ‘eureka’ moment, but it’s usually just a time consuming process, chipping away at a bigger idea. I really do love recording though, and that’s how I got into making music in the first place as a kid in the middle of nowhere in Michigan. I can basically thank recording for teaching me how to play half the instruments I play, because you don’t have to be that good to play an instrument on a recording. You can suspend reality. But eventually, you get good at the instrument, because you’re doing it so much. It’s an evolution and it’s great.
FTR: What are your expectations for this album release? Do you see music as a viable career?
Hmmmm, does anyone buy records anymore!?! It would be really nice to spend more time on this. Perhaps it wouldn’t take me another 5 years to release a record if so. I’m pretty sure there are only about 10 people making enough money off music to actually live off of it these days though.
FTR: You’re working with a couple of labels Barely Regal Records (UK) & Kingfisher Bluez (US), how did these deal comes about? Do you think labels are still important?
Sometimes it feels like, as a musician, especially in a band such as this where you’re at the helm of it, that it’s literally you up against everything else. Having people on both sides of the Atlantic just backing you up and being like “hey, this is good!”, and just being your friend feels great. So yeah, it’s important!
FTR: What are your plans beyond the album release?
Just to keep going, really. I have a lot of songs in my head right now and the shape and content of what I want the follow-up record to be about, so just working on that when I can. It seems silly, but I think the reason this record is called Body Is Working is because I was only able to make it because my body is (pretty much) working. If I was sick, or old and dying, or unable to use my limbs or something, it would have been impossible to make this record myself. So while my body is still working, this is what I am going to be doing with it.
Body Is Working is out December 2nd via Kingfisher Bluez (US) and Barely Regal Records (UK)
Details of all upcoming Living Body live dates below:
December 8: Sheffield – Picture House Social (ticket link / FB event)
December 9: Liverpool – Maguire’s Pizza Bar (FB event)
December 10: London – The Waiting Room (FREE / FB event)
December 11: Leeds – Brudenell Social Club (ticket link / FB event)
December 16: Salford – The Eagle Inn (ticket link / FB event)
December 17: Newcastle – Jumpin’ Jacks (ticket link / FB event)
December 18: Edinburgh – Sneaky Pete’s (ticket link / FB event)
December 19: Glasgow – Hug & Pint (ticket link)