“It’s great. It’s just great to have people hearing it finally.”
It’s a warm evening in early August and Gordon Moakes, bass player in Young Legionnaire, is reflecting on some big news that broke earlier today. I’m sat with him outside the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, in the back of the touring van that’s seen them through to Glasgow and Newcastle the two days previous. In a few hours, Young Legionnaire will go on to play their first Leeds show in a good while, but right now we’re discussing the impending release of their second album ‘Zero Worship’.
In August of last year, following relative radio silence, Young Legionnaire made their blistering debut at ArcTanGent Festival, a rare appearance on home turf. They’ve been popping up on social media here and there ever since, finally announcing details of their second studio album a few months later. In the space of 12 months, it almost feels as if Young Legionnaire haven’t been away at all. But it’s been a lengthy journey to this point.
“It’s one thing that the Pledge campaign has been six months and that we had the songs, but we’ve been working on this for four years or something.” Reflects Gordon. “So to be able to actually put this into the world and say this is where we are right now. Even already today the response I’ve had from people has been really nice and positive… Like it’s a progression and it’s not just us ticking boxes, it sounds like we’ve been really thinking about what kind of music we wanted to make. I appreciate that, I think people are picking up on what I meant for it.”
Earlier in the day it was announced that the Pledge Music campaign to support the record had reached 100% (actually 115%, if we’re being precise), with email inboxes across the world dinging with incoming mail of the new album variety. Twitter was abuzz with die-hards and supporters showing their excitement at receiving the album in their inbox. I jest that people had called it the best email they’ve ever received, but you’d be hard pressed to think what could sound sweeter than an album you’ve been waiting four years to hear.
“You get to a point with any record that you make that you lose all objectivity.” He comments. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been working on it for four years like we have – which is an extreme kind of version of that – or you went into the studio and knocked it out in three weeks. By the time you’ve listened to all the different mixes and the mastering process, you don’t know what it is anymore, you can’t really be objective. So to hear nice things straight away from people who’ve clearly come to it with completely fresh ears is very encouraging.”
Whilst four years does sound like a lengthy stretch (and, to be honest, it has felt it too), Young Legionnaire’s three members haven’t been sat in the studio twiddling their thumbs. As well as living on opposite sides of the world to one another, guitarist/vocalist Paul Mullen and drummer Dean Pearson have also been working together in Losers, as well as dividing time between other projects respectively. Just after the release of the ‘Wreckonomics‘ EP in 2012, Gordon returned to Bloc Party for the release of their fourth studio album, the aptly titled ‘Four’. It would prove to be his last with Bloc Party, but even then he still had Young Legionnaire in mind. The production of Zero Worship ended up being a gradual process out of necessity.
“I’d been coming up with little ideas even when I was still doing the last bit of touring that I did, which was around 2012. I had ideas at that point. I remember we went into a room back then and started with things. It wasn’t that we had a moment where we knew we were going to make a record; we were just chipping away at it the whole time. Actually, there were plenty of times where I thought we might not manage it. Months would go by and we wouldn’t be in touch at all. I might send Paul some ideas, but it didn’t feel like it was necessarily gonna go anywhere.”
Now a native Texan, Gordon was a good ten hours and change from the rest of the band. Skype and text messages can only get you so far.
“I made a point of flying out each year to make sure that we got together and kept it ticking over, even if it wasn’t writing.” He continues. “I mean, it was always writing when it came to it – we’d have like three days somewhere and we’d just write as much as we could. But just to be in a room and playing together was the thing that kept the continuity going, and doing tours like this is another way of doing that. We’ve got to the point where we can be apart for months and then get into a room and people will say – you don’t sound like you’ve been away. That’s an amazing place to get to. There’s some communication going on there that’s sort of understood. You don’t have to spend a week doing rehearsal to get there, we’re just kind of like – this is what we do.”
“I had a lot of time to think about what kind of record we might make, kind of at my leisure.” Comments Gordon further. “I’d be at home, working on demos and coming up with ideas. The main difference for me was… to really pick off the best things that I’d come up with in the last two years. I generally knew when I’d come up with something that was gonna work for Young Legionnaire. There’s a track on the record called ‘You and Me’, which is just this little riff I had. I had it pretty early on when I was in Texas, I was like – these are really nice chords, I’m gonna use this for Young Legionnaire. It was just a question of waiting until I saw those guys… I think we were able to cream off the very best of what we had. I think I wanted to make something that was a little more considered, arguably a little more sophisticated, that had a bit more thought at every stage. That was the main difference.”
Though lengthy and considered, Zero Worship also deals in spontaneity. Whilst Gordon filed away ideas here and there over the years, it was the time in the studio with Paul and Dean, with a keen eye on the clock, that offered up unplanned gold.
“Both those guys are really good at coming up with stuff on the spot when you give them ideas.” Says Gordon. “The last track on the record, that was pretty much something where we were in a room together – I think we were in Berlin – and Paul just came up with these chords. It was like something in the air that felt right. ‘Hail Hail’ was something that came out of an idea that Paul had. Whenever he’s got something that says ‘Young Legionnaire’, you kind of know and you just file it into that folder and come back to it when we’re all in the same room.”
On the topic of the actual writing of Zero Worship, the time allowance again worked in their favour. Very intense, short bursts of writing allowed the trio to staple down the basics of the record, allowing time afterwards to flesh out the remaining gaps and work out parts individually.
“If I actually add up the days that we spent together writing, it probably only comes to about 20 at the most.” He comments. “Maybe more, but everything that we wrote on this record was written over that space of time. It’s ridiculous, really.”
A residential studio in a Brandenburg forest was home to Paul, Dean and the other members of Losers during the recording of their third Studio album ‘How To Ruin Other People’s Futures’. The converted old factory, accessed by a tram through the woodlands, was familiar ground for two thirds of the band, thus making its location a no-brainer for Gordon.
“They’d already done a record there and it was just the most cheap option, because they were living there and had access to the space to write and do all the recording.” He says. “It made sense for me to just go there and live for the periods that we were writing and recording. That’s a story in itself – you might have seen from the Pledge videos, the kind of surroundings. It’s right in the woods in the middle of nowhere and there are wild boars running around. It’s an interesting space.”
I remember vividly the year Four came out, with Bloc Party playing a few shows in Manchester, both of which I attended. We speak a little on that period of time, with Gordon jokingly commenting that the adjustment from playing The Ritz to much smaller venues is hardly a breath of fresh air. The key though lies within the creative aspect, something which was obviously a major factor in his departure from Bloc Party.
“On a personal level, to work with Paul, it’s just creatively my favourite thing to do, really.” He says. “He’s just so intuitive and he doesn’t wanna impose what he does on the ideas you come up with. He compliments what you do and then comes up with something that is amazing for a top line or whatever. That’s why I keep coming back, ‘cus it’s the purest form of making music that I’ve found. Bloc Party was always a banging together of heads – then through that stress you end up with something that works in a particular way, that’s got input from very different mind-sets. That was the strength of that band. At its height was this weird clash of ideas. With Paul and Dean, it’s just very instinctive, it flows and it’s really easy to do. That’s why I love doing it.”
The idea for Pledge campaigns, Kick Starter’s and all manner of funding operations is good in theory (and as evidenced here, in practice too), but one that is still yet to convince everyone. Every man and his dog has a funding project on the go, but it’s evident why processes like these are becoming the norm, especially if you’re not Justin whatshisname with a lot of funding behind you and someone breathing down your neck.
“I don’t know if it’s the perfect system, but it’s great for a band like us who don’t necessarily have a way of making it immediate.” Says Gordon of the campaign. “That your fans at least have that patience to see a record come together slowly and not expect it to just be instant. That was really what we needed, just the ability to have the freedom to work over that time span.”
Progress videos and updates during the making of new material can often bring fans closer to the artist, allowing them a peek behind the curtain at how it’s all done and where the band are up to. This makes these campaigns even more rewarding. You’re partially funding the record, so why not get a look at what you’re paying for? Though when discussing the idea, the suggestion of updates from artists during the making of their seminal albums is one that divides opinion. Video updates from Billy Corgan during Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness?
“Tiresome at best.” Laughs Gordon. “We were listening to ‘Siamese Dream’ yesterday. That’s not everyone’s favourite record, but to me that’s a record that’s so evocative of a time and place. Would that have felt the same if you’d been watching it being made the year before? I think it’s fascinating to see into that process, but maybe is it too much sometimes to open it completely? For us, I was very keen that we at least kept the finished product as a separate thing from the process, so that when people heard it – the context would finally make sense. We didn’t give too much away.”
With Paul based in Berlin, Gordon in Texas and Dean roaming the earth elsewhere, Zero Worship was made out of the best circumstances available to the band. Considering the length of time and the travelling incurred along the way, we pondered the idea of how this worked for the album as opposed to perhaps one mammoth session in a studio.
“Sometimes I wonder about what it would’ve been like if we’d all been in London and we had three months to get together three times a week and just write.” He comments. “I think the record would’ve been totally different. I don’t know exactly how different it would’ve been, but this was just the only option we had. It was really a product of necessity… The meat and body of the record was all done in Berlin, but when we were getting to the end and we just heard things for different bits of songs, that was thrown in from very different directions. So I don’t know how different it would’ve been, but this is definitely the product of that way of working.”
At the time of writing, Zero Worship will finally be released to the masses at the end of the working week. During our chat in the back of their van however, we were still months away from release. With all the fun of promoting the album to look forward to over the coming months, I joked that we might already have an album number three in the works, should the trio relocate to London.
“I’m not looking that far ahead.” Laughs Gordon. “But it has been a bit of a slog, so it’s a real achievement to get this far. I think we’ll see how we feel a year from now. What ideas we’re coming up with.”