Invaderband’s self-titled debut LP was our long player of the week not so long ago and is definitely one of the records of the year. We were delighted when main man Adam Leonard agreed to have a chat about the record, his influences and what’s happening in Derry these days.
When/Why did you decide to become a musician?
I’d learned and played acoustic guitar from the age of 15. I wanted to be Bob Dylan, and I spent all my spare time learning his songs and playing them for my own amusement. I even had a harmonica in a holder, the works. Through Dylan I then found other artists of that ilk, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young etc., and then a couple of years later I discovered “the British Bob Dylan” – no, not Donovan, Roy Harper. But here’s the thing, I never even tried to write songs because I thought you had to be some kind of otherworldly genius to write songs. I worshipped Dylan and Cohen and Lennon, etc., and I thought only those kind of people could write songs. It wasn’t until MUCH later in life when I was almost 30 that I became friends with Gareth Davies (of Mancunian cult band Suburban Vegetable) and I saw he was recording music at home, and writing songs and I found it massively inspiring. He opened up that door to me and said “give it a try” and within about a year of writing shit songs, I was writing OK ones, and so it progressed. So it’s all down to Bob Dylan & Gareth really. He co-wrote one of the songs on the Invaderband album (‘You’re A Submarine’).
What was the first piece of music you loved, and why?
That’s hard to remember, but this certainly made an impact because it was so futuristic. My first love in music was electronic music, which became popular in the very late ’70s & early ’80s when I was 10 or 11. Gary Numan, John Foxx, Kraftwerk, Human League, Jean Michel Jarre, etc. Later in the ’80s I borrowed a Bob Dylan album from the local library and heard Like A Rolling Stone. That also blew my mind, but I’d be 15 then.
How long have you been working on the new LP? Are you happy with the results?
It was all done very quickly. We’d been playing the songs live for a few years so we all knew them well. The whole album was recorded with just 2 days of studio time. I’m overjoyed with the results. It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved with. Chris McConaghy’s guitar solo on ‘Spirit Photography’ is genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever heard in music, and I’ve heard zillions of albums. And even though some of those songs are a bit silly, I’m so proud I somehow made all of them.
Tell me about the name Invaderband.
I honestly can’t remember the origins. I’d had the name in mind for years and years – long before the band existed. I liked the idea of the word “band” being in the name, and how you can then prefix other things with Invader, so Invaderalbum, Invadergigs, Invaderman, etc. I nearly called the album Invaderbase. I’m sure it stems from Space Invaders, the arcade game, which was released (checks Google) when I was 9. Things make a big impact when you’re 9.
What’s the music scene like in Derry and NI at the moment?
It’s superb! Derry is a very musical place and there are loads of artists and bands doing their own thing, and doing it really well. The Derry music scene is helped immensely by Stephen McCauley of BBC Radio Foyle/Ulster. Loads of people get radio play and exposure through him, and that’s great. There’s way too many bands from to namecheck, but you should check out Our Krypton Son, Strength NIA, Autumns, The Barbiturates, Conor Mason & Comrade Hat. All quite different but all doing something which is at the top of their respective genres (whatever they may be!).
Our Krypton Son, Strength NIA, Comrade Hat
What is your favourite song that you’ve written and why?
It’s hard to say. I think one called ‘Sightings’ does everything I set out to do with it, i.e. write a Human League (Mk1) song. I’m pretty good at taking a style and doing something of my own within it. Martyn Ware (of the original Human League and Heaven 17) liked this, and that was a big thing for me!
(this is just fantastic)
How difficult/easy do you find to write songs? Do they arrive fully formed or do you have a particular method?
Nothing arrives fully formed sadly! Bits of songs / melodies do sometimes (in dreams or just when your mind is blank), or maybe you read or hear a phrase that you can use as a start point. I just experiment on the guitar / keyboard and see what happens. Then you shape what you get. It’s hard to describe because it doesn’t feel like anything else when it’s “working”. It’s not easy (for me anyway), but it’s so exciting when you finish something and you know it’s good.
What musicians would you consider to be your biggest influences?
The Beatles, Gareth Davies, Bob Dylan, Roy Harper, Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, Vivian Stanshall, John Foxx, The Human League (mk 1), Morrissey maybe, Luke Haines… the list goes on.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?
It’s a hard one that. There are many, but one that springs to mind is ‘Another Day’ by Roy Harper. It’s just a beautiful, impossibly insightful, human song. Amazing. Either that or Gangnam Style.
What is the best new band that you’ve heard recently?
One I’ve mentioned already. At the Invaderband album lauch in January we had another Derry band opening for us. I’d never heard them, but they were suggested to me, so we got them on. They are called The Barbiturates, and they are [insert your favourite expletive] superb! A real breath of fresh air. Lots of different styles and influences but it really worked. I can’t wait to see them again! Check them out.
We hope to speak to The Barbiturates about The Holy Mountain, watch this space
What’s your idea of success?
I don’t actually like the word. I dislike how some people equate wealth or being in a top job as “success”. I feel I’m doing well in the world. I’m happy with my life. I’m married to a wonderful person, and we have had wonderful children. I have a home. I have cupboards full of food. I have friends. I have everything I need. So my idea of success is my life I suppose. I’m very lucky.
If you weren’t a musician what would you love to do?
Hmmm, I’m not even much of a musician to be honest. I can barely play electric guitar and I specialise in one finger keyboard playing. I’d maybe like to be a pilot, but only because I was told at age 14 that I could never be a pilot, due to problems with my left arm.
Do you consider yourself an optimist?
When I was younger I was a massive pessimist, because as the saying goes “A pessimist is never disappointed”. But as I get older I’m becoming more optimistic about most things. Apart from the fact that humanity is doomed.
How do you feel about Donald Trump?
I think he’s an awful human being but I think he’s getting too much criticism, or rather a disproportionate amount of stick for what he’s actually doing. And ironically, he’s probably feeding off all that criticism. The idea that previous US presidents were any better is massively flawed. They just had better PR people. I also think the current comparisons being made between Trump and Hitler are more dangerous than anything he is actually doing in America at the moment. He’s a result of the current economic & democratic systems, so you can’t really blame him for thriving in those cesspools. This was bound to happen eventually.
What question would you like to be asked that you never are? And what would be your answer?
So tell us Adam, how does it feel to win the Mercury Music Prize? My answer: It’s cool.
*photo by Jim Cunningham