Earlier this year, the Leisure Society released their debut album, ‘The Sleeper’, on Wilkommen Records. A sparkling, effortlessly tuneful pop album, I predicted in my review that it would be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize.

Okay, I was wrong about that. But, the band have found favour in other quarters. Radio Two have trumpeted the band since their first single, ‘The Last of the Melting Snow’ was released last year, and that song was eventually nominated for the Ivor Novello award (a music industry tradition, this gong celebrates songwriting).

The core of the band is guitarist/singer/songwriter Nick Hemming and keyboardist/arranger Christian Hardy. The pair met in their home town of Burton-on-Trent, with Hemming eventually being persuaded to move to London and share a room with Hardy.

Hemming had been a veteran of several bands in the past, including a spell as the guitarist in early 90s Creation band the Telescopes and had recorded soundtrack music as the Leisure Society. With the help of members of fellow Wilkommen bands, the Leisure Society has now expanded into a six piece, expanding Hemming’s gentle folk-pop into lush string-drenched anthems.

As the Leisure Society gear up for the re-release of their debut album as a double-disk set on a larger label, having now signed up with Full Time Hobby records, Pennyblackmusic asked Nick Hemming a few questions about his band.

PB: You’d worked on songs with the name Leisure Society, but the band appears to have only taken shape when you met and moved in with Christian. What changed when you met him?

NH: I was using the name as an outlet for songs that I was recording at home but I didn't really have the confidence or desire to front a proper touring live act. When I moved to London to live with Christian I was in a pretty dark place emotionally and this, combined with a new life in the big city, inspired a lot of songs. We started playing a few acoustic shows as a duo and they seemed to go down really well. When we started recording the new stuff I found it so much easier having someone to bounce ideas around with.

PB: When and how did the Leisure Society become a full band in its current incarnation?

A. We started adding to the Society shows - Daz on bass, Will on Cello, Mike on Violin, Bas on drums - and meanwhile continued finishing off the album. I'd really wanted a flute on 'Last Of The Melting Snow' and, as luck would have it, ended up meeting Helen at at a Sons Of Noel and Adrian show. She was playing flute and I was playing banjo but we didn't meet until we sat down together to play the show. The combination of woodwind and strings really finished off the Leisure Society sound perfectly. The first time we all played together was busking under a tree at last year's Big Chill Festival. It's really nice that we get to go back this year and play one of the main stages.

PB: Am I right in thinking that the songs were largely written by you alone? What was the role of the rest of the band in arranging/improving them?

NH: Most of the songs were written alone. The way it usually works is I work on the song until I feel confident enough to play it to Christian, then he adds keyboards and harmony. In the past we would start recording and then bring everyone in one by one to work out and record their parts. It's changing a bit as we play live a lot more now. The new songs are all being arranged in rehearsals and sound checks so the next album should be a lot more dynamic.

There's a demo of 'Short Weekend' on the forthcoming re-released version of 'The Sleeper 'that will give you an idea of how the band improve the songs - it's the biggest thrill to hear a song I wrote on an acoustic guitar being realised by 6 amazing musicians.

PB: How did you get involved with the Wilkommen Collective? Are you comfortable being seen as one part of a larger group of interlocked bands, especially given that your broad style - folky pop music with strings - seems suited to a different audience to, say, the Laish Quartet?

NH: There's a lot of diversity in the Collective, which I think is a healthy thing. I must admit it can get quite tiring at Willkommen nights playing for three different bands... or four in Mike,Will & Helen's case! It's a pleasure to be associated with such a talented bunch of people though and everyone has a debt of gratitude to Tom Cowan for bringing so many great musicians together. He's like the Cilla Black of the alt. folk world..... only much taller.

PB: I first saw you play in a small underground club, the Notting Hill Arts Club, when you seemed very upbeat, almost a rock band, and then again at the Union Chapel, when your music seemed much grander and more elegant. Both were enjoyable in different ways! Which sort of venue do you feel best suited/most comfortable in at this stage?

NH: I prefer a happy medium. I love the more poignant, delicate moments but I also love the exuberance of songs like 'A Matter Of Time' where we get to rock out a bit. I do get a little stressed in smaller venues as I have to play five different instruments &and, being a bit clumsy, tend to trip over them on small stages.

PB: How did it feel having your songs picked out by Radio Twoas this the kind of acclaim you were expecting? Are you happy with the band’s profile and popularity?

NH: It was amazing to hear Mark Radcliffe's appreciation of our first single. The people who got behind us are DJs we already had a lot of respect for so we couldn't be happier with the way it's gone so far.

PB: On your MySpace site you write a very long list of bands, writers etc that influenced you. I’m pretty sure the only band I know to list surely the best-ever writer PG Wodehouse as an influence but were there any particular bands that made you want to be a songwriter or a singer?

NH: The Beach Boys really inspired me to record more and get into vocal harmonies. There aren't many more joyful experiences than singing harmony with friends. In my younger days I was a huge Jam fan & I remember as a young teenager composing embarrassing pastiches of 'Down In the Tube Station at Midnight' and the like. I didn't actually learn to play guitar until I got a copy of Guns 'n' Roses' 'Appetite for Destruction' when I was 17.

PB: For your debut album, 'The Sleeper', you had thirty songs that were whittled down to eleven. What happened to the other songs? Do you intend to release any of them? What qualities were you looking for in the songs that you did choose?

NH: A couple of the songs weren't finished so we reserved them for album two. The rest kind of picked themselves. We're releasing a bonus disc of tracks that didn't make the album in October. It's going to be called 'A Product Of The Ego Drain', which was the original title of 'The Sleeper'.

PB: Now that it has been finished, and has been available to the public for several months, what are your feelings about that album?

NH: I have barely listened to the album after spending two years recording it. I'm really happy with what we've achieved so far though. It's amazing, people are actually singing along to some of the songs at gigs now! I'm just looking forward to starting work on the next one now.

PB: How often do you write songs and how easy do you find it?

NH: Just whenever inspiration strikes really. I can go for months without writing anything then suddenly two songs will come out at once.It's definitely not something that I can force, it has to happen naturally.

PB: Am I right in saying that you had other jobs when the album came out? Now, you are touring fairly extensively and playing lots of festivals, is the band now a full-time concern?

NH: Most of the band are doing it full time now. It was getting ridiculous when I was working full-time. It's nice having a little time to sleep these days and I even managed to go on holiday this year.

PB: Where do you expect the Leisure Society to go in coming years? Do you have any particular ambitions for the band?

NH: We'd just like to continue making music and reaching more people. We'd really like to do some soundtrack work, ideally For Wes Anderson or David Attenborough. Maybe both.... I think we could do a great score for a documentary on disillusioned pelicans!

PB: Finally, you tend to sit down while the rest of the band stands when you perform live. that?

NH: Simply because I don't have a strap for my ukulele or banjo. I've actually started standing more as we introduce more electric guitar into the set. Some songs, like 'We Were Wasted'' are actually more pleasant to sing sitting down in a more relaxed pose. Maybe I should really push the boat out and get a Chez Lounge?

PB: Thank you.

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