IO Earth may have been craving a period of artistic stability and consolidation following the release of their 2012 album Moments. Yet the music industry often has a way of destroying momentum just when acts are on the cusp of a breakthrough, and the band have endured a tumultuous couple of years.
Delighted with the response to that album, IO Earth were anticipating that a performance at Cruise To The Edge would introduce their idiosyncratic sound to a raft of fresh fans. Yet as guitarist and founding member Dave Cureton explains, they found themselves singerless just two days before they were due to fly to Florida when vocalist Claire Malin suddenly dropped out.
“We were obviously ridiculously excited about performing there, but we had a phone call from Claire to say that she wasn’t coming,” he sighs. “She said that she wasn’t very well, which I kind of believe, but we were still stuck without a singer. After a lot of screaming and shouting, we managed to contact Linda [Odinsen] who had sung with us previously when Claire was pregnant. Luckily she was able to fly over, and even though she only had a four-hour rehearsal before the gig, she absolutely killed it.
We don’t write things in a rush – there’s no excuse to end up with a bad song.
“It was the oddest thing to watch. We’d strategically placed instrumental songs in the set so she could go off and learn the next song. It was amazing and I don’t know how she did it. So on the cruise, we just offered her the job and the rest is history.”
With Odinsen ensconced in the line-up, IO Earth began work on a follow-up album, hoping that all personnel issues had been resolved. But sibling rivalry, the destroyer of many bands, caused another unavoidable adjustment. Seemingly, Cureton and his older brother and drummer, Richard, were unable to function as a working unit without bickering. The only decision that Dave and fellow founding member Adam Gough (keyboards) felt was tenable was to force a change behind the kit. Such decisions are never lightly taken, but the family element obviously made the firing even more problematical.
“Adam and I decided that if the band was going to go forward, we needed to have people who are willing to play ball with us,” says Dave. “It was becoming increasingly difficult to even function. We’d get to rehearsals and there were arguments and it was getting like the Gallaghers. It just didn’t work. I’ll be honest, I’m his younger brother and he didn’t seem happy that his younger brother was in charge of things. But with myself and Adam starting the band, we have this thing now where it’s the IO way or the highway. If you don’t want to do what we want to do, that’s fine – we’re not going to hate you, but don’t waste our time and go and do something else.
“It was hard because he’s my brother and Adam has known him for years too. But if we want the band to get to the level we want it to be, we have to have the people around who want that to happen too.”
Christian Jerromes, a drummer who has a technical prowess that perfectly suits the band’s musical style, was swiftly employed as a replacement. Yet even the band were astonished at some of his performances on the album. Although the majority of the material had been written and partially recorded, Gough recalls that they had left gaps in the songs for the drummer to add his own panache and fills, and they were astounded by his playing.
“We were watching him during the recording sessions and it looked like he was still holding back,” Gough says. “So we just asked him to play what he wanted to play. At the end of the track Red Smoke, he was amazing. I’m sure he thought we were taking the piss when we told him that what he was doing was ridiculous, but it was in a complimentary way.
“We’ve also brought violinist Jez King into the band. We did a gig in Birmingham in May with an orchestra and had asked Jez to come in for that show. We played through the material for that night a few times and within two hours, we took him outside of the room and asked him to come in as a permanent member, and it was just an instant yes.”
Musically, their latest album New World continues the IO Earth style, with an array of genres all neatly and shrewdly knitted into the sound. It’s an approach taken by numerous bands, but whereas often the skipping of styles can come across as being hastily or ineptly stapled together, IO Earth manage to succeed in avoiding any glaring incongruity.
“We’re very mindful of not putting something in there for the sake of it,” attests Cureton. “I do hear it myself and I know what you mean. We don’t completely submerge ourselves listening to prog music, but when we do, you sometimes hear things that happen for no apparent reason. We try to make sure that it has one continual progression, so it changes fluidly rather than just suddenly happening.”
We’d strategically placed instrumental songs in the set so Linda could go off and learn the next song. I don’t know how she did it.
“Sometimes you can go a bit too far with it,” interjects Gough. “The first time that happened in our music was the flugelhorn solo on Smoky Wood [on their 2009 self-titled debut]. We then realised that it’s not about thinking, ‘We’ve got this style and want to add this style’ – it’s more a case of what would sound nice. So, for example, with the track Fade To Grey, we could have said, ‘Let’s just get a nose flute for a solo and put some distortion on it – that would be a great idea.’ But it would be going too far and all it really needed was a straightforward sax solo.”
Conceptually, the album is relatively dark and concentrates on the theory that, as Cureton dryly and succinctly puts it: “If we all loved each other a bit more, we wouldn’t have any crap.” Such admirable sentiments aside, there will undoubtedly be those who believe that the band’s use of a September 11 news clip during the opening of The Rising is perhaps overly political or even insensitive. Seemingly, the band deliberated at length over the merits of its inclusion.
Cureton explains: “Adam and I wondered if people were going to think that we were against everything or that it was too political. But the song is called The Rising for a start, and the idea was that no matter how bad things get, you can always pull yourself out of it. It’s meant as an uplifting thing and it’s more about the message and idea of coming back from something so horrible.”
Another double album, the band admit to being conscious that recordings of this length often include substandard filler material. Yet much like their ability to seamlessly genre hop, the calibre of the tracks on the album remains perpetually high. Musical aptitude aside, that can also be attributed to the length of time the band have worked on the tracks, only ever allowing a piece to make the final cut if they’re perfectly happy with it.
“We don’t write things in a rush and we spend as much time as we need,” says Gough. “We always think there’s no excuse to end up with a bad song. Some people listen to our albums and say, ‘That one’s crap or that one is brilliant,’ which is fine because it’s down to taste. But for us, the songs have got to be a high quality in our own minds. So we’ll have these ideas that are fairly complete demos and we’ll just work on them until they have that level of quality that we want. Sometimes that means chopping the song up and changing it from a 20-minute epic into something that may only be three or four minutes long.”
IO Earth’s appearance in Birmingham in May alongside a 14-piece orchestra was also deemed a success by the band. Buoyed by the reaction and sensing an opportunity to outshine some of their contemporaries, Cureton reveals that it’s something they intend to make an annual event.
“We thought we could do a few gigs at the usual venues but I wanted to do something special,” he explains. “We wanted to upstage other bands at our level. Instead of playing The Borderline or The Robin, we wanted to take it to the next level and it paid off. It’s good for us to know we sold out the venue.
“We’re going to do it as an annual thing now, and we make it a whole weekend. There’s the gig and a meet-and-greet. And there were people who travelled from all over the world. Maybe we’ll call it the ‘IO Earth Annual Extravaganza’ or something…”
New World is available now. For more information or to buy the album, see www.ioearth.com.