Once she’s back and I’ve stopped apologising, we start talking about the band – somehow ‘group’ seems more appropriate – she formed in 2006. Since then The School have soundtracked an advert for Stephen Fry’s TV series Kingdom, had a demo featured on the front page of Pitchfork, and are now about to release their debut album ‘Loveless Unbeliever’ with Spanish-based label Elefant.
In fact, as we talk, Liz remembers that today is the release date for the album in the States. It seems a strange thing to forget, but then it must have seemed like it was never going to happen.
“It’s been too long! It took about three years between forming and releasing an album,” she explains. “It’s not been the usual release things that’ve gone wrong – we had quite a lot of personnel changes and it was finding all the members that suited and didn’t have jobs which meant they couldn’t continue.”
Those eight members are part of a stable line-up now, but that doesn’t mean playing live – or recording – is easy. Liz works as a live music promoter at 10 Ten Feet Tall and Buffalo Bar in Cardiff, while the others put in time as students, or do shifts as engineers and S4C translators.
“The sad thing is that a lot of us are working so can’t take time off. We have to choose between playing live if there’s something coming out and it’s important to push it, or being in the studio,” says Liz, with a note of regret. “For the album it was two or three of us going in at a time – and half the band weren’t even on the album, unfortunately. One of us played guitar and bass and all the other bits, then we did drums.”
“The Travelodge rooms we stayed in were one triple room at a time, and where we recorded it [Saint Etienne bassist Ian Catts’ house] only held three people at a time on the sofas!”
And while most up-and-coming bands relentlessly slog it out on the local circuit, the size of band the band has limited gig opportunities, says Liz.
“We like playing small venues but we don’t really fit into them! We’ve got eight members and loads of instruments, and they don’t have enough channels. We’re having to get really picky about where we play, which I never wanted to get like, but if it means you can’t hear the violins or singing then we probably need to move on.”
It’s a shame if some venues – and the band – missed out because of this, but it’d be worse if it meant they had to play without the lush, full, classic ‘60s Spector-pop that they’re so good at. It might be simple but it’s supposed to be, full of lovelorn odes to hopes of romance and fears of infidelity – handclaps and soft-focus backing vocals complement the sugary vocals brilliantly.
But, despite beginning to get some exposure in the UK, it’s been the United States that has warmed to them quickest.
“The UK doesn’t cotton on to indie-pop as quickly as other places. In 2008 we were on the front page of Pitchfork! That doesn’t happen here – getting on places like Drowned in Sound is so hard because if you don’t sound like Fleet Foxes they just don’t want to know. I think the US seems to pick that up a lot so they were straight onto us – Allmusic and Under the Radar magazine were onto us on the first single, which you don’t get over here. So we might be doing an extra single over there because of that. We have little fanbases tucked everywhere, but you’re not going to see us on the NME CD anytime soon!”
It’s taken a long time for The School to begin to break through, but they’ve been lucky that their record label has been understanding of the delays and frustrations.
“When we had the changeover of band members I wasn’t writing a lot but they were really flexible. They could’ve just said “Oh, get some session musicians in” and just get it done but they didn’t. We’d probably be on our third album by now if we were on a major label and I’d probably be about four stone lighter!”
The two-year deal the group originally signed expired 18 months ago, but there’s no question of walking away from what Liz calls their dream label- they’ve already started writing and arranging the second album, and are hoping to get an EP of original festive songs out in time for Christmas. Until then for Liz and her bandmates it’s business as usual – but they might just have their eyes on a lot more.
Loveless Unbeliever is out on Elefant Records on May 31st. The School play Buffalo Bar on June 6th and then they play the Cardiff University Summer Ball on June 11th. Exciting times for The School.
Picture: Elefant Recordings