Happiness and Misery: In Conversation with The Leisure Society’s Nick Hemming

(Image: The Leisure Society playing in London)

Ahead of their gig at The Bullingdon on 20th September, I caught up with The Leisure Society’s frontman Nick Hemming to discuss their latest album, Arrivals and Departures, his biggest influences, and the creative process that shapes his songwriting.

Currently on the second leg of their biggest tour, touring an album that has been four years in the making, I ask Nick about the inspiration behind the album; ‘It was initially inspired by a relationship breakup, as lots of albums are’, he laughs darkly. After splitting from his partner, he says, ‘I found myself living out of a car for eighteen months, living out of a suitcase, staying with friends, renting Airbnbs- dealing with all of this emotional stuff that was going on. Also, a friend of mine died at the same time, so there’s this kind of double whammy of a relationship breakup and grieving for a friend’. Listening to Arrivals and Departures, the hardship that Hemming has gone through emerges in the honest, almost confessional nature of his lyrics, which deal with universal themes- regret, love and loss.

The influence of artists such as Nick Drake and Elliott Smith on Arrivals and Departures is palpable. ‘I remember I was stuck in a record shop’, Hemming recalls, ‘and I heard his [Elliot Smith’s] record XO, which had just come out, and it just struck a chord with me’. As well as showing their influence through his soul-searching lyrics, the album is similarly shaped by the prevalence of four and six-stringed instruments. Despite acoustic guitars (and occasionally even banjos) featuring heavily on the album, Nick tells me he has always been reluctant to accept that label of being a ‘folk’ group: ‘It started with our first album, The Sleeper, which was definitely more folky sounding- it was just loads of instruments that I could play! Anything with a string that I could play like a banjo or mandolin- they just happened to be folky instruments’. As a band touring in 2019, where genres boundaries are becoming increasingly less distinct, such anti-labelling sentiments make undeniable sense.

I ask Nick about any plans they have after their tour: ‘Well, because it’s taken so long to finish this album’, he admits, ‘I’ve actually written another album!’ He promises something very different to the melancholic tone of Arrivals and Departures: ‘I just wanted something much more immediate and uplifting, as an antidote to my concept album of misery’. Having taken four years to record and release Arrivals and Departures, Nick seems anxious to release this new album- hopefully we’ll be hearing some new music from The Leisure Society very soon.

Hemming has been making music since the 90s; Arrivals and Departures is not only defined by his experiences as a human being, but specifically as a musician. Speaking on his breakup with fellow band member Helen Whittaker, Hemming states, ‘We had that shared thing [of both being musicians] which made life a lot easier. She understood sacrifices that you make as a musician sometimes, and how selfish you have to be- going on tour, being obsessed with writing the next song and things like that’. Despite suffering to create this album, Hemming extols the cathartic power of songwriting: ‘There is real comfort when you create something good out of something bad; just like that, it turns a negative into a positive, and it’s a wonderful feeling’.

‘I find that I do write a lot more when I’m a bit depressed’, Nick confesses, highlighting the unfortunate flipside to his cathartic approach to songwriting- ‘when you’re really happy and content you’ve got nothing to write about, so the page is blank- as soon as you’re happy you stop writing, and then you’re unhappy again!’ He impresses upon me the importance of finding a balance in this: ‘Enough misery to inspire you but enough happiness not to go mad’, he jokes. I think there is more than wisdom in this than Nick would perhaps care to admit: as well as being good advice for songwriting, it probably isn’t bad advice for life.

The Leisure Society play The Bullingdon on 20th September 

(Picture Credit: Paul Hudson)