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Interview: Tin Man

PUBLISHED: 12:02 12 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:41 29 October 2010

Peter Walsh

The disappointment of being dropped by a major record label after making just one album might have bruised him, but it did not beat him. PETER WALSH speaks to James Leeds, frontman with Norwich band Tin Man.

Further listening: Tin Man

Peter Walsh

The disappointment of being dropped by a major record label after making just one album might have bruised him, but it did not beat him. PETER WALSH speaks to James Leeds, frontman with Norwich band Tin Man.

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In April 2004 Norwich four-piece Cord were one of the hottest properties on the local music scene having just signed to record industry giants Island records - who count U2 among their star-studded stable.

But fast-forward just six years and Cord are no more, having been dropped by the record label. The move followed disappointing sales of their debut album, Other People's Lives Are Not As Perfect As They Seem, which was released just months after they scored a top 40 hit with their first full single Winter.

Former Cord singer Mr Leeds, who said the likes of The Feeling and Amy Winehouse were with them on the label at the same time, said: “It was fun. We had a top 40, it wasn't particularly high, which was amazing - I guess not many people can claim to have done that.

“But it all turned sour after the album was released. I think Island lost interest in pushing it because there's only so many bands that you can push and on a major label pretty much all the time goes behind the ones who are tasting success.

“It was hard for everyone - you think your life is going to take off in one way and it turns out a different way.”

Many would have called it a day there and then, but James Leeds, lead singer of the band, together with two original members Phil Davison and Mike Jackson reformed as Tin Man.

Mr Leeds, who is in his early 30s, said: “Being relatively unknown outside of Norwich has allowed us to go on and become something different. What we do with Tin Man is very different from Cord and deliberately so.

“We felt burned and didn't want to make the same sort of music again but also because we ended up making an eclectic record with Cord. Everything about Cord was eclectic - it had pop, rock, dark, and acoustic stuff. It was a real mix. But we decided that even those people who say they like eclectic stuff don't like it.

“If you pick up a Nirvana album you know what you're going to get, if you pick up an Otis Reading record you know what you're going to get. So we decided we wanted to make something that was really focused with Tin Man and we did.”

The dream of making themselves millionaires from the band might be over, but Mr Leeds says the freedom of being able to make the type of music they want with local record label NROne offers rewards that you cannot put a price on.

He said: “Working with NROne, Norwich's biggest independent label is a real pleasure. They will release what we write and there's no dictation on what sort of music we do.”

Tin Man have already released on album, Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh My! In August 2008, and will be launching their latest EP, I've Got My Lithium Ion You, at the Norwich Arts Centre

Mr Leeds said: “We realise we're not going to make money from music - it's not a career because what most people don't realise is that even bands that are seen as big bands don't make any money. We still owe island £500,000 in the record company advance - it's weighed against you. We're really happy now that we can make the music we want to make and all have day jobs.”

Mr Leeds, a father-of-two from Kirby Bedon, near Norwich, combines his love of making music with his day job of being a computer programmer.

The former Blyth Jex School pupil, now Sewell Park College, has lived in Norwich all his life although left the city briefly to study maths and philosophy at Nottingham University. He returned to Norwich to attend UEA where he studied computer science and worked for a time at Virgin Money in Norwich.

But music has been an enormous part of his life and at the age of 25 Mr Leeds decided to quit the security of a job in financial services to pursue his musical ambitions.

He and Mr Davidson, who had known each other for years got together in a musical sense and it was not long before Mr Leeds was introduced to guitarist Mike Jackson and then bassist Andy Walsh.

The four formed the band Cord and quickly established a burgeoning reputation for themselves here in Norwich and slightly further afield.

He said: “We got a big deal very shortly afterwards which was really random because deals are very few and far between. When you're young you're narcissistic and believe good things happen, but looking back now, I appreciate how random that was.

“At the time we formed we were really into quite depressing alternative music - early Muse, Radiohead, and the punky stuff like The Pixies and Rage Against the Machine.

“Then Island could see that we could write songs and decided that we should have a go at becoming a “big band” as that's what Island do. They put us in with a producer and we didn't like that, didn't feel comfortable.”

Mr Leeds said the band then shared Coldplay's producer with whom they worked on an entire album but did not like it one bit and so convinced the label to let them go back to the studio with another producer.

The producer, who had worked on The Verve's massive Urban Hymns album and the band worked with him to produce the “album that they wanted to make”.

However Mr Leeds said the band did concede ground in agreeing to have orchestras on many tracks and having them produced “big”. He said: “It's a fantastic process - it's amazing to hear one of your songs being played by a full concert orchestra, it's a big buzz. But ultimately we sold out. In hindsight it was wrong, but I can't see how any kids wouldn't do the same thing. Given that opportunity that practically no-one else has, you say yes.”

Things started well for the band. One of their tracks Go Either Way was used on one of the world's biggest selling Playstation games Madden 2007, while another track, The Greater Part, was featured on hit American show CSI Miami.

Cord also had their song Best Days played on BBC's Match of the Day programme following England's 2 0 World Cup victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 tournament.

And while the band had many memorable moments, playing in festivals and at a number of impressive venues on UK tours and signing their contract on Freddie Mercury's piano, perhaps the most bizarre was from a gig in Plymouth in 2005 - when they literally brought the house down.

Cord were moments into their second song at The Cooperage when the ceiling collapsed and the band and their instruments were underneath the falling debris but fortunately no-one was seriously hurt. Mr Leeds said: “Phil couldn't get off the stage and he was covered - it was so weird.”

t Tin Man play Norwich Arts Centre on April 17.

t I've Got My Lithium Ion You is released on April 17.

Further listening: Tin Man

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