Athelete: Fit for success

It’s been a long while coming, but it could be that Athlete’s time is finally here. Lynette Alcock talks to the band’s keyboard player, Tim Wanstall.

Studying biblical studies at university followed by a stint working as an actuary isn't exactly the easiest way to land yourself in a rock band.

But for Athlete keyboardist Tim Wanstall the roundabout approach to a career in music has made him appreciate what he has even more.

From age 14, the classicaly trained pianist-turned-rock-keyboard player has been in a band with three school friends, now his fellow band-members in Athlete, Joel Pott, Carey Willetts and Steve Roberts.

In the mid-Nineties when Britpop ruled and every band wanted to be the next Blur or Oasis, the foursome from Deptford, South-London, began making a name for themselves on the London circuit.

But soon after Tim left London for Sheffield University and he band were left making music that as Tim puts it: “they would not have wanted to be known for.”

A year after coming home with his head down training to be an actuary, Tim decided to re-aquatint himself with his former buds and Athlete were formed.

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While some groups like to churn out records with frightening regularity, Athlete are a band that like to ponder, muse, pause and experiment again before unleashing their creations.

So much so that when the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Vehicles and Animals was finally released in 2003 the single You've Got the Style had to be re-released to remind people who the band actually were.

It's a recurring theme. The band have just finished recording the eagerly anticipated second album, Tourist, but again release dates have been delayed by the bands desire to linger over their work.

“Last summer we just felt really creative,” says Tim. “So we asked if we could delay the release of the album and Parlephone are committed to helping us so there was no pressure to rush it,” he says.

“We spent the first four months of 2004 writing the album and the next four in the studio recording it, then in the extra time we recorded Half Light and 24 hours, so we were pretty pleased.”

Athlete have been compared with an eclectic range of groups from the Beach Boys to Mercury Rev, Gomez to XTC, but even Tim can't tell me who the band are like.

Tim explains: “The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin was a real influence on us when we were recording Tourist. The drum sounds and big epic strings on that record have a real purpose; it's not like they have been put on as an afterthought for effect,” he says.

“Other musicians we admire are people like Beck and Radiohead. No one has any idea what their next album is going to sound like.”

He adds: “We are not the kind of band interested in replicating the formula of our first album, we want to experiment and take risks.

“If Vehicles and Animals was about a sense of home and community and just being around the people you love, then the central theme of Tourist is about being away from all that.

“When we wrote the last album it was about a dream coming true. Then the reality of being in a band set in,” he says.

“It means a lot of time away from home. We are on the road for several months at a time, but at the same time we are privileged because we are doing something we love so it is a bittersweet thing really.

“This album is definitely darker and Joel's voice is a lot more exposed, it is a lot more personal,” he says.

“Although it is still good British pop and uplifting to listen to,” he adds quickly.

t Athlete play the UEA, Norwich, on March 18. The gig is sold out – any returns from the box office on 01603 508050.

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