No Sinner sprawl themselves around the Brudenell’s back room as if they have been playing gigs there their whole lives, a home from home. Eric restrings his guitar listening to old blues tracks while new bassist Brandon lounges in the corner. I’m greeted though by the band’s singer Colleen and drummer Ian, who launch into telling me about the reception they’ve experienced so far on their UK tour.
The quartet have already played Dublin, Manchester and Bristol but it is in Nottingham and here in Leeds where cultures have most obviously clashed, as Colleen explains incredulously:
“I’ve heard a lot of girls making fun of my clothes, which has never happened before at shows. A girl in Nottingham said I had my dress on backwards, which I didn’t. And just today, when I was walking down the street I heard someone say, ‘Eugh, look at her!’ Are the girls a little catty here?”
“I can take ‘em!” she adds laughing.
From beneath a pile of guitar strings Eric shouts across the room that he was similarly ridiculed for a pair of striped pants when a group of teenage girls simultaneously burst out laughing.
There is no bitterness in the tales. They are just some of a raft of stories picked up on the road, ripe to put into new material or to be remembered fondly as part of the band’s first incursions into the UK music scene.
Their recently released album Boo Hoo Hoo draws inspiration from the decades of music that preceded it without sounding dated or old in any way. Striking that delicate balance has helped them develop as a band and begin to make their mark outside their native Canada, building a reputation as a storming live act.
“It’s a very live sound on the record,” Collen tells me. “But the thing that’s great about the shows is that every time we do them a little bit differently. It’s fun, we all know the songs and we all trust each other on stage.”
“We’re not afraid to space out,” Ian adds. “There is quite a lot of improv involved and cues and stuff. We just basically get to a section and anything can happen for a certain number of bars and then you just find each other again. That’s awesome to me, it’s really exciting and satisfying as a musician to have people who are willing to go out there. And you have to have some balls to do that too.”
The addition of permanent bassist Brandon Clark has aided the process. Just two weeks before the tour started Clark was told he would replace a string of guitarists who had been filling in for No Sinner and since has developed a strong relationship with the band. Behind the kit Ian has particularly benefited from the presence of a specialist bass player:
“Our previous bassists were all guitar playing front men in their own bands, with record deals. We’re hoping that number five (Brandon) is a charm. It was nice to find a guy who just specialised on bass, that’s what he was born to do. He is to me the archetype of what a bass player really is, he’s really talented, you can’t deny the power of a great bass player.”
If stability on stage has developed the band’s live performance, fluidity behind the scenes has enabled No Sinner to show off the range of music they can produce. Colleen and Ian explain that the band wrote debut album Boo Hoo Hoo with several friends which explains the depth of sounds on it. From the stripped blues of That’d Be The Day, to Love Is A Madness and Rise Up – each dripping with soul – to barnstorming boogie Runnin’ and the darkness of Devil On My Back, the tone varies around the constant force that is Rennison’s vocals.
“I’m really lucky in that one of the things that unites the songs is me. I’m always involved in the writing and it’s my story. They really let me have it and take the reigns. I’m the one singing it, it’s got to be real for me.”
And it is without a doubt Rennison is the gel that makes No Sinner stick. Her role as a writer independent of, and then as a performer with the other members provides a focus and spark that many other bands can only dream of. But, she admits the process isn’t always easy and that, like many of the soul and blues greats who have gone before her, her inspiration is rooted in pain.
“I get nervous, I don’t know why. I used to freestyle and jam all the time, but sometimes I get a bit embarrassed and self conscious with the guys. The songs can be really revealing so I need to take time to commit to words and what it’s about. It’s driven by pain usually, or some sort of conflict. Sometimes it’s good to just get it out, I call it exorcising the demon. You can expel it and look at it for what it is.”
Any doubt is eradicated though by the support of her bandmates, strengthened by the newly initiated Clark, and on stage there is no embarrassment or second guessing.
Ian tells me the band won’t play a song without Rennison’s full approval. The buck may stop with the singer, but Ian, Eric and now Brandon have the utmost trust in her judgement, and she in theirs.
“Once I’ve committed to the songs and they mean something to me it’s still a little bit revealing and embarrassing, but there’s no uncertainty. I want to know that I mean it, I want to be fully behind it so I can give it all I’ve got on stage. I trust these guys more than myself, as long as they’ve given their stamp of approval I know it’s alright.”
As Eric and Brandon disappear to prepare for sound-check I ask what the future has in store for No Sinner beyond the evening’s Brudenell performance. The pair boast of an album’s worth of material that didn’t make it on to Boo Hoo Hoo and promise a new record in 2015.
“We have twice as many songs that are not on the album. We’ve got a good album’s worth of songs that have been written and recorded. We want to release again in 2015, we’ve got lots of good stuff on the go, heavier stuff, a little bit more Devil On My Back kind of vibe, a little bit more jammy. We’re writing with the full band so it’s still the same character and story but it’s a little bit more psychedelic, more progressive, which is really fun.”
As with any band on the rise, Colleen and Ian seem to be on a constant high, their enthusiasm and drive light up any room they pass through. They, along with Eric Campbell and Brandon Clark live for and through their music. Browne’s attitude reflects his role in the music as almost shy but supremely calm, a reliable backbone and when he talks or plays, you listen. Likewise, Rennison exudes the confidence and charisma of a front woman, passionately speaking almost through stream of consciousness but still articulate and engaging.
Just don’t call her a diva.