Life are from Hull.
They’re brash and punky, full of attitude but also possessed of a lyrical and melodic authority and composure that marks them out as being something a bit special.
Since forming a year ago they’ve had radio play from Steve Lamacq, John Kennedy, and Zane Lowe on Radio 1 and playlistings on XFM and Amazing Radio. They’ve also made a splash on the urban festival scene and at the time of me pressing publish on this piece they are at number 19 on the Amazing Radio Chart.
I’ve been trying to catch up with them for a while but they’ve been all over the country so when I heard they were planning a single launch at The Adelphi in Hull that sounded too good to miss.
The line up is Mick (guitars), Mez (vocals), Loz (bass) and Rich (drums). Mick and Mez are the mandatory brothers who provide the lyrical core of the band and whose sibling rivalry and petulance will someday rip the project asunder but for now they’re mates and they sit and chat and answer some questions before the show. On my recording I can’t tell them apart so I shall attribute their answers to LIFE.
Louder Than War: You’ve all been in bands before. Most of you were in The Neat.
LIFE: The Neat was Mez, Loz and Rich, but without Mick. The rest of us are older than him and we’ve been in a few bands. He’s only nineteen.
You’ve been together about a year and it’s been pretty busy. Is it all a bit of a blur or do you feel in control?
It’s gone real fast but I think we’re one of those bands that will always want to stay in control. Partly because of who we are. Partly because of coming from Hull. If we were in the East End of London and waltzing about getting pissed all day maybe we’d be less in control but we’re from Hull and we all have full time jobs and we like to stay in charge of things. We all have to balance our day jobs and the band but at the moment the music is our main aim. We’ve had some fantastic gigs – Great Escape, Liverpool Sound City, Live At Leeds, Dot To Dot Festival, Camden Rocks.
I saw the videos of you at Live At Leeds. How did it feel playing in front of what looks like a full house at the Academy? You don’t look phased by it.
There were two thousand three hundred people there! Obviously they weren’t all there for us but you’ve got to go out there and enjoy it. We were really surprised when we saw how full it was. Kodaline were the headliners, we were first band up. We were expecting people to come in in dribs and drabs and we’d have to try to get them to come to the front but we went out and the place was at capacity almost.
All the press materials I get through from your management begin with the words “Hull punks Life” but you don’t seem to be a band that’s that too bothered about genre.
I think if you stick to one genre you’re limiting yourself as to what you can do. We all contribute equally to the band’s sound and we’re all influenced by different things. We get called punks and we do have some of the punk ethos about us. We grew up listening to a lot of music with punk at its heart (because our Dad was in new wave bands and we listened to his record collection but we listened to a lot of other stuff too. Still do.
Your songs sound like you put some effort into creating them. They’re not just chucked together like some. The new single Take Off With You sounds almost like three songs in one. Did it grow organically from a single idea of are you more deliberate than that when you’re writing new material?
It’s actually one of our most spontaneous songs. I had this riff that I had had knocking around for a while and I was playing it and Mez heard it and then we got a lyric on it and it just took off from there. We put a lot of work into it though because it had this vibe that felt like if we tweak this we can build it up nicely into something special. It felt like it had potential. We’re pretty happy with it, especially the big chorus, because a lot of choruses can be a bit wet and we wanted it to have some power and emotion.
Your single Money sounds quite political. Are you a political band?
We do take an interest in politics. I don’t think that lyric is political in the sense that it’s about the government but it is a bit of a tirade against moneyed people, people who don’t have to give a fuck because they’ve got silver spoons in their mouths.
Your PR mentions an interest in pop culture. Anything from Steinbeck to Breaking Bad it says, which is the high end of low culture. Who’s the culture fan?
That would be both of us because we write the lyrics. We both read a lot. At the moment we’re reading a lot of the beat poets and writers who hung out with them. We like Ferlinghetti and Bukowksi and we try and work little references to what we’ve been reading into our songs. We try not to be pretentious though, we just like a bit of wordplay. We’ve got a song called Ginsberger for example. And a line that mentions Kerouac. We try to give it a modern twist.
Can your drummer really rip an apple in two?
He can. Yeah. We don’t know how he does it.
You’ve been working with Nick Hodgson from the Kaiser Chiefs.
Well we go back quite far with him, over five years. He helped us with The Neat and we connect. He’s a Leeds guy and he saw something in us. He likens us to the Kaiser Chiefs when they were raw and touring the clubs. He’s great to work with because he knows his stuff and when he’s excited by what you’re doing that’s a great feeling. People in bands are always excited by what they’re doing but to have someone like Nick excited too, that validates what you’re feeling yourselves.
Steve Lamacq said last year that the music business is too metropolitan and that bands from the provinces, he specifically mentioned Hull bands, tend to get ignored.
I think it’s definitely the case. There’s a lot more going on here than you might think. There are a lot of good bands in Hull. Daze and Babies who are playing tonight to start with, and Mother and The Talks. The drummer from Drowners is from Hull too. If you read the papers and listen to the radio you’d think there were only two cities in Britain – London and Birmingham. And the industry can become lazy. A lot of rich kids in London start up bands in Dalston and that’s where the record companies are. When we go to London we have A&R men come in and we’ve had some interest. But try and get an A&R man to come to Hull for a little gig. Different matter. We always get asked when are you moving to London.
So you’re Hull through and through.
It’s an underdog city. We won’t let it get ignored.
How do you go about finding the things you need? Management, studios, rehearsal space, venues? Is Hull good for music making?
Pretty good. There’s a music place in town called the Warren, they’ve just started Warren Records there, they support a lot of bands and then there’s this place, The Adelphi, and there’s Mark who’s done wonders with the Humber Street Sess. He’s been nominated for a festival award now, and of course Hull being 2017 City of Culture, that’s going to make a difference. It’s bound to bring people in – the fruit market area is buzzing. So long as it’s not just a fad, it’s got to spread out into the rest of the city. You can still walk down Whitefriargate and every shop is boarded up.
You played the main stage at the Freedom Festival. It was your eighth gig. How did that feel?
It was a proud moment – in front of our home crowd. It was our first time on a big stage. We were on early but it was still good. It feels very different on a big stage. Some gigs we’ve played in London have been tiny rooms up three flights of stairs over pubs. The Dot To Dot Festival gig was tiny too. Capacity sixty, there were people on the stage with us.
You’ve been touring pretty hard lately. You played London on March 19th and Dundee on the 20th. That’s a good stretch. And there was a band there that really hated you? Like a big rivalry?
Yeah we made it but we were exhausted. The rivalry thing was because Dundee and Hull were both up for City of Culture and Hull won. It wasn’t a real rivalry, just a bit of fun.
Did you enjoy touring? Could you get used to it?
Yeah we loved it. That was our first experience of back to back gigs and that’s very different to playing spread out gigs. Playing. Sleeping in the van while someone drives. Playing again. It starts to feel like doing a job.
And what’s next for Life?
We’ve got some good festivals coming up. Wicker Man, Kendall Calling, Boardmasters. And then a big tour in October. And we’ll be recording for a potential release in 2015.
Thanks guys. I’ll let you get on now.
So I let them carry on getting ready for the show and go for a wander. Outside the venue people are beginning to gather and when I get back there’s getting to be a bit of a buzz about the place.
First up are Babies with a set of booming surfer punk followed by Daze who describe themselves as shoe gaze psychedelic rock and whose fuzz heavy riffs unwind echoing and powerful across the room, full of desert atmospherics and poppy choruses, proof if it were needed that there is a lot of talent in this city and a lot of diversity too.
By the time Life take the stage the place is packed – they’ve clearly got a local following building up. The set opens with In Citrus, a big slab of straight up and down rock, not subtle but brutal and very effective. It’s a great opener, sending out a message that this is a night when few if any prisoners will be taken.
The set list contains all the singles that I have been playing now for weeks and which have become part of my personal soundtrack – the bitter Money and my personal favourite Crawling which sounds like a piece of classic Pub Rock mixed up with Jilted John, some cockney punk, a bit of hip hop and an 80s baseline. There’s also I Wanna Forget which starts slow and build to a chorus which could come straight out of The Ramones songbook.
The band are as tight as you could wish and Mez, when he’s not reading poetry, is an utterly compelling vocalist, part strutting Jagger, part vulnerable Doherty, part confrontational Jesson, a mixture of feral restlessness and sly intensity and old fashioned showmanship. He’s not easy to photograph because one minute he’s deep in the crowd on the floor, the next he’s climbing the drum kit and finding out just how low those beams in the roof at the Adelphi really are, but through it all you get the impression that there’s a lot of skilful image management going on here.
I remember what they said in the interview about being in control. The band have the happy knack of looking spontaneous and transgressive while staying firmly in charge of what they do. It’s a good trick that will carry them far. Don’t doubt that for a moment.
Of course the climax to the show is new single Take Off With You and it’s a blinder. I’m not going to try and put a label on it. You listen to it. It reminds me of a long lost Talking Heads track but you may hear something else completely. Whatever it is, it’s great and Life are a band on the way up, there’s not much doubt of it.
Watch this space.
Even if it’s a space in Hull.