We're at the sold out Y Not Festival in the Derbyshire peak district. In just over an hour, Eagulls will play the Giant Squid (second) Stage and already a crowd has gathered out front. It's been another rewarding year for one of the UK DIY punk scene's most successful exports in recent years; second album Ullages came out in May to a wave of critical acclaim, while their shows continue to sell out up and down the land.
Before their set, vocalist George Mitchell talks to DiS about touring, playing festivals, difficult second albums, and the even more arduous process of finding time to make a third. Words here...
DiS: It's your first time playing at Y Not. Are you looking forward to it?
George Mitchell: Yeah it should be fun. Should be a laugh.
You're playing a lot of festivals this summer. Are there any you're particularly looking forward to?
I'm looking forward to playing Liverpool Psych Fest. I've always been away on tour or recording when that's come around before, so it will be good to finally go and catch some of the bands there. Tomorrow at Kendal Calling should be good too. I generally tend to go with the flow - just get in the van, turn up, and see how it is.
Do you find playing festivals is a good way of introducing new people to the band?
It's a great opportunity for us to play our music to anyone anywhere, so if people are willing to listen it has to be a good thing. I enjoy playing festivals, but then at the same time I also miss playing our own headline shows. We have full control over everything so can make the show our own. All of them are good fun in their own way.
You're touring with Protomartyr and Traams at the end of October. How did that come about?
We're really good friends with Protomartyr. We were with them in Detroit for a few weeks earlier this year, and we talked about doing some shows together. Then it turned out they were thinking about coming to the UK, so it seemed like a good idea for us to tour together.
Will there be a return leg in the States afterwards?
I'd like to do that, but I'm not too sure at the minute. We just did a tour of America so it's hard to go back and do another one. It would be great if we could though - it would be nice to go to Europe with them as well. We'll see...
Your second album Ullages came out in May to widespread critical acclaim, including an 8/10. Do you pay much attention to what people are saying about your music?
I do read quite a lot of the reviews. I'm one of those people that scouts through all of our press, and I often find it very funny when someone gets something wrong about us and it almost becomes gospel as a result. It's like Chinese whispers; it just keeps going and going. It's really funny.
What's most striking about Ullages is the natural progression from its predecessor, which in itself was a stark contrast to the band's inaugural visceral punk phase. Do you deliberately set out to move away from the sound of your previous recordings when writing new material?
It's a natural progression really. We had a lot of time to sit back and think about what we could do next. We could have made a similar kind of record to the first one, but I don't see the point as we've already done that. For us there's no point in making the same record twice; it's like a magician doing the same magic trick over and over again. Your audience would get bored, and so would you after a while. We all wanted to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
I remember seeing you play in Nottingham on the tour for the first album in October 2014 and you opened with 'My Life In Rewind', which didn't have a title at that point but still sounded very different to the rest of the set that followed. Did you know at that point the second album would be very different from its predecessor?
I think we started playing 'Blume' on that tour as well. But while we were playing those songs live it also gave us some ideas about what we could do with them going forwards. It felt like we were test running them as the songs progressed.
Did many of the songs change from how they originally sounded to how they ended up on the record?
Yeah. 'Blume' changed drastically. Goldie was playing it on a Rickenbacker 12 string at first, and it had a really sixties kind of sensibility to it. Then he made it come back to our sound for the rest of the album. With 'Lemontrees', when we started playing that there weren't any lyrics. I was actually working them out as I was singing it! I was just singing melodies. There's actually a You Tube video where you can hear the words coming in and out. That's how I write.
'Lemontrees' reminds me of Sons And Fascination era Simple Minds.
It was the first song we wrote for this album; it's the bridge song from the first album to the second. It was the first song we started to work on and it took us a while, but we managed to get there in the end.
Did you have an idea of the direction you wanted Ullages to take from the outset or did it just happen over time?
We knew we wanted to slow down and have a lot more depth and textures to the music. A bit more dynamism as well, because the first album was just straight up and go for it. We wanted to - not necessarily take a step back - but figure out how we could move emotions up and down. Change tempos and add more textures.
Matt Peel produced the record. What was he like to work with? What did he bring to the sessions?
Matt helped us with the structural layouts on some of the songs, 'Heads Or Tails' in particular. Matt helped us move that around a lot. 'My Life In Rewind' as well; we had three choruses in that at one point - maybe more - and Matt helped us jumble it around and make a double verse structure instead. He was a big help in that sense.
'My Life In Rewind' has become the album's focal point for many people. It's also probably the most reflective piece of music you've released so far. Were you aware that might happen after you'd written it?
'My Life In Rewind' was the song that changed the sound of the record. Goldie started jamming the riff, and I told him to keep playing it; then we all joined in. It's one of the only songs that was written right there as a band - it just came. I was on my keyboard working out the melodies then I just started singing it. It was one of those moments where everything just fell into place, and that really changed our direction. We just carried on with a similar sound and in the space of a fortnight, Goldie wrote the initial riffs for three or four other songs. It was the catalyst for the rest of the album.
'Velvet' is the latest single off the album. Was that something you all agreed on?
Yeah it was. We knew that it was a banger so we went with it! We've released it on a flexidisc and it's been played on the radio a few times, but I don't expect it to be playlisted, as radio people generally don't seem to like us.
Why do you think that is?
Because we don't pay the radio stations enough money to play our songs!
It also comes with a fanzine you've put together, Procrastination. How did that come about?
I did a fanzine for the first album as well. This one's mainly just illustrations - I can't even remember what I wrote actually!
Ullages is an anagram of Eagulls but also means "the amount that is lost" or "the amount that falls short of being full". Did the meaning have any bearing on how the band were falling at the time and ultimately become the main reason for the album's title?
The songs are very much like that as a comment. Sometimes looking for more when there isn't anything else.
Were there any songs that didn't make Ullages that you might revisit in the future?
There were two or three songs that we didn't actually use. One of them because we felt it wasn't really all there and needed more work, and to be honest, I think we'll just scrap it. It's like trying to paint a picture and you know that its wrong. There's no point trying to fix it. It's past the point of no return and done. The canvas is already ruined. Then there's another song which we thought was a bit too similar to another band's sound so we dropped it.
You've got quite an extensive back catalogue of material now. Looking back, if you had the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you'd change or do differently?
Oh yeah, definitely. There are loads of things I'd change already from this album.
'Heads Or Tails' for starters. The structure is just completely wrong. And that's really bad as well, because I've just said Matt (Peel) helped us out with that one. I feel there's a verse in there that's not needed. But there's all sorts of things I wish I could have changed. At the time when you're making stuff and being creative you just do what you're doing. There's no time to have any second thoughts; you're just focused on making a record in the studio. I'm the worst person to ask this kind of question though, I judge myself too much. Nothing is ever right.
Is it difficult putting together a live set with so much material to choose from?
It's difficult trying to please everyone, and we're still trying to figure it out. Some of the older songs won't be in the set again. When I listen back at the first songs we wrote they sound ridiculous now! I guess that was just us growing up and working out what we were doing. We aren't one of those bands that's sat down and planned what we're going to do. It's great for those bands that want to do that, but we'd rather be creative while working out what we're doing. It took us a few singles and an EP to get to the first album; that was when we realised what we were doing. 'Moulting' is one I'd like to bring back into the set for the next tour, so that might happen.
Will there be a third album? Are there any songs or ideas in place?
We haven't started writing anything yet. We spent a lot of time writing, recording, and mixing this album, then we went straight out on tour playing the songs. When we're touring it's impossible for us to find time to write. You get home and all you want to do is eat beans on toast and chill out. We really want to do it though, it's just finding the time to start and get settled down. Get our heads into it.
You're playing festivals throughout the summer, then on tour until the end of October. What are your plans for the rest of the year after?
We've got a few other bits pencilled in. There's talk of us going to Australia, and we also just got offered to play in India. I can't remember what the festival's called but it sounds amazing. It's one of those places Western bands rarely get asked to play, so we said we'd do it straight away.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers check out?
Our friends from Leeds, FEHM - they're worth checking out. They've just written a load of new songs that remind me of one of my favourite post-punk bands, Lowlife. They're really good, and also really nice people as well. That's who we hang around with when we're in Leeds. It's good to see them making great music.
For more information on Eagulls visit their official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon