Meet False Heads, an East London based three-piece hellbent on bringing irreverent levels of noise, confusion, passion, and excitement back into guitar music. Formed seven years ago whilst still at school by Luke Griffiths (vocals & guitar) and Jake Elliott (bass), with drummer Barney Nash (drums) joining later, False Heads have earned themselves a reputation as one of the hardest working live bands on the circuit, having already played well over one hundred gigs during their short existence. Their first EP Gutter Press came out in 2016, hinting at what was to come. Three years later, having honed their sound to the frenetic post-punk racket blasting of the speakers today, they're one of the hottest prospects in the land right now.
Currently on the road in support of recent EP Less Is Better, DiS caught up with the trio prior to their explosive set at Nottingham's Chameleon Arts Cafe last month.
DiS: How's the tour been so far?
Barney Nash: We're coming up towards the last little run now, but it's been great so far. Really good fun. We've seen people wearing False Heads t-shirts at nearly every gig.
Jake Elliott: We've not had any stinkers yet, which is a beautiful thing. We've had people coming up to us after every gig saying they enjoyed it. So every show has felt like something fruitful for us. It hasn't always been like that.
Luke Griffiths: This is our longest headline tour so far. We've done 24 dates or something like that and they've all been good. Even Ireland...
JE: Although that turned out to be a bit of a jolly! A prelude to the rest of the tour.
The band's profile and popularity has built steadily, particularly over the past couple of years. Do you think it's the right time now for aggressive, socially aware, and politically charged guitar bands such as yourselves to make an impact?
LG: Definitely. There's a space now for guitar bands and artists in general that want to put something out a bit more authentic and not back away from having an opinion on something. Which I think is brilliant because we really need that more and more. Things became stale and boring more than anything, so it's great people want something different and it's clearly happening. Bands like Idles' albums are charting and hopefully we can go along for the ride.
BN: People are talking about Idles' Jools Holland performance whether they like them or not. It had aggression, was energetic, and even compared to a couple of years ago it definitely feels like something's happening right now. Even some of the bands we've played with over the past couple of years are starting to enjoy a little bit of success. It feels there's a wave ready to crash.
LG: Big time. Even last summer it felt like something was taking shape at the Isle Of Wight Festival when you had us, Strange Bones and The Blinders all playing the same stage. I think people will look back at that as a golden era as all those bands are making significant progress at the minute. The first time we played in Nottingham we supported The Blinders at The Maze in 2016, so it's brilliant to see them selling out bigger venues all over the UK. To see it happen to other bands on a bigger scale has made us work harder as well.
BN: You can just sense next year is going to be an important one for bands like us. Even looking at festival line ups this year in the UK, which by and large have been poor compared to the rest of Europe where they're more inclined to book rock bands. Whereas over here they just seem to pander to the mumble rap and Radio One crowds instead, which wouldn't be a problem if that's what the kids want as we're often told, when in actual fact it's probably a 50-50 split at best.
LG: I think there is a 50-50 split. Also, kids aren't as concerned about belonging to a certain scene or genre as they were when we were at school. There is more diversity now. My younger brother's really into club music but then he also loves Nirvana.
I guess that's partly down to Spotify and its playlist algorithms.
BN: Spotify playlists have completely taken on a life of their own, even behind what its creators could ever have imagined. They created something different without really being able to foresee how it would go, but who'd have thought playlists could have so much power? For smaller bands like ours, getting our music on a Spotify playlist is the best thing that can happen to us.
LG: 'Yellow' got in three Q Apple playlists which was massive for us. There are bands we know who've completely taken off because of Spotify, got lucky and ended up having millions and millions of streams. But then the down side of that is they struggle to pull forty people to a show, so you have to somehow try and find the right balance. But they're still really sought after, those Spotify playlists. I think the power they have is a bad thing, and the fact they know they have that power. But at the same time it is a good platform. Probably even better than radio now to discover new music.
BN: The only difference between Spotify and radio is if you're into music, you've got to make sure you get onto specialised stations because nowadays everyone is tuned into the same playlist. It's become more of a communal thing.
JE: When we first started out it was either Radio One or the NME and if you weren't in either of those it was pretty much game over, whereas now there's a plethora of stuff you can go to. So many places you can go to and Spotify is just one example. It's not just two things any more, but then I often wonder whether back in the day Radio One actually filtered out a lot of the shit. If you get there you must be really good, but then at the same time there was also a lot of missed talent. Bundles of it.
LG: I still think it's the same in a way. Playlisting can be a good thing but the downside is Apple Music and Spotify are monoliths in all of that.
BN: But then if you balance everything there's still promoters putting on gigs and people going to see them. So bands can still build themselves up that way, and as long as that remains a part of it there's always going to be monolithic figures in this industry. It's just about getting the balance right.
LG: It is good as well because once your music starts to get picked up by Spotify they do back artists and help them out. So you can't really moan about them too much. It's a really interesting one. I watched a really interesting interview with Billy Corgan on the Joe Rogan show recently where he says if the industry had embraced streaming when it first came out things would be a lot better now. I think artists would have benefited more as well because they might not have been paid less. But instead, the industry fought it and fought it until they realised they couldn't fight it any more. Spotify is genius really, and that is a problem. It's such a good platform and so easy to use. It's the perfect music consumption model.
BN: That's why it's so important to get your music on a playlist because then you're more likely to get paid, even if its only 0.0003 pence per play.
LG: I think it could balance out one day.
BN: It's so easy to upload music onto Spotify, so for that reason alone it's difficult for me to sit here and explain why it's a bad idea. But then the knock on effects from that are huge.
LG: It's probably put the death knell in other streaming services like Soundcloud, because the only thing that had left was you could just sign up and upload your music straight away.
Bandcamp is probably the one service that will remain, especially for new and unsigned acts putting their music online for the first time.
BN: It's the rebellious fightback. You can put your tour dates and sell merch on Spotify now but Bandcamp was the original go there place to upload and sell your music for any price. It's so simple and easy to use. We used to have one. Every band's had one at some point.
LG: Some of the bigger playlists have also started including music videos in there.
As well as this tour, you've also supported The Libertines and Queens Of The Stone Age in the last year. How did those shows come about?
LG: The Libertines slot came about through working with Gary (Powell), their drummer. He was putting some of our records out then he put us forward for the support slot and we got on the bill. We did the Kilmarnock date which was surreal because it's the first big show we ever did.
JE: That was definitely the first time we played on a big stage that wasn't a festival. What we realised that day was how professional it has to be. Having spent the summer sitting outside venues in the car drinking cans of Fosters it was very different to what we'd experienced before. We were there the whole day and it was very regimented. You realise how technical and professional things really are.
LG: Even when we played the Isle Of Wight this summer which was our first major festival, we still only had a five-minute line check before we went on. I remember sitting at the top of the stage waiting to go on and thinking about all the parties The Libertines soundtracked 10 years earlier, which was surreal. It was difficult too because their audience don't give a shit who you are. You have to win them over at every moment.
BN: We had a few of them come to our shows afterwards as a result of that. The Queens Of The Stone Age slot happened through Northern Exposure and Musicians Against Homelessness. They put on a competition which generally we don't like to enter but on this occasion we thought why not give it a go. Josh Homme is my hero so we thought let's do it. So we entered, played three songs and we won it. That's probably my favourite show so far. We played the main stage to loads of people.
LG: Just seeing some of the other bands on the bill hanging around backstage while we were chilling out. It was such a nice experience.
BN: It gave us a lift in terms of knowing where we need to be. I'd rather be doing that every weekend.
LG: It gave us a visual goal. If we can play our music to that many people before David Byrne and Queens Of The Stone Age we can do it anywhere. We've just got to be doing this all the time!
BN: I had a chat with Jon (Theodore), Queens Of The Stone Age's drummer, and he asked me if I'd had a go on his kit which I hadn't! So I was watching him from the side of the stage and then after the gig, I snuck back onstage to grab his drum sticks and got absolutely roasted by their roadie! The other show was supporting Josh Homme at ULU last year as part of the Nick Alexander Memorial Trust which was epic. We were outside having a cigarette with him chatting shit for hours.
JE: The door opened slightly then it opened again so we looked around and there was Josh Homme!
LG: It's really interesting watching how bands like Queens Of The Stone Age perform on stage. How they utilise every bit of space up there. It will be interesting to see how we fare should we get to play bigger stages more regularly, whether we can pack them out or not. Our manager told us to set up like The Jam which worked quite well, so I guess that might be a good way for us going forwards.
BN: Then get all Wings by the third album!
LG: It was a phenomenal weekend and Jake got to meet Nick Cave as well.
BN: We were sat outside having some food and there was Nick Cave sat opposite us. Jake's a massive fan so he was literally building himself up to go and talk to him and we were just about to leave the complex so he finally went and spoke to him!
JE: I was genuinely going to bottle it but then picked myself up, went over and said "Hi Nick, we played on the stage yesterday."
LG: It was just an incredible weekend for us. I hope there's many more to come.
You're based in East London. Do you find that beneficial or a hindrance being as there are so many other bands competing for the same thing?
BN: I speak to a lot of bands when we're on tour and most of them don't like going down to London because it's really difficult, and I can see why. There are some good promoters in London but at the same time, there are some really dreadful ones too. Pay to play is still a thing in some places too and we've been chased out of venues for money because we didn't bring more than thirty people to a show. That will always go on because people can exploit young bands. For some reason, it's the nature of the game. It's not music based in London, it's business based. We find it so different when we come to places like here or Liverpool or Manchester. But then again, there are so many venues in London. If we go to Camden on a Wednesday night there'll be four bands apiece on in twenty different venues. If you're a punter going out that night specifically to watch bands you're spoilt for choice, which ultimately means the majority of those shows will be poorly attended.
LG: It's a lot more difficult to establish yourself in London than in other parts of the UK. But at the same time, I wouldn't move away from it. Not now.
JE: Where we are now, we've got some good people we've played with and always have a good time playing in London because people will show up. We probably played in London every two weeks towards the back end of 2015 and early 2016, and most of those gigs were shocking, whereas now we probably only play two or three times there a year. The sound was terrible and no one would turn up. It' probably worse in London than anywhere else but it's a universal baggage that everyone has to go through.
LG: Read any band's biography and it will say exactly the same thing. But then we've had some great gigs in London. Our last show at Dingwalls was fantastic. Again, possibly the best show we've ever done.
BN: As well as Liverpool and Manchester, I'd tell bands to go to Stoke too. We played the Underground there which is a fantastic venue, and the promoter was great. He was telling us how difficult it was, because people in Stoke always complain that no decent bands ever play there but whenever he puts some on very few of them bother to turn up. We had such a good show there and the other bands we played with were great too. My favourite of the tour so far.
LG: It had such a vibe, and the toilets were proper grim as well!
You've released a bunch of singles and EPs over the past couple of years. Will there be an album?
JE: Yeah, definitely. We're doing another single early next year, a brand new song called 'Sleaze' that hasn't been released yet. It's all recorded, mastered and ready to go. Once we've got that done the focus will then be on an album in the second half of the year. We've got a lot of songs written already.
Do you have a producer in mind to work on the record?
LG: We've worked with Jonny Hucks for a while now and he's always been fantastic and we're working with a different producer on the next single which has also gone really well, so we're trying to find a way to use both when it comes to making the album. We like what both do, although whether they'll be able to work alongside each other at the same time we don't know yet. In an ideal world that would happen. Historically Jonny's been our man. He's helped us out pretty much from the start.
JE: When we recorded the Gutter Press EP, we still hadn't worked out how to play the songs properly and Jonny spent so much extra time with us making sure we knew how to get it right.
LG: I think he gets the sound we have in our heads.
Will there be any older songs on the album?
JE: There's a few.
LG: The action plan at the minute is to have 25 songs by January. For me, the newer songs like 'Yellow' and 'Help Yourself' off the EP and some songs you won't have heard yet are the best ones we've written so far. So the game plan next year is basically to put out the single, then announce the album, tour up to festival season, play some festivals, then finish and tour the album.
What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
JE: Play as often as you can. Get yourself out there as much as you can.
LG: Expect nothing.
JE: When it gets to a point where you're looking for more structure, i.e. choosing a manager or a booking agent, take your time.
LG: A good manager is so important. We've been through a few managers now. The difference it made for us in the space of three months was unbelievable.
BN: Make sure your PR is doing their job properly as well.
LG: Always seek legal advice.
Are there any other new bands you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out?
JE: We played with a band in Leeds called The Brookes and they were great.
LG: Gang from London are a really good band.
Less Is Better EP is out now via These Bloody Thieves Records. For more information on False Heads, please visit their official website.
Photo by Henry Calvert