If there was ever a time for aggressive, politicised, socially aware punk rock with a dose of sarcasm for good measure, it's now. 2017, the year the Tories reigned supreme once again, if only by default. Rewind 12 months and the British electorate marginally opts to leave the EU. Somewhere in between Donald Trump is elected president of arguably the most powerful nation in the world. These are seriously grim times.
So let me introduce you to LIFE, four angry young men from the city of Hull. Formed in 2013, they've spent the past few years honing their sound with the results finally unleashed earlier this year in the shape of debut LP Popular Music. Having already attained a reputation for their incendiary live shows, the time most definitely is now for one of the most vibrant, energetic and more importantly relevant bands in recent years.
DiS sat down with vocalist and lyricist Mez Sanders-Green after their recent instore at Nottingham's Rough Trade.
DiS: How did LIFE start out?
Mez Sanders-Green: We're a bit of a hidden phenomena on the internet because you can't really Google us! My brother Mick plays guitar. We grew up in a very hippy, lefty family so we travelled around a lot. We went to a lot of festivals from a very young age, mostly folk festivals. Things like Cropredy. My first memory of music was dad dropping me and my brother off at school, and we got out of his Nissan Bluebird - it was battered. The two doors had different colours. And we always used to get cheered because dad was playing Give 'Em Enough Rope by The Clash on full blast! So I guess that's where my love of music started. My best friend Loz (Etheridge) is on bass. He was my best friend at school so it's a very close knit set up. Me and Stewart (Baxter) the drummer are both youth workers in Hull. We work in a place called The Warren which is actually one of the few open access centres left in the UK. Its one of the last remaining places where anyone under 25 can go and get together with other like minded individuals. We have a lot of LGBTQ, travellers, all sorts really. We just accept them. Every person deserves a voice. Every person is unique. We want to make as many free music and art spaces available as we can. Try and steer them into careers which is ironic because I'm trying to get one in music! It's a great place and I think it's definitely informed what's on the album.
Do you think you'd have made an album like Popular Music if you weren't based in a city like Hull?
If we weren't based in Hull I don't know if this band would even exist. The ethos in Hull is very much community driven. We're proud of where we come from and also very proud of the creative scene there. Obviously the light's shone on it this year because the City Of Culture award has arrived at our door. So I think the album is very much a part of where we're from. I do feel Hull is embedded in it.
Hull's had a very vibrant music scene for some time yet it seems only now many of those bands are getting any kind of recognition. Why do you think that is?
There's a lot of bands in Hull who've trodden the path for a few years now. LIFE being one of them. Before that, me and Loz were in a band called The Neat then there's people like Matt Edible from a band called The Holy Orders who's been quite pivotal in bringing the scene together. He was playing in several bands when I first moved here ten years ago. There's an exciting new breed as well with people like Vulgarians, Lumer, and Serial Chiller. There's also an urban scene in the city which is so refreshing to see. It's always been very vibrant so it's great to see people outside of the city picking up on it. When someone from Hull does well it seems to inspire people within the city. It inspired me when I moved to Hull. Seeing bands like The Paddingtons and Fonda 500 gaining varying degrees of recognition outside the city. It informs your trajectory.
Would you ever consider moving out of Hull if the band became really successful? More often than not the music industry still has a London-centric feel about it.
It's very hard to get A&R people up to Hull. If it's not in Shoreditch or Hoxton they won't bother coming. So I get that it's going to be hard for us but I wouldn't change it for the world. It's made us who we are. Made us get this album out organically and independently. We wrote a request for PRS support and thankfully they gave us some money which went towards recording the album. We'd never recorded for seven days straight before. We'd only been able to afford a day's recording for a single. So to see the album finally finished and out in record shops was simply mindblowing!
The reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive. Were you expecting such lavish praise for the album?
We didn't ever set out intending to get five stars in The Guardian or wherever. To have that reception, and know the mainstream media are buying into what we do and encouraging people to listen was just incredible. It's such a great feeling. It made us feel we'd achieved something that we've really worked for. The whole process just happened organically so to get that kind of response makes it all worthwhile.
You've done everything yourselves and on your own terms so far. Do you believe if bands make an effort and put the work in the rewards are there if the music's good enough?
Definitely. That's the message I try and give out in my day job. I always tell young bands to go and do some research. Even if its just looking at which promoters are putting their favourite bands on so they can message them asking for a gig. Give them some love. They don't just want a screenshot sent by some PR company. At the end of the day the world is about human connection. We are lucky enough to have a great booking agent now but before then I was self-managing the band. That's still a great feeling as well. To have that complete control over something that you're so proud of.
Every song on Popular Music conveys a message that's relevant to the current social and political climate. Does that wholly inspire your songwriting?
Myself and Mick write the lyrics and it always tends to focus on day to day life and what's happening around us. I hear a lot of people saying there's a lot of political bands around at the moment but it genuinely is like that for us. We've always written about what's happening around us because that's what influences us. If you ignore that to create a record that's so beige then maybe you're the ones who should be questioned? You should never let that get in the way.
Why do you think there weren't many bands writing politically charged songs up until now?
The history of bands getting signed is very safe. You could play most bands' music at a wedding or in a Wetherspoons pub and people would like it. It's inoffensive whereas for me, music's always been about excitement and energy and having a voice. You've got to go out there and say something. Put your neck on the line. That's what we tried to do with 'Euromillions'. We wrote that about the disastrous moment of Brexit and then when Donald Trump came into power we thought about releasing it on his inauguration day.
Do you see Brexit having a long term impact on the arts in the UK?
I think it will have a devastating impact on the arts. It already has done. This government is only interested in elite music so they'll happily fund a 24-piece orchestra or a violinist rather than a band like ours. You can get a career playing a violin in some posh school somewhere when you've done nothing to achieve that. Hopefully that will change one day, but I can't see it happening any time soon. But then when bad things happen to art a lot of productivity comes as well so we'll just see what happens.
What are your plans for the rest of this year?
We've got a lot of festivals coming up this summer then we're touring again in October. We're hoping to tour in January. We live for the road and the live experience.
Would you say LIFE are more of a live band than recording artists at this moment in time?
We are, and that's why it was good to be able to record the album in a proper studio environment. Most of what you hear is us four playing the track with a few overdubs on after. We did want the production on the album to sound like we do live. One of my pet hates is going to see a band play live and them sounding nothing like they do on record. We try to do the opposite and record how we actually sound live. If that makes us sound retro or slightly less produced then so be it!
Bearing in mind some of the songs on Popular Music are 2-3 years old, have you started writing for the follow-up?
I've got a couple of new songs already in the bag. Now the album's finally out we just want to get back in the studio and record the next one.
Do you feel under any pressure to record a follow-up?
We know we have to follow it up, but we don't feel under pressure to do it any other way than on our own terms. I'd like to get something out early next year. I don't really like it when bands take two years to record an album and it sounds totally different to what they were doing before. We'd like to stay true to what we sound like. Hopefully we'll have some new songs ready in January.
Are there any other new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
There's quite a few new bands I'm listening to at the minute. We've struck up quite a strong bond with Idles. We actually met them at South-By-Southwest. We both played the British Embassy and since then we've met up at festivals. They're all hard working guys who still have day jobs same as us so we see them as great companions to what we're doing. Although they're not a new band I'd have to give a shout out to Slaves, because they made our trajectory a lot faster in terms of getting our music out there. We did a tour with them in November and we're so grateful to them for taking us. They get a lot of negative press but they're so honest and believe in what they're doing. There's a lot of great music happening in Brixton and South London at the minute. We played with a band called Yowl recently who are great.
What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Believe in your songs first. Then just do what you want to do. Look at the bands you're inspired by and follow their path. Don't wait around for someone to come and give you a lump sum because it probably won't happen. It's hard enough to get paid at work these days. Invest in yourselves. Invest in your music.