Two top-40 albums into their career, and with a fervent fan-base at home and overseas, Lonely the Brave are proving a major draw on the live circuit.
Their debut album, The Day’s War, peaked at No.14 in the UK charts, and there’s been a keen reaction to recent follow-up, Things Will Matter, as founder member and guitarist Mark Trotter concurs.
“We didn’t know what to expect. It’s quite different from the first album. It’s still ultimately us, but has a different feel. We’re very lucky our fans are so dedicated. Most understand we want to grow and keep pushing on, and are very supportive of that.”
There’s plenty of depth to Things Will Matter, with lots of brooding moments, an epic feel in places – as on Dust & Bones, which went straight in at No.1 on the UK vinyl singles chart – and outright rock in others, not least Black Mire and Radar, both recorded as if in the face of a hurricane. At times the LP suggests American Mid-West landscapes rather than something borne out of Cambridgeshire. But I guess we’re talking similar countryside.
“Do you know what? It really is. My brother-in-law lives there, and when I visited I flew nine hours, got off the plane, and was wondering, ‘How did I end up in Cambridgeshire?’ It looks exactly the same … but bigger.”
Perhaps it’s something generated in the atmosphere through all those US Air Force bases.
“Absolutely. Yes, it’s all very odd.”
Considering their penchant for wide open spaces, it seems apt that the band name resembles that of 1962 Western, Lonely are the Brave – the tale of a free-spirited drifter and one of life’s outsiders, determined to put right modern society’s wrongs, the hard way.
“When you say that, I guess it does, but that film had absolutely nothing to do with the name, although people assume it did. We really liked the idea of something that could be interpreted in more than one way, but it came about because we were in a situation where we had to make a real hard call that would upset some people, to get where we wanted to be. It was the only real option, but we knew it would isolate us and make it fairly tough.”
I stand by my analogy though. Besides, Kirk Douglas, who led the cast, reckons it was his finest film.
Things Will Matter certainly takes the listener on a big screen journey. How does Mark think it differs from their 2014 debut LP?
“The first album was written and recorded as a four-piece, and although with this record the foundation was previously written, it was recorded as a five-piece, and we’re very different people to the guys who wrote that first record.
“A lot has happened, individually and as a band, and all that has an effect. We’re probably not as naïve to the music industry. Things change, and that’s the point. Everything affects you as you go through this, and should have an affect on what you do musically.”
Cambridge has a proud musical history, and I’ll put in a word for a band I love, The Bible, while before that we had The Soft Boys. And from more recent times my youngest daughter would doubtless add the electronic edgy pop of Clean Bandit. But most people will think of Pink Floyd, with Syd Barrett and Dave Gilmour both local lads. Was Mark aware of that Floyd link growing up?
“Absolutely – how can you not be, as a musician growing up in Cambridge? Actually, I don’t think it’s played on as much as it should be, that proud heritage, although I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan, so I’m going to say that.
“I wouldn’t expect a statue of Dave Gilmour in the high street, but there’s been a real pick-up of late, and a good friend, Neil Jones, has been very much involved in recent Syd Barrett celebrations, which is great and certainly lends itself to the Cambridge scene.”
While most recent addition Ross Smithwick is from Bristol, the rest of Lonely the Brave still spend the majority of their time in and around their home city. Did Mark get to see a lot of bands there in his formative years?
“I had my musical education at the Corn Exchange! I lived in a village 15 miles out, but went to a music college there and played in bands in Cambridge.”
And is there a less rocky side of you that finds itself checking out the Cambridge Folk Festival too?
“I’ve actually never been – how bad is that? Bushy (Andrew Bushen, bass) has been loads, and ultimately I should have, but whenever it’s been a possibility there’s always been something else on.”
Maybe that’s a new direction for the band. By way of example, there’s a nice outro on the album’s final track, Jaws of Hell, involving just a little piano and lead singer David Jakes’ lone voice.
“Well, 100 per cent! The brooding aspect interests me a lot more than rock does! To be candid, I think sometimes we probably get misconstrued as the kind of band that gets featured in all those rock music magazines. That’s great, but it’s only one part of what we do.
“I’m obsessed with film-score music, classical, folk, and various other things, and that definitely has an effect on what we do. All those things come together to make our songs, not just one element. Yet that can be a blessing and a curse, to be honest!”
Since the album came out in late May, have you had a busy summer?
“It’s been an interesting one. We did all the major UK festivals for the last three or four years running, but this time did some smaller boutique ones, as well as mainland European shows, so it’s been busy but in a different way. It’s been quite nice actually.”
“That’s just down the road – I can drive to that one!”
Then there’s a breather before the main 15-show itinerary, running from September 30th’s visit to Plug in Sheffield and October 22nd’s appearance at the Swn Festival at the Tramshed in Cardiff.
“We’re really looking forward to getting out there again, for the first full tour to support the record. Last time we toured was just before the album came out, with just a selection of the new songs. This time the focus is on the new songs.”
That touring schedule includes Manchester’s Neighbourhood Festival, the band headlining Grosvenor Street’s The Zoo on Saturday, October 8th, part of a multi-venue event also including the likes of Circa Waves, Twin Atlantic, Kate Nash, Rae Morris and Little Comets.
Have the band got to know a few artistes from your time on the road these past few years?
“Yes, and of those you mention we toured with Twin Atlantic. They’re probably the sweetest guys we’ve met, doing all this. It’s great when you meet really nice people. And I can only think of one incident where someone hasn’t been really lovely.”
You do realise I have to ask who that was now?
“I can’t say! I can think of two, actually – one is very, very famous, the others nowhere near. Mind you, I’d never met Mumford and Sons before, but backstage at a festival last year we walked in, had a chat, and they were nice, genuine guys. So being massively successful doesn’t mean you’re going to be an arsehole!”
Lonely the Brave have up and coming Brighton-based Falmouth outfit Tall Ships on the road with them, and from what I’ve heard by them so far, they’re another band with a big sound. They should be a good fit.
“They’re a great band, and we just want to take out bands that we like, someone you can imagine wanting to watch every night. They were recommendations on the basis that Ross knows them really well, and when the name came up we all said yes, straight away.
“They’re great on record and live, and really sweet, and that’s important too. Something different, really interesting, our fans are going to want to listen to. They’ll push us as well.”
In an earlier interview, Mark – profiling the band – suggested he was the stress-head, while fellow guitarist Ross was super-chilled, singer David was the deep one, bass player Andrew ‘Bushy’ Bushen was the calm one, and Gavin ‘Mo’ Edgeley was the archetypal mad drummer. Is that about right? Anything to add?
“Erm … I guess. How long have you got? If you were going to sum it up, I guess that would be it. We all have our moments! But we’re mates and have been a long time, and that’s important when you’re living in each other’s pockets day in, day out.
“The way things are these days, you’ve got to be a businessman as well, although it’s a bit of a shame you can’t just concentrate on being a musician, focusing 100 % of your energy on writing the best songs, not thinking about the rest. But in my experience you can’t write a certain way that you think will sell better. You have to survive from it all.”
While BBC 1 DJ and early Lonely the Brave admirer Zane Lowe called the band a ‘curiosity’, adding, ‘If you’re a fan, hold onto them tightly – If you’re not, you will be,’ another review from Rock Sound said they ‘could be the biggest band on the planet,’ and the NME said, ‘The band’s name will soon be up in lights, whether they like it or not’. Basically, there’s been a lot of hyperbole written about them in the past, from record company people to the music press.
But I’m guessing they shy away from that big gun approach, as suggested by the fact that they remain on the books of indie label Hassle Records, taking a more DIY line.
“Yes, although we’ve got a very good group of people who look after us – it’s not just down to us. But we’re in control of what we’re writing and in charge of our own destiny. If a company is going to force what you’re doing, you’re not going to necessarily agree with that as an artist. So to be in a situation where you can say, ‘This is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to sound’ is quite liberating.
“Also, I look at some of my favourite bands, and they don’t get played on the radio but they’re massively successful. You don’t have to write singles. Take The National for example, my favourite band – I’ve never heard them on the radio, but they’re known the world over and worked bloody hard to get there.”
I mentioned David Jakes being the deep one, and get the feeling he’s not an obvious front-man, quite introverted by all accounts. Yet there’s something about performing that allows the less outward-going to somehow overcome the shyness and nerves, with a prime example in recent writewyattuk interviewee Gary Numan.
“Dave’s only ever done what Dave does, and people were confused by that initially, seeing this front-man not into jumping around and swinging a microphone around his head. That would never work for us – it’s so contrived. We’ve toured with bands who practise jump-kicks before they play. I mean, really? Come on! It’s not real. Be spontaneous about it!
“With Dave, all he wants to do is sing and give the best performance he can. And if he had to stand behind a curtain 20 foot away, I wouldn’t care.”
That would probably make me warm to a lead singer every time.
“He’ll openly admit it’s not his most comfortable place to be, but everyone expresses it differently. I get really animated on stage, but don’t really know what I’m doing half of the time! I just get so lost in the music. Dave does that, but in a different way, focusing in on himself and his performance, which in itself can be very intense.”
In a niche-obsessed industry, I’ve heard comparisons of the band’s work with that of Bruce Springsteen, The Deftones, Pearl Jam and Biffy Clyro. In fact, there are allegations of stadium rock. Guilty as charged?
“I don’t know … I honestly don’t know. I think we’re equally at home on a big stage – and maybe more so – than some of the smaller stages. A small club gig is always fun and chaotic, and that’s great, but as a band you have to realise you can’t get up on a big stage in front of thousands and play the same – it doesn’t work. And I love playing big stages – it’s a lot of fun.”
You’re recognised as a strong live act. In fact, I understand that the fella behind the Hassle Records label – Ian ‘Wez’ Westley – was so impressed, seeing you in a London pub playing to around 20 people three years ago, that he ended up taking you on. Is that a typically-intense reaction?
“We’re a very different band to the one we were that night, but I remember that night very clearly. I remember Wez standing about 10 feet away, his arms crossed in front of him, us knowing exactly who he was, thinking, ‘Jeez, this is intense!’
“I think the majority of people who see us live end up getting it. It is intense. It’s not throwaway stuff we’re talking about. It’s all real-life experiences, Dave writing all the lyrics based on stuff he’s been through and we’ve been through and are going through. There’s nothing contrived about it.”
Of all the labels put your way, I believe you quite like the term ‘doom-pop’.
“We toured with a band called Bad Rabbits (from Boston, Massachusetts), and the drummer, Sheel, said ‘I’ve been trying to work out what you guys are. I’m going to call you doom-pop’. I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that!’
“But it’s a music industry thing – you have to have a label, be put in a little niche. I hate that.”
After two hit albums, do you still recognise yourself from that very first EP in 2008? And did you know where you were headed back then?
“I know where I wanted us to be, although I’m not sure if that’s where we were headed. Those are two different things! I think we’re still the same band, but with a lot more experience of life and as a band.
“When we first started writing and recording we were just four mates who loved music and all had jobs. Now this is our job and our profession, but while it’s different it’s much the same in some respects. The biggest thing for me is we have to keep progressing. If you don’t, what’s the point?”
How soon did the day-jobs go – in Mark’s case working for an asset management company – and this became a full-time profession for you all?
“Pretty quickly after we signed our deal. Things started to get really busy. It’s the same as everything though – it’s peaks and troughs. I’m not going to play the bleeding heart, but it’s difficult at this level.
“Look at the way the music industry works – you have massive pop bands making millions and everyone else struggling to survive, with not a lot in between. But I guess it’s about working smart, playing to your strengths, and for us that’s playing live and recording and keeping going as long as we possibly can.”
One more question, and it’s a far more flippant one at that, concerning the amount of facial hair in the band, at least judging by the latest publicity material. Is that still the case?
“Right now, yes, but my wife keeps hassling me to shave, so it’s probably going to be gone by this afternoon. It’s laziness more than anything else!”
Lonely the Brave play The Zoo (Grosvenor Street, Manchester, 0161 273 1471) as part of the multi-venue Neighbourhood Festival on Saturday, October 8, with wristband tickets (allowing access to all venues) available via Gigs & Tours or Ticketmaster.