Brooklyn based UK duo LOVELIFE made their UK live debut in London’s Camden Barfly for a much anticipated showcase of their indie R’n’B electro fusion.
Having played numerous gigs in their adopted home of New York, Lee Newell, one-time lead singer with VIVA BROTHER and Ally Young, formally of TEC favourites MIRRORS were suitably relaxed and showed no nerves beforehand. The evening was opened by the impressive NIGHT ENGINE, a band who hail from Once In Royal David’s City… Bowie and Byrne that is. Despite their obvious influences, their energetic artful pop (complete with mad Eno-esque synth dressage) was an immediately accessible joy.
But it was LOVELIFE that the crowd had come to see so opening with the brilliant ‘Brave Face’ from the debut ‘El Regreso’ EP, Newell showed himself to be a very capable and charismatic front man, his boy band looks winning favour with numerous female members of the audience. Young meanwhile continued to display the exuberant enthusiasm that was always a pleasing feature at MIRRORS gigs, harmonising with Newell while handling his Dave Smith Prophet 08 and Moog Little Phatty. Incidentally, it was also great to see MIRRORS’ James Arguile in the crowd giving his support to his former bandmate and later affirming his positive vibes about the music.
LOVELIFE’s performance was augmented by drums and guitar; while these elements added a sure-fire bite to proceedings, neither was too imposing with the former providing percussive colours alongside the power while the latter gave texture to the grooves, samples and synthetic atmospheres….however, it was quite different from VIVA BROTHER despite these two additional musicians Frank Colucci and Sam Jackson both being ex-Brothers.
Running though a variety of beat driven numbers such as ‘Tonight (We’re Taking Our Own Lives)’, ‘Your New Beloved’ and ‘Invisible’, LOVELIFE’s genre blend worked well in a live setting, the contrast of Newell’s and Young’s tastes pushing boundaries for an unusual template within electronic pop.
Not quite synthpop, not quite indie rock and not quite R’n’B but most definitely different. Newell’s lyrical gists are often very personal and none more so than on ‘She Makes It Look So Easy’. Closing with the rousing and anthemic pop of ‘Heaven’, the most immediate song from their new release ‘The Fourth Floor’, LOVELIFE are finding their way and most importantly enjoying the ride.
Just prior to this performance, Ally Young and Lee Newell spoke to The Electricity Club to give an insight into their music and values…
What inspired you to come together musically as LOVELIFE?
Lee: We never intended to write music together, Ally was working as a producer on VIVA BROTHER’s second album. We started writing tunes over a period of six months and realised there was a connection there so we wanted to see how far we could take it.
Ally: Yeah, we never planned to do it.
Ally: The way we’ve done it is kind of an evolution. After we did the VIVA BROTHER album, we kept going with stuff together that was different to what both of us had done previously. We can start from a drum loop, chord progression or a melody. Lee writes all the toplines and all the lyrics but we do everything else together, bouncing ideas back and forth.
The indie press and blogs appear to have assumed LOVELIFE is a reincarnation of VIVA BROTHER and some have been dismayed by the more electronic based content?
Lee: I expected it to happen but you can’t get hung up on those sorts of things. You’ve go to do what you gotta do and just play music! We’re not here to please anyone other than ourselves; I think that’s the whole ethos behind our music. Before perhaps we’ve been ushered into areas we weren’t necessarily meant to go but now we’ve got this freedom and no pressure from labels, just pressure from ourselves. Because we’re doing it on our own terms, there’s no need to worry about anything else. So whilst a few of the blogs were a bit dismayed, I think now a lot people are getting quite excited about the whole thing from what I hear.
Ally: Like Lee said, it wasn’t a total shock, it’s just a bit lazy saying “this is VIVA BROTHER reincarnated”; I wasn’t in the band so it can’t be!
Lee: …we wanted to get away from it all after VIVA BROTHER and our manager suggested we get our pennies together and relocate to New York to make something happen.
Ally: We didn’t take much persuading!
Lee: So we went and then six months later, we went with the idea of playing some gigs as a band and came back as LOVELIFE. What you see in the show is like a year’s worth of writing and recording.
Ally: We literally went at the drop of a hat! We didn’t know what we were going to do when we got there…I’d never even been to New York! We were a band that no-one knew who had three songs on the internet so we started from the bottom. We had nothing and it was really exciting.
Lee: It was really frightening; it could have all gone off in our faces! “Oh god what have we done! We put our lives on hold and now what?” But we wanted to come back and show everyone what we’d done.
Ally: No-one knows who I am so there was no need to escape!!
Lee: I thought his band were good!
Ally: For me, it was a little simpler in that we did that first record ‘Lights & Offerings’ and we toured it but we were coming to the point where writing the second record had begun. I felt like I’d taken it as far as I could perhaps emotionally as I wanted to…we were writing things that were good but I didn’t feel like I wanted to be part of it anymore. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the point but I did know it wasn’t that!
Had you grown out of the classic synth thing? I always had the impression that you were most into it out of the four of you…
Ally: It was probably mostly me…when we started MIRRORS, James New and I wanted to do an electronic band that wasn’t a traditional live band and banished all those elements of real guitars and drums. That was exciting because you set yourself limits that you work within and do things in a different way. Those same invisible walls that we put up to make MIRRORS felt liberating but by the end of it, I couldn’t really do what I wanted to do. So LOVELIFE, I feel is exactly what I want to do; we’re not just an electronic band so when you see us live, we are a proper band with a guitarist and drummer. We use samples that are triggered from the drum kit but that’s what I love, there’s a lot more emotion in it.
Lee: What Ally said is quite important; it’s something that happened with VIVA BROTHER as well. When you start a band, you create these limitations that you have to live within and MIRRORS, it was the four of them and it was very synth heavy, smart and very cool. VIVA BROTHER was very…
Ally: …Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Lee: Yes, rocky, Britpop, all that kind of thing! And then you find you’re limited by it. You can’t escape it and you’ve done what you needed to do. We did our second album and I was done with it before I released it!
What sort of influences have you each brought to the table that perhaps the other wouldn’t have taken notice of had you not been working together?
Lee: I never really listened to much synthesized music at all other than the 90s dance/R’n’B that was on the radio that I loved…but I never imagined I’d be playing it! It’s a whole new world making a piece of machinery talk; I felt that was really interesting. It something I understood with a guitar but never understood with a quirky keyboard. That was exciting for me. And I think it’s the opposite for Ally…
Ally: …for me, it’s the way that Lee writes melodically and lyrically. We work together…
Ally: If we have a chord progression or something, often I’ll have something in my head but I never say it out loud and I always like to hear what Lee does. But Lee will do something that I would never in a million years have come up with. And that’s the beauty of it; if we both had the same record collection, we’d sound like a homage or pastiche…I’ve been there and done that!
Lee: Exactly what I’ve done! To get out of our comfort zones, we have to work a lot harder for something to happen. The reason MIRRORS and VIVA BROTHER were buzz bands was because we sounded a lot like an era and people can romanticise with a band that sounds like its from that era and relate to it easily.
You should have seen my first live review of MIRRORS…it had ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK all over it!! *laughs*
Ally: Someone referred to MIRRORS as “credit crunch KRAFWERK”!
Lee: That’s unfair! VIVA BROTHER got called a bad homage to SHED SEVEN and a bad FLOWERED UP! *laughs*
Ally: Because we’ve gravitated towards each other musically, there are records that we equally both love but there are others that Lee would listen too that I probably wouldn’t and vice versa. I think it will always be like that. Our sound is synthy and slow with R’n’B/Hip Hop influences but if Lee sung melodies like that, we’d be a laughing stock…two middle class white kids making R’n’B/Hip Hop!
This is what’s interesting about you. My first impression was that LOVELIFE is electronic pop music, but perhaps not quite as we know it. Some of it sounds like what might have happened if Noel Gallagher had picked up a Prophet instead of a Les Paul. Other tracks, it’s quite R’n’B…where does that element come from?
Lee: When you do something for a while and you fall out of love with it, you do the polar opposite. Because we were in New York, it does encompass you slightly.
Ally: The music that surrounded us where we lived in Brooklyn would be totally different to what we hear in the UK.
Lee: It’s music everywhere, in cars, on the streets…
Ally: …in America, each station is genre specific so you listen to a station for the genre you like, you don’t get a station with everything. So you can listen to Hip Hop or R’n’B all day long and you can’t do that in the UK…even on Radio1Xtra, it’s not like it is there! That definitely influenced us.
Lee: It was something new that we discovered together as well and fallen in love with.
Ally: I’ve always had a soft spot for really cheesy slow R’n’B and some of the cool stuff as well but I was never going to get away with that in MIRRORS! *laughs*
Lee: There is an element of that but a lot of the first ‘El Regreso’ EP was about a break-up I went through. Me and Ally bonded over relationships that ended with girlfriends at the same time and we had solice in each other; we were on each others shoulders a little bit. I felt we could be a little raw lyrically. It’s about a girl but if you want to think of it as about us being brave, you can take that…it makes for a better story! *laughs*
The song ‘Heaven’ from your new EP ‘The Fourth Floor’ is about your old band Lee?
Lee: It was something to get off my chest, I was bit frustrated in VIVA BROTHER and I was paranoid that people weren’t taking me seriously as a musician and songwriter. I wanted to put that into a song and what better way to answer people. It was a good melody as well, the words sort of came together.
Ally, how did you complement it musically?
Ally: The track was written musically before a lyric…
Lee: …we added parts to accent some words and certain feelings like in the chorus where it says “When I thought I found heaven, I found myself in hell, lost and alone so far from home” and there’s this big orchestral siren which really alludes.
Ally: I think with that song, it’s less about production but it’s obvious what it’s about and it’s a good song…the lyrics are really poignant and the song stands up.
Lee: I don’t expect anyone to know what band I was in but it was something personal to me. So if anyone listens to it, they might have their own interpretation of what it’s about.
Will you do a song about your old band Ally?
Ally: If Lee writes one! *laughs*
Which songs have been the key tracks for you both so far from your two EPs?
Ally: I think is probably ‘Your New Beloved’ from ‘The Fourth Floor’ EP. From start to finish, we did that in two hours. I made this beat and dragged this sample in while Lee wrote the melody in about 15 minutes and we tracked it in about another 15-20…then it was done! We can sometimes get bogged down and you can overwork a song but that one, we spent the least amount of time on and we thought “this is good”. It’s the track which lyrically people relate to the most, it’s given us the most attention.
Ally: That was another one that happened really quickly wasn’t it?
Lee: Yes, and I love the middle eight to it as well.
Ally: ‘I’m No More’ would be the second one for me…I think that encompasses what we do very well in that the musicality of it is quite urban and electronic with a Hip Hop influence, but then the melody is completely different and its contrast sits perfectly.
Ally: We haven’t really received much aversion from any fans of the previous bands who were genuinely fans of the music. It’s rare from my experience…the whole negative thing has come from press and from blogs.
Lee: I’ve had a few which I would expect…
I understand you like the new Glasweigian synthpop act CHVRCHES?
Ally: It grew on me that…wasn’t overly into it first time.
Anyone else you like at the moment?
Lee: I really like HAIM.
You did a remix for MAROON 5. How did that come about?
Ally: We got asked to do it by the label.
Lee: They saw us play. We were offered it and thought “we can’t pass up this opportunity”!
Ally: Remixes are fun anyway because it’s like writing a song without writing a song. It’s already written and you just take it apart and put it back together!
Did you do the MIRRORS Une Autre Monde Mix for LADY GAGA’s ‘Judas’?
Ally: There were two kicking around, one I did…if Interscope offer you a LADY GAGA remix, you don’t say no, it’s as simple as that! To be honest, remixing that song was like a lesson in engineering; it was fun!
Lee: That’ll be the album title… *laughs*
Ally: …your biography!
Lee: Yeah! I think we’re planning to go to South-By-Southwest Festival so that’s the next thing were going to work towards. And then we’re going to go back to America for a bit. In the meantime, we’re just going to write and play…
Ally: …yes, play where there’s a demand for us.
Lee: As long as we’ve got new music to play and we’re enjoying it, we’ll do it.
Ally: I think we’d like to do a slightly longer release next time.
Lee: It will probably be a bit more experimental and darker.
Ally: I think we’re still finding our feet. Even with the two EPs, I think that’s fairly evident.
Finally, how did you get on with getting KRAFTWERK tickets? *laughs*
Ally: It’s still a little difficult for me to talk about it…I phoned from half seven in the morning until about four in the afternoon and I didn’t get through once! The whole saving grace for me was that no-one had tickets until 3.00pm. I think there were ten volunteers from the Women’s Institute on the phones at the Tate…my mood changed through the day as I was thinking “This is my last chance to see KRAFTWERK!”…then I thought “F*** KRAFTWERK, it’s only Ralf Hütter”! I couldn’t get tickets for anything! I would’ve taken tickets for ‘The Mix’ or ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’!!! *laughs*
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to LOVELIFE
Special Thanks to Chris Nenadich at Fifth Member Management
‘The Fourth Floor’ and ‘El Regreso’ EPs are available as free downloads from www.lvlf.info
Text and interview by Chi Ming Lai
18th December 2012