INTERVIEW

While the UK’s lo-fi resurgence fuzzes louder than ever, this lot have been taking on US garage for years already

Photography by Phil Sharp

WHILE THE UK’S LO-FI RESURGENCE FUZZES LOUDER THAN EVER, THIS LOT HAVE BEEN TAKING ON US GARAGE FOR YEARS ALREADY

Down on the New Cross Road the sky hangs low, dulled to grey from a multitude of lorries and buses crawling the length of it. Freshers starting uni stalk warily around piles of puke scattered along the pavement while police sirens cease to let up as we settle down with Lovvers to watch from the safety of our fish tank that is the New Cross Inn.

It’s been three years since these Nottingham-rooted, lo-fi-punk revellers first thrust themselves upon us. Back in 2006 they were brimming with more energy than they could dispel. Their shows were riotous; they threw themselves around like headless chickens and hammered their instruments harder and faster than their hands could manage. “It’s like you’re a greyhound – you’ve gotta get out of the traps pretty fast when you’re just starting out,” explains guitarist Henry Whithers. “Make a point, make a loud noise, try and do something exciting, get people’s attention and embrace the fact that you’re in a band, which is an exciting thing to do whilst you’re young and virile.” Perched on the edge of the sofa he speaks animatedly, hands gesticulating as his eyes fix onto us from behind his mustard-tinted specs.

Now that Lovvers have been around the track a few times they’re taking more consideration over the laps. “Our song writing is a little mellower now. We’re appreciating the vibe in music a little more. You can’t keep doing really simple songs with a big loud riff, so me and Shaun started tossing a few ideas around and eventually they‚”” He’s cut off by frontman Shaun Hencher who, sitting bulkily in a flannel shirt layered over numerous other shirts, insists that it’s for the best. “If anything it just sounds better and I don’t see why people should view things differently because I’m not running around.”

“At some shows we’re just standing there playing the songs, having a bit of a boogie on stage,” continues Henry “and you look up and everyone in the crowd is properly dancing around and pushing each other and having fun. We’ve felt in the past that we’ve had to batter them into submission until they start dancing. And sometimes you won’t expect it and you’ll look up and someone is dancing – that’s awesome, makes it all worthwhile.”
After releasing a slew of seven inches on Jonson Family, Lovvers signed with Wichita in 2008 and released their second EP, ‘Think’. Direct and straight to the point, it comes in at just under a mind-bracing 13 minutes of surf-punk muscle. Following this was their summer child LP ‘OCD Go Go Go Girls’, which pummelled shop shelves as of August this year. At just over double the length of ‘Think’ (one minute, to be precise), apparently it wasn’t quite the ramshackle, shotgun recording as it sounds. “Does that surprise you?” asks Shaun with a slither of a smile. Slightly abashed we have to admit that yes, it does.

“Despite the fact that to some people it sounds like it was recorded in sheds and bedrooms it was actually recorded in a proper studio with quite a high-quality tape machine and a really expensive custom made mixing desk,” Henry puts plainly.

The record took a month to write before the band – also including Stephen Rose on drums and Michael Drake on bass, who were sat in silence until they walked out to abate their nicotine cravings – got together just three times to learn the songs and headed out to Jackpot! Studios in Portland, Oregon. “I think we recorded for 14 days and mixed for six,” Shaun informs us. “We recorded it with this guy called Pat Kearns (Exploding Hearts, Clorox Girls) who sometimes works in the studio. We’d sent him the songs before because we’d demoed them at home, so we went in and recorded them live.” But why head all the way out to Portland when they could have recorded here? “Because it’s run by this guy called Larry Crane who does this thing called Tape Op Magazine. It’s a really cool bi-monthly mag about recording and different techniques.”

“I’ve been reading it for a while,” adds Henry “because I do a bit of DIY recording. It’s a free thing that anyone can subscribe to all over the world and they’ll look at it from the point of view that recording a song on poor quality analogue equipment is just as worthwhile as something done on a big ¬£2,000 computer. I found that quite enticing. I showed the other guys a couple of the magazines and we were going over to America anyway, so…” Henry trails off before Shaun finishes: “That’s why we went there, all the boxes were ticked.”

Observing from the edge of the stage at a Lovvers show you’ll notice the people lost in the music – odd appendages jutting out uncontrollably – you’ll notice the ones with nervous eyes trying to avoid said appendages, and although you’ll be hit with the urge to strut awkwardly along to the clean riffs, you won’t find yourself singing. And why not? Because you simply can’t hear the vocals. Even on the record they’re mixed incomprehensibly low. “It was never a conscious decision to mix them low,” justifies Shaun. “It was never an issue we’d even talked about. It was only when we submitted our record to Wichita that it came up in conversation because they didn’t like the vocal mix. I think their argument was that you couldn’t hear the vocals at all. I still don’t take that on board really; you can hear that there are vocals on the album. I take on board that you can’t hear every word pronounced perfectly but I think it works with our sound.

“When we play live, we’ve always been really loud and musically the vocals have always been in the mix but it’s all about trying to create a wall of sound. It doesn’t matter if you hear what I say, you can buy the album and read what I say.”

This record is much more melodic than Lovvers’ previous material, but Henry assures us it’s not an abhorrent pop fusion. “It doesn’t compete for your attention in an obnoxious way like the vocals do on most pop records so that as soon as they come in after the instrumental section you can’t listen to everything together.”

“It’s the type of record that you can’t just listen to once,” intones Shaun “you have to spend a bit of time with it and maybe the vocals don’t hit you on the first listen, but they’re kind of‚”what’s the word I’m looking for? Subtle.”

When they’re not recording- whether that be at home, in a shed or studio – Lovvers will not be relaxing, they’ll be on tour. Rarely is their diary left a gap to breathe, and after playing numerous UK dates they’ll head to Europe for a month and then the US will take them up to Christmas. Is there something they’re avoiding at home? “No, sorry ladies but we’re all going steady,” grins Henry, chuffed with his line. “I think being a band from England,” says Shaun more seriously “and trying to make a point is quite hard if you live outside of London. If you’re not from a major city it’s quite hard, and if you look at the rest of the world it’s even harder. So the way you’re going to let people know about your band is by constantly playing. Instead of practicing, we’re playing gigs.”

A favourite haunt of theirs is The Smell in LA. Situated in the downtown area “it’s like it was in Docklands. There’s nothing there and there aren’t many people around at night, but it’s all really smart and quite normal,” says Henry. “For me it was a surprise because it’s exactly how it’s portrayed in other places and it lives up to what you expect it to be – a shit load of kids dancing at the front to Mika Miko like they were in their living room.”
As it’s an all-ages venue everyone is welcome. There’s no alcohol so the crowds come purely for the bands and the vibe. You can get chocolate bars and soft drinks and use it as much as a place to hang out as a chance to catch some exciting new talent. It’s the kind of place we could do with around these parts. “There are things in this country which are similar in some aspects,” Henry explains. “Like warehouse gigs that go on around London and engender that atmosphere of inclusion and not feeling like you can’t dance. But they’re not as official and not as many people know about them.”

“If you look at the bigger picture,” mutters Shaun in his hoarse baritone “say, Europe for example, it has loads of cool spaces where gigs take place and they serve alcohol but they do have that community feel that The Smell has. Obviously that’s got a lot of attention because it’s in LA, but in Europe the governments are willing to give money to people to put on shows so they don’t have to worry about making a profit on the bar or charging a shit load of money to get in.

“It’s very rare in England that people could go to the Arts Council to fund a venue unless it was for profit. A lot of people aren’t interested in creating something that isn’t for profit because unless they’re hugely into this thing they’re not getting anything out of it. I think that’s the problem with a lot of things gig-based in England. That’s why they take place before club nights in God knows how many cities because the gig is second fiddle to the club that is making money, and if that can change then I think you’d see more places like The Smell.”

But is there room for a place like The Smell to survive in a time when every brick is becoming gentrified? ABC No Rio, a New York social centre established in the eighties and located on the Lower East Side, spent just over a decade fighting the city for their premises after being shut down. “I think The Smell has lost its music license four or five times, but it keeps coming back. I’m sure it probably will close down at some point, but I don’t think The Smell is a one off, I just think it’s got a lot of attention because of where it is,” states Shaun before Henry adds: “And the bands No Age, Health, Mika Miko and various others have actually produced quite a good level of musical output.” The kind that UK bands of a similar ilk aren’t producing.

“Well, Male Bonding have just signed to Sub Pop, they fit in really well and they’ve been going for a while,” he continues. “I would say there are relatively few bands of that style who’ve managed to get out there and play in America, play in Europe and put records out, but there’s definitely a good amount of low-key bands like Hygiene, Shitty Limits, The Hipshakes, Demons – there’re a lot of good British bands.”

Having wrung Lovvers dry, we don’t want to leave before finding out what they’ll be giving us for Christmas and what they certainly won’t be going back to when – or if – the band is over. For the former they have a couple of seven inches and a Flipper cover on a Domino compilation. “We’ve also got a seven inch called ‘White Flag’. That’s gonna be out in the next few months,” Henry declares. “That was a triumph of a recording for us because we use these organ sounds and it’s a bit more groove-orientated, which is a horrible thing to say,” he grins. And as for the latter? “The strip bar job,” deadpans Shaun. “All the girls, after dancing all night, used to drop off their‚” lingerie shall we say, and it was my job to wash it. It was a pretty grimy.”

By D K Goldstein

Originally published in issue 11 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2009

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