Down an old wooden staircase, past white peeling walls, in the basement of Southampton’s Lennons on a rainy October evening, Eagulls are popping open beer bottles and rolling cigarettes. We can hear the support band, Bad Breeding, playing their raucous punk rock above us, while around us generators hum, swirl and whirr; an industrial sounding backing track to a pre gig interview with one of 2014’s best bands.
“It’s worked out at about a hundred and seventy gigs this year,” says guitarist Liam Matthews. It’s an incredible feat that includes touring with Franz Ferdinand and travelling across America. “One thing I’ve always wanted to do is play music to as many people that wanna hear it,” and increasingly more people are wanting to hear it.
“There’s a new song in the set; the first song we’ll play tonight – It’s called ‘Untitled’. We’re not giving anything away yet,” teases George Mitchell, the band’s singer. “We’re getting ourselves in a position where we can branch out more. We’ve got more time to experiment and write the music we truly want,” says guitarist Mark Goldsworthy. The new song, while unfinished, sounds promising. It’s more expansive and psychedelic than their other songs, closer to the new Horrors stuff than anything else. Their vital urgency remains, though the aggressiveness has been dialled back. There’s much more to this one than their usual forceful delivery.
“It felt a lot different trying to write it,” Goldsworthy continues. “It’s probably halfway between what we have been doing and what we intend to do… Playing it live gives us some sort of idea of what we can do next, and where it could go,” Mitchell adds.
While performing, Mitchell sways, supporting himself by arching into the mic stand, while waves of sound blast around him. He straightens up and bellows his lyrics almost painfully towards us – “and you’ve always seemed lost/and you live and you rot/like snapped branches in moss/dead rats in lofts/a ravenous heart/ and you’re nothing in sight.” The deep set sorrow is drowned by the small venue’s fuzzy speakers.
Lyrics are important to Mitchell, and their authenticity is paramount. “I’d fuckin’ hate it if someone was to watch us and be like ‘he doesn’t mean what he’s saying.’ It’d be pretty daunting to hear that.” Their inspiration doesn’t come from other music, but life, “growing up and seeing everything around you is more inspirational than putting on a record, it’s what you write about.”
“It just so happens we’re a guitar band but it’s not like that’s all we listen to and that’s all we wanna do” states Goldsworthy. Their tastes span from electronic stuff, to Roxy Music and David Bowie (“whatever was going on in his head I wish was going on in mine” Mitchell moans). They also tip newcomers Sievehead, New Wives, Hookworms, Total Control, and Autobahn. Goldie also took inspiration from Public Image Ltd by using a propeller fan to pick sustained notes on his guitar; “I like people that make something interesting and weird… We’re working on the visuals in the live shows as well,” which add a fuzzy atmosphere to the band’s performance.
On stage, constant streams of Joy Division style bass provide a fast paced fury, the guitarist’s amps spew loud angry surges of noise, the drums forcing the songs forward and Mitchell booms loudly above it all. I think back earlier that night, when we talked about the difference they felt there once was playing this far south, when words like “stale”, “static” and “tame” were thrown around. Those words now ring true in much of the crowd’s politeness/lack of enthusiasm, and reflect in the expressions of the disappointed band. It hadn’t been the case on other dates, and they weren’t expecting it here. That doesn’t stop them from giving everything they’ve got, as if they owe it to the songs. It’s a feral kind of release for them, contagious to the few at the front.
In ‘Footsteps’ a young lad loses control and finally starts to make a pit. “It’s like the make or break point in the set,” Matthews says of the song. “If people haven’t started jumping around already, it’s then it starts to kick off.” Almost instantly a bouncer swoops down and removes the fan, who dances his way out of the venue. A prophecy dampened by poor speakers and the overly strict security.
“Some of the gigs we’ve played this last week, it’s been loads of young kids again, like there’s a new generation coming through. That’s all it takes, one generation,” Goldsworthy says. Mitchell then says “guitar music’s not dead, at all. If Fearne Cotton wanted to play Eagulls, Perspex Flesh and No Form in a row, people would lap it up cos its being playing constantly. But they’re getting paid money to play shit, it’s force-fed shit. Maybe our music shouldn’t be in that place.”
Goldsworthy mentions the X Factor and Mitchell pipes up enthusiastically: “I love X Factor, it’s so funny! I’ve said I’ll go on it and I honestly will go on it and I’m not lying. I’d queue up for hours and just be an idiot on purpose so I’d get on telly”. He then shares his views on a current contestant. “Fuckin’ vagina eyes, the sole reason he’s there is because he’s an idiot and they can manipulate him. Look how much money Jedward have made from being idiots.”
Their final song ‘Possessed’ showed all the confidence of an X Factor star, but with punk attitude. Only ‘Nerve Endings’ and ‘Tough Luck’ had provoked this much of a reaction. It seems the crowd only knew the singles, and the overwhelming noise masked the identity of their less recognisable tracks. The night was surreally both disappointing and encapsulating. Eagulls are a great band, with great conversation, a band who deserve that unattainable A-list style exposure to gain a more excited crowd.