A debut album, multiple festival slots, a tour supporting Nadine Shah, the list goes on. Needless to say LIFE have been a little bit busy of late, and that’s before you factor in working full time at a youth charity.
We caught up with Mez, lead singer and frontman of LIFE, over the phone whilst he was at home in Hull. “We’ve literally just finished everything this year,” he starts, “We had a show with Idles on November 23rd, and after that we were done for the year. It has been relentless though, we’ve bounced being in and out of work, but really we’ve been pretty non-stop since the Slaves tour last November.”
“The Slaves tour was massive for us, it came about in 2016? I think. We put out our song ‘Rare Boots’, which did really well on the radio, and Slaves tweeted about it out of the blue. Then when they played a secret show in Hull we were asked to be the support, and from there we got invited on the whole tour. Fucking hell it was 3000 capacity venues and they were all sold out, of course we said yes, and that was before they asked if we wanted to do Europe with them as well!”
Mez clearly appreciates the love, and is keen to praise Nadine Shah, another artist LIFE recently toured with. “Nadine was on Roundtable with Steve Lamacq, and she gave our single ‘In Yours Hands’ 9 out of 10, which was incredible. I tweeted her saying thanks, and we ended up meeting in a pub, then when her tour came around she said I feel like scaring the audience a bit before I come on, so we’ll take you guys on the tour.’
“It was a really different crowd to what we’re used to but there was a similar ethos there, which was good. The Slaves tour was great because it was three thousand people of a certain age that were all just shouting along, regardless of whether they know us. That made us feel really good, and we did gain a lot of fans off the back of it. The Nadine Shah tour was totally different, the crowd were a bit older, nobody was throwing pints or starting moshpits, but they were really into the music, which was great. It really was one of the best things we’ve done, she’s just a wonderful person and it was a great experience.”
Whilst Nadine Shah and LIFE might be poles apart when it comes to genre, they’re both outspoken about their political beliefs. “The majority of people I work with are under 25, and to see the severity of the problems they’re facing…” He trails off, searching for the right words. “Austerity Britain had really done a lot of damage to young people, mental health, homelessness, drug abuse. Even just the fact that so many young people are struggling to stay in education, it’s sad. I do think if we lowered the voting age to 16 the Tories would have lost the election, and I headed up a campaign with a load of young people to encourage younger people to sign up and vote, and challenge the perceptions people have. Obviously, the Tories are shit scared of lowering the voting age, because they know they’d be fucked if they did!” He laughs. “The majority of people that want a Labour government are probably under 40, lowering the voting age would mean we could change the direction that the country’s going in.”
Was Popular Music, the band’s debut album, a conscious attempt to make a political statement? “Me and my brother Mick write all the lyrics, and we never sat down and decided to make massively political songs, we just write about what’s going on around us day to day. ‘Euromillions’ was written at the time of Trump’s inauguration and became a dig at that whole crazy movement that is happening. ‘In Your Hands’ is just about trying to get everything cheaper at Tesco, because everyone’s forced to live above their means in this country. Those kinds of things feed in and shape the writing in a way that’s inescapable.
Working at The Warren, a youth charity in Hull, is another thing that shapes Mez’s outlook. “Myself and Stew (LIFE’s drummer) work there, it’s an open-access centre for anyone under 25, and we offer free music advice, counselling, food banks, art projects, all sorts of stuff. It’s for anyone that’s slipped out of education, and it’s really shaped a lot of what we sing about.
“It’s one of the last places like it in the UK, not judging anyone and being completely open access. The tories try to shut us down all the time…we just tell them to fuck off.” He laughs again, although you get the sense he isn’t really joking.
“There’s a real scene around The Warren,” He continues. “The people that use the music department all look after each other, and there’s a lot of cooler younger bands breaking through. There’s a band called Lumer that have started playing around the UK, a band called Serial Chiller, a real scene, and it’s nice to have helped to shape that.
“Everyone in Hull is so community driven because before we were named City of Culture we never had any light shone on us. They’ve even put Hull on the weather map this year!” he adds triumphantly. “Hull wasn’t on there until this year, and that’s a fact. So this year we’ve had a bit more light shone on the city, but I think all it’s done is shown that there’s a lot of creative people here already. There’s an industrious, creative thing where everyone looks after each other, there’s a DIY attitude because that’s all you’ve got, you have to look after each other.
So was being named City of Culture a good thing for Hull? Mez pauses, before saying: “I think it’s been good in what it’s brought into the city. There’s been big shows, the Turner prize is here this year and all of that makes money, so it wouldn’t have happened without City of Culture coming in. What I don’t think it’s done is kickstarted anything. There’s always been a massive amount of talent and creativity here, but City of Culture’s legacy will be the fact that everyone’s getting involved in everything now, it isn’t as cliquey as it uses to be. All credit to them for that.
“It also brought Radio 1’s Big Weekend to the city,” he adds. “That may not be culture, but there’s people on the estates up here that never would’ve dreamed of seeing Katy Perry, and that’s all they’re bothered about. It’s not culture in the traditional sense, but it’s still a good thing for the city.”
Whilst it may be good for Hull to be in the limelight for the year, the lack of interest in areas outside of London is clearly something that annoys Mez. “The music industry is just so London centric. Even now, so many of the bands that are getting column inches are from South London, which is obviously cool because they deserve the coverage, but there’s so much more going on in the country, and we’re a real example of that.
He thinks of an example. “We were asked to do Radio 1’s Big Weekend as a returning act for BBC Introducing, and we were the only Northern act there! The other three acts were from London, and typically we were the one that didn’t have the major label deal. It’s not like we’re anti-being signed either. We’re a DIY band, but that’s not a conscious decision, it’s just the only option we have. We talk about being DIY and that’s great, but that doesn’t mean it’s our choice.
“The things we’ve done this year, to say we aren’t signed is pretty crazy actually. We’ve been all over Europe, we’ve been to America, done loads of festivals, even released an album. We made up a fake label for the record actually, ‘Afghan Moon’. It’s just a line from ‘Euromillions’, we stuck it on there as a laugh.
“I think it’s a reflection on the industry,” He says, when asked why bands like LIFE aren’t getting as much exposure as they could. “The music industry isn’t about bands, it’s about record companies. All these major fat cats just sit there, basically watching videos on YouTube, and they ain’t gonna sign you unless you’ve got 600 million views, which basically means they’re just signing beige bullshit. All the bands that are a bit ugly or a bit gnarly don’t really have a chance anymore, and that’s just the sad situation the industry is in at the moment, there’s always gonna be those bands though. I think the turning point will be when the industry eventually changes, if it ever changes.”
Whether or not the industry will change is up for debate, but LIFE are proving that there’s always space for ugliness and politics in music, even if the beige bullshit seems to win out some of the time.