“I’ve always hated sugar-coating things that, at their core, are actually kind of ugly,” says Island Of Love guitarist/vocalist Karim Newble. “We came up in the UK in the hardcore, punk and metal scene where music was noisy, heavy and really unattractive, and I feel like there’s beauty in that being what it is.”
The London-based band’s bittersweet alt.grunge, which Newble describes as “pretty music covered in spikes”, has drawn comparisons to the warm, unpolished fuzz fests of the lo-fi giants of the 80s and 90s: Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub, early Weezer.
“A lot of stuff I was writing was worshipping [indie veterans] Duster and Sebadoh,” he says, remembering the early writing sessions with bandmate Linus Munch. The pair, who began passing demos back and forth in 2020, had quickly determined that their passion lay in exploiting the sweet spot between spit and polish.
“The stuff Linus was writing was more in the lane of The Strokes, more power-pop,” says Newble. “We had played in other bands before, and always spoken about starting a band [together], and it just spewed out of us. We didn’t really collaborate too much on writing, it was more adding bits to each other’s songs.”
In 2020, Island Of Love’s cotton wool-esque first EP, Promo Tape, caught the ears of Jack White’s Nashville-based label Third Man Records, which had just set up a record shop in London. A year later, label co-owner Ben Swank booked the band to play a set in the shop’s Blue Basement gig space.
After their set, it took Swank just long enough for the band to open a beer and light a ciggie before offering them a record deal. They would be the label’s first signees, although they didn’t get to meet White until 2022, when they opened for him at a gig in Cologne.
“We met him very briefly,” remembers Munch. “We were cooling down and he goes: ‘Oh, nice to meet you guys,’ and then he runs off again.” He pauses, before adding: “Maybe he’s not the biggest fan.”
Joking aside, though, the partnership has proven to be the perfect match. “They’ve let us take a lot of leaps of faith,” Newble says of the label’s supportive approach.
Last year the band recorded their self-titled debut album with producer Ben Spence, before handing it over to Jack Shirley, the Deafheaven producer notorious for his wall-of-sound approach, for mixing and mastering. The result is an album that explores textures and sunny hooks without ever smoothing out the frayed edges of the band’s sound.
“If some people take the sweet side of it and think they’re like nice songs, that’s cool,” shrugs Munch. “And if some people take the heavier side of it and think it’s a loud, high-energy album, that’s cool as well.”
Island Of Love is out now via Third Man Records