As we've previously noted here at Louder, there's something brewing in Bristol right now. The latest band to clamber out of the British city's wildly diverse and increasingly creative underground are avant-rockers LICE, who throw together elements of complex indie rock, Cramps-ish cowpunk and gratuitously noisy art rock for a racket Zappa and the Butthole Surfers would have no doubt approved.
Here, vocalist Alistair and bassist Gareth talk us through the band's journey, their music, and where they're headed next.
Can you introduce yourselves – where are you from, who does what and what are your roles in the band?
Gareth: "My name is Gareth, I’m from all over the place growing up but went to university in Bristol where I met my band of reprobates who like weird music. I play bass and writhe around in my pants occasionally."
Alastair: "My name’s Alastair and I ‘sing’. Like Gareth and Bruce, I moved around a lot as a kid (including Montreal and San Francisco) but I currently live in Bristol, having moved here to study English. The other members of our band are Silas, who plays guitar, and Bruce, who plays the drums."
How did you guys meet and start making music together?
Gareth: "We met at university through some mutual friends and online advertising and started jamming in bedrooms and the student’s union until eventually we had some music we were happy calling songs."
Alastair: "Silas and Gareth met at a house party, posted on the University’s ‘Live Music Society’ Facebook page looking for a singer ‘willing to do and say horrible shit’ and I replied. I met them at a pub, then they took me back to Silas’, where they showed me some tunes they’d been working on (one of which would become Love Your Island) and got me to read out of a Physics textbook to see how I sounded.
"We originally had a different drummer who left after our first gig. Bruce (who Gareth had done a work placement with) joined in his stead, stabilising/developing our trashy sound with his prog and metal influences and turning us into an actual band."
What were your key influences/inspirations in getting the band together?
Alastair: "When we started, Silas introduced us all to some very strange, exciting and confrontational music we'd never heard before, with the biggest initial influence probably being The Birthday Party. The most important artist he introduced me to personally was Ben Wallers. Song lyrics are an inferior literary form, and one which very few people seem to treat with any real thought or care; he is the only lyricist I know whose body of work I find consistently, genuinely impressive and exciting, so discovering him was a big deal."
Gareth: "They were pretty random initially, but Silas led the charge by introducing us to some excellent post-punk, industrial and Latin music which we took inspiration in forming our sound from."
How would you describe your sound in three words for people who’ve never heard you?
Gareth: "Esoteric literature rock."
Alastair: "Misanthropic aural discomfort."
What makes you special/different to other bands out there?
Alastair: "My lyrics, Silas’ guitar-playing, Gareth’s bass-playing and Bruce’s drumming."
Gareth: "We don’t look as good as other bands."
What’s the story behind the new album It All Worked Out Great – how did you approach writing and how did it come together?
Alastair: "As a collection of songs, it reflects the music we were interested in when we started, but which we’re moving away from with our new material (which is much weirder). Basically, it’s our ‘early years’ collection, first written in early 2016 when we emerged on the circuit. As the backbone of our live set, the songs have been gradually honed, developed and finally completed over two years.
"Four of the songs were first recorded in the summer of 2016 in Bruce’s basement as NUTMILK: The Basement Demos. At the end of that year, we recorded those songs (and seven others) ‘properly’ at The Malthouse Studios with local producer Dom Mitchison (also of Spectres and Velcro Hooks), for what we envisaged as being our first album.
"Due to the fact we were all in our final year at university, and signed a one-off single deal with Big Score Records to put out The Human Parasite, we never got around to releasing the album; by the time we could, we played half the songs completely differently and didn’t play three of them at all. At the turn of 2018, we finally brought a manager on board, signed to IDLES’ label Balley Records and decided to revisit these songs. We re-recorded half of them, with notable differences including culling the intro to Stammering Bill (which experienced countless iterations over the years – for a while, I played a synth on it) and making the ending to Little John Waynes borderline unlistenable. By that time, it felt like the songs had taken on a different life, and we wanted to release them a different way. It wasn’t a cohesive ‘album’ borne from a single period of listening and writing – it was now the gradually-collected fruits of two years of developing as a band into what we are now, so a double EP felt like a more fitting way to release it.
Gareth: "It was very varied, we spent almost two years writing and forming these songs so it was a combination of jamming in small spaces, actually thinking about the songwriting and then convincing Alastair to write something worth paying attention to (even if you can’t understand what he’s saying)."
What are the themes running through the album?
Alastair: "The songs are designed to explore various forms of hatred, confronting listeners with their own hateful biases and impulses through short stories, monologues and essays. The lyrics deal with misogyny, racism, and the hatred we direct at ourselves – both as members of a parasitic species and products of a destructive empire. The form and focus changes, but the common thread is hate."
What’s your favourite story/anecdote from recording the album?
Gareth: "Alastair is notoriously unpunctual, so I made a £10 bet with Silas that he couldn’t get Alastair to the studio on time. He got to Alastair’s house to get him and he was predictably still in bed so he hoisted the boy out and rushed him to the studio and actually beat me there."
What, in your opinion, is the stand out track on the album?
Gareth: "Depends what you mean by 'stand out'. Musically it’s probably Ted’s Dead as it’s a bit less full-on to listen. Lyrically I’d say Love Your Island, and it’s the only one with some sort of political leaning to it, which we tend to stay away from."
Alastair: "My favourite is Stammering Bill. Maybe that’s because it’s had the most dramatic journey to the finished product, or because it’s our only song with a big fuck-off RIFF, but I love it very much. However, when Gentleman’s Magazine comes out on Vol.2, I think that’ll be most people’s favourite."
What do you hope people will take away from the album, and your music in general?
Alastair: "Too many songs are written to throw rocks at people we perceive as evil (political figures, racists, misogynists etc.), when all of us carry destructive impulses and biases around with us. We’d be much better off if everyone confronted their own capacities for evil – that’s what our songs are about, and designed to evoke. Even the listener’s act of enjoying a song that presents a vicious rant against women, or a story about someone killing themselves due to a neurotic illness, demonstrates something interesting to that effect. I hope people enjoy the record, but also that they reflect on their enjoyment of it."
Gareth: "That shouting at the world’s problems will do nothing. Addressing the cause of them by investigating why people develop hateful or misogynistic tendencies will give people a much better insight into changing the world."
What's been the highlight of your time in the band so far?
Alastair: "We’ve had some very special experiences over the years (supporting The Fall at their last ever Bristol show, playing a gig on a boat for Howling Owl Records’ fifth birthday) but nothing touches our recent tour with IDLES; it was a great adventure, we learned a lot and never stopped laughing."
Gareth: "Going to Paris with IDLES was fantastic. First time going to Europe with the band was such a privilege."
What can people expect if they come to see you live?
Gareth: "Expect nothing. This way you will always be impressed."
Alastair: "Horrible industrial sounds, the smooth, rumbling rhythms of Latin America, and some light bruising."
What are you most looking forward to about the future – what’s coming next?
Gareth: "Writing new songs! We’ve had a bit of a stale period of songwriting, but now we’re back on it I’m really excited to write and play new stuff live."
Alastair: "Putting out the double EP is ecstatically exciting; Vol.2 comes out on the 24th May and includes both Little John Waynes and Gentleman’s Magazine, arguably our two most popular songs live, so I’m excited for people to get to hear proper versions of those.
"However, something we’re also really excited about is writing and performing new stuff. The fellas have already written three batshit-crazy masterpieces towards what will be our next record, and now I’ve got to get lyrics down for them; that’s always difficult, but when I get something down that feels like it matches the standard that these guys set musically, that will be a very special feeling. We’ve also got our upcoming launch shows in Brighton, Bristol and London, supported by some of our favourite artists in the country, including Bo Gritz and EP/64 (featuring Bristol electronic/noise legend Silver Waves). The future is rich, dear friends."
LICE's new double EP, It All Worked Out Great Vol 1 and Vol 2, will be released on May 24 on Balley Records, and is available for pre-order now. Catch them live at one of the dates below: