In 2012, Ellery Roberts broke up his former band Wu Lyf via a message under a then new song he posted on YouTube. It read in part: “WU LYF is dead to me. The sincerity of ‘Go Tell Fire’ was lost in the bull shit of maintaining face in the world we live. Clap your hands chimp everybody’s watching”. It was oddly fitting for a band who rose to prominence via enigmatic tactics, like withholding line-up info or selling their demos for £50 a pop; their end was as shrouded in mystery as their start.
Four years later, Ellery is sitting in a cafe in Dalston with his girlfriend, Ebony Hoorn. Musically, they form LUH (which stands for Lost Under Heaven), a duo with a passion for art, experimentation and, now, life. The night before, they played their first London gig (and fourth ever) together, with the aid of their touring members Steven Hermitt (drums) and Oliver Cooper (“machines”), and both are in good spirits.
“[There’s been] lots of positive energy, really warm receptions and a lot of people saying ‘I love this’,” says Ellery of the shows so far. “It’s exciting.”
Excitement and inspiration are his buzzwords of the conversation. Over 45 minutes, he’ll say them constantly, about everything from starting the band, to making music videos and the prospect of a second album. There’s an unwavering sense of positivity about the two; an unstoppable enthusiasm that rose phoenix-like from the ashes of a much bleaker mindset.
“When we first met, we were both quite out of love with our existence and our worlds we were in,” Ellery says. “A lot of our early relationship was rejecting and escaping what was going on. And the realisation being that you are part of it, you are complicit in it and, through your actions, you put out positivity.”
In November, two songs were shared (‘Lost Under Heaven’ and ‘Angels Sing’) alongside a kind of manifesto. “For the longest time I have lived the life of this world without belonging to it,” it began. Paragraphs later, the piece, co-authored by Ellery and Ebony, read: “All that is held aloft with such crushing importance today will be nothing but trivia in even 10 years time if we just live it.”
“If you look at human history, people are very narrow,” Ellery says, taking a sip of his ginger tea. “Instead of screaming at a wall that we need to bring this down, make something new. Think about the progressive things that you can make. It’s not to get lost in futurism, it’s just about moving forward. People get caught up on so much and think it’s so important. It’s a passing moment. Even if it’s the worst thing that’s happened to you, in a moment it’ll just be a memory.”
The idea of moving on and doing something new is central to LUH – the project marks new territory for both members. A visual arts student at Amsterdam’s Rietveld Academy with plans to direct all the band’s music videos, Ebony had done performance art before, but never played music live. She’d also never sung with a band or on record. “The first show, I was like I don’t really know what to expect from this’, but then it was really natural and quite easy,” she says happily.” “I was blown away,” Ellery jumps in. “I perform like I do, but it took me quite a lot of years to feel comfortable, but Ebony was…” he trails off, shaking his head.
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For him, the new group meant starting afresh with a new ethos and new outlook. “The initial six months or so after Wu Lyf, I progressively got into a very negative head space about life and the world and just generally doing things. I guess it’s that moment of reality hitting, from idealistic youth to being… I dunno. I had a lot of eye-opening experiences. When I first came to Amsterdam, I had a lot of moments with [Ebony] where it was like ‘I just don’t feel anything, I’m feeling numb’.”
“I didn’t quit Wu Lyf to go solo,” he continues. “I quit Wu Lyf to break a negative cycle.” Although he rejected music and songwriting in the first months after the band’s split, he eventually found his way back to it and found a new, more positive way of working. “It became like self-therapy and documentation. I found that was where my songwriting worked and meant something and made me feel something. The songs just stared coming in bits and pieces and I think that suddenly we found that we could do this together and it became a really exciting, inspiring thing.”
It’s hard not to get swept along by the emotion with which the pair, particularly Ellery, talk, and that’s the exact same feeling you get when you listen to debut album ‘Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing’, too. The pair decamped from their home in Amsterdam to Osea Island in Essex, where they were joined by Bobby Krlic, aka The Haxan Cloak, on production.
“I think it was really important – cos we’d been developing the record for quite a while between the two of us just on laptops – to open it all up,” says Ellery. “It just gave it that identity and energy and made it cohesive, rather than these fragments made over time.”
As Ellery says, “quite a lot of the songs are quite full on”. It all kicks off with ‘I&I’, on which he sings “There’s life in this early morning/A life that you want to live”, Ebony echoing him. Beneath them, instrumentation gently builds from soft piano arpeggios to something more rousing, with synths and electronics, pounding drums and string sounds. ‘Lost Under Heaven’ is heavier and grungier – Ebony’s voice acting as the detached extreme to her partner’s distinctive, expressive rasp. ‘Someday Come’ opens on glacial guitars as Ellery sings “I couldn’t even save myself from falling in love with you”. Later, he cries “Let’s leave this world together” (death? Or just escapism?) in one of the record’s most urgent moments.
Then there’s ‘Future Blues’ – a sparse and fragile gem that traverses over more new ground. “It’s the first time I’d written a song for someone else,” Ellery explains of the track, which is the only song on the album where Ebony takes the lead. “It’s [about] this repetitive, mundane existence. Even in the beat, it’s just the same the whole way through.”
True to LUH’s approach, ‘Future Blues’ is also something of an experiment. Lyrically, Ellery tried to put himself in Ebony’s shoes. “Writing for Ebony and discussing themes was quite interesting for me, being a privileged white male,” he says. “There’s the line “to have fearful men trying to limit me”. [I was] reflecting on the different limits that are put on people.”
For the songs, the pair took great influence from visual art. ‘Lost Under Heaven’ was “inspired by the film Only Lovers Left Alive”, explains Ebony. “It’s a beautiful portrait of these two people.”
“These fragile outsiders looking at the world,” finishes Ellery, citing Wong Kar-wai’s 1995 Hong Kong movie Fallen Angels and anime series Cowboy Bebop as other influences. Above all, though, LUH are trying to make music and art that distills what’s happening now. “I think it’s really important to do as artists, to reflect what is happening around you,” Ebony says.
The album’s centrepiece does that in more ways than one. ‘$ORO’ is like a dystopian, aggressive EDM behemoth, heavy on the autotune (applied so liberally to Ebony’s backing vocals she sounds like Rihanna, Bajan accent and everything) and impossible to ignore. On it, Ellery plays devil’s advocate and writes from the character of someone motivated by money and greed. “In my early twenties” – the 25-year-old pauses to scoff at himself – “I was in quite a negative headspace and became fascinated by economics and tried to educate myself and understand this bizarre thing that controls the religion of contemporary life. I made a lot of music and wrote stuff that was coming from the side of attacking [it]. With ‘$ORO’, it was like ‘what if I stand on the other side and try and embody it?'”
His intentions, he says, were to make something “coldhearted”, but also “interesting to perform” and “the song they’ll have blaring out on Black Friday when people are smashing their heads through windows to try and get microwaves”. “[The album] goes from this one moment of very sincere, heartfelt must and then it drops down, you switch and come out. It’s quite aggressive and provocative in a hateful way.”
Despite that, LUH don’t want to be known as a political band. They don’t deny that they’re political people, but say they think “everybody is political in everything they do”. “We have thoughts and feelings and make work from them,” Ellery explains. “I’d say we’re progressive in our outlook and desire. I think there’s a lot of potential in the human species that is held back by structures that serve very little purpose other than the elite.”
If there’s one band to guide us out from under the dark cloud of modern society, it’s LUH. They may not want to be viewed as political, but you imagine they’d be okay with being seen as Ellery’s two frequently used terms – exciting and inspiring. ‘Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing’ fits the bill perfectly, and even more so when you realise this is only the beginning.
LUH: THE DETAILS
BUY IT Debut album ‘Spiritual Songs For Lovers To Sing’ is released on Mute on May 6
SEE THEM LIVE Manchester Deaf Institute (May 5), Bristol Thekla (7), London XOYO (9), Nottingham Bodega (10)
FACT Ellery and Ebony met after Ellery had had in a wine bottle smashed across his arm in a fight