It’s no secret that the past year hasn’t been great for most bands. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown left many struggling to find ways to carry on; live gigs, often their only real source of income, suddenly went off the table completely. Despite a set of circumstances that would lead most to despair, when NME catches up with Brighton’s Lime Garden via Zoom, they’re looking on the bright side.
“I think the biggest plus for us is that we can actually fill a venue now,” beams lead vocalist and guitarist Chloe Howard, referencing a sold-out London show they played late last year. “London shows used to be so terrifying, because you just didn’t know if anyone would come,” adds guitarist Leila. “We’d play these weird backrooms of pubs and like two people would turn up – and one of them would be your dad. Spending ages telling him how packed out your gigs are and the one that he comes to is just him and one other guy.”
Contrast this bleak anecdote with the band’s current situation, in which they’ve sold out a gig at the Prince Albert in Brighton over six months in advance, and they have good reason to have pep in their step. This comes hand-in-hand with a signing to So Young Records and releasing their new single ‘Sick & Tired’, a step up and out from the scrappy DIY feel of their previous self-released songs. The same influences remain but they embrace a poppier sound as the lyrics explore the exhaustion and anxiety of transitioning from adolescence to adulthood: “I’m sick and I’m tired / Need to find a way to get back up and wired”.
Lime Garden formed in Guildford via chance Facebook meetings and a love of Courtney Barnett and Talking Heads. When Chloe Howard (vocals/guitar), Annabel Whittle (drums) and Leila Deeley (guitar) moved to Brighton after college, they soon cajoled new housemate Tippi Morgan (bass) into learning to play. They self-released two tracks in 2020: ‘Surf N Turf’, a rough-around-the-edges indie tune with more than a hint of the less morose edge of post-punk, and ‘Fever’, a ‘70s-inspired earworm straight out of the Black Honey playbook.
“We released those songs because we wanted to see what people liked, more than anything else,” says Chloe. “I think it put us in a good position when the lockdown happened though. Self-releasing music was stressful but we met so many people through it and got used to pushing ourselves into doing stuff. These mass cultural events like the pandemic always lead to a crazy boom of creativity afterwards,” she adds. “So I do think it’s a really exciting time for the UK underground scene, even if it’s been a tough year.”
A creative boom appeared unlikely a few months back, with venues crowdfunding to stay afloat and bands postponing already delayed tours, but a flurry of announcements in recent weeks provides a glimmer of hope; perhaps Lime Garden’s optimism isn’t misplaced. The band were just as busy during the pandemic as before it, taking the DIY spirit of their early releases and applying it to the online world, engaging fans on social media and building the kind of community usually only seen in more established acts.
The day before we speak they went live with their public WhatsApp group, a way of directly interacting with their fans. “It’s chaos, to be honest,” laughs Annabel. “We were worried nobody would join and now there’s about 80 people in there sharing Bee Gees playlists and I don’t know who any of them are. It’s hard to judge these things because we’ve had no real way of knowing how many people are into us because we’ve played one gig in the last year.”
That one gig was at The Windmill in Brixton early last December, a socially-distanced shindig with roughly 20 people, but it remains a milestone for a band – they take plenty of inspiration from the acts that made the venue their stomping ground in recent years like Shame and Goat Girl.
“Of course we’re a live band,” says Chloe, clearly still enjoying the memory of last year’s performance. “But we have a bit of a pop element to us, which I think helps us to use the online world to our advantage and create something which is more than just people consuming what we put out. Meeting people and making friends is a huge part of what makes us happy about making music.”
In fact, they’ve become so popular that they’ve even had to change from their original name LIME to avoid confusion with a Montreal-based disco act of the same name. As always, though, they’re managing to stay chipper in the face of what would be a major upset for most.
“We always knew the other LIME existed,” says Chloe. “We just never thought we’d get to the point where it mattered. So it’s really cool to be forced into changing our name, because it meant people actually cared who we were!”
Lime Garden’s new single ‘Sick & Tired’ is out now on So Young Records
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