The Rills: Lincoln indie bandits writing bangers for small-town life

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’ll see opening the bill for your favourite act. This week, The Rills talk about channelling Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines for a dose of reality from the Midlands

You know what they say about Lincoln? Absolutely nothing. Trust me, I’m from there. That’s not a slight by any measure: it’s a beautiful cathedral city with a rich history and warm people. But leave the Midlands and say “Lincoln” to someone and you’ll usually be met with a shrug. “WE INVENTED THE TANK!” we protest, to little gain.

Andrew Fearn from Sleaford Mods grew up a few miles down the road in the village of Saxilby while Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin is from neighbouring Sleaford, as were ‘00s indie-blues outfit The 22-20s. Two of the chart-bothering Sea Girls are from here, too. Beyond that, though: it’s very slim pickings.

“We’ve always had an issue with that identity thing, really,” admits Mitch Spencer, frontman and guitarist of punchy indie upstarts The Rills. “Initially we were embarrassed to be from Lincoln, frankly – because there aren’t really any artists from here. Maybe it’s the pure quietness of it.”

Advertisement

He notes how “it’s very difficult to even go to a small show, let alone put one on” in Lincoln, with the choice of venue being either pubs with covers bands or the 1,500-capacity venue The Engine Shed where you’d go to see Kaiser Chiefs. “If you’re into music or anything alternative, Lincoln can feel very much like a springboard that’s pushing you down. The tension rises and before you know it – bang, you just have to do something.”

Bassist Callum Warner-Webb agrees: “There’s a small-town mentality that shapes us. When we were younger and decided to move away, our mindset was, ‘Let’s get out of this place and prove everyone wrong’. Now, having left and come back, it gives you a different attitude towards it all. We look at Lincoln through a new lens.”

Mitch and Callum first met aged 13 while whiling their time away in a skate park. A few years later, one saw the other carrying a guitar on the first day of sixth form, before they started jamming and a creative partnership was formed. Feeling that they’d exhausted Lincoln’s limited scene, they moved to Sheffield to see if the magic of their heroes Arctic Monkeys might rub off – but it was a little more humbling than that.

“We left home when we were about 19 with no idea about what we were going to do,” admits Callum. “When you’re that age, living in Lincoln and doing gigs, you think you’re huge and only a few steps away from playing Glastonbury. Suddenly working jobs, paying bills, messing things up and learning from mistakes – that was that cold, hard-hitting reality that you really need if you’re going to go forward and write great songs.”

Moving back to Lincoln for university, Callum met drummer and Essex lad Mason Cassar in a lecture. “These guys booked a gig without having a drummer and had no plans of changing that until the last minute,” laughs Mason. Adding a thundering new edge to their sound, Mason also became their much-needed “anchor” in the South, as Mitch adds: “Our biggest inspirations are Arctic Monkeys from the North and Libertines from the South. We’ve always been in that middle ground. We’re not that mod, Northern Oasis-inspired band, but we’re also not a super trendy south London post-punk band – we’re a blend of them both through the funnel of contemporary music.”

Advertisement

Lincolnshire is the second-biggest county in England, and with that comes its own personality. More Northern in spirit and accent but culturally in limbo, no one really knows how to place a Yellowbelly. These are the characters who live in The Rills’ songs, but anyone who grew up in a quiet town and dreamed of a little excitement should recognise them.

That’s what’s helped the trio rack up millions of likes on TikTok, thousands of streams and a healthy following on social media. You can hear that rogue charm on early singles with the punky and raucous ‘Pyro’ and the bittersweet ‘Us & Them’, through to recent garage rocker ‘Stardog’ and the spiky ‘The Angler’.

Having signed to Nice Swan Records (home to early releases by Sports Team, Fur, FEET and more), it’s the band’s latest single ‘Skint Eastwood’ that best captures what The Rills are all about: an anthemic banger that rolls between scuzzy and dreamy sounds as they pay tribute to “a loner, a BMX bandit who lurks the streets for affection, be it by begging, stealing or borrowing”. Here’s someone who anyone from small-town suburbia will remember – those kids “who are bored and fundamentally quite alone,” says Mitch. “We’ve all been Skint Eastwoods at some point in our lives.”

The Rills have just come off the road after supporting Bloxx on a UK tour having already smashed the BBC Introducing Stage at Reading & Leeds, and the trio are now set for their own UK headline tour through December. They also have a five-track EP in the bag that’s set to drop soon, and apart from a “side quest” to help kick-start more of an indie scene back home, they have their sights set far beyond that endless horizon.

“I don’t know if this is because we’re from Lincoln, but right from day one we’ve been like: ‘We want to headline Glastonbury, we want to be the biggest fucking band we can be’,” admits Mitch. Quoting his heroes, Callum says Arctic Monkeys’ 2006 song ‘Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But…’ sums up where he feels The Rills are at.

Alex Turner is singing about getting advice from people telling them to just do gigs at local pubs,” he says. “That makes you think, ‘No, I’m not going to limit myself to a situation where it makes sense to be in a band in a small town. I’m going to completely go against that and run with this idea – even if it kills me’.”

The Rills’ ‘Skint Eastwood’ is out now

Advertisement
Advertisement