When you’re a teenager stuck in the same park every weekend, just about anywhere can feel suffocating – those long dull days staring at the clouds, drinking tinnies, dreaming of a better world. Though their sound was born out of the frustrations of growing up in the Pennine towns of the Calder Valley, The Lounge Society now freely admit their rural roots helped them stab through the wave of angsty guitar music that bubbled to the surface in the pandemic.
“All we have to draw on is our own experience and the way we see the world around us,” Herbie May (guitar, bass) tells NME over Zoom, flanked by bandmate Hani Paskin-Hussain (guitar, bass). Though a politically driven and telling account our times, their 2020 debut EP ‘Silk For The Starving’ came through a brutal northern lens, taking aim at everything from local grouse hunters on the likes of ‘Burn the Heather’ to the nearby Hebden Bridge on ‘Valley Bottom Fever’ which they slated as “a lonely town with a lonely state of mind.”
Since meeting and forming in secondary school, the band’s view of their stomping ground has softened as they’ve found success, though the relationship remains complex. “It’s an incredibly beautiful place with an awful lot going for it and we’ve thrived here,” says May. “Considering it’s quite a small town, the venues are incredibly strong and influential.” Paskin-Hussain though, is quick to share some of the bleaker elements which defined their early view of the world.
“The town does have a weird darker side, particularly in winter. Geographically it’s one of the darkest and wettest places in the country with potential drug and alcohol problems at every corner, so you can want to get out however beautiful, idyllic and culturally enriched it is. It’s a right of passage to want to leave the nest as you grow up.” Now the band are accustomed to life on the road, they’ve found themselves enjoying the space home offers. “It puts into perspective how lucky we are to be from here, especially when you get the opportunity to take a break.”
If the EP was the tremor, their forthcoming debut album ‘Tired Of Liberty’ which arrives this month is most certainly the earthquake. Tackling similarly weighty themes, May says it’s a more nuanced version of the snarling social and political takes of their early releases. Take the moving ‘North Is Your Heart’ which features some of their most poetic lyricism to date: “Once again comes thunder / cascading you in tyranny / the ashes of dreams / swallow the lands that you loved.”
“I think the way we express political stuff has developed as we’ve matured,” he says. “Initially, it was based around headlines of the world, now it’s based on personal experience, it’s less about the big dramatic events of the world but how little things manifest in everyday life.”
When NME spoke with the band as they broke through in 2020, they made their mission statement clear: “We set out to make sure people can’t really put their finger on us. We like to keep people guessing while still being true to ourselves.” It takes mere seconds of convention-defying single ‘No Driver’ to see that’s the case, a fierce anthem pulsing with glitchy electronica before ghosting between disco and rock‘n’roll.
May says the track was a huge moment in the conception of the album. “We’d never done a track like that and it was a huge step forward for the songwriting. Structurally it’s bizarre, it was born out of a few riffs but then the whole thing exploded and we had to piece it together.” Dan Carey of their London label Speedy Wunderground again took on a wizard-like presence in spontaneously realising the vision. “The vocals were recorded as two in the morning after a night out and a meal, it shouldn’t work but it does.”
The band still see categorization as the biggest peril on the road ahead. “I think the more music you put out, the more you run the risk of being understood,” he says. “Being pinned down is the most dangerous thing, especially when we’re still new and young, as soon as people get you, they’ve got you.” Paskin-Hussain adds, “You’ve got to keep moving from song to song from bar to bar, change your style and influences without losing your identity.”
Though each song offers something new sonically, a thread runs throughout the record thematically this time. The likes of ‘Boredom Is A Drug’ and ‘Upheaval’ grapple with the notion of freedom and finding your place in the world, something perhaps unsurprising given their early rural trappings. It’s a body of work overflowing with a sense of youthful malaise and confusion. “The idea of freedom absolutely had to be there in the title,” says May. “That’s what most of the songs touch on, if they have anything in common it’s the search for freedom, the search for it, the frustration at not feeling you have it.”
It’s a prescient topic given they took flight during the pandemic, when nearly all liberty was stripped. The band have since had the chance to shape their sound on the road though. May says this experience bled onto the record. “When we write it’s so collaborative, it’s hard to pin down what happens where, so that distillation is often done live for us. The question of how it will trigger an audience is always in the back of our minds. We want to make music for listeners, it’s not this insular thing just for ourselves, we want to share it, it’s for the listeners and the dancefloor. So each member of the crowd should get a songwriting credit on that tour.”
Those early tours have also been vital in them stepping out onto bigger stages, most notably a dream slot opening for The Strokes alongside heavyweights Fontaines D.C and Wet Leg. May describes it as a full-circle moment. “The very first song we played as a four-piece was a half-finished cover of ‘Reptilia’ [from the former’s 2003 album ‘Room on Fire’]. That song and that band were arguably the most formative influence on us because those were the first notes we ever played together, so to go out on that stage with their name behind us and everyone there to see them, was incredibly moving.”
It was an opportunity the band had to seize. Paskin-Hussain says, “We knew we had to get on there and be amazing because all the other bands were always going to be fucking amazing, so we knew we had to bring something really special.” May is quick to agree, “You can’t shy away from huge opportunities like that because there’s a million bands who would have traded places. There’s something about a bigger stage that brings something out of us, we want to go on with a bit more angst and we want to cause a little bit of chaos.”
“We want to get some more of these gigs now, we’re definitely hungry for more.” May points out a more immediate challenge at hand. “First we’ve got our own milestones like Village Underground, Gorilla and two homecoming nights at the Trades Club, that in itself is a test for us, it’s about working for it and showing we deserve to be there, the music is the music and nobody can fuck it up except us so we just have to make sure we’re as good as possible.”
The Lounge Society’s debut album ‘Tired Of Liberty’ is out August 26 via Speedy Wunderground