Tribes have returned with ‘Hard Pill’, their first release in 10 years and the first stop in a wider return from the band. Check it out below, along with our chat with frontman Johnny Lloyd and guitarist Dan White.
The London band – completed by bassist Jim Cratchley and drummer Miguel Demelo – announced their split in 2013, following the release of their second album ‘Wish To Scream’.
After that record was released, Tribes were dropped by their label Island Records, which, along with other pressures the band were experiencing, contributed to their dissolution. “Being dropped was a massive blow,” Lloyd told NME.
“[Being signed] was what we’d worked for since we were kids, and it just happened in a way that was so shocking. I didn’t have the language at the time to describe how unwell I felt from all the pressure of that and shouldering all the songwriting. Instead of saying, ‘Guys, I need a break’, I just shut down. It had taken everything we had from 2009 to get to that point and we were completely burned out.”
He added: “I don’t think there’s any blame to be placed, it’s just what happened,” White said. “If it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have been able to make this new music.”
After nearly a decade apart, the four musicians found themselves in the same room together in 2019 when they went to see Cratchley perform with Dinosaur Pile-Up. “We felt that electricity of us being together again,” White explained. “A couple of weeks went by and Johnny text me saying, ‘The 10-year anniversary of ‘Baby’ is coming up, maybe we should do a little show’.”
Tribes announced a one-off reunion gig at London’s Lafayette for December 2020, which proved to be the catalyst for a fuller return. “The tickets went on sale and we thought the link had broken,” White said. “We called [the promoter] and they said, ‘No man, you sold it out in seven seconds’.”
“The next one sold out, and then the next one sold out,” Lloyd added, referring to warm-up gigs in Sheffield and Manchester. The London gig was upgraded to Kentish Town Forum due to demand and also sold out. “It was like, ‘Maybe we should be doing this’. It’d been so painful – the break-up – and so many years of this void. The spirit of the band, which has always been very happy, was back, and people were feeling the same, so it was exciting to jump back on it.”
With that thought in their minds, new material started flowing. ‘Hard Pill’, a swaggering juggernaut of a song that feels true to Tribes’ DNA while feeling fresh and new, was the first track to begin to take shape. “I’ve been producing bands since [the split] and I was in the studio and this riff came out with the first lyric – ‘You looked me in the eye’,” White recalled. “At that time, we weren’t planning to do a record – we were just going to do the show. But ‘Hard Pill’ came out and that led into everything else.”
“It’s the end and the beginning,” Lloyd said, calling it a “bridge” between Tribes’ past and their new chapter. “I like the line ‘Seven times around the sun and all I’ve got’s the shadow I’ve become’, because I think I felt like that – just endlessly [being asked] ‘Oh, what was the name of your band?’ It’s not a nice feeling, feeling like you’re not doing your best.”
For White, the new single represents the four friends’ potential and support for one another. “We’re doing this from a position of listening and understanding and just being there for each other,” he said. “Before, we were maybe a bit more isolated from each other.”
The song – and the other new music the band has in the pipeline – was recorded in a cottage next door to Lloyd’s home in Dorset, where White became resident during the pandemic. “It’s a spooky place and it’s so remote,” the frontman said of the area, which is in the middle of an “army range”. “It’s pitch black and there’s massive tanks firing artillery.”
“We’d be recording acoustic guitar and we’d have to wait for the warheads to end,” White added.
Tribes’ sessions in Dorset were self-produced by White, eliminating the pressure or stress of working with an outside figure who might not understand what the band wanted. “It feels like we can be ourselves [with White], and we can say, ‘I don’t think this is going to work’,” Lloyd explained.
“And you can try a million things at once – I don’t think we ever did that. On ‘Baby’, we’d rehearse it to hell and just go in and do it. So it’s been such a creative experience – we tried the songs so many different ways and spent hours getting the guitars right and talking about the lyrics. The whole thing felt extremely fluid and very true to ourselves with Dan at the helm.”
White added: “It was a bit like in scenes in Indiana Jones when they open the Ark of the Covenant and all the light comes out. A lot of the stuff fired in directions we haven’t been down before and I think the fact it was just us allowed us to pursue some different ideas.”
As well as sparking new creativity for the band, reuniting has felt like “getting your identity back”, according to Lloyd. “So much life has happened in between but still, at the core, it’s just us like it was in Scar Studios in Camden in 2008, playing at the most ridiculous volumes with no songs. It’s nice to laugh through all this stuff again instead of having this really heavy cloud hung over us.”
Following a handful of gigs since 2021 – and an intimate show at London’s Dublin Castle last night (March 22) – Tribes will return to the road next month for a headline show in Leeds and a series of support slots for DMA’S. Beyond that, more new music is on the horizon, with details to be announced soon.
Looking ahead, the band are happy just to be back together. “We’ve made something we’re really proud of, and wherever we go from here is a bonus for me,” White said. “But it would be great if Tribes was a sustainable thing that we could do forever. We’re doing it for very different reasons now – we’re doing it because we genuinely love it.”
“Yeah, we’re doing it to grow as opposed to any egotistical reasons,” Lloyd agreed. “Also, it’s nice to travel in a band – it’s not glamorous but you really do see the world in a different way when you’re playing shows. So I just want to see as much of the world through the band and make some good songs that might help people get perspective in their lives.”