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Interview: Life Aquatic Band: On experimentation and hunting down McCartney

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With their second EP, From Russell, With Love, released in November, the Life Aquatic Band have taken another step towards being one of the most recognisable groups in Sheffield.

Now, when not working on their quirky sound, the band are dealing with the hassles of organising gigs and bringing more theatrical elements into their performances.

We talked to Ben Allen and Henry Tufton about the band's creative process, staying sharp and winging it at the same time, and their future plans for a Paul McCartney-themed concept album.

There's so much variety within the scope of three songs on the new EP. What was the creative process behind the project?

[Ben] It all started with the writing. Every time we approached a song, we wanted it to be different to what we had done already. I know a lot of our songs fall into a broad genre, but as we come up with them, we try to experiment.

[Henry] We created songs so that each one is in a way in contrast with the one we did before. We went to extreme opposites from one song to the next. Even if it's not represented in the track listing, that's the gist of our process. It keeps the audience on their toes, makes them interested, especially on platforms like Spotify that a lot of people tend to listen to very passively. If we change the moods of our songs in a quite eccentric way, it makes them tune back in and be more active listeners.

[Ben] We make it sound like we think about it harder than we actually do. We just try to have some fun, and if you listen to the EP, I think that shines through.

[Henry] That's true. On my phone, I have recordings of earlier demos of our songs, and you can actually hear us just laughing all the way through. We really are just messing around. The transitions are often a bit tongue-in-cheek.

We are going to new places weve never been before

Is there a trade-off between this continuous experimentation and building a sound that you can call yours?

[Ben] People do say we have a sound, even if we keep swapping, and as a songwriter that sort of process keeps me sharp. Obviously there is a point when you want to refine the process, but we are on the opposite side now. We are going to new places we've never been before. It helps that now that we've worked together for so long as a band, it's easier to stay sharp by working with everyone's strengths, writing parts specifically for the members.

How do you stay sharp with seven people in the band? How does it look like organisation-wise?

[Henry] It's definitely a challenge. Everyone has different schedules and approaches to music. It gives us some freedom, because we never get locked into the same thing over and over again, but it does make things exciting sometimes.

[Ben] All seven of us are really good at just nailing things as they come. We are trained musicians. It's in our DNA. We don't have to practice a lot, and if we all just keep returning to it, we don't often need to get literally everyone into the same room.

When LAB started two years ago, you were all still in school. Has the dynamic changed now that most of you have jobs?

[Ben] It is not as bad as you might think. We have a more structured schedule. People just have their day jobs and we have time to practice in the evenings. If anything, we became more focused because we have to organise our time more. When we were still at the Uni we had all the time in the world and there was no real driving force or urgency to anything. Now we have to be on spot and just go for it.

Don't take this the wrong way, but why did name yourselves after the worst Wes Anderson movie?

[Ben] The aesthetic of the film was what got me. To be honest, no one else in the band has seen it. No one is saying that that movie's got a great narrative. It's really a bit too meandering. In a way, that's its main strength. It does what it wants to do on the wind, goes wherever it wants to go, and doesn't really tie itself up. That's weirdly just like our approach. Whatever we fancy doing in the moment, we do it. And also, I love Bill Murray. In fact, we even sampled him once.

We are maximalists

Do you find it harder to be out there touring or to work on your sound?

[Ben] Recording and writing is pretty brain-numbing. It's a tedious process, because we are maximalists and there's quite a lot going on in our music. Playing live is amazing, but if you do it couple of times a week, it's really tiring. At Tramlines, we did four gigs in three days and that was crushing.

[Henry] Some of us even did seven or ten. It really takes a masochist to go from gig to gig like that. After a while it's aching.

[Ben] Because I don't play with a pick, a scar opens on my palm at every gig and I just start bleeding on my guitar.

Are you getting ready for any gigs right now?

[Ben] We've been quite busy lately, so we are just taking a few months off. We've got one booked in London and we are in talks for things in February and March. We try to arrange them a couple of months ahead, sporadically here and there. We have a pretty sound fan base in Sheffield, and our goal right now is to build one outside the city, trying to crack it in London and Manchester.

[Henry] We always want to play live, because it's a lot of fun, but we want to refine our music more. As we mentioned, we jump around in our sound quite a lot and for our upcoming concept album we need to find a balance in our music.

Tell us more about it.

[Ben] It's inspired by Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. It's likely going to be called LAB on the Hunt, and in it our task is to bring Paul McCartney to justice. So while Paul is on the run, we are working with the police to catch the band. We still need to get him on board to sing a few parts [laughs].

[Henry] It allows us to do it as a theatrical performance, instead of a standard EP release. So instead of a launch show, we plan to put the thing on stage for about two nights in a row, maybe in The Cellar.

[Ben] We have already finished writing the first third. It starts with a James Corden-style carpool karaoke scene in Liverpool, while we're hunting the Wings down. We get Corden out of his car and interrogate him about the whereabouts of McCartney. Then it's going to be a police chase, sort of leading up to a final battle, when we try to bring him to justice. There's going to be lots of drama, a ticking clock.

Is there going to be a love story subplot?

[Henry] No, that's a bit too complicated. We want to focus on getting McCartney.

[Ben] Yeah, our job is to bring him justice. We couldn't get distracted by love. It's in the national interest.

From Russell, With Love is available now from Bandcamp.

Máté Mohos

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