Interview by Tricia Hogan
Larkins is a band from Manchester, England that has been described as “Manchester's next arena act”. If you listen to AltNation on SiriusXM, you may have heard Hit & Run, the title track from their most recent EP, on Advanced Placement. We caught up with Josh to talk all things Larkins - read below!
AON: The US tour that you guys were currently supposed to be on got cut short, can you talk a little bit about what that was like for you guys as a band?
Larkins (Josh): Coming to the US for a British band is such a big deal, not a lot of people get to the stage where they get to do that. And especially as an Indie Pop/Indie Rock kind of band, it felt like a massive step for us - it felt like we were trying to earn it again in America. Not saying that we have been totally successful at doing that in the UK, but it felt like a massive step to start fresh in a new territory. So we got over there and played our first show in Toronto and a lot of people came out to watch the show. We were still in limbo with whether it was going to happen or not but we had so much planned for the next 4 weeks. As soon as we got to New York, we already had the inkling that the label and our management were thinking that we probably needed to come home. We were being very resilient, and probably a bit naive, about wanting to stay. It was just devastating to get to a point where the shows were out of our hands and we couldn’t play. Everyone’s in the same boat here, it just happened to be that we were on tour in the US at that time.
AON: Outside of the US tour and everything that happened there, what is it like being a band in this current environment? How do you keep going as a band?
Larkins (Josh): We’ve always put our money where our mouth is and we invested in our own studio in Manchester, so we are kind of self-isolated in our own studio. We spend so much time together that it’s gotten to the point where if one of us has got it, we’ve all got it. We are still making music, we’re still writing as much as we can, we’re still demoing as much as we can. But at the same time, we’ve always been this band that has preached having a community on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. So now this gives us the opportunity to grow that and practice what we preach and take our live shows to Instagram. We’re trying to design more stuff for our clothing line. On a monetary sense, we, like many bands, base our whole year around touring and merchandise; so right now its just like how the fuck do we survive without our business?
AON: So without the touring, what is the best way that fans can support your band right now?
Larkins (Josh): It would be going on to our clothing brand and buying merch. It’s something that we’re very passionate about. The whole point of Animals in Costume, which is our clothing line, was to do sustainable merch that was ethical. That it had some morality to it, that had a backbone and it was being ethically sourced and 100% organic. We wanted to combat this idea that merchandise has to be really poorly made and really cheap.
AON: Moving away from what’s happening today, let’s talk about the band more. How did Larkins start? How did you guys get together?
Larkins (Josh): We met in Manchester. So me and Dom, the guitarist, have known each other since we were 11 or 12 years old in school. And we lived in this little town outside of Manchester. And then a couple years later, when we wanted to start the band, we asked our music teacher if he knew anyone to play bass. And he was like, yeah, there was this kid at the school who played bass, he's a couple years younger than you, so you might not remember him. So we went back to our school and got Henry on bass. And then Henry basically said, I know this guy who plays drums and he should come and audition. So from there, I mean, like the fact that we were in and around Manchester, there were so many venues readily available to us to kind of try out something. We were all listening to the same music like Foals, The Killers, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.
AON: How would you describe your sound and how do you pull in those influences from other bands that you listen to?
Larkins (Josh): People always ask us this, I don’t know I guess its like atmospheric, alternative, indie pop? We always have this checklist when we write songs: one, that it has enough bass, because Henry, our bass player is insane; and two that it has a beautiful moment. Like TV Dream was finished before we had written the middle eighth, and I was like I have to go back in, this song needs to have a beautiful moment. Every show that I have been to that I’ve loved has these beautiful moments that you cherish and we’ve just been searching for that, I guess.
AON: When you are writing music, do you think about it from a live perspective and how it’s going to be performed? Or are you thinking of the person who is going to be listening to it on headphones?
Larkins (Josh): I guess it is different. I write a lot of songs with titles - I have huge lists of titles of songs and I write around those titles or sometimes I’ll write around artwork. I think from a live perspective, I think a lot more about production than I used to. I’ve always liked really wide, stereo music that has these dips and troughs and these tensions and push and pulls. We are really just trying to be as interesting as we can, but still within pop. Within the pop spectrum, we’ve always tried to just push it to the nth degree so that pop’s just in the near distance, but its still there.
AON: You originally released Hit & Run as a demo back in 2015, what was the evolution of this song and how did it become the title track from your EP, about 5 years later?
Larkins (Josh): Like I think a lot of bands will say, you don’t know a song until you’ve played it live and that track dropped before we really played any serious gigs. We never felt like we’d done the song justice. So it was just a case of going back into the studio and drawing on our inspirations and trying to approach the music as the band we are now instead of the band we were then.
AON: Out of all of the songs on the EP, what’s your favorite?
Larkins (Josh): My favorite would definitely be Make You Better. It’s a really personal song and its super bold. I remember sending it to our record label and being like, I know this is really bold but I think it will work. For a first EP for an indie band from Manchester, its pretty unheard of, like an acapella, Bon Iver vibe. For me, I think that is the farthest I’ve gotten lyrically so far.
AON: When you release personal songs like that, does it make you nervous how people are going to react to them since it's such a big part of you?
Larkins (Josh): Its so obscure that only you and people close to you really know what it means. I think releasing songs makes me nervous, but we don’t release songs that we don’t like or that we feel isn’t us. As long as you stand by that than you can’t feel nervous because you are releasing something that you really believe in.
AON: If someone is just starting to get into your band, what is the first song that you would tell them to listen to?
Larkins (Josh): I’d probably say listen to TV Dream, I think that was the first song that broke us into the next level. I think it made us a lot more accessible. It was bold from the start and it was the first time where we were really standing out.
AON: Was there a specific moment that you as a band realized that this was something that you could do for a living?
Larkins (Josh): I think when people start to come to your shows, you start to realize that people actually want to pay to see you play. And that was a big point that I don’t think we’ve ever come to terms with. And I think thats probably a good thing - I think when we do come to terms with it, we’ll probably become egocentric, horrible people. Its a lot of validation when people pay the ticket price to come and see you. I remember when we did the Albert Hall, which was like 2,000 people, I remember being backstage like ‘What the fuck, how did this happen’?! But at the same time, I’m compulsively obsessed with this band, I spend every minute of every waking day on this because I love it. The fact that people are now coming to see it is validation to me and makes me want to go bigger and harder and longer.
AON: Speaking of The Albert Hall show, you guys released a live album that has a lot of songs that you haven’t released studio versions of yet. What was the thought process behind releasing the live version before the studio version?
Larkins (Josh): I think there was maybe five years, five, six years ago, there was this huge SoundCloud revolution where people were dropping mix tapes and ideas just because they wanted to see what people thought. And it was massive in hip hop and like no other genre seemed to be doing it. So we just thought, this is a massive milestone, this is a huge show, we’ll just record it and see what you think. I love bands where you can go back and hear three different versions of a song like Radiohead have always done that, where they've released live versions of demo versions. I think it gives a real weight to a band and it lets you invest in it a little bit more. The fact that we'd got to that point without ever really releasing any songs was crazy. Like there's maybe three or four songs on Spotify, so to sell that many tickets was such a great opportunity to get two thousand voices on a record.
AON: Do you have any plans to release studio versions of any of those songs?
Larkins (Josh): Yeah, definitely. Our debut record isn’t going to be a studio version of the live album, definitely not. I love that there’s going to be some songs on there where thats the only place they’ll ever live. It shows well where we were at the time.
AON: So your band has been described as Manchester's next arena act. Do you feel pressure to live up to that review, especially with the review coming so early in the band’s history?
Larkins (Josh): Not really. I mean, people always ask us, when would you know that you made it? And the aim has always been the Manchester Arena. That's where we went as kids to watch all of our favorite bands, the biggest bands we’d ever seen have been there. That was always the aim. So for someone to say that, we were like, well, that's great, that’s what we want to do. I don’t think its pressure, if it would be pressure than we’re not in the right job. If we ever get that opportunity, which we hope to do in the next 2 - 3 years, we’re going to grab it with both hands.
AON: What advice would you give to bands are just starting out today? Is there anything that you learned later on as a band that you wish you knew when you started it?
Larkins (Josh): I think the best thing we ever did was when we were like between 16 and 19, we used to just go to four or five shows a week. We would just go and I would take notes and watch video and take photos and just work out why are we not at that level yet? What are they doing that we’re not doing? And we’re so competitive that it really pushed us to better ourselves and become a better live band. The other advice would be to reinvest. If you get paid $50 to play or even less, rather than getting beer money, just put it back in the band.
AON: What is next for Larkins?
Larkins (Josh): The April tour would be massive because they are some of the biggest shows we’ve ever played. As far as releasing music, we have a song that we’ve been knocking around for ages waiting for what we feel is the right time to drop. We’re just going to keep writing, we’re working on the debut album and we’re not willing to release the record until we’re right and we’re laying all our cards on the table. I feel like there’s so many great debut albums from bands because its a lifetime of work. We’re like 21 and 23 years old and we’ve gotta get it right. So we’ve got a little studio in Manchester and we’re just doing that right now and hoping everyone’s okay. And as soon as it is we are going to tour for as long as we possibly can.
They will be doing some live streams this week to brighten up the self-isolation — tune in to their Instagram at the times below (times are in GMT):