Brought together in 2017 by lead singer and common denominator Danny Nedelko – the real-life subject of IDLES’ pro-immigrant anthem – Heavy Lungs are frontman Danny, drummer George Garratt, bassist James Minchall and guitarist Oliver Southgate.
Although pretty much fresh from the womb as a foursome, after supporting their good friends on a completely sold out UK tour last year, Heavy Lungs began selling out their own headline shows around the country almost immediately. They’ve now brought us three excellent EPs and are in the midst of a 24-date UK and European tour. Heavy Lungs may have been given an early platform, but it’s certainly one they were deserving of.
Heavy Lungs may have been given an early platform, but it’s certainly one they were deserving of
With a central theme of self worth in an industry blighted with imposter syndrome, it’s tempting to think of Measure in terms of pressure as a band to live up to the hype surrounding them from conception. However, it’s a much more general statement about self love, Heavy Lungs guitarist Oliver tells us.
‘It’s a universal thing, it’s not just about us in a band. It’s about realising what you’ve got and what you’re good at, being positive with your own skillset and not putting yourself down too much.
It’s a universal thing, it’s not just about us in a band
‘It’s about being human beings in this day and age, dealing with the things in your head and not bottling them up. It’s about looking inwards, but looking inward in a positive way. And not comparing yourself to everything else all time – as a band, that’s a huge thing. Every band either gets compared to another band, or they’ll do it themselves. In the writing process, no matter what you do, there’s usually something that you think sounds a bit like that band, or that song. We tend to try and quickly get rid of that, because there’s no point in dwelling on it. Otherwise it will destroy the song, or even the band itself.’
As well as filtering out self doubt as individuals, Heavy Lungs also had to learn quickly how to trust themselves as a band. Not afforded the usual grace period to refine their sound on the live circuit, Heavy Lungs found themselves in an unusual position as a brand new band with a disproportionate audience. A pressure they overcame by ‘the feeling that we were in it together’ says Oliver.
Now on their third release, a sense of finesse is the major notable difference in Heavy Lungs’ sound
Now on their third release, a sense of finesse is the major notable difference in Heavy Lungs’ sound. They haven’t let the overthinking that could come with bigger stages, bigger expectations and the eyes of the media get in their own way.
Fortunately, Danny’s hunch that his three friends would make magic together was right and the Heavy Lungs sound fell into place quite naturally. In fact, three of the songs on the Abstract Thoughts EP came out of their first practice session, Oliver tells us.
‘From the start, we had a goal to be a bit heavier than what was around us at the time, without being a metal band or whatever. Energy is a huge point in our sound and everything else, but now our energy comes through in more of a controlled or more thought out way.’
Energy is a huge point in our sound and everything else
In terms of writing too, while their debut EP was a collection of their best songs at the time, Measure presents a small but perfectly formed, rounded project. Opening with a minute and a half of bleeps, noise and distortion before the rhythm kicks in, Heavy Lungs set us up for a non-passive listening experience from the get go.
‘The intro piece is about four or five guitar parts that I put together and looped and reversed and everything else. It’s a reflection of our live show, as we don’t really like to go on and start a song and before you know it, the song is over. We like to ease people in a bit, whether it’s noise or an actual thought-out thing. It’s also a sense of bookending, because it’s a very similar to the end of the last track. Almost like a prologue, it opens it up and then goes straight in.’
Heavy Lungs set us up for a non-passive listening experience from the get go
Once you’ve been eased in, Measure demonstrates tight songwriting and a comprehensive musical unit. From the particularly catchy (A Bit of a) Birthday, to the balladic T.O.T.B, Heavy Lungs have truly stepped up a gear, even since February’s Straight to CD EP.
Radio-ready hits are sandwich by the EP’s opening and closing tracks, which more powerfully conjure Heavy Lungs’ stage presence and live energy. Measure serves up, as intended, the listening experience of a mini album.
In the not too distant past, Bristol was thought of almost exclusively as a hub for electronic music. Heavy Lungs are part of a wider paradigm shift that’s now seeing loud, live bands getting recognition. IDLES no doubt played a huge part in drawing ears this way, but those great bands were already here for those open ears to discover.
Heavy Lungs are part of a wider paradigm shift that’s now seeing loud, live bands getting recognition
‘I think the main thing in Bristol is having an audience for it and people that help facilitate it. In a lot of cities, people can put gigs on and there’s good bands, but there’s no one to come and watch. Whether it’s because there’s not enough promotion for it, or there’s not enough transport to get to the gigs. Bristol is such an easy place to get around, you can pretty much walk across the whole city in not much time at all.
‘There’s loads of different bands around all the time, different gigs going on, and people that are just kind and welcome other bands in with arms wide. People love to play in Bristol, because they get a good welcome. The venues are good and the crowds are good – that’s what makes it thrive.’
While no one could have predicted the uncompromised success IDLES have had, with a UK number 5 charting album, as well as BRIT and Mercury Prize nominations in the past year, Oliver is hopeful about the popular music climate in general. There is room at the top for non-conforming artists in a way that we haven’t seen in years.
These days, there’s always a curveball
‘These days, there’s always a curveball. If you look at someone like Billie Eilish, if you listen to her and put that in context to other stuff at the moment, it sounds really new and weird. But it’s massive.
‘IDLES are a good example. A lot of it is down to their work ethic as well, they’ve got great songs, but their work ethic helped them get themselves to a point where people were listening. At the moment, it’s an open plain really.
‘At the same time, we have our own limitations, because I think you need them sometimes. You can’t have every tool in the box, every brush in the paint box – because then nothing will ever be finished or you’ll never be happy with anything.
‘We know what we like as our core thing and I think we’re getting to a point where we know what our sound is. Largely because the four of us know each other more – that was our growing stage. Everyone knew Danny, but no one else knew each other really, so it was a complete fresh start from the first practice. But I think we’ve got to a point where we know our strengths and we know each other. Sometimes it’s a case where someone might write something because they know the other person will like it – it’s all about give and take between us.
the four of us know each other more – that was our growing stage
‘We’re so grateful for where we are. When we go to a new city and we’re not playing to five people, it’s pretty amazing. We’ve all been in bands before where it’s the more standard thing of: you play in a new place, you don’t expect much. Though we still don’t really expect anything, I think the moment you expect anything is when you expect too much. We are just grateful for what we have and what we have lined up in the future – that’s enough to tide us over and keep us happy.’
the moment you expect anything is when you expect too much
Fans, on the other hand, can set expectations high. Heavy Lungs close their Measure tour with a sold-out show at Thekla this November. They broke out a raffle mid-show at their last Bristol gig and Oliver hints they may line up something special for this show too; as well as ‘probably a lot of volume. It will probably be really hot. George will probably have his shirt off.’
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger
Location: Factory Studios