Messed!Up

Raw, unfiltered indie rock and crazy gigs: False Heads interviewed

J.N. November 21, 2018

Music media and Reddit threads have been eulogizing the death of indie rock for what feels like an eternity. However, those bands they’re mourning is from the early 2000s, when bands like The Strokes made “Is This It” and The Libertines in Britain had “Up The Bracket”. From there, four- and five-piece rock bands cropped up everywhere like Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Von Bondies, Franz Ferdinand, and so many more.

However when people grow older (hint to the music journalists) they tend to get stuck in the old stuff. It’s even a simple fact of life that older people reminisce about the glory days and nowhere is this most obvious than on the indie rock scene.

The British indie rock scene is experiencing an amazing resurgence and bands as The Blinders, Strange Bones, YONAKA, The Dunts and so many more have rejuvenated and reshaped the sound of the scene, combining the classic indie rock sound with punk, post-punk, grunge and alternative rock, and at times also electropop.

One of these new bands is London three-piece False Heads, a band described as “one of the best live bands in the world” by ex-Ramones manager Danny Fields and having a huge fan in Iggy Pop. Playing alongside The Libertines, Queens of the Stone Age, David Byrne, Band of Skulls and Frank Turner is now something of the norm for the three-piece, and when they finally made their way to Hamburg and Molotow we sat down with Luke, Jake and Barney to talk about building a fanbase through touring, music and politics, and how they will sell-out Brixton Academy four nights in a row in mid-2020.

*****

False Heads have been the name on everyone’s lips during 2018, an enigmatic, fast-paced rock and roll band with lots of punk rock attitude, who’s music oozes contagious energy. After releasing their critically acclaimed debut EP “Gutter Press” they returned in 2018 with the “Less is Better” EP that successfully walks the tightrope between infectious alt-rock and a fist full of gravel; or as Reyt Good Magazine wrote “try thinking of The Hives getting Turbowolf drunk on a dinner date”.

And False Heads have built their fame and glory of relentless gigging and completely crazy live shows. However, it’s time to propel that reputation into 2019 by finish the recording of their debut album and make next year their breakthrough year, and the chat therefore starts in their plans of recording the album and how to squeeze those hours of blood, sweat and tears in the studio in between gigs.

The magic of making a great debut album

There are few bands that I’ve met that at this point in their career are surrounded by such a great reputation as you are. Although British media focus on your connections to ex-Ramones manager Danny Fields and Iggy Pop, I find it most interesting that many new bands we’ve interviewed this year have said “You really need to see False Heads”, bands as Strange Bones and YONAKA.
Barney: That’s so nice to hear. Strange Bones are very good friends of ours; I would even say, in terms of friends, if you can say that bands have friends, they’re our best friends. We think they’re the best band ever, we love their live shows, they’re absolutely phenomenal, and they kind of think the same of us. They’ve been touring longer than we have and they’re so hard working, it’s insane. They’re just a bit more professional than us (laughs).

Luke: We did a tour with them in February and it was just so fucking much fun and the crowd was just so much up for it.

Barney: We’re looking forward to see the crowd here later as well at the punk band downstairs. Hopefully they get warmed-up.

Is it possible for you to stay grounded when you consider that Iggy Pop and Danny Fields put you out in the spotlight?
Barney: I don’t how it is for you guys but for me it’s just stuff that people have written. My focus is to write music and to perform properly and to sell out the merchandise (laughs), it’s so focused on that.

The other stuff is nice, it’s really great and we love to hear it, and it kind of makes you realize that it’s worth it, what you’re doing, and that you should continue. At least it’s not too distracting.

Jake: It works on two levels; it’s great to have that but that is not part of the day-to-day life of being in a band. When you go around to gigs in your car, sleeping at travel lodges or plug in your own gear or play to only a few people, that’s how you building it up slowly.

It’s great to have that there and it’s great to see people who we respect so much, to like our music and that we do something good, but at the same time you still have to do what all bands have to do.

Barney: It’s difficult to get carried away when, for example in Amsterdam, you went to bed at 7AM and the people in the flat woke up 9AM, and you feel like shit. Then it doesn’t matter if Iggy Pop likes us (laughs), “I still feel like shit right now”. You still have to stay grounded, you just have to.

Luke: It is slightly surreal though. When I was fifteen and was getting into pop music and “Raw Power” was my favorite album at the time, I didn’t ever dream that in fucking seven years time that Iggy Pop was going to say we’re his favorite band in the UK. It is surreal and a bit ridiculous but when you take a step back and think about it it’s fucking mental and we appreciate all that stuff greatly.

I always say to Iggy “Thanks mate” because he always plays our stuff on his show; he has just been so behind the band since our first single, since Danny Fields introduced us to him. But at the same time, when you’re not home thinking about it, like when you’re in a fucking van or a shitty car, shattered and feeling ill and focused on the show, you don’t think about it.

When you’re so focused on writing music, and we’re very much focused right now on writing the album, glimpses or flashes of that, like “That’s incredible”, turn up but we’re still a band and need to do what a band needs to do.

I was just thinking of the album; you play so much live and you have been going around the UK several times. Do you have time to record the album? There’s always this conflict between doing live shows and take time off to record stuff.
Barney: We do play a lot live but there is also periods when we’re off, just like November and December where we don’t really have any gigs, and the next tour is not going to be until spring so we got two months now where we ‘re going to write and then we’re going into the studio in the new year, and then tour again.

The music industry goes to sleep throughout that time anyway so it’s a perfect time to get it all done.

Luke: The good thing about being a touring band when we first started out and even in bands we’ve been in before, is that all you’re doing is to play in London every two weeks to try to build up what it is to be playing live, and then you get to a point when it becomes “Bang! You’re a touring band”. So you got to use the months off wisely, and now it’s like “November and December, get the album done” and go into the studio just after Christmas.

But you don’t feel pressured to get it out as soon as possible to have something new for the next tour?
Jake: This has been the longest stretch so far and we’ve done about twenty-five shows in two months, and we’re obviously physically tired but not about how we feel about it and the energy we put into it, that’s even stronger than it was when we started. If we can just take that energy to propel the next few months it will work out; as a band we don’t feel creatively tired.

Luke: It can work out nicely. For example, years before we came on tour we were jamming on this riff and sort of half put it together and we played Preston, and it wasn’t that busy but it was a good show, and the crowd was like “Play another song, play another song” and we were like “We don’t really fucking have another song” so we just jammed on this new track after having a couple of chances during soundcheck to jam on it. Really, I mean we kind of fleshed the whole structure out from that soundcheck. You do have opportunities on tour to sort of make it.

Can you see that way of getting songs done as something necessary to keep up with doing loads of gigs?
Barney: To be honest, it’s not a conscious thought that “This needs to happen now”, this may be one of the first times where it’s been like “Ok, we need to write now”, and we need to spend the next two months just writing. We usually had the thing where it’s been like “We need to get five songs together” and we spent some time over a course of a month or two in between gigs rehearsing, but this is probably going to be the first time where we’re sitting down heads down and just fucking write, write, write and write.

And it’s going to be quite nice; we’ve had our heads down touring so now we can have that as our other focus.

But based on how the music industry looks like today, is it necessary to release an album? We had this discussion with Strange Bones for example, and they say they’re pressured about releasing singles often but at the same time the press won’t review anything but albums.
Luke: That’s a weird fucking thing today. The first EP we did we basically smashed out three singles and then put the EP out, so we kind of done the best of both worlds. Because it is true; when you put an EP out it’s that weird in-between ground of a single and an album and some tracks do get lost. We were like “Let’s put out three singles and then the EP”, and I think it was five tracks on it so most people were familiar with the songs.

This time around we put the EP out and then we’re going to follow it up with the next single, and then we’re going to do a stand-alone single to tide us over before we will announce the album. Basically, we got a structure of how to do it.

The album is sort of coming back again because people are coming back to albums.

Jake: We’ve done two EP’s and we have established ourselves to some extent with them but there’s still some magic in making a great debut album. People talk about EP’s but it’s the classic debut album you want to do.

Luke: And we’ve been excited about it for a while, been talking about the name of it and what it’s going to look like, and we feel like we’re ready and got the team around us now to do it

You don’t feel that you need to have even more songs ready than those on the upcoming album just to have something to release while you tour the album when you also consider that you probably will tour the album quite much?
Barney: The thing is that over the course of the last couple of years the sound has been developing as well and for me it would be nice to do this first album as a representation of the last couple of years and with a good hint of the newer sound. Everything we write is a progress and it gets better and better. Hopefully that will just carry on and we would become amazing (laughs).

In terms of the second album it would be nice to start thinking about that after we recorded and have this album done by the end of February. Then we got a whole year and it’s not like we’re not going to write for that whole year; we’re going to carry on writing throughout that time and that will probably be something for the second album.

Luke: Festival season is a good time to write because you have like spurts of weekends and then you have four or five days off. And you’re in the flow of playing live but you’re not completely exhausted as when we did eleven shows in twelve days and were completely fucked.

Music and politics

Since its inception punk and rock has, as often as not, been a forum for political expression, and political punk bands for instance have always been around. Many bands use their music as a vehicle for spreading ideas and to motivate their audiences toward political change. The political messages of music is no longer a “punks only” business, the young generation of indie rock bands more than often has something to say about the world and its social injustices. But there’s also another side to it as well.

Some bands are in it primarily for the love of music. Although they obviously have political views they’re not necessarily declared in the lyrics but media and fans interpret it political, meaning loads of questions about political views.

For a band as False Heads music should rather be a unifying point where people meet independently of their political views just to get that same emotional experience of listening to loud music.

In a few other interviews it’s pointed out that you’re kind of political; I would rather say that you put attention to social topics that you have something to say about actually – we’re not talking politicism in terms of the punk movement in the seventies. But it seems like people try to interpret you in a left-wing way but is it really you’re intention?
Barney: The political landscape is different from the seventies obviously but I don’t do any lyrics, Luke will probably know better. But the general idea is not to be too much towards the left-wing because the left-wing is fucked at the moment and you can’t really take too much inspiration from them.

Luke: You can! We’re all leftists you know. The main point why it’s not coming out that obvious in my lyrics is just because it’s not the way that I write. There’s things in there that I know is about certain topics and probably if you sat down enough you will find out, but that’s not the way I write and I don’t want to consciously be like “This lyric is obviously going to be about this and this lyric is going be about that”. If I’m interviewed and they want my opinion I always say what I think, but I write more in imagery and symbolism and weirdness I’d say.

The world is really sort of scattered and grey and there’s no clear cut answers to anything. The right-wing has always been pretty absolute and black and white on how to fix issues which has been a problem throughout history, in my opinion. And the left attracted me when you started to get into politics as a teenager; it gave everyone a chance to say their piece and have a conversation and have a debate, but I kind of see the leftists not relying on that anymore.

The right-wing and the left-wing for me now use the exact same tactics but for different endgames, and that’s terrifying. That’s why we are where we are today with this horrible world; it got so much worse in the last five years.

Jake: It’s the way people listen to news now, that’s probably a big difference from the seventies. The main stream of newspapers and TV stations don’t have that concentrated power they had before, so if everything is scattered and everything is on social media people build on that and just get more and more dug down into their positions, whatever it is.

Luke: I think we focus on the wrong things as well. People just see something on Facebook and build opinions on that. It’s so easy to live in your echo chamber and not have anyone challenge what you believe. “I delete you, you’re gone, fuck you”; I’ve even seen journalist do that in my Facebook feed when people say “I disagree with that, you’re fucking wrong” and they get deleted. That’s terrible, journalism isn’t about that and should never be!

But do you think music’s purpose is to take a political or social stand, just like the punks and the post-punks did? Could it even be a risk?
Jake: Not consciously but it’s hard as a band to do something creative when that’s the climate or the atmosphere, and it’s really hard to navigate where you stand with your music in relation to politics. It could be a risk but I don’t really care.

Barney: It’s not our position to be doing that, we’re not here to tell people how to vote or to think. If you’re ridiculously far right or ridiculously far left but you can come to the show and be together and enjoy it in that sphere it’s fine for us. There are similar feelings and people come from the same standpoint at times, especially emotionally, whether they come from the right or the left, so if we can meet at a certain point where we can deliver music and meet at one position that’s fucking fantastic.

We can get rid of the black and white, you blur the line, that’s where we want to live!

Jake: It might be naive to say but we still believe that it’s all about music and we don’t want to compromise what we do. It’s energetic, almost primal.

Luke: But of course we have strong opinions about the world we live in, but the only thing I really promote and say the most is that we’re a band that stands for individualism. And that’s what’s good with our lyrics; when you sit down and read them it may take a bit more time to try to work out what it is about. Maybe they make you feel something that you don’t quite understand because you’re not told what you meant to do, but that’s what the best music does.

I know what I believe in, we all know what we believe in, it comes out in our music and we give opinions on things. In a few interviews I’ve done, a few people have said the same kind of thing, that I’m on the left, but I don’t feel I represent it or need to represent it all the time.

If you’re somewhat interested in political and social topics, how is your relation to the music industry and that kind of tough road through all these filters to get on stage, get media attention and put your music out. And then you have the whole social media industry that you have to manipulate just to get your message through. I mean, it’s not really the nineties anymore when you actually could live off music much easier than today. Have you ever given it a thought?
Barney: The UK is insane and London is even worse. A lot of bands travelling around England say that they can’t wait to play in London, but why? There’s too much stuff going on and you really need to work hard to get to a position where someone wants to come to your fucking gig in London, whereas in the rest of the country people actually come out; the London scene is so busy.

But online is something else; it’s quite nice because you got a lot of different spaces online where you can thrive.

Luke: But I don’t like it. Facebook has become something you need but wish you didn’t have. Everything you do is narrowed down further and further and further, and it’s all like “This post is doing better than 65% of the other posts, this is doing better than 75%, put money behind it”.

Jake: At the same time, social media has obviously completely changed the way bands market themselves. But our story is that we have been gigging for the last three years constantly; it has been a fairly traditional rise, gigging relentlessly since we started. People started to like it, people talked to friends about us, more people would come to the gigs. Obviously we had to use Facebook and keep that going to have a space where people could come and find us.

Luke: We didn’t get Instagram until a year and a half ago and that was by a mistake (laughs).

Barney: There has been a conscious effort to keep it organic though; for example, someone told us that to get more followers on Instagram they will go and follow a million people and then they will unfollow them and I think that’s bullshit. Say you got 17 000 likes but they actually don’t interact or do anything, maybe fifty people commenting on a post, so that kind of post is actually not getting anywhere.

If it’s organic you got people that are actually interacting, there’s some people there talking to you.

Luke: When Danny Fields first started getting involved with the band and we became friends that was one of the first things he said, even though he comes from a very different time. He still believes that word-of-mouth is most important.

Jake: People will always want physical things, something they can take away from a gig, and people still want to have the experience of being in a room with other people while loud music is played to them and they can move to that. That doesn’t change whatever happens in social media.

The promise: Four sold-out nights at Brixton Academy in May 2020

One of the biggest dreams for any young band or artist is to play at classic venues and festivals. In the UK many bands dream of getting that headliner slot on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, the ultimate declaration that you’ve reached high up the industry ladder.

However, although playing the Pyramid Stage together with friends in other bands would be much appreciated just to bring about a rejuvenation on the music scene, False Heads have other venues in mind.  

Like most bands you probably want to reach the major stages, maybe like most UK bands I’ve met that want to play the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury. How will you get there, into the spotlight of the major stages?
Barney: For us it has always been the Brixton Academy, selling out three nights at Brixton – or did you say four nights [looking at Luke]. Four nights it is.

That’s definitely a realistic target in terms of the capacity of the venue and things like that, and the way our music is, it’s much better if it’s inside. I’d rather headline the NME stage at Reading than play a 10AM slot at the Pyramid Stage (laughs).

Luke: When we did the main stage at INmusic [festival], which is probably a similar sized stage as the main stage at Reading, we were really surprised ourselves how well it went down and how big it sounded on stage.

Barney: But how to get there is something else, there’s really no way to get there.

Luke: Write Christmas singles (laughs). But there’s no one way of getting there, it’s more about having the right people around you, which we got know, and write good music and not imploding.

Barney: Controlling the controllable and do what you can with what you got, and if the chance comes it comes. The amount of bands that deserve to be there that miss out because of other bands and artists that don’t deserve to be there, but get there, are many. There’s really no functional route to go.

Luke: That would be a great state of music though if there was bands like us, Strange Bones and The Blinders on the Pyramid Stage; that would be like music has returned. But there is people out there who want something to change, there’s a lot of people who want something different.

Barney: It’s great to be part of the resurgence of the scene as well because you can feel it and people are going out to see it; people are going out to watch bands now as opposed to going to a pub night and listening to Rihanna doing “Umbrella” a fucking hundred times (laughs). They’re seeking that again and there’s a yearning for it, and people are looking for some heavy music.

I think we’re in a fortunate position now because we had Slaves and Royal Blood that initially blew the doors open a little bit. Idles just put their album out opening up another door, and The Blinders put their thing out so I kind of feel that we’re in the perfect position.

And finally, how do you expect the German crowd to respond your music?
Jake: You know, we always had the feeling we’re going to do well in Germany, maybe because Germany is quite loud, heavy and aggressive.

Luke: It’s a place where our management said that we need to play already (laughs); and in Japan and Denmark and places like that. Hopefully we’ll be received well. We always had kind of a good feeling about Germany.

Barney: It’s nice to be out and have a focus overseas as well and we sort of randomly try to break territories, it’s not that we actually know where we want to go, where we want to be and who is going to receive us there but there’s people who want us there.

Last promise then; in how many years are you going to have four sold-out shows at Brixton Academy then?
Jake: Early 2020, I’m going to say (laughs).

Luke: That’s kind of close man, maybe mid-2020s? Before I’m thirty (laughs) I’d say. It’s quite a while but we’ll have five good years until then.

Jake: Ok, we say May 2020 then (laughs).

*****

A long interview is over, Luke has another cigarette and we walk up the Reeperbahn to have a break before their midnight show at Molotow, a show that would become one of the most energetic, aggressive, crazy and mental shows we’ve been to during 2018. If False Heads turn up at a venue close to you don’t hesitate, just buy the bloody ticket, ok?


Photographer: ©Teresa Enhiak Nanni
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.

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