Mark Glenister interviews Mez Green of LIFE.
We will shortly be entering the start of Festival season, the time where your favourite bands play at various festivals around Europe and beyond, where they do warm up shows at some of your local venues. It’s the time some promote new material and forthcoming albums. It’s the time of year that all passionate music lovers look forward to and have been planning which gigs to attend with military like precision, time off from work booked and money saved to buy the all-important band merch.
Except, this year, none of this is happening. Tours, festivals, album launches have all been postponed or cancelled, and that favourite venue of yours may never re-open again. You can still buy the merch, and you may occasionally see your favourite singer or band appear on streaming media to do a few songs or a Q&A session. But, it’s not the same as a gig, nothing beats that feeling, no matter how fan friendly a band is, gigs are what make or break that love for a band.
So, us fans are suffering, but what of the bands themselves. We recently ran a series of short interview with some of our favourite bands, asking them that very question. During this run of chats, I was fortunate enough to have a long and interesting natter with Mez Green, lead singer of the band LIFE, socially distanced via a video call of course!
We spoke about how the band were coping, the effects on your mental health, their postponed tour, a love for Mark E Smith, amongst other LIFE affirming questions.
After a brief discussion about the best days to go food shopping, and my lack of shorthand skills, we got the real conversation under way . . .
So, how are you? How are you coping with the lockdown?
There are parts of it that I have embraced in terms of it was quite nice and it sounds bad saying this, but to have a rest because last year we were so busy as well as the early part of this year. Its nice to have a rest and look back at all of what we have done, and its made me quite proud of the achievements – from the album, the touring and radio achievement. But now just getting massive withdrawal from playing live, we would have just finished our UK tour yesterday, and we were going out to Europe straight after. A massive loss on our wage, as in terms of live revenue and all that that generates, selling merch at shows. It’s been financially impacting and heart breaking to see our tours dissolve, but they are all in place for a safer time, we hope!
You mention there that there is a financial impact, are you in a place where you can cope with that?
We are getting through, there is some money in terms of the band bank account. But as we are all self-employed through the band, and we don’t have other jobs to fall back on. We all left work last year, so really we are supposed to be making a living off the band, we still are, but obviously while we are not doing stuff we have to be quite protective of what’s there. So, when we go back out on the road, we can still afford to do what we love doing. We are taking it steady and easy, there is some great support out there, we have applied for some money through the PRS foundation – they support artists who are struggling financially as they are losing their live revenue, and that has kept us propped up.
Photo by Josh Moore
So, being able to sell merchandise online must be a great help?
Yes, selling merch online, people visiting the site and buying. Any artist really, as there are a lot of bands struggling at the moment. It’s a nice feeling, as it shows there is a lot of support out there for what we do. And a lot of people are detached from the element of going to gigs and seeing everyone, so its nice to see that support, that community feel that bands and people like yourself are involved in now.
I agree, having spoken to a few bands recently, the fact that they can still sell merchandise, and have that interaction with fans. That bands like yourself seem to have, it’s a community feel which makes situations like that easier to deal with.
Yeah, I think that during times of desperate and challenging circumstances, its nice to see a community element really shine through. Especially when we are controlled by governments that really don’t care about a lot of that kind of stuff. Its nice to see that that’s in place, and growing, its always been there but now we are seeing it more.
So, how are the rest of the band?
They are good, I haven’t seen them much as we all live separately, we haven’t been able to go to the studio, and all our gear is at the studio so we can’t all be together at the moment. We are doing all our own different things, I have been writing a lot of lyrics to get ready for the next album. My brother Michael has been putting down a lot of guitar, and Lydia has been working on bass whilst Stu has been making a lot of drum loops. We are all tackling it in our different ways, which is good, but I am missing them, missing being in a room with them. Its funny because normally you can’t wait to get home as you have been living with them in a van for 5 weeks.
I can imagine that must be strange, you’ve gone from spending loads of time with them, to suddenly not being allowed to spend time with them, that must feel very strange?
Yes, its been weird, not seeing people that you are always with, it’s a strange feeling. Can’t wait for all this to blow over, so we can go back to how it was.
I was going to ask if you were using this time to be creative, but you obviously are – so do you find its an important time to be creative?
I don’t think people should beat themselves up about being creative, when we are facing such challenging times. But for me it’s a way to escape these fears, but we have still got to make everything work in the meantime. The idea was that we would come off this set of tours, go away and look at writing and getting ready for album three. We are still gearing up for that, but we will just have to wait bit, its all still in place though.
I know from my perspective that because I am not working at the moment, I have to have some form of structure to my day. So writing and doing interviews like this is, having a routine is so important to my mental health. But, I’ve also learnt that I don’t beat myself up if I fail to stick to the routine some days.
That’s the thing, if you beat yourself up about things like that, it only escalates in my own personal experience. You have to take each day as it comes, but I feel that a lot of people are struggling at the moment with this whole situation.
It’s about 6-7 months since ‘A Picture of Good Health’ came out, what are your thoughts on it now?
Yes, it came out last September, and we were over the moon with how it was received, in terms of 4 playlisted singles, and albums of the year on 6 Music. All of the touring around it, and how people embraced it, it didn’t feel like a turning point but a highlight of our careers, and has pushed us on to get the next body of work out, and that’s what we were are currently collaborating on and trying to get it all together.
It did have an amazing reaction from fans and media alike. In terms of the albums, I thought your first album was quite political, and your second seemed to focus a lot more on you as a band. What’s the focus if any for the 3rd album?
Yes, for me personally especially writing the majority of the lyrics and stuff, the first album was very much a wider album in terms of politics. It reflected a lot of the things I saw at the youth centre I was working in, working with some incredible young people, it was a wider political canvas. The second album, I was going through quite personal stuff about 6 months before we recorded the album, so I decided to make the lyrics about my own internal politics, my own mental health, struggling with isolation which is quite ironic considering the current circumstances. I was making it personal, with the end goal of it being that love is at the end but making it a journey. Because we decided to make the lyrics quite personal, we decided to make the music quite broad, so it sounded a lot bigger than the first album.
The first album was very straight down the line in your face politics, broader music but in-depth lyrics. I think from what I’ve written so far in terms of lyrics for the third album, it’s a lot more about being in a comfortable place, so I’m hoping we have gone from politics, to self-torment and mental health, to a celebration of love and to show the idea of journeys between albums.
I think the progression between albums is very clear, and certainly with the song you released recently ‘Switching On’, there is definitely a shift from your previous songs.
That was quite an experimental single, we wanted to make sure that we created just a spark of ‘what’s going to happen next?’ kind of thing, we wanted to put a lot of experimentation in to it, and sound wise make it a bit different again, so people wanted to know what the 3rd album is going to sound like. So ‘Switching on’ is an introduction of what could be on the 3rd album.
From what I’ve seen the reaction has been positive and certainly 6 Music like it.
Yes, very much so, 6 Music have added it to their playlist so that’s the last 5 songs in a row that have done that, we are so humbled by the reaction from everyone. 6 Music have been a great platform for bands like us, but all sorts of creative and experimental bands and artists. They really champion that sort of eclectic scene and as I’ve said we are really humbled to be included in that.
How would you describe your sound, as a lot of journalist link you to a certain genre, what would you say?
Its hard to define genre these days, we all live through different ways of finding music, so you can jump around and one minute you are listening to folk, then the next it could be dance. We’ve always thought we were an alternative band, with the sounds that we create, we never sugar coat anything or censor any of our material, if you do that then you lose that sense of connection. We will always be grouped with the current crop of post punk bands, that stand up for themselves. I guess we would consider ourselves an alternative band who stand by what we talk about.
That’s the positive thing with the current crop of bands like yourselves, like IDLES, people connect to that, whether it be what you sing about or how you treat your fans. A lot of people have experienced similar things so that connection is already there.
I think its refreshing to see and to be part of that, bands, fans and communities - there tends not to be a barrier anymore, no matter who is on stage, we are all in it together. It doesn’t matter who is in the audience, it doesn’t matter who is buying the record, it doesn’t matter who is making the record. Everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, its so refreshing and so good to be part of it, and long may it continue.
I really fell out of love with music until I stumbled across IDLES, and then that opened up a whole new world or bands and friendship, I agree long may it continue.
I’m the same, bands like IDLES are perfect example, their achievements and how well they are received now, and how massive they are. It’s taken bands like IDLES and ourselves a long time to get here, we are not exactly young bands, we are not 18 years olds with a guitar. We’ve also gone through those motions, and stuck at it and that’s got us to where everything clicked into place with the audience as well.
When you go to gigs now, there is that sense of community and there is certainly an ‘older’ generation following you. Which makes going to gigs really enjoyable, as the audience in the main are there for the music.
I’ve noticed that as well, it has helped a lot of artists, with people buying a lot of merch as well. There is a lot more of a everyone is supporting everyone else, again that we are all in this together mentality, instead of people just turning up and leaving with a selfie.
So, talking of gigs, how was the Kaiser Chiefs tour?
It was unreal really, I didn’t expect to be playing somewhere like the O2, my only experience of that place was James Bon running over the top of it in a film. The crowds we played to were massive, I think we might have scared the audience I’m not going to lie. I opened most nights by saying ‘we’re here to scare you’, we were straight out of the blocks each night with ‘A picture of good Health’, whereas I think the audience were expecting something a bit more Kaiser Chiefs!. It was great though, I know their bass player quite well, they are from Leeds so when I was younger we would see each other and hang out, and he supported some of the music I first started with. So it was nice to reconnect, and you are never going to turn down playing in front of 12,000 people each night. Trying to win over fans, was always a fun thing to do. They looked after us, 7 days, massive venues, very chilled, it was really good.
I saw you play in St Albans last year, and I took my wife along as well. She loved the show and was mesmerised by your stage persona, as we both were. I can certainly see a couple of front men that I feel have influenced you, but I’d like to know your thoughts on that, are you influenced by singers you love?
For me getting on stage is so far removed from who I am in my day to day life, I get to be that person I fell in love with when I was a kid listening to music. Watching people like Jarvis Cocker, or the Fall, or how Ian Curtis was on stage. So certainly dance like Jarvis, and Ian was from Yorkshire so I like to channel his attitude on stage.
I then show Mez a piece of paper where I had written ‘Influences – Jarvis Cocker & Ian Curtis’
There you go, I have the frenetic-ness of Ian Curtis, meets the sort of the campness of Jarvis Cocker when I am on stage
I would say it’s a showmanship, you had that audience in the palm of your hand, and they followed every gesture and watched you literally climb over the entire venue.
Yes, I can’t help myself, I can’t stay still. As soon as the first beat kicks in, I can feel Stu thinking ‘Oh where is he going now’, even if it’s a ledge the width of a ruler, I’ll still try to get on it
It’s interesting you say that about your stage persona being so far removed from you in ‘real’ life, I know a few lead singers, for example James Cox from Crows I know quite well, he is so different off stage than he is on it. Do you seeing being on stage as a form of release?
I think for me it’s a way of releasing a lot of energy, a lot of thoughts. I’ve always wanted to be in band, but I’ve never been a confident person whether that was at school or at work. But being on stage is something different, its where I can feel that I can be the other person I’ve always wanted to be. But then getting off stage, its refreshing to take hold of that and be the person you normally are, you then then appreciate what you are doing.
You’ve spoken about Jarvis, Ian Curtis and the Fall – Who were your favourite bands growing up?
Well growing up I was always into music, my dad loved music, and our guitarist Mick is my brother, so we always grew up listening to music. My dad had a battered old Nissan bluebird that he used to drive us to school in, and it had an old tape machine in it, so it had like the Clash, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, a load of old dub reggae. So, lots of grass roots punk from back in his heyday, so that gave us a thirst for music. So, when I started really listening it was bands like The Fall, always listened to Joy Division, and then even when I was at 6th Form, bands like The Strokes, when indie guitar music exploded again, that was exciting. I’ve always been excited by music and artists that say something, that sound different. You can listen to say for example The Fall or Joy Division, I’m not saying you are going to be them, but you can listen and think well that’s something I can do. Maybe not necessarily as good, but it gives you some hope, music is not just for the privileged. Anyone can pick up a guitar an make a cool record, or make a drum beat these days or a dance beat, and that’s what you’ve seen with Grime, it’s so refreshing.
You’ve mentioned the Fall a few times, did you ever meet Mark E Smith?
Yes I did, my old band ‘The Neat’ we played with them 3 times, once in Newcastle, once in Hull and the other was at a festival somewhere. I went up to him and I was like “I just want to say that you are a massive influence on how I look at music” and typical Mark E Smith he just said “That’s nice, now fuck off!”
(laughter from both of us)
To be honest I was like ‘Thank god’ that’s how I wanted Mark E Smith to be, if he had kissed me, that wouldn’t have been him. So, he was Mark E Smith, and I was like ‘Yes, Mark E Smith told me to fuck off’
(Still giggling) So do you have any favourite Fall albums?
One of my favourite ones if the Rough Trade Anthology album, Totally Wired. Then there is an older album which is ‘Live from the Witch Trials’ which I like. I could listen to them all, all their different albums as there are so many. They have such a great back catalogue.
When are you looking to get the album out, and when is the tour rescheduled for?
The tour is rebooked for October and November, UK and Europe. The initial plan was to lock ourselves away during the summer to record the album, its all depending on when we will be allowed to do that. Essentially now, we are gearing ourselves for 2021 now, and given the situation I feel that’s the sensible approach
So, in the meantime you have launched the ‘Switching on’ Magazine, how has the response been to that?
Its been amazing, its going to get serviced a bit more and we are intending to do a few more volumes. The submissions were worldwide, which is amazing and real fun looking through them. If I had my way they would all have been in, but it was just too much. So, we are going honour it and see where it goes. Its not about ourselves its about everyone contributing, it was a real pleasure to read.
You have Sleep Eaters as your tour support, whose decision was that?
We had a few bands in the mix that were getting sent to us, but they literally they were the first to respond to a tweet I had sent out. We had already played with them in Rotterdam last November, we really liked them, thought they were cool and had a nice vibe about them. So when they came back to us, we thought well there you go its meant to be. I think it’s a really cool line up, we’ll sound good and it will be a lot of fun for the audience.
What do you prefer, recording or playing live?
For me playing live, I think the band is 50/50 split on that, but for me as the lyricist & singer there is a lot of time being lead singer where I’m sat on my arse doing nothing in the recording studio. The drums take ages, then there is the guitar, then the bass, then you all have to listen to it, everyone is always very particular. Then its my time and that’s generally towards the end of recording. So definitely live for me, that said I love being with the band during recording, because that’s when you get to bond and the process is very healing. But, definitely live because that’s what music is all about.
As a live band, you all have lots of attitude on stage, your bass player is amazing, she has some attitude, its also refreshing to see a female so prominent in a band
Lydia is probably the best bass player I’ve ever seen or worked with. And live, sometimes she gives me a run for my money, sometimes I’m like ‘what is going on over there??’
Gender never came into it for us, we wanted the best bass player, and she was the best bass player in Hull so it was a no brainer for us. But its great to finally see festivals acknowledging female representation, because there are some great bands out there, and it’s the music that is the most important thing.
And with that final thought, I say goodbye to Mez and let him continue with his day. Having spoken to lots of artists over the past year or so, he comes across as a genuinely nice guy, who has the intelligence, passion and humour to be a big part of the current exciting music scene. If you’ve not listened to LIFE yet, I urge you to do so, but for the full experience go see them live, it really is LIFE affirming!
Tickets still available for some of the October/November dates – go to https://www.lifeband.co.uk/ for further details on the tour, or to purchase their records and merch!