With his band enjoying critical acclaim for their debut record, and a prestigious support slot with one of the hottest bands around, IDLES, lately everything may have been looking good on the outside for LIFE frontman Mez Green. But on the inside, things have been far less healthy.
“The six months leading up to recording this record, there was a certain part of my life where it all just went to shit,” he explains to Dork over the phone, from back home in Hull.
With songs that deal with feelings of isolation after moving out of a family home into a small apartment, single fatherhood and general mental health, much of his personal life has been put on display for the band’s second album, ‘A Picture Of Good Health’.
After their scintillating debut ‘Popular Music’ dealt with the big subjects like Brexit and Trump, this follow-up has turned the focus definitively inwards, zooming in on the tiny details and moments that define the times we find ourselves in.
As with so many bands, LIFE’s debut was pieced together over an extended period, forming a thrilling but disjointed introduction. This time around, however, things are very different.
“I always describe that [first record] as like a collage of music. A lot of the recordings were done over the space of a year, all different, and then stuck together,” explains Mez. “Whereas this one, it feels like it is a real body of work. Like we found ourselves on this album.”
Ignoring any easy temptation to follow up with more of the same, the music has expanded just as the lyrical focus has narrowed. “We lived in London for four weeks as a gang, a family really. We were working with more creative people, so we just pushed ourselves and tried to be a bit more expansive and more experimental. I guess the subject matters are quite minute and internal, so we wanted to make the music a bit broader and bigger in scale to balance it out.”
“When we turned up at the studio, we spent the first day listening to late seventies New York dance records, but all taken from the punk scene. And that’s where we got the kind of groove from and built it from there. So it’s got a bit more of a dance element to it this time around for sure.”
Those elements add up to the unmistakable sounds of a band pushing their boundaries. ‘Bum Hour’ is pure groove, all choppy guitar and Gang Of Four-esque bassline as Mez describes the universal low of being alone while all your mates are out of town. A record of twists and turns, ‘Excites Me’ is a fun glam rock stomp while the opener’ Good Health’ barrels along on a familiar post-punk rhythm. Admitting to a sense of pressure in the studio, Mez today describes it as an intense but worthwhile experience.
“We hadn’t even written a lot of the tracks, we had four weeks and were literally writing them there. But I think it gave a certain edge, quite intense but also quite freeing. It’s probably one of the best experiences the band have ever had, just being together in that moment and making the music.”
In their own bubble, it was all just about LIFE. “We were just writing, recording, and didn’t really interact with anything else except for the music and ourselves. We’d put in a shift during the day, and then go the boozer of an evening and let it all come out.”
That experience has built a fascinating clash of ideas, with that wider, expansive sound colliding with some fiercely personal lyrical context. “This album is still politics, but it’s braver. A lot of is about myself being a single dad, feeling isolated in my own flat and certain aspects of life that people tend not to talk about. But still trying to put a positive spin on it.”
As a succession of recent artists have shown, from close friends IDLES to Sam Fender, this is a generation that is finding it easier to speak about matters of the head as much as the heart. It’s a topic that Mez believes in passionately.
“Definitely. I think there are bands and artists out there who are very honest at the moment. Like IDLES and Nadine Shah, both are very honest and brave in what they say, and I think that’s healthy. No-one’s afraid to talk now.”
Showing no sign of nerves in baring his soul like this, he continues. “For me, music is the way I talk. I’ve tried counselling, but it never seemed to work, but music is an escape and can lift you up and take you somewhere. And I’m always up for talking, so it’s all good,” he laughs.
Heavily involved still with The Warren Youth Project in Hull, an independent charity that provides support to vulnerable children, his willingness to talk openly comes as no surprise.
“There’s a lost generation of people who have fallen through the cracks of education and society, who don’t feel like they belong,” Mez explains animatedly. “And young people like this, they’re probably the most important resource the world has! They’re the ones who will be leading the future, not us? It’s definitely shaped our writing and who we are.”
Seeing first-hand what the effects of Tory austerity have done to parts of the country, that sense of empathy and community are the fuel that drives LIFE as a band. Proud of their Hull roots, that heritage is another key driving force.
“Does it feel like we’re a dark horse? Yeah, but I mean I think that’s just because we’re from Hull! I think it’s always gonna be the case that it’s harder for non-London bands to break through because that’s where the industry is based. It’s a lot easier to go to a cool spot down there and sign someone than to come to Hull. There’s only one way in and out from the south here!” he laughs.
As with so many groups of this generation, there is one band that acts as inspiration and as a source of hope. “IDLES are a great example to us, especially with everything they’ve achieved this year like the Mercury [Prize] nomination. It’s refreshing to see artists take it into their hands, and push it on until something happens.”
Having been friends since both bands’ early days, and having toured with the Bristol bunch recently, Mez knows exactly what it takes. “It’s never gonna happen at the click of a finger, so you just have to believe in yourselves and in the music and just go and do it. It’s not gonna happen overnight.”
Just as the album seems to end on a note of optimism, we discuss what gives Mez hope for the future personally. “That’s a good question. I guess it’s just hope? That and the belief in love. Without love, we’re nothing. It’s always about relationships. As long as there is something in your life that means something, there’s always gonna be hope.”
Judging by the early reaction to their latest singles and the sheer size of their crowds that they have been attracting at festivals this summer, there is a sense that it is all clicking into place for the band. With signs that it may be true for Mez as well, let’s hope that hope does always win.
Taken from the October issue of Dork. LIFE’s album ‘A Picture of Good Health’ is out 20th September.
Words: Jamie MacMillan