Lots of people love their hometown. Very few write a whole album inspired by it. For LIFE, though, there’s no place like Hull.
Words: Martyn Young. Photos: Artimio Blackburn.
In late 2019, LIFE were a band on a decidedly upwards trajectory. They had just released their critically acclaimed second album, ‘A Picture Of Good Health’, and were in the middle of touring Europe, winning over legions of new followers. Suddenly though, everything changed. Forced to face up to adversity that threatened the very existence of the band, their enduring spirit and collective ethos prevailed in their triumphant third full-length ‘North East Coastal Town’.
“In 2019, we were fortunate to all give up work, and we’ve all had quite different careers,” explains frontman Mez Green. “I worked in the youth sector for nearly a decade, and I’d done quite well getting to where I was. I was earning quite good money – well, anything above £20,000 feels quite good. We were doing alright, the band was taking off, and it became a viable rent payer. Obviously, a year later, it all evaporated, and the money we built up was spent on those first few months just trying to survive.”
Almost at an instant, any creative ambitions were temporarily curtailed as more pressing matters took precedent. “At the moment, I’ve gone into labouring because one of my best mates is a self-employed labourer,” says Mez. “I’m a single parent, so I had to keep a roof over my boy’s head. While I believe fully in the band and this album, I’ve just been hitting the construction site. It’s been a different two years, and there have been some challenges there, but I’m really proud of this body of work that we’re about to put out.”
It would be incredibly easy for the band to drop off completely with their entire livelihood in danger. LIFE have always been powered by self-belief and the power of their collective spirit, though. “We’ve always been DIY,” says Mez proudly. “We’re still self-releasing this. It mainly falls on my shoulders. I didn’t really want to let go of it, and I’m so proud of where we’ve got to. Even when the world went to shit, and I thought, how are we going to survive and keep a roof over little Gus’ head, I had to believe in what I was doing because I had given up so much of my life to it. I had to make sure that that was my focus.”
With the knowledge that it was potentially make or break for the band, they channelled the uncertainty and turbulence into their best record yet. “We’re still in a bit of a shitstorm. It’s the same for all creatives. We’re all suffering. We’ve got to have belief.”
While the world was in flux, LIFE sought strength from the bonds that have given the band their unity since the start. “We’ve all got to know each other’s strengths. We all write as a unit,” he says. “The original members of LIFE are myself and my brother Mick. We create the backbone of the songs. All the lyrical ideas are ours, and we co-write the lyrics. I’ll think of a phrase, and he’ll finish it off. That’s because we’ve grown up together and we are very close. He’s my best mate.”
The strong bonds, both familial and from their local community, provide the defining vision of the album. “The album is very much about Hull, about a north east coastal town,” explains Mez. “It’s about wanting to be home and having a sense of belonging. When you’re out on tour all the time, you do miss your loved ones and the community around you. Once we all returned home from America in March 2020, when the world shut down, I felt very small and that Hull was the only place. It was all I could do. I live in a flat, so I don’t have a garden, but I could have an hour’s walk down the street or take Gus down the park. I realised that the most important people tend to be the ones that you sometimes overlook because of the excitement going on everywhere around you, but really that’s what makes you feel that sense of belonging.”
“The album is very much about Hull; it’s about wanting to be home and having a sense of belonging”Mez Green
When the band reconvened and were once again together, it became obvious that this was a very important album to them on a deeper level. “When we started spitballing in the studio as a band bubble, it became very evident that everyone felt that kind of intimacy with where we were in terms of location, in either geography or personal relationships,” he continues. “We felt like we owed it to Hull as well. We’re very proud of this city. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve never moved to London and looked at a major record deal. That was never really an ambition for us. We wanted to represent the city where we’re from and the vibrant community around us.”
Working exclusively in the city – both in their own studio next to the River Humber, as well as another studio where they recorded the album in 7 days – LIFE immersed themselves fully in their landscape. “If we were going to be bold enough to call it ‘North East Coastal Town’ and say it’s our love letter to the city, then we wanted it to be fully representative of that. It’s a hard-working and proud town,” explains Mez about Hull. “There’s only one way in from the south, and that’s over the Humber Bridge. If people want to go another way, they have to go around Manchester and Leeds, and if they want to do that, they won’t come to Hull because they are big metropolitan business cities. I’m proud we’ve had to do a lot of things on our own to make the independent arts and creative scene thrive. Everyone seems to look after each other.”
It’s important for the band to cherish where they come from and not lose sight of their roots. “I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to be in a band as long as you believe in your music, but I do think people should never really forget where they’re from,” says Mez. “If you want to be genuine and you want to be honest and make music that is an honest reflection of yourselves, then there’s no harm in embracing what you’ve grown up around.”
To complement the strong theme of the lyrics, the music equally had a desire to switch things up and divert from what they had done before. “We decided to not just come straight out the blocks and do what we’d call your standard LIFE song. On the last two albums, you could hear that there’s a ferociousness to it, and they have a similar sort of pacing and sound. We wanted to not be scared of slowing it down and using a lot of different textures”, explains Mez. “We wanted to expand and show people our musicianship as well as being grouped in with a load of different bands. We really wanted to show who we were, and the best way to do that was to write an album steeped with its core from our hometown. We’re trying to show there’s more about us, and this is a celebration of what we are.”
This sense of experimentation and freedom is best represented in songs like the woozy, cracked ballad ‘Duck Egg Blue’, which sounds like nothing LIFE have done before. “I wanted to be bare and be naked with it,” says Mez. Elsewhere, they amp up the grooves and disorienting textures on the stunning ‘Shipping Forecast’. “We created this music that sounds like buoys and bells on the sea, with the lashing and the waves carrying you home. That kind of jaunty sound. It feels like you’re sailing. That song was quite poignant for me.”
There’s so much that the band love and cherish about their home city, and it’s all found in the album. The main inspiration from Hull comes not from a local celebrity or historical figure, though, but the people they have met along the way. “I learned a lot being a youth worker and seeing how resilient the vulnerable people were and how they could just get through the amount of shit they were living through from poverty to abuse. The resilience and strength really inspired me,” says Mez. “They gave me as much as I gave them, and I think that’s reflected in how we operate as a band. I owe a lot of what I’m about to the young people of Hull.” ■
Taken from the September 2022 edition of Dork, out now. LIFE’s album ‘North East Coastal Town’ is out now.