They’re back! PEACE have a new album – one you can already listen to, if you buy a ticket to a show. We’re willing to go a couple of steps further, and join them for an entire mini-tour. What could go wrong?
Words: Jamie Muir.
Portrait photography: Patrick Gunning.
A service station on the M4. 9:30am. Harrison Koisser is draped in a gleaming yellow jacket emblazoned with the name Joe, sunglasses firmly on (“I just love the fact it says Joe,” he later remarks) as Peace embark on their first run of shows in nearly four years.
“Come have a look at this,” he smiles, ushering Dork towards a bold black van. In the back is a Tetris-stacked array of boxes, bags, wires and equipment – it’s fit to burst. “Yeah, probably should have got the bigger one,” he laughs. Welcome to Peace 2023. A band with ambition and feverish dreaming, still driven by that core of what made them special from the very beginning. When people ask why, they ask why not?
Three dates in four days is the sort of lightning-bolt shot of adrenaline Peace have become synonymous with. That bright fever of excitement and lush showmanship has set them apart as one of Britain’s defining guitar bands of the 21st century, and now, it’s time for a new era. Perched outside Bristol’s The Louisiana as the sun coats the venue in scorching Bank Holiday rays, Harry’s got his approach nailed down and ready to go. Nerves, right? “Honestly, because what we’re doing on stage is so complex… I think I’m just in a state of shock,” he cracks. “Fate has a way of punching at you, so if I just wish for the thing I don’t want, I’ll get the opposite. Best result? Everything breaks.” Tour has truly begun.
Peace make chucking the rulebook out the window seem like an everyday thing. Bold, bright and maverick in nature, they’ve continued to throw technicolour paint over naysayers and cynics, all with a wink and smile, basking in the jubilant chaos of it all. Nestled in the tiny confines of a venue they last played almost 10 years ago, their latest evolution may just be their greatest to date.
“It’s starting to feel real now,” reflects Harry later, perched alongside brother and bandmate Sam in the hotel-room-esque dressing room. “I have no idea how people are going to react to it. Like, is it music to dance to? Is it music for people to observe? Is it music to rock out to in the way that it’s put together? We’re about to find that out in a very real way.”
If things sound different, then you’re right. The wall-of-sound production that now comes with Peace live is quite the setup. A vibrant mix of monitors, speakers, electronics, drum pedals and sample-soaked twists, it’s all stemmed from the creations and time spent together in a place simply known as The Rectory. Almost mythical in nature, it birthed ‘Utopia’ – Peace’s fourth full-length – which is both out now for fans who’ve bought a ticket for this run of shows, but also not yet officially released. With longtime members Doug and Dom stepping away from the band (on very amicable and friendly terms), it saw Peace starting something different.
“Creativity always comes at its best when there’s a catalyst,” explains Harry. “Something which forces you to do something a certain way. When Dom and Doug left, it was like, well, let’s make music with what we have here. We have all this equipment that was made for big live rock shows with big amps and big… stuff. It was like, let’s not bin them but use them.”
The result is a show unlike any other, with Harry and Sam firmly in the middle, wrapped in all-encompassing sound. “Growing up, I used to spend a lot of time not only at gigs with bands, but in Fabric and The Rainbow in Birmingham, which was very techno, minimal and house in terms of dance music. This setup is kinda both of them simultaneously – you get the kick of a live band but with the electronic side of things. Hearing them together, it feels quite ultimate for me, in a way.”
“Someone we’ve worked with since day one, who signed us to our first record deal, came and saw us rehearse the other day and was like, ‘You’ve finally cracked the code with Peace. You finally worked out how this band should sound’.”
Soundcheck done, plugging into place the setup they’ve spent the past year tweaking and fixing in a garage; the mood is high. “THIS. SALAD.” comes the cry from the dressing room, following Harry’s discovery of a salad waiting in the fridge. “It has to be fun, doesn’t it? Fun and not boring,” he asserts, turning to his brother. “Like, Sam – I just asked if you knew how to make a website. He didn’t, but then he did.”
“Yeah. I’ll experiment and fuck around,” returns Sam.
“We just started Googling ‘How to build a website’. That’s how we made it,” smiles Harry. “The machine at the centre of this show full of samples; it’s all not being used in the way it’s meant to be, but same thing – just Google it. Honestly, it is GREAT. I recommend it.”
That sense of adventure is everywhere. “I feel like everything we’re doing now, it’s definitely a revolt on our behalf against doing another album and just being in a band in the way that we’d done the first three. Because it became so predictable. To be honest, by the time we did the third record, I was like – I can’t do this. Everything was so marketing, so boring, and I was just kind of disengaged. Probably didn’t do any good for the record, but I can’t do very regimented systems, so this time, let’s just do whatever we want. It’s more exciting.”
Briefly adamant that a ‘banging classical music playlist’ would go down a storm for tonight’s pre-show soundtrack, it’s quickly abandoned before they settle on a much more in-line ‘New Year’s Sleaze’ playlist. “You know I did a bit of street art in Bristol once?” notes Harry. “I wrote ‘TESCO SUCKS’ and signed it off Bansky.” Yes, Dear Reader, the typo was brilliantly deliberate.
What doesn’t suck is what follows. In true Peace fashion, fans tear up and dive into every moment – even when Harry acknowledges that their first technical malfunction has indeed happened. Ever-learning, they rip through an uncompromising set of new and old feels for a triumphant way to kickstart their new chapter. As Harry wanders over post-show, he grins. “You know what, live music needs a bit of chaos….”
“I can’t do regimented, so this time, let’s just do whatever we want. It’s more exciting”Harrison Koisser
“So, the second machine has broken.” It’s the afternoon of Day 2 of the Peace tour, and the second main piece of equipment needed for the set has stopped working. A homecoming night at The Mill in Birmingham is full of sentiment and meaning that the band will reflect on later, but right now, a solution needs to be found.
Harry wanders over to the fridge. “You know what? It’ll be fine.” He pulls out a wrap that doesn’t quite get the same reaction as yesterday’s salad. He pauses before turning back. “You know what, this is like Bin Cake,” he begins. “Like, if a cake slid into the bin, there’s still a lot of cake which is perfectly edible and hasn’t touched anything in the bin. You can salvage a lot of cake, but the problem is it will always be Bin Cake. You can think about it with relationships too, and not just romantic ones. Once it’s gone in the bin, it will always be Bin Cake.”
“Anyway, that wrap looks like it’s been in the bin.”
If a calming influence is required, then Harry is here. Where Bristol served as an opening welcome, Birmingham naturally has its own position in Peace folklore. Simply walking down the street with Harry and Sam sees people turning their heads, whispering under their breath about whether that was Peace or not. It means something more here.
“Being in Birmingham feels really significant,” Harry acknowledges later. Technical bugs solved – thanks to the high-tech approach of using a thumb to wipe away some dust – and there are genuine nerves in the air. “What’s crazy is we went to the town hall today, where we’re playing later in the year, and I suddenly realised the journey that we’ve been on. It’s more significant than I give it credit for. That sense of occasion I felt was almost overwhelming, like maybe we actually have done quite well for ourselves?”
An interruption from the Peace crew asks whether Harry has been watching Queer Eye again. “I have been watching quite a lot of Queer Eye recently. I’ve got Karamo [Brown, from Queer Eye] ‘s voice in my head, saying: and now you need to grow. I’m like, fuck yeah I do, man!”
A band playing around with how music can be revealed to the world, reactions for the likes of ‘Good Jeans’, ‘Polly With The Perfect Hair’, ‘Darkness On The Dancefloor’ and ‘Happy Cars’ point to how their new setup and drive has taken them into some of the most complete music of their career so far. “Everything about what we’re doing there is literally another experiment,” Harry admits. “We were sat talking about the way we wanted to release this record, and the idea of releasing it only to fans who came to see us came up. It asks so many questions, like how they would work in the set? Would they need to be slowly introduced, or does it need to be out in the wild for it to really affect an audience? We’re finding that out.”
With a newfound spirit of doing exactly what they want, it means every step now falls to them. While the current website bandwidth means that “it literally costs us exactly what Spotify would have paid us to put it on there, so now we’ve inverted the already not-ideal payment structure of the music industry,” as Harry cracks, ‘Utopia’ is expected to see life on a special vinyl of the record and even a different version to land on wider platforms in the future.
The Mill tonight holds a lot of history. Formerly The Rainbow Warehouse, it was where Peace played one of their biggest early shows and where they’d regularly come for Zombie Prom indie club nights. “The Rainbow was our stomping ground,” they both acknowledge, immediately catching the eye of someone they know as they peer through the windows of the pub on the corner of the street.
Queues are soon lining the block, with one fan explaining outside: “I came here from Edinburgh because they’re my favourite band.” He pulls down his shirt to reveal ‘In Love’ written on the top of his chest. “For my mum’s birthday, I covered ‘California Daze’, and I’ve never been able to see them live. I had to come.” It’s a story repeated in different forms throughout the venue, with couples who met at Peace shows or devoted fans desperate to see them once again.
“It’s always been mind-boggling and overwhelming to see the amount of people into our music, and the milestones that come with it,” says Harry. “We’ll never be those people who are like – oh, we don’t give a shit; it’s all about us. It’s simply not true. This is a democratic thing. If the people don’t like it, then that’s not good,” he laughs. “We clearly aren’t making music solely to give people what they want though… because NOBODY asked for this,” he adds with a crackled smile. “I want people to accept what we’re doing, though”.
Friends gather nearby in a local bar, as the walk-back sees Harry and Sam nervous about what lies ahead. It’s undeniable how important tonight’s show is as a moment where Peace return to the place where it all began. “Bristol was great, and we had the enormous technical failure we were after from the moment we walked on,” Harry laughs, “but I was sat in the pub then swinging back and forth because now we are facing nightmares unimaginable. Things could go wrong in ways we NEVER could have predicted.”
“I’ve already asked the lighting guy earlier if he can do lights that are so impressive that even if we are not making sounds, people will be impressed by us. He said, absolutely – and tell you what boys, if all your shit breaks, I’ll just start DJing.”
No DJ set is required. Met with a thunderous response, Peace turn The Mill into the sort of erupting volcano of pits, parties and passion that only they can. It’s written across their faces as they head off stage before bounding back on for their deserved encore. “Wait!” stops Harry. “Can someone Google how long we should wait for an encore?”
Post-show, a slew of friends and family come flying into the dressing room. If Bristol was officially Peace returning, then tonight is Peace announcing they are BACK in a big way. All of a sudden, Doug emerges at the entrance, arms wide. “We are STILL the best band!” he exclaims. Tonight is when Peace came home.
“Fate has a way of punching at you, so if I just wish for the thing I don’t want, I’ll get the opposite. Best result? Everything breaks”Harrison Koisser
How to follow such a high for Peace? “So about an hour ago, that speaker was on fire,” says Harry. It’s mid-afternoon, and there’s no such thing as a quiet few hours for Harry and Sam. “Yeah, it was shooting like thousands of volts of electricity through it, and it literally set on fire with smoke coming out of it. I’ve accepted now that we’re just in a final coliseum of a great duel against an unimaginable force,” he stories. It’s beginning to feel like that, yet Peace take it in their stride.
Taking a walk across Stratford with the Olympic Stadium in the background, the pair take stock of an important week which started with the unknown and ended with the sort of acceptance that Peace’s new era secretly needed.
“Last night, it just felt like everyone was very accepting of what we have become, and the new elements were really absorbed by people in a positive way. It was a big fear that all these things we’re introducing, would they be rejected or accepted? Any artist who says they don’t care what the audience thinks is so full of shit! I don’t think it’s even insecurity, but the audience and fans are the most important part in this picture, so saying you don’t give a heck what they think is bullshi-”. Harry’s attention is drawn to a huge canal area where suddenly a whole world of people have emerged from. “Sorry, this place is CRAZY!”
“It has quite literally been an electrifying experience,” Harry notes ahead of turning the clubby confines of Colour Factory on its head with the sort of triumphant powerhouse set that leaves no doubt about the band’s intentions. If anyone’s forgotten, then think again. “It’s been a lot warmer reception to the new songs than we thought, which gives me a lot of confidence.”
For Peace, reborn and reconfigured, this week has proven that what they’re doing is right. More than anything, it’s about having fun with it all. What comes next, once the tour bus is home? “We’re very ambitious about touring and the show that we can put on,” Harry confidently states. “There are a few venues and shows that we’re looking at. Shows that can feel like defining shows. We’re into decade two of the band, which feels like a natural second era for us.”
There’s already talk of a next album on top of ‘Utopia’, with “this run of shows really proving to ourselves that this works. Making a record that reflects that this works… use those tools to their full potential. It’s somewhere between Daft Punk and The White Stripes but not in any way related to either of them. I think we’ve just got to make that record, whatever we’re doing in there [on-stage] – we should probably get on that very soon.”
“You’ve got to do things that make life interesting. Today, we walked into the venue, and there was a giant disco ball there, and I was like – fuck yeah! You’ve got to find things that make life less repetitive, and most of the time, those things aren’t making the most profit or the most sense.” Harry pauses. “Or any sense at all in any way,” he laughs.
The Peace ride is one stacked with stories and with plenty more to tell. “I don’t know what being the biggest band in the world means now. I think there’s certain pressure on artists to be that, and it’s just so unbelievably boring. We’re in the Wild West, and we’re all just looking at a burning bin… though I quite like standing around a burning bin, to be honest.”
“Despite every moment this week where something technical went wrong during or before the shows, even then, we make it work. So like I was saying, what does it mean to be the biggest band in the world, and I guess what does success look like? How you define success is a grey area, and I don’t think I know what success looks like to us. I don’t know what failure looks like to us either.
“We’re too confused to fail,” he cracks.
As Peace set fire to Colour Factory (not like that this time) for a night of sweaty and palpable release, that magic is ringing in the air once more. Harry stands in awe of the reaction in front of them, and it serves as the perfect culmination of a week where the road was reclaimed as Peace’s. “I honestly have no words,” he motions as the packed, intimate club screams back every word. “We’re Peace, and we’re back.” ■
Taken from the August 2023 edition of Dork.
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