With two LPs under their belt, Lonely the Brave are fast becoming UK rock music’s critical darlings. Before supporting Biffy Clyro for the European leg of their tour, Lonely the Brave embarked on a UK headline tour. I caught up with guitarist, Ross Smithwick, before their performance at King Tut’s in Glasgow to talk about music, art direction, and critical acclaim.
Q: How does it feel returning to King Tut’s?
Ross: It’s great, man. We missed Glasgow on our last tour, and had quite a few angry people pointing that out to us, so we’ve used our extra resources this time round to make sure we played Scotland. I think this is either our third or fourth time playing this in this venue, and the atmosphere is always incredible.
Q: How has tour been so far then?
Ross: It’s going great. Everywhere we play, the crowds are always so up for it; we’ve had people singing all our lyrics back at us. The support from people has been incredible, and it just makes you think how lucky we are to have such a loyal fan base.
Q: When you’re in the van, what are your must-have songs for a tour playlist?
Ross: Well, we don’t really have a tour playlist since everyone in the band has a different music taste, and it would just cause arguments (laughs). If I had my way, there’d be a lot of hip hop on it though, like lots of Danny Brown. One thing we agree on is no heavy music. When you’re playing these shows every night, you don’t want to listen to the same stuff on the drive to the next venue, you want something to relax to.
Q: What were the reasons behind choosing the Pink Floyd song ‘Comfortably Numb’ to cover on the ‘Dust & Bones’ EP?
Ross: We’ve always enjoyed covering songs live. With this one, Dave liked singing it, so the rest of us got behind him. We were aware that it’s a legendary song to cover, and we’d have to go some way to win over Pink Floyd fans – Mark was really nervous about doing the solo as well (laughs). But the response we’ve had from people has generally been excellent, a couple of the old school Pink Floyd fans we know have given us the thumbs up on that, so we think it’s went well. And of course, coming from Cambridge there’s that connection with the band as well.
Q: It’s clear that a lot of thought and hard work goes into your music videos. What have been your inspirations, visually and otherwise, when making them?
Ross: We’ve been very lucky to work with some incredibly talented artists and film makers. Usually what we do is we let them hear the song, and they come up with the video ideas through listening to the music. Obviously we have our input, and get the final say, like with the video for ‘Backroads’ and ‘The Blue, The Green’ at first we were like, “wow, that’s really heavy, really emotional,” but we went with it, and it’s payed off so far.
Q: Between your two LPs, there’s been this visual shift with the music videos from narrative to image based. Was this intentional, and what were the reasons for it?
Ross: Yeah, of course, everything we do we spend a lot of time thinking about. Since we were going for a darker sound with this latest album, we wanted the music videos to reflect that. I guess you could say they’re more artsy, like the video for ‘Jaws of Hell’. That’s probably my favourite music video that we’ve done, I think it’s beautiful. We wanted to do something different with for our next album, so we changed the way we were doing music videos as well.
Q: To round off this train of thought, how important do you think a strong visual direction is for a band?
Ross: Well, obviously visuals are really important for a band, they can set you apart from your contemporaries. With us, we wanted to be different from other bands with our artwork and music videos. We didn’t just wanna do the standard ‘band playing the song’ videos (which I know we have done). We did it for ‘River, River’ but that was beautifully shot. But I really think you’ve got to consider all that stuff if you want to make it as a band.
Q: You have been hailed you as the vanguards of modern British rock by several music outlets. To name one, DigitalSpy called you “Rock’s new chosen ones”. Do you ever feel pressure from all this, or like the expectations of a genre are riding on you as a band?
Ross: We all feel a lot of pressure when writing music, it’s just a natural part of being in a band. We all want to produce the best music we can, and we put pressure on ourselves to do that.
Q : So you don’t really feel pressure from music outlets?
Ross: Well, obviously we listen to what they say, and we appreciate it, like, what was that one? “Rock’s new chosen ones”? That’s very nice isn’t it (laughs). We’re obviously honoured hearing things like this, but we try not to let it affect the way we write music.
Q: You have a very distinct guitar sound, one that creates a sense of scale. How do you and Mark achieve your sound?
Ross: (Laughs) Well Mark’s much more of a gear guy than I am, but we both know what we want from our guitar sound. Obviously our sound is quite heavy, but we didn’t want to go full ‘metal’, so we have our delay pedals, and our reverb pedals. I think the production on the albums really goes a long way to creating that sense of scale you were talking about as well.
Lonely the Brave make good on all that Ross’ interview promises. Following a phenomal opening set from support act Tall Ships – who are in many ways the sonically upbeat ying to Lonely the Brave’s moodier yang – they take to the stage, wasting no time in stripping away the physical boundaries of King Tuts with a cathartic, ethereal setlist.
Listening to them, I can feel myself being transported to a large grassy field and laid down under the blanket of a cold, dark sky.
The battalion of fans Ross mentioned are present, bawling every song at the top of their lungs and voicing their enthusiasm in between for the whole audience to hear. And it’s a setlist that calls for such a reaction. After taking the stage with a recording of ‘Wait in the Car’ building anticipation, the band grabs us with ‘Black Mire’ and drags us through a relentlessly anthemic setlist that covers all their singles, with a few surprises thrown in as well.
That Pink Floyd cover makes an appearance, and yes, it holds up live. The band should be commended for managing to capture both the ominous and elevating aspects of the original song.
This is thanks – in no small part – to the sound production, which is huge. The band transition seamlessly from record to real life with a sound that honestly demands a bigger venue than King Tuts. Their sound is so perfectly suited for a major festival slot that it’s a surprise they aren’t at least playing O2 Academy.
Vocalist David Jakes has been upfront about his performance anxiety, and yes, he does face the side of the stage for the entire performance, uttering not a word between songs, leaving the crowd patter to guitarist, Mark. His stage presence is definitely odd – listening to their music you may expect someone more confrontational in their mannerisms – although he cuts an imposing figure onstage, and doesn’t miss a note, and with Mark and Ross to hype the crowd up, it’s hard to fault his performance style.
The encore does feel like a cool down – like the walk home after a night out. After a song as vindicating as ‘Backroads’, anything that follows can feel like a futile refusal to let the night end, although definitively closing with ‘Black Saucers’ does feel like a decision for the fans, for whom Lonely the Brave clearly work very hard for.
Since the start, Lonely the Brave have been destined for bigger venues. It’s hard to imagine them playing small, intimate settings for much longer, so I’d recommend catching them while you still can, before they ascend through the echelons of modern rock.