Interview: HMLTD

HMLTD

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert with live photography by Lucy McLaughlan

If you have not listened to HMLTD’s debut album West of Eden, stick it on Spotify immediately.  For one, you really should take in this beautiful piece of music.  Secondly, I like the idea that reading my interview with the band should be soundtracked by album opening duo The West Is Dead and LOADED (and maybe The Ballad of Calamity James if you read at a more leisurely pace).  After all it’s that wonderful album that we wanted to talk with them about.

HMLTD 1“The album has come out to a lot of critical acclaim.  Surprisingly so.  We really didn’t have a clue or expectation that it would happen, but we’re probably averaging four out of five stars in the reviews.  We got four stars in The Guardian which is no mean feat, and nine out of ten on Line of Best Fit.  We were actually surprised by how well the reviews have gone.  We have had this album in various forms for so long that you start to think it’s no good and you just want to get the album out.  But seeing these reviews makes me take a breath and remind myself it’s actually quite decent.

“You start to overthink these things when you’re sitting with something for three years.  You start to doubt every second of the record, and wonder if this or that shouldn’t be there.  You magnify it all.  It is such a nice moment when you know that the album has been pressed on to vinyl and that you definitely can’t make any changes now.  It’s a relief.  But seeing the CD in HMV the other day was such a moment, if not THE moment.  Being in HMV where everybody would buy records when we were young was amazing.  Two CDs for a tenner when we were kids, and now you can go out on your lunch break from work and see that you’ve got an album in there”

HMLTD LiveA Thursday night in the loft at Arts Club in Liverpool doesn’t seem like a momentous time for a London band, but with this being the first night of the tour, I thought I had best point out that this was going to be the first gig ever where all the fans would have had the chance of knowing every song they have on the setlist.  “I hadn’t thought about it until you said so, but this gig is the first that people will be watching us after they have listened to our album.  To be honest, right now it’s making me feel a little bit vulnerable at the moment as we are now open to pressure of criticism from the concert goers.  I hope they get what they like from our set.  We’ve got a few songs that we are playing live for the first time ever.  Let’s just hope we don’t fuck them up.  But hopefully they won’t notice anyway as we will distract them with our show.  Let the visuals take attention away from the fact we don’t know how to play our instruments”

“For everything major we’ve been together as a band, we’ve grown with these songs.  We didn’t have our album out for five years so we know these songs like the back of our hand.  Although debut albums do take a long time, ours has taken an abnormally long amount of time to come out.  Well longer than most bands for many, many reasons.”

There was no way I was changing subject with that statement just hanging there.  I needed to know more about this delay.  “Originally we were just a normal band in London, but we had a few good songs so we started getting a bit of hype and then we got signed by Sony.  This made things great for a while as they give us so much money to make our album, and to be honest we spaffed it up the wall, well we basically bought a studio with the money as we rented it for that long.  We had a great time, but we worked hard making music.  When it was all in place, we were invited to a listening session for the album in the boardroom in London.

HMLTD 4“When we reached the end of the album playback we were expecting a bit of a fanfare and applause, instead we got some silence and chin scratching.  The next week we had a visit from our A&R man with all our budget printed out on sheets of paper and he says ‘look how much we spent on you idiots, to get maybe three songs’ and then he tears up the budget sheets and throws them at us.  ‘This meeting hasn’t gone well, has it boys?’.  We had to agree with him the meeting hadn’t gone well, and that was that.  We were dropped by the label.

“That was in September 2018, and after that meeting we spent about a year without a label feeling a bit pessimistic about the music industry.  Then out of the blue a little indie label called Lucky Number Records gets in touch, and they were passionate and stupid enough to sign us because they actually loved the music.  They are the ones who have got us over the line and got the fucking album out.

“The album has changed over time as you’d expect.  This is definitely a tale of riches to rags for HMLTD.  When it was with Sony, it was a very glossy album, it still is a glossy album to be fair.  We wouldn’t want to be a scuzzy band as that’s not us, but it was a bit too shiny.  Since we’ve been with Lucky Number we’ve come back to the songs and got HMLTD 3them sounding like we want.  We’ve all had to get jobs though as it doesn’t pay being on a small label.

“Ironically, when we were on the label we didn’t have day jobs like that, but we actually did.  That’s the compromise.  When you’re with a major label, you’re an employee as they’re putting the money in, but if you’re with a small indie label, it doesn’t pay the bills but you have creative control.  They’re not giving you a lot of money, so you can turn around to them and say no if you don’t like a suggestion which is a big positive.  Our label are fantastic.

When we signed to Lucky Number, we went off for two weeks to finish the album, but they didn’t ask us anything, just let us get on with it.  Whereas previously we were getting a phone call every night asking us what we had done that day, asking us to send them demos.  It’s quite stressful.

“Part of the blame for that lies with us though because we weren’t working in the best manner to produce a record.  We were in the studio for six out of seven days every week, working like crazy in the hope that we would get something out of it in the end, but we didn’t get a single good song from it.  You can’t see the wood from the trees when you’re just trying to produce like that.  Churning out like a factory.  You can’t just blame the label for it.  It’s on us as well.  But we just didn’t know.  We were all new to this big thing.  They took a risk on us, but we didn’t know how to write a full album of songs.  Now we know how to write songs.  We know how to put a song together.  It took us a while to learn that skill, and we can’t guarantee it’ll be a great song, but we know how to do it now.”

What does the near-future hold for HMLTD?  “So far this summer we’ve got a festival in Russia, and a couple of festivals in France lined up.  As we’ve been about for quite a while now we will just get offers from various festivals around Europe.  This is the third time we will have been to Russia to play festivals.  We’ve built a great relationship with the Russian promoters, they are absolutely crazy.  They take us out for meals and ply us with alcohol constantly.  It’s our favourite place to play.  We have played in Moscow before.  It has the craziest underground scene there.  The kids are really under a lot of societal pressure and just go mental when it comes to festivals and bands who look a bit different.  They love it, love it.  The first time we went there we were a bit worried walking down the street because of the reputation of Russia, but everybody was so fine and lovely towards us.  It’s just a great country.

“At the moment we haven’t got any British festival dates to announce, but that’s because HMLTD 1we’ve been so focused on getting this album out.  We are hopeful that we will have some festival offers come because of the album even if you usually have the festival offers in around now.  We’ve basically been quiet for a year getting it ready.  Even though people say that there are too many festivals and all the bills look the same, we’re sitting here waiting for the call or email…. Festivals though are a hard gig to play.  People don’t see it, but you’re there for just half an hour, you’ve got no proper soundcheck, and the crowd are there to get pissed and have a good time so you have to get the energy built up with them whereas when you play your own show the fans are excited before you come out.  But despite the hard work, everybody loves playing festivals”.

Unsurprisingly the gig that followed this interview was triumphant, and hopefully it’ll go down in the annals of HMLTD as the start of them getting to the levels their early career hype suggested they would reach.  After all, this is a band who have learnt from their mistakes, and know how to put together a song.  Regardless of their self-deprecation, I reckon it’ll be a great song whatever they put together.

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