Straight Talking: An Interview With LIINES
, February 11th, 2016 12:24
The Mancunian trio meet up with John Freeman to find out how their ferocious post-punk was inspired, in part, by time spent on Alien Sex Fiend's tour bus and a collective desire to "stop screaming in the dark"
It's the stuff of dreams. The launch show for a debut single sells out an impressively-sized hometown venue by word-of-mouth tip-offs. The gig is a triumph – packed-out punters lapping up a storming set, with everyone sensing that they've just witnessed a special new band.
That's what happened to Manchester-based LIINES. Apparently. I missed that particular show.
I was, however, present at their next gig, which was outside, during the wettest December on record. LIINES played out of the back of a lorry, in a suburban pub garden next to Manchester's Bridgewater canal. At one point, during the track 'Cold' (aptly titled, due to the 30-strong attendees all collectively freezing our nether bits off) two swans glided by, pausing briefly to take in the scene.
Nevertheless, despite the cold and the sparse crowd, LIINES were magnificent. The trio – singer and guitarist Zoe McVeigh, bassist Steph Angel and drummer Leila O'Sullivan – were on mighty form, blasting through 40 minutes of tight-as-you-like snarly pop coated in a holy racket of guitar noise. Their seasonal version of Mud's 'Lonely This Christmas' was so good that even the Grinch would have felt festive for three minutes. In footballing parlance, the performance suggested that LIINES can "do the business on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke".
This wasn't the first time I had watched McVeigh, Angel and O'Sullivan play. In 2008, I had seen them as the final incarnation of a band called Hooker. I thought Hooker were great, their crashing punk sound cocooning McVeigh's fabulously urgent vocal.
After the canal-side lorry set, the band and I sit outside, huddled around an ineffective garden heater and fill in the gaps of the intervening years. We reminisce about Hooker, chat about football and I listen – agog – as Zoe regales me with stories of her time on Alien Sex Fiend's tour bus when she was eight years old.
But, what I am really interested about is metamorphosis. The three friends became LIINES about 18 months ago as a broader sonic smorgasbord emerged and their songwriting flourished. Debut single 'Never There' is the perfect introduction – a compulsive mix of post-punk anger, new wave panache and a delicious pop hook. It is a song so good even swans stop and listen.
I realise you have been together in Hooker and now LIINES for a while, but how did you all first meet?
Steph Angel: Zoe and I actually met at primary school. Our lives then separated and we bumped into each other at a club when we were about 18. We were both passionate about music and, at the time, we were playing in different bands.
Zoe McVeigh: We needed a bass player to fill in for a gig, so we asked Steph if she could play bass for us.
SA: It was a gig in Madrid, which was a good incentive to teach myself bass gsuitar. I learned about 14 Hooker songs in a week. I don't know what the hell I was thinking.
Leila O'Sullivan: I'd met Zoe through mutual groups and I heard through the grapevine that Hooker needed a drummer. From the very first meeting we just clicked.
In your music Venn diagram, which artists sit in the middle overlapping section?
LO'S: There would be a lot of '90s grunge – we all love Hole's Live Through This - plus Pixies, Joy Division and PJ Harvey.
ZM: My musical tastes came from my parents being punks. I was heavily into music from a very young age. I was constantly listening to Iggy, Siouxsie and Bowie and watching my mum and dad going out to places like [infamous Manchester punk clubs] The Ranch and Pips. I went to an Alien Sex Fiend concert when I was eight years old. My parents crimped my hair and gave me a band T-shirt. I was too young to be in the crowd, so they let me watch from the side of the stage.
That's pretty good going for an eight-year-old.
ZM: It was amazing. We knew the band, and we went to Florida with them as well – I remember thinking it was amazing to be on Alien Sex Fiend's tour bus. Even then, I knew I wanted to be in a band and have a tour bus. I would write little songs and send them to the Alien Sex Fiend for advice. The first one was called 'Alien Spaceship' as I thought they would appreciate the alien connection. They listened to it. I probably still have the tape somewhere.
I liked Hooker – why was it you felt the need to change the band and become LIINES?
LO'S: It wasn't that Hooker was doing badly. As Hooker, we were doing well in terms of playing and getting support slots – Hooker did a tour with Gossip in their early days – so there was no reason to change. However, Steph and I connected well after I joined – in terms of the bass and the drums aspect of the band – and that allowed Zoe space to do her stuff on vocals and guitar. The songs started to become less punk.
ZM: It used to be full-on punk, but we'd write new songs and record them as Hooker and it didn't feel right. The songs were different; there was more energy and intensity. When we realised we were changing, it made sense to change the name and have a completely new start.
Let me dig a little further – what is the difference between a Hooker and a LIINES song?
LO'S: Hooker was more aggressive, whereas LIINES is a bit more intense and atmospheric. There is more space to LIINES, whereas as Hooker was more full-on.
ZM: The songs feel different, even as we perform them live. We perform differently – the songs have taken over our performance. It is a feeling on stage – each song is a fireball and every song is burning until it is set to explode.
What is the songwriting process for LIINES?
ZM: I write the skeleton of the song at home, very quietly into my phone as we have paper-thin walls. I whisper the songs and use an unplugged electric guitar. I then bring it into rehearsal and we all take over.
And Zoe, I assume you write the lyrics. I have noticed that the vast majority of your songs are sung from the first-person perspective – why is that?
ZM: Everything is first person. I love listening to bands that can tell a story from another perspective, but I really struggle to do that. I want everyone to relate and all my lyrics are personal. I sing from inside me – I strip myself raw when I sing. It comes from an honest place.
LO'S: Even in rehearsal, Zoe is out of it by the end as she has given her all.
I have to say that I think your voice is fantastic. Have you had any formal training?
ZM: Thank you – and no, I have just found my voice by listening to a lot of PJ Harvey! I love singing and it is my absolute passion. I don't know if we would sound the same if we'd been taught properly. Everything is from ear. I don't know what notes any of the songs are in and we tune a bit differently to other bands.
LO'S: We are all self-taught. We are in our own little bubble. We don't really care how we should be playing. It's right for who we are and it comes from our hearts.
There seems to be a real buzz about LIINES. You must be delighted with the response?
LO'S: The response has been fantastic. We've been supported by blogs and radio shows and the reviews have been really positive. We are more confident in who we are and in our sound. We took a step back over the summer and asked ourselves what we wanted to achieve by the end of 2015.
Was one of them to have played a gig next to a canal while being watched by two swans?
LO'S: Weirdly, that wasn't on the list. One of them wandered off with a CD, which was nice. But what has actually happened has blown our expectations out of the water.
Why do you think LIINES seem to be getting noticed in a way that Hooker did not?
ZM: There was something holding us back – whether it was the name or the songs – which wasn't quite sitting right for Hooker to really go for it. The name change and the change in the sorts of songs we are now writing has made us feel more confident.
SA: Sometimes even if you think your band is ready, it may not be the right time. This feels like the right time. Also, LIINES play to a different audience. It's not the old Hooker audience. We were playing gigs as part of a 'DIY/riot grrrl' scene, which is brilliant and we absolutely love. When no one else was paying any attention, they were really supportive.
How is LIINES audience different to a Hooker crowd?
SA: What has been different this time is exploring a more mainstream, perhaps more male-orientated side of the [gig-going] scene. We want to not be seen as a band of women, but to be seen as a band. We are women, and we are proud to be women, but what we care about is the music and being recognised as musicians – and not just pigeonholed into certain types of music.
LO'S: There is no way we ever thought we would sell out Night & Day for our debut single launch. That was an incredible experience. The crowd was completely new – it was an aspiration of ours to play in front of new people – and to get a good response was unbelievable. Until you get noticed, being in a band is like screaming in the dark.