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Escape Velocity

Making Eyes At Suburban Boys: Talking Truths With Real Lies
Luke Turner , November 26th, 2013 05:10

New London group Real Lies make nocturnal, rave-tinged love songs to the fringes of London. Luke Turner spoke to them about youth, the romance of the suburbs, and why the pothead bros of East London are denying their own youth

I've always been wary of #lads, both of the American and English stripe. I dislike their conservatism, their bad shirts, their tendency to misunderstand the difference between misogyny and #banter, their enthusiasm for appalling music... all of which compensating for their little willies and lack of imagination. Real Lies, though, are the kind of lads I can get behind. They're not #lads, but exploring life and evolving masculinity through pop songs made from seeing London through young eyes, dilated and shining at 5am. They even have lad names, Kev [Kharas], Tom [Watson] and Pat [King], three that have perhaps not been seen together since the draft of a never-commissioned 80s sitcom.

Watson and King met playing football together as teenagers in the environs of Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds. Kharas then met Watson "passing cans between each other in the queue for some shit club six or seven years ago", and they eventually moved into a house next to a reservoir in North London, a place that would become a venue for epic parties that would last for days. Watson was starting to write songs, and Kharas, whose room was next door, would come and make suggestions, as would King, who would turn up now and then to DJ at some of their 72-hour soirees. As Kharas says, "I wouldn't bother interfering. I have a busy enough life that I wouldn't go meddling in someone else's shit music, but I liked it enough to know that it could go somewhere, that it was fucking good basically."

Real Lies' music recalls all sorts of things (I've previously described them as "Pet Shop Geezers", which is the reductive elevator pitch), but they're no revivalists - the dominant theme of their debut 12" 'World Peace' is of kids who grew up listening to bands but then had an injection of chemical enthusiasm and nocturnal capering - think the tracks collated onto Pulp's Intro, The Happy Mondays, Pet Shop Boys' 'West End Girls' - allowing dance influences (in this case, London's pirate radio and club scene) to bleed into songs that celebrate the fringes of the sprawling chaos of the capital, from Uxbridge to Eltham, Enfield to Norwood Park. "The most exhilarating thing I've done recently is go to the peripheries," says Kharas. "I don't know why I get such a strong physical reaction, endorphins going off in my brain."

Full disclosure. I've known these young men for a few years now, and would occasionally end up at that reservoir house to watch the sun come up over the water and turn the tower blocks on the other side pink. But before this interview I realised that in these past five years I've never seen them in the daylight. And if you've not seen someone in the daylight, then are you really friends? That's London. That's dubiously-extended youth. That's Real Lies.

How did the music that got played in your reservoir house impact on Real Lies? Was it an influence on the narrative feel to the lyrics as much as the music?

Kev Kharas: We weren't dancing to 'The Birdie Song'. We'd started going out and listening to a lot more house music and techno at club nights, because the stuff that people were doing with guitars in bands was just fucking dire, so I'd spend a lot of time with that rattling around in my head. I'd been surrounded by that music for such a long time that writing the lyrics came quite naturally. I wasn't wandering around with a Moleskine jotting down short stories. You get a vibe from something.

Tom Watson: Bands like the Happy Mondays and Pet Shop Boys, you can be influenced by them but you can't rip them off. The way that we're influenced to write tunes is probably quite similar to those bands when they were doing the same thing. They're British songwriters who were interested in and and aren't afraid to use synths, and at the same time the club scene was so strong that they're going to clubs every weekend. New Order as well. They're hearing sounds when they go out that they want to use.

I like how you've a track called 'North Circular' - that's one of the most fascinating roads in London. How did that stretch of tarmac affect you?

KK: I feel like I'm more influenced by that road than any band that's existed in the last five years. The places you go past are places that don't declare themselves to be places, they're liminal. You go through the rich areas like Golder's Green, there's Hoo Hing, that massive Chinese food depot, the closed down Irish Times place, Wembley Stadium over here, A-Road pubs, the pub where the bikers congregate every Saturday and Sunday. There's a weird plastic surgery/dentist place on the Hanger Lane Gyratory, and you think if you rifled through their rubbish bins, what would you find? Jesus Christ! You'd find bits of humans. It's this weird corridor that takes you right from the Home Counties into the heart of London through every single zone of suburbia. It's not like these cunts in Stoke Newington, these space cheats who come to the centre of the city and create their own village and then import the countryside from outside. They deny suburbia. I just love that road.

It's always fascinating how you have these rows of 1930s semis where they've just taken a street out to put the road in - you come out of your front door and there you are on the North Circular. All the houses are slightly sooty with pollution, but you think, behind that house there are all these lives going on.

KK: That's the best thing about it. I always like to think that one day when I'm rich or bored enough I will work my way through every one of those houses, gatecrashing a house party, turning up with a bottle of Echo Falls, and gradually working my way into London from the outskirts.

Are you writing pop songs to be listened to in those places?

KK: I'd like to think so. You feel innately that those might be the most exciting people in the city, because they live their lives in motion, they're constantly absorbed in this whirlwind of activity, they're not dickheads dressed like children's TV presenters with babies strapped to their chests cycling to school in Stoke Newington. Not to harp on about it too much, but that place has such stasis. I like the idea of these people one day fetishising the North Circular, and filling their studies with fly-tipped mattresses. I've never understood the disregard for the suburbs, they've always seemed like the most interesting places in the city.

As Tom and Pat grew up in satellite towns, do you two have a different relationship with London? You're more disconnected there, in places that are more insular and conservative.

TW: I can remember as a 17-year-old getting the last train down to London, going to some drum & bass night, and getting the first train back. It was very very exciting.

KK: I completely understand what you're saying. My bedroom where I grew up as a kid, from as long as I was sentient until I moved home, literally behind the back garden was the A404(M) which takes you to London. I spent a lot of time by myself as a kid, and I'd have to come home and go to bed before Eastenders. I'd lie there in bed, staring at the sunset and listening to the traffic on the A404(M) careening towards London and wondering 'where do all those people go?'. You do feel that gravitational pull. It's why I like suicide bridge [a bridge over the A1 in Haringey, between Archway and Highgate] so much, it feels like the gates of the city. When you stand on top, whether it's daytime or night, or shrouded in fog, you can still see Canary Wharf and The Shard when you're still pretty much in suburbia.

Real Lies does feel like music for a twisted head, the melancholy at the end of being high.

TW: A lot of our tunes have been written on Sunday afternoons, and a lot of them sound like it. When you're hungover your sense of hearing is heightened, but at the same time half of your brain is missing because of the evening before.

KK: There's an element of being our age in a city like London and having the interests and lifestyles that we do have, and you spend a lot of time occupying zones of time that maybe a lot of other people are shut off from. When you've grown up and have kids to look after, those zones are dead to you, you can't occupy them any more. There is that space of being trapped in between, and occupying a niche in time that is off-limits to some people, and that's one of the privileges of being young and in a city, it's an incredibly exciting time, so you maximise it and you end up pushed into these weird buffer zones.

In another interview you talked about how smoking areas were coming-of-age confession booths. I wanted to ask how Real Lies' music engages with how masculinity changes as you head through your 20s...

TW: A lot of it is to do with masculinity. To go back to the smoking area, the drop in 'Deeper' was recorded in smoking area in a club, I think the cover art really brings that vulnerability of masculinity out too.

KK: [Masculinity] never gets enough attention. It gets caricatured. People don't understand that there are nuances, not every man has to conform to type. There's nothing more offensive than those Ginsters adverts about Movember and how you need brown sauce to have a fucking sandwich. Come on mate. I find that very limiting. I think with the haircut thing [the sleeve artwork] there's the vulnerability, you're trusting a man with something that's quite important.

TW: It's a time that you're looking at yourself in a mirror and somebody is running a razor-sharp blade around the side of your head. Its about trust, it's about masculinity, it's the the central themes of our band.

KK: It's fraternity, which comes out of the house I suppose.

TW: We've got our night called Congress. It's influenced by Boys Own from the late 80s, early 90s, that fanzine culture, which again taps into the masculinity thing, the idea that you can go to a football match on a Saturday afternoon, go to a club on a Saturday night, and on a Sunday sit down and write a song about it and it doesn't necessarily sound like the fucking Fratellis.

KK: I think a lot of bands in London have tried to misappropriate this fraternity thing in recent times. What they've ended up settling on is this bro, dudism, talking like surfers...

TW: ...Disgusting...

KK: ...they sit around all day watching Nickelodeon and eating pizza and calling each other dude. How do these people's girlfriends get off? They sit around and smoke weed all day, fucking potheads watching cat videos on Buzzfeed, talking to each other like Americans. It's the ultimate defeat to your past, acting like your imagined childhood self, a doppelganger that existed in suburban DC in '83. They're corrupting their own youth. The auto-pederasts of Dalston must be purged from daylight, send them packing back to the countryside with their cheese and their fucking eggs.

TW: All the records that they listen to are shit as well. Pavement.

KK: Pavement are the worst band in the world.

TW: How can a band like Dinosaur JR possibly talk to a 19-year-old English person living in London?

KK: Me and my mates used to go on cruises in someone's car and listen to drum & bass. Imagine if I'd put Pavement on then? I'd have been dumped on the A404(M) without a fucking hope in hell of getting home. I'd have been a fly-tipped mattress.

TW: And you'd have deserved it. 

'World Peace'/'Deeper' is out now via Sweet Exile/Marathon Artists.. The next Congress takes place on December 19th, full info here