Tough To Crack: An Interview With The Lovely Eggs

The Lovely Eggs tell Patrick Clarke about how a battle to save a local rehearsal space turned into a fight for their very identity, and how it's impacted soul-baring new LP Eggistentialism

Photos by Darren Andrews

“There were times in the last year where I thought, I’m going under now. I am going under, and I need help,” says Holly Ross. “This album is a snapshot of a time when we were nearly drowning.”

For Ross and her husband David Blackwell, aka The Lovely Eggs, The Lancaster Music Co-op had been a lifeline for as long as they had been making music. When Ross formed her first group Angelica as a teenager, she recalls: “We went straight to The Co-op for our first rehearsals.” It was where Blackwell, too, first gravitated as a teenager and soon ended up working: “I just really wanted to be surrounded by loud music. It all took off from there.” Offering rehearsal space, recording facilities, instrument hire and gear storage for local bands with no strings attached, and an environment where people could “just go in and do your own thing, create without any guidelines or limitations,” as he puts it, it had been the city’s creative lynchpin since its opening in 1985.

“We’re not from wealthy backgrounds. We didn’t even have a garage we could rehearse in growing up. It’s where if you haven’t got a drum kit you can hire one for a pound. It’s the reason we’re in a band,” Ross continues. It was where bands like Sea Power and James and members of The Prodigy played early gigs, and where the acclaimed producer Paul Tipler and the Royal Shakespeare Company’s sound designer Claire Windsor (and, of course, The Lovely Eggs themselves) springboarded their careers. It was an oasis of underground culture in “a small city where there’s not loads happening”. That is, until the council served them an eviction notice.

This came in 2018, following almost two decades of limbo after property developers had earmarked the land for a shopping centre. Back then, Ross recalls, “we – and when I say ‘we’, I mean the freaks of Lancaster, the alternative culture – stood up to fight it”. A group called It’s Our City was formed. “They actually took the council to the High Court and won on appeal to push the decision back.” Now, again, it was time to resist. After launching a new campaign that won national recognition, they were able to force a meeting with the Council. “They unanimously voted that they would save the Co-op, they’d give us a long term lease on the building and repair it. Every single councillor put their hand in the air and agreed to it,” she says. For a moment it was cause for celebration, but she claims that “five years later, it still hadn’t fucking happened.”

After closing during the pandemic, meaning basic maintenance was harder to achieve, by the time lockdown ended the band say that the Co-op was now too run down to reopen, and that there had been no movement on the council’s promises to hand over ownership. “So to cut a long story short, I went into the council and said, ‘What the fuck is going on? This legal document sets out what you said you’d do, and you haven’t done any of it.’” It would be another year, during which Ross says she sent weekly emails, until the lease would finally be signed. By then, however, the Co-op was in such disrepair and costs had risen so much that the money that had initially been promised for renovations was not nearly enough to cover what needed to be done. “They basically said to us, you do it.”

Eventually, through that initial money, a grant from the government’s Community Ownership Fund, and other fundraising, they found a way to continue. “But now we’re two idiots in a band who’ve ended up running a fucking million-pound building project. It’s a nightmare!” Ross continues. “It’s been a massive fight and we’re still right in the middle of it. It’s been fucking awful. They took away my fucking soul, they made me write emails ending ‘best regards’ and all that shit, describing it as ‘the project’. It’s not a fucking project, it’s our lives. It’s a home of punk rock degeneracy and I’ve had to call it ‘a project’. It makes me weep inside.”

It’s worth noting just how much all the admin with which the Eggs have found themselves saddled with runs counter to the tenets they’ve always operated by. They have no label, and if they were offered a deal with a prestigious indie they would decline, says Ross. It can be inconvenient when, as happened the morning of our interview, two palettes of records are dumped on their doorstep to be packaged and posted, however doing it all themselves allows them to live entirely off their art; their ‘day job’ is the band. “Early days, we looked at our situation and thought, ‘What do we need?’” recalls Blackwell. They figured out their bare bones living expenses, bought a cheap van that they could keep on the road, drank from off license cans and rider beers instead of pints in the pub, and booked the exact amount of shows that it would take them to cover those costs. It was only when Ross became pregnant with their now eleven-year-old son (who has joined them on tour since he was four months old) that they treated themselves to cheap hotels, rather than the floors of friends and fans. “It’s been our mentality since growing up,” Ross says. “In the 1990s, the way you were in a band was that you signed on, gave the job centre a load of bullshit every two weeks, lived frugal, and that was how you could do your stuff.”

That constant strive to carve out a space for weird culture goes beyond music, too. In the spring of 2023 (despite the mental toll of the dispute over the Co-op that was reaching breaking point around the same time) they embarked on a whole parallel project called Eggs TV, a six-part series released on YouTube in collaboration with the illustrator and videomaker Casey Raymond. A brilliantly cluttered mix of animation, sketches, video art, poetry, live music, found footage, gonzo documentary, interviews and the totally uncategorisable, it was a way to gesture outwards at the larger network of similarly-minded artists in which they find themselves, whether that be the artist David Shrigley taking viewers on a tour of the ‘stuff’ in his Brighton studio, broadcaster Katie Puckrick offering a guide to ‘avant-garde perfume’, or John Grant surveying his fridge magnet collection. Ross explains: “We create what we want to see. If that’s a gig in a shop in Lancaster, we book out the shop and put it on. We have loads of friends who are poets and authors and comedians and for me inspiration comes from literature more than music. And it’s like, well, where do you see them nowadays? In the 1970s people used to sit around in black leather chairs and talk about books – not that Eggs TV is anything like Melvyn Bragg – but we wanted to put all this stuff under one roof.”

“We thought it might take two months. It ended up taking two years,” laughs Blackwell. It even stopped them from jumping straight back into touring after the pandemic. It felt important, however, to pay tribute to a wider community that has welcomed the band from the start. “When we first formed it was just to create music together and play, but when we put our music up on MySpace we made a network of friends in San Francisco, Amsterdam, New York. They’d put on a thing, and they’d invite us.” It’s the same community spirit that’s helped deliver The Lovely Eggs a level of success that far outstrips their resources – a number one spot in the Independent Albums Chart for their last LP I Am Moron, for instance. “It felt a privilege to be able to share what we were into with other people who might not have known about it before,” says Ross of the TV show. “Even Ian MacKaye [of Dischord records] who was on [the show], he emailed me and was like, ‘I just watched Gwennifer Raymond [also on the show], and she’s brilliant!’ So that’s Ian MacKaye, finding out about Gwennifer Raymond, through us! That’s important to us, to gather likeminded people.’

The battle with the council was not just about the Co-op, but the way the building is the physical embodiment of all these values, of community as the springboard for DIY art. The band don’t care about making the Co-op profitable, Blackwell insists, but instead seek total self-sufficiency, a space “where you can go in with no education, do your own thing and create without any limitations.” Adds Ross: “I don’t consider myself a musician, even now. I’m in a band, and there’s a difference. We are trying to defend a lifestyle that we think we’re entitled to – to exist in Lancaster in an alternative community, a bunch of fucking freaks, and to have our own place. If we lose that, we lose everything.”

All of this poured into The Lovely Eggs’ new album

Eggistentialism, not only their resentment towards Lancaster Council, best expressed on the gobby punk rock of ‘Death Grip Kids’ – “Shove your funding up your arse!” Ross spits over thunderous drums and power chords – but also the lasting mental scars. The similarly rapid-fire ‘I Don’t Fucking Know What I’m Gonna Do’ recalls a moment of total hopelessness, laid bare as a breathless stream of consciousness, but elsewhere the Eggs find themselves in altogether more melancholy territory. “There were times where we came close to giving up, where we just didn’t have the fight in us,” Ross says, and as a result “the album sounds a lot softer. We were absolutely beaten down to nothing, so this album represents what that sounds like for us as a band.”

Consider ‘People TV’, based on a game invented where Ross would stare from their bedroom window and describe what she saw, and their son would try (and usually fail) not to rush over and look. On the song those descriptions are intercut with lines that point to the sheer banality of it all – “It’s older than the sun, this self-repeating town/ the same thing went on then/ the same thing goes on now” Ross deadpans – as a woozy electronic beat swirls around and around until it reaches a point of gentle despair (“Please just leave me here/ I’ll die trying”). One of the things Ross notes is a businessman furtively pouring an unwanted takeaway coffee on the floor before stepping into his car, an image that also appears elsewhere on the record. “I observed that on a regular basis,” Ross says. “It really got into my psyche, the wastefulness, the culture of spending four quid on a coffee then pouring it away in secret.”

And yet, when Ross sings on that song, “I’m never going to change this view/ and I’m never gonna be like you”, she sounds determined as much as she sounds resigned. Elsewhere on the record they return to the subject of banality – the seven-minute opus ‘Nothing: Everything’ for instance, or ‘My Mood Wave’, which concerns endurance in the face of everyday tumult – but it’s a subject from which they extract a great deal of significance. (Ross, incidentally, cites the magical realist writer Richard Brautigan among her biggest inspirations: “After reading his stuff I could see the normal world, Lancaster, through different glasses, in such a way that it became magical.”) ‘Things’, for example, was inspired by seeing house clearances where a recently deceased person’s belongings are laid out in binbags and skips. “It gets me every time, you open a wheelie bin and there’s a pair of spectacles on the top. This is someone’s life, and all it amounts to is going in a bin,” says Ross. Opening with a beatbox that leads into an only slightly-less scrappy instrumental, the song is essentially just a list of random objects, and yet its scope is far vaster than first appearances might suggests. It hints at “a fascination with death” that Ross says she’s held since she lost her father when she was 20, and it’s also “our analysis of value, how what’s valuable to one person isn’t valuable to another,” she explains.

It’s not hard to apply this idea to The Lovely Eggs’ tumultuous last few years, which ultimately have only consolidated the things they believe to be of value – their belief in independence and creative freedom above all else, so tightly held that they even in the face of overwhelming capitalist machination, they have never abandoned it.

The Lovely Eggs’ new album Eggistentialism is released on 17 May via Egg Records

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