After almost three years of anticipation, the week that will see Lonely The Brave begin to charter a whole new era has finally dawned. After their seemingly unstoppable momentum was questioned with the departure of their original vocalist in early 2018, the band are finally on the cusp of releasing their hotly anticipated comeback in the form of The Hope List. Now manned by Jack Bennet of Grumblebee fame, Lonely The Brave are set not only to reaffirm their position within the UK alternative scene with this record, but to provide much needed hope, solace and comfort to use struggling in these grim times.
With the release of The Hope List now just days away, we sat down with guitarists Ross Smithwick and Mark Trotter for a long discussion on the creation of the record and what is set to come next.
How has it been trying to navigate a new era with a new vocalist at the same time as being struck with a worldwide pandemic? What made you decide it was the right time to release a new record?
Ross: "Desperation, I think, weren't it?"
Mark: "It's probably the most Lonely The Brave thing that could possibly happen, cool let's put out our new record and, oh look a global pandemic's turned up. I think Ross would agree with me that literally anything that could possibly derail this band tries its best, and so far hasn't succeeded! We've spent the last two years or so writing and demoing this record and then getting to the point where we're not just happy with the record but happy with our writing process and the way we interact with each other, so in a way the record has already been delayed because of all this and we could wait forever but what's the point in that, we want it out there, we wanna crack on and the idea of having to wait any longer I think just fries all of us."
Ross: "It's just taken so long to get to the point of actually being able to release the music, I mean everyone's had a shit year, it's been awful for everyone and people have obviously had it a lot worse than us, like as a band y'know, we're just a band, but at the same time it has been so frustrating like this is our comeback year! Yes! Oh wait... like it's been hard to get to this point, to write the songs and click with a new vocalist, for it to all come together, so we could keep waiting and waiting but we've already waited so long. We were lucky enough that we'd actually recorded the bulk of the album back in January and February so just before the shit hit the fan, so if that hadn't have happened it might be a different story right now and who knows when it'd come out, I mean even now it's been pretty much an entire year to the day since recording it, so we just thought it's gotta be done."
So tell us, what is the meaning behind the title The Hope List?
Mark: "So we always think we're writing these ridiculously depressing songs, but then when we listen back to the songs there does seem to be an element of hope in everything that we seem to do, and that's not so much of a conscious decision, I mean I try to make everything I write as miserable as possible because I want everyone else to be as depressed as I am. And then Jack said the same thing when he listened back to these tracks, he had that feeling of hope as well. And also coming from a lyrical point of view the content and the things that Jack is talking about lyrically are things that he aspires to see or to have happen and that are ultimately his hopes, so it's an interesting culmination of I guess where we were, where we have been as a band and the reason we've always written, and also Jack's input into that as well. I do think the new record has the element where it still sounds definitively like us, and I keep saying this and it's so cliché to say but it's the same but different, like it still sounds like us but with the addition of what Jack brings to it, and the fact that that hope still sings through in what we're doing I think is really important, so the title was Jacks idea but it had such a long standing history with us as a band that we think it just fits."
"Everything about his voice fitted with the old stuff, not just in the tone but the emotional level"
Regarding Jack, when it came to recruiting him into the band, did it feel like a natural fit straight away, or did you find he had to adapt to the band, or did you guys feel you had to change things up to fit his style at all?
Ross: "It was pretty instantaneous to be honest, it wasn't even really an audition it was just sort of a jam session with Jack, and for whatever reason I couldn't actually get there but I remember everyone basically messaging me after like “yep this is the guy!”, and then later we all got together up at Jacks studio just north of Manchester way, jammed out some old songs and we were all just looking at each other like “this is amazing!”. Everything about his voice fitted with the old stuff, not just in the tone but the emotional level, y'know Dave's stuff that he wrote is not easy to sing but Jack was just smashing all these belters out and it was amazing. We hung out, chatted about where we wanted to go with the band and then I think we started writing pretty much straight away, the first song came pretty easily I seem to remember, which is gonna be our next single, a song called 'Keeper'. We were writing things with him and it just fit, it was a bit of a slow process because even before the pandemic we're all scattered around the country so it was hard for us to get together, probably about one a month we'd manage to get together up at Jack's for a long weekend of getting to know each other more as musicians and writing together, feeling each other out, but it was a great experience and we knew straight away that it was gonna work."
Mark: "The thing about it is that in regards to there being any kind of concession from us in terms of our side of things, if I’m honest I’d say: no. It’s gotta be hard for someone to come into a group of guys who’ve been together, living in each others pockets for so many years and know each other so well, but I don’t think we’re difficult people to get along with y’know, and we’ve known Jack for a while now, he’s supported us at various shows and festivals over the years which is where our connection sort of came from, but he just slotted straight in, so we didn’t really have to change anything, Jack brought what he does to us, and we didn’t want him to come in and try to replicate what had come before, we more wanted him to bring what he does into the mix and that’s exactly what he’s come in and done."
How was the recording process for this record different to the previous releases, if at all?
Ross: "Yeah it was completely different really, being spread out over however long, where before we would record in the traditional sense of we would write, rehearse, get together a couple of days a week and get a bulk of an album, like about 90% of an album then go to the studio, which didn’t happen this time because it just wasn’t possible. It is what it is, it took longer but at the same time we didn’t want to rush it because we knew it had to perfect, we knew we had to be 100% happy with it and you can’t rush that, especially with a brand new person coming into the band and learning how to write with each other and play music together."
"We got together when we could and we had the blessing this time of recording as we went, demoing as we went along so we would write some ideas, or a track, or just snippets of ideas. But we would record them straight away which was hugely beneficial because we could work from them next time, and while we weren’t together we could work on them separately and discuss them at lengths before we got together again. It kinda went on like that for a couple of years I guess, I mean it feels like a really long time ago now, and then we finally got to the stage where we had the bulk of the album and knew we could get to work on finishing it off. It did work in this climate for us and I think we can say we’re completely proud of what we’ve achieved with this record."
Mark: "The interesting bit for me is where we spent about two years or so writing and recording this record, where we all have such busy lives outside of that process if you actually added up all the time spent solidly working on the record it probably boils down to like, just a month of actual physical time together because of how limited we were being able to actually get together. I think the weirdest thing for me is that before this record, I loved being in the studio when everyone else is tracking. I love being there and listening to Mo put down his drums, and everyone else doing their bits and seeing everything come together, but this time because of what’s happened we had to do it very separately and in terms of getting to the point of actually recording there was a two year run up. But in terms of the actual process I think my guitar parts were done in a day, and that’s not like a brag like wow I did it in a day. It’s that we’ve spent two years getting to that point so we know what we want to do. And we would absolutely have done things differently if the circumstances had been different, but they weren’t so we had to just do the best we could with the time that we had.
"The first album was the four of us in a tiny studio and we begged, stole and borrowed five grand to make it whilst sleeping in a van outside. The second record was a whole different ball game, we were in a really weird place as a band at that point."
How has the reaction to the new songs been so far? We’ve certainly seen nothing but positive feedback! How does that make you feel in the build up to releasing the record, does it quell any anxieties you might have?
Mark: "It’s a funny one, somebody else asked me recently if I felt any pressure because of the new situation, but honestly from my personal perspective, no. We write the music we’re happy with and if people are into that then that’s awesome. Of course we want people to be into it, we don’t wanna release an album and everyone be like “oh god this is shit”. I mean that’d be awful, but at the same time, you write about the stuff you’re dealing with at the time, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, and that’s really special. Again, I think that’s testament to not wanting to rush things. and us wanting to make sure it was right before we started releasing anything and also testament to the hard work Jack put in on the production side of things."
"I think it’s the first time listening back to it now that it kinda I feels like how we envision we sound live being captured on record for the first time, in some respects. The first album was the four of us in a tiny studio and we begged, stole and borrowed five grand to make it whilst sleeping in a van outside. The second record was a whole different ball game, we were in a really weird place as a band at that point dealing with the label and all the business that came with it, and this time I didn’t really feel like we had those pressures. I don’t know about you Ross but even with all the business stuff going on in the background the primary concern was just writing an album that we were really happy with and working with a new singer, getting ourselves into a positive place, because I think if I’m being honest the band hadn’t been in a positive place for a long time and being in that position is much more important. But yeah, the reaction so far has been incredible and we are so lucky that people still care about it and are still into it, and in some respect I think it may be more accessible than it’s been before both in terms of production and the actual songs so if new people dig it that’s awesome as well."
Ross: "I mean especially in the writing process you can’t put too much thought into what people are gonna like, what people are not gonna like, obviously it is on your mind but when we released that first single, 'Bound' for instance, we had no idea what people would make of it. It’s not a million miles from old Lonely The Brave but Jack does bring a new energy to it which is exciting for us, and it does change the sound of the band, but the reaction from that single onwards was about 95% positive and that’s amazing
Mark: "Who’s the 5%? I’ll hunt them down."
While you were writing The Hope List did you have any ideas that you’d retained from before that you maybe hadn’t had the chance to try out yet, or was it all completely fresh, new and naturally flowing?
Ross: "There were some ideas we’d had before that we talked about that we never ended up using but to be honest we didn’t even go near them. This is a new era, let’s just write new and exciting stuff for all of us, so we didn’t really put too much thought into how we would do it."
Mark: "The way that we’ve always written as a band is that generally things will start with a guitar piece or whatever, but we’re in a room together, and we write together, and that’s how it’s always been, and that’s how this record was formed as well. This time it was in Jack’s studio just smashing ideas out until we were happy with what we had, and for us that’s how it should be y’know. That’s the whole point of being in a band, we’re not a pop band, we’re not looking to write like “oh oh we need a chorus”, bollocks, we write what we think the song needs and what we like to hear, so it all came out completely fresh and it was a lot of fun to create."
Ross: "Going back to the sort of pressure thing we touched on, I think cause we knew we only had one weekend a month together it was like; "right, we need to get out as many ideas as possible in this time" and I think that allowed for more of a creative flow where you didn’t quite know what would happen each weekend but we’d always come away each time with something written and recorded that we could listen to, whether it was a song or just a few new ideas, and that was really exciting and then we’d wait three weeks to get together again"
Mark: "By which point we’d forgotten how to play ‘em"
So the last time we spoke it was about the redux version of Things Will Matter, has there been any discussion at all about doing something similar with The Hope List?
Mark: "That’s an interesting one. I think given more time and without the things that have happened happening this year we would have potentially had more of a combination of our records. I’m not saying the redux thing is dead, it certainly isn’t, but things like that are just another different method of getting where you wanna be, and it’s fun an exciting to explore down that rabbit hole, using new instruments and experimenting. It’s a really fun way of writing and I think there’s definitely room for it, but I guess we wanna do this record first, we’d like to play this record live. It’s weird because by this point usually we’ve had the chance to play these songs live and sort of gauge what the reaction is, and use that to see what’s gonna work but we haven’t had that this time so it’s just been these songs, and us waiting to see if we can actually play them live."
Ross: "I think there’s a handful of songs that we haven’t actually played as a band at all yet, like we wrote them in the studio but we’ve definitely never played them together."
Mark: "But yeah there’s definitely room for it, as an when the time is right, we’ll see where we end up."
Are there any particular songs on the new record that you’re especially proud of, any personal favourites?
Ross: "Yeah, but we’ve all got our different ones. Obviously I’m really proud of the record as a whole, I don’t think there’s a weak song on there but there’s a couple that really stick out to me as some of the best, if not THE best stuff we’ve ever written. A bit more of the slower burning side of the band, the songs that won’t be released as singles, there’s some moments I think where everyone comes together and really gels. It's just those magical moments where even now, listening back, there’s a song called ‘Something I Said’ which still gives me goosebumps every time, which is exactly what I want music to make me feel, and the fact that it’s OUR music that makes me feel like that is pretty special."
Mark: "Mine is currently 'The Harrow', which is the last track on the record, only because I tend to lean towards the kinda darker stuff that we do, and that song is just so fucking moody, and also, I know this sounds bonkers but every time I hear it, it reminds me of ‘The Last Of The Mohicans’, so if you haven’t seen that film you need to go watch it and listen to 'The Harrow' at the same time and imagine Daniel Day-Lewis running at you with a tomahawk, and you’ll get somewhere close to how I envision that song inside my head. I also love 'Distant Light' but for a completely different reason. It’s very poignant for me personally but unfortunately earlier in the year I lost my dad completely out of the blue and that song resonated with me because of what he was going through at the time. I know what that song is about from Jack’s perspective but lyrically it also transposes into what I was going through at that point, and that’s the whole point of music right? Like you can take what you want out of them, and we even do that with our own songs, so yeah I’m just really proud of what we’ve done. It’s weird being in a band, you get so close to it all, I can’t even tell if it’s good or shit if I’m honest. You get so close while you’re in the middle of creating it that you cannot make an informed decision about any of this, and it takes a degree of separation to be able to step back and be like "okay, cool I think I get it now.""
"It’s a hard time to be in a band right now but at the same time that’s why we wanted to get the music out, because like ourselves there are people out there just sitting at home who need something."
Tell us about the album artwork itself, did you have a specific artist in mind for it, or anything in mind that you wanted to represent the record?
Ross: We approached an artist that I knew called Lucy Martin, and all of her art is that kind of style, and the thing for us with the art is anything goes really, we all chuck in ideas and then the one we lean towards or the one that strikes a chord with us the most is the one we go with. I’ve actually got some pieces of her art in my lounge downstairs, and all of her work is so striking and you just don’t forget that sort of artwork. We wanted something that would leave an impression and you’d recognise immediately as the new Lonely The Brave album, and we also wanted something a lot visually brighter than the previous record, the whole thing was very dark, and it was a very dark sounding album and the artwork shows that as well. We actually did this before we got The Hope List as a title, but it just works I think."
What is the plan for after the record, what with all the unpredictability of the future? Have you considered a livestream event or anything similar?
Ross: "We’re trying to work something out but physically we don’t know if something like that would even be possible right now."
Mark: "This year everything we’ve tried to do so far, cause we’ve had loads of stuff booked behind the scenes, but even the things that we’ve tried to do given the circumstances have had to fall by the wayside cause the rules on what we can and can’t do as a band are changing every five seconds. We don’t want to be breaking the rules, we have to be sensible about this. And of course Brexit has come along to fuck our European part of the tour too, so uh, thanks for that, as you may have guessed I’m not particularly a fan. So yeah, it’s a hard time to be in a band right now but at the same time that’s why we wanted to get the music out, because like ourselves there are people out there just sitting at home who need something, y’know? There will be things coming up but at the moment it’s just too difficult to say for sure."
Ross: "As soon as we can actually get together we’ll do it, if it’s a livestream thing then that’s the route we go down, or by then who knows it might be time to play live, we’ve got this tour in April, fingers crossed for if that happens but if it doesn’t, that will happen at some point, we are itching to get back at it, so we shall see!"
Mark: "I’ve always said that’ll be on my grave stone, 'We Will See.'"