Liam Matthews is guitarist with Leeds-based touring band, Eagulls. Just back from a stint in the US, he's jetlagged after a 17-hour delayed flight, yet somehow remains in good spirits; the band are in France, and en route to a major support slot with Offspring, which has come as a bit of a surprise... But surprises are nothing new to this band – landing a slot on Letterman was another, Matthews admits. Album two is complete, and it's been a musical evolution, yet the band remain humble. They're happy to swig a couple of jars with their fans after every show, too – and why not, indeed?
Eagulls' recent North American tour was a pretty eclectic one: just a few weeks in total, but they managed to pack in a lot, descending on musical hubs such as New York City, California, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto; and dropping in on Salt Lake City and Minneapolis for good measure. And it all went rather well, a very tired Liam Matthews tells us:
“The flight home got cancelled, so we've been upside down for three days; just about getting back to normal now,” Matthews smiles. At the time of writing, Eagulls are in France, preparing for a few more shows, and on their way to gig with Offspring. We speak a little about the latest album, and the band's love of vinyl – and we can't argue with that.
“We always like to have something tangible that you can hold, and that's how we like to listen to and release music: on vinyl,” Matthews explains. “It's a quality you miss if you download on your phone or computer. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just makes it easy to dismiss vinyl as a medium. If you buy an actual record, you may not like it the first time you hear it, but it's physical, therefore you'll likely pick it up one day and give it another chance. When you listen to 30 seconds of an album on Spotify, you can't always get into what a record is about; you feel more of a connection to the music with artwork, lyrics, and whatever the artist wants to present with the music.”
We both agree that it's a better world with vinyl in it. And as we've mentioned before in Headliner, sales last year were above 2 million in vinyl alone in 2015. Pretty epic, really.
“It is, and it highlights the quality of vinyl, doesn't it?” Matthews reflects. “But it gets lost in a way, too, because it's often about big bands reissuing greatest hits records, which makes it even harder for normal bands to cut a record, as the majors are cashing in. Don't get me wrong, it's still good, as there are more record players out there, but also it's a fuss at the same time.”
Didn't think of it that way, but it's a fair point Matthews makes. I notice that Eagulls' releases have been staggered over time – plenty of EPs, which I think is a cool thing in today's industry. People don't have time to listen to full albums, do they?
“Yeah, maybe... Though I have to say, we mever thought about it in that way! [laughs] For us, when you start a band, you're eager to get your music heard and play as many shows as possible, just gigging; and it wasn't until we said, 'let's do an album' that we thought, 'ok, we'll make an album',” Matthews explains. “So that's the reason we had EPs... However, you are right, as people's attention spans are shortening. It's hard for people to watch a live gig without pulling their phones out, and people watch TV with a phone in hands; it's all punctuated by checking your phone, isn't it?”
It is, indeed. Conversation turns to Eagulls' latest album, Ullages, in which Matthews has made a concerted effort to get a little more melodic and rhythmic with this guitar playing; in songs such as My Life In Rewind, written as a waltz, you can really hear what he's talking about: delicate, airy, melodic lines, which suit the mood of the track perfectly. Is it still post-punk then, whatever that might mean..?
“[smiles] It's not that the term is irrelevant, but it is a bit overused; I've heard George say before, 'how post can it get?' Yes, we have massive influences from that time – the '80s - and it's what we have grown up listening to, however there is a lot of other stuff too if you listen to the effort and sound scape, you see a lot more to it as well. And the melodies.”
Hear, hear. And we recommend a listen, readers. Has the band's musical evolution been due to a good working relationship (and friendship) on the road?
“Yes, of course. People ask what influences you, but it's not just that; it's your mood, experience, the town you live in; it all has an affect on your mind, and what you end up creating,” Matthews insists. “It's the same as art. A lot of the time, it's the landscape that's influenced the art, and that's true of music too, definitely.”
With this album, Eagulls wanted to push themselves further, whereas the first record was, Matthews admits, somewhat of a smash and grab:
“We just wanted to get the album out with the first one, but with this second one, we have generated a massive energy - a different sort of energy, too; with album one, we were contained in a small room, and our songs reflected that, but this mew record is more mature: the not just two guitars playing the same stuff. I was creating a sound scape to complement what the other instruments were doing, rather than playing along with them. Also, our first album came out nearly three years ago now, and those songs were actually recorded a year before it came out, so it's really been four years since we even wrote them. Bear in mind that's four years of your life you've had to learn and grow as a person, so it was never going to sound the same [as the first record], as it was a different time and place for us all.”
Leeds has a great community, with lots of bands and gig goers, so it's hard not to make lots of musical friends, Matthews explains. And that's how Eagulls came to meet the guys at Audio-Technica, whose kit they now rely on for all their shows:
“We got talking to Ed [Forth, artist relations at Audio-Technica] at a show; at the time we were writing and recording, we tracked as we went along,” Matthews says. “I am not really an engineer, but I did music tech at uni, just to get out of Grimsby! Ed has helped us out with some great [Audio-Technica] mics: the AT4033, ATM650, and ATM250, plus a great in-ear monitoring system, which has been very beneficial to us.”
The system Matthews refers to is the A-T M3 with ATH-E40 monitor headphones. He says using this gives the band that bit of confidence to know it's sounding as it should.
“It's a pretty new thing for us; only our drummer, Henry, has the click in his mix, so we don't lose the liveness and fluency of the songs, and it doesn't sound rigid,” Matthews reveals. “But we all use the headphones, and it also massively helps at front of house, too. Our sound guy, Archie, now has less noise on stage to worry about! The guitars used to be loud, and competing with wedges, so it got very loud and actually pretty naudible on stage. But now we've been able to bring the level down much lower, and have way more control out front, so we're really happy with the system.”
In terms of indivual mixes, they're all quite self centred, Matthews laughs:
“When you can have that confidence where someone knows it's good out front, and you know you can hear yourself, that's the main thing. I have a lot of guitar, and if it's just me and the drums, I can play all day! I think we're all a bit like that..!”
A final word on the differences the boys have noticed when working in the US, and then we'll let Matthews go and grab some shut-eye:
“The shows in the US went great, but each state is bigger than the UK, so it's a lot of work,” he concludes. “We have been lucky, having been put in places like Letterman, where perhaps we shouldn't have been! But it helps massively, as the more you play, the more you get help from radio and TV; it's a bit of a slog, but it's always worth it when you speak to people after the show, and they tell you how much they enoyed it. And you can have a beer with them, too, which we like to do!”