Just as the bell ushers in a 25-minute break time of untamed chaos, the playground is populated by dirt eaters, dinner ladies, Ronaldo hopefuls, hopeless romantics and kids who just haven’t figured things out. In the schoolyard of a gig, the dirt eaters are supplanted by students and the dinner ladies are dads who worship at the altar of 6 Music; the hopeful and the hopeless have usually grown only in age. If you look for those other kids, you’ll probably find the adequately named Lunch Money, still trying to figure things out.
Yet to release any music until now, Lunch Money have been brewing through years of being in other bands and earning their reputation from live shows since October. They marry their distilled songwriting craftsmanship with a playfully adolescent ethos; explosive guitar and indignantly unrestrained vocals are barely but artfully sellotaped down by a pinpoint unity of drums and bass. Sporting only a miniKORG in addition to this, Lunch Money stick to the pencil, ruler and compass combination of making a whole lot of noise and having a whole load of fun.
It felt fitting then, that we returned to the bare quintessentials of fun – bowling, pints and chatter, that is – and spoke to them about the ghosts of Lunch Money past, present and future.
Describe lunch money in one sentence. You get two words each to form a sentence.
Macca: Two words each to form a sentence… uhh…
We see you haven’t quite developed telekinesis yet. Interesting.
Macca: Tears… rants… that’s my department! Moaning! Describe your own department, right?
Joe Groves: I’m sloppy mess.
Ash: Held together…
Macca: [gesturing towards Matt] By me! I speak for Matt now, I’m the singer!
Matt: I can’t think of anything better.
Macca: Tears, rants, sloppy mess, held together by Matt! And that is true because he is the glue.
You’ve been playing gigs since October, but you’ve all been playing music for quite a while now. can you tell us a bit more about your stories in music, individually and perhaps more generally too?
Macca: I was in a band called Towns. It was shoegaze… everyone thought we were lads. But then I played guitar in Jesuits for a bit, then I went travelling to go fucking find myself. And then they got really good – I left and then they got really good.
Matt: We’re just waiting for you to leave again.
Groves: I started out in a band called Holy Stain and I met Macca because we used to play together back in the early Howling Owl records days. Then I did a solo project called The Ornsteins, and I got sick of playing on my own.
Ash: The only other band I’ve ever been in apart from a little solo acoustic thing started off in a little acoustic trio with my housemate and his brother. It transitioned into another band that I’m still apart of in Bristol: Radiators. Then enter Joe Groves, he presented a little jam opportunity and ended up starting Lunch Money.
Matt: I’ve been in and out of bands in Bristol for over ten years. I was in a band called Empty Pools for a good few years, then another band called Alimony Hustle, and then a band called Pup Tent that’s still going.
What made you decide to come together now then and form a band?
Ash: I’ve always had an open mind about the possibility of starting a new thing. Being in one band is great, but I’m always hungry for that little bit extra, another outlet for your creative energy.
Groves: Me and Macca haven’t been in bands for a while and always wanted to play music together ever since we started gigging together.
Macca: We both had quite similar aesthetics in previous projects – fuzzy guitars and a pop sensibility. We knew it would work out. I was playing drums with just Groves and Ash, but I wanted to be singing and knew Matt from this other project that we’ve done, and I just knew that he would be good. It’s also to do with the personalities, because nobody in this band is hard to be around and it’s very easy. I think it’s because we’re all a little bit older. When I was in bands when I was younger my entire identity was based on “I’m in this band” and I think it was actually detrimental. That was detrimental to making music because it meant that when you couldn’t be creative, you’d just be really hard on yourself, whereas with this I feel like it’s just really relaxed. We just really enjoy each other’s company and it feels quite easy. It feels easier than it did when I was younger.
Matt: You don’t want to be dealing with someone who’s a dick. I’d been in bands where I only knew one other member and the rest of the band were strangers, and you get to know them through the band and that can be cool, but you get to a certain point where you realise that you actually want to be around people that you enjoy being around, because you spend a lot of time in a room with the guys you’re in a band with, and if you don’t enjoy being in a room with them then it’s a pain in the ass. It’s fine when you’re in your early twenties, and you’ve got lots of energy and you think you might make a career out of it and it seems like it’s worthwhile. But you get to a certain point towards the end of your twenties where you realise that’s unlikely. Ultimately, you’ve got to enjoy it. Life is too short and too miserable as it is to give yourself extra misery from hanging around with awful people.
Groves: Pretty much ninety percent of my friendship group are people that I’ve met through music, because we’ve all been playing music in this city for so long – and whilst there’s a lot of varied styles in Bristol, it’s quite a tight knit scene. There’s a lot of cross pollination between the different sort of areas of the Bristol scene and everyone gets on really well with each other and everyone’s really supportive. So I’m proud to be part of this Bristol thing, I suppose.
Macca: It’s weird. Weird that that’s even used as a term now because I feel like nine years ago, whatever it was, there wasn’t a ‘Bristol thing’. Bristol wasn’t taken seriously. Now it’s become more of a desirable place to be, there’s a whole ‘Bristol thing’. Before, Bristol hid under the radar, I think. It’s not like that anymore. I feel like to be different is embraced in Bristol. Arguably, we’re not that Bristol in that respect. Our music has more of a pop sensibility which arguably isn’t the most ‘Bristol’ thing.
Matt: It’s a real value of creativity in Bristol for its own sake. And that’s really inspiring as well, when you see your friends just expressing themselves and creating stuff and you just go to show after show seeing people you know just doing this incredible stuff. It makes you want to do this stuff as well. You might see someone at a hardcore punk show that you then see at a noise gig. And then you might see someone at the noise gig who’s at an indie show, and then you might see someone there who’s at a Feminist, DIY, queer night. In fact, there’s loads of people and it’s quite spread but there’s all these kinds of relationships.
Groves: If I haven’t done anything creative in a while, I’ll go to a show and see one of my mates absolutely fucking kill it. I’ll go home and be like, ‘right, I’ve got to get on it now.’ It fills you up with creative juice.
The name Lunch Money summons memories of school days; kicking about cafeterias and ambling down hallways. How do these kinds of memories resurface in your music, both sonically and lyrically?
Macca: I wouldn’t say there are direct references to being a kid in the lyrics. But some of it comes from that place of anxiousness that you feel as a kid. Some of the lyrics are to do with my hang-ups and insecurities, or me looking at the world and feeling a certain way, and I think that comes from holding those things that you have as a kid. Like I was always the smallest kid in class, and that’s always how it was. I think that has informed me as a person, growing up. And that, in some way, informs how I write lyrics. Being a bit of an underdog, perhaps. So maybe that’s why we’re called Lunch Money. It is relevant because that phrase conjures up things like people taking your fucking lunch money. I feel like I would’ve been the kind of kid who would’ve got his lunch money fucking nicked off him.
At your shows, there’s often a feeling of reaction against something – perhaps authority, ‘the man’ or something else cultural going on in life or the world. There’s a catharsis. Is this intentional? What do you think sparks that kind of feeling amongst your audience?
Groves: We’ve got a policy of not going into anything with any sort of intent, at least when we’re writing. We just hang out in the practice room; we write everything collaboratively. All our songs we just jam out in the practice room, record it on the phone, and then if something good comes out, we’ll listen back to it and go, ‘oh yeah, that’s actually good. Let’s build something out of that.’ So, none of it comes from a place of wanting to do something – it all just happens organically. We just play shit, and if it’s good we turn that into a tune.
Do you think that’s different from the way other bands do things?
Groves: It’s definitely different from the way I’ve worked in other projects.
Macca: Yeah no one’s coming in like “here’s the song guys”. It’s jams in the room, capturing the bits that feel like there’s something happening. And I can’t make sense of what that is really. If there’s something that’s come out vocally, it’s just come up. Normally we’ll go home and listen to it back, and sometimes those words will be there in the room on the take, but generally I’m not writing loads of words at home and then bringing them in like ‘guys, I’ve written this poem, and we’re gonna plug in that.’ That’s not what happens. It’s just the visceral sound of what’s coming out of my mouth. Then, if there’s certain things that sound a certain way, I’ll find the word or sound. Does that make sense? It could be a yelp or something. It might not even be a word yet. But what do I think that yelp was? Sometimes it’s me interpreting what I thought I said.
Matt: It’s really easy to mythologise it as this supernatural connection between four people, and that’s kind of true. Then on the other hand, it’s just really dumb. It’s literally just four people fucking around. With all of the songs, whenever the thing that’s become the song is first half-done, we all look at each other like ‘yeah.’
Obviously, today we are sharing the first recorded music from Lunch Money. What do you come to expect from your recorded output??
Groves: We just want it to be as stripped down as possible. I don’t think we’re going to use any overdubs. It’s just going to be what we’re capable of playing ourselves. I’m just gonna make it raw, I suppose. Just make it sound like it’s us playing. We don’t want it to be overproduced.
Macca: We don’t want to go in there and put a billion guitar parts on it that aren’t achievable. I know it’s going to be quite straight up, though I don’t want it to sound lo-fi. I want the drums to sound fat, but just not overproduced – just like a good live take.
Matt: Just capturing that moment when you realised that what we’ve made is what we want to achieve. We’re trying to capture that as best as possible, but without over engineering it. In some ways, like those classic rock records.
How do you expect it to relate to the live show? Would you consider exploring different sounds to the big soundscape energy of the gig environment?
Groves: I think that’s kind of what we want. We’re quite happy with how we sound live, and we would like to try and replicate this as well as possible on record. Basically, we want it to be quite true to the live experience.
Ash: Sometimes it’s quite refreshing to hear a band live that’s almost entirely different to how they sound on record, because when you’ve listened to that record so many times, it’s nice to see something different. But in our shoes, it doesn’t really matter so much, because if anything it just shows that we can do what we recorded in a live capacity, which I think is always really respectful. If you listen to a band’s record, go see them live and they can’t pull it off, that’s more embarrassing.
Macca: That’s a thing I’m definitely hyper aware of in this band. We’ve played quite a few shows – not loads – but we’ve played enough now before we’ve recorded anything, and I’m really glad that we’ve done that because the tunes feel different now. We’ve lived in them a little bit and I feel like I can actually express myself within the songs. When we play live now, it feels like I’m actually expressing something. The music industry now is like ‘it has to be recorded well first and then you do the gigs afterwards.’ I didn’t want this band to be like that. I just wanted us to be a good live band. I can express myself more within the vocal now because everyone’s nailing their shit.
Matt: When you trust the musicians that you play with, your creativity develops as you play more, and I feel like we would be really frustrated if we had recorded six months ago, and then done six months of shows, because at this point we’d then be a lot better and now we feel like the songs are pretty much exactly where we want them. There is a connection in our sound to a lot of the other creative output in the city, and it’d be nice if that comes out on record. Maybe no one else could hear it but I’ve had those little influences so I think that whole meld will be exciting to hear.
Your music resides in a harmony between fun adolescence and crafted maturity. What made you want to access this space – however you see it – and how do you negotiate these two seemingly contradictory feelings?
Matt: I think for a lot of people, you have a connection with who you were as an adolescent. You carry that sense of self, no matter how much you might change – especially if that experience was difficult, or you were awkward or on the edge of a social group, or any of those things that pick you out to get grief as a teenager. There’s part of that experience you carry with you, unintentionally maybe, that’s translated into the music.
Macca: I just think that I’m actually a complete fucking idiot, and so I can only ever come across as a kid, right? I do feel like a kid still. I definitely don’t feel like I’ve grown up, and I don’t think anyone does. I feel like I’m a massive kid, hiding and lying to everyone, and having to blend into being a grown up. I feel like I’m a massive kid that has to fake my way through life.
Groves: I don’t feel any different to when I did when I was 17. I feel like I haven’t matured one iota. I think I need to start asking my friends who have kids ‘do you feel like you’ve grown up?’ and just hope they say no.
Are you taking lunch money from other people, or is it being taken from you?
Groves: I don’t want to speak for everyone else, but my lunch money is definitely being taken from me.
Macca: My lunch money is being taken from me without a shadow of a doubt.
Matt: I’m in a middle ground where it’s unlikely that someone’s gonna take my lunch money, but I still feel like the kid who’s hiding his lunch money.
Ash: I don’t think there’s any situation where someone isn’t taking your lunch money at the top of the chain. There’s always a bigger fish, taking your lunch money.
Words: Cian Kinsella Photography: Ross Jones
Today, Wax Music is excited to share Lunch Money’s first single – ‘Scrapheap Blues’. Listen below.