London four-piece Legss’ second EP picks up where their debut left off, firing jagged riffs and scathing lyricism through a stark conceptual lens. Doomswayers is a soundtrack to 21st century anxiety and uncertainty – for every brawl of sound the band burst into, there’s a passage of understated, brooding instrumental. With so much great guitar-based music going around at the moment, crowding all of it under the umbrella of ‘post-punk’ doesn’t do a whole lot for it. Some of the best new music sees genre as a buffet; tucking into whatever it fancies, mashing and blending ingredients to produce something new, personal and exciting. Legss seem to know the boundaries of the genres they employ very well, as they breach, combine and rearrange them into a melee of influence and ideas.
When you incorporate this melting pot of sounds with themes of post-modern city living and attempts to navigate an increasingly volatile world, you have a pretty potent depiction of the 21st century. London-centric urban nausea binds the EP together and courses through all its soundscapes and poetry. From beginning to end, Legss are constructing a dystopian vision of modern life, but the grounded realism in the words spun by frontman Ned Green hints at Doomswayers’ foreboding set of circumstances as not being far from the truth.
Whilst blitzing through characters and scenarios in this landscape, songs duck and dive between streamlined ‘rock’ passages and more darkened, perilous soundscapes. This second EP sees the band interweaving the abstract with the traditional and lacing it all with ambiguity. With this contrast, Legss have carved out a niche for themselves that’s striking and sets them apart from the sounds of other similarly inclined bands.
I sat down with them on a quiet Thursday evening via Zoom, in the midst of the second national lockdown. A shared soft spot for a modest book shop in Liverpool started us off. A place that upon reflection, would be a haven amidst the unease of the world presented on Doomswayers – something similar to the antique shop in George Orwell’s 1984. We discuss the good to come out of the pandemic, drunken speeches at a family get-together, and how haircuts feature in the Legss philosophy…
Was the creation and recording of Doomswayers completed mostly before lockdown, or did it become an ongoing project throughout?
Max Oliver: It was definitely an ongoing thing, some of the new EP was done through home recording which was a totally new way of working for us, so I guess the whole process was quite fragmented throughout the year, as and when we could.
Would you say that having the EP to work on during lockdown was a valuable thing to have and to focus your attention on?
Jake Martin: Absolutely.
MO: It was nice to have a focus to keep you sane whilst everything’s going a bit mental. Having something to put all your energies into at a time when you can’t live your life as you usually would was very helpful.
Ned Green: I think it helped us conceptually, as you have all that time to sit and boil in ideas. It was quite a healthy breeding ground for what Doomswayers became; an ambitious EP which was quite heavy conceptually in its songwriting, recording and artwork. So I think the pandemic, especially the first lockdown, really benefitted the EP as it gave us all time to think.
We’d planned the EP through the first lockdown and had a few things recorded in bedrooms, to then get the rest recorded as soon as we were out of lockdown. So we didn’t get to see each other unfortunately, but we were all secretly productive – Jake made a one-pint bar stool…
At this point Jake presents his one-pint bar stool crafted during lockdown and is rightly showered with compliments.
NG: … so I thought if Jake can come up with something that good whilst living at home, then maybe we can get a cracking EP together. And the cover was very much a creation of Jake’s handiwork.
The cover art for Doomswayers seems to be a reflection of the music, what was your inspiration going into creating it?
JM: Comparing it to our first one, I think we were keen on the idea of something appearing quite normal at first, but also having this kind of uncanny undertone. With Writhing Comedy, the work was a digital manipulation that gave it its warped affect, so I think we wanted to achieve something that was done more physically and photographically this time. That involved making physical props that would sit within the frame and shooting it in a way that would take as little digital manipulation as possible. It’s also the kind of thing where once revisited you can notice or uncover more about it, which I also think is true of our song-writing.
The video for ‘On Killing a Swan Blues’ is a stark representation of the lyrical themes in Doomswayers, how did you find putting such a video together?
JM: It was a pretty exciting couple of days, and it was a pleasure collaborating with Will Reid.
NG: It just made sense with everything we were doing – we could have all been implicated as characters within what was eventually shot. As we were planning it, it felt like a self-referential process with the filming, editing and even the writing of the tune. And it was cracking working with Will, and Joe Taylor from DENIAL alongside the cast and the rest of the team. It was during that period between the two lockdowns where everything came into fruition and we got it done super quick.
You mentioned the process as being very self-referential and the video being a reflection of your music. Would you go as far to say the video was a ‘mission statement’ for you as a band or your music?
NG: I think it’s so difficult to have a ‘deciding’ visual direction within the group. The original plan was to have five videos, one for each song, but stuff got in the way. It was one artistic avenue for one song.
JM: There’s so much more to experiment with through the medium of video, and technologies that are going to come out. So were keeping our options open.
NG: That’s why I like it, its hyper-stylized – the grading in particular. I can’t envisage us doing another video anywhere similar to that because it would be instantly banal.
Themes of London-induced anxiety carry over from Writhing Comedy onto Doomswayers, has the pandemic altered your perception of and relationship with London at all, and therefore the way the city might feature in your music?
MO: I wouldn’t say the perception of where we live has changed massively. If anything, I think certain things that have come out of the pandemic have actually revealed a more positive nature from people. London’s known to be quite an isolating place where everyone has tunnel-vision and is doing their own thing, whereas I think the pandemic has highlighted that people can be more willing to support causes – you just have to look at the amount of fundraising that’s going on, especially in the music industry. There’s definitely been a real caring attitude that’s been uncovered by this as the general population are being called upon to support these causes. So that’s an uplifting thing to recognise.
NG: I don’t think you can single out London as being different from any other city in how the residents’ perception of it would have changed. Everyone’s perception of where they live has changed somewhat. On the surface level, London’s exactly the same – I don’t think it’s undergone any physical change. It’s more what Max was talking about. I think people and especially people within the industries that we’re interested in have maybe started appreciating the different ‘produces’ of their industries – the live stuff and the physical stuff. people are appreciating it a bit more and paying for a bit more. But there’s only so much you can dig out of your part-time earning pocket to keep the next band afloat before they go under. So it’s great and grand that everyone’s being pleasant towards each other but at the end of the day the government need to support grassroots venues and pump a lot of money into it.
NG: You’re also then in danger of people supporting each other for supporting’s sake, and there being a lack of engagement with the product. You know? Like when you’ve subscribed to three different magazines and you end up not reading them because you’ve got too many.
You shouldn’t have to internalise the problems that aren’t your problems and should be getting sorted out by the people who have a lot more control of what’s going on. It shouldn’t be our mission to save grassroots venues. It’s got nothing to do with us, we’re the people fucking performing, the government needs to take the responsibility.
What was the thinking behind the name Doomswayers? Does the term reference yourselves as a band, or perhaps some of the characters referenced in the EP – or something entirely different?
NG: It’s just a word I made up. I wrote a short story earlier in the year and that word featured. Obviously ‘doomsayer’ is the traditional phrase, and for someone to be a ‘doomswayer’ seems to evoke an image of someone who’s pissed on a bar stool, ringing the town crier bells saying the world’s crumbling, but not having quite the same conviction as an actual ‘doomsayer’. It just stuck with me and seemed to fit in with everything we were doing and stood out well. But essentially, it’s just a made-up word.
MO: Ned’s lyrical content within the EP reflects the emotions we feel in everyday life and are therefore trying to evoke within our music, especially this year. So it kind of captures that image of not quite knowing, and feeling that the end is nigh. Or an apocalyptic situation happening around you, but at the same time there’s a total lack of certainty.
NG: It’s like being at a family get-together, with relatives you maybe haven’t seen in a few years, everyone’s pissed and you’re having a great time. You’re energised and you think ‘I’m going to stand on the table and make a speech’, and the speech goes okay, but just towards the end you fall off.
So this image of a guy sitting on a bar stool, swaying and declaring the apocalypse, is kind of a feature of the world you talk about and create within the EP?
NG: It’s more that sense of uncertainty and ambiguity which I think the cover reflects, the title reflects, and the music structurally reflects. It’s ‘am I taking this seriously or not?’, ‘am I meant to laugh at this or not?’ – I think that’s what underpins Legss.
Some moments in the EP have a bit of a soundtrack feel to them, almost as if they’ve been sampled and spliced from one. Has sound design become a big feature of your creative process?
MO: It definitely has now. When we started as a band it was something we definitely didn’t touch upon, but that’s what Louis’ [Grace, drums] background is in and therefore its quite a natural jump as it’s essentially another one of his instruments. For what we’re trying to achieve and with Ned’s lyrics it works perfectly, and I guess it’s one of the two sides of the band. Like Ned was saying, you’ve got these structured rocks songs and then these more slightly more uncanny elements – it’s a core part of the sound I think.
I’ve read you like to incorporate monologues into each project you work on, what inspired the writing of the events and the sounds in ‘Letter to Huw’?
MG: Credit for the production for that has to go to Escha, as it was produced by them with coordination from the band. So that was a collaborative feature in terms of sound design. Lyrically, it came from going to Paris with the band for a Celine show and Huw Stephens putting us on his ‘Huw Stephens Presents’ show as headliners and not turning up. Those two events willed within me this story – I have no idea where it came from. It’s the same with ‘Graduate Scheme’ where a listener should think ‘is that real or is it not?’ Whether it’s true or not does not matter, it’s whether that feeling is evoked in you. You know, I could say it was true now or it was false – it doesn’t really matter. It’s more that the tension has been created through the writing. If that has been felt by people, and there’s an intrigue which stimulates a part of them that they don’t usually acknowledge when listening to other music, then that’s what I was hoping for.
I wondered if you were planning on playing it live, as it’s something I imagine would be a lot of fun to put together for a live setting.
MO: There’d be a lot of homework involved before we whip that one out. But it could be on the cards.
JM: Yeah who knows, it would definitely be a fun challenge.
MO: Looking at the history of our live sets, there’s sections where there will be extended monologues, alongside some sound collage pieces so it wouldn’t be unheard of for us to do it.
JM: It was originally read for that Huw Stephens night and has survived to be recorded, so it might see the crowds once more.
How collaboratively written are these tracks? There as so many different sounds in the tracks, it seems as if one idea comes in, before quickly transitioning into the next.
MO: Yeah definitely, it takes everyone’s influence and input. I think Doomswayers is the most ambitious thing we’ve attempted.
NG: I’d also say it’s our most cohesive thing. To me it doesn’t sound like four people chucking ideas into a big pot. The whole of the second EP was very collaboratively written and recorded, and I think it sounds all the more single-minded for that.
MO: Cohesive is the word. Some people describe some of the stuff we’ve released before as having these two sides – the more traditional stuff and these more, extrapolated, untraditional structures. I think Doomswayers was where we bring the two sides of the band together, to see if we could do it all in one piece of music. I think I can say for everyone we’re pretty chuffed with how it turned out.
As it’s something to look forward to, what have you got in the pipeline for 2021?
MO: We want to get something out as quickly as possible I guess is the short answer. As soon as we release something were thinking about what’s next. As soon as something’s out there, it feels to us like its done and it’s time to move on.
NG: Max, are you going to shave your head again?
MO: Maybe not the whole thing, I just looked like a hairy quail egg. I’ve been positing a mohawk or reverse mohawk for a while so maybe I’ll whack that one out.
NG: It’d be good if we maybe had some sort of an equilibrium, where mine and Jake’s hair always stays the same, but yours and Louis’ hair always changes.
MO: This is true. It’s the healthy, organic balance that you find in every element of Legss – it extends to hairstyle. So yeah, I guess 2021 is all about the new haircut.
NG: And about releasing new music.
Words: Dan Webster Photography: Max Dillon
Legss’ latest EP ‘Doomswayers’ is out now. Purchase or stream it here via Bandcamp.