Camden’s rock n’roll Tribes

Art & Lit Music

Olivia Arigho Stiles talks social revolution, gigging in Dubai and living in Camden with indie rockers Tribes

Johnny Lloyd, the Tribes leather jacket clad, trilby sporting frontman sounds utterly hungover; wholly unsurprising for an indie rock band who have ruthlessly honed a rock and roll image.

After gaining prominence following a slot on the NME Radar tour, (was there ever a band more suited to the dubious honour of being ‘NME darlings’?), their brand of brilliantly executed nostalgic rock and perceptive lyricism has ensured Tribes have seen their fan base swell in the past three years.

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The band’s second album Wish to Scream will be released on 20th May, and in spite of its bleak, Munch-esque title, Lloyd reveals “this one came from a much better place [than their previous album Baby, in 2011], it’s got a bit more soul to it, its a better travelled album. We’re just really proud of the album we’ve made. There’s a lot more musicianship on this and the songs are more mature generally. [With Baby]  it was a very dark place when we were making that record. Our best mate had fucking topped himself. It was a desolate place, so there’s a slightly more negative feel. [Wish to Scream] is slightly different, it has taken on more of a ‘70s vibe, there’s more diversity, more of an Americana feel. We did a lot of travelling last year so its taken on a load of influences. But still very British, still got a rock and roll quality. It’s about looking forward to the future.”

Tribes patently contradict the oft-quoted lament that guitar music is dead. In fact, that cliché should just die in a hole very soon. And predictably, “rock and roll” is a phrase which peppers Lloyd’s vocabulary throughout. In previous interviews, the band have become somewhat prickly when the genre ‘grunge’ has been applied to them. “I’ve always said we were a rock n’ roll band. I don’t like the word indie because I’ve never listened to indie music,” he reiterates.

Having experienced the beneficence of the music press first hand, Tribes are, in general, warmly disposed towards it. “It’s important because it makes you reach a wider audience. You can’t rely upon it but it does help you reach a wider audience . We’re always grateful for any music press we get,  it does help, its makes a huge difference. [NME] might not be selling so many magazines but they’ve got half a million Twitter followers. Within the industry, a lot of the people are still looking to the mainstream media for guidance.”

Commercial success is important but apparently the band is “more worried about being content, and happy in the music we’re making.”

Tribes have invited comparisons with iconic guitar bands such as the Clash and Pixies. Exploding into popularity in the late ‘70s, the Clash are renowned for their politically charged lyrics and the revolutionary anger underpinning their music. Tribes formed in 2010, the year that saw one of the largest student protests in recent years, with vivid scenes of smashed windows at Tory HQ, Millbank. When I ask Lloyd whether they feel their music in any way expresses the political anger of today’s young people I am taken aback by the vehemence of his reply.

“Our generation has missed out on a lot due to debt. Everything to the fact that house prices are going up, my friends over 30 have been priced out. Everything in London changes every two weeks”. In rhetoric evoking Marxian class struggle and an awareness of the precariousness of life for most young people, Lloyd declares: “it’s us against them. It’s a constant uphill battle to try and find a place in life; how the other half live says it all.”

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So are political songs making a comeback? “I think they are. I think they’re continually suppressed. People were scared to use political analogies in music, it just wasn’t the done thing. It is a strange one, because people are so fucking scared that their single isn’t not going to go on the radio and that if they upset anyone, it’s not going to get played. People are so scared about their careers that they daren’t say anything which is going to put them in the minority bracket.”

Since forming three years ago, Tribes have courted high profile support – “the Pixies got us our first big show, but we’ve also had loads of support from the Mystery Jets, they’ve been amazing”. But what do they feel they are doing distinctively within the constraints of the guitar music genre? “We’ve always based our music on the fact that we’re different. We want to make albums that can last longer than the summer, that’s something we pride ourselves on in our songwriting.The band have often spoken about how much they have been inspired by their Camden base. When Amy Winehouse died in 2011 there was much  written about the distinct ethos and dynamic underpinning the Camden music scene. Stretching from its roots as a centre of industrialisation and Irish immigration in the nineteenth century, Camden has long   offered a thriving, alternative music culture and lively night  scene.

I ask noncommittally where the strangest place they’ve ever played is. With no hesitation Johnny shoots back “Dubai. It was a no women, no alcohol allowed gig. Totally fucking weird.”

Having supported the Rolling Stones  in Hyde Park and with an upcoming gig supporting Kasabian as well as slots at Reading and Leeds festivals, Lloyd remains sanguine about the future for Tribes. “The main thing is just to concentrate on what you’re doing now”

With their headline tour likely to garner a wider fan base, if all else fails, NME will probably still be die hard devotees…

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