Like A Starting Pistol

Like A Starting Pistol

Toby L on working the transatlantic '00s indie boom, Steve Albini’s career advice, and 20 years of the iconic Transgressive Records.


The second of The Stopgap's in-depth discussions with luminaries of contemporary music, this conversation is with Toby L, co-founder of label Transgressive Records and old friend of the editor. He began blogging as a teen under the site name Rockfeedback, which grew into a multimedia operation that, having merged with One Inch Badge, is now called FORM

Along with Future Classic, Transgressive will soon release SOPHIE's posthumous album, SOPHIE. blur: To The End, the film Toby directed about the band, is produced by Up The Game, his creative agency and production company, with an international release being announced shortly.

Altitude will release blur: To The End in UK & Irish cinemas from 19 July. Buy tickets at

blur: Live At Wembley Stadium will be released in UK & Irish cinemas on 6 September.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Jo Livingstone:       Hi Toby! You started working really young.


Toby L:       Hi! Yes.


JL:   And it obviously connected to your passions, but how did that actually start?


TL:      For me it was a mixture of obsession with music from a young age and then also a growing sense of anxiety that I didn't really find my people. I had a bit of a void in my life from a young age. Some people have football and friends or other things, and I had this void. I just remember feeling lonely and insecure in my childhood and music was the only friend for a long time. I wanted to be supportive of it. I've made my own bad poetry, my own bad songs, I've formed my own bad bands over a period of time—which I love doing, regardless of the output. But how can I collate this work into something that will be bigger than the sum of its parts, which will maybe, just maybe, appeal to someone beyond myself?

So I started writing and that was it. I loved writing and music and I thought if I can amalgamate those two interests, I'll have an occupation whilst I'm at school. Because I didn't really enjoy school. I passed an exam that I wasn't sure I wanted to take. I didn't come from the most well-off background and then I ended up in a school with people that were way ahead of me, academically. So, I'd gone from the top of a small village school to the bottom of a pretty privileged grammar school nightmare and I was just not equipped for it. 

I felt as if I was underwater for four years, and without trying to sound like a sob story and getting the violin out, it was really harrowing and it was pretty tough. But luckily I had this duplicitous existence where after school hours I could listen to records and go to London, when I didn't live in London, and hang out with freaks. I felt so comfortable with fellow freaks! I was like, “ah, I can relax now.”


JL:   Were you running to get the last train home and stuff?


TL:      Every time. Repeatedly, throughout the school week, unless my Dad drove me to shows, which was really amazing of him. The thing that was great though is my parents were supportive of me finding my people. I think they knew that I didn't quite fit into the school system that I was in, while also, perversely and maybe hypocritically, wanting me to succeed there. And then they would be like, Oh cool, you've gone to school today. I'll drive you to the station. I'd get on the Chiltern Railway from High Wycombe and end up in Marylebone within 45 minutes.

I can't tell you how much of sigh of relief it was to get off at Marylebone, to get to the tube, and feel like I was where I should be. And that happened repeatedly throughout the ages of 14 to 17. And I’d often be by myself, finding shows and after-shows and going drinking.


JL:       You know, it's funny, a lot of people find music very low-pressure socially. Obviously that propels people in different ways. But for me it was writing that I very quickly found addictive, in the sense of being able to speak to people.


TL:  Totally. Even if only one person reads it. It's like—maybe you don't feel heard in real life, so you have to go into an imaginary state. V1 internet doesn't get enough fucking love.


JL:   Truly.


TL:  It really doesn't—GeoCities and all of those things that have been aped for Web3 and blockchain.


JL:   Would you describe what you were doing as “blogging”?


TL:      Oh yeah, but it wasn't even called blogging then. I was 14 and it was 1999 and I had a music website that I started, but before I had a music website I would just write to a mailing list, to other fans of music.

So we'd all be on a mailing list with everyone's email addresses, and you'd send each other ideas or recommendations or reviews of the gig you just went to. But it was only when I realized that I had collated quite a lot of material, and then started interviewing bands and people from the music world, I was like: hang on a minute, I should compile this and put it on a website. That was in 2000.


JL:   I did an interview recently with Tom Krell of How to Dress Well, and I’ve been getting emails from musicians, who I guess are aware that music media, especially magazines, collapsed long enough ago that there's this active mystery of what can I find? Again, people looking for each other. Like, I got this email from someone in a band called Adult Jazz.


TL:  Adult Jazz, yeah, yeah, great band!


JL:   They emailed me about their album about wind turbines and what if they something for Stopgap discussing wind turbines with artists? I'm like, nothing could make me happier. It’s the best email I've gotten in years. Genuinely, because where would they have taken that? But one single musician with a lot of professional respect did an interview and it got passed around.


TL:  The reason it's beautiful is that everything's become commoditized. Like, there has to be a point, typically a commercial one, for something to exist. And the problem with that is that now we're in v3 of the internet, society is proving a bleak place to live. It’s completely data-driven, it's algorithm-driven, it’s like a snake eating its own tail. We’ve lost agency as a species because of this! We need to punch ourselves in the face and go, what the fuck are we doing? Let’s give ourselves some emotional autonomy again, you know? 


JL:   I've been trying to explain some of this stuff because a lot of young people don't seem to know that they can write online without it coming off as being a try-hard or trying to be popular. Because writing a blog is not asking someone to follow you, right? It's really different.


TL:      Yeah. And now the problem with social media is that it became the school playground again, but digitized. How and why did we allow ourselves to become so vulnerable in that way? And also to give it such credence and to give it so much money?


JL:   It's interesting that you’ve operated entities this whole time, basically like across the maturation of the internet. Can you explain how you got from writing to then working with musical artists?


TL: I guess it's all the same energy, but it's different applications. What could be the best record? What could be the best way to describe a great record? What's the best way to put on a party or an event or a club night that makes people feel like their week was better? What's the best way to film something that might make someone feel uplifted and maybe even inspired to make or follow music? It wasn't by design, it was just unbridled passion, spilled over. Like a sort of hyperactive puppy. And that is now manifesting itself as separate but interlinked vessels for artist support.


JL:   Can you give the readers a rundown of the names of the projects, as they came about?


TL:      So, in September 2000 I started rockfeedback dot com and that was when I was 15 at school. Then that morphed into a club night, which basically was round the corner [this conversation took place at the Compton Arms in Highbury, London—ed.] at Buffalo Bar.


JL:   I remember meeting your dad there! He was on the door.


TL:      Yes! And, you know, we were fucking lucky because that was just when London started responding to The Strokes. So, we had The Libertines, we had Bloc Party, and we had a whole slew of amazing bands over a six-year period play our nights. We were lucky to be there. I was underage when I started the club-nights, I was 17, and I remember this time someone brought me a birthday cake and it said “18” on it. The venue owner Stacey came out, and 50 people were all singing “Happy Birthday.” She's an exuberant Australian, a wonderful person—now runs The Lexington, the best venue in London—and she basically screamed, “You fucking arsehole, you said you were fucking 18, you fucking lied to me!” I was totally destroyed by her anger, but it was also kind of brilliant. So, it became a club night, and then Kele [Okereke] from Bloc Party introduced me to Tim, who became basically my business partner and dear friend in Transgressive, and we started a label three weeks after meeting each other.

The label went for a year or two before we started a publishing company, then a management company. And it's funny—it sounds quite sort of empirical and planned, but it was all incidental.


JL:   No, I get it—that thing of, I'm going to take what I need in order to make the next thing I want.


TL:      That's exactly what happened. But it felt like it had to happen. And then, I guess concurrently, because of the journalism and the writing side, with Rockfeedback, I had an opportunity via a mutual introduction to film my interviews with artists. 

I just enjoyed talking to bands backstage as a kid, that was it. And then that became a TV program on MTV and Channel 4 over here, and then that was where the filming side came from basically. 

JL:       Did you feel like, the more you were working with bands and stuff, a sense of mutually working on a region of culture that you feel responsible for?


TL:  That’s a really good question. I think, ironically, it starts from a place of fandom and passion and wanting to contribute, maybe without clarity, and then it evolves into something with purpose and meaning and that's the thing that's bizarre. Maybe you attribute more meaning as you get older because you're desperate to cling on to meaning? I don't know, but it feels like the longer it all goes on and the fact it's gone from beyond a teenage hobby into now a profession and now employing people, it makes you feel like—hang on a minute, there's a responsibility here that's greater than my own whimsy.


JL:   Foals is one band that you've had a really long relationship with. One of the longest? 


TL:      It is one of the longest running. I now realize how beautiful that relationship is. Because we were sort of a similar age when we started working together. And they went on to do really well, and we're still here. There’s this real twindom. I spoke to Yannis [Philippakis] the singer today, and we work together but we're also really close friends now. When I first met him I thought the band were amazing and I thought, “God, he's a bit fucking intense!”


JL:   [laughs]


TL:  That's because he was destined to become successful. It was just boiling over with him, obviously immense talent in his case. And then, bang; he was ready. Like a starting pistol.

When we started putting out singles on the label, some of them were turning up to my house in High Wycombe, with the cats sleeping on the vinyl, going to the post office to send the vinyl and just—oh my god, it's selling! It's going! And then you fast forward and you've got bands headlining Reading Festival, playing Coachella and top of the bill at fucking Glastonbury.

And you're like, hang on a minute, this has all happened.


JL:   When was that switch? When did that feel like it had popped, in that sense of, oh shit, I have to do some scary stuff now?


TL:      I think when we got distribution from Warner Brothers in the early days of Transgressive. We kept the company independent, 100%. But they started distributing our records, and we started getting into big boardrooms and marketing meetings. They started putting funding into the records.


JL:   What was that like for you?


TL:      I had Tim, and we both had each other. The beauty of hindsight is that we were both slightly broken teenagers. Probably been bullied a bit too much at school. But together we'd formed this obnoxious, probably really annoying, superpower confidence as a duo.

We used to go in there and just run riot. I look back at it and I cringe. But, equally, I think the reason that we were indulged was that it was probably mildly entertaining.


JL:   I see that in my own early career as well, yeah.


TL:  Do you look back when you were starting out and think, oh god?


JL:       Ugh, total humiliation. But it’s charming, hopefully? People love an unembarrassed enthusiast. It’s pure, isn't it? You were confident, and you were ready to do it.


TL:  But maybe the subtext there is that I was so not confident for a lot of the time. Then I go to London, I've got this alter ego, I've got this community I've built up of misfits and freaks and weirdos, we all love music, we're all a bit hedonistic, this is my escape route.

That's also obviously how I met Deborah [Toby’s wonderful wife and old friend of The Stopgap—ed.], and I wasn't in London at the time. So it's magical how, when you let go of not becoming part of the idiom that you've born into, and you accept who you are, you actually do find the people you're supposed to meet.


JL:       It's true. But then that era as well . . . we were schoolgirls going out underage, going to gigs. It was so much fun. Well, some of it was dodgy.


TL:  There was obviously bad behavior as well, although I’ve always been at the tame end of the spectrum. But it was very different. The question for me is, was that bad behavior as bad as the behavior that we're seeing now, when it’s all digitized? Exploratory hedonism at a formative age, was that all bad? Or was it actually better than being watched all the time on social media?


JL:       That's the thing I'm trying to explain. Because we were babies. What were we doing? Well, we were the ones putting ourselves out there and it was for an artistic reason, ultimately, as well as a social reason.


TL:  It’s also a naturally exploratory, transitional adolescence-into-adulthood moment. We do want to find a bit of mischief, and we want to find where the line is.


JL:   Yeah, exactly. And you have to leave the house to do it.


TL:      It's alluring and it's scary, it's seductive and it's inevitable. And, dare I say, if you don't do it and you suppress it, what happens? Maybe it's better that we all explore in a way, as long as it's safe, and we know consciously enough what we're doing. The alternative that seems to be happening is not necessarily that much better.

Kids have got some crazy shit going on now, in the way they interact with each other. And I can't believe there's this bizarre rise in toxic masculinity. I thought that was being stamped out. How is that happening again to teenagers? It's very fucking weird and unfortunate.


JL:   It's freaky, all the reactionary stuff, but I also get it. Take the weird renaissance in pro-anorexic content. There are fewer or different rules to rebel against, so the obvious thing is to rebel against contemporary orthodoxies, whatever they are.


TL:      That makes sense. But I hope that, whatever's driving you out the door, you're gonna meet people and your brain will shape up to it. 


JL:   Wait, so it's been 24 years since you made the website?


TL:      Uh, yeah, so I guess it would be 24 years, I haven't thought about that until you said it. It's quite scary, but, you know, time doesn't really mean anything: 24 years or two weeks can be the same thing. And my dad, who's 84 this year. He's fucking crazy. He's always been crazy, in a wonderful way, and I speak to him and I'm like—you're more rampant emotionally and mentally than ever.


JL:   Rampant is great. Like the rampant lion on a crest.


TL:  Our bodies may age, but nothing else really necessarily does.


JL:       Art does, kind of! Looking back, what are the albums that you remember as being particularly important that you’ve helped bring out into the world?


TL:      One of the cruel things about doing a label is that you're so focused on what you're doing next. But it’s nice to consider what felt good at the time versus what maybe has resonated since. Speaking of Foals, their first record (‘Antidotes’) was great because we sort of consciously pretended the band were New Rave and they were actually closer to a Math Rock band, whilst being something beyond that even. So we jumped on the wing of an airplane that took off - but we had our own parachutes and were like, “see you later!” And that was conscious. 

And then the album came out, and what's great about Antidotes, the first record, is that it's just a very uncompromising album.

The other record that I feel really close to, like so many people, is SOPHIE’s first album. She was an auteur and her work was ahead of its time, and her themes of self-expression and transcendence were simply mesmerising. And she was just an absolutely remarkable person to work with. I never knew what was going to happen. It was scary, and funny, and weird, and odd, and just always interesting, you know?


JL:       SOPHIE is someone that definitely reached a lot of people that, I don't know, needed to be in the presence of originality. It does something for people.


TL:  I think that at the core of her originality was just not caring about what other people thought. That confidence that she innately had was a very beautiful thing. I learned a lot from her that I try and sort of move over to other projects I collaborate on. But her fearlessness and her cheekiness and her fun and her daringness were just a wonderful thing to be a part of. I feel very grateful that we were able to be a footnote in her history. And art does outlive us all. 


JL:   It still shocks me sometimes, thinking about that last fact. So, obviously you've stuck with this work. Have there ever been moments where you've thought, “I don't want to do this anymore”?


TL:  I remember a quote from Steve Albini, who obviously passed away recently. I interviewed him a couple of times. And I'm trying to find the archive for it, because I want to put it out again, because they were really interesting conversations. 

I think the question was commencing along the lines of, “You get to record bands for a living and you've done some of the most iconic records of all time...” Probably some sort of teenage basic shit. And he said that he didn’t enjoy his job every day. And I was like, okay, this is interesting. He goes, “If you do the same thing for every day, even if you love it, you're allowed to resent it. Cause you do it every fucking day.” He explained that we as humans, we're creatures of habit, and that habit can sometimes overtake our emotional spontaneity and what we want to be and who we want to be.

If you're in the rhythm of a routine every day, you grow to resent that inability to express yourself in other ways. But, that's okay. And then he pauses and he goes, “It's okay to hate your job, even if you've got a great job.” And I was like, Wow. Fuck.

Of course, like all of us, especially as I approach the inevitable cliché of middle age, you think about all the other things you could do. Whether I’d be good at them or not is irrelevant. Occasionally, you're like, fuck it, it'd be fun to have six months traveling and not wake up at the same time everyday.


JL:       Yeah, but the thing is that most people companies fold. Most people go and get a real job.  If you don't want to do that, you have to claw your way through. 


TL:  Totally. I think that's the biggest thought around the 20 year anniversary. It’s 20 years for Transgressive in September. Most of that centers around, “Wow, I didn't think the teenage fantasy would become my adult existence.” And here I am. It's weird, isn't it? I'm about to turn 40 in December. And it's a privilege, but there's also a weird, dark part of you that's always there. Like, what the . . . what the fuck? What are you doing here? You should have got a proper job. But you have to look at it on a more balanced level. I have been creatively linked to things that I care so much about, repeatedly. And that is just insane.


JL:   Doing the thing is never like what you thought it was gonna be.


TL:      Totally. And that can be really alienating and weird. That’s the cruelty of life, that the things you imagine are the peaks, seldom are the peaks.


JL:   Sometimes I’m so ungrateful. Like, I got this one prize that I figured if I won I would be never insecure again, or if I am, I will never have a good reason. Turns out you don’t need a good reason.


TL:  It’s not about the destination, it's the journey, ha ha.


JL:   Isn’t it disgusting that all those are true and you have to find them out by living?


TL:      I used to think it was disgusting. I love it now. Again, probably because I'm becoming middle aged. I'm so relieved that the clichés have substance. Because I submit to the clichés now. As you get older, succumbing and letting go and realizing those clichés exist for a reason—it’s helpful. It's a shorthand, but yeah, but I totally relate to what you described in terms of that falsehood we present in our minds, mentally and emotionally.

What I've learned though is that everything's momentary. I've now got to a point where, because I've been disappointed by the fact that things haven't changed in my life that I was building up to, I tell myself in advance: Enjoy this right now. Just enjoy the next few hours. Because then, when you do the anecdotes and chat to people about it, you have hopefully banked as much mental and emotional power as possible to hold on to how that feeling was. Because that feeling will not stay with you, but maybe the memory of how you felt will be something you can keep.


JL:   Live in the moment! 


TL:      Ha! Exactly. It's true, it's true. And how comforting is that, though? Because to know and understand something literally is not to fear it.


JL:   It’s endlessly galling to me. You can't have anyone tell you. You have to go through it.

I feel like with Transgressive, there came a transformative moment, just ambiently perceiving it as your friend, when you started signing American acts. Was that initially for UK releases?


TL:  Yeah, that's correct.


JL:   And that was a kind of turning point?


TL:      Yeah, definitely. The first record we put out as an album was Regina Spektor. And it was her first compilation record just for the UK. Then we did a licensing deal with Sub Pop for The Shins. And then we licensed artists to Sub Pop as well, like Foals and Marika Hackman. It’s always been like a love affair with a neighbor in both ways, which is really lovely. We share a common language. New York and London are twins. There's a real sense of shared aspirations in the right parts of America, in the right parts of the UK, in terms of what progressive art can be, and the movements of it from a pop culture perspective. If you look at the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, noughties—the ping pong and the interplay between Alternative progressive pop cultures were really intertwined.


JL:   I mean, you talk about when The Strokes came to the UK and everyone went so mad for them.


TL:  Well, they came here to break. They became big here and then there.


JL:   Did they?!


TL:      Yeah. White Stripes as well. They came to the UK to break. If you think about it, that makes sense. We're a small fucking island.


JL:   And they were always at the festivals.


TL:      Yes, exactly. Whereas in America, they could go back and say, we went to the UK, we got our stamp of approval. We're ready to tour the rest of the country.


JL:   Going back to that international sound thing, I think that Bloc Party has been one of the most underrated and influential bands for New York music. When you said Math Rock, it really clicked for me about them, not just Foals. The pent up energy, the sense of the frenetic . . . what's the word for like, surprising, discontinuous, you know, that kind of thing?


TL:  Totally. That angularity.


JL:       Yes. The angular semi-electro thing is thought of as almost like a side stream to the indie rock boom, but it has really outlived it. Does that make sense?


TL:  Makes complete sense. I think the best artists always have a feverish ambition and hunger, and then in tandem with that, they often have a master plan and a vision, which typically starts off as a mental blueprint for what they want a career to be based on their studious nerdship of other careers and artists and art that they've loved. And then when they hit their stride, typically, and this is the make or break bit, if they can keep it together until their late twenties, early thirties, that's when emotionally they kick into a different gear.

Another cliché: We do soften as we get older, and that's not a bad thing. And again, we've always got this constant pivot. Do we embrace the inevitable, or do we veer away? The more we veer away, the harder our lives are.

So, it's about knowing when to be outside and find your people, and it's also then a time to coalesce with the rest of the world, and accept yourself and accept other people.


JL:   One thing I've always really admired about you is you're not a snob. You won't not like something because it's popular. Like, I don’t know, Pulp or Blur. Those bands are so important and their popularity hasn't bashed off their edges. I know you’ve just finished making a film with Blur, actually. Why do you think Blur is still so resonant?


TL:      Well, it’s still fresh. It’s satire. There's actually a quote in the film, there was this Japanese fan who articulated it so beautifully and eloquently. I asked, what is it about Blur that makes them what she described as an obsession? And—I’m paraphrasing—she said that whenever she's feeling sad they have a unique way of expressing depression in an enthusiastic way.

I came away and at the time I thought, that's a really intriguing comment. But then the more I thought about it I was like: Damon Albarn’s lyrics are about feeling disenfranchised and feeling missold and feeling outside and looking at the madness of the UK disposition. Looking at that sensibility and seeing that there is not a balance to it, there's a sort of hangover of a certain kind of right wing conservatism that's innate in the core of the country, which as 30 years went on, proved itself to be true.

The sludge in the blood of the British culture, that we thought had been removed: there's an underbelly that's unresolved, and that's not necessarily the people's fault. It's largely to do with manipulation and people misinterpreting the reasons why things aren't working. I think that's why it's still relevant. And it's the same with Pulp. “Common People” will forever be their signature anthem and I don't think even they would have a problem with that. But, depressingly, the reason you will still hear it at a wedding or an indie disco around the world is because people hear the lyrics and they resonate. The class system is still a thing, what the fuck? So we've got this duality between 30 years ago and being exactly in the same place.

For the Blur film, we shot them at Wembley Stadium. The big surprise for the band as well as myself and everyone there, is that there were loads of kids singing along to all the lyrics. People that were there were their parents, but some teenagers that just came as groups of friends.

Maybe some of them heard ‘Parklife’ on a Spotify playlist and thought that it was a fun song. But! The reason it's a fun song is that the ridiculousness of it is all still in our culture. There’s something celebratory about that, but there's also something completely depressing.


JL:   So why did you want to make like a film? I feel like they were very videoed throughout the nineties. Why a film now?


TL:     The story was a friendship story about getting older and maturity. Dave, I think he turns 60 this or next year. The rest of them are mid-fifties. And, truthfully, I thought, this is really interesting. They're putting themselves as a band, almost 40 years on, up to their biggest ever challenge, which is playing Wembley Stadium, the national stadium, which was something that always eluded them.

And then on top of that, as the film explores, there are some personal changes that happened with some of the members. So, it prompted them to make a new record under unusual circumstances, in secret. We had the opportunity to document that process as well as take them all the way to Wembley.

But the thing I thought would be interesting was flashing back between who they are now, to who they were. In a way that's not nostalgic, but contemporaneous reflections from an older, present perspective. Trying to find those points of connection many years into a complex relationship is challenging.

Self-identifying the ups and downs of your life and the learnings and the unlearnings, too, and the dysfunction that exists in the core of any band that met when they were young. And luckily, they were up for going there in terms of the conversations. And so, for me, the film is about—they were well documented in the 90s but this is a reflection of friendship and maturity. And mortality. Because it can't last forever.

That's why it's called To The End, because, well, obviously it's a classic song, but it alludes to the fact that all things must conclude. The beach is also a big metaphor in the film, so the cover of the poster we're about to put out's got that, and we see the sea a lot, and then the beach. It's alluring, and it's infinite, and it's unending, and it's dangerous, and there are different references to how the band interact with the sea.

I wanted to create something that, hopefully, is a celebration of now. But maybe, if things do end, it's not a bad thing, because they have to.


JL:   It’s a big challenge in a film to convey all of what you've just described.


TL:      I tried my best! It's everyone else's now. I had a great time, as someone that's still playing their records since I was 10 years old, 25, 26 years later to be making a film with them, shooting them at Wembley Stadium, fucking wild. For me, it was a mad moment. But the real challenge was to create something that was hopefully, a befitting document of that time, firstly, but secondarily, thematically, something that has a quality that maybe people take away from it. So, we'll see how people respond, it's out in a month, so we'll see. 


JL:   Yay, that's so great. Is there any, like, 20-year stuff that Transgressive's doing?


TL:  Yes! We're gonna do a New York party actually. So we've got, uh, The Antlers, Mykki Blanco, new artist MICHELLE, Odetta Hartman, Mutual Benefit, Julien Chang. . . It's our North American roster, all coming together, and we're choosing a really small venue for it as well. It's gonna be fun, it's 250 tickets. Then we're doing lots of London events. We've got Johnny Flynn & the River Band plus The Joy at Hammersmith Apollo; Arlo Parks and Marika Hackman at Regent's Park Outdoor Theatre; we're doing some stage takeovers at Glastonbury and Latitude . . . I mean I'm not going to lie, it's been a lot of work booking it all.


JL:   It's always the prep, isn't it? For the big anniversary shit.


TL:      Yeah. It's the work in advance that's, like, grueling. And then you get to enjoy the party. I'm hoping it's like a wedding. A lot of weddings are happening this summer, and I hope I enjoy the big day!


JL:   Speaking of weddings. Was it from the Pulp song “Something Changed” that you had read at your wedding?


TL:  Yes! Yeah, it was my parents reading “You're So Great” and “Something Changed.”


JL:       I remember it so clearly. Music, especially popular music, is something that you can share with those that you love in a way that's quite, I don’t know, unpretentious. Pop music is for everyone.


TL:      Yeah, I agree with that. I think anyone can overthink things. And it's funny, because I initially did the inevitable thing, I overthought it, and I started looking at loads of obscure poetry, and before I knew it, I was googling “obscure wedding readings.” And we had to stop ourselves  and think, who is this for? My inner child and Deborah’s inner child surely are the most important people in this equation. Not my bourgeois journalist friends that were there—from both sides of the pond, ha ha. And we just thought, you know what, everyone will have maybe had a sparkling wine or something by that point, so let's just be honest. Maybe if Deborah and I had done the wedding decisions a few years earlier, we would have been more pretentious. But we were like, fuck it. If we drop our guard, maybe everyone else would drop their guard. But your wedding was the best one though.


JL:   Aw.


TL:  Do you have fond memories of it?


JL:       Such fond memories, really fond memories, yeah. I dunno, getting married, it's shocking how your inner child is right there with you. It's weird.


TL:  It's really weird. Are you enjoying marriage? 


JL:   I do love marriage, yeah, I do. I do love it.


TL:  More than you expected?


JL:       Yeah, I think so. At this point, I still have everything pinned on whether this one endless article comes out, whether my book ever comes out . . . Because I'm always like, when I do that, then I'll decide if I want to have kids or whatever, that kind of contingent shit.


TL:      It's what you were saying earlier—if I win that, then this. But we've got to have things to look forward to. So, it's not a bad thing. What’s a book without chapters, you know? It's just a mass, isn't it?


JL:       Yeah. It's just a fucking mass. A book without chapters, I like that. Okay, my last question is, as people in their late thirties now . . .


TL:  Very late thirties. Very late thirties. Not for you, you're a few years younger than me.


JL:   I'm thirty-six. Fucking mid-thirties.


TL:  You're mid-thirties. You can hold on to that for one more year.


JL:       It’s odd to look back on an artistic career and see how it seemed like you knew what you were doing, and then something became successful, and then people wanted to get in on it, or they want to know how you did something. I feel like that that's a really easy trap for young creatives to fall into, and it's strongly augmented by the whole social anxiety thing of the pressure to look cool, trying to get followers, whatever. And that can be very destructive to somebody's practice.

What advice would you give someone about how to find what's real inside them and not to listen to what is going on around them?


TL:      Excellent question. Funnily enough, when I was attending the Blur film premiere on Friday, this young person who I wanted to speak to afterwards, but sadly scuttled off . . . I think he was like maybe 21, 22? He said, “Oh, I really enjoyed the film. I just want to do what you do.” And I was obviously flattered that anyone would say that, given we all have, regardless of what we do in our lives, insecurities as well. It was really kind of him to say that. And he said, I've been watching loads of films and documentaries. I've been at film school. And now I'm making my short films. I'm here trying to talk to you. What would you advise me to do?

I said, you’re doing it. Just keep doing it. I was literally the same person. You feel so shit and cheesy when there's a microphone and a light and there's a few hundred people and you say, I was you, once. But you were, you were!

Tangibly and practically, I would advise them to completely suck the romance out of it and any sense of glory. Keep turning up every fucking day and work a few more hours than everyone else, you know? That's all I would say. Just work a few more hours. Some people would be like oh fuck, that's a bit exploitative, that's a bit shit—what about work/life balance? But that’s honestly the best way to ensure you actually do the things you want to do.


JL:       I actually agree. I think you have to be willing to make sacrifices. It doesn't have to be working for somebody else! Like, don't do it for somebody else's dream unless you really, really believe in it and it's also yours. But you do have to give things up and some of that might be like, feeling normal. Or, getting money the way your friends with better jobs are.


TL:      On the money part, really tangibly, it's not like I was 14 or 15 and made money. I didn't get my first regular, liveable income from music projects until I was 20, 21, so if I started at 14, that's six years of just free or highly subsidised labor, really. I wouldn't encourage anyone to do that. But I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. And, apart from obviously a lovely family and two friends, I didn't have much going on otherwise. I didn't want to go to university. I didn't have any real hobbies outside of what I was doing.

So I think sacrifices are a big thing. And again, it's maybe just the unvarnished, honest truth. Anyone that wants to do it, put more time in and work your arse off. It's unromantic—but you can make the work romantic. People often just say a lot more ethereal things and I get that and I've done that before but really, I think the honest truth is, do just a few more hours.


JL:   Some people don't have the hunger and ambition, but I think in creative society now we’re under a lot of scrutiny to just do and achieve, but with a double pressure never letting yourself be exploited.


TL:  That's a big fear, I think, for young creatives now. And it is a contradiction but as long as you're in charge of it . . . Put it this way, I was exploited in my first few years, often willingly—again, doing extra hours for nothing. But it was a knowing need to learn and to move forward.


JL:   Right, so the difference between doing the work and being exploited, you have to know where it is for yourself. Or like, be able to spot true exploitation, I guess.


TL:      I think we all have, to a certain extent, a certain barometer within where something feels unacceptable. And we have to attune our senses to keep that as long as we can. I think when you're young you can go beyond the point of comfort by mistake and I think that's when you should definitely withdraw.


JL:   Alright, any last things that you want to say?


TL:      It's genuinely all just been so much fun. I think the amazing thing is that if it weren't fun, if it wasn't as pure as we intended it to be, I'd happily “Thelma and Louise” it, you know? The whole point of it was about risk-taking and doing records with our friends,  trying to make something wonderful.


JL:   I feel very proud of you, honestly. Making something be good enough to stick with is itself like such a blessing. You know, to find something that is worth it. I think that's the beautiful thing about art and music. It seems worth it.


TL:  And it's not just worth it to you or to the people making it. It’s worth it to so many people, it goes beyond the teenage habitat. It becomes a role that you hope is good for everyone. When it's bigger than you, that's when you know you’ve got something fucking amazing. It's a wonderful place to be. I'm enjoying it very much, and extremely grateful.