Rylands Heath are an indie-pop duo who are typified by their harmony driven, genre-bending and – most importantly – anthemically catchy sound. Neil Dowd met with the ‘Luton Lads’ to discuss their rise to hometown success, the behind the scenes mechanics of the band and what the future holds for them.
Hi guys – what are your names and what are your roles in the band?
Jack: My name is Jack. I am the singer, rhythm guitarist and general nice guy (laughs).
James: I’m James and I’m just everything else.
Jack: But not a great bloke.
James: I’m everything else but I’m a terrible person. Nah, I’m the drummer, bassist and backing vocalist.
Your band is called Rylands Heath – where does it originate from and why does it hold significance to you?
Tell us about the inception of the band – how did you guys first bring this project together, were you friends before you started playing together?
Jack: We’re not friends now actually! laughs
James: We were friends, now we hate each other. Nah, we went to school together but became closer as friends through playing music together. We were in the same class for GCSE music and we would always get told off by the teacher for sneaking off to write together. We sort of bonded over our shared love for music.
Jack: We were in a band at school together and eventually it just morphed into what we are now.
How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard you?
Jack: Everyone knows this question is a musician’s worst nightmare. I think we go with the term ‘indie pop’ normally. But I think the thing we try to emphasise is the pop elements in that. We’re not one of those bands that see ‘pop’ as a dirty word. We’re under the belief that things being really upbeat and catchy is a good thing.
James: Yeah, we’re not dark or serious at all and I think our music reflects that quite well.
So what are your individual backgrounds in music? How heavily do they differ to the work you’re currently doing?
Jack: I think we’re both quite similar in that our families aren’t very musical. Like, they know a little bit, but we kind of found our love for playing and doing music independently.
James: Yeah definitely, like for me from the age of three years old, I remember putting on little shows for my family in the living room (laughs). Yeah, it was always something I wanted to do. I remember watching a Busted DVD that I received as a Christmas present for the very first time and just thinking ‘that’s it’. Once Jack came into the equation, everything just seemed to fit together.
What kind of bands or artists would you guys say most influence your sound?
Jack: I think for us a more modern example would be The Wombats. Their sound varies a lot across each album in terms of genre, but each album encompasses what we want to do musically. We like grappy guitar rock and we also like synthy pop anthems so their discography really has everything we’re looking for.
James: Yeah, like listening to their first album and their fourth album back to back, they sound completely different, but you can always tell it’s The Wombats and that’s an element that we’d definitely love to have in our sound. Other inspirations we’d say are bands like The Feeling. Like with us, we have the belief that there is no such thing as a ‘guilty pleasure’.
Jack: Yeah, if it’s a good tune, it’s a good tune. You should see us in the car just blasting out proper cheesy music like MMMBop by Hanson and we’ll be absolutely loving it. We feel no shame about that (laughs).
For a two-piece band, you have an incredibly anthemic sound that most bands need at least double the amount of members to accomplish. What are the dynamics behind creating that ‘full band’ sound as a duo and how does it translate for your live show?
Jack: In the studio it’s great because we can just sit there with the producer and add like six different guitar tracks to make it sound massive.
James: Yeah and I don’t think we have any problems that arise because there’s only two of us. I mean from the very start back in January 2017, we spent like the first six months not only writing material, but also figuring out how we were gonna be able to make this work in terms of our live set. There’s loads of two-pieces at the moment doing the same thing. You’ve got Royal Blood using octave pedals to achieve a similar sound to a guitar only using a bass. For us though, we decided to use backing tracks and in our heads, that didn’t really matter as it was still everything that we
ourselves had recorded. So when we play live, Jack will sing and play rhythm guitar, I’ll play the drums and do backing vocals and everything else that we’ve recorded in the studio will be on the backing track.
Jack: It does divide opinion though, a lot of people will turn around and be like ‘ugh that’s fake’. But there’s also a lot of people that don’t even realise we’re using a backing track.
James: At the end of the day it’s all stuff that we’ve recorded ourselves and we can take comfort in knowing that wherever we go we’re always going to have that ‘full band’ sound because of those backing tracks.
Am I right in thinking that James sometimes switches between bass and acoustic guitar throughout the set?
James: Well, yeah, we do one song in our set where we both just play acoustic guitar and sing. In some smaller venues we opt for doing it completely acoustic and that creates a really nice and intimate atmosphere.
Jack: yeah, it also kind of breaks down the whole idea that everything we do is just dependant on backing tracks, if anyone in the audience is ever thinking that.
Talk to us about your songwriting process. How do you go about bringing your ideas to life and how do you feel that your lineup affects that?
Jack: In some ways I think it’s easier writing as a two piece as opposed to a full band because it distils the roles that we do in the band. With our dynamic, I’ll do the lyrics, melody and a rough chord structure and then I’ll come to James and as we said earlier, he’ll do everything else (laughs).
James: It was a joke, I swear (laughs). But nah, it’s mainly because I can’t write lyrics or melodies to save my life and whenever I try it always comes off really cheesy which is why I think our dynamic works really well because Jack’s pros are my cons. So working together, we compliment each other quite well and can often bring out each other’s strengths. We can never step on each other’s toes and I think that’s a reason why we’re never getting down each other’s throats.
Jack: We’re very easy when it comes to clashes in opinion. We can normally sense which one of us feels more passionately about their idea or opinion and we’ll know that’s the right choice to make.
James: Yeah, it’s gotten to a point where we can trust each other’s gut feelings which is always helpful. In the studio we’re the same, we’re not precious with our ideas at all.
Jack: Yeah, we’re always like ‘why would you be precious with any particular idea, when everyone in the writing and recording process are all working to make the track better?’ We think it’s always better to at least try out any idea and know for certain rather than to dismiss anything and then wish we had done it in the future.
So, you’re a Luton-based band, and as a fellow Lutonian I noticed a lot of familiar places and faces whilst watching your music video for your track Coming On To Me. Talk to us about the process of making the video. Do you regard your hometown as an integral factor to your identity as a band?
Jack: I think so. It’s where all our friends are from and if your friends don’t like your music, is there really any point of trying to take it any further? For that video, we got involved with the NGYT which is a local theatre group. I think both us and NGYT really care about bringing more of an arts based community to Luton, so working with them and contributing to that was amazing.
James: 100%, like beyond playing music, we both love watching local live music and other local arts based events so finding a way to bring that all together in our hometown is incredible. It didn’t make sense to us to not care about it. It’s a massive part of who we are. Like our first gig was an acoustic flash mob in the middle of the town centre (laughs).
We’ve filmed music videos in the theatre and it all kind of led us to the point where when the Luton Football team were promoted to league one, we played at the promotion event and it was one of the biggest and best gigs we’ve done. It felt like a monumental moment being able to represent the arts of our hometown at such a big event.
From looking through social media, it’s easy to see you’re a highly active band as far as performing goes, playing shows like Valevest and various venues and places across the country. How would you describe your live show to anyone that hasn’t seen you play before?
Jack: I’d say high energy to a point where we should probably put some
slow songs into our set (laughs).
James: For us personally, we don’t like seeing slow songs at gigs. We wanna jump around and have fun.
Jack: Yeah, I think sometimes it feels a bit indulgent to play a slow song at a show. It wouldn’t fit right with who we are. We want our shows to have a ‘feel good’ vibe and we want to be able to see people enjoying it so we tend to just stick to a faster, more upbeat type of performance. That’s our aim, high energy and a lot of fun.
One venue that for an unsigned band is particularly impressive to have ticked off the bucket list is The Royal Albert Hall. Could you talk to us about how that came about and your experience of playing there?
Jack: Yeah that show was alright I guess (laughs). Yeah it sort of came out nowhere. We did a show for Music For Youth last year in a tiny, little showcase. We knew nothing about the events they put on and it turned out that they do three nights at the Royal Albert Hall every year where they have everyone from jazz bands and orchestras playing and they had us there, it was pretty insane.
James: It was weird because it felt like it was just like a normal gig. It was hardly any different to any other show we’ve played.
Jack: Yeah, it was a nice experience.
Like right before we went on stage, we were able to go and see some of my family and were able to just chat to them as if it we were just any normal show. It was nice to be able to do that because it put us in the right mindset to just go up and play a normal show and let whatever happens happen. I think luckily we didn’t work ourselves up about it which we definitely could have.
James: Yeah, we waited until afterwards until we let it sink in and were like ‘what just happened?’, it was absolutely ridiculous. We couldn’t even see the highest seats in the venue from where we were.
How did preparing for a show of this magnitude compare to preparing for a show that you’re used to?
Jack: Well, we only had two songs and they had suggested to us which songs we should do beforehand. We aimed to have the mindset where we treated it like any normal show so we didn’t go too crazy with rehearsals. We didn’t aim to do anything spectacular or different, we just played as we usually do and hoped it would go down well.
James: Yeah, definitely, we were given an eight minute slot, so we decided to extend the two songs that we were playing so that we could use up every single second of the time we had there.
Jack: I think we may have been fifteen seconds over, but I think that’s okay. Nobody seemed too annoyed with us about that.
Your latest single ‘Work Of Art’ was released back in November. Talk us through the process of getting back into the studio again. Was there anything you did differently in comparison to prior releases?
James: Yeah, this time we recorded at Studio 91. We were recommended the studio by our friends in Only Son and it was the perfect studio for us. We’ve worked with a few different studios and producers in our time and they’ve all been fantastic. But it was definitely a journey to get to Studio 91 and to be working with Sam. He knew exactly what we wanted, like one of the examples we gave for who we wanted to sound like was Fickle Friends and he just ‘I did their first EP’ so we knew we were in good hands. We were there for three days and the songs just came out exactly as we imagined them.
Jack: Yeah, I think it had been about six months since we had recorded a song, it was nice to give ourselves more time and really dig deep to make tracks that we were truly going to be proud of and get the most out of our time there.
James: What we’ve always said about this track is that it’s how we’ve always wanted to sound, so that’s just perfect.
Is there any plans for a debut EP or more singles from you in the near future?
Jack: I think the way we prefer to release our tracks is as singles as opposed to a full EP. I feel like sometimes you can minimise how good/successful a song can be if it’s the third track on a three track EP. Especially being an unsigned band, the chances are that it may get overlooked.
James: Yeah definitely, I think we only ever want to release music that we’re 100% confident and proud of, so I feel like releasing them as a stream of singles just helps for each track to get the attention that we feel they deserve. Jack: Exactly. But yeah, there’s definitely more material on the way.
Earlier in the interview, we talked about your musical inspirations. Would you say that these bands/ artists also influence your style and fashion as a band?
Jack: For me, I had a moment in 2016 where I basically just stole the fashion and style of a band called The Marmicans. I just completely ripped off their look, right down to the rolled up jeans with white socks, which I now wear with everything. Loud, pastel shirts were also a big thing for me at that time. I’ve kind of developed past that now, but for a while that was a huge aspect of my fashion sense.
James: I’m fairly similar in the sense that I feel like I’ve found something that works for me. The running joke between me and my friends is that I’ve always got to be wearing a black t-shirt with a different coloured shirt over the top. That’s like my uniform. It’s just simple and easy (laughs).
Where would you like to see Rylands Heath in five years time? Are there any specific goals that you would like to achieve?
Jack: Definitely a solo tour without James. Hopefully I will have finally broken away and done my own thing (laughs).
James: I don’t believe any band who are asked that question and don’t say ‘I want to be the biggest band in the world’.
Jack: Like obviously that’s the goal, we’re a pop band. But yeah, if we could be doing this full-time and making a living off of it and playing shows for people, that would be fantastic.
Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to our readers, or any fans that may be reading this?
Jack: Fans?… Hello mum! (laughs). Nah, we’d just like to ask people to check us out. I mean at this point I think all we really want is to be pushing our music to as many new people as possible.
James: Yeah, to be honest we’ve been quite lucky with getting onto a few good Spotify playlists. I’d hate to think what our statistics are like on other streaming sites. But we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved so far and just hope that anyone reading will take the time to give us a listen.
Find out more about Rylands Heath and listen to their music at facebook.com/RylandsHeath