Eagulls wouldn’t be here without the Internet.
The Leeds-based punk quintet—guitarist Mark Goldsworthy, drummer Henry Ruddel, guitarist Liam Matthews, bassist Tom Kelly and singer George Mitchell—are yet another band in a long lineage of acts that broke out on the strength of digital buzz. Just four years into their career and with their debut full-length still forthcoming, Eagulls are already budding industry darlings with stints at SXSW and CMJ under their belts—not to mention the backing of Partisan Records, the label set to release their self-titled debut on March 4. But as much as the Internet has done to speed Eagulls’s rise, it also risks getting the band stuck in a narrative rut, doomed forever to answer for the shit-talking open letter they posted to their blog last year in the wake of their inaugural SXSW appearance.
Since then, there’s been much discussion about the nature and implications of the letter, which called out beach bands, the press, music industry honchos, bands with girls in them and pretty much everyone who isn’t in Eagulls. Was the letter satisfyingly “punk”? Or were Eagulls just trying to parade their “punk” credentials in a cynical attempt to get their names on our lips? What’s wrong with having girls in your band?
All that think-piecey head clutching, however, is beside the point. The point being that Eagulls make delightfully loose, melodic, sneering music. Fortunately, as those of us in the know scramble to come up with a new angle on the state of punk music and Eagulls’s place in it, Mitchell and his cohorts have kept their focus squarely where it belongs.
“Tom’s walking around the Partisan Records office with a baseball bat right now. Is that punk?” Mitchell asks with a jeer audible over the telephone line. It’s January, and he and the band are on one of the first of what’s sure to be many trips to New York, for a handful of gigs.
“It’s just one of them things. [Punk’s] meant to be the one genre that’s supposed to be lawless. But then there’s all these transparent rules about what you can wear, or how you’re supposed to act. I don’t get it.”
Too much attention too early in a career can be a real mind-fuck, stunting an artist’s growth with the weight of all the eyes on them. But Mitchell and the rest of the band seem unfazed, maintaining a playful attitude, open demeanor and pleasantly nonchalant position on what the world outside their creative machine thinks about them. But is that punk?
“It’s like Chinese whispers,” Mitchell says. “People obviously see you online or at a show, and they don’t talk to you. God knows what people think of me. But I think we’re friendly. We like to talk to people. We’re not gonna sit there stone-faced and be like, ‘Ugh.’ That’s what the music’s for.”
As friendly as Mitchell is in conversation, there’s plenty of ‘ugh’ to go around in his lyrics, where he takes aim at all types of people he finds unpleasant. A veteran of the retail industry—he and one of the other guys in the band quit their sales jobs to make the trip to New York—Mitchell might easily be expected to write about the shoppers, hypnotized by the glowing beacon of materialism, who made up his daily life in a clothing store. But Mitchell’s writing is more righteous and specific than that. Songs on the band’s debut record deal with issues such as sexual misconduct and addiction.
“I’m very pessimistic,” Mitchell says.
Such pessimism can be fatiguing to those around you, especially when you’re stuck in a van together for weeks on end. But in his fellow members of Eagulls, Mitchell seems to have found kindred spirits.
“If we’re not playing, we’re usually in a bar having fun,” Mitchell says, noting the group’s shared sense of humor, which is often lost on anyone outside the band. “Tom was telling jokes earlier today. But our jokes don’t translate, because they’re either too sick, or they have words in them, like ‘mad aft,’ that Americans don’t understand.”
Just as they don’t engage in the conversation about their punk cred, Eagulls don’t let other people’s puzzlement stop them from laughing at each other’s jokes. Within the confines of the band, there is an understanding — of their shared desire to make self-taught art, and of the fact that the only opinions of their work that matter are each other’s.
“I prefer it because that self-taught thing isn’t fully polished. It’s something a bit deformed and strange and perfect in its own way. We never know what we’re doing,” Mitchell says.
Eagulls, too, is something a bit strange and somehow perfect, as is any artistic endeavor that manages to avoid becoming too self-conscious.
But surely, with the attention the last year has brought them and the ever-increasing size of their crowds, Eagulls are looking to get something back from their audience now, too. Right?
“I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around me when we play,” Mitchell says. “I’m in my own world. I’m just paying attention to what the other guys are doing. When everyone’s on the same level as us, sometimes it’ll be a good show. Sometimes you look out on the crowd, and there’s no movement, but we just play. Some of our best shows have been ones where the crowd wasn’t all that involved.”
With the year ahead of them packed with touring in support of Eagulls, the band is entering this new stage in its career with its head in the right place. They’ll just stick together, keep making the art that satisfies them and ignoring the flurry of commentary around them. That, after all, is undoubtedly punk.