Protesting and sentimentalising on a winding tour through British politics, feminism in Africa, and the meaning of family, it’s little wonder Oxford locals Lucy Leave tend to divide opinion. The experimental trio have made their name on DIY psych-punk energy, and have been touted variously as ‘one of the most exciting bands in Oxford’, and simply ‘a bit of a mess’. The crowded Truck Store launch performance of their latest EP ‘The Beauty Of The World’ showed Lucy Leave at their jammy best, and left me convinced of the former. In order to make sense of the latter, I was lucky enough to catch Jenny, Mike, and Pete for a conversation one summer morning in Cowley.
The name Lucy Leave, taken from an early garage pop ditty by Pink Floyd, hints at the group’s origins: ‘We were first in a tribute band, playing covers for many years, but wished to make our own music’, says drummer Pete. Mike continues, ‘Me and Jenny lived in Oxford, and having lived here for a while and not really been to many local gigs, we then discovered this local scene with lots of weird pop bands’. The trio joined Oxford’s melee of ‘weird pop’(which has previously generated the likes of Radiohead and Ride, as well as current indie darlings Glass Animals and Foals), jamming original material for their self-released debut ‘Jesus Walks Funny’ last year. Lucy Leave doesn’t shy away from Oxford’s reputation for weirdness; rather, they fit right in. Jenny speculates, ‘I think we’ve got to power through and ignore the question ‘Are we too weird?’ – If that’s how it comes out, then that’s how it comes out, but we’ve never wanted to fit a box, or what we think there’s a market for in music.’
Lucy Leave evolved partly in response to the local scene, and partly from their eclectic mix of shared musical tastes, inspired by the jazzy orientations of Robert Wyatt, the The Minutemen’s punk sensibilities, and the eccentric flourishes of Deerhoof. Mike reflects on how Lucy Leave has developed, with some amusement: ‘One of our early fans, Alan, said to us recently, ‘every time I see you, you’re less like Pink Floyd’. It’s amazing how quickly someone can influence you – I remember first seeing Slate Hearts (Oxford’s resident grunge noisemakers), we just played after them at a gig, and I remember playing everything heavier after seeing them. Literally, ‘Turn everything up!”.
Messy maximalists by nature, Lucy Leave’s sound is brimming with spiky energy. All three musicians contribute lyrics, as well as sing together and individually on their latest EP, ‘The Beauty Of The World’. That multiplicity allows the band to cover diverse styles, from the dreamy grooves of ‘Nightroad’ to chaotic polyphony on ‘Chant / Fresh Crepes’. Jenny describes their creative process: ‘What happens is that when we come into the room, each of us brings something quite different, and maybe we are a bit perverse as well, so if Pete plays a certain rhythm, I’d think ‘What’s the opposite of that?’, or ‘What would complement it, and what would pull it in a different direction?”. Pete sums up Lucy Leave’s style: ‘We’ve each got lots of ideas, so I see it a bit like when you put your hand in a tub of popcorn, and all the popcorn comes out of the top’. The band tentatively label the resulting record ‘jazz-grunge’ (‘because we felt we needed a genre label, so we came up with this thing that’s kind of meaningless’, says Jenny). Half jazz, because of Lucy Leave’s ‘mentality’, and half grunge because ‘it always heads in the direction of grunge in the end – songs devolve into it’. But pinning them down to the exact confines of genre seems like a doomed effort – Their free song structure also imprints psychedelic wackiness a la Captain Beefheart, and polemical lyrics are shot through with punk.
The band is often outspoken about politics, perhaps another manifestation of their ‘throwing everything in the pot’ approach. For example, if you try to find Lucy Leave on twitter, you might struggle – Their twitter handle has been amended to ‘Lucy Remain’ since last June (Mike says, ‘with the name, I didn’t really understand that that word would change its meaning, so that worried me’.) Another bold move was choosing ‘Talk Danish To Me’ to open their latest EP. It’s a funny quasi lovesong that morphs into a protest against Brexit, with lyrics: ‘Talk Danish to me / ‘Cause I just wanna feel European, again / Every night in your arms, European, again / ‘Cause deeper integration really turns me on’, all the while accompanied by a funky Fugazi-esque bassline.
Jenny explains the tendency of their lyrics to veer from politics to the personal within a single song: ‘Anything directly political that we write will come out kind of wonky anyway, so it’s never going to sound like a Billy Bragg song. Because there are three of us writing, you don’t all necessarily agree or have a coherent, singular message’. Pete continues, ‘You can say some lyrics might undermine others, but I suppose with most lyrics I don’t see how they can’t be political. Politics is like most of the stuff we do.’
To hear ‘The Beauty Of The World’ for yourself, go to https://lucyleave.bandcamp.com/