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Doors 8:00pm / Show 9:30pm
“I’ve got taste, I’ve got thrust, I’ve got all those things that you want” – The Heavy, Heavy For You
Welcome back to The Heavy, Britain’s most incendiary party-starters and reliably impossible to pigeonhole funksoulhiphoprandbrockdance gang. Five albums and over a decade into their career, most bands start to ease down. The Heavy have instead made Sons, as uplifting and urgent an album as you’re likely to hear all year.
Not wasting a note in its 10 full songs, Sons is a series of short, sharp shocks which doesn’t let up from the opening defiant attack of Heavy For You until the last hurrah of redemptive closer Burn Bright. In between, there’s the film noir drama Fighting For The Same Thing, irresistible disco Put The Hurt On Me, Simple Things’ beautiful celebration, the scuzzy glam-rock of A Whole Lot Of Love, Better As One’s glorious call for unity… Sons is essentially its own greatest hits compilation of everything that makes The Heavy a unique force in British music.
“Our ethos is to make a mixtape you’d want to play to your best mate,” explains singer Kelvin Swaby. “We wanted to keep that vibe, while recognising we’ve become so much better as songwriters and producers. We understand our music a little better. But what we did at the start is still great too!” The aim was just as simple for guitarist Daniel Taylor, who says: “I want it to be music people can listen to while driving at great speed.”
That energy is writ large throughout Sons. The Heavy’s unrivalled ability to get a crowd going has become their trademark since debut album Great Vengeance And Furious Fire was released in 2007. Since then, the four-piece have seen their anthems How You Like Me Now and Short Change Hero rack up 50 million streams each, while smashing it at festivals from Glastonbury to Coachella via Fuji Rock in Japan, where Same Ol’ from third album The Glorious Dead became a huge hit. Their music has been used in films as varied as Dallas Buyers Club, The Big Short and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. The Heavy even became the first band to be asked to do an encore by chat-show king David Letterman, who selected their righteous rendition of How You Like Me Now among his all-time favourite 10 performances on Late Night With Letterman in the show’s 35-year history.
It’s an impressive legacy which Sons manages to condense into its intense 35-minute ride, having started the album from a back-to-basics spirit following the live-in-the-studio feel of 2016’s Hurt & The Merciless. “We wanted to go back to the things that inspired us in the first place,” recalls Daniel. “We started out as more of a bedroom project using samples than a band. Heavy For You is a nod to Beastie Boys’ Check Your Head, which was a huge influence when we first started for the way it mixes live instrumentation with programming.” Or, as Kelvin puts it: “The Heavy is vintage articulation with contemporary resources.”
The self-referential Heavy For You was quickly a benchmark for the new album. It’s based on a longstanding instrumental idea Kelvin finally found the right words for, celebrating The Heavy in blistering fashion. “I took the idea to pieces, started from the bottom up,” says the singer, who’s just as boisterous as you’d hope from his compelling all-action on-stage presence. “It took on a George Clinton direction and I thought that’s where the song could go, with me saying ‘Are we too heavy for you? Am I too heavy for you?’ It’s quite ambiguous, about friends, relationships and people who go on social media and YouTube to slam things for no apparent reason.” Daniel adds: “Heavy For You is such a punch in the face, it was the obvious song to open the album.”
Sons is The Heavy’s first album since Kelvin moved from the band’s native Bath to Florida with his wife Hannah, shortly after the release of Hurt & The Merciless. “Hannah is from Santa Fe and she couldn’t cope with the British winters,” laughs Kelvin. “After a couple of trial runs to see if I could work and communicate with the band from Florida, we all felt ‘Yes, we can do this.’ I love working in my little studio in Florida, but I still have to go back every six-to-eight weeks to smash it out with the band. Put the four of us in a room and magical things will happen.”
Kelvin and Daniel swapped song ideas by email, sending them to bassist Spencer Page and drummer Chris Ellul before working them up in rehearsals. Having wholly produced Hurt & The Merciless themselves, Sons reunites the band with The Glorious Dead co-producer Paul Corkett, also known for his work with The Cure, Biffy Clyro and Placebo. “We wanted neutral ground where all of us can get together with an outside voice,” reasons the calm, thoughtful Daniel. “Paul is someone we all love and trust.”
It was Paul and Chris’ idea to improvise playing a wineglass as percussion on the delicious groove of Put The Hurt On Me. “We wanted to use a cowbell, but didn’t have one to hand,” admits Daniel. “I wasn’t sure about using a wineglass, but it turns out a large wineglass will sound exactly like a cowbell if you play it right!” It’s a spontaneous spirit embedded in Sons’ powerful mood, as Daniel states: “Sons is very in-your-face. We found ourselves naturally writing songs that don’t hang about. It’s bang-bang-bang, completely to the point.”
As concise as the album is, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for nuance. The Stax feel of Better As One is the perfect setting for the song’s powerfully simple message “I know that we can do better, I know we’re better as one.” It was written after the horror of the fatal far-right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, with its rallying cry also aimed at understanding among Brexit’s division. Kelvin says: “The lyrics fell out of me after Charlottesville. I did the vocals in just three takes. Authoritarian politicians are celebrating division, but unity can break division. If we don’t pay attention, these politicians will carry on. And if that happens, we’re fucked.”
The wah-guitar infused funk of Simple Things is shot through with a more straightforward optimism from dad-of-three Kelvin. “I write about darker stuff and there have been plenty of tales in my life to tell,” laughs Kelvin. “But Simple Things is about the point in your life where everything feels beautiful and you have to step back and breathe it in, realising you don’t need anything else. I understand now what it is to have that simple life.” The witty relationship drama The Thief is harder to explain, as Daniel confesses: “I still don’t know where my songs come from, and I don’t want to know, really. I’m not a virtuoso musician, but it’s a world I can immerse myself in.
When I write, I listen to the same thing over and over, driving my wife insane! I find a joy in writing like that, though, and The Thief is typical. I’m glad I can do it, as making music is all I’ve done since I was 14. I’m internationally unemployable.”
The Heavy may not be suited to regular life, but they certainly know how to provide an escape from it. As well as raw power, their music has a filmic sweep which has seen them used in many TV shows – Suits, The Vampire Diaries and True Blood among them – as well as high-profile sync slots. What Makes A Good Man was an integral part of Guinness’ much-praised Sapeurs ad, winning Best Sync at 2018’s Music And Sound Awards. Turn Up provided the soundtrack for Nike’s epic six-minute advert starring Cristiano Ronaldo, while Jude Law appears in a series of Pepsi ads in Japan featuring Same Ol’. They recorded a bespoke track for a Jaguar advert, while a collab with 50 Cent was used as the NFL’s draft coverage on ESPN.
“We’re not a band who have been in people’s faces,” says Daniel. “The way our music is used is the modern way in. We get into people’s homes through TV, film and games. I’m a Liverpool fan, so Ronaldo was no big deal for me, but Spence supports Manchester United and he’s still on a high about us being associated with him!”
The sleeve of Sons is a neat summary of The Heavy’s gang mentality. It’s the first time the band have appeared on one of their album covers, with Dan Kendall’s photo capturing their tight-knit spirit. “Daniel and Chris both have the same photo at home,” recalls Kelvin. “We’d played one of those magic shows in Paris where we tore the club to pieces. We’d smashed it, everything was 100% and after a few drinks to celebrate we stumbled into a photo booth. You can see how happy we are, and we wanted to recreate that photo. Dan’s photo does just that. As Daniel says, that photo is how the record sounds.” As the guitarist summarises: “We’ve had a few long-winded album titles. I can’t even remember where I saw ‘Sons’ written down, but it immediately felt right. Like the record, it’s not overthinking it.”
Sons is, as you’d expect, an album that will sound immense at The Heavy’s communal live shows. “Normally, when you rehearse a record, you quickly know what works live,” reasons Kelvin. “This one works from beginning to end. Every one of these songs could work live. You can play these while our old favourites fill in around them. I know I’m going to lose some weight smashing these songs out on tour! It lends itself so perfectly to being played live, it’s really exciting.”
One listen to Sons and it’s clear: here is a band who have the secret to being perfectly heavy for you. John Earls
Sons is released on BMG on May 17th.