Eagulls. An unlikely name for an unlikely band. Do people ever struggle with your name, Eagulls? "Of course they do!" says singer George Mitchell. "I like that. It's a nonsensical word. It’s a joke that's gone too far. And it's still there. I find it funny."
You don't know what to expect with a name like that, I say. "Yeah. It's like a deterrent. Why would I want to listen to a band with that name? You know what I mean? In a sense, it's the people who are going to listen to a band with that name who had to really want to even give it a chance. I wouldn't want to be clicking on a link, and listen to this band called Eagulls. Fuck that!"
This is the thing about Eagulls. They are funny, acerbic even, but also deadly serious, as they channel the spirit and sound of 80s post punk into the here and now. They are a band respectful of an era they weren't alive in, rather than chained to.
The Leeds five-piece were initially formed in 2010 by Henry Ruddel (drums) and guitarist Mark Goldsworthy (aka Goldy). They then recruited Liam Matthews on guitar, before Tom Kelly arrived on bass, followed by singer George Mitchell. “We had faith in him ’cause we knew his character and had seen drawings that he’d done,” Mark has previously explained. “All of that was what we wanted to project with our lyrics. We didn’t want them to be too deep or too serious. Not loads of metaphors, just something real.”
"Before the band I did used to write nonsensical poetry, whilst I was drawing," says George. "I've always been more of a drawer than a writer. I used to write words that I liked and rhymed them with things. Like Dadaesque rhymes, really.
"It was Goldy and Henry who picked up on what I did, and said, 'George would be perfect for a frontman who thinks in different ways'. I was, 'no, I'm not fucking doing that', at first. I don't know what it was but I was bored of where I was living and thought, 'stuff it, I'll just get on the train and go to Leeds and see what happens.”
So, you'd never been on stage before? "I'd been on stage doing, like, karaoke, basically," he says rather drolly. "The first few years, whilst I was on stage, I didn't know what the fuck was going on. I didn't understand anything. I didn't even understand anything about how the guitars worked. I didn't understand guitar pedals, or how a PA works. It was quite mad. It was a time of really working out how to do this, what I was doing. And then this turned into like an educational period of how to be on stage and know what was going on. Because, I used to. – I still do now, once the music is on – I switch off and turn in to this different head space. It sounds cheesy, but I get lost in the music," he laughs. "That's actually what happens. It can't be healthy." he says in that humorously dry Yorkshire fashion. "It was all from scratch. I had no idea what was going on. Now I know what's going on-ish."
With a sound that was influenced by post-punk – bands like The Cure, Killing Joke, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Echo & The Bunnymen – Eagulls released their first single ‘Council Flat Blues’ in 2011, followed by a split single with Mazes that same year. They then released a self-titled EP in 2012, which in North America, was released on the Canadian hardcore label, Deranged Records. Things then started to get really interesting for the band when they released a castigating open letter via their online blog in early 2013, and aimed at their peers: ‘TO ALL BEACH BANDS SUCKING EACH OTHERS DICKS AND RUBBING THE PRESS’ CLITS. I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HAIR CLEAN OFF,’ begins the letter. ‘WITHOUT YOUR 90s HAIRSTYLES OVER YOUR UGLY FACES YOU HAVE NOTHING,’ they continued. ‘FUCK YOU AND ALL YOUR MUMS AND DADS THAT PAY FOR YOU TO DO THE BAND FULL TIME’, they said. ‘ALL YOUR DISGUSTING AFROBEAT SOUNDS, MIXED WITH YOUR COMEDIC MOCK AMERICAN SINGING MAKES ME HAVE GOOSEBUMPS AND LEAVES ME NERVOUS FROM CRINGING SO HARD,' they opined. And so it went on. It was a refreshing, couldn't give a fuck rant, that at the time got them some attention, whether intended or not. Did you write that letter? I ask George, "Mmmm. To be honest, yes I did! I wish I didn't. It was like at the time nobody really knew us. Even now they don't know us, our sense of humour, stuff like that. It was like walking into a party with people you don't know, with one friend that you're really close to, and saying a joke that only he or she would understand. Yeah. It really backfired, and the party turned stale. Quickly," he deadpans.
I say to George that there is obviously humour in there. "Yeah, but there's also some very questionable things. It still affects who we are today. 'Who are these kids writing this really uncalled for letter'? It was a massive joke that people took extremely wrong. I don't want people to see me as that sort of person. I'm not really like that."
Still, there's no doubting that George can be a troubled soul. He's very open about his state of mind and the fact he feels down and depressed regularly. Lyrically, the first album was dominated by his battle to understand who he was, evident on songs such as ‘Possessed’, "I don't want to know you / Because I'm something else!" he sang, to himself. "Basically, mental health is a massive factor in what I write. It gives me the stimulant to write what I'm thinking about. Being down is a huge part of my writing. But also, whilst being in that space, it's looking for a direction out of it. That's what I tend to write about.
“It's like a written path, trying to find my way out of the down episodes. That's what I feel it's like. The first album was more about my anxieties. It was me trying to figure out my anxieties. This album is more about me trying to figure out what's going on with anxiety and depression. It's quite strange when I try and pick it apart in my head, figuring out where the words come from. But that's where they are derived from.”
Musically, there is a pronounced shift in sound for the band on their new album, Ullages; away from their post-punkish roots, towards something a little less abrasive, and more melodic, albeit with still sounding raw, and not polished. How does George see it? "We had three years space in-between albums, where we'd gone on tour playing the first album's songs over and over again, and you sorta come to terms with the fact you want to develop and try and push yourselves to do something a bit more special. Three years of thinking and waiting and knowing we were going to do this next one, we wanted to at least try and do something different. I think a lot of people were waiting for the next Eagulls album to be very similar to the first.
"It was also a natural thing. I know that me and Goldy wanted to do something different. When we started to write, it naturally happened. It was quite strange. The first song we wrote was ‘Lemon Tree’. The first version of that song was still pummelling, and fast, like the first record. And then we picked it apart, changed things, added more melodies and whatnot, and it started to go towards the direction this album took. It was ‘LIfe in Rewind’ (from the new album) that cemented the change. As soon as we started to write in 3/4 instead of 4/4 beats it really took an alternative direction and we started digging our way down that path instead of the old path."
Whilst the name Eagulls sounds daft to some ears, and actually doesn't mean anything, Ullages is based on the real word. Ullage, even though it is in fact an anagram of Eagulls, is a word to describe the amount by which a container falls short of being full, a term used in the pub and brewage industry. I tell him I hadn't heard that word used ever since I was actually working in pubs back in the day, "It's basically just another way of looking at pessimism and optimism," he says. "You could look at the album just like most people: 'it's like the dregs of the bottle, or whatever'. But, it's really a bit of both. It's a measurement of what is left to either fill or what is already gone. It’s just a metaphorical way of looking at the world.
The discussion continues with the alcohol. I tell him I'm feeling slightly sorry for myself, as I've been drinking the last two nights, "You know what, I've done exactly the same thing." Sunday, Monday drinking, not the best of ideas, I say. "No, neither Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday, Saturday. We all make it through in the end," is his optimistic outcome. Perhaps helped along by his remedy for a hangover, "Dioralyte. Electrolytes, blood sugars and salts all in one little packet," he tells me by way of a sales pitch. 'It's meant for when you have the shits, basically," he laughs. "It really works."
I'm sold. As I am on the Eagulls. A really rather refreshing proposition, whose 'open letter' contains more than a kernel of truth about who they really are, and how they perceive the current state of affairs, although there's no doubting they are enjoying the minor successes they have had so far. "I do enjoy it. We don't take it for granted. Sometimes we don't really understand why we're even here. Like, a few years ago, Suede asked us to support them at the Royal Albert Hall. I was looking around on the stage and thinking, 'what are we doing here'? Then you come to terms with the fact they asked us to do it, and they were our musical idols. We must have been doing something right.
With a second, well-received album, plus a summer packed full of tours and festivals coming up, they must be doing something right. And they're looking forward to visiting Brighton again for The Great Escape. "We played it a few years back, actually at Horatio's (where they will be playing again), on the pier. We've got a few friends in Brighton now. It's always good when we go there. We usually get pretty trolled, really" That's what Brighton is famous for, I say. "It is. And why not. if you're going to do it anywhere, do it there!