The Bucket Playlist’s interview with The Islas

‘It’s a belter, we got a real blast of serotonin playing it!’

by Sara Seddon at The Bucket Playlist

Norwich-based indie rock band The Islas have released their debut EP ‘Oblivion’ today (27 August), marking one of the best EPs of the year and giving us six tracks about love, loss and dissatisfaction that showcase just how different their songs can be sonically.

The Islas comprise Nathan Baverstock (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Ross Allen (lead guitar), Granger Wittering (bass, backing vocals) and Ed Chalu (drums). The band developed their sound through a mutual desire to put on high energy shows with tight two minute tracks. Baverstock and Allen met when he was 16 and Allen was 18 at their ‘Access to Music’ college in Norwich. Baverstock then met Wittering, who’s actually from Venezuela, working in Norwich and Chalu joined the fray later on. Their name references the nickname for their local football club, The Canaries, which got them thinking about the Canary Isles, coupled with Wittering’s South American heritage, according to Baverstock.

‘The EP means so much to us, finally having it out there,’ Baverstock said. ‘It feels like when we have released singles, we are only giving away just a little bit of ourselves, so now with a six track EP, we feel like we have the chance to show what we are really about and each song shows how versatile we are. It was so much fun to record and create and when we finally did listen back as a band, it was one of the only times we’ve been impressed or pleased with what we’ve created.’

‘Oblivion’ is an incredibly polished EP. Some tracks are barely more than two minutes long but they all contain unexpected musical elements, with each track sonically different to the one that precedes it. The opening track, ‘Don’t Wait For Me’, was initially designed to be just guitars and vocals, according to Baverstock: ‘You give a little bit of yourself, we took the bridge and chorus from other areas,’ he said. Granger nods: ‘We couldn’t see each other over lockdown, so musical projects were a godsend to us. Ross and you have Logic (Logic Pro, Apple’s digital audio workstation), me and Ed were really excited about this one.’

‘I sent him Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Green Day’s ‘Amy’, we thought it would be great to have that kind of feel’

However, it is the outro at around the two minute mark that takes the track to a new level, featuring multiple guitar parts and layers that are hard to unpick listening to it. Incredibly, Baverstock wasn’t sure about using ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ on the EP: ‘I really didn’t like it,’ he confessed. ‘I gave it to Ross, he holds back, but he liked it and if he says he likes something, he thinks it’s amazing. I sent him Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ and Green Day’s ‘Amy’, we thought it would be great to have that kind of feel, so I was messing about with the chords A, A7, D and Dm in the outro  that’s what the guitar parts are playing as well. It’s Beatlesey, we’ve got everything in there,’ he laughed. ‘We’ve got an organ, a piano and eight different guitar parts. I can’t wait to play it live, it felt like us. Ed says it’s the best that we’ve done and he only plays for 10 seconds!’

The intro encapsulates what the song’s all about: ‘I’m a have-a-go hero and this one’s for all the lost souls who never felt like they could, never thought that they should.’

They’ve had some entertaining moments as a band, often courtesy of Chalu, according to Baverstock: ‘There’ve been a couple funny stories, like the time we played in Rouen and we were given a bar tab of €25 per person under our names. By the time myself, Granger and Ross got to the bar our tab had been run dry because Ed had used it entirely and told the different bar staff a different name each time! I cannot believe he held it together for that show but annoyingly he actually plays better drunk, I think. Another top Ed moment was when we were playing a show in London and I turned round to see him sniffing a curtain mid-set whilst he was playing. As the song broke down, I asked him what he was doing and he replied “Something smells really funny back here”. I remember laughing and having to pull it together because he was really concerned and frowning the whole show and I can’t believe his attention span is as bad as it is! Never a dull moment with that boy, though.’

‘I like people who stay in lane with the vocals and really sing it’

Last month, they released the single ‘All The Same’ featuring London-based singer-songwriter Emily Parish, which is one of the most haunting tracks on the EP: ‘I’m actually quite happy, you wouldn’t know it, would you?,’ Baverstock joked. ‘I love that song, I wrote the lyrics first, the line “I tell myself, I was born too late”. Me and Ross wrote a song a while ago with the same chord progression but the demo version didn’t have any drums. Emily’s such an amazing singer, she smashed it in the studio. We didn’t dictate what we wanted her to do, she’s such a clever songwriter. It’s a bit ‘Young Love’ by Mystery Jets. We’ve always wanted to feature a female vocalist, she comes in so mellow and it just builds. I like people who stay in lane with the vocals and really sing it, if that makes sense? When Emily hits the high part, it’s so right, it’s my favourite part of the song.’

Essentially, ‘All The Same’ is about the frustrations of lockdown: ‘There’s the line in it “I’m so jealous of all my brothers who felt the loving arms of their mothers”, I like elongating feelings, it was tough in lockdown,’ Baverstock said. ‘I’m close to my family, I couldn’t see my friends, that’s where the line “I hold my phone and all I read are the words upon my Twitter feed as I scroll my life away” came from. It’s how I felt, I feel frustrated if I’m not doing anything, I get super aggy. I loved, LOVED the demo version of it, Granger’s bass follows the changes, every single part is simple. We’d been listening to Arctic Monkey’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino album and Ed said let’s have a deep snare (drum) all of the way. The bass and drums are the centrepieces. I love it and I never say that.’

As the chorus goes: ‘We’ll come crashing down by half past ten. We share an afternoon again. And I love it all the same. All the same.’

Baverstock and Parish

For me, the biggest track on the EP is ‘Rock City’, which turns out to be about a music venue with a DJ in Nottingham: ‘I hate it and love it at the same time,’ Baverstock joked. ‘Last time I went I was 23, I’m 25 now and I was amazed at how grim it was, hence the lyric “I can’t believe I’m here again”, I was in the toilets there writing lyrics!’ I say that the lyrics made me smile because everyone can identify with being in a dodgy club and he laughs: ‘Yeah, it’s like the line ‘My latest Tinderella passes me a Stella” – it won’t win a poetry prize, will it?!’

The song lyrics sums up how everyone feels in clubs like that: ‘Loose lovers intertwine like an art, I can’t believe I am here again. Oh lord…’

Last month, they also released ‘Absence of You’, which tackles post break-up emotions and missing someone. It’s a vibrant anthem, opening with tropical, jangly guitars, delicate drums and a summery, nostalgic feel before kicking into the Killers-esque verse: ‘Norfolk breeze comes through my window, I hold myself between the sheets in the morning glow and I ponder all the things I should do. But in truth I’m still lost in the absence of you.’

We tried to protect the riffs in the song, the drum and bass keep it dancey

The gritty, lyrical guitar melodies and Baverstock’s warm vocals pull you in: ‘It’s not really a lovesick song about wanting someone back, just the sensation of feeling empty and realising that that chapter of your life has gone,’ Baverstock said. ‘I’m in a good place now but at the time Granger had to deal with sad Nathan who grew his hair and was in his room a lot! We tried to protect the riffs in the song, the drum and bass keep it dancey. It’s one of the more concise ones.’ I say that I particularly love the jangly guitar line in it: ‘Ross came up with the riff of D, Dmaj7 and G, I just play it an octave lower when Granger’s writing the bass,’ Baverstock said. ‘He accentuates the little changes, the licks in the chorus, He writes riffs, I’m more chord progression.’

‘Oblivion’ is a natural closer for the EP and is the grungiest track on there. ‘When we wrote it, I wasn’t feeling it until Ross wrote that riff and me and Granger looked at each other and we knew that was it, and that’s what we had to call the EP,’ Baverstock said. ‘I’ll add guitar parts but I won’t write Ross’s parts.’ Granger laughs: ‘I can tell if he’s being a bit emotional ‘cos Nirvana unplugged versions is what I get!’ Baverstock is laughing as well: ‘We had the chord progression and Ross’ riff and I said to him “I love that riff”, we had to fade it out, it’s so big – I wouldn’t say that to his face, haha!’

‘Oblivion’ references the summer of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests: ‘It was so intense, there were these horrible acts of violence,’ Baverstock said, referring to the riots. ‘I felt guilty at the time because I didn’t learn about racism at school. I started the song on one of my walks in town, I saw a sign about keeping two metres apart for social distancing and that became the start. I listened to a lot of The Clash, Declan McKenna, Sam Fender’s ‘White Priviledge’, I wanted it to be catchy, to have a Killers vibe, with a bit of Catfish and the Bottlemen.’

That is evident from the lyrics: ‘So many voices talk to put a world to rights but we only shine lights on the same privileged whites.

‘His brain’s the glue, he has a great ear for it’

Baverstock started writing around 30 songs in lockdown, so they have plenty more material to work on: ‘I’ll write them on my acoustic guitar, send them to Ross, he has really good ideas, his brain’s the glue, he has a great ear for it,’ he said. ‘I don’t tell the others what to play, Granger writes his own bass line. I try to write a song in one sitting, I don’t really like writing in parts. There have been some stinkers in there, though!’

Astonishingly, given the strength of his vocals, Baverstock still struggles to believe he can actually sing: ‘When I was in middle school, I used to sing all the time then my music teacher told me to stop but it never stopped me.’

If they could hear one of their songs on any TV show, Baverstock picks Soccer AM, a British football-based comedy/talk show, produced by Sky Sports. ‘I’m a big football fan, I’d love to hear ‘Absence of You’ or ‘Rock City’ on that,’ he said. Wittering has other ideas: ‘I was going to say with John Watson (the presenter) screaming in the background but when I hear Emily’s voice on ‘All The Same’, I’m thinking John Lewis’ Christmas advert, there’s something so pure about her voice.’

Baverstock would love to write a song with Michelle Zauner, who goes by the artist name of Japanese Breakfast: ‘Honestly, her music takes me to another planet, she is a beautiful songwriter and can channel so much emotion in her music,’ he said. ‘There’s been countless times I’ve sat in my room listening to her music just to turn things off for a little while. Her track ‘Kokomo, IN’ is one of my all-time favourites, it’s stunning and I would love to sing with her. Alongside her, I’d say Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers. Probably one of the world’s most underrated songwriters for me. I’d be honoured to create something with him.’

(Photo from left to right: Granger, Ed, Nathan and Ross. Photo credit: James Hubbard)

this story first appeared on: https://inthebucketplaylist.com/ on August 27.

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