The best music bridges gaps, and LOYAL connect more communities than most – old disco with hyper-modern dance music; Radio 1-beloved pop with cutting edge indie Spotify playlists; studio geekery with banging live shows; heart on sleeve lyrics with high concept sci-fi stories...
It makes sense that when the band formed they ruminated on the concept of ‘the ancient future’. If some bands didn’t exist you’d know exactly how to invent them, but LOYAL sound like a band you’ve loved forever but can’t possibly imagine.
If this all sounds a bit abstract then we should examine the evidence. With close to 10 million Spotify plays alone, ‘Light Up With You’ is a melodic piano soul ballad wrapped in a joyous, shimmering pop song. Hype Machine-topping ‘Crave It Still’ meanwhile is euphoric gospel built on a pure disco funk foundation. ‘House For You’ is the house record Foals promised to make. And yet, every song sounds just like LOYAL – that subtle, lush, slightly off-centre production with emotional yet understated vocals that just… touch you.
“The music we make is because of all the stuff we’ve done, the experiences we’ve had,” says Alex Cowan, one third of the production and writing core than makes up LOYAL. And, boy, have they had plenty of experiences to draw from. The soul element comes from Alex, who has been producing and touring with the incomparable Alice Russell for a decade. Taking coals to Newcastle, the pair are beloved in America, even finding themselves on Jimmy Kimmel.
Making classic soul that passes the US test means that when Loyal need a sample they can make it themselves. But like everything they go the extra mile – like ‘Tower All Over’, a low slung filter disco classic that sounds as if the 90s decided to write some good songs over those amazing grooves they flinched.
“We spent ages making the sample for that,” Alex recalls. “We made something
that sounds really old school and then pitched it down and sampled it ourselves. So it sounds like an authentic record being sampled or reused.”
They continue this idea of making things seem timeless and, well, a bit wonky and from a variety of different sources, by having vocalists sing over pitched up
versions of the tracks only to pitch them back down again. “The first meetings with record labels they all asked us, ‘So how many samples do we need to get cleared?’” says Laurence Allen, the trio’s words and melody expert. “But there are none. The gospel choir we use is made to sound like we picked up an old record in our dad’s collection and thought, ‘Oh let’s sample that!’ but is actually stuff we’ve written and recorded.”
Laurence brings a completely different set of influences from his own past. His
understanding of rhythm comes from a previous life as a Streets-esque rapper and three summers of losing his marbles on the festival circuit in a seven piece ska band with members of Elastica and the Kooks. He’s also written top line melodies and lyrics for countless releases including songs by Bearcubs, I Am O*** and Michael Kaufman***.
Jimmy Day meanwhile has led a life in proper studios, one highlight being working on Massive Attack’s classic Mezzanine, as well as producing Phil Hartnoll of Orbital’s Longrange project and a two year tour as part of Tom Gandy’s Cagedbaby. Jimmy and Alex first collaborated on the analogue-only Let The Machines Do The Work house project (Laurence joined them when they produced an EP for Grace Carter). This hybrid of modern and old technology is at the core of what makes LOYAL stand out on the myriads of Spotify playlists they are curated into, from Indie Pop to Underground Hits.
“People don’t know where to place us,” says Jimmy. “Are we indie, are we dance
music? But I’m massively influenced by James Murphy or Kraftwerk, or disco
records by Bobby Bloom – so it makes sense that people don’t know what it is
because we’re fucking everywhere.”
“Fucking everywhere” is a good description of their reach over the last few years.
As well as killing it on Spotify (the American compilers of New Music Friday are
particular fans), they’ve also had support from Radio 1 DJs as diverse as Phil
Taggart, Mister Jam and Pete Tong, who admitted that ‘Green & The Blue’ gave him goosebumps – not the only person to react in such a way to that Chic-topped-gospel-house crescendo.
Meanwhile the tribal thumping of ‘Moving As One’ was featured on FIFA 2017 as
well as a Samsung advert, while HBO based their Best Shows round up around it. Game Of Thrones never sounded so good, and it rather suited Beyonce’s Lemonade too. Elsewhere i-D, Stereogum, Pigeons & Planes, Billboard and many others have raved about LOYAL’s releases on IAMSOUND and Good Years.
As well as a pair of Maida Vale sessions for Radio 1 – one live on air that had Loyle Carner call up to give them props on their cover of his track – they’ve started to make a similar dent on the road as they have online and on the radio. Support slots have included HÆLOS, Haus, and a US tour with Roosevelt had American fans singing along to all the words from LOYAL’s very first performance. “There’s a supporting cast in the studio but we’re the core,” explains Laurence, “and when we play live we swap Jimmy for Francesca who’s a great live singer.”
“If you were to come and see Loyal live tonight you’d see Jimmy at the bar with a
whiskey and Francesca onstage,” says Alex. “The best set we’ve ever done was a few weeks ago, headlining a festival in Geneva,” continues Laurence. “In the live set all the tracks mix into each other with the same kick drum, and we did all the hits, all the songs, and finished with club mixes of the tracks for the last 20 minutes. Lights down, just me and Al and it ended up being a kinda Caribou-ish underground set. We’re gonna experiment more down that road.”
It can’t be too long until they repeat Jimmy’s record of playing a gig for one
million people, with Phil Hartnoll in Second Life, the second biggest in the
computer game. Although you might find him at the virtual bar.
Next up sees the heart-on-sleeve 90s piano house anthem ‘Architect’, starting a
new chapter for LOYAL with their own label, some longer dubbed out songs and that live set that will surely connect even more communities. We can see those blissed out hugs in the crowd already. The 90s are back and they’ve been brought firmly to the future.
AGENT: Darren James-Thomas