Tom Bellamy and Paul Mullen of Losers Take Us Inside New Musical Experiment ‘EP01’ (INTERVIEW)

British born and now international, the electronic-infused band Losers are introducing us to their new direction in music via song releases every six weeks, the first four of which are going to be gathered together as EPO1 on June 28th. So far, the singles “Wake Up” and “Lost in Translation” have been released and give you a solid idea of the sounds and ideas that Losers are pursuing right now. Many of their current songs have an older point of origin before being reworked into the band’s more current musical approaches. That doesn’t stop Losers from gleefully presenting acoustic versions and alternate versions in live performance online, in fact that’s an activity that thoroughly inspires them. 

After their very creatively intense and heavier sounding album How To Ruin Other People’s Futures in 2016, Losers have been exploring shorter formats. You may have picked up on their now-viral cover of Tears For Fears’ “Shout” which appeared on the show A Discovery of Witches, which showed very plainly how much craftsmanship goes into their approach to songs, but they also pile up songwriting relentlessly over time and are currently working through their own files with plenty more to reveal. I spoke with multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Tom Bellamy and guitarist and vocalist Paul Mullen, Zooming in from Berlin and California, respectively, about these new releases and EP01. Naturally, Paul Mullen dashed from a two hour wait at the California DMV to join us, and not only was there great merriment over Tom Bellamy’s new “Tiger King” mustache, but he’s now determined to dig up the flairs he embellished with leopard print panels in high school to match the ‘stache. Our conversation carried on as follows:

Hannah Means-Shannon: Was any of the work on the EP done during 2020 and 2021, or was it totally wrapped?

Tom Bellamy: I actually finished it before lockdown and it was ready to go. I just stayed at home and did some gardening, made some cakes, made bread for the first time. That was actually really, really satisfying. We’ve been lucky because we’d been writing songs for so long now that we had plenty.

HMS: When did you all decide to do the “Behind the Music” videos, commenting on each track?

Paul Mullen: If we’re in the same country, me and Tom pretty much spend every day together in the studio and we sort of talked about it years ago, I think. It’s like those “Classic Album” shows that come on at midnight on a random channel and they go through Pink Floyd, for example. We’ve got so much stuff, and we spend most of our time in the studio, so the sort of conversations that we have in there are bizarre, and weird, and good, and interesting. There’s whole process, with so many layers to the tracks, that we’ve always thought it would be nice to dissect them, and hopefully people find that interesting. That’s what we spend most of our lives doing. 

Tom: Because we produce the stuff ourselves, we’ve got all of our files. Because we have them all there, it’s a nice thing to talk about. There’s so much talk about content and creating stuff, and taking photos, but I was wondering, “What can we do which would actually be valuable and interesting?” When you start talking about it, it’s actually a time to look at things from a different point of view. 

Paul Mullen: It’s nice because we can share whatever knowledge we have. When we’re working, we’re just making things up, and some things work out, and some things may not, and that’s fine. But we’re sharing our experiences and techniques and if that inspires someone to go out and try something, that’s great. I think everyone is missing that creative hub of being in the studio and hanging out with different artists do the pandemic. That’s made us a little more social on the socials and the connection has been great. Even if people can find out what not to do, that’s great! We know all these tracks inside and out, especially Tom, since he’s always at the control desk.

HMS: Does recording the videos give you a sense of engagement with the songs since you’re not able to be in a live play situation? I know that for a lot of musicians, without touring in 2020 or 2021, they don’t have a sense of closure on the music they’ve been putting out. It still feels open-ended for them.

Tom: Absolutely. We’ve been in that position for a really long time, actually. We’ve written so many songs and haven’t even released them. It’s a really strange place to be in. You can’t get a reaction or get it off your chest. You’ve got feelings inside and want to say something, almost like a diary entry, but rereading that diary again [by doing these videos] does get it off your chest. 

Paul: This pace of releasing one song every six weeks has been pretty brisk as well, which is good. Tom, we’ve been in lockdown for seven or eight years, really.  We don’t really perform that much. We toured with Sisters of Mercy and we’ve done a couple of headlining things, as well as festivals. So this campaign right now feels really fresh because we’re releasing a track every six weeks. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for an album, which can have a lot of weight to it. The last album did have a lot of weight to it because it was really difficult to make. Now it’s just like, “Get it out there! Go on! Be free!”  Some of these tracks took a long time to complete, so it’s nice.

Tom: It’s nice to get feedback from people.

Paul: If we’ve had a song inside for five years, let the audience deal with it now.

HMS: Does the naming of the EP as “EP01” suggest that could continue to roll out more EPs in this format in future if you want to? Is it a track you can keep moving along?

Paul: How many tracks have we got, Tom?

Tom: I think we’ve got about 25 ready to go. Then we’ve got I don’t know how many ideas. We thought it would be interesting to see if we could get this process going and get some momentum by releasing a track every six weeks. And if we bunch them up into an EP, that’s okay, but it’s more about the idea of relentless releasing to keep a flow up. It keeps it interesting for us, and more interesting for the audience. It’s a way of doing things without the big stress of having to fit tracks into an album. It’s a new way to work that keeps you on your toes. Then, every week we do a webinar or a live version. 

Paul: It keeps us interested because when you do a whole album campaign, it goes press, press, press, then tour, then onto the next album. We’re just going to keep this going as long as we want, and this all might evolve as well. We might add some more things. It’s more of a living, breathing thing which people seem to be enjoying.

HMS: It’s a cool way to distribute the creative weight of writing and recording songs, because as each song is released, you can give it full attention for a while. Whereas on a full album release, some songs might get more attention than others. 

Tom: Absolutely. 

Paul: I never thought about that, but it’s no filler. Each track gets time to live and breathe, and people can digest it. In this day and age, people only listen to about twenty seconds of a song anyway, then it’s clicking onto something else.

HMS: There’s a lot of truth in that. Though I have heard that during the pandemic, people have been listening to full albums for the first time in years.

Paul: I hope that’s true. I still like the whole album format to deliver a body of work. Who knows what will happen? If we get four EPs together and there’s a demand for it, we might put it together into a double vinyl. I think that would be quite nice. I’ve always loved to release stuff on vinyl.

Tom: Our stuff has always been very diverse and eclectic, and to try to take it in all at once is a lot to ask of people. With EPs, that gives things room to breathe. 

Paul: I sat down with a friend by a campfire and he was asking about my music. I said, “I did this record called How To Ruin Other People’s Futures. It’s not really right for this vibe, though.” Then he sat down and listened to the entire thing. I couldn’t believe that he would do that. I was sitting there, doing other things, since it’s a bit weird putting your own album. And it’s a really tough record to listen to.

HMS: Did it seem any different to you hearing it after some time has passed, or is it still a megalith? I know that you all went through some experiences making that that impacted you and sent you in a new direction. That seems like a direction which you are quite happy with. 

Tom: I haven’t listened to it in a while, but I’m in such a different place now emotionally. I listened to a couple of tracks on there, and I was surprised by how raucous they sounded. It’s a really great record, but you have to be in the right frame of mind. I’m just not in that frame of mind anymore. I’m sure there will be a time in my life when I just want to make my ears bleed and I’ll put it on again. [Laughs] The last record that I played in full was Pink Moon by Nick Drake. That’s my vibe right now. I was sat in my garden having a bit of food as the sun was going down. Just chilling. 

Paul: I think it’s a good album. I think the opening track is still fantastic. 

Tom: It’s incredibly emotional, isn’t it? I listen to it and I get goose bumps. 

Paul: The album How To Ruin Other People’s Futures is very isolated and arduous, I think. It’s basically a handbook and rule book on how to destroy other people’s lives. The last track, “The Ruiner” is still one of my favorite tracks I’ve ever done, though.

HMS: With the new stuff, particularly, you seem very open to creating different versions of the songs and introducing them live online, whether it’s going acoustic or just reworking and rethinking the song. Do you do that with your older music, too?

Paul: We’ve covered a couple of tracks as well, and we don’t just directly cover stuff. We tend to take it apart and start again, so it just depends on the feel of it and seeing where we go with it. We are looking at the older stuff and reworking it, right?

Tom: We are reworking older stuff. I am trying to create a more electronic, dance-feel to the older tracks. I’ve always had this thing that when I go to see a band, I want to be entertained, and know that they put some effort into thinking about entertaining people in a live situation. Rather than just playing the songs that you’ve heard on your player or laptop. If some band plays their song perfectly back to me, but just a little bit louder, I’m not impressed. That’s your basic level. I did this with Coopers, as well. 

You’ve got to take it way beyond. Live and recording are completely different things. At the moment, with this EP, I’m incredibly proud of the arrangements and songwriting. I think we’ve really honed in on some fantastic songwriting, and that’s that box ticked. But what about live? I want to see something different. I just get bored too easily. I love seeing something different when you’re not expecting it. Especially with electronic music. I’m so excited about deconstructing the tracks we’ve been working on at the moment, and the older tracks. I’m putting them into this brand-new perspective. I love it. Once you’ve got the essence of a good song, you can do whatever you want with it. That’s the joy for me.

HMS: It takes a certain foundation when writing a song so that it can still work well when transformed by all these variations later, right?

Paul: A good starting point is for me and Tom to be on the same beat. There have been tracks in the past when we’re not on the same “one”. We don’t always know which tracks we’ll work on later and redo, though.

Tom: On this EP, this is something I’ve talked about, particularly. When you create, it’s no holds barred, and you are as creative as possible, but then you need time to be away from it, so that you can come back and look at it objectively. Then you can see, “That’s a great chorus.” When you’re writing your first album, you often have that situation, because you have all the writing from your whole life up to that point, and then you can look back on it and be objective. 

That’s what I like about the way we sometimes work now. We have a splurge, but then we have time, and go away from it. When we return, we can pull away all the music and just listen to the vocals, for instance. Then we realize, “None of that music actually worked. Let’s try something different with it.” Then you actually get to work. It’s like a remix, almost. You just take the best element. Maybe it’s the bassline that’s amazing. We’re just incredibly lucky that we’re in a position where we can play around with things. “Lost in Translation” and also “Wake Up” on this EP are very good examples of that.

HMS: I was noticing that the remix approach that you’ve been describing is very close to the rewriting approach that you’ve taken with these newer songs. I know you’ve taken a lot of time and come back to them, even with totally new musical directions for them. In this case, the earlier songs hadn’t been released before, so people aren’t listening to an original and a remix, but rather the official release version.

Paul: That’s our process. It’s important to remember a certain feeling you have about a track. You have to step back, but still remember that feeling. Once you’ve heard a track 200 times, that feeling can go, so it’s important to remember why you are working on a piece and keep that essence as you develop it and add all the layers, like we do.

HMS: I wanted to ask you about Decentraland, the new platform that you’re involved with. It’s a virtual world, a bit like multiplayer online games, right? 

Tom: It’s a new social platform, which I believe is in what’s called “the Metaverse” which is part of the blockchain movement and cryptocurrency world. We have friends there and we’ve partnered up with them because we think they are doing amazing things. They have art galleries there, they have music venues. There’s a guy there designing a venue for us since anything is possible in that world. In these times, that is something really fresh and exciting. I’m somewhat obsessed with anything blockchain related and the possibilities for music and artists. I believe there is longevity and it’s great to be there at the start of that movement. 

Photo credit: Ben Madle

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