Life Aquatic Band
What we want to do is make people dance. We wanna play gigs that are like a big party, where everyone is having a great time.
Attempt at your own peril to define the musical stylings of the Life Aquatic Band. Try to shoe-horn them into a neat little category and they’ll rebel against the label in glorious fashion.
What I can dare to describe about this group is that their music fuses disco, jazz, groove, soul, indie and reggae styles into a sumptuous and evocative soundtrack that smoothly navigates all of these stylings with ease, sometimes even within the same tune.
As a collective they are a bundle of youthful enthusiasm – basically a group of kids messing around in a studio, brandishing painted fingernails, ludicrous hats and loud t-shirts, chuckling and giggling between takes. They make little or no attempt at being serious. This banterous rabble is a perplexing juxtaposition to the tight and mature composition of their music, which is vibrant and remarkably innovative.
I managed to grab six members of this kooky septet on a sun-kissed but mercifully cool Tuesday evening at Yellow Arch Studios. Ben Allen (vocals, guitarist and cow-bell aficionado), Henry Tufton (synth, keyboards and guitar), Jazmine Kelly (vocals, vibraslap), Will Shaw (drums), Tim Peters (trombone, vocals) talked to me about their style, starting out in Sheffield, and their aspirations.
First things first, what on earth is a vibraslap?
Henry: They used to be a horse’s jaw-bone with rattling teeth, but they don’t do that anymore, which we support! It’s a percussion instrument that gives out a unique little sound.
Next, the name – a reference to Wes Anderson’s film. What does this film mean to you guys?
Ben: I guess I’m very obsessed with sea life. Bill Murray is my favourite actor, and Wes Anderson is my favourite director. He has an aesthetic quality that I don’t think others have. And I was stuck for a band name and that sounded pretty good.
Will: I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t seen it!
Ben: When you get home you have to watch it now!
Is the stylistic approach of a Wes Anderson film something you think about in your music?
Ben: I guess the first EP has five different genres on it and it was sort of a project I set for myself, to try and write very different songs. In the very nature of that I’m trying to push my ability to stay in one genre, and the music becomes very experimental because of that. And because everyone in the band are such fantastic musicians, they know how to play genres and take various stylistic traits. Tim, for example is a classically trained singer.
How would you describe your music to people that are reading about you for the first time in Exposed?
Henry: I think more and more we try to focus on groove-orientated music. Disco, reggae, afro-beat influences and electronic influences, having originally come from guitar-based roots.
Ben: What we want to do is make people dance – it’s dance music with real instruments. We wanna play gigs that are like a big party, where everyone is having a great time.
Henry: Having said that, we are also throwing back to some traditional styles. One of the tracks we’ve just been recording has much more of a 50s and 60s kind of feel. One of the reasons we wanted to record that is because it shows a contrast to some of the more electro-punk and disco-influenced songs we’re doing. We don’t want every song to sound the same.
So you don’t want to settle into any given genre?
Tim: We don’t want to settle, but we always work within the same sound-world. The same colours, lots of brass, eclectic jazz-influence styles, and folky vocals over a disco backdrop.
The single from the first EP ‘Sassy’s Revenge’ meanders into different genres seamlessly. Where are you pulling inspiration from as a collective?
Henry: A big one for me would be psych-rock, neo-psychedelia such as Tame Impala. I’m trying to channel that kind of thing with my synth-playing, but we have different influences from different members so we aren’t ripping anybody off too much!
Ben: For me it’s LCD Soundsystem and Talking Heads. I’m also weirdly into Nick Drake, Laura Marling and those nice, soft vocal melodies that we try to mix in.
Henry: Jaz, me and Ben saw David Byrne in Madrid last week and it was amazing! He had a 12-piece band that moved around. I want us to get dance routines involved in our live gigs!
Will: Am I safe sat on the drum kit from these routines?
Henry: No way! We’d rather you were dancing than drumming! We have to give a shout-out to our trumpet player Emily, who isn’t here. She’s infectious on stage and really sends those vibes out to the crowds.
Ben: We also have a mystery man called Gonk who appears at some of our gigs and dances around. But no-one knows who he is!
Always good to have die-hard fans! How have you found life starting out on the Sheffield music-scene?
Henry: It’s been great – we’ve had a really positive experience. The other bands are all really supportive, it’s been friendly and welcoming. And it seems to be in good health!
Ben: You suddenly realise how many good bands are around. Like at Tramlines, there were so many amazing bands around the fringe.
Henry: We had a great gig recently at Cafe Totem where people were singing the words back to us – that felt like a breakthrough moment! Our favourite gigs have to be at Foodhall though, those guys are doing amazing work for the community.
You’ve also had a busy Tramlines weekend. How was that?
Ben: Tramlines was great. Jaz’s other band Surf Jaz and the Beached Boys played a gig at DINA and it was great!
Henry: Surf Jaz is really chilled out and it was super fun to do something different. There is only three of us in that band, rather than seven. The sound engineers will have breathed a sigh of relief with that!
Do you think the music industry at the moment is more daunting to start out in?
Henry: Well, we talk about this. We all love to listen to albums. But there is a reason every band is bringing out loads of singles. From a small band’s point of view it’s probably better to have small separate releases. But we really want to make a new EP at the minute, so watch out for that.
Ben: You have to bring out a lot of singles to build up an audience, so realistically if we brought out an album now we’d be wasting a lot of material. We have loads of stuff, but we’re limited to what we can put out.
Other than the EP what’s next in your schedule?
Will: We’ve got a gig at the Lescar soon. In fact Jez, the guy who runs it, was brought to tears at our gig at The Leadmill, which is incredible coming from someone who knows his stuff!
So where do you want to go with this group?
Henry: We’re really enjoying making music at the minute, so we want to carry on doing that and make it really sustainable. Gigging and getting loads of experience and keep bouncing off each other.
Ben: It might be a cliché but there are no egos here. No one is vying to be a rock star. We just want to gig in different cities, meet loads of people and collaborate.
To round off then, who would be your dream person to collaborate with?
Ben: For me, it would be James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem.
Henry: Mine would be Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, I’d love to have a jam with him.
Jaz: I think I’d be too scared to collaborate with them, but King Gizzard and Big Lizzard.
Henry: Yeah, they’re all crazy as well!
Will: If I could pick anyone it would be Shabaka Hutchins. Saxophone is the one thing missing in our group, and he’s incredible, lively and aggressive.
Henry: We’d also love to work with rappers and go into some hip-hop vibes. Otis Mensah would be amazing!
Life Aquatic Band’s latest EP ‘Dog-Weekend Party’, a concept album worked around a dog-themed party, and their latest single, ‘Keep the Rain Away’, an ode to enjoying the good times, are on Spotify now.
In association with www.sivtickets.com, the local box office.