Former Tribes frontman Johnny Lloyd is preparing to embark on his UK tour as a solo artist, which gets underway later this month and includes a date at the Bodega. JAMIE BARLOW speaks to the singer ahead of the show
Indie four-piece Tribes broke up in November 2013, on the back of releasing two albums and, after having six months off, frontman and guitarist Johnny Lloyd went his own way to focus on his solo ambitions.
The Camden-based singer-songwriter seems to have rediscovered his mojo, having worked with Jamie T and Hugo White (The Maccabees) to produce material for his excellent four-song EP, Dreamland, which was released in June.
Lloyd’s latest musical concoction sounds refreshing and, above all, exciting – from an enigmatic character who admits to feeling happier and focussed, back doing what he does best.
What were the reasons behind Tribes’ split in 2013?
It was down to me having enough really. I think we reached an end with Island Records and there were a few issues. We reached the end of that cycle and I felt like it was time to cut loose really. It was a strange point we reached. Just on the business side of things, it was getting pretty tricky with the label. I felt like we had reached the end of what we were going to do together. It was hard because people agreed and others didn’t. But, looking back, I feel it was for the best.
How do you reflect on the four years the band were together and the two albums produced? It seemed as though you had a great time as a collective.
That was the whole thing behind the split as well. We’d always had a great time and I think it was about to get to the point where we weren’t going to have a great time anymore. I look back on it very fondly and I still see the boys – it was a great, mad few years. It was just a great thing; we never really set out to achieve anything and what we achieved went way beyond our expectations.
Did you have your heart set on going solo after Tribes and do you feel reinvigorated now as a musician?
I’m not sure if I had my heart set on going solo. I always wrote the songs in Tribes and that felt totally the right group to be in. I think having a bit of time off from it really helped after the group. Now I do feel more focussed on what I’m doing and definitely happier in some ways with the music I’m making. I think I might’ve lost that (passion) maybe for a year after the band.
Your Dreamland EP sounds like vintage you. Is it fair to say you’re back to hitting top form?
I feel good, I’m older. I feel like the stuff sounds quality. Obviously working with Hugo (White) and Jamie (T) has been great and that brings out the best in me on that EP. I like to think I’m writing my best music that I’ve written to date. But it’s not really for me to decide.
How did you find working with Hugo and Jamie?
They did the demos before, but not the EP. Working with Hugo and Jamie was fantastic. Jamie has a very different style to Hugo as you can imagine, it’s more of a performance-based thing. We did Hello Death in a day but might have done Pilgrims in four or five days with Hugo. He’s very thorough and a brilliant producer, is Hugo White, and a great mate. He’s brought out the best in me – definitely with Dreamland and Happy Humans as well. Both are very different people with different styles, but it couldn’t have gone better really. It made me feel comfortable with what I was doing again and both were very encouraging.
Can you tell us a bit more about the EP – what are the songs about? Hello Death, obviously, sounds quite morbid.
It’s (Hello Death) a restart, a reset of what I was doing prior. So I think the idea of saying goodbye and starting again, that’s pretty much it. The rest is just commentary. Pilgrims is an old-school, personal love song. Happy Humans is like an observation. Dreamland has got that “take a chance, step into the unknown” kind of thing, which I think was going through my head the whole time. It was one of the challenges I was faced with.
Since going solo, you’ve supported The Kooks, Jamie T and The Maccabees, as well as playing your own tour in March. Was it nice to get back on the road?
The whole year’s been really exciting. The Maccabees tour was great. I played with a band called Black Honey which was wicked. It feels different. It’s strange going out under your own name, but I’m getting more and more comfortable with it. It’s been that “back in the band” kind of thing, which I’ve really enjoyed.
You’re playing in Nottingham at the Bodega, where you played a few months ago. Do you like playing in the city?
I’ve always really enjoyed it. It’s actually probably one of my favourite cities. Dot to Dot (Festival) was wicked the other month. You end up doing a lot of shows there (in Nottingham). I remember a lot of shows at the Bodega early on. I’ve played there twice this year and it’s a great city – it’s always got a good vibe to it. I have always said that this (small-scale and intimate) circuit is the most fun you can have. The band are really excited – I’ve got Miguel (Demelo) from Tribes playing on drums with me. It’s nice to move around the country, playing your music. It’s a 45-minute set this time and I feel like I can get more into it this time. I love being on tour.
What do you make of the current indie scene and who are you listing to?
It’s pretty good. I think it’s become a lot harder in the last five years, there’s less money there for some of the deals. I really dig bands like Swim Deep, I thought their last record was really cool. I think Peace are pretty cool. It’s different and there’s definitely bands like Swim Deep who are trying to do something different. It’s pushing towards electronic a little bit. If anything, it feels a lot smaller – there’s a lot less bands having a crack at it. I don’t know why that is or if that’s because there’s less deals going around. But it feels like there’s less music. I remember at the beginning of Tribes, there was literally ten bands going for that slot and now it feels like there’s less going on in the clubs. Probably because there’s less clubs.
What are your plans for when the tour finishes in October?
I’ve been talking about making a record with Hugo White – I think we’re going to do that together. I just want to get on the road and get back out there. I’m hoping after this tour we’ve got a few more dates this year and then we’ll do a lot more next year – and then really hit the summer festivals. I feel really happy. I’ve got a great manager and the people around me are working really hard. It’s just exciting.
Johnny Lloyd plays at the Bodega on Friday, September 30. Tickets are £8.80 from alttickets.com.