Lovelife’s Lee Newell on Moving from London to Brooklyn, Starting His New Band + Tolerating Life
Lee Newell knows full well the perils of playing in a “buzz band.” Back in 2011, the rock ‘n’ roller fronted Viva Brother, one of London’s most polarizing groups. They were championed by the NME as “the next best thing,” but their debut, ‘Famous First Words,’ was widely panned, and “gritpop,” the rock subgenre whose name they coined, all but died within a year’s time.
“If anybody here doesn’t want to see the future of music, leave now,” Newell said just before the band’s first show at London’s Flower Pot.
In addition to being cocky, the four-piece picked fights with other bands and were consistently quotable throughout their short career. Then it all ended. Viva Brother broke up, Newell split from his girlfriend and his life was turned upside down. He knew that he had to make a change. And it had to begin with a big move — to Brooklyn.
Newell and several Brother band members have risen from the ashes since immigrating to the New York City borough. They’ve rebranded themselves as Lovelife, a synth-pop group, and added Mirrors keyboard master and producer Ally Young. Recently, Diffuser.fm spoke to Newell about his brand-new band, what he likes about the United States and where he sees his career heading in the near future.
Lovelife has called the U.S. “home” for only a little while now. Do you actually feel at home here?
Whether we call it our home, I’m not sure yet. It definitely feels like home because this is where we started the band.
What do you find odd about America?
Well, many things. It’s very big. How oversized and large everything is. The size of meals, the size of people. Very respectable people, though. But everything’s very exaggerated.
Why did you choose Brooklyn over other music towns like L.A. or Portland or Austin?
That’s a good question [laughs]. I think we did it because we know a couple of people in New York. In hindsight, you know, I’d definitely like to spend a good amount of time in L.A., in terms of playing music [there] for a couple of months. The music we wrote in New York in that s—ty apartment we had definitely added … a feeling of being trapped. If you’re in New York, there’s so many people that it’s so — Oh, I can’t think of the f–king word.
Yeah! Thanks. Definitely a sense of claustrophobia, too. Out in L.A., everything’s bigger and further away, so I feel like the music is affected [by that].
How do you guys support yourselves? Do you have day jobs?
We did, yeah. I mean, we don’t right now. We just couldn’t hold them down. But I was working in a coffee shop, and so was Frank [Colucci], and some of the other guys were working in restaurants and stuff. You know, doing what we could.
How different was it working in coffee shops in New York, compared to being practically famous in London?
Well, of course, it’s different. It’s something that we have to do. It’s something that I felt I had to do, definitely. And it was fun going out on a whim, relying completely on yourself and not having a label or anything. It is tough, but it’s worth it.
It’s interesting that you give all of your music away for free. What made you come to that decision?
We could’ve charged for it. But as a brand-new band, we didn’t want to be a buzz band. We’d like to focus more on the live aspect. And in this day and age, it seems like the record should accompany the live show rather than the other way around. We’re self-sufficient in terms of recording and distribution and everything.
Tell us about the single ‘Your New Beloved.’
That one was written amidst Hurricane Sandy. And talking about that sense of claustrophobia, we couldn’t leave our apartment, otherwise we could’ve ended up in Oz. So we stayed in and wrote music. It happened very quickly. I think it was probably finished in less than half a day. And for whatever reason, that’s the one that’s grabbed attention more than anything else.
Viva Brother was a very different band. At any time during your move, did you consciously decide to shed your old skin? What was the process like?
Well, I’m not a different person. I’m the same old carcass, unfortunately. Moving over to a different country, there’s definitely an element of shedding your skin, I suppose. And the grass is always greener as well, which you have to experience for yourself. It wasn’t like I wanted to shake off and forget what I’ve done before. Far from it. I just wanted to see what else is out there.
And to be honest, it happened over such a normal, slow period of time that it probably wasn’t as black and white as it had looked. It felt quite normal.
So, it never felt like you were running away.
I mean, I suppose in a way there was a sense of taking refuge — a little bit. And I don’t think anyone would blame us for doing that. It’s not something I’m sure is worth talking about but I’m happy acknowledging.
How has Ally Young helped your career along?
Ally was producing the second Brother album, and over a period of time, we started working close together, and we came to a point where we were moving quite far away from what we were doing before. At the time when I met him, I was going through some personal issues. I just broke up with my girlfriend. You know, we lived together, and then I moved out. And the band started to break up a little bit and it was just a dark time.
And it was a similar time for him. He was playing in a band with Mirrors, and he had just broke up with his longtime girlfriend. We took solace in each other and put our heads on each other’s shoulders — not literally putting our heads on each other’s shoulders. That just wouldn’t work. [Laughs] And then we grew quite fond of each other in terms of our music, and the other boys loved him, so we were like “F— it, let’s try something with this.”
What’s next for Lovelife?
Well, in terms of the band, we’re still writing music. We’ve got an EP on the way which will be out this summer. We’ve got a few more tours lined up. We’re talking to some labels now about maybe putting an album out, so that’ll be the next thing. We’re still very much enjoying writing this music and doing what we want. We’re just exploring.
Do you “love” life right now?
Ha, I tolerate it.
Watch Lovelife’s ‘Your New Beloved’ Video