Growing up in a small, grey, industrial town with little else to do but smoke roll-ups and drink cheap cider from plastic bottles with your mates drives your mind in either one of two ways. The first is that you succumb to suburbia, land a job in a call centre, get married at 21 and have three kids and a gormless Labrador by 22. Et voila: that’s the rest of your life, on a plate. The other outcome is that countryside claustrophobia forces you to go balls-out-creative for escapism, which is exactly what happened to Kris Leonard of indie-pop outfit Viola Beach.
The laddish quartet has been storming the UK’s music media world – topping Annie Mac’s list of names to watch for 2016 – and we agree that the warm reception to their presence is well deserved. Cult label Communion Singles Club have just released Boys That Sing, the chirpy first pressing from Viola Beach which already racked up nearly a million plays on Soundcloud and Spotify – not bad for a debut release. This year will see some pretty intense touring for the group, which will surely cement their reputation within the UK indie scene.
What to expect? Quintessentially British indie-pop with a bit of swagger that gets you nostalgic for 2005’s bad haircuts and winklepickers, albeit with a refreshing, forward-thinking edge.
We spoke to charismatic frontman Kris about growing up in The North, working with friends and stage fright.
Did growing up in Warrington influence your sound at all?
Yeah, being from Warrington has definitely had a big effect on the messages in the songs, I guess. As I had nothing to do other than drink cider and smoke rollies on a park and chase after girls so that comes out a lot in the sort of tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Also, the town is very grey and industrial, so for us, this idea of escapism is something we feel quite strongly about.
Are you gonna stay in Warrington or make the move to London, like all successful musicians seem to do these days?
Hmm… I think it’s far too early to say! I know Tom likes it there a lot, but it might be a little full on for me. We’ll have to see, I guess.
What kind of stuff did you listen to growing up, influenced the sounds you’ve created…
I listened to anything that was playing and I guess it must have influenced me a lot subconsciously. But then the Kooks’ first album Inside In/Inside Out came out when I was 9. That was the first record I ever bought and it definitely played a big part in me becoming a musician.
Is there anything that you’d recommend we listen to?
Anything by Damon Albarn that you haven’t heard already. He’s got a few under-the-radar records out there like with his side-project Rocketjuice & The Moon, which is a sort of funk project with Flea [Red Hot Chili Peppers] and Tony Allen. Also Mali Music, which is a record he produced with a group of Malian musicians. It’s really amazing. He’s a big inspiration.