Easy Life’s Murray Matravers may well have done one of the last acts of regretful karaoke for quite some time. When his band won the gong for Best New British Act at the Askhiphop Awards in February 2020 – just before the world began to ground to a halt – the frontman shunned a gushing acceptance speech, commandeered the mic and belted out an a cappella version of ‘She Will Be Loved’ by Maroon 5. There was no warning or commentary afterward – the giddy lads skulked off the stage like they’d just watched their mate moon the whole school assembly. It was a brilliantly baffling awards show moment.
“It was a bet that I had to pull through on,” he tells Askhiphop in his publicist’s office a year later, just around the corner from Brixton’s 02 Academy, where the bash was held. “I don’t think anyone goes to awards ceremonies thinking that they’re going to win… but we genuinely didn’t think we were gonna win and had no speech prepared so I just had to do that.
“The problem was I started with the second verse and for those people who weren’t fluent in [Maroon 5’s debut album] ‘Songs About Jane’, they might not have known what was going on for like the first 20 seconds. It’s often the way, though. I’ve been there before, like, ‘Does anyone actually know this song that I’m singing?’”
It provided an endearing introduction to the world of Easy Life, one of Britain’s most exciting emerging acts. They’re proud to be from the No Genre Generation, where embracing every sound and emotion is essential for their evolution; elements of R&B, indie, pop, jazz and hip-hop all flourish. In that moment, onstage at the Askhiphop Awards, Matravers affirmed why the five-piece’s fanbase far extends out of their native Leicester, and why they’re a firm fixture with a Gen-Z crowd – they offer a perfect mix of self-deprecation, humour and sincerity. He still really, really loves that Maroon 5 album, he insists.
Easy Life now release ‘Life’s A Beach’, one of the year’s finest debut records, as they ruminate on mental health, growing up in a forgotten part of the country and, occasionally, getting a bit mashed up. The album is anchored around the concept of a day at the British coast, encompassing the high hopes and eventual disappointment of a day that turns out to be a complete wash-out. It evokes the feeling of a seagull pinching a chip then shitting on your head on the exit; it’s so impossibly unlucky, you’ve got to laugh otherwise you’ll cry.
“It was an aspirational thing for us to think about the seaside,” he says. “Leicester is a nowhere place. It’s not north, south or anywhere close to a coast from either side. It’s in the middle of the country and plenty of motorways in the country go through it, but it’s just passed over.”
Given that Leicester has had it tougher than most in the last year – it was the first city in England to go into a local lockdown in June 2020 – its people will no doubt be happy to hear someone standing up for it. And a few weeks back, the band prepped for Leicester City’s FA Cup victory with a performance on BBC’s Football Focus, all clad in vintage Foxes home kits: “I think that’s why we’re so proud to be from there and want to keep banging that drum – because no one else will do,” Matravers explains.
He continues: “I still struggle to realise that we’re a band that people listen to. I’m not playing humble, but I really do think that it comes from the fact that we formed in Leicester on a whim and in a time in our lives when our vision for the band was pretty tiny. We would just get steaming and play our local as a form of escapism.
“For four years later to be doing all of this and releasing an album. I just…” He stops and throws his hands up in the air. “The reason I say this is that there is a frustration about growing up in a forgotten place like that, but it was also liberating in a way: we’ve got nothing to lose.”
After building a buzz in their home city – and since the release of their breakout debut single ‘Pockets’ in 2017 – the band quickly gained a fervent fanbase nationwide. Completed by Lewis Berry (guitar), Jordan Birtles (keyboards, percussion), Sam Hewitt (bass, saxophone) and Oliver Cassidy (drums), the band have released three mixtapes in that period: ‘Creature Comforts’ in 2018, ‘Spaceships’ a year later and their Top 10-charting ‘Junk Food’ in January 2020.
They’ve been riding high with their live shows, too. Crowds are full of bum bags, bucket hats and beach-themed inflatables, all complemented by a nightly stage-dive from frontman Matravers (who says he looks like a “flying egg”). They’ve conquered the toilet circuit and have two shows at the 5,000-capacity Brixton Academy locked in for later this year, among similar-sized shows in Brighton, Glasgow and a homecoming gig at Leicester’s Morningside Arena.
And ‘Life’s A Beach’ should happily entertain both the pre-drinks crowd and the stoned stragglers at the after-party: lost weekends (‘Wet Weekend, ‘Afters’), lust and heartbreak (‘Sunday’, ‘Sangria’) and anxiety and depression (‘Spiders’, ‘Nightmares’) all dominate Matravers’ songwriting.
“It was an aspirational thing for us to think about the seaside” – Murray Matravers
The pandemic interrupted years of growth, but also came at a crucial time for the health and survival of the band. “My self-esteem and ego took a big wallop at the start of the pandemic,” says Matravers. “It was very sustainable to go out and play where everyone knows your song and people behind the scenes treat you extra nice – but that is a luxury. At the start of the lockdown we were having these chats in our WhatsApp group like, ‘Does anyone care about Easy Life anymore?”
It’s a familiar tale of a band growing until something – or someone – breaks. “That whole trajectory we were on was great, but the touring was brutal – we weren’t looking after ourselves half as much as we ought to have been. I’m an arrogant motherfucker at the best of times, so having thousands of people screaming how great I am is just not good for the soul. There were a couple of times where my girlfriend had to be like, ‘You’re turning into a bit of a dickhead.’”
Matravers grew up on a turkey farm in Loughborough just outside of Leicester, and he’d initially retreat to a kitted-out barn to write songs on a piano or whatever instruments were lying about. Despite good grades, he shunned university, opting to work as the manager of a milkshake shop, before taking up a gig selling jacket potatoes on the market stall across the road.
Matravers admits that he’s an unusual frontman, but it’s one of the reasons why people flock to the band; he offers a flawed, honest character that’s relatable to those trapped in other forgotten places. “I realised the other day that my ‘super objective’ was just to be accepted. I just wanted to belong in a community and that’s why I’m so stoked about the Easy Life family. I’m generally not the type of person who would want to go out on a stage and perform – it makes me feel terribly anxious – but it suddenly felt so right and I loved it.”
A breakthrough songwriting moment for debut single ‘Pockets’ emerged when he stopped worrying and became indulgent: “I’d been trying to write music that I thought people would like and my biggest mistake was trying to second-guess what people would want, because they’re much more intelligent than you give them credit for. You need to give people an authentic piece of yourself.”
Another authentic piece was the 2018 single ‘Nightmares’, a candid piece of writing about mental health and anxiety. It’s their biggest song to date, boasting 32million streams on Spotify and a pivotal appearance in Michaela Coel’s TV show I May Destroy You, closing out the series’ devastating second episode in which Coel’s lead character details her sexual assault to friends and the police. In the song, he reflects on the moments of insomnia and self-loathing (“Face down on my pillow ’cause tonight there’s no surprises”) and ironic apathy (“Everybody on the late-night shift / Everybody on the brink of crisis”).
“I still struggle to realise that we’re a band that people listen to” – Murray Matravers
“Everyone feels like they have a lot of shit in their lives but never feel that they can talk about, so it creates this vicious cycle where we know that we should be talking about these problems, but we’re not going to because we think that no-one gives a fuck about them.”
The conversation around mental health has changed but the circumstances haven’t. Millennials find themselves stuck in the cycle of rental uncertainty, while Gen Z lose prime years of their life to a pandemic and opportunities may dwindle further. We are still some way off from finding any solutions.
“It remains really difficult to talk about how you feel, especially if how you feel isn’t very well or very healthy. To have that conversation, you have to put yourself in a very vulnerable place and as blokes, you’re conditioned to not be vulnerable, especially not to your girlfriend or boyfriend. We don’t want to go, ‘Actually, I’m a fucking wreck and crippingly insecure’ because we think that’s not an attractive quality to have.
“If you’re a kid and you’re 15, you’re gonna have Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok and be constantly confronted with an idealised living of being beautiful and successful. But 99 per cent of people aren’t represented, so it’s no wonder that they feel so terrible because they don’t see themselves achieving anything worthwhile. That fucked with me, because I didn’t see a 5’4” farmer boy from Leicester doing anything.”
When we head to east London for their debut Askhiphop cover shoot later in the day, it’s clear why their beach days end in disaster: an absurdly large inflatable beach ball rolls around the studio, ice creams start melting and a rogue pooch occasionally wanders into shot, deciding to take a whizz against the curtain. It’s loveable carnage, as ever with Easy Life.
And all of this fits with how Matravers wanted to style this record. He describes the first half as relatively chill and that these are the songs to queue up on the bluetooth speaker wedged into the sand. There’s the Mac DeMarco-aping ‘Have A Great Day’ and the sublime ‘Skeletons’, a Kaytranada-nodding house-pop groover, built around a nonsensical refrain.
“I didn’t want to do the whole lockdown album thing; I’m already over that,” he says. “‘Skeletons’ is something way out of our comfort zone, but it’s a celebration of the fact that we all have baggage to deal with, so let’s just embrace it. And the album needed a pick-me-up otherwise they might just cry; I wanted it to be like, ‘Oh it’s alright – we’ve all got shit to deal with.’”
“My self-esteem and ego took a big wallop at the start of the pandemic” – Murray Matravers
It’s somewhat at odds with how melancholy this album can feel at times; frustration simmers on some of the moodier tracks (‘Ocean View’) but a resilient and devoted spirit remains (‘Lifeboat’). Throughout, Matravers frequently channels his deepest fears, as on ‘A Message To Myself’ where he implores all of us “take your mother’s advice” and to keep the fridge well-stocked and the self-love topped up, because he doesn’t “want another premature farewell”. Likewise, ‘Living Strange’ picks up where 2019 single ‘Dead Celebrities’ left off, the singer mulling on posthumous recognition and the pitfalls of fame.
“It’s super-negative,” he laughs, shocked at himself that they left it like that. “We’ve always tried to spin those negative emotions into something positive, but I felt like the album could do with some dismal shit. I felt like that could be an opportunity to get angry and sad and shout about it in a safe way with a song like that.”
Many of the songs on the album predate the past year in which the album was pieced together. Opening song ‘A Message To Myself’ has been in the works for over 18 months, with animator Andy Baker only able to complete five seconds a week of the hand-drawn animated music video, which depicts a suicidal Matravers and his sympathetic goldfish. The minimal piano chords on ‘Compliments’ have been knocking about in Easy Life’s unfinished pile for nearly three years, as has ‘Music To Walk Home To’, a chaotic ode to the “sticky, dirty nights out” – it’s the soundtrack to the stagger home in the wee hours of June 22.
Most affecting of all is ‘Homesickness’, Easy Life’s most brilliant moment to date. An arpeggiated synthline (which Murray says “brought me to tears”) lingers as he offers up equal parts sincerity (“I’d climb the highest mountain just to catch a glimpse of you”) and some suggestive sauciness (“You’re my booty call at the end, though / Switch on me like Nintendo”). It’s sublime and silly all at once, a moment where Matravers reaches full circle; as playful and indulgent as he was on debut mixtape ‘Creature Comforts’ and as earnest as he strives to be now. After years on the road looking for acceptance, it was coming back home to Leicester that kept him going.
“Before the pandemic happened we were playing in so many amazing places… but I was still such a homebird and I wanted to come home and just be normal,” he says. “‘Life’s A Beach’ was about aspiring to not wanting to be in Leicester anymore, y’know: ‘Let’s go to the seaside and all that’. But I’ve been there, done that and just want to go back now. The band has become something bigger than any of us wanted it to be: it’s enabled us to live and connect with the people in the present.”
Easy Life’s ‘Life’s A Beach’ is out now
Styling by Jamie Jarvis
Glam by Georgia jade
The post Easy Life: “We bang the drum for places like Leicester because no one else will” appeared first on Askhiphop.