Tuff Love Interview – “I don’t wanna be rock”

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Photo by Martin Baker

It’s November already and I’m wondering where 2015 has gone. It’s been a busy year for Tuff Love as their momentum grows with every glowing review but it’s far from over yet. We’re on the eve of the release of their Dregs EP, the third in a series of EP’s that has introduced their melodic fuzzy guitar pop to the world, a world that seems pretty happy to hear it. They’ll shortly be on the road again for a headline UK tour and an appearance at Iceland’s Airwaves festival. Now seems like the perfect time to catch up with Suse and Julie, Tuff Love’s co-conspirators, who’ve had a brief chance to take a deep breath before it all kicks off again.

Immediately striking is the obvious bond between the two friends, although I’m pretty certain they don’t realise quite how aligned to one another they come across. I ask about their relationship, do they always get on? I assume they’ve been asked this many times before. “Nobody’s ever dared ask before,” laughs Julie, followed without a pause by Suse, “we can smash each others heads in,” and back to Julie, “but we get on pretty much all the time. Sometimes it’s difficult because we have to do so many things together but it’s good, it makes our friendship stronger.” Suse doesn’t miss a beat, “I think most of the time we have the same ideas, we’re generally quite similar”.

The whole interview plays out like this. What may be a one or two sentence answer is delivered like a tag-team between the two of them. They’re polite, very softly spoken and altogether good company, all qualities that I think shine through on their records. It’s easy to see why their dynamic is so appealing.

It’d be easy to assume they’re lifelong friends but that’s not the case as Suse starts explaining their history to me. “We started in about 2013 after we met at a party and we got jamming and playing some of Julie’s songs that she’d already written and then… what happened?”. Julie jumps in with a giggle, “then that kind of fell apart for a while but eventually we decided that actually we’d do this.” Suse, “yeah and we’d given ourselves the name Tuff Love and we’d maybe played a gig and recorded six songs which we put up online and we called it Junk because that’s what it was, a bunch of stuff on Soundcloud, it’s not cos we thought it was shit.  Then Johnny from Lost Map got in touch and said Hey, I like your songs, can I put them out on vinyl an we were like Woo Hoo.”

This leads us nicely on to their label, Lost Map, set up by Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail. It’s a label with a nice sense of identity and a real community feel. “Everyone’s really down with each others band, there’s something very homely about it all,” explains Julie. “I think it feels like a community of people and if we ever needed anything, like we needed a drummer at one point, we know we can just ask someone” agrees Suse, “the Lost Map family, we play with Johnny in the Pictish Trail sometimes. It’s incestuous” she laughs.

I fumble my way around trying to explain that whenever I hear Tuff Love I’m half expecting each song to burst into rock but that doesn’t often happen. The new EP in particular fizzes from time to time but overall is a far more introspective record than the previous two. There’s a lot going on and no shortage of craft and skill in creating the absorbing melodies that are a core strength of the band. I suggest it’s reminiscent of Throwing Muses. “Yeah, a couple of people have said that to me,’ says Julie, “I like that.” “I kind of don’t want to be rock,” Suse follows up, “It’s nice to try something different, on this EP we’ve tried to have something different.” Julie interjects, “I don’t think that’s cos we’re deliberately trying to write something different” before Suse responds, “I meant we’re not just trying to knock out another version of stuff we’ve already done, we’re just trying to let the songs come naturally”.

So where do the songs come from? What makes the two of you tick together? Suse explains, “There’re three processes. Number one is that Julie pretty much writes a song in it’s entirety and then brings it to me and I kind of fix it (much laughter and a raised eyebrow from Julie). No, I mean structure it together properly and it becomes a full song. Another way is that I’ll write a song but I don’t really do words and then I take it to Julie and we fix it up. The other way is that we’ll just start on a riff together and just flesh out a song from there”. “It’s quite fun, we’ve different ways of working and each one doesn’t always result in the same thing” adds Julie.

We chat about the bands 2015 highlights. Supporting Ride scores highly, “that was a lot of fun, playing the Barrowland” says Julie. “I think Glastonbnury was really great because there were actually people there to see us and it was such a big festival and it was quite busy,” responds Suse. On the same theme I’m keen to find out more but from a personal angle. What are the highs and lows of being in Tuff Love? Are there days when you feel nobody really cares about the band? “That’s a really good question.” says Suse, “I definitely think sometimes it’s easy to feel great when you’re on tour for a month and then you come back and it’s like…nothing. It’s very up and down. It’s hard to stay consistent and if you’re not constantly doing it it’s hard to stay properly motivated but most of the time I wake up and i’m like Ahhhh (sighs happily), I’m so glad to be doing this, it’s fun. The excitement outweighs the other stuff.” Do you get worried about it at all? Julie says “I don’t really. I think if I thought about it I’d maybe worry, on the night of a show i’ll start thinking I wonder if people will come.” Suse agrees, “There’s so much crap to think about before going on tour, rehearsing, remembering to bring stuff, organising, that I kinda forget about the actual gigs until we’re there and it’s like shit, we’ve sold zero tickets.”

When I was a lot younger I used to think touring sounded like a dream but now I have a real sympathy for how mentally draining it must be to be so far from home for so long. It’s a lot of pressure and potentially a very damaging experience for people who are often so young to go through. I wonder how Tuff Love cope with it? “I think if you’re in a good place in your life and you go away on tour probably everything will be good but if you’re feeling unsettled already it’s not the nicest thing to be going away , it can be quite difficult. We’ve not done it that much. Bands go away for a year at a time and I kind of don’t really want to do that.” explains Suse. “I don’t want to do that either” says Julie firmly, “I like writing songs. At a different moment in my life I think it might have been different, we don’t really indulge that much, we’re really quiet.” “We just play the gig then go for a bath in the Travelodge” Suse confesses. I ask if it plays on their mind that if Tuff Love see continued success then the pressure could be there for them to be away for longer and longer periods. Suse, “We’ve chatted about it and not really…neither of us would want to spend a year away from home.” Julie continues, “You’re not in control of your own life when you’re away. It’s fun but you’re not in charge. I don’t like the sense that you’re not progressing with other parts of your life if you’re away for long. You’ve got to keep your soul, body and spirit together.” I can’t help but firmly applaud their attitude.

Photo by Martin Baker
Photo by Martin Baker

Talk turns to future plans and Suse tells me “We’re just writing as much as possible. I suppose we’re trying to make an album, well, we are making an album. We’re testing, just a lot of songwriting without putting too much pressure on ourselves.” Are you under pressure from anywhere else to get on with it? They share a knowing glance and both say “well…..” Suse continues, “Pressure is good and bad. We want to keep releasing stuff and being active but I just don’t want it to be forced. I don’t want to do something because someone says so and we rush right in and end up with something we’re not happy about. If what we come up with doesn’t sound like what we’re after then,” “We’ll just leave it” Julie interjects, “we’ll just try again.”

The most animated part of our conversation comes when I ask whether the band pay much attention to their own press / reviews. Julie is laidback, “I don’t pay very much attention, sometimes I’ll pay a lot of attention to something really random, some tiny detail. Sometimes some things upset me. It depends if it hits a nerve, if you know you’ve got some kind of insecurity.” Suse starts heating things up, “Viv Albertine of the Slits once said something about us on 6 Music’s Round Table.” “No, No, it was the girl from Echobelly (Sonya Madan).” interrupts Julie. Suse becomes more animated on the mention of her name, “Yeah, she said you’d have to be under 12 years old to get away with writing this song (‘That’s Right’ from the band’s 2nd EP, Dross) and I was just like Fuck You! Fuck You, you’ve only listened to it once and we spent a lot of time getting the chorus down as well as possible, getting it to sound like you’re being smacked in the face with a guitar and mastering the melodies, there’s actually a lot going on in that song. That really, really pissed me off, I don’t normally react that much but….” Julie laughs, “Viv Albertine was also horrible about us though. She just said she hated it.” Suse isn’t for letting the Echobelly thing go and I ask if they know the band’s music. “Yeah and it’s fine” Suse says with a smile, “but if she came out with her band now nobody would give a fucking shit…ha ha…sorry. Times have changed Sonya!” This time they both burst out laughing.

So we head our separate ways into the November Glasgow night. Julie is off to see Blackalicious with some friends and Suse is off to see her girlfriend. I’m heading home feeling content. I’m excited for the hometown leg of Tuff Love’s forthcoming tour. I’m excited to hear what they’ll come up with next when working on their debut album. Most of all I’m just excited because they’ve filled me with confidence that Tuff Love are on the right track. Their personalities reflect their music, there’s plenty going on, they’re good fun, interesting and very level-headed, completely in control of their situation.  Get yourself a copy of Dregs, go see them on tour. You’ll know what I mean, and you can rest assured that there’ll be plenty more to come from Tuff Love.

Tuff Love’s Dregs EP is released on Lost Map on 6th November. Get it right here

Tuff Love are on the road. Catch them on the following dates:
Sat 7th Nov – Limbo, Edinburgh
Sun 8th Nov – Swn Festival, Swansea
Mon 9th Nov – The Harley, Sheffield
Tue 10th Nov – The Musician, Leicester
Wed 11th Nov – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton
Thu 12th Nov – Dalston Victoria, London
Fri 13th Nov – Beacons Metro x DIY, Leeds
Sat 14th Nov – The Castle, Manchester
Sun 15th Nov – Fulford Arms, York
Sat 21st Nov – The Hug & Pint, Glasgow

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