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Preaching to the converted: Lovejoy on winning over their viral fan base IRL

Since acquiring an online following during the first Covid lockdown, indie-rock newcomers Lovejoy reflect on the challenge they were faced with: to win over their fan base in real life.

By Mark Beaumont

(Picture: Press)

When the 1,500 teenagers crammed into Brixton Electric scream — and boy, do they scream — it’s with the celebratory thrill of finding the Golden Ticket, the jackpot scratch card, the rarest Pokémon. After two years of tracking them down through obscure open mics and unsigned nights, they’ve finally found the band.

“We did a few secret, underground pseudo-gigs under false names at the beginning,” says Lovejoy singer William Gold, ears still ringing from the roof-lifting response to his band’s first full-on European tour, taking in everywhere from Glasgow to Gdansk. After becoming a YouTube sensation during lockdown — with 1.3 million subscribers and streams into the tens of millions, but zero gigs under their belts — what this humble indie-rock four-piece from Brighton didn’t want to do was “a really crap gig in front of a massive crowd and completely bomb”, explains Gold.

For their first gig, they were Lamp With Sock. For their second, they chose ASBO Barbeque, “because they banned barbecues on the beach in Brighton, which I thought was ridiculous”. But by the time they took the stage for their third-ever show, as Ouija Board Madness, they’d been rumbled.

“The fan base had cottoned onto the fact that we were playing under the pseudonyms,” says bassist Ash Kabosu, “and were actively seeking line-ups with bands on that they couldn’t find any information about and just turning up to the shows. By the third show, it was sold out. It was wall-to-wall, everyone’s going crazy. We did zero advertising whatsoever, and they found us.”

Backstage at the Electric, sweaty, buzzing and full of tour flu, Lovejoy — completed by guitarist Joe Goldsmith and drummer Mark Boardman — might easily be mistaken for any average gang of indie-rock sloggers catapulted to their first flush of success by a glowing endorsement from Gus from Alt-J on Steve Lamacq’s Roundtable. Instead, they’re something of an IndieGPT revolution. Gold initially found fame on Twitch and YouTube under the online pseudonym Wilbur Soot, a key player in a Minecraft community called Dream SMP, where participants created a dramatic historical saga storyline within the game, featuring warring nations, noble quests and more than a few nods to Hamilton. Several players streamed the music they were making in their bedrooms, too — Gold had been posting internet-themed relationship songs online since 2018 — and the millions of Minecrafters who flocked to the streams during the first Covid lockdown lapped it up so avidly that Dream SMP became a genuine Spotify genre. Premiered on Twitch, Gold’s sixth single ‘Your New Boyfriend’ made it to number 65 in 2020 and trended on Twitter in the US.

(Picture: Press)

“Over the span of 2018 and 2019, I wrote a solo album about how I was coming to hate living in London at the time,” says Gold. “When Covid hit, I lost a lot of my inspiration, being locked inside. It’s hard to get that connection to the world that you do need in lyrics and music. As we were coming out of what I thought was the end of Covid in 2021 — I know that sounds crazy now — I decided, ‘I want to get back into my passion, what I started out with.’ And I had the ever-blessed fact that I had this audience behind me now that wanted to hear what I was up to. They supported my music from the beginning, since back when I’d sing on stream to a 100 viewers all the way up to 100,000 viewers. Our first gig under our name, it was mind-blowing to be able to put those faces to all these lovely words you see on the internet. I feel like the human brain isn’t designed to take that on board.”

Thus the instant viral success that is Lovejoy ignited a back-to-front sort of phenomenon. “A lot of musicians have to start out writing good songs, and then they get the audience,” Gold says. “We’ve done it the other way around. We’ve been given this incredible audience and now I feel like I’m constantly trying to prove to them, I’m trying to give back the love that they’ve given to us.”

At the forefront of the next wave of the burgeoning alt-pop revival (following Wolf Alice, Sam Fender and Wet Leg), Lovejoy mark the pivot point where rock music becomes web-savvy enough to play the algorithm at its own game and subvert the streaming pop hegemony from within. And being so long removed from the push and pull of reactive indie scenes gone by, Lovejoy’s three EPs to date — 2021’s Are You Alright? and Pebble Brain, and the forthcoming Wake Up & It’s Over — are also able to feast freely on just as broad a historical buffet, taking snippets of influence from across the alt-rock decades.

Over an electrifying hour at the Electric, bolstered by a brass duo and a casual confidence, they mix’n’match elements of The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys, Orange Juice, The Cure, The Rapture, Franz Ferdinand, Blur, The Strokes and the more paisley-shirted end of C86. 

Their sing-along Gen Z following lap it up, enraptured by songs which speak to both their emotional and political dislocation. The vignettes of modern relationships on the Are You Alright? EP — with all their insecurities, paranoias and Tory parents — reflected Gold’s inherent “disillusion with romance”, while Pebble Brain, he explains, was his “breakup with England”. Its tracks include ‘The Fall’, a funk-punk portrait of medicated middle England and the bigotry it breeds. ‘You’ll Understand When You’re Older’ took sly digs at Matt Hancock’s many shades of in-office fumbling, while ‘Model Buses’ is introduced live as simply “a song about Boris Johnson”.

“That was written around the time that he was having his little parties at Number 10,” Gold says, “and with my mum being an absolute, avid hater of the Conservative Party her entire life, I thought, ‘What would my mum think if I went on a night out with Boris Johnson if he wasn’t Prime Minister, just a guy?’ So it’s a very ironic description of this greasy, Conservative man trying to pick up girls at a pub and me ridiculing them in a sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek kind of way. I wasn’t too happy with [the pandemic response] as you can probably tell, but there’s not much that the Conservative Party have done that I have been happy with.”

No wonder then that the new EP features a song called ‘It’s Golden Hour Somewhere’, dreaming of a less drizzly, less Tory, but distinctly shallower life. “I’ve always wanted to live in America,” Gold confides. “I want to try it before I die. ‘Golden Hour’… is almost the fear of what I’ll become if I were to move to Los Angeles. When I was in LA, you meet a lot of people who are quite fake and it’s almost a commentary on ‘Oh God, I hope I don’t become that.’”

In the meantime, Lovejoy are stuck dealing with one of the less predictable effects of Brexit — intimate chafing. “We had the option to get held up at Dover for 50 hours,” says Gold, “so we booked some surprisingly cheap last-minute flights through Oslo.”

“I lost an entire duffel bag of underwear,” Kabosu confesses. “I currently don’t have any pants or socks, but we’re dealing with it.” A secret gig as Captain Commando no doubt awaits…