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86TVs on ‘Higher Love’ and the challenge of creating a new band after The Maccabees

As 86TVs release their second single 'Higher Love', Felix and Will White tell Rolling Stone UK about the band's story so far...

By Nick Reilly

86TVs (Picture: Jono White)

As 86TVs debut their second single ‘Higher Love’, the group have discussed their new material and how, for half of the group at least, it represents their first major return to music since The Maccabees split in 2017.

The South London group consists of The Maccabees’ Hugo and Felix White, who are joined by their younger brother Will (formerly of indie band Talk Taxis) and drummer Jamie Morrison, the drummer for The Noisettes.

While ‘Higher Love’ is the second single to emerge from the group since their debut ‘Worn Out Buildings’ emerged in August, they first came together as a group some five years ago.

“We’ve been busy on other things in those five years, but I think it’s also taken that amount of time to find out what this band is. It’s important to have that long time to work out who you are, even though we’re still on that. It’s been a long gestation period for sure but we wanted to make music we knew we could stand behind,” Will White told Rolling Stone UK.

For Felix, meanwhile, there was a need to cool off after the end of The Maccabees to work out where his musical future was heading. “Fron my perspective and from a Maccabees perspective, those last shows at Ally Pally were kind of almost accidentally wrapping up a period of our lives and it was hugely emotional,” he said.

“It kind of preserved that band and that music in a way that might not have happened otherwise. So it felt so daunting to come back six months later, even though that was the initial idea. It felt daunting and really hard to navigate, with any sense of clarity, what that would be.”

He added: “But three of us are brothers and people had always felt like we’d always get together for a band. Whatever the natural chemistry was in that period, we were working through the debris in the studio. When Jamie came in it quickly felt like a band, so for all of those reasons. It’s taken so long, and some of the band have had children.

“As Will said, there’s no point doing anything unless we’re going to stand behind it in the same way we were able to do with that music in the past. So you had to be really honest with yourself. Is this music making me want to punch the air, travel the world and tell everyone about it? Until that moment comes, you feel like you can’t really do it.”

The music that 86TVs have released so far certainly fits the stringent criteria that Felix has laid out. ‘Higher Love’ is a slow burning beast that gradually builds up to an arena-sized chorus as the band sing of a “higher love watching over you”.

Felix said: “I wrote this years ago when I was a bit lost and I didn’t know what I was going to do. In hindsight it’s about realising that the thing you’re looking for is actually inside you. I really like songs where the focus point is telling someone else they’ve got it inside them to succeed, but listening back to it now, it’s telling myself that the thing I need is inside me. I’ve definitely had a history of sticking to things, so it’s about that revelation you have as an adult that you have all the tools inside you, but it’s up to you to locate them. That’s what the song is accidentally about.”

The group has also been a learning curve and a chance to take things back to basics. While each member is used to honing their craft in larger rooms, their gigs so far have given them a chance to get back to the smaller, more intimate rooms where they cut their teeth at the start of their careers.

“It’s felt like a new beginning in that respect,” said Felix. “It’s exciting because it feels very nostalgic and it reframes that experience for us. The specifics of plugging into the things that really make a gig work, which you can easily forget when you get bigger. Like plugging your amp on stage, no in-ear monitors, being able to talk to people in the crowd over the music.

“No one knows what we’re like yet and we get the chance to change the feeling in a room with music, faced with people that don’t know what they’re going to hear. Because once you get to the level where it’s all set up around you and people are paying to come and see you, you sort of won before you’ve walked on stage.”

He added: “For us, it’s like plugging back into that challenge where it’s almost like a boxing match. You’ve got to go in and you’ve got to win. When everyone’s that close together, it provides its own momentum and that’s what we need to achieve.”

Will said: “That’s the stuff that makes the band what the band is. That idea of failure, constantly dealing with failure. We supported Jamie T and that was the perfect crowd for us, but we know it won’t always be like that. That idea of losing the crowd and being like ‘fuck!’ knowing you have to win them over again. Like Felix said, that kind of stuff builds the momentum of the band and even the stuff like having deal with the fact you’ve parked miles from the stage and you have to get your gear there, you’re defeated before you even get to the gig!

“So you have to turn it on and win it. That’s the magic of not being at the top. It’s an exciting thing.”