Eagulls Frontman George Mitchell Talks Anxiety, Stolen Music and The Joy of Quitting Retail Jobs.
Thank goodness for Eagulls' March-released, self-titled debut LP.
For one thing, it's just great album — a fine introduction to one of the better post-punk bands to emerge in recent memory, a release in which Eagulls ferociously and brashly establishes itself as an impeccable amalgamation of all the best post-punk outfits of the '80s.
But the disc's release did something else for the Leeds-based five-piece: Eagulls planted the one thing that the band was previously most well-known for firmly into its past.
That thing? An open letter the band posted to its blog in early 2013, in which its members unabashedly and hilariously took to task pretty much everyone in the music industry and, most harshly, the up-and-coming acts being all slobbered over in the press.
The letter's since been taken down from the band's web presence, but it's still out there on various other outlets. And it's well worth the read.
Some highlights from the screed?
• “WITHOUT YOUR 90'S HAIRSTYLES OVER YOUR UGLY FACES YOU HAVE NOTHING.”
• “”ALL YOUR DISGUSTING AFROBEAT SOUNDS, MIXED WITH YOUR COMEDIC MOCK AMERICAN SINGING MAKES ME HAVE GOOSEBUMPS AND LEAVES ME NERVOUS FROM CRINGING SO HARD.”
• “YOU ARE THE TYPES OF PEOPLE WHO TAKE DRUGS YET HAVE NEVER MET A DRUG DEALER.”
It was a rallying cry — a fiery and perhaps needed one. But it kind of made Eagulls' members look like pricks, too. And it set the band up for plenty of return ridicule in the event that its then-still-being-developed recorded product didn't live up to the band's own hype.
Now, however, it's clear: That shouldn't have ever been a concern. Eagulls is a clear contender for end-of-year top album list consideration. It's angry, it's moody and even a little bouncy and catchy at times — something that should translate well to live settings, which American audiences in bulk can now see for themselves as the band hits the States for its first-ever honest-to-goodness tour.
Tonight, that tour brings the band to Deep Ellum venue Three Links. In advance of that performance, we caught up with Eagulls frontman George Mitchell to talk about how things have changed for him in the few months since his band's debut was released.
This is your biggest North American tour to date, right?
It is, yeah. This is our first actual real tour in America. Before, we just hit New York and Texas for SXSW.
Has that given you any insight as far as into what you think you can expect? Or are you guys going in with a blank slate?
I think we'll see the more sort of, like, countrysides this time. Places that we'll hit will be pretty American, so to speak
What does that even mean?
Just Americana! So, y'know, very American. I just picture us just playing in some dive bar and being out in a cage and people throwing beers at us.
You're probably going to be disappointed to learn that not all of our venues are like that. But are you nervous at all about the tour? I read in some interviews that you've given lately that you've had bouts of anxiety in the past. And I know that one of your songs in particular — “Nerve Endings” — is specifically about that. Is that something that kind of comes in to play as far as in the lead up to a tour of this magnitude?
It can be. But it's like a spur of the moment sort of anxiety that I have. It's not every day. I can't really tell when its gonna happen. It’s a weird sort of feeling that I just don't really understand.
Well these are certainly interesting times for you as a band as your band becomes more and more of a known entity. Has your anxiety been heightened at all by the increased exposure of the band? I'm pretty ignorant about this stuff, I admit.
Some days! I'm pretty ignorant to it, myself. I don't understand it. I never will be able to understand the issue with anxiety. It's just one of those things, so, yeah, don't plead ignorance because I'm just as ignorant as you. That's what the song is about. I don't understand what it is and I can't overcome it.
It seems the overall ethos of the band, far as I can tell, seems to be fairly angry. There's an anti-mainstream, almost anti-press aspect to the band. And yet here we are doing an interview. And I know you certainly haven’t been shy in the press. How do you balance those two things?
Well, the thing is, our band is five people who are real honest people. And, whether it's mainstream to do media or not, I think we always come across as honest, and we don't sort of back down to speak what we wanna speak — and a lot of people do that. Doing press and things like that is a great way to show people our truth and show our honesty. Yeah, you could say we’re very against the sort of mainstream ways. But we just do it our own way.
So what is the Eagulls' way?
We just do what we wanna do.
You guys have had some cool exposure here in the States. You played Letterman. You played Jools Holland, too, and they air that over here, too. But you also once wrote an open letter in which you shared how much you despise all this sort of stuff. There does seem to be a little bit of a dichotomy there.
Yeah, you could say that. But I think playing in mainstream media is a bit of a spit in the face in a sort of way. It's like, I'm gonna show you a very odd sort of way — like it went from Elbow and bands like that which are very easy listening to us [on Jools Holland]. I see it that our music's not supposed to be on things like that. So when we get the opportunity to do such shows, it's great. It's almost like it's funny to us. Because people don't seem to accept our music sometimes.
You're saying that it's more punk rock to play those shows than to avoid them altogether.
Yeah, and it’s like, one week, there was someone random who was just like, “Yeah, your song 'Tough Luck' is actually on a Dolce & Gabbana ad on the Internet.” And we were just like, “What?” we didn't know anything about it. And we asked our label — and they didn't know anything about it. So they were just using our song, which is actually about Thalidomide, the drug which caused birth defects for many families, and they're using it without even our permission, but they don't even understand what the song is about, and they’re using it to promote handbags and shoes. I found that amazing. It's just, like, a bit of a kick in the face to all these people.
It's nice and subversive, for sure. But at the same time, you gotta be a little annoyed that they're not crediting you or paying you.
Well, yeah. But you can't control everything. You can't just stop people from using your music. It's everywhere. There's always going to be someone who's gonna steal it and use it.
I don't know if you saw it but Dolce & Gabbana actually was in the press recently because of tax evasion.
So not paying for things is kind of a thing that they do.
You'd think they'd make a lot of money from these thousand pound handbags and stuff!
I read an interview with you guys about six months ago where you said you still had your day jobs. Are y'all past that now? Because I know that was a big kind of rallying cry for you guys at the start of the band, wanting to get out of the day to day.
Yeah, we are now doing the band as a full-time band. We're not trekking around 60-pound bags or gold or anything. But we're able to live.
Is it everything you dreamed it’d be?
Well, it's not going to work and seeing the mundane trends that you do every day. And that's what we wanted to escape for as long as we could. So every minute is good. We still have faults. We're British, so we harp on those.
Now that you're home, have you gone and seen your old work mates? Or are you just, like, over those guys?
Nah, I'm good friends with some of them! But a lot of them left. In fact, I just got told the managers got sacked, and then one of the other managers is actually leaving because it's all gone poor.
And what was that job specifically?
It was a retail job. I'm not gonna name the name because I don't want to merit them.
But clothes, basically.
Here's interesting connection that you guys have in Dallas that you probably aren't aware of: Don Henley of The Eagles lives here.
Is your name not a reference to theirs?
No, it's not a reference at all. It started as an in joke from a pop song. We was at a festival and during the interludes, this band playing this one pop song kept coming on and one of us replaced the world “angel” with “eagle,” as we was in our inebriated state at the festival. We said, “Oh, let's start a band, and we'll call ourselves 'Eagulls.'” It's like the word doesn't mean anything. It's not anything to do with the animal. It's a non-existing word in the English dictionary. It just makes people need to have to listen to the music — or they'll judge us by our name and then they'll chuck away the music and say “God, that name is stupid. I'm not listening to that.” So it's like, don't judge a book by its cover.
I read that, when you played Letterman, some of your friends out in the crowd realized that some other people out there were expecting the Don Henley group.
Yup, there was some family sat next to our friends, and they actually was like “Eagles, yeah!” They were, like, really happy. And then when we came out who knows what they thought.
Surely, that isn't the first time that's happened.
Probably not. About the first year that we was playing and getting gigs booked, a welfare center asked us to play, and I think they actually thought we was a tribute act. To be honest, I now wish we just bucked up and played the gig. It would have been so funny to be playing in front of 70-year-olds.
And 70-year-olds expecting “Hotel California,” no less.
Yeah but just getting something else.
“Tough Luck,” I guess.
“Tough Luck,” definitely.
Cover photo by Sandy Kim. Eagulls performs Friday, May 23, at Three Links.