“Pop’s not a dirty word,” says Tom Lillywhite, the singer and guitarist of four-piece London indie newcomers Sons & Lovers. Amidst the increasingly blurred lines between indie, rock and pop, Sons & Lovers are emerging as a tour-de-force with enough energy and ambition to break through as one of the brightest new bands in the UK. “We love pop music as well as rock,” says Tom. “In my head the boundaries between those music genres don’t exist. It’s a big mash-up. There’s been a backlash against bands plugging in and playing, but it’s nice to see a few more bands in the charts.”
Sons & Lovers was formed by Tom and drummer Josh Gimber after playing in bands together for several years in Exeter. The pair moved to London, working “100-hour weeks” running a North London rehearsal studio and working at Camden Barfly while piecing together pop-flecked demos in their spare hours. Lift off for the boys came after the first studio session with producer James Earp. “We had a song we really loved but we didn’t know what to do with it,” explains Tom. In the ensuing weeks, and on a budget of £10, the video for ‘Set My Heart’ was born. It landed on Youtube in April 2011, backed with an enigmatic lack of information about the band, tapping into the current movement of internet under-exposure. The track speaks for itself: a delicate stomp, meshing melodic nous with the chant-along choruses that would set the blogosphere a-flutter. ‘Set My Heart’ is a rousing paean to romance on the breadline: “I’ll be your millionaire without a pound to my name.”
One line of the song was particularly telling of Tom’s musical ambitions: “We’re not doing it for the limelight/It’s the idea that I can choose what my life’s like.” He explains: “It’s a sense of taking things into your own hands. When we wrote that song we were working so hard, but it felt like nothing was really going anywhere. And it was just like, when you really decide you want to do something there’s a mental switch.”
So Tom and Josh flicked the switch. Recruiting Tom’s old schoolmate Dan Conti from his job at Heathrow airport on bass and guitarist Tim Hillier-Brook from hardcore act Architects. Such was their instant spark they were snapped up by Polydor in 2012 and thrust into the glare of a major support slot on tour with Ellie Goulding. After playing their first full band show in August 2012, the band have racked up an impressive number of gigs, tour supporting the likes of One Republic and Kyla La Grange, and playing alongside Walk The Moon, Of Monsters And Men and Nina Nesbitt, among others.
While they’re named after the DH Lawrence novel (even though it’s a “tough read”), there is an underlying theme weaving in and out of the Sons & Lovers’ material; an almost American dream kind of romance that spawns from Tom’s love of Springsteen and the Great American Novel. “There’s an intimacy and an epicness that I find so compelling in all of those stories which definitely influences our songwriting,” he says.
Listening to the first smattering of material that’s winding its way out of a variety of studios (including RAK where, Tom enthuses, “I got to play the ‘Fairytale Of New York’ piano!”) towards a debut EP and an album due next year, it’s easy to see why Sons & Lovers inspire such fervent enthusiasm. The EP’s lead track ‘Ghosts’ is a lush electro-epic full of Ibizan import – chant-worthy and chart-friendly – while its accompanying banger ‘Paved With Gold’ is a small town escape anthem of Springsteenian scope. These and future hits like ‘Golden’ and the hook mastery of ‘King’ point to a rocketing success story in the making. “There are a couple of bands that, in a friendly way, we think ‘We wanna do better than that’,” says Dan, only half in jest. “U2, Coldplay…” And, with a summer full of festival dates (including Reading/Leeds and T in the Park), and further touring lined up for the autumn, Sons & Lovers certainly don’t have their sights set low.
Text courtesy of Turn First Artists website