You know a band has to be one of the most incredible live outfits in the country when they get signed immediately after a show in the time it takes to pop outside for a cigarette break. This is exactly what happened to Island of Love after they were invited to play The Blue Basement venue in Third Man Records – which opened in September 2021 in London as the third Third Man store after Nashville and Detroit.
Island of Love were second only to Jack White himself to play the room and it was still so new that the drummer even left with paint on his back from where he’d been pressed up against the wall playing. With that on-the-spot offer, from Third Man co-founder and owner Ben Swank, they became the first band signed to Third Man London.
Which is especially impressive given that the band didn’t even think the email invitation they received to play was real. “We thought it was a scam email,” laughs guitarist and vocalist Karim Newble. The band – also featuring bassist Daniel Alvarez Giraldo and guitarist/vocalist Linus Munch – weren’t used to dealing with labels and industry people. They booked their own shows, printed their own merch, released their own music and Newble designed their distinct artwork.
The band met via the London hardcore punk scene while playing in other bands, such as Newble’s unique synth-punk outfit Powerplant, and became embedded in a community of likeminded bands, sharing bills with the likes of Chubby and the Gang and High Vis. From day one, the band were rooted in the principles, ethos and mentality of DIY culture.
In fact, it was the band’s homemade DIY music video for the 2021 track ‘Songs of Love’ – dressed up in black metal makeup on Brighton beach – that led them to being on Swank’s radar. “The band delighted and excited me from the second their corpse paint began to drip in the cold Brighton sun,” he says. “They write killer songs and back them up with an exuberant stage show, ridiculous solos and harmonies.”
So, when they set about making their debut album for Third Man they wanted to carry over as much of that DIY spirit as possible by continuing their relationship with producer Ben Spence and Fuzzbrain studios. Spence, a fellow working class London kid, has been crucial in fostering a vibrant community and thriving scene around his East London studio. “Growing up I couldn’t afford equipment,” says Newble. “But Fuzzbrain was this space where you could go to practice and use insane equipment. We never had to bring guitars, pedals or leads. You could just show up and plug in.”
Spence has been hosting the annual Hoodstock Festival, with 100% of the proceeds going into free recording and rehearsal time for under 25-year-olds, which is how Island of Love were able to record their early demos. Spence, Fuzzbrain, and the community it has spawned, have proven invaluable to them. “We would have struggled to be a band without that place,” says Newble, with Girlado adding: “He’s always had our backs since day one. We have complete faith in him and trust his judgment on everything. It’s very much his record as much as it is ours.”
The band are a unique proposition in many ways. While countless London bands continue to go down the same tired path of churning out spoken word post-punk, Island of Love marry raw, primal noise led by crunchy guitars with intrinsically melodic sensibilities – recalling the sound and spirit of peak-era Dinosaur Jr. or Husker Dü. “We wanted to be really loud,” says Newble of the aim for the album. “To make pop music but played at a noise rock level of volume.”
From the opening ‘Big Whale’ – which leaps out of the starting gate via thundering drums, roaring riffs and screeching lead guitar – it’s clear that the band have succeeded in their aim. The explosive and fuzz-driven guitar, paired with infectious licks, sets the tone for an album that is as ferocious and bone-shakingly loud as it is thoughtfully crafted and loaded with melody.
The uniqueness of the band in the current contemporary landscape is also elevated by the shared vocal and songwriting duties of Newble and Munch, resulting in songs that pinball back and forth between tones and styles but that are also complimentary. Such is the intuitive bond that has grown between them over the years since their debut release, Promo Tape, in 2020.
By the time of 2022’s EP Songs of Love they had solidified even tighter as a unit. “Promo Tape was us trying to learn to write songs individually but Songs of Love was us trying to learn to write songs as a band,” says Newble. But the leap from EP to LP is even bolder and larger. “What we’ve done on this album is much more of an accurate representation of us and where we’re at,” says Giraldo. “The EP sounds good but the difference on the album is huge.”
Giraldo is correct. The LP has production that is bright, punchy, crunchy and allows the songs to positively shine. On tracks such as ‘Blues 2000’ and ‘Fed Rock’, the guitar playing is almost lyrical such is its expressive nature, with shredding riffs and spiralling lead parts that dance around one another in discordant harmony. ‘Grow’ is simply an out and out pop ripper that sounds like a mutant hybrid between Dinosaur Jr. and the Cribs. It’s a live favourite of the band to play ‘Grow’ and ‘Blues 2000’ back-to-back, segueing from one to the other via the tumbling drum fill from the Eastenders theme tune, so it makes perfect sense these two would merge perfectly for the lead double A-side single.
Tracks such as ‘Sweet Loaf’ – a nod to Black Sabbath in name but closer to Syd Barrett in vibe – and the closing ‘It Was All Ok Forever’ capture the range and breadth of a band who can also slow things down and transition from tender and stripped back moments back into eruptive blasts with both grace and force.
It was intentional to make things a little barer and more stripped back at points. “On Promo Tape there’s a lot of elements of us just overdriving and fuzzing-out what were really sugary pop songs,” says Newble. “Over a whole album it was weird to do that – to play every song as heavy as we can. So, it was like, well, maybe this one could do with me shutting up for a bit. We didn’t want it to be too overwhelming.”
This kind of maturity and intelligence is hardly surprising from a band whose trajectory has been so sharp that they rocketed quickly from the DIY scene to playing Hammersmith Apollo to over 3,000 people supporting Jack White. “It was really daunting,” says Newble. “Doing that and getting the deal there was a pressure of, like, we definitely got to step it up.”
And step it up they did. They wrote endless songs, rehearsed with military precision and dedication, and went into the studio to lay down a fully formed album with ferocity and execution. For a debut album, and a band so young, there is a great deal of restraint and consideration to be heard. It’s an album that is loud and noisy but also filled with push-pull dynamics that results in moments of tenderness and quiet that then elevates the crunch and power of noisier parts. “The album shows the balance of it being written in bedrooms but being honed in live shows,” says Munch. “It captures a contrast.”
The band needed an engineer who could bring this out and so Jack Shirley, who has production credits that span from Deafheaven to Happy Diving (Island of Love’s biggest influence). Shirley was given a list of bands, such as noise titans Boris, for reference points, and, combined with his own deeply intuitive approach, has resulted in a mix that highlights and accentuates these contrasts – capturing both the primal rawness and the melodic sweetness of the band.
While the band have had an aesthetic fondness for metal style artwork in the past, they have moved into new terrain for this album, much as they have ventured into new musical territory. “I do a lot of the artwork but with this record I felt we’ve sort of done the metal thing,” says Newble. “This one is a homage to stuff like Michael Hurley. It’s really cutesy comic book stuff. I like the idea of leaning into cuteness and then having some horrible gross undertones to it.”
And that there is perhaps the description that best encapsulates this album. A record that explores duality, balance and contrast; a place where grizzly teeth-rattling noise and explode like fireworks one moment before gliding seamlessly into melody-laced sugary pop hooks and the kind of considered songwriting that truly belies their age. “This album exceeded our expectations,” says Newble. “I’m really proud of it.”
Island Of Love online:
Publicity Contact: Jaclyn Ulman