Deadletter, in their own words “channel the droll fury of Gang of Four and the lopsided rhythms of Talking Heads into a strain of vehement post-punk, exploring the darker side of existence through a lens of narrative-driven levity.” We spoke to Zac (singer), George (Bassist) and Alfie (Drummer) at Leeds Festival, the three of which grew up in various small towns in East Yorkshire, before moving to London in August 2017, enlisting Poppy (Saxophone), Will (Guitar) and James (Guitar) to form Deadletter. Their latest single ‘Binge’ is a fun, catchy track which explores the excesses of life. The musicality and wry humour is a refreshing take on the general air of seriousness that can exist over the post-punk genre, and it has seen them embark on a UK Tour which includes a support slot for Mercury Nominees, Yard Act in Hull.
Interview and words by Rachel Brown/Matt Dagger at Northern Exposure
Have you ever attended Leeds before as a punter?
Zac – We came three years in a row, 2014-2016. It was actually a transition period for the festival from guitar music to what it is now. So it was interesting to see in real time. I think it was around the time that grime had gone from inside the London scene and had branched out.
You had Stormzy headline 2021, and Dave this year.
Zac – Yeah, it’s great to see a different subculture takeover. It’s gone from being a festival where you can trust you’ll see guitar music, which now caters for dance and rap music too.
How did you find the reception from Reading?
Alfie – It was really nice walking out and seeing a tight packed group of people. When we started playing, people would hear us and come in; but it was also great to see a good body of people there waiting before we played too. They had a lot of fun.
You’re from Yorkshire yourselves, but formed the band in London?
Zac – Yeah, we’re all from small towns in Yorkshire, so it wasn’t like we moved from one big city to another. Unfortunately, the opportunities in small market towns and seaside towns aren’t really that huge when you’re trying to make it in the music industry. So, we bit the bullet and decided to move down to London together. Alfie already knew a lot of people there, likewise George, who went to uni there. I think it’s finally getting to the point where it’s paid off, after four years where we were like “Are we just living in London?”.
George – We couldn’t really expect it to happen when we were that young, in hindsight. We’re still broke, but you keep going. You don’t do it because you want money – it’s the best hobby in the world.
What is the origin of the name Deadletter?
Zac – It’s not as exciting as a lot of people hope it’d be. We needed a band name, and we were all sat in a pub in Brixton passing a piece of paper around until there was a name that no one said no to.
George – It was slightly daft though, trying to get 5 people to agree on one thing. But it was Dan, our manager that said Deadletter which stuck.
Zac – It’s a lyric by The Birthday Party (Nick Cave) as well, which I think is where he got it from. Then we looked into the meaning of Deadletter, which meant it was an undelivered bit of post, or an unwritten law that still stands. Like for example, in the city of York, you can shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow through the eye on a Sunday, so long as they’re standing on the city wall. But yeah, it’s not in practice. That’s a Deadletter.
How do you feel that being friends since birth helps the creativity within the band as a unit?
Zac – I think when you’ve already got quite a natural relationship with someone, that when it comes to having a creative relationship with them there are some mannerisms and characteristics which are noticeable. Like we can look across the room, and if these guys are playing something on the bass and drums, and if I’m looking through one of my books to put some words to it, they kind of know from what I’m doing when to hit a chorus. Likewise if we’re just jamming, they know when they’re gonna go into another section. It’s not like we’re musical geniuses or anything like that, it’s just that we have this instinct because we know each other so well. You can read it in the body language if you know them from outside of being creative with them.
Alfie – It speeds up the process as well, because if you have a discussion, or an argument almost, it just speeds up the recovery from that. Because having an argument with a stranger about a piece of music, it can last a long time.
Zac – We can say horrible things to each other and then two minutes later we’re laughing, with no bridges burnt.
George – It’s not physical anymore. Not anymore…
Zac – The process of writing nowadays is pretty rapid.
That moves us onto the latest release ‘Binge’ which I believe only took 25 minutes to write?
Zac – Yeah or thereabouts. We were rehearsing for a tour, as well as rehearsing to go and do some recording – we had some things in mind to record, but ‘Binge’ at this point didn’t exist. And George and Alf started playing this groove with the bass line, and I found this set of lyrics and we just played through it once; established when to stop, did it again, brought a guitar line in it, did it again with a sax line in it, and then we sat back and said “I think we should record this.”
George – It just felt so good in the moment, as soon as we nailed the call and response part in the chorus we were like “it’s done.”
Zac – And on the ‘ahh’ vocal part, I was initially singing it to show how the sax part should go, but we decided to sing it alongside the sax. It’s kinda tribal I think.
George – Dan, our manager was in the room, he didn’t really know what to do with himself. He was like “how is that finished already?”
You went to play at Paris Fashion Week – what’s the story behind that?
Zac – We had done some shoots with Hedi Slimane (Creative Director of CELINE) quite a few years ago, and he came to one of our gigs. In about March we were invited down to take some photos with him, because he has this archive of photos of upcoming musicians that he keeps. Then we got the offer to go to the event and play at an after party, so we took him up on the offer. It was like nothing we’ve ever experienced before.
Alfie – I left Glastonbury on Sunday morning and went straight to St Pancras and was on a premier ticket with a free bar, then we got picked up by some limo – well it was a taxi, but it had cupholders and bottles of water. It was mad.
George – It was a really fun gig as well. I was worried it was gonna be a half empty room with people standing around looking miserable. I’ve been to these things before and there’s usually a DJ on, and everyone’s usually just chatting, looking over their shoulders to see who’s there. But with a bit of live music, it’s something you can look at and just engage with a bit more.
Zac – There was a dancing pole next to us and there were members of BTS (a major K-Pop boyband) just pole dancing next to us. It was an interesting experience.
Tell us about your UK tour in September?
Zac – I guess it’s the first time we’ve gone up and down the kingdom in a consistent manner, in consecutive days. I think every single place we’re playing we’ve been at least once, so will be returning to places we’ve been before. So, we’ll see how it goes. That culminates in a headliner at the 100 Club in London on September 28th, which will be our biggest headliner to date. Tickets are going out fast. Then we’re touring Europe in October for a week. We’re going Left of the Dial, Paris and Antwerp. Keep an eye out for bits of music too.
If you could collaborate with one artist on the Leeds lineup, who would it be?
George – Little Simz, without a doubt! We don’t even have to think about that. She’s amazing.
Upcoming Deadletter dates in Europe:
19th October – Supersonic, Paris
20th October – Trix Bar, Antwerp
21st October – Left Of The Dial, Rotterdam
22nd October – Left Of The Dial, Rotterdam