I arrive on location in Northeast London and make myself comfortable on some worn-down steps leading to what looks like an old industrial space. Larkins in pastel getups and photographer Jessica Mahaffey, with camera in hand, arrive shortly after in tow. Lined up, each and everyone accepts a hug as a greeting. We make our way up the staircase, where white paint peels off the side of the walls to reveal a blue base, to Jessica’s photography studio. Beneath a ceiling that’s sky height and large windows dispersing light around the room, we’re sat down in a circle, with snacks at hand, for a chat.
Manchester-based but originally from Glossop indie-pop/rock band Larkins is made up of Josh on vocals, Dom on guitar, Henry on bass, and Joe on drums. The four of them together in a room makes for some infectious banter and laughter. For a warm-up, I ask if the boys can tell me what they like about each other, and the result is as Josh pointed out, “You’ve brought us a lot closer”. Speaking to them about everything and nothing, we connect over live music, film - and animals somehow. They’re an unfiltered bunch, in a good way, which I think is somewhat of an anomaly these days.
Preparing to meet the boys, I kept their music on repeat in the background at all times. Whether I was writing, showering or doing laundry, Larkins was there with me - and their single TV Dream is pretty much memorised by now because all I can think now is that “I wanna take you dancing”. A debut album of theirs is currently in the works - and if it follows suit with TV Dream, I’ll be dancing in the kitchen, on the tube, down the street, and at the store till. Thursday, 25th July they'll be playing Y Not Festival and for the colder months when the trees are bare, they've got a 16-show UK tour lined up. The antidote to late autumn melancholia.
This is sort of like an existential round - how would you describe yourself?
Josh: I’m the singer in the band. Extroverted-introverted. I don’t really know how to describe myself. I’m Josh and I sing - and that’s about it. That’s me.
Dom: I play the guitar. I would describe myself as sexy, saucy, and sassy.
Josh: That’s much better than what I said.
Joe: I’m the drummer. What you see is what you get. I like beer.
Dom: That’s a defining feature of yours.
Joe: Just pretty chilled.
Henry: I play bass. I would describe myself as very chilled out. Annoyingly chilled.
Josh: I wouldn’t say always, just sometimes.
Joe: Some emotion would be nice.
Josh: When it moves from chill to slow...
Henry: I like to play in the area between chill and slow.
Since you're from Glossop, what about Glossop inspired you?
Josh: I think the biggest inspiration we've had from Glossop is to get out of Glossop. That's not even a joke. We grew up there; it was a very middle class, white place. We just strove to get out of Glossop. It’s like a little bubble we didn’t want to be part of anymore, so we went to college in Manchester and thought: ‘this is where we want to be’. Manchester is more diverse; it is inclusive rather than exclusive. All of our families are in Glossop, so that's the thing that we love about it.
Dom: A lovely place to grow up, to be fair. It's in the countryside. It inspires us because we appreciate that a lot more. I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else. But I believe what Josh said as well - it teaches you that you’re in a bubble and it's important to move on, explore somewhere else and not get stuck in the same place.
Josh: I think we got to our teenage years and started to realise the politics a little; the way it works. I think we reached an age where Glossop wasn't as fun anymore. That's probably how I would explain it.
When did you all realise that you wanted to pursue music professionally?
Henry: I think it was a little bit different for me. I started playing bass in secondary school, so I began quite late. But from the get-go, I thought: 'this is what I'd like to do'. I had only just started playing, but I knew that I didn't enjoy anything else as much as I enjoyed this. Here I am, a few years later - stuck with these guys.
Joe: I like the word "stuck" haha.
Josh: I think we were maybe a bit younger - around 11-12 years old; the first few years of secondary school.
Dom: When you first start talking about careers and you sort of realise, 'I can't imagine myself doing anything else'. I could never imagine myself sitting in an office.
Josh: People in our friendship group had good ideas of what they wanted to do, so we were always forced to think about this and so we would always say: 'rock star'.
Dom: It was a bit frowned upon wanting to be a musician. Then they go: "But seriously, what do you want to do? What's your back-up plan?", and I would reply: 'I don't have a back-up plan'.
Joe: Most of my family is quite musical. My brother is also a professional musician, so I think growing up with him and watching him do it, going to gigs and shows, I thought: 'this looks really cool. I really want to do that'. I mean - I've been drumming since the age of six or seven. Up until 14, I had been playing a lot of sports as well, but I realised then that I wanted to do music. My worst nightmare would be to work in an office, like a 9 to 5 job. I wouldn't handle the repetitiveness. It's more fun being on the road, hanging out with your mates, and doing what you love. And not always concern yourself with, 'I need to make a living...'. I was quite happy to take the risk and just go, ‘you know what? I'll make it work somehow'.
Josh: Before we began earning money from music, we did other jobs. I served pizzas for two years and I hated it so much. The band even started getting bigger, and people would come into the pizza place and recognise me. They would go: "Why are you doing this?", and I'd say: 'you don't know how music works...'. I think when you've done some other jobs as well, you realise it's just not for you.
Dom: We've had tiny little insights into real life, I suppose.
Josh: We've looked it straight in the face.
Dom: And not for me...
Josh: Not for me...
Joe: I worked in retail and a shoe shop, and worked a lot of weddings and parties. It's okay, but when you play your own music as opposed to other people's music, it's definitely a completely different feel. It feels better as a performer.
How do you think you've developed together, as a band, over the years?
Josh: In the beginning, we were keen to put ourselves in a category or a box. I think it's because we were listening to all these bands - whether it was Foals, 1975, The Wombats or Peace - there was a stage that we would basically listen to Peace for a week, and then we would say: 'we have to be this band'. I think the biggest development is that we've moved away from that. We do take elements from all of those because that's what people do - they listen to music and they learn from it. I think we've created a sound now, where we go, 'that's our sound'.
Henry: We've gotten to a place where we do the opposite. We'll write a song or the chords, and then we make sure it sounds like us.
Dom: In the beginning, we were very concerned with what's cool and what's not cool: ‘oh, indie-pop, I don't want to be a pop star - that's not cool. We're a rock band!'. You reach a point where you’re like: 'actually, I just want to do what I want to do. I want to be as individual as possible and do what I enjoy doing'. It doesn't matter what other people think.
Josh: We've definitely become more pop.
Dom: And we love it.
Why did you decide on Larkins as the band name?
Josh: It would have been in college. Dom was sat in English class and hated it, so we decided to start a band instead. There was a big picture of the poet Phillip Larkin on the wall, so that's where it came from.
Dom: It was a working title at first. We didn't think we would do it. We planned on doing one gig before we all went off to university, but then we ended up doing a couple of more gigs, and here we are now.
So you were thinking about going to university?
Josh: We went.
Dom: We're still there.
Josh: What basically happened was this... We all went, but we didn't actually go haha. We basically did university as a side-project, so we all just stumbled through university.
Joe: Stumbled? You got a 1st mate...
Dom: Some of us stumbled a lot better than the others...
Joe: Henry and I have just finished 3rd year. We've got one year after this, as we’re doing a four-year course. That's going to be fun - trying to juggle this and that. We study music.
Josh: I have a history degree - a master’s.
Dom: I studied linguistics.
Education is a great way to develop as a person, especially for a musician, I can imagine.
Josh: We did it to our advantage. We used Huddersfield's photography school to do all our first press shots. Dom did his dissertation at the back of a tour van around Europe. We stopped at McDonald's so he could hand it in.
Henry: That was stressful! I remember you running out of that car screaming: "I've lost Wi-Fi!"'.
Josh: In the middle of Germany...
Dom: It was a nightmare.
Oh wow, that sounds stressful. I understand you're currently working on your debut album, what can we expect?
Josh: It's not going to be 12 tracks of singles, which I think some bands do. We've always made tracks with a story. It's going to be quite conceptual - that's the direction it's going at for now. When we first started writing stuff for the album, we were thinking we’d like to sound like The Killers; but with a bigger, more atmospheric sound. One question we always have on our checklist is: does the track have enough bass? So, it will be a bass-y album and it will have beautiful moments. We always say that every track needs to have a beautiful moment.
Joe: There are not a lot of beautiful moments in indie-music nowadays...
What is the beautiful moment in TV Dream?
Josh: “When the world has lost its mind”. It goes down... Anything that makes you go: 'Ah!'; wherever you have a gasp is a beautiful moment. That moment felt like the beautiful moment of TV Dream when we wrote it in the studio.
TV Dream, as I've understood it, is a criticism of today's media.
Josh: Yes, to an extent, but it was written more so about my grandparents. They'd spoken lots to me about what it meant to be romantic. My grandfather had just died and before that, he told me about how they met. Romantic, very lovely and almost Disney-like - they met at a dance. It was beautiful. At the same time, I saw news stories about rape culture and gender inequality. There is a line in the song that goes: “Don't need no excuses like ‘Why'd you have to dress like that?’”. The comment in the line is about how certain people claim things happen to girls due to what they wear. We had to put that in to make it a true song, which felt good - especially when it goes to: "I don't believe what I'm seeing on the TV screen". This is what we're saying. This is why we want to say it. This is how we want to say it. Somebody, just please listen...
Dom: We really pushed to keep that section of the song, with the label and stuff.
Josh: People were telling us that the section wasn't radio friendly - that bit. Not the content of it - just that it went down in the instrumental bit. I remember sending an e-mail that read: ‘this is why we wrote the song. This is why it's in’.
You mentioned at the beginning that you really enjoy playing live, what is your favourite stage performance so far?
Josh: Albert Hall in Manchester was good - not just because it is the biggest show we've ever done, but it got to a point where we had toured for so long and then we finally got to it. We could unleash what we'd learnt from the tour, and I think we owed a lot of people that show. We live in the northern quarter of Manchester, so as you walk over to Albert Hall in Deansgate, you walk past every small venue that we've ever played.
Henry: For me, there are two. I think Kendal Calling, the second time we played the festival. We didn't really expect there to be that many people - and there were a lot of people by the stage; it was full. I think that was one of the first times that we had played to that many people that had turned up to see us. It didn't face us, so that show was a big moment for us. The second show is one we did ages ago - when we played in Huddersfield. We were playing the same stage as bands like Bang Bang Romeo and Hidden Charms - two bands that we looked up to. We did our thing, and then the next day, we read reviews that said that we were their favourite act of the night and things like that. It was bizarre that we could show up to a gig with two bands that we looked up to and still not look like the rubbish band playing next to them. We felt then that we could do this. This wasn’t just a hobby. This was something we could actually take somewhere.
Josh: We have no desire to be known as a radio band; we want to be known as a live band. We need to blow people away. There is a bar that we have set for ourselves whenever we have a live show. We never just get through a show, but with every show, there is a bar and we have to be at that, or else we're not good enough.
Joe: We want to better live.
Dom: We don't try to just replicate the recorded track live, so there are always these added bits. People don't just necessarily want to hear what is exactly on the record, so we want to give a new experience to the audience - even if that means changing the songs around a little bit.
In July, you're playing Y Not Festival - what can we expect from this performance?
Josh: It's in Derbyshire, so it's around the corner from where we grew up. A really relentless half an hour, I’d say.
Dom: Festivals are always very much: go out, play the bit.
Josh: Play as loud as we can for half an hour.
Joe: Grab everyone's attention. We need to make sure we don't lose people's interest since there are so many acts on at the same time.
Henry: It also makes it sweeter as well because we get so used to playing at our own shows. At our live shows, it's our fans that are there to see us, but at a festival, it flips. There is something nice about winning people over at a festival. I don't think that feeling is ever going to get old.
Josh: During the half an hour we get that weekend, we will commit. We will commit to that half an hour harder than any other band there.
It seems like you put a lot of pressure on yourselves. Do you think that pressure gets to you sometimes?
Dom: We're very, very self-critical following a show, so the mood can change drastically when we get backstage. You have to teach yourself to think that whatever happens, happens. Most of the time, the audience won't necessarily know that you’ve made a mistake.
Joe: It's a live show so mistakes do happen. But if I make a mistake, I do feel like I’ve let down the boys and the fans. Even if it's literally the tiniest of mistakes, it gets to our head.
Josh: I'm critical of everything. It's not just live, it's everything: from social media to recording to even this interview.
No pressure here.
Josh: No, no - it's not you at all. It’s about… What we said. What we should have said. What we shouldn't have said. So critical. I don't think that's particularly healthy - I think we're just working on ways to make things better.
Joe: It's healthy in a way because it drives us to make those changes.
Dom: We used to rehearse in a church in Glossop in the beginning, so we would run the set over and over and if someone made one mistake, we would go back to the beginning.
Josh: We would do this... If you were on drums, we would set up three chairs and watch you play the whole set on drums.
Dom: And then we would go: 'start again'.
Josh: Then we would go again, and then we would switch places. We hyper analyse every little detail.
Henry: We do that still. If we haven't played a tour in a while, we'll still do that and start again if something doesn’t sound quite right. We'll literally do it with one person at a time.
Dom: It's not as rigid as it was. It used to be sort of military-style: ‘even if it takes seven hours…’. But we're very good at doing live shows as a result.
Yes, I can imagine after all these nit-picky, over-analysing sessions... How do you relax, or do you relax?
Joe: Yes, in a sense - with a beer haha.
Dom: Haven't got the time...
Josh: I think we do. I think...
Dom: We'll relax in ten years time.
Josh: I have an issue... Even if I have a day off, I'm critical of the fact that I have the day off. I love playing in the band. Someone asked me here the other day: "If you won the lottery, what would you do?", and I was like: 'this'. I'm not going to sit around and buy nice things - I wouldn't do that. Although, I might buy us all a new guitar. But yeah relax; we all play a bit of sport. A bit of tennis or frisbee.
Josh: It's a very competitive sport.
Dom: It gets pretty heated.
Josh: Gets very aggressive... We also watch a lot of films. Whenever we're on tour, we go to the cinema. We buy fried chicken and bring it in. We once brought a couple of vodka bottles. Do you know the Tango Ice Blast? We bought one of those and added some vodka.
Joe: It's really tasty - but it’s lethal.
Dom: We did this when we went to see Creed.
Joe: We got pretty drunk at this point, so turned into a bit of a night out. We really got involved in that film…
Josh: And it was a full cinema as well... What's your favourite film?
Ah, that's a hard one...
Josh: How about what's the best film you've seen this year?
That's easy - The Favourite. I love the director, Yorgos Lanthimos. He also did The Lobster.
Josh: Yep. I’ve seen The Lobster - with Colin Farrell, right? That's a great film. Really strange.
Henry: I remember seeing that film with my brother - and halfway through it, I was really into the story, asking questions, and then my brother was like: "I'm not into this". It's so clever.
Josh: It's basically about people having to find a relationship before a certain age, or otherwise, they turn into animals. Colin Farrell’s character is going to turn into a lobster. Basically, they send these people on a retreat as a last attempt to find love.
Henry: It's because you can't be single in that world. It's a really good film.
Dom: How do you know what you turn into?
Josh: You get to pick.
Joe and Dom: Why would he pick a lobster?
Henry: Because they live for a long time.
Joe: What would you pick?
Josh: A sea otter - I love them.
Have you seen the "In Otter News" Facebook page?
Josh: YES. I got it on Instagram as well. It's when they carry their babies on their tummies and they fluff up to float that it gets to me. Ah god!
Henry: What would you pick, Dom?
Josh: You can be a sea otter as well.
Dom: Nah, I would pick a bird. Like an eagle or something. Or a lion. Joe, I can see you being like a mole or something.
Josh: A mole?
Joe: I look like Edgar the mole.
Josh: A badger. You are a badger.
Joe: I'm just vicious.
Josh: You've got a bit of bite but you're also like a nice guy.
Joe: I can be a racoon.
Dom: Henry, you can be a sloth.
Henry: I was just about to say that I think I would pick a sloth. I could move at my natural pace and it wouldn't be a problem.
Josh: What would you be, Hedvig?
A penguin because they're so cute! I'm going through a little bit of a penguin phase... I keep a folder on my Instagram that is just for penguin pictures.
Josh: Have you ever seen that documentary about penguins voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch? But the thing is, he can't say "Penguin", he says "Penglings". There is a whole documentary out there where he's like "The penglings...”, but no one noticed...
I will Google this ASAP. They are sweet and they mate for life.
Dom: That's a good choice.
Henry: We got a bit hooked on naked guinea pigs recently.
Josh: It's not my thing...
Dom: They are hairless and wear jumpers.
Josh: Like mole rats.
Henry: They are amazing and really cute.
Dom: One is called Parsley and the other, Princess Pea.
Joe: Honestly - this isn't a joke.
Wow. How the heck did you come across this haha?
Dom: (showing me the naked guinea pigs on Instagram) Here they are, seated by a table having a meal.
Josh: This is idiotic...
This is hilarious. And they’re so cute with their knitted jumpers... Great topic.
Henry: How did we get here?
Josh: The Lobster.
The power of film... You've also got a 16-show UK tour lined up - what to expect from this tour?
Josh: Totally different from the last tour. Lots of new songs. If you want to know what the album is going to sound like, you should probably come to those shows. A lot of lights. Our lighting guy is pretty crazy and loves a lot of lights. There was this girl who went to a show in Glasgow and walked up to us afterwards, she was like, "I've never done hallucinogenics but that's what I think it would feel like".
Henry: I remember a gig where there were two young girls at the front covering their eyes. I told our engineer, 'they were covering their eyes', and he asked, "Do you want me to tone it down a bit?", and we all went, 'noooo if anything we need more'. He went, "Ahhh, I can get another strobe in there somewhere...”.
Joe: He loves it.
Josh: Yes, don't do drugs kids but come to our shows. You will know what it feels like.
Henry: It's the next best thing.
Josh: The tour. Lots of light. Lots of bass. Lots of singing. A lot of hair.
You got the hair thing down on-stage.
Josh: Yeah, no - I might start wearing it up because it was going in my face.
But it really works for you... Keep it down! Both my friend and I were saying that you've really got the frontman thing down.
Josh: Ah thanks.
Joe: His ego needs this...
Josh: Tell the label that I’ve got the frontman thing down! Next meeting you guys should say: “We’d like to tell everyone that Josh has got the frontman thing down”.
You've all got it down!
Henry: Thank you!
Josh: We're not talking about them; we're talking about me...
You briefly touched on masculinity previously, what are you guys' thoughts on masculinity?
Josh: Concept. Don't care for it.
Dom: I think it's quite damaging at times that men have to have certain attributes. I think it's the same for females and with femininity. That can be quite damaging as well. As soon as people stop pigeonholing genders the better.
Josh: I think what people don't realise about, for instance, feminism - if we were all feminists, there would be no need for feminism. Feminism is about equality. Let's all just agree that we're feminists because we agree that we should all be equal - and then there would be no need for it. I think what can be really toxic about masculinity, especially with bands, is that all of our crew is male. All the music people we meet are male. When we go touring, all of the people working in music are male. A lot of the time when you go on shoots like this, everyone is male. I think there needs to be more awareness around this.
Boys by Girls is made up of a lot of females.
Henry: It's amazing!
Dom: It should get to a point where it's not even a topic of conversation.
Henry: Festivals now, obviously, have to take a certain amount of female acts. It's not that I'm against that, but that shouldn't be the solution to the problem. On our university course, we are 30 students, and two of the instrumental players are female. The problem isn't festivals not picking women...
Josh: You mean it's from the ground up?
Henry: Yeah, the problem is with getting equality in from the start.
Dom: Again, it's that femininity/masculinity thing - there is a certain expectation that many people grow up with. Their parents might be putting pressure on them to adhere to these genders, "You're a girl, you should do this". It's really toxic and damaging.
Josh: Last week was Mental Health Week. Suicide in music is such a big deal, and it is still not really talked about. People say we talk about it more now, but I don't think we really do. The pressure that guys put on themselves in terms of what they wear and masculinity and things like that - it is horrible. I think what you said about quota... Recently, we were looking for new people for a tour team and I felt the need to say we need to interview for female tour managers. I knew if I didn't say that, I would get 10 guys to choose from. It felt weird that I had to specify that. But I thought f*** it, it's time someone questioned this.
Dom: Again, you shouldn't have to do that.
Henry: That shouldn't be the solution. You shouldn't even have to ask that. You should be able to ask to interview tour managers and get a mix. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen.
Josh: But guys, what are our thoughts on masculinity?
Henry: It's the issue that we sometimes feel, 'can I do this? Should I be feeling this way?'. Any thought like that you shouldn't need to feel. You should be able to just do you. As musicians, you kind of have to deal with that in a way because even with friends, they say: 'ah, you just play music'.
Josh: “It's not a man's job. It's not putting bread on the table”.
Henry: These boxes are harmful.
Joe: I just hate the whole stigma of the 'don't talk about your feelings'.
Josh: We are combatting that as well I think. We all have different ways of opening up and different ways of identifying our masculinity. We're still trying to get our heads around this as well. As Henry says, he opens up a lot about what he is feeling. We all to different degree talk about things differently. Especially being in a band with three other guys, it starts to become a lot easier. I think we're all just trying to get on board with it a bit more. The moment I start opening up about how I’m feeling and masculinity, I feel so much better about things.
Henry: By talking about masculinity, you're doing the opposite of what masculinity is meant to be.
Joe: It's definitely tough. It needs looking at. This is a sad topic to bring up but the male suicide rate for 20-30 years old and even 40 is so much higher than everything else. It's the biggest killer of men.
Dom: There is definitely a generational difference. When we grew up, the lads were supposed to do sport. There was this expectation. I don't think we're quite out of that, I think the generation now is still like that. There is still this toxic divide. I think it's going to take a while to get out of it - it's a proper minefield.
Do you think society is changing?
Josh: Yes - because two years ago an interviewer wouldn't have asked us that. There you go. That's such a short frame of time because two years ago that wouldn't have happened - hands down. Even in much shorter interviews now, we get asked about it.
Joe: Previously it was just like: "What do you enjoy doing?".
What sort of feelings or thoughts would like people to walk away with after a gig or just listening to your music on Spotify?
Joe: Ideally, we would like people to walk out feeling happy.
Josh: I've been to 200 gigs in my life - which is so many shows - but I could only
really talk you through about three or four of them because those were really special. I hope we get to a point - or maybe we have already - where people start remembering the shows. It really needs to be a special moment.
Henry: That people forget their real-life problems. Experience that. Immersed in the atmosphere of the music.