“My writing was always more influenced by film directors and screenwriters…” Hotel Lux frontman Lewis Duffin has always felt a pull towards British realists such as Shane Meadows and Alan Clarke, documenters who chronical society with a pinch of salt – and a fistful of grit. “I think Meadows was really good at mixing morbid topics with fun, and that’s reality,” Duffin explains below.
Carving his own voice, Duffin’s narrative has been nurtured through years of people-watching; from the band’s native Portsmouth to South London where they cut their teeth, spending late nights hanging out at Windmill Brixton and often taking the stage themselves. England is full of characters that are both cause for concern and praise, and Lewis, Cam Sims (bass), Jake Sewell (keyboard, guitar) and Craig Macvicar (drums) can build them up and tear them down with equal scorn.
While their debut record is still in the works, an exhilarating body of work has already begun to take shape. Across songs like The Last Hangman detailing the morality (or lack thereof) of Albert Pierrepoint, the HMLTD-tinged Daddy, a jangly woozy pop number about the Paulsgrove riots of 2000, and Berlin Wall, there’s an obvious attraction towards life’s bleaker scenes. Yet Hotel Lux’ brand of bleak plays on the quintessential British ideal to cut through with caustic wit; the point is to find society’s sore, give it a sharp jab and mull over the resulting ooze down the pub – stark reality always tastes better with a cold one in hand. Take their latest single, The English Disease, for example, a dancefloor-ready anthem for the masses that digs out lad culture with name-checks from Jean-Paul Satre to Danny Dyer.
Clementine Zawadzki: It seems your move from Portsmouth to London was pretty timely.
Lewis Duffin: Yeah, I’m not really sure how it happened. I’d spoken to Eddie from Shame a couple of times before we moved up, because I remember him wishing us good luck for our first ever gig – that we don’t count as our first ever gig for some reason. When we first moved to London we’d go to Windmill Brixton and we played there a couple of times, we met people through that really.
CZ: Because there is a ‘scene’, for lack of a better word.
LD: It did kind of happen, didn’t it? I know everyone says they hate the word ‘scene’ and it’s ‘uncool’ or whatever, but it did happen. I don’t know what you call it… I think we came a little bit after anyway. I think we moved at the perfect time, at the back end of the Fat Whites with bands like Shame, Sorry, Goat Girl, and there are still bands cropping up because of that. There’s a second-wave at the minute, with bands like Squid. I feel like we gained so much from it that we can’t pass it off as nothing.
CZ: I’ve read about your interest in hangman Albert Pierrepoint, why do stories like this interest you?
LD: My writing has always been more influenced by film directors and screenwriters, rather than the lyrics of another musician. Shane Meadows who did This is England was initially the main person. I think Meadows was really good at mixing morbid topics with fun, and that’s reality. British realist writers like Meadows and Alan Clarke…
CZ: That self-deprecating approach is such a strong cultural trend in England.
LD: It’s the mentality of this country.
“…it’s always about creating a character and going from there.”
CZ: When you say your writing is visually driven, is that only in reference to inspiration, or do you also visualise a story in order to write it?
LD: I think so. I never sort of analyse the process to say anything interesting about it, but it’s always about creating a character and going from there.
CZ: Do you ever write about your experiences or something personal?
LD: They kind of sneak in there, but never directly or totally honest about myself. In English Disease there are parts where I take the mick out of myself a bit, but even that’s supposed to be more general than personal.
CZ: You have that ability to split lyrics, their delivery, and the music, and all the elements tell a story in their own way. Do you look at these components separately or as one?
LD: We are conscious of matching the vibe of the song with what’s happening in the lyrics – English Disease is an example of that – and when we did Daddy we did the complete opposite with this incredibly dark song in terms of its lyrical content, but quite a poppy riff. Sometimes it takes a little while persuading each other to be on the same page, but it tends to work quite harmoniously. It’s rare we have an argument over a song like you hear of some bands, so we’re quite lucky in that sense.
CZ: Where does Hotel Lux sit on the scale of using music to say something versus using it as an escape?
LD: I think we are a joke as a country. It goes through periods where it gets so bad I stop seeing it as funny anymore and I’m like, “Oh my god, this is horrible.” It’s kind of impossible to avoid talking about at the minute, which I think is reflected in music, but I feel like any point I make in a song would be more commentary rather than a profound political point.
CZ: It filters through subconsciously.
LD: I think it does, yeah.
CZ: How does it look from the position of a young artist based in London?
LD: These are often the times when the best bands prop up, aren’t they? As a means of kicking against it. So maybe we’ll get loads of really important bands coming through in this moment because of what’s going on. I don’t feel any restrictions yet, but maybe we’ll get that when we have to tour Europe.
“I think we are a joke as a country.”
CZ: Is your process quite routine or spur of the moment?
LD: Well, four of us live in a flat together. It depends if it’s Sam or Jake’s song – they tend to write most of the songs – Sam will come in and I’ll sort of go and sit with him and we’ll write the rest of it, and then I’ll write some lyrics over it and we’ll try to put a demo down, whereas Jake’s works a bit differently. He’ll get the song pretty much complete and then I’ll write some lyrics over that, so we just work in different ways.
CZ: What direction is your songwriting taking at the moment?
LD: I want the lyrical content to get a bit lighter now. We’ve been put in a bracket of being quite dark because the songs we’ve released have been, but I feel like I want a bit of a balance now. I think the intention is to make things more jolly and surprise people.
CZ: Will this lead to writing stadium anthems?
LD: One day that will come. I hope.
Hotel Lux play at The Lexington on Monday 6th May.