On a harsh and changeable West Country evening, London trio Happyness descend The Louisiana’s staircase. The walls are full of posters of The Strokes, The White Stripes, Bloc Party and many others who have passed through the small Bristol pub on their way to the top. A gaggle of locals laugh in thick accents as Happyness take their seats opposite me.
“This is our first headline show in Bristol… it’s a different experience’ explains bassist/vocalist Jonny Allan, “we had a bowl of fruit waiting for us backstage”. “Yeah and we have a piano now” chimes guitarist/vocalist Benji Compston, “the main difference this time is pianos and fruit”. The implementation of a piano allows the band’s live set to include highlights ‘Pumpkin Noir’ and set closer ‘Regan’s Lost Weekend’, from their debut album Weird Little Birthday; the fruit’s just a luxury.
Happyness’ live show now encompasses a soaring, extended rendition of EP standout ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’ and a thumping re-working of album opener ‘Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy)’, transforming it from a hushed waltz into a distorted rush. After stints through Europe and America, the band’s live set is polished and their Louisiana set is well received by the full room. The band has managed to amass a significant number of shows over the last few trips, notably a show at Burgerama: “It was the most unhinged hot and sweaty thing” Benji tells me. “We’d played the night before and hadn’t paced ourselves. The band before us was some novelty hip-hop band and they were throwing sandwiches into the crowd” expands Jonny. Benji reflects on the show for a second before continuing, “I’ve never publicly said this before but they were my least favourite band I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to say their name but if you Google them it should be easy to find…”
Playing in support of a re-release of their fantastic debut Weird Little Birthday, the band is readying their second album in-between tours. “We’ve started writing it and we’re impatient to get it out. We’ve been touring this one for a long time. I think it’s going to be really good!” Benji informs me, “we’re going to record it when we’re done touring… so when we get back from the States in the autumn.” “At least two songs on it are really good. The other ten aren’t complete. Two of them are really good though, we’re almost certain” Jonny deadpans. Ash pipes up, telling me “I’m excited! It really is happening” before Benji laughs “you should know; you’re making it with us”. Recently released song ‘A Whole New Shape’ – also played tonight – shows that the band are mastering their scuzzy craft with each new number and give us plenty of reason to be excited for LP number 2; I’m nearly as excited as Ash.
And what about their recently-released cover of the Norah Jones standard ‘Don’t Know Why’? As with every other aspect of the group, Happyness’ attitude is a little different; there are plenty of indie-rock bands who would treat a Norah Jones cover with a sense of irony or detachment, but Happyness are clearly committed (as you can hear from the cover). “She’s very talented and has the voice of an angel and I think probably the personality of an angel” assures Benji, “when we covered ‘Don’t Know Why’ we had to emphasize that we love the song and we weren’t being ironic. We’re legitimately passionate about it”. Ash and Jonny both nod as Benji says this, before Jonny chips in, “if we could have someone soundtracking our daily lives by playing the piano it’d be Norah Jones. Norah Jones and Tom Waits”. With that thought, we shake hands and the band goes on to to try some of Bristol’s burgers, courtesy of central venue Start The Bus.
As the Louisiana watches Happyness play a dynamic, lively and fulfilling show I find myself thinking back to our conversation: there’s something of the sweetness and twangy elegance of Norah Jones’ ‘Don’t Know Why’ but also the grit, lyrical nous and dark undercurrent of Tom Waits’ discography present in Happyness’ music. It’s this unique, messy synergy that’s made them one of the most exciting and unique new bands in the past few years and should continue to steer them in the future.
Words and Photography by Joseph Fuller