Being in a band – or pursuing any artistic endeavour for that matter – definitely isn’t the easiest path to be following in 2015. Ben Thompson and Lew Currie, the respective halves of Sheffield punk duo Nai Harvest would disagree, though. “Dude, being in a band isn’t stressful. It’s fucking sick!” Nai Harvest, made up of Ben on guitar and Lew on drums, talk with distinctly contrasting accents – Ben is from Sheffield and Lew is from Middlesbrough, and they both swell with excitement as they talk about their experiences with the band. Nai Harvest are one of the most brightest bands to have come out of Sheffield for a long time, and the past three years have seen them adapt from math-rock and emo wailings of 2014’s Hold Your Head Open EP to a more controlled, mellow variation of noisy punk.
Both Ben and Lew studied at university, with Lew graduating from Sheffield Hallam 3 years ago, and Ben currently at Manchester. Seeping into the harsh reality of the real world with the support of record labels and a solid fan base doesn’t seem half as scary as trying to get a job with a History degree alone, and Nai Harvest live the kind of life that most 20 year olds have either achieved – or have given up even trying to achieve – whilst they played shows in the States for the first time after the success of their first ever headline tour across the UK.
I was quick to talk about the current business climate of music: the hassle of balancing hectic touring, girlfriends, and ultimately, paying bills. Ben made it clear that trying to perfect their art comes before anything else and that they both do the band full-time – an accomplishment that seems near-impossible for musicians today. “When we started this band two and a half years ago, we didn't think we’d be here right now doing a headline tour,” Ben tells me with a remarkable tint of disbelief. In just two years, Nai Harvest have progressed from playing in their friends living rooms to touring across Europe – including a support slot with seminal gazers Superheaven. Hairball, their recent follow up to Hold Open My Head, has caused huge waves for the band, with it being offered as one of the best albums of 2015 by Stereogum. Hairball sees the band flirt with a poppier, looser sound, and although it offers the same hallmarks as their debut, there are clear differences in the style and approach. The record marks a suitable progression from the nervous angst of Hold Open My Head, and see’s them delve into a floatier sound. It’s Static Prevails into Bleed American, but in a good way.
This time around they decided to follow their own musical influences for the new record, with more than subtle resemblances to London bands Yuck and Playlounge, offering a slight departure from pervious material. “I think as long we we're happy, then there’s no regrets. If no one likes it – which is very possible – then at least we can be happy with it”. Hairball represents a departure from writing music that they think people will be into – quite clearly being done with pandering to labels and audiences – and seem content to be carving their own recognisable sound helped by Topshelf Records, but with aspects reminiscent of bands like – say it quietly – Oasis and Happyness.
“I'm never going to be able to shove my thumb up my arse, because if I can't do that, I'm only going to be a poser to all the people who can.”
Despite all these defining aesthetic shifts, they’re still staying true to their roots. Both studied illustration at university, with Ben finishing up his third year, and Lew recently releasing his first book of illustrations. It’s probably pretty easy to imagine that touring the country and submitting your final project in the same month would be a coma-inducing experience, but many other bands have called it quits for less. Juggling jobs like being an ice-cream man and working in Ralph Lauren results in a nomadic existence; having to constantly quit jobs to go on tour, but it also encourages a deep sense of community around them made up of fellow musicians and, ultimately, just mates. This tightly knit network helps drown out the loneliness of touring. “I just thought we'd start this band, play a few shows in Sheffield and have a laugh, and then we obviously ended up doing all this,” Lew tells me, quick to point out that he’s not ungrateful at all. “It must be really shit to cover 60s pop songs for a living.” Seeing a band whose first description of band-life as “fucking sick” is a nice departure from One Direction-esque breakups and realities. The main difference between the cultural and artistic behemoth of One Direction and Nai Harvest is simply that Ben and Lew are actually friends and are prepared to sit in a sweaty van together for hours. It’s doubtful that there will be any Nai Harvest Easter eggs on sale for 79p, though, but it’s made pretty clear that being in the band is worth the sacrifices – it lets you circumvent all the youth you wasted singing into the mirror.
Whilst they still have the time and energy, they've been able to follow whatever inspiration they come across, taking in new trends in guitar driven music, and adapting it to their own style. Ben and Lew released a series of singles leading up to Hairball, with the initially dreamy single ‘Buttercups’ re-worked for the album – mainly because it didn’t feel right to the band when they played it live. “I think for this album it’s definitely more true to us,” says Ben. Nai Harvest have patiently moved away from a more DIY sound and taken a more polished approach to recording – but the same can’t be said for their live shows, which still have the energy of any red blooded-band from the DIY scene, as they say. As great as it is seeing a band who are happy spinning their own web, both in an out of music, it’s amazing to see a label that are willing to work with a band that so clearly have their own creative intentions. Topshelf have given Nai Harvest a long creative leash, and don't push any heavy, counter-productive demands for new albums every six months. Whilst they’ve had a big couple of months, playing a headline tour and a wealth of festivals, that by no means defines them. As much as they find themselves touring, they also find themselves studying and working to help fund their lifestyle. “Ultimately, I think it’s more about us being happy with everything,” Ben bluntly tells me, as we break into a shutdown BMX racecourse behind Hackney City Farm. Swapping in and out of two extremely different lives, they have managed to build something that gives them true artistic freedom, and nothing else really seems to matter – as it shouldn’t. At this point, they seem like freedom personified.
With the current musical climate being saturated with “weird” musicians – from Wavves pretending to sing Nickleback songs to Mac De Marco’s fascination with his own anus – and competition with the likes of SKATERS and the reputed antics of other local bands like Best Friends, Nai Harvest seem pretty tame. They don’t mess around with bodily fluids or things that you’d get thrown out of a church for, but that’s because they aren’t concerned about winning the Urban Outfitters drumstick-asshole vote. “I'm never going to be able to shove my thumb up my arse, because if I can't do that, I'm only going to be a poser to all the people who can.” If you can’t do it, and it’s not you, why even try? That’s probably what sums up Nai Harvest best; they’ve gone through the same identity changes in two years that U2 are still coming to grips with after 40. Having recorded their first EP’s with the intention of sounding how they thought people wanted them to, and now just being happy with what they do – whether that’s writing songs they want to write or just making the most of touring different countries – it’s almost like Benjamin Button syndrome. They’ve moved in a backwards motion, but it has only worked in their favour.
The world isn’t quite an oyster, but it belongs to Ben and Lew right now – it has has allowed them to play their music how, where and when they want. “Everything with us is open-ended. A cliff hanger.” Like Twin Peaks? “Just like Twin Peaks.” One thing is pretty certain though; if everything carries on the way it’s been going this year, the Nai Harvest are heading for even bigger things. Whether that’s publishing more of their illustrations, further album deals with caring labels, or something else – I’m sure it’s going to be sweet. Yeah, the world is pretty much their oyster, or whatever this world is.
Words and Photography by Toby Roddham