Issue 02: Easy Life
Photography: Peter Franklyn Banks / Styling: Jaime Jarvis / Words by: Sarah Hughes
This article is an excerpt from the Easy Life feature from Issue 02 of GAFFER: Heart & Soul. Available now from our online store now.
With a tight grasp on the ceiling handlebar of a 2018 gunmetal grey Volkswagen, I earnestly strain my left bicep in a fight to keep myself from seesawing across the backseats. Whipping around the bends and backstreets of the Leicestershire countryside – as if it were something down to an art form – the frontman of the Easy Life quintet, Murray Matravers, lifts his hand from the steering wheel to lower Kodak Black’s Project Baby 2 blaring from the loudspeakers, “Welcome to a proper middle-of-England shithole” he announces.
Wearing their hearts on their sleeve, Easy Life set the bar high with a candid take on the normalcy of Leicester living in their first offering “Pockets” in late 2017. It was only a matter of time before the boys made waves with what the NME call ‘the middle ground of hip-hop, indie, and slacker rock’. In just under a year, the band was discovered by Jools Holland, put on FIFA 19’s soundtrack, and went on to perform a sold-out tour across the U.K. and at top music festivals throughout the U.S., including Coachella, South-by-Southwest, and the Governor’s Ball in New York. However, life has not always been shifted into such high gear for the Leicester 5-piece.
“Welcome to a proper middle-of-England shithole”
Reclined on a knitted couch of their abandoned-tire-factory-turned-recording-studio in central Leicester, guitarist Lewis Berry recalls his rather leisurely arrival to the music scene, “My mum was adamant I needed a hobby when I was a kid. So she took me to karate lessons –I was crap at that. Played for Syston football club –was crap at that. Rugby – crap at that. And then one day, I was in the bath, and shouted down the stairs, ‘Mum! I really want to play the drums!’ Next thing I know, she’s signed me up for the local scout marching band”.
Sam Hewitt, bassist and saxophonist of the group, chaffs, “She completely misinterpreted that”.
As we approach a woman on horseback along the side of the road, Murray slows the car and rolls down his window, “Hey Mum” he beams. Turning down a narrow gravel path, we are soon greeted by a herd of lively sheep, two peacocks, a well-fed pig, and the family’s beloved Ram, Freddy. “You know,” Murray begins, “People always ask me now, ‘So what was it like growing up on a farm and never seeing anyone!’ And that just wasn’t how things were.” Sam adds earnestly, “What is true, is that there’s a week in December allocated for Murray to pluck Turkeys every year, which we can’t perform or do anything in”. Murray laughs,
“Yeah, this one year, a label came up to see us perform a showcase. And literally, from there, I had to go straight back to the turkey thing in my wellies and my fleece… It was very weird. Nevertheless, we ended up signing with that label.”
After months of jumping from transatlantic flights, to BBC live lounge rehearsals, to one lemon-bearing crowd after the next (yep, #lemons); the boys seem surprisingly refreshed as they finally set foot back on home ground. Murray starts the engine of his family’s tractor, looking out at the open fields of his childhood, “Honestly we just had loads of space on the farm to put whatever we wanted. There was this old piano in my house, and I started playing that because there was nothing else to do. Then I got a trumpet… that was bad news! I used to actually have to go outside and practice – it was brutal.” Rooted in this simple, ‘back to basics’ attitude, Easy Life has managed to keep wide eyes in such a fast-moving industry, proving that sometimes beginning with “nothing” can, in fact, lead you to the very best of something.
The boys sit around picnic tables enjoying freshly made choc chip cookies and elderflower juice prepared by Murray’s mum. Drummer Olly Cassidy muses on the evolvement of his own hometown, “People always used to be like, ‘Where is Leicester?’ and now they sort of know because of the football”. Leicester FC has had a somewhat turbulent last couple of years. From surviving relegation, to winning the Premier League to the tragedy of the Chairman’s death last year, “It’s been emotional, to say the least” Olly laments. “Winning the league was a crazy time”, percussionist Jordan Birtles continues, “In the 87th minute, I hopped in my car and drove down to the stadium. Every road was closed off, people everywhere, horns going –it was ecstatic. This was all happening when in the media there was a lot of terrorism and hatred going on revolving around certain religions and the like. Leicester is a very multicultural city, but there was this one moment in particular. I turned around and had this picture of all these people in front of me. I didn’t know any of them –Chinese people, Somali, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikhs. This whole group of us were there smiling in each other’s arms. I don’t know, it just felt pretty crazy, you know, the fact that football could do that and bring all these people together… it felt like it was quite an important moment”.
The boys describe how the big win did something more for Leicester than just putting them on the map, “For the first time in a while, the whole city just congregated and partied together”. Olly buzzes, “We did The Impossible, as they call it”. But Easy Life will be the first to attest that nothing is ever really too far out of one’s reach, so long as each loss is taken on the chin and the rest in their stride.
One of the band’s more subtle claims to genius has been their profound lyrical relevance – hitting home for many millennials on their rather isolating experiences of “social” media. Murray furrows his brow; “It’s a weird time to be alive, where you can always seem to be super happy –if you like”. In an age where filters and witty captions can parallel that of witchcraft in their ability to whist together illusions of sparkly realities, Easy Life recognizes the sheer urgency for sincere and authentic songwriting.
During the band’s first meeting with their current producer, Rob Milton, Murray describes, “It was a bit a baptism of fire”. “From day one,” he explains, “Rob has said, ‘You can only write what you feel’. So we’ll be talking over a cup of tea at the beginning of the day, and I’ll say, ‘Well I actually feel really shit’. And he’s like, ‘Right, well let’s write about that then’”. Lewis riffs off Murray’s candor, “We try to embody the Easy Life name, but, as you know, no one is happy all the time… We just gotta talk about how we feel, realising no fighter is as good as themselves”. This empathetic nature lies at the core of what Easy Life does best: digging past the noise towards a deeper and livelier understanding of what it is to be human.
As we leave the farm with the windows down, the boy’s hometown legend Engelbert Humperdinck’s, Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You slowly fills the car. All chanting along, they add their own flair to the chorus, “I love you— Leicester! And if it’s quite alright!” It quickly becomes clear to me that I have spent my day here in the right company. Murray lifts the back of his hand to wipe away a remaining smudge of dirt from his cheek. “I know I talk a lot of shit on Leicester, but I’ve gotta say,” he pushes his foot onto the gas, ‘I’ve got so much respect for this place”.
Like this article? Enjoy all cover features and interviews in Issue 02: Heart and Soul – available now from the GAFFER Online Shop.