When INHEAVEN frontman James Taylor hears that his band sounds like a cross between Sonic Youth, Slowdive, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Smashing Pumpkins, My Bloody Valentine and Nirvana, he treats it as a compliment. The English quartet, which is getting ready for its first U.S. tour after building massive buzz back home, has some specific influences.
Taylor, who shares similar tastes with singer-bassist Chloe Little, grew up on the catalogs of Sub Pop Records in Seattle, shoegaze and Britpop-heavy Creation records in London, the American DIY music scene of the ‘80s, and ‘60s-era three chord pop songs. The band’s self-titled debut has equal flourishes of shoegaze, grunge, Madchester, Britpop and rock.
“If you put all of those things together, you kind of get INHEAVEN,” Taylor said in a recent call from London. “I just wanted it to sound like all my favorite bands playing at once. I wanted it to span decades, not just be specific to who we were referencing. That was also how the songs came together. Once you get a spark with songwriting, you just have to go with it. If you overthink it, you can ruin it.”
For INHEAVEN, everything started with one song: “Regeneration.”
Taylor met Little at a show where both performed with other bands. They got to talking about the music they liked before moving on to movies, and found they shared many of the same tastes. Neither was getting what they wanted out of music, however. Taylor was always the guitar player without anyone to encourage him to sing. Little, meanwhile, was always the one to carry the heavy load and majority of the work in her band.
Once they became friends and started what would become INHEAVEN, they got to share the responsibility, to encourage each other and become each other’s support structure. Little, who had studied film in college, created a short artistic video, and asked Taylor to create a song to match the mood.
“It was kind of like a movie soundtrack sort of scenario. That song was ‘Regeneration,’ Taylor said.
The two stuck the song on a website, and started adding more. They called themselves “Blossom” at the time. Soon after, they were forced to change their name because England had another emerging band by the name of Blossoms. Their website had started becoming popular in the music community, but they took it down.
Two months later, the engineer who mixed their demos received an email from Cult Records, owned by the Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas: “Julian [is] loving this song, and we want to put it out,” the email said. Little and Taylor felt lucky the label was able to find the engineer, Little said.
“Everyone got really excited about these songs, and no one knew where we went,” Taylor added. “So they put it out in America, and that’s kind of what started it. And we’re only just now coming to America, which I find crazy, because that was like three years ago. It just shows you that’s how long it takes for British bands to get over there.”
With a need to record more songs and play shows, the duo added guitarist Jake Lucas and drummer Joe Lazarus. They spent a full year building chemistry and learning to play their songs live. “INHEAVEN” was a name the band selected from a list. Two months earlier, Little and Taylor had watched David Lynch’s Eraserhead, and the in-film performance of “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” was still haunting the two. (It’s not just INHEAVEN; many artists from the Pixies to Zola Jesus have covered the song).
“I think it represents our sound perfectly,” Little said. “[David Lynch] is a fascinating man, isn’t he? The things that have come out of his brain obviously influence musicians. His outlook on life, being able to create such abstract ideas and bring them to the mainstream—musicians just want to be like him, I guess.”
Adds Taylor: “He finds the darkness in everyday life. Musicians have to pull inspirations out of everyday, normal things, and sometimes that can be hard. But he can make anything ordinary seem magical or sinister.”
Taylor, the primary songwriter, said he and Little primarily pull from the world around them, be it political (“Baby’s Alright”), the human experience (“Bitter Town”), optimism (“Stupid Things”) or art.
“Bombs will drop, and the world will shake/ Don’t believe a word they say/ Pull the trigger now or face your fate/ In a messed up place where hate breeds hate,” Taylor sings on “Baby’s Alright,” a rattling album opener, the highs from which the record never drifts.
Usually, when the two songwriters sing the parts each wrote, their voices either collide together or complement each other. Sometimes they switch off, based on what’s best for the song.
“Chloe’s vocal can lift mine a lot sonically, because my voice is kind of drone-y. She adds a bit of light and sparkle to everything,” Taylor said.
The band recorded its debut LP in a rural studio in Wales—supposedly the first residential recording studio ever—with a rich history going back to the 1965; Rush, Oasis, Iggy Pop and Black Sabbath have all recorded seminal works there.
“Black Sabbath did a lot of their original press shots in the surrounding fields,” Taylor said. “Freddie Mercury wrote a part of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on the same piano where we were recording. And it’s called Rockfield!”
INHEAVEN has already followed up the LP with an acoustic EP and has plans to record their second full-length album at RAK Studios this summer. The EP features one new track that’s meant to be a gateway to the band’s new material. “Sweet Dreams Baby,” has a rhythm that blends ‘60s Britpop with Motown harmonies.
Taylor said that while the debut album had a lot of simplistic three-chord, three-minute pop songs, the band is looking to expand and grow its sound. Fans should expect new sonic elements, like sampling, as well. He can’t write the same song twice, nor does he want to. To keep the band and its fans interested, he’s ready to push some boundaries.
“We have loads of music that we want to release, and we kind of hate when bands just hold back.”
While Little, Taylor, Lucas and Lazarus have been perfecting their sound and stage presence, the lead duo went to work early on to perfect their image and strengthen INHEAVEN’s connection with fans. Taylor has crafted the band’s release artwork. Little has directed and produced all of the band’s videos so far, an element she’s not ready to let go of unless the band finds a partner they really admire.
“We didn’t have any money, so we had to just do it ourselves,” she said. “I taught myself to edit videos and to shoot them and that’s why they have their own unique style; because they’re not from being taught professionally.”
At their U.K. shows, the band has given out handmade fanzines, which they construct from all of the photos they take themselves and images they collect from elsewhere. Little refers to both herself and Taylor as “hoarders” of the things they find interesting. Little carefully selects everything from color schemes to fonts. The band hopes to bring a few suitcases full of the handout to give to American fans as well.
“It’s more like a hobby that also comes as a touring bonus and a way for fans to understand who we are,” Taylor said.
INHEAVEN eagerly awaits its first foray into the U.S. this month, supporting friends Pale Waves. Two years ago, it was INHEAVEN who took Pale Waves on their first significant tour. Both Little and Taylor have visited the States before, as tourists—a role they unabashedly love.
This month they’re looking forward to visiting both cities with musical heritage and seeing as much as possible.
“It’s just a holiday for us, really,” Taylor said. “We love playing music, and we love America, so we’re going to get two in one. … We’re just going to geek out.”