The spirit of collaboration is dead it seems, at least according to Matthew Parker, drummer with three-piece, experimental shoegazers Lilies On Mars. ‘A lot of bands in London are like islands’ he tells me, ‘there’s no scene, it’s hard to be friends with bands, we want to be friends with bands!’
I’m sitting with Matthew and bandmates Lisa Masia (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Marina Cristofalo (guitar, vocals) in a non-distinct pub next to Highbury and Islington station, North London. Later on they’ll charm the pants of a small but appreciative audience at the Buffalo Bar next door – ‘we have to win everyone in the room’ – their riotously infectious energy spreading through the venue like the norovirus. Right now, we’re discussing London’s current guitar music scene, or lack of it.
‘Everybody’s very self-centred’, interjects Lisa. ‘When we were putting on nights last year, we were doing it to try and find new bands and create a scene’. ‘A lot of bands are like, hey great show, then you never hear from them again’ adds Matthew, ‘I’m from Toronto and there’s a real scene there, a real community…this year has been better though, we’ve met some great bands’. Like who, I ask? ‘There’s a band from Brighton called Stars Fell Down to Earth. We really like Zoey Van Goey, Hong Kong In The Sixties, Wrong Notes from Glasgow…’
Lisa and Marina first met 15 years ago in Sardinia. Re-locating to London in the early noughties, they recorded their self-released, eponymous debut at home. Following self-arranged tours of the U.S. and Europe and a collaboration with renowned Italian film-maker, composer and singer-songwriter Franco Battiato – ‘a good friend of ours’ – they bumped into ex-Sunny Day Sets Fire drummer Matthew at a Grizzly Bear gig and bonded over a love of Sonic Youth, Blonde Redhead and My Bloody Valentine.
A month later, he was in the band. ‘I came to see a show and I remember saying to Marina afterwards, you guys are really good but I don’t like your drummer. I didn’t have an agenda I just genuinely didn’t like him. Not long afterwards Marina phoned me up and said the drummer had left and if I was such a hotshot why didn’t I give it a go’. They clicked straight away and two weeks later started work on second album Wish You Were A Pony. Recorded in a fortnight – mixing duties were handled remotely by friend Dan Brantigan in New York – it’s a bold, adventurous record, accessible yet edgy, easily jumping between alt-balladry (I’m Confused, It’s Ok!), anthemic dream-pop (Aquarium’s Key) and dark, heavy, verging on post-rock (La Mattina Prima Di Andare A Letto).
Released on their own Elsewhere Factory imprint – a label/creative collective set-up and run with the help of friends across Europe – the album was described by Gavin Martin in Uncut as ‘compelling’, the Lilies ‘digital primitives with a folky feel’. Is their fondness for the DIY aesthetic deliberate I wonder? They seem to inhabit their own little, self-contained world. ‘We’re not actively looking for a label, though if someone wanted to come along and help us that would be amazing’ laughs Lisa, ‘we don’t have a manager’. ‘It’s not a question of ideology’ says Matthew, ‘it’s more to do with our circumstances. We have our own label, we release our own records and we stand by the independent spirit of that, but at the same time we don’t fly the DIY flag. When I first came over to London all the bands had managers. We’d much rather spend time writing really good music and playing great shows than finding a manager’.