INTERVIEW: Bull talk about recording Discover Effortless Living and the York music-scene

BULL was formed in 2011 by lead singer Tom Beer and guitarist Dan Lucas. Tom Gabbatiss joined after backpacking around Thailand and later on, Kai West joined later on to play Bass. 2014 saw the independent release of their first album, 2018 started the recording process of Discover Effortless Living and in 2021, their first studio album was finally released on the 26th March.

On the subject of the release of their new album, as well as touring, recording, artwork and the York music-scene, I spoke to Tom B, Dan, Kai and Tom G over Zoom.

Photo: Esme Mai

I’ve seen various interviews mention that the time frame of the songs on this album were written between 2012 and 2020 – why did it take so long to finally release your debut studio album?

Dan: Well, we started recording songs as soon Kai and Tom G joined, we started (maybe a year into them joining) going to Amsterdam to record songs with our friend Remco. We didn’t really plan for it to be an album when we started recording, we’d just go and record like three or four songs each time we went over.

When was that?

Dan: That was, probably starting around 2018. But then we amassed all these songs and we started thinking maybe we should put an album out. Around that time, we luckily managed to get in touch with EMI through Young Thugs in York; our then manager at the time, Dave, put us in contact with EMI. It seemed good. It was unintentional that we’d come up with an album – it was just kind of a collection of all the songs we’d come up with over a few years.

Because you came up with these songs over six years or so, did you have an idea of the style you wanted to go with from the offset? Was it difficult to keep a coherent style throughout recording or did you know what you were doing throughout?

Dan: I don’t think we’ve ever been too fixated on having one style or anything like that. Tom has always said that any song we write, or anyone in the band writes, is a Bull song. I quite like that philosophy.

Before this interview, I was researching Bull and kept seeing this line ‘Discover Effortless Living’, which obviously is the name of your album. However, I saw that one of you saw it on a Billboard in London, but to give it the name of your album is a big thing – how does that line tie into the ideas in the album, does it encompass every song on the album?

Tom B: Yeah, it kind of does because, we wanted to name one of the lyrics from the album; that one seemed to make the most sense – it’s quite general in what it does. Living is life, everything is life, the whole album is part of living. And the effortless part I suppose is quite relevant too, a lot of it is personal stuff about how an effort is a prism of anything you do, everything you do requires a certain amount of it. You could apply that to all the songs on the album I suppose.

You mentioned earlier that you were recording in Amsterdam, did you record the whole album in Amsterdam?

Dan: Yeah, the whole album was recorded in Amsterdam, but over the course of a two or three-year period. I think it’s good for that reason, it doesn’t all have one sound I don’t think in terms of the production. Remco is very involved in fleshing out the songs; he’s contributed a lot. I think, if it was done in a two-week period, he couldn’t have been as creative, as a lot of time was spent on those songs.

So was a lot of the album was down to his production, as well as the music you had written going into the studio?

Tom B: Yeah, and kind of the production made between all of us in the room at the different times over the course of the year. Because we spent so long doing it and revisiting songs and adding bits and things like that, it meant that every time we were doing it, we would come at it with fresh ears and ideas. Remco was really, really good at allowing us to do our own ideas and he also came up with a bunch of ideas himself.

Did you change a lot after going in the studio then?

Tom B: Yeah, we re-recorded a bunch of them. We recorded a couple of them once and thought ‘this is awful, we can’t use this’ so we did it again. Some of them we had to rethink. Some of them are split together with two takes; we did a lot of honing. We had to stop at some point; the EMI thing is the only reason we stopped because we had a deadline, but we probably could’ve kept going. I could’ve quite happily kept on going for a lot longer.

You started releasing the majority of these singles during lockdown last year. There’s a few videos on YouTube of you playing live in York and other places. Would you say you’re more of a live band? Would you also say you haven’t developed as much of a fanbase that you might’ve thought you would if you had those opportunities to tour the singles as well?

Dan: Yeah, I think we’re definitely a live band. I always find that term quite funny, because you know, do you play gigs? All bands are like that to a certain extent. We’ve always had a big emphasis on playing live, and we like doing it.

I guess it’s hard to draw the line between just putting out music and if you want to tour that music, or you’re putting out music just to put it out there.

Dan: We’re certainly not a studio project.

Tom B: Yeah, if it hadn’t been for corona, we would’ve been touring this whole time; and as you say, we would’ve likely reached more people. But as soon as we can [gig], we will.

Your artwork is quite recognisable and distinguishable as your own, is that your own designs or do you get someone else on the artwork?

Tom B: It’s a bit of both.

Dan: Kai does a lot of the design and artwork. The singles I guess is a mixture of stills from the video, actually I think they’re all stills from the video. We’ve collaborated with a lot of artists, including Tom’s sister Holly who’s done a couple of the artworks on Spotify, like the masks for Green and Eugene.

You’ve taken me into my next question – what’s the idea behind those?

Tom B: Holly my sister makes those, she’s been making them for a few years. She makes them out of latex I think; they’re quite gross looking but also quite nice looking as well. Holly has been helping us out ever since we started the band really. Our first album that we self-released in 2014, she did the cover, and all the artwork for that. She’s done plenty of posters for us over the years as well. So yeah, we just knew we had to make a video for Green and I thought it would be quite a good fit, just because I like that idea. She’s got so many different masks I thought it would look good on a video to flick between how different they look.

Obviously, you’re all from York as well. What’s the York music-scene like, in terms of venues and gigging? There’s not a whole load of artists that have reached or surpassed a similar level that you’re currently on and in your sort of ‘scene’ that I can think of. Maybe King No-One and Ben Francis Leftwich but besides that.

Tom B: Yeah, there’s plenty of good bands in York and its good a really good scene. It’s the perfect size for a city, it’s very small, but it’s big enough that people can play gigs. It’s also got really good public music, at least when we were kids. Kids are taught loads of instruments and there’s lots of free music things happening in schools. If you’re from York you’ve got every chance to be a musician, which is great. We’ve got The Crescent venue, which is amazing, which has happened over the last few years. It’s a community run thing that involves all the best people in York that have been working and working for decades. There’s plenty of bands that sound a bit more like us, not to discredit the Leftwich or King No-One, but there’s Perspex, Cowgirl, FAT SPATULA, there’s some great bands in York, if you come to the Fulford Arms sometime and you’ll see some of them.

Have you got anyone lined up to support on the tour?

Tom B: We’re working on it this week, but we can’t announce that yet.

My last question is about this massive tour in the Autumn. It’s quite busy and ambitious in a way, are you excited for it and do you think it will be successful?

Dan: I’m very excited, I don’t know if it will be successful.

Tom B: We decided that we’re going to sell it out, so whatever it takes, we’ll do whatever we need to do to sell out the gigs. We’re hoping it’s going to be the best tour we’ve ever done; I have ever faith it will be. It’s just going to need a lot of bananas and honey, and maybe we’ll need to not go out every night. Well, we can go out every night, but we need to make sure we sleep.

Bull’s 2021 Autumn UK Tour Dates are as follows:

15th Sept – St. Albans – The Horn

16th Sept – Ramsgate – Ramsgate Music Hall

17th Sept – Brighton – Green Door Store

18th Sept – Southampton – Heartbreakers 

19th Sept – Milton Keynes – Craufurd Arms 

21st Sept – Cambridge – Portland Arms

22nd Sept – Guildford – Boileroom 

23rd Sept – Leeds – Brudenell S.C.

24th Sept – York – The Crescent 

25th Sept – Stockton – Gathering Sounds

26th Sept – Glasgow – Hug & Pint

28th Sept – Sheffield – Record Junkee

29th Sept – London – The Lexington 

30th Sept – Bristol – The Louisiana

10th Oct – Leicester – The Cookie

22nd Oct – Lincoln – The Scene

23rd Oct – York – A Slow Education

Follow Bull on InstagramTwitterFacebookSpotify & Apple Music. Visit their website here.

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