In 2008, it looked like the end for Nizlopi. After two years of heavy touring following JCB Song’s chart success, Luke and John went their separate ways. Five years later, and the duo were inspired to reunite for a friend’s wedding. “We were an important band for that couple so we wanted to do it, but that meant we had to learn all our songs again. We figured it was a lot of work for one wedding so we booked a warm-up gig and it all went a bit crazy after that. We sold out two nights at the Borderline in London and it was rather humbling to be honest.” John also mentions that those nights were the reason for their new album Live. “The idea was just to record the shows to have something to remind us, as we weren’t sure if we’d do any more shows after that. We listened back afterwards and it really captured the atmosphere so we decided to release it. People have always been asking for a live record as we’re quite different live; we’re full on.”
A year later, and the band are embarking on a 10 date UK-wide tour visiting several intimate venues including The Marrs Bar in Worcester. John explains that these are perfect for the duo as they like the audience to feel like part of the band. “Smaller gigs are great because we tend to play in the audience. We tried it at Shepherd’s Bush Empire once, but people at the back couldn’t necessarily hear it. The Marrs Bar is a place that we learnt to play live. We went to their open mics when we were about 18; so even if we were playing big venues, we’d still try to squeeze in a gig there.” Luke says that the audiences who turn up at the shows can expect the best night that the band can offer them. “I think our mission has always been to serve the people who show up with passion, honesty and some great music. We’re going to be putting some fresh things in there as well, so we’re doing as much contemporary stuff as we can.”
The past is not something that the band forget easily; especially their humble musical beginnings at school as a metal covers band. “Bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses and Metallica had all released classic albums around then. I think the first gig we played was in school assembly and we did Enter Sandman & Sweet Child of Mine.” I ask what inspired such a big musical leap from metal to folk? “Both me & Luke listened to loads of stuff. Luke’s dad is an Irish piper so we were brought up in folk sessions and learnt to play instruments in that sort of environment. We just loved music that was real & live and had something to say, and that encompassed everything.”
The band are well known as having an organic approach to promotion, shunning main stream record labels to release on their own label FDM. When asked if they have any tips for other bands who decide to go down this route, Luke advises “First of all we loved music & connected as friends; so put that first. Later on there’s things as simple as making sure that everyone signs up to your mailing list after gigs, or using social media or making interesting videos. You have to serve your audience & know that they are the bosses; give the people what they want to make them happy.” Luke and John often helped people while running FDM by giving them work experience placements to learn about running a label and touring. Someone who took advantage of this was a then unheard of Ed Sheeran, who still states Nizlopi as an influence to this day. John is still quite taken back by the enormity of Sheeran’s success “Ed came and was a guitar tech for us and he spent most of his time trying to be taught chords or figure out how Luke wrote his lyrics. It’s amazing to see someone do that well. It’s quite unheard of. I believe that he’s one of the biggest selling English artists ever.”
While we’re on the subject of popular acoustic artists, I ask if they think that this sort of music in the charts is making the folk genre more accessible to a younger generation. John believes that it has had a positive impact in regards to children picking up an instrument. “Me and Luke used to do workshops with kids. You’d go into schools during the X Factor domination and everyone would want to be famous but not necessarily acquire the skills to do that. Artists like Ed Sheeran, Ben Howard and Adele have bucked the trend and showed that you could actually be yourself, write your own music and play instruments. That’s had a positive effect.”
Reminiscing about previous tours, Luke mentions that the band have played in some unusual places across Europe, including a former bullring in Lisbon. “We’d just written this song called Love Is and it is one of the deepest songs that we’ve ever made. The experience of playing that new song in that environment was beautiful, as the Portuguese are passionate about music. It was pretty magic.” John’s favourite place to play was a festival in Holland called Lowlands which he tells me “was a bit like Glastonbury”. I ask which acts they would put on if they ran their own festival, to which one artist’s name seems to be stuck on Luke’s lips; “Anais Mitchell. We went to see her last night and she’s a stunning writer from Vermont. I’m feeling the way that she’s making new things possible; like she wrote a folk opera. She writes about things that move you; fundamental human conditions.”
Next year the band are planning on doing some more dates around May including festivals and also hoping to release a new record; “We’re writing all the time now. If we write a record that we think is good enough then we’ll release it.” For the moment though, they are just enjoying being back on the road.
Nizlopi are touring from 16/11/2014 until 29/11/2014.