Interview: Only The Poets Talk About the Future and James Baldwin

Not long after touring with Coasts the past autumn, Only The Poets announced a headline UK tour, which included also a show at the Dingwalls in London on February 28th. It being their biggest show ever, with a 500-person capacity, I knew I could not miss out on it. The band, even if understandably busy, was kind enough to exchange a few words with me before the show started.

The first time I ever heard of Only The Poets was at Coasts' last show, and I remember that the thing that resonated the most with me was their name. Surely it is not a common name or a name that you would immediately associate with a band but, as with the majority of things, it has a story behind it which Tom, the lead singer, told me about. As a matter of fact, he had the idea, even if it took some convincing with the other members. "I found a speech on YouTube by a guy called James Baldwin, labelled 'The Artist's Struggle For Integrity', and it is a political speech—" he took a brief pause to sigh, "and I found it sort of inspiring. It constantly says 'only the poets' in it and it just stuck out [to] me, and it runs parallel with what we are about: [...] how music, how poets—as in the artists—help you make your way through the bad things that are going on in life." As a pretext for starting a band it certainly is admirable, especially for the message that is behind it.

The young band has already proven to be very passionate and consistent about what they do and say, and speaking of consistency, I asked Tom if their music strives towards a specific sound or genre in particular, since it is to me clear they belong to the indie-pop scene, or as he labels it "energetic indie-pop." "When I write music I always have the vision in my head of what I want it to sound like. We are massively inspired by 90s brit-pop artists, like Blur and The Stone Roses, [...] but I think there is never really an angle as a writer, you always sort of evolve. There are bands who have 3 or 4 albums out that are incredibly different from one another, and as we go on I think it is what we will do."

After the last answer, the noise coming from the openers' soundcheck got a little too much, so we had to move in a small closet-like room with a closed door, between one laugh and another. We both were standing up on the door frame trying not to laugh because of the obvious unfortunate circumstances, but this did not stop Tom from delivering a professional and honest interview.

Since he talked about his general inspirations when it comes to writing music, I was curious to know if there was any particular one behind their brand new singles "Stolen Bikes" and "Looking At You." "['Looking At You'] is about being with somebody and then seeing them with somebody else for the first time and I think a lot of people can relate to that, [...] and you know, it's not always easy to take but sometimes you look back and you think 'you know what, it is probably better that way and everything happens for a reason.'" This is a statement that I agree with, also by seeing the reaction of their fans to it through social media and live videos. "["Stolen Bikes"] is all about being youthful and being really naive, [...] and it is more of a dance-y song for us, in the sense that for me it is just a vibe live and I want to get it out".

One day we will all look back to our youth and shake our heads at the many, maybe too many, mistakes we have made. But the most important thing is to keep looking forward instead of backward, and this is exactly what I asked Tom to do. After being deep in thought for an instant or two, he came up with an answer. "I hope we will still be doing this"he let out a chuckle"there is a bucket list that we have all got [...] I speak on behalf of the four of us, [headlining] Brixton Academy in London would be phenomenal, then the O2, and do arenas. Don't get me wrong, I do think that a night at Brixton would probably be more special than a night at the O2, it would be more intimateI say 'intimate,' but it's 5000 people." He seemed to get enthusiastic just at the thought. "I love going to arena shows but I prefer going to smaller shows. We just want to continue to grow naturally as a band and keep working hard and writing music that people enjoy. This is what this band is for me."

Talking about venues, we briefly spoke about Shepherd's Bush and how they supported Coasts there, and Tom had a few words to say when I asked him about their experience as openers for them. "We owe a lot to themit was definitely the jumpstart for our career. We were put in that position, we played in front of thousands people who perhaps didn't know us. First off, you got put on posters, so I think that people will probably search you, people who have already bought tickets. We just worked really hard, we were on the road with them to try to meet a lot of people and be very approachable and I think that worked in our favour, because we sold out our first ever UK tour on the back of doing that. So yeah, we owe these boys a lot." Tom looked very grateful while speaking about them. It was clear he meant every word he said.

Being a "new" artist nowadays is particularly difficult, and as Tom said, "I think selling tickets is tough. Getting yourself out there is probably one of the best ways to grow your following. Getting on a support tour now is so difficult, and most of the time you need to have a major booking agent or know someone..." It is sad to know that unfortunately, in this environment, independent bands and artists like Only The Poets struggle so much to become relevant in the music industry. "We are lucky. We got a great manager, and it is just the eight of us... but we are like a family". Right when he mentioned their manager, he entered the room and eyed us smiling, an action that we reciprocated before bursting once again into laughter because he made a remark on how awkwardly we were standing around the door frame. Tom then kept going. "There's a lot of things that are tough. Getting like Spotify support, which we haven't gotten yet. [...] There's days when you wake up and, you know, it's frustrating."

It was audible in his voice how much his job means to him, and it is inspiring how motivated this breakthrough band isit should be an example to follow. Tom cared to give a piece of advice to new, young artists: "As a writer, just continue to write songs and finish them; don't leave them unfinished because that only leads to a writer's block. The [more] songs you write the better you'll get, you'll start to understand melodies more, and lyrics too. Work really hard, don't say no to any show, if you think 'oh I'm too bigtime for that'... we have really built it so naturally. Don't get me wrong, we have played to like nobody. Only in March of last year we have done our first actual ticketed show, everything else we have done up to then was only club nights and stuff, and they were really important because it gets you out there." I nodded and he went on speaking. "You start to understand the way it works, and I would not change any show we ever did. There's never one that we regret because if there's one person watching you in one room, it could be one person that will come and support you for the rest of your career. It sounds cliche, I know." I smiled at how genuine his answers have been, and Tom decided to fill the silent pause with a more playful piece of advice: "If you're gonna be in a band, make sure you get on. Because you are gonna spend so much time together!"

It is a tradition for me to bring flowers to every Only the Poets gig I go to, and this time was no different. After putting them in a very precarious makeshift vase on the shelf backstage, we sat down on the sofa again to take some final photos, and the more I thought about Tom's words, the more I realised that they are indeed a valid, authentic group of people. There is not one thing that I do not agree with, and even if it may sound biased, I am more than sure that we will hear about Only The Poets more, because they have all that it takes to become a big, adored band.


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