Meet L-E and Listen to "An Exposition" | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, July 7th, 2022  

Bryan Serwatka

Meet L-E and Listen to “An Exposition”

Introducing L-E, the new project of London based musicians Bryan Serwatka and Nick Mabey

Jan 30, 2022 Web Exclusive
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Meet L-E, the new project of Texas born, London based musician and author Bryan Serwatka and drummer Nick Mabey, who hails from New Zealand but now also resides in London. Both have played in numerous bands over the past couple of decades. Serwatka with Yorkshire based outfits Backyards and Riot Joy, Mabey most recently with some of the musicians from Donny McCaslin’s band, perhaps best known for playing on David Bowie’s Blackstar record.

L-E is a concept record with an accompanying novel as well as the name of the band. Intrigued to find out more, Under the Radar caught up with Serwatka hours before he was about to return to the UK after spending the Christmas and New Year holidays back in Texas.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How did L-E start?

Bryan Serwatka: So, Nick (Mabey) and I used to work together. Nick runs a coffee roastery and I used to work for him. He’s a badass drummer so we talked about doing some music together for a while. I had this idea about creating a narrative through some songs and actually writing some fiction. The plan was to have each song as a chapter of something. Whether that’s a short story or something self-contained like that. Thankfully, he thought that was a great idea. He’d never worked that way with anybody else before so we started writing songs together, then putting together this project.

What does L-E stand for? What is the meaning behind the name?

It’s a bit of an in joke. The main protagonist for most of what we’re working through is a geneticist. So, the name L-E is about life extension. Gene therapy’s changing almost daily, and one of the stories we were working on was something that finds a way to make people genetically immortal. What does that do to you? How does that create the impetus for the final chapter? We’re both really into science fiction and Kurt Vonnegut, so that’s where L-E came from.

You’ve played in a number of bands over the years. How does this differ from other projects you’ve been involved with?

The approach to this is very different. I’ve written fiction before, and I’ve written music before, but I’ve never written them together. The whole point with this project was, as I’m writing each story, I’m also writing the music. Effectively trying to keep things in the same vein.

Did the story come first or the music, or has the whole project developed in tandem over time?

I think it’s fair to say they developed in tandem. I was writing the music to fit the temporal setting of the story. So, the first setting is in the early-to-mid eighties, hence the post-punk jarring guitars. As we carried on working, the genre shifted. From there in terms of content and the lyrics, I was pulling a lot directly from what I was writing. A lot of the dialogue is actually the lyric of it, trying to complete the story that’s not necessarily written verbatim in the text of it. The rest of the project is rather playful. It’s a lot of fun. I got sick of taking myself too seriously, so once we start releasing some of the other songs, I think people will see an innate sense of humor in them.

When did the project start? Which is the oldest composition on the album?

I didn’t know if we were going to be saying album or not at the time, but the oldest composition is probably Track 4 (“The Skin”). A lot of them have been rewritten over time, because I wasn’t very happy with the intro or the ending to the book. I ended up gutting some stuff. Even the intro to the album has a few samples from some of the dead tracks. Just as a self-referential nod to ourselves. We’ve been working on this project for five years. We both have day jobs working in the coffee industry and it’s a lot of fun, so I didn’t want to dishonor any side of it. I love my job, and Nick is a world class coffee roaster as well as a world class drummer. It’s just not fair how talented some people are!

“An Exposition” came out as your first single on Wednesday (26th January). Was that always going to be the lead track?

Initially, when I was writing in my head, “Do You Wanna Live?” was going to be the main single. But then we went back in the studio and started retracking a few things, and at that point both of us realized “An Exposition” was the first representation of L-E we wanted to show. If only for the ridiculous nature of the title and tone of it.

Will there be a follow-up to this album, and if so, is the ending set up so the second record can be a continuation of the same narrative?

We haven’t got that far! I’ve got some ideas. I don’t really know if it needs to be scented that way because the story itself is very self-contained and can sit on its own. We’ll see how things go when it comes to writing more. I hope it doesn’t take another five years but there’s a good chance it will, and then I’ll be in my forties!

I believe the album will also be released as a novel? Will it come out at the same time as the music or is the intention to release both separately?

The plan is to release a couple of singles first, then hopefully the album in late May, early June depending on the logistics of things. I’m going to be simultaneously releasing the book and the record in physical and digital formats where effectively, I’ve had to create a record label and a publishing house to do this because the few folks I’ve pitched this too didn’t really know what to do with it. Plus, everybody I know that’s been working on this project are people I know directly, including the PR guys at Hanglands. I’ve played in bands with Sam [Airey] and Harry [Ridgway] from years back. Call it being a control freak if you like, but in some ways, it makes more sense for me to release it this way. I’m trying to get everything sent off to the printers next week, hopefully so it will be done in time for the release schedule.

Which songs are you planning to release as singles next?

The plan is for “The Future Is Waking Up” to be the second single. Then the third; depending on timing, because if we need to delay things because of logistics – vinyl pressing right now is a nightmare; will be “Do You Wanna Live?” We have found a vinyl presser who’s going to work with us but if things get pushed back because of timing we might do another single release. We’ll see how it goes. We’re keeping flexible with the set two then the album.

Will there be a video to accompany every song on the album? Is the visual element an important part of the story telling for L-E?

I don’t think it’s as important. There were plans to make more videos but last year I had a pretty gnarly operation and then got hit by Covid so we ended up being a couple of months behind on that. There are plans to revisit that. My mother’s an artist and she does some really interesting abstract art. That’s one of her pieces on the cover of the single and we’re trying to incorporate more of that into different songs and the book itself. Mainly also because the main character’s mother’s an artist, so there’s a lot of weird autobiographical stuff in it. Hopefully that comes across well and eventually when we start doing live stuff there’s a plan to incorporate that into it as well.

You play every instrument on the record bar the drums. Will you be taking L-E live, and if so, have you already got musicians lined up to play the various parts?

The plan is to play some live shows. I think both of us are really missing gigging. It’s been a long time for either of us. We’ve got a few musicians in mind. We had some musicians lined up to work with us on this record that because of Covid, couldn’t do it. Which is a real shame because one of them was on David Bowie’s last record, Blackstar. We had a couple of other guys from Donny McCaslin’s band that wanted to join us, but we had a session booked on 18th March 2020 so had to cancel which was just bad timing.

Is there a title for the record or will the whole project be called L-E?

We really battled with this one because for me, it makes sense for both the record and the band to be called L-E. The book will be titled L-E as well. It makes sense for me, even in terms of the artwork as well. There’s some interesting visual art to go through the record so it makes sense to have everything as one piece. For me they’re inseparable. They can each be consumed independently, and I feel that each part does stand up on its own. At the same time, I’m hoping to reach out to the geeks and the anoraks out there that would hopefully make sense of it being one consistent piece.

I’ve been listening to your back catalogue and was particularly moved by your cover of Frightened Rabbit’s “State Hospital”. How much of an influence did Scott Hutchison have on you as a writer and musician?

Scott is one of the biggest songwriting influences for me ever. Particularly in previous bands. I find it very hard listening to Frightened Rabbit. Even now, I’m getting worked up about it. I don’t know how much of his influence comes through in L-E, but I used to religiously listen to his music, album after album just walking a couple of hours at a time. I’m sure that’s got a lot of residuals there but it’s hard. I still find it really difficult to even think about Frightened Rabbit songs or Scott’s lyrics. I was back in Texas as my brother was getting married then just as I was about to set off back for London, I got the news that Scott had passed away. My brother and his wife just looked at me and asked if I was OK and I replied no, I am not OK.

You’ve been making music for the best part of two decades in various bands and projects, so have witnessed a lot of changes within the music industry over that time. Do you think the landscape has changed for the better, or worse, especially in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world?

It’s easier to get your music out there. Anybody can do it, and that’s great. But in terms of being a band and organizing people, that’s got to be number one. We have to be very careful about how we associate with each other, and then the other responsibilities we have makes it difficult. Even just going out to see friends, I guarantee at least one third of all social set ups gets cancelled. That’s OK, because its about being responsible but I also think it changes the way you have to set up and put together a project. To put it out there and engage with people because people are engaging with and consuming music very differently to how it’s been. When you look at a band like Yard Act for example, their campaign was so considered. The video presence and story telling within what they’re doing. It’s a totally novel concept. They’re killing it, and it’s great to see James (Smith) doing so well because we used to play little shitty warehouse gigs with him in Post War Glamour Girls. So, to see him where he belongs is so fantastic. They totally deserve it, and it’s not a new band by any means. They’re great musicians and very versatile, switching between different instruments and styles so it’s well overdue.

What advice would you give to a new artist just starting out?

Number one is staying true to the concept. If you come up with something and believe this is who I am, this is what I stand for and how I want to be represented in the industry you have to stay true to it because there’s so much noise. So much focus on media scenes, yet the ones that end up doing quite well are those that stick to their original concept and are absolutely uncompromising. Beyond that, I still think we’re navigating a bit of a frontier because things shift so much. There’s such a focus on new mediums such as Tik Tok. But I still think the main piece of advice has to be find your niche and stick to it. Do not shift that for anybody.

L-E Bandcamp

L-E Spotify

Bryan Serwatka Bandcamp

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