A garret room above a famous city centre address and a playback session is in progress. Opening with an oscillating guitar riff, the song cannons through the half-dozen speakers into a steamrollering piece of grunge rock so expansive it sounds as though we’re listening to it in the Anglican Cathedral. Instead, it’s The Jacaranda, where a tin bath (now surrounded by a wooden box) rattles along appreciatively.
The song in question, Facemelter, is from Sickly Fit, the outstanding six-track debut EP by rapidly ascendant alt-rock trio, SPILT. A clutch of the teenage troika’s early landmarks re-upholstered for release through Jacaranda Records, the set is being issued in immersive audio, using a system developed by the label. The effect is breathtaking – the band in ultra hi-def that can be harnessed even through bog-standard speakers. Lead singer and guitarist Mo Molyneux nods in approval as the sound envelops the room.
An intense, brutal primer for their punk/psych/grunge alloy, the release cements the Runcorn outfit’s position as Merseyside’s worst kept secret. Operating under the radar, recent gigs down in London (complete bedlam) and Glasgow (Mo survived crowd surfing in a venue with a ceiling barely 8ft high) have spread word about the trio without them even having a record out. Closer to home, a gig in Warrington last month was a revelation. Led by Mo’s simultaneously wired/shamanic charisma, the three-piece threw down a stunning set of entirely unheard new material before provoking a mosh-pit and a stage invasion at the close.
The EP concluded, we head for Lime Street Station to visit SPILT’s current base of operations. Alighting at a drizzly Widnes Station, the stop that (possibly) inspired a despondent Paul Simon to write Homeward Bound, we traverse back alleys, past housing estates, shops and pubs, arriving at a storage centre for double-glazing: an incongruous location for a recording studio/rehearsal space. In the laboratory where the band have been working alongside producer Jonathan Tringham, a thunderous rough mix of forthcoming debut LP No Ball Games is played through the studio speakers. Inspired variously by small town frustration, McJobs, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, underground hip hop, Nirvana, Slowthai, Aldous Huxley, Carole King and George Orwell, the album follows Sickly Fit in supreme style.
Creating the effect of racing through a superlative YouTube playlist, No Ball Games interlinks the tracks with scraps of overheard conversations, found sounds and digitised noise. Showcasing their skill at juxtaposing the abrasive with the tuneful, Pockit is a juddering combination of punishing industrial beats and earworm chorus hook, while Funny Money is a superb stop-start, loud-quiet-deafening workout that features a sample of the local rag-and-bone man on his rounds. Changing tack, Canal Boat Rodeo is a brooding storm cloud of a tune, the music stripped back to Mo on an acoustic.
Acid Baby, a brutal slab of alt-rock based around a churning guitar motif and a vocal that sounds like Black Francis relocated to the Mersey Delta, is contrasted with the raga-like Cynical – “Break a bruise/Peel off your face/Cos I’m a pretty flower/With shitty taste” – which takes its lyrics from a poem Mo wrote when he was 12. “I was writing poems where I was putting myself in someone else’s point of view,” he recalls.
Sat in the downstairs rec room, Mo’s younger brother Ollie, who creates the group’s psych-themed artwork, flips through the group’s current playlist on his phone, taking in everything from West Coast hip hop to Bob Dylan. Relocating to the upstairs rehearsal space, down a corridor that overlooks a room containing several hundred window frames, Mo, bassist Ronnie Ayers and drummer Josh Cunningham, assemble. Founded by childhood friends Mo and Ronnie, the trio were completed by the arrival of exemplary tubthumper Josh three years ago this month.
“We were two weirdos, outcasts,” Mo says of his and Ronnie’s time in school. “Floaters,” the bassist suggests, creasing the singer up with laughter. “Even though we’re best mates, we don’t have anything similar in common, apart from the fact we’re in a band together,” Mo explains through a thick fog of weed smoke. “He was like, ‘No electronic music’, whereas I was all about it,” Ronnie notes. “But that’s kinda mixed in – I like to structure my songs from his ideas, and what you’ve showed me with the build-up and the drop,” Mo explains. “I know that our generation, that’s drilled into everyone’s heads, and has been for the past ten years – it doesn’t matter if your lyrics are shit. If your drop’s good enough, it’s sick.”
“All our music always has a bit where it’s all, ‘Where am I? Who am I? What’s going on?’ and it all seems to be a narrow tunnel and at the end it’s like ‘Boom!’” Mo mimes an explosion. “In the studio, he’ll act it out, trying to explain the songs,” Ronnie says. “He’s like a translator for me,” Mo agrees. “When we got Josh, that’s when things started moving upwards. We kinda had this thing, cos we’re not city kids, it’s just us three. We need to go place to place – it’s almost having like a little army and you have to conquer each one. You’re aiming to play anywhere you can, that’s where we’re at now,” Mo says, Josh and Ronnie nodding in agreement. “Place by place, make mates with bands along the way. But never stay in the same place, never do the same thing, otherwise you get sucked in.”
“It’s helped,” Ronnie says of coming from Runcorn (and Josh from St. Helens). “When you’re born in a city like Manchester or Liverpool, it’s your home, you don’t appreciate it much, it takes away all the novelty. We still appreciate it – you need that outsider perspective when you’re trying to get somewhere, we can see what it is.” “Going to Liverpool was a day out, like ‘Wow, it’s the museum!’” Mo recalls. “We always had big thoughts, but we never had the people to learn it off. They’re in their own little world here. They think walking from one estate to the other, which is about ten or 15 minutes, is loads of time. It’s the only place that still has a built-in bus way. It’s all plazzy Scousers.”
Being taken to a Gorillaz gig at the age of five by his Dad, was a formative experience for Mo. “You don’t wanna get stuck in the same old, same old,” the singer states. “Like Gorillaz man, Albarn was switched on, he was like, ‘Fuck this Britpop shit!’ Same with Neil Young.”
“The way I see it, us live is very energetic,” Mo expounds. “Everything’s fucked, there’s tons of feedback going on and that’s what gives it the atmosphere. If we were to record bass-guitar-drums-vocals, play the same thing, you wouldn’t catch the same vibe, cos it’d be too clean. We wanna be a band that experiments with different mad shit, we don’t just wanna be a group who gigs. Being on stage, it’s euphoric mate. I see things in colours, especially when we’re playing, usually cos we’re fucked, ha ha! We love bits where if you can play off-time together as a band, you’re in sync. Like all that trap stuff, you need to be able to do mad shit… we’ve always been into that.”
“There’s shitloads,” Mo says of the outfit’s stockpiled material. “There’s this album, then we’re gonna make the next one, which are old ones re-recorded in a different way, and then the one after that is gonna be our love album. James Cameron saved Avatar for ten years cos he knew the equipment was gonna be better in ten years’ time, that’s like us.”
“We don’t wanna fit the whole ‘We’re a three-piece,’ we wanna sound loads bigger,” Josh adds (an aim they have completely realised, as anyone who has witnessed their colossal live sets can attest). “We didn’t learn this in school or nothing, we came together, we’re kinda like a little bacteria that went on and went on and became our own style,” Mo adds. “When Josh joined as a drummer, OK, he wasn’t the best, but look at him now man – he’s developed to feed our music. It’s not about showing off, it’s about feeding your motive, your sound and what you’re looking for.”
“When I decided what SPILT’s sound was, it was like I had a fucking vision: ‘It needs to be trippy and dark’,” Mo says animatedly. “Like Pink Floyd and Nirvana, but don’t rob riffs from them, rob it from Motown. I had my guidelines, but take inspiration from what Josh is into and what Ronnie is into. Anybody can write a verse-chorus-verse-chorus, a song is just sounds and shit. I always see it as a pattern. You know if you drop a penny down one of those charity things outside a shop and you see it roll round? That’s how I try and imagine the music. The riffs are almost expanding. I got that from Tame Impala, even though it’s not rock music, the way they add and subtract parts, you can see the pattern, the colour… it’s creating a whole visual concept in your head. Trying to get that visual sound into good, standard guitar-playing music.”
One of the band’s best tracks, the rage-fuelled 1984, takes the slogans Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith had forced upon him everyday and draws comparison with the unease of the current age. “Me and computers, I’m worse than me Nan,” Mo grins, shaking his head. “Your rite of passage nowadays is Facebook – people think that it’s a given right to have it, and when they have it they need it.”
“All the Big Brother, 1984 shit is a bit extreme but what I’ve kind of realised lately is that they’re still using it, they’re not cutting that shit out of their life. They’re using it to put more bullshit ideas into yer head, or moan about their life. Or the vanity thing with Instagram, pictures of what you’re eating, what you’re fucking wearing, how many likes you’ve got,” he rails.
“Everyone knows it has to be different but you need to know how to live in the time you’re in,” the singer reasons. “Otherwise you’re just gonna end up a washed-up hippy with a sign on the side of the road saying ‘The World’s Gone Wrong Man!’”
“I go through a phase where the music becomes a thing that nobody knows how to play. We’ve just gone through the next album that I’ve written – we’re starting to get a grip on it now,” Mo explains as the interview wraps up. With dusk approaching, the trio head downstairs for an impromptu blast through fantastic space rock rush Helium Heart in the studio, then outside for their photoshoot as the light begins to fade.
As the spawn of the Mersey Basin head overground with their explosive live show in tow, you’d better see them now before bigger stages beckon.
Sickly Fit is out now via Jacaranda Records.