When was the last time you stumbled across a sound check where, after finishing, the band mooches across to their kitchen for a quick swig of beer? Such are the luxuries offered at a MOATS live event. This is the second time the four-piece have converted their living room into a gigging space; gone are the settees and TV, replaced by guitars, mics and a myriad of wires. House parties can range from intense shindigs to intimate affairs, but throw a couple of bands into the mix and you get both. When Juniors step up to open the night, their frontman Jamie Hives sums it up perfectly. “The fire exits are here and here,” he points, casually. “Other than that, there are no rules.”
James Pyrah, guitarist for Moats and occupant of the Pilgrim Street pad, watches over the proceedings with a cautious glance. However, in person he reassures me they’re not too worried after the first one went so smoothly. It came about, he recalls, because a gig at the Shipping Forecast fell through. “We had a gig with Pixel Fix on 7th December, but it was cancelled, and as Will [Elliot, Bass], Matt [Duncan, Vocals] and a load of friends had booked tickets, we didn’t want their journey wasted.”
Moats began in Bedfordshire and their story has been spun into a tale of two cities, with Elliot and Duncan choosing to study in Leeds while Pyrah and drummer Nathan Price opted for LIPA. Having been active in previous projects, the members decided they needed a fresh start. “We wanted to get our creative juices flowing again,” says Duncan, as Bido Lito! and the band members retreat upstairs for a chat, “because we’d made a sound for ourselves that we weren’t 100% happy with. We wanted to take things more seriously, be a bit more imaginative with what we’re doing.”
It’s very easy to get lulled into a false sense of optimism by wishful thinking, but Moats began pushing forward as soon as they were settled on the new name. Bring them together, and beneath the down-to-earth exterior you get a sense these four lads truly give a damn. You get this with Absorb, the product of several months of solid work and the first hint of what the band have in store for us. The fuzz of the guitar comes sharp on the opening, before retreating under Duncan’s strident, King Krule-esque vocals. The track swells with raw energy and, while this is hardly groundbreaking in guitar music, you can often forget why it works so well.
That’s not to say there isn’t merit to be found within the tracks present on Singapore, a mini album the band put out within weeks of forming. Produced by Elliot in his old bedroom, Singapore is striking in its variation, demonstrating the range of ideas the lads had for the band. “It cost nothing to record it, but also it felt right to let people know what we were doing,” Elliot reasons. “With Moats, we had a new name and a new direction we were happy with.”
“We don’t want to sound like a typical indie band anymore,” says Pyrah firmly. “It’s one of the most screwed-up genres; there’s so many people trying to make their way up.” It’s more than teenage rebellion at work here, though. Quite simply, Moats refuse to let the music they fell in love with growing up go stale. It never feels like it is being done simply for the sake of being outlandish; rather, a natural reaction to seeing how they can push the boundaries to develop their sound. It’s this versatility that sets Moats apart, which Duncan puts down to the fact that they all bring ideas to the table, rather than there being one main songwriter.
“It’s pretty good in that sense that we don’t see each other constantly,” he states, referring to the pitfall of having the band spread across Liverpool and Leeds. “Because we have so much time apart, we’re always getting our own ideas and finding different influences, so when we come round to practising we just chuck it all together. Then, we choose one we like and we develop it. We can write a song in a practice and then finalise it at the next one, which is quite lucky.” This makes for a healthy relationship, bouncing off one another’s thoughts, and it makes the music all the more dynamic.
As we head downstairs, the atmosphere is bewildering: both tense, a result of the increasingly cramped performance space, yet relaxed as friends and fans mingle with the band members. Juniors step up to open the night, their trump card being that one of the members also lives under this roof, and the trio deliver a scorching set, with special mention going to Hives, who effortlessly balances complex chord progressions with vocal duties.
By the time Moats take to the stage the room is packed solid. Punters are pushed back to the hallway, squinting over the multitude of faces eager to see what the fuss is all about. The band cook up an intense live experience, but one that is kept inviting by the personality of the performers, in particular that of frontman Duncan. Completely at home in the live setting, he rarely stops smiling, and takes every opportunity he can to make a wisecrack (“This track’s called Dry, although I’m pretty moist!”), embracing the swarm of punters before him.
Whether old (Toothache) or new (Snakepit), each track is met with resounding cheers. The beauty of the event lies in its informality, where there is no sense of separation between the band members and the crowd. The sound certainly isn’t as polished as you would get in the Kaz, but what’s a little distortion when you can bring your own beer without worrying about security? Admittedly it sounds like a recipe for unmitigated chaos, something Moats could easily soundtrack, but instead everyone is largely co-operative; making the most of the live experience here doesn’t mean resorting to mindless destruction.
The set is over in a flash, and the band look even more at ease as the after-party immediately begins. It’s not surprising, considering the wealth of opportunities the band has coming up: after playing the main stage at this year’s Threshold Festival, they embark on a Belgium tour in April, organised partly by friends they made on a previous venture. “We’ve got a lot of new releases ready,” promises Pyrah, “but we want to play it safe for now so that when the time comes for the big push, we’ll be ready.” It seems that Moats are content to wait around for a short while for you to get on board, but not for long; and, considering what’s at their fingertips, can you blame them?