Willow Shields
Willow Shields

London’s least professional music photographer and journalist, can be found most evenings in your local small venue drinking vodka lemonades and being told secrets.

Utah sweethearts ‘The Backseat Lovers’ sign to Polydor Records and make their return with ‘Growing/Dying’ ahead of sophomore album in October.

The Backseat Lovers’ are undoubtedly one of my favourite bands ever. Their funky and danceable DIY indie sound instantly had me hooked on first listen. As if I was creeping under a blanket of American sweetness, away from the scary incredibly trendy post-punk of the London scene. 

On Friday they made their long-awaited return with Growing/Dying which I will speak more about in just a minute. Their debut record ‘When We Were Friends’ first landed on our doorsteps and on streaming platforms back in 2019, featuring major hit ‘Kilby Girl’ along with other cult-favourites. As the Lovers make their return, and official debut on the UK scene, they’ve signed to Polydor Records, which in turn will bring us their sophomore album ‘Waiting to Spill’ in late October this year. And from that album, the first single is the aforementioned ‘Growing/Dying’, which carries a new air of maturity without straying away from the charm of the band’s previous tunes. This track features the band’s signature anthemic lyricism along with a slower pace than many of their previous songs. The tone is dark, kinda depressing and has the potential to be a lying-in-the-middle-of-an-empty-street-in-the-pouring-rain song whilst definitely being mosh-able at a live show. Speaking of live shows, in November of last year I trotted myself down to Central London’s ‘The Social’ to meet and chat with the band at the beginning of their first UK headline tour:

Tonight you find me at The Social, just off Oxford Street. By “just off” I mean about a 7 minute walk round the corner from Urban Outfitters, past buzzing restaurants, brashly lit DIY stores and down a dim side road that I would usually avoid if I didn’t know what lay within. I’m here in said dim back street to talk to Utah sweethearts ‘The Backseat Lovers’. 

I sit nervously outside the front of the venue, where they are to play their second ever UK show smoking way too many cigarettes. The band are here straight off the back of a huge North America tour and ahead of another one. Anyway, I find myself sitting slap bang in the middle of a wobbly bench, on a cold street in London, with the most Americans I’ve ever met in my life. Directly to my right, is Joshua Harmon; heartthrob, singer, guitarist and ‘Almost Famous’’ Russell Hammond lookalike, to Joshua’s right is Juice Welch; founding member, dummer and funny man. To my left is KJ Ward: the quiet, long dark haired bassist and to his left is Jonas Swanson; denim clad, guitarist and singer. 

Sandwiched in between these lovely, obviously sweet, stoner types of American boy. I’m completely wracked with nerves and ask the first thing that comes to mind. Which, detriment to my professional journalism career, happens to be “What’s your favourite thing to have for breakfast?” Juice is first to break the second of awkward silence that comes with asking a quite famous American band what their favourite thing to have for breakfast is. “Mine is french toast.” He says succinctly. Joshua states “ We take breakfast very seriously, probably anything that has biscuits.” For non-Americans, a biscuit is something that was recently described to me as a “shit crumpet”, but in my words; a mix between a scone, crumpet and American pancake, normally eaten with eggs and bacon. Joshua continues “Like biscuits and gravy, potatoes, collection of things…” With me now looking to KJ for elaboration, he says “I love hash browns with over-hard eggs.” Jonas finishes on “I love having a breakfast burrito, because you can put anything you want in it, every ingredient you can imagine all in one thing.

Continuing in my panicked state that comes with four gorgeous Americans looking in your direction for questions to answer, I ask them “have you ever been in love?” They all grumble and giggle and reluctantly come to a unanimous ‘yes’. Juice begins again “plenty of times” with Joshua following up with an “absolutely” and Jonas finishing with “certainly.” Sensing an opportunity to overstep, I ask “ have you ever had your heart broken?” Once again a unanimous yes. Juice preemptively laughing at his own joke “plenty of times.” I brand them as ‘a band full of heartbroken people’ and Joshua jokingly says “that’s the only way we get to write music, you gotta get your heart broken a couple of times.” “Would you say that it’s the only way you can write music?” I ask cheekily, not really expecting an answer. Though, he has to answer because I’ve forgotten this is an interview. “Oh, definitely not. I feel like the majority of the songs we write are not about that, people think that they’re about that, naturally. Which is okay. We write about a lot of different things.” 

Surprise surprise, the two singers (Joshua and Jonas) are the songwriters of the band, I begin by asking Joshua to my right what his favourite things to write about are, he answers “Our writing is very personal to us so oftentimes it’s kinda a good – sometimes the only way to connect with yourself in a genuine way, and understand what you’re feeling in a genuine way. So often times it just feels best to write about what’s real in the moment. Whatever is pressing in your life that feels real and important, it doesn’t necessarily have any bounds to what it is, just how important it is and feels.” Turning to Jonas now, “So what about you, Jonas, what helps you write music?” “What helps me, I think similar to what Josh was saying, I like to write to connect with myself, when I’m feeling comfortable with myself and – sometimes that can even be something that pushes me towards writing more, trying to connect with myself. So I guess, feeling grounded and that’s when I write most and it also pushes me to write more when I’m not feeling that way too.” 

Sensing the conversation shift to ‘official interview’ after that question, I try to steer clear and ask “How are you guys finding London?” KJ is quick to answer “I love it.” Juice continues “It’s fantastic.” Joshua elaborates “We really like it, we’ve pretty much just been chillin’, exploring, going to thrift stores, eating food…” And then, for the first of three separate times in our 10 minute interview, a fan approaches and asks if there’s a queue yet. Their manager explains and apologises, she retreats, KJ continues “I’ve loved it, it’s been super fun to see the city and learn about all the history.” Jonas picks up “yeah, this is the farthest we’ve ever been from home so it’s kinda crazy, and the history of it all, in America everything’s at most 300 years old or less. It’s cool to be somewhere that everything’s older than the place we come from.” Juice beams across Joshua at me “we saw the crown jewels yesterday!” Joshua smiles and calmly (in contrast to Juice) simply says “it was awesome.” Juice continues laughing it off “I don’t know why I thought it was so cool but it was.” Trying to get an accurate reading on the four guys surrounding me, I ask “Is there anything you hate about England so far? Any pet peeves?” Joshua answers for the collective “we don’t like that you have to sit backwards in the taxis, we get car sick, we don’t like it.” Jonas says “I don’t like having to have a different plug, like, power outlet, that bothers me. But that’s just, like, how it is.” The band laugh and Joshua half jokingly says “I also think there could be a little more salt usage in our food, we need more salt, I usually have to put salt on things, but that’s all we have to complain about.

The second of the three fan interruptions happen here, from what I can remember, their manager gives her a look and she practically leaps back and apologises profusely. So quickly I ask another deeply personal and not-very-professional question “What about growing up, what was that like for you guys?” “Growing up?” Jonas looks up from the ground at me, Joshua laughs and goes with it, “I personally loved growing up, it was great. Not really getting older, but the process was nice. Juice and I both grew up in a really small town about an hour outside Salt Lake City in Utah. These two fellows [KJ and Jonas] were in a similar situation on the other side of the mountains. But yeah it was really quite interesting growing up in a small town where there was really, absolutely no music scene, no venues. There was literally one music store, with a really nice… his name was Mr. Lee. He was the heart of any music that was in Heber City. Really interesting trying to start bands and trying to meet musicians basically only within your own high school. But once I graduated high school I was able to meet Jonas. It was always quite a special occasion to drive out of the [city], through the canyon to the bigger cities and go meet musicians and see shows and go to Kilby Court and Salt Lake city, so yeah. In a nutshell, growing up.” He laughs again. Joshua is a very giggly man, I came to realise. Looking at KJ sensing there’s a deeper story to him than he was showing me, he began “I liked growing up too, it was a good place to grow up, I feel like there’s always been access to music, which has been nice, that hasn’t been too far from home. So yeah, I think that had a lot to do with most of our upbringings into music, and yeah growing up in that world…” The third of three fans enter the frame. At this point it truly dawns on me how big this band must be. She smiles “hey guys, are you the band, the..” They all shoot their eyes up at her. I slowly raise my eye-line to where the band’s are conjoining. She realises what’s happening. And just like that, practically runs away. KJ shouts an apology after her. Jonas begins his story “I grew up in a place called Sandy, which is like just a suburb of Salt Lake, it was great. I feel like there are things with growing up that are hard, obviously adjusting to change. I think I also got into music right around 13 or 14. I feel like listening to music and playing music is something that’s always been a part of my life and although I didn’t really see being in a band from the beginning I always felt like [music] was something that would be a part of me for a long time so I feel like that helped me grow up for sure.” 

I swivel from Jonas, looking at Joshua trying to find words to articulate what I want to ask, the question comes out as a word jumble anyway. “How have you guys found being, pretty much, a bit, famous?” He sweetly smiles and gives me a comforting chuckle, “I think the part about getting any sort of recognition that is rewarding, is seeing that it makes people happy, seeing that it brings people any amount of joy or positivity, and if they can find something special in the music that connects to their life and makes them feel like they’re worth something, that makes it worth it for me. I wouldn’t say any attention is something we’re very motivated by or fond of. We love to meet fans and people that are excited about the music but it’s not necessarily a motivating force usually, we’re fairly introverted people in general so we don’t deal with it very well. Regardless, we’re very grateful to have the opportunity to do things like this and travel the world just because we wrote some songs, so it’s pretty great.” “Living the dream?” I ask “I’d say so.” he smiles again. And then it’s all finished. And I walk home in the dark because my phone’s dead. 

A little under a year later I finally got to see the band live, and I cried. Because it was like something out of a movie, or a dream. I could almost see it in slow motion. All the fans screaming along with the lyrics, dancing, moshing, kissing, hugging, generally experiencing music how it’s meant to be experienced. And I remembered the conversation we had in a dark alleyway in Central London and smiled to myself because that’ll never happen again. 

Listen to ‘Growing/Dying‘ now:

Let us know what you think!