Success Unscripted: A Conversation with Coasts

  • Words: Spindle Team
  • Styling: Rickardo Mattocks-Maxwell
  • Photography: Elliott Morgan

A band’s trajectory is often a wildly turbulent and unpredictable one. Those whose success plays out with script-like precision often pay the price later down the line and crash out of the industry’s peripheral. The members of Coasts are currently enjoying the rewards which come with paying dues and learning lessons first-hand. Their explosive online popularity galvanised an audience craving the kind of sun-drenched, indie-pop songwriting which the band had spent years perfecting, pricking up the ears of fans stateside.

Now, after a long stretch of touring around North America (including a career-defining Coachella set), the boys are back in the UK in preparation for their self-titled debut album.

Spindle sat down with vocalist Chris Caines and guitarist Liam Willford and discussed their rise from touring the UK “toilet circuit”, lessons learnt from record deals and their wild success in the US.

 

So is it right that Coasts originated in Bristol?

Chris: That’s where we started the band essentially. We all met at university just down the road in Bath and a year after we’d finished we then moved to Bristol, since the music scene is better and there are more venues. It felt like a logical step. That was three or four years ago now.

It seems the last couple of years have really been great for you guys. Have you been back since?

Liam: We’ve been back to play a couple of times, they feel like hometown shows even though the whole band aren’t from Bristol. The audience are always like, “ah yeah they’re a Bristol band!”

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Guitarist Liam Willford

Do you think you progressed differently being in Bristol and playing in that scene, rather than like a lot of other bands in say, London?

Chris: It’s funny because we were never really part of the music scene in Bristol. Bristol has a massive history of really great dance music, electronic music. We were neither part of that scene, nor the band scene which has a really strong DIY ethic. We were never really part of that. I guess we weren’t seen as cool.

Liam: It taught us how to hustle right from the start and that you have to be confident in your own skin. If you’re not 100% behind what you’ve made and what you’re doing then you start to question yourself all the time. At first a scene would start up in London and you’d be chasing that and then 6 months later it would be something different. A lot of people fall into that trap and after a while we sort of almost broke up.

So how long was it until you broke through and made some real progress in the industry?

Chris: Well we released Oceans and it connected straight away and created loads of hype, this was like 2 years ago. Loads of hype in the industry but we didn’t get a record deal for whatever reason; I don’t think there weren’t a lot of bands getting signed at the time. So we just had to carry on and it just kept connecting with people. It was quite good really because in hindsight it was quite organic. We had a fanbase building and building before we got our record deal, and then when we did we were a “thing” already so they couldn’t really change it too much.

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So did it end up with you having a lot of labels after you or was it always just Warner?

Liam: It basically ended up with us being able to go anywhere we wanted. Because we’d already been through the rigmarole once and didn’t get signed it kind of felt like it wasn’t as important the first time round. What was important was that the music connected with people and at that point it didn’t really matter which label we went with.

Do you think that initial knock-back was positive in the end then?

Chris: Massively. There are so many young bands out there that I feel so sorry for because they get record deals too early. The way the music industry is these days they’re chewed up and spat out within like 8 months and then that’s that, it’s over for them.

Liam: We knew what we were doing by that point and didn’t have to play the “trust” thing. Some labels will say “trust us, we’ve sold this many millions of records we know what we’re doing”, but it’s not really true; there’s no magic formula.

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Vocalist Chris Caines

So were you given an amount of freedom you were happy with?

Chris: Definitely, because we were all confident enough to not let them change anything. Coasts was already was such a solid thing and we were so clear on what we wanted it to be.

Liam: I guess in the beginning, initially there were a few teething problems but that’s natural with any working relationship, and now it’s all ironed out and it feels really good.

Chris: The most important thing is the music and they didn’t really ever touch that.

Majors are more open to that now they have to compete with the change and the culture which exists now, that wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago.

Liam: No, definitely, I think if you just look at the indie bands that have been successful in the last few years, we think we’ve got a similar situation to them. Catfish and the Bottlemen and The 1975 were doing their own thing for ages and no one cared that they couldn’t get record deal. The long way is definitely the best way, no doubt about it. It’s tough at the time, but in hindsight we’re so lucky we didn’t get a record deal a few years ago, so lucky.

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There’s a long list of producers that worked with you on the new record. What was the thinking behind that?

Chris: People listen to music in a modern way now- streaming music and make playlists etc. We knew we needed to make an album that suited the modern world. We wanted to have a lot of singles on our first album, a lot of songs that stand alone, so we made a conscious choice to do that. We think that’s the way music is going and also we feel we need to earn the right to make a concept album. The best artists of the past few years smash it on their first album and have a lot of hits on it. We felt by using a lot of producers they would really put everything they’d got into the two songs they were doing.

So were you surprised by any of the producers that you got in?

Liam: I don’t know, I think there’re a lot of talented producers out there now because people can just work on a computer, it’s incredible. We used quite a few producers that don’t really do indie music which was quite cool. We used a guy called Mike Spencer, who’s worked with Rudimental and John Newman. Also a guy called Fraser T Smith who’s produced for Adele and Kano, he’s got a song on the new Rhianna record. Rather than get the guy who’d done, say, the new Arctic Monkeys record and make another album that sounds like a guitar release ten years ago, we wanted to bring something new to the table and use guys who had been using technology; we wanted a really modern sounding record.

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Bassist James Gamage

That sounds like a very reactive and smart decision..

Chris: The reality is people are going to pick their two favourite songs and stick them on a playlist, and they’re not going to sit and listen to the record. I can’t think of a time when I last sat and listened to a whole record, it’s very rare.

Have you played all the tracks live yet?

Liam: All but about three.

Chris: Some of them are reworks of really old songs as well, we had some songs that were from really early on that we felt had something. Like the chorus would be amazing but because we were quite naïve when we wrote them they were let down in other areas, so we completely rewrote the verses.

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Do you tend to vary much at a live show? Do you improvise at all?

Liam: Weirdly, we think it’s a bit early to do that. We want to get the record out first, because not everyone has heard it yet and we want to present it as it is. At the moment it’s about it sounding great and having that energy, but once the record is out we’ll think about how we’ll get that.

It seemed like Coachella was like, a moment… as a major record person would say…

Chris: It was certainly surreal, we got a record deal in America first on Capitol, and then we were signed to Warner here. If we had signed to Warner here first, which a lot of British bands do, we would have had to sign to Warner in America, and then they might not have been digging it.

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Keyboardist David Goulbourn

How’s the rest of the year looking for you guys?

Liam: Pretty chocka. The album’s coming out and we’re going to be touring that for about 3 months up until Christmas.

Not enough bands capitalise on their success and get on it, touring wise

Chris: I think we will be on tour for a long time now.

Liam: It really is what it’s all about. When we did the toilet circuit in the UK we’d play everywhere in front of like 10 people and next time we’d go back and it’d be 30, the next time 100. Touring is the way to go.

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Drummer Ben Street

It’s another example of the smarts that you all seem to have, your instincts as a band seem pretty sharp.

Chris: When you’re a young band you can make it work and you can do it super cheap. It’s pretty brutal, the first tours we did, it was just like everyone in one room in a travel lodge, 20 quid for a travel lodge for the night and then there’s five of you in it. Now it’s a little easier, and we just take it for granted really, we enjoy it. Living the dream.

 

Stream Coasts single “Oceans” below and visit their website to find details of how to pre-order their forthcoming record, due out September 25.

 

 

Hair and Make Up – Jay Pinxie using Mac and Bumble and Bumble

Assistant – Sarah Noble

 

CLOTHING CREDITS

 

Group Shot 1

James wears:
Jacket: Scotch & Soda, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Boots: Antony Morato, Chain: Daisy Knights

David wears:
Jacket: Samsoe & Samsoe, Tee: Serge DeNimes, Jeans: artist’s own, Boots: CAT Footwear, Bracelet: Vitaly

Liam wears:
Jacket: Antony Morato, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Trainers: Adidas @ JD Sports

Chris wears:
Jacket: Stutterheim, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: Artist’s own, Shoes: Dr. Martens

Ben wears:
Jacket: Universal Works, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Trainers: Saucony, Chain: Daisy Knights

 

Group Shot 2

James wears:
Jacket: Stutterheim, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Boots: Antony Morato, Chain: Daisy Knights

David wears:
Tee: Serge DeNims, Jeans: artist’s own, Boots: CAT Footwear, Bracelet: Vitaly

Liam wears:
Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Trainers: Adidas @ JD Sports

Chris wears:
Jacket: Ben Sherman, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Shoes: Dr. Martens

Ben wears:
Gilet: Universal Works, Tee: artist’s own, Jeans: artist’s own, Trainers: Saucony, Chain: Daisy Knights