It’s an age-old adage that you should write about what you know. Tumultuous highs and dizzying lows might hit us all on occasion but, for the most part, life is spent embracing the everyday: walking the familiar streets of your town, noticing the subtle changes, working out your place within the world around you.
And so, when the members of Home Counties sat down in 2019, drawing a line under an adolescence of previous musical projects and setting their sights on something new, they decided to prioritise the beauty in the ordinary, and put it front and centre.
Growing up in a small village outside of Buckinghamshire, Will Harrison (vocals/ guitar), Conor Kearney (guitar), Lois Kelly (vocals/ synths), Bill Griffin (bass), Barn Peiser Pepin (synths/ percussion) and Dan Hearn (drums) had all been friends since childhood. Over the years, various combinations of their number had played together in different formations, from the ‘School of Rock’ inspired covers band that Will and Dan began aged 10, to an array of more ‘serious’ outfits as they left school and went to university. However Home Counties, they knew from the off, would have a different mindset at its core.
“In previous projects it had been a bit A Level politics, like, yeah anarchy!” laughs Will. “Whereas the new songs immediately started being a lot more about the culture and experience of the place we grew up, focussing on mundane things like town redevelopment and workplace culture in the sort of boring commuter towns that have no real excitement. Some of it’s a critique of the small-mindedness and lack of community in a lot of those places, and then some of it is finding a sort of affection for those towns because that’s what we experienced growing up. It’s not pure criticism, there are more grey areas than that.”
However, whilst lyrically the band’s gaze had turned to areas closer to home, musically Home Counties set about steadily differentiating themselves from the peers they’d found themselves sharing lineups with. Where debut 2020 EP ‘Redevelopment’ still relied heavily on guitars, 2021 singles ‘Modern Yuppies’ and ‘White Shirt/ Clean Shirt’ threw out the formula, fully embracing synths and a more dance-orientated sensibility. Last year’s ‘In A Middle English Town’ EP followed, propelling their live set into full-on hedonistic party territory, with Lois’ full-time recruitment to the band completing their transformation.
“I don’t really consider us a guitar outfit anymore. We want to be a more melodic band, with pop tunes and catchy songs; intentionally wonky guitars don’t really do it for me now,” explains Will. On the Home Counties stereo, a list of favourites as varied as they come are given air time: jungle (the genre, not the band), Talking Heads, Britney Spears, The Slits. At the centre of it all is nothing except simple quality. “We just appreciate something if it’s a banger rather than having to put a criteria on it,” says Conor.
It’s an attitude that’s increasingly seeping into their own writing, too – as evidenced on forthcoming single ‘Bethnal Green’. Named for the area of London that they moved to last year (the six-piece now all live together in one collective band flat) and built around a playfully Devo-ish synth, Will recalls initially thinking he’d pushed the remit too far. “When I first showed it to the guys I was like, ‘Oh you won’t like this, it’s just some crap pop thing I’ve come up with’,” he chuckles. “But then immediately everyone was into it, Lois started singing on it, and it started sounding really cool. It felt good that we could do that sort of song; it really opened up what was ‘acceptable’.”
Home Counties’ forthcoming new material unanimously leans into this fun, exploratory way of thinking. Having spent much of 2022 touring – playing their own sold-out headline shows back in February before joining Psychedelic Porn Crumpets for a UK run in August – they’ve fully embraced the power of a good time. “We just love songs that are dancey and we want our gigs to be fun. On our last tour we were finally at a stage where we had enough new material, on top of the last EP, where every song basically felt like a dance song: that’s the music we like to listen to and the shows we want to go to,” says Will.
Thematically, meanwhile, the band have been traversing the ups and downs of London life, documenting their findings as they barrel towards the second half of their twenties and all that that entails. Upcoming tracks ‘You Break It, You Bought It’ – a lament on “renting and how rubbish landlords are and how unaffordable it is” – and ‘Cradle, Coffin’ find the band balancing the duality of lyrical frankness and musical buoyancy with gusto. Meanwhile ‘Uptight’ turns the lens inwards, as Will states: “I [generally] sing about quite interesting places and the experience of place and space, but ‘Uptight’ is more about the feeling of getting older; turning 25 and not wanting to go clubbing and feeling guilty about that. It’s all about the feeling of thinking you should be doing something better or more exciting, but you just end up in the pub at the end of your road talking to the same people – but that’s really what we all want, isn’t it!
“The tracks still have political messages but they’re less heavy-handed,” he continues. “Obviously a song like ‘You Break It, You Bought It’ and its anti-landlord sentiment is evidently swinging one way, but it’s more about the experience of it: ‘The walls are mouldy, isn’t that horrible’, rather than ‘Isn’t it disgusting that the socio-economic structures are this way?’”
Though Home Counties’ sights have re-focussed on their new life in the capital, the same tell-tale punctuation marks are still there as they head towards a 2023 debut album: an eye for the day-to-day, all-too-relatable details of crap modern living. Yet, coupled with an ear for hook-filled, grin-inducing melody, the pay-off is one riddled in joy rather than despair. Or, as Conor succinctly sums up the current ethos of the band: “My life is ruined cos I can’t afford rent, but I’m gonna dance about it.”
The Old Blue Last
Various Oxford Venues
Llwyn Isaf (Library Field)
The Hare and Hounds
Clwb Ifor Bach