Tuff Love have described their music as “aggressively melodic”.
“It was a joke,” admits singer/guitarist Julie Eisenstein, “but I was thinking of our songs as relentlessly poppy. So melodic you want to tear your ears off.”
She’s not wrong. The Glasgwegian duo’s debut album, ‘Resort’, is all jangly guitars, woozy basslines, shimmering vocals, and huge hooks – an approach that’s seen them invited to support Ride on their first UK tour in two decades and Paolo Nutini at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.
With a series of summer festival appearances lined up, Eisenstein and bassist/singer Suse Bear tell us about their DIY approach, the songs they wish they’d written, and getting anxious before shows.
What song or album convinced you to join a band?
Suse: Maybe the band Ash, the song ‘Uncle Pat’ by Ash. But probably a whole series of bands and music and people. Actually, ‘The Organ’ made me really really want to be in a band properly.
Julie: I don’t think I know the answer to that. Listening to music made me want to play music, but I think what appealed to me in a band might have been the idea of a sense of community. Took me a long time to get round to joining one though.
What’s the first song you learned to play?
Suse: I learned ‘She’s Electric’ by Oasis on guitar probably as my first guitar thing when I was 11. My brother had an electric guitar and an Oasis tab book. I learned piano songs all the time before that though.
Julie: I think I maybe learned the chords to ‘Jane Says’ by Jane’s Addiction. Or’ Amazing Grace’. I think I was 12.
Do you think living in Glasgow has in any way influenced your song writing or sound?
Suse: I don’t think it’s influenced our sound but I think maybe the way we work. If we lived in a bigger, more expensive city I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to have an extra room in my flat for a studio etcetera, so we wouldn’t have anywhere to record. Also I think when we got started other bands and musicians were pretty supportive and stuff. Maybe in another city that wouldn’t have been the case, I don’t know.
What do each of you bring to the band?
Suse: I’m good at hooks, arrangements, and recording. Bad at lyrics.
Julie: I’m good at chords and at starting songs. Bad at guitar solos.
So do you have a set way of writing songs?
Suse: We have maybe like three different processes. Either Julie comes with an idea, or I do, or we both start something together. Either way it’s pretty collaborative. Julie does the lyrics mostly. After we have a rough idea of structure I tend to record a demo and play about with things a bit, add drums and other things maybe to see if it works, before doing the proper recording.
Is it challenging to self-engineer and self-produce everything, especially since you’re already so close to the music?
Suse: I would find it challenging not to do that. I find it hard to play the songs to people unless I’m happy with the mix, and it sounds like I wanted it to in my head. Sometimes I feel like when people hear a half-finished or half-mixed song they can’t hear the potential and just think it sounds not good, but I do have some people who I know will understand and will give good feedback for that stage.
To have someone else, maybe not engineer, but produce might be frustrating perhaps for me personally. A lot of the engineering and production are tied together – how you choose to record the drums etcetera will mean you might rule out ways it could sound, if that makes sense. Like do you want a big poppy snare, or do you want it to sound more roomy? (I like a big poppy snare for Tuff Love.) I like noodling around with guitar and bass bits for a while in case little sections need thickened up, or the dynamics changed it.
With these EPs, which became the album, the recording process informed the song writing, kinda, the types of sounds used, the structures…
Why call your EPs ‘Junk’, ‘Dross’, and ‘Dregs’? You’re not exactly selling yourselves.
Suse: When we out our first batch of songs on Soundcloud back in 2013 we labeled it “Junk”, so it was the ‘Junk’ EP when it came out on vinyl. We like the way these words sound, and also it’s kind of like this is just two people out of millions’ creative output. For some people it is total junk, other people might enjoy it though obviously. I suppose I mean they’re just a bunch of songs we wrote and recorded, it’s no big deal.
What one song perfectly encapsulates what Tuff Love is all about?
Suse: I think ‘Doberman’ is my favourite Tuff Love song. We wrote it together.
Now that you’re accomplished songwriters in your own right, what’s the one song you wish you’d written?
Suse: I have a YouTube playlist called “songs I wish I’d written”. Alex G’s ‘Cards’ is on there. Everything about it makes me feel nostalgic and happy-sad. I want to make people feel that.
What was your initial response to being offered the support slot on Ride’s reunion tour?
Suse: I think we were just like: ‘Oh shit, no way!’ Then the reality settled in that we were going to be playing massive venues. It was a little scary, but exciting.
Julie: Yes. I was scared but happy.
Is there anything you learned from watching them?
Suse: I stood and watched them from the crowd most nights except in London when my brother was there – we watched a few songs, then went for a drink to catch up. They were amazing though, total pros. They have these pedal boards for effects where one foot switch triggers a bunch of effects. It looked amazing, I want that… But it’s too expensive. And also I only use two effects for my bass so it would be wasted on me anyways.
They were also super friendly, they came and said hey and I think watched us play which was really nice. It was good to see a massive band be really decent. Not that I assumed when you get successful you become unfriendly or anything, but I suppose it was just nice they made the effort to chat to us and stuff because they could have easily not, y’know.
How did it feel to perform the songs you wrote and recorded in Suse’s flat in front of thousands of people at Bellahouston Park?
Suse: Hah, yeah it was OK actually! That was the best organised thing we’d ever played. There were extra people to help you get your stuff on stage, help with soundcheck, the monitor engineer was really nice and helpful, there was someone to make sure you were where you were meant to be at the right time. Everything ran so smoothly.
A lot of the time when I’m nervous about playing it’s because I’m anxious something might go wrong, because we’ve not had enough prep or soundcheck time, like the sound out front might not be right or we won’t be able to hear ourselves properly etcetera. But with that gig everyone was so pro we felt really at ease. Playing was fun, was so cool having a big stage to potentially move around in, although my guitar leads weren’t long enough to move around that much.
Julie: But I’m not sure there were thousands of people there by the time we went on. It was a very nice day.
Does the size of the gig influence your preparation, or affect how nervous you get?
Suse: It definitely affects how we prepare. If we have a big gig I think we’ll rehearse more, just so we’re less nervous and can easily switch to autopilot if we freak out. Also we might try and make the set flow as much as possible (as few chat breaks as possible).
When we play small venues it’s easy to see individual people. It’s nice and you can maybe chat, but at bigger venues it feels more like you need to be a bit slicker. I don’t know if that’s actually what people want, but that’s the way I feel sometimes. I think we all prefer playing smaller venues.
You’ve got a busy summer festival schedule ahead. What can people expect from your shows?
Suse: Hmm… I suppose people can expect to hear all songs off the album, and maybe some rubbish chat.
Any festival survival tips?
Suse: If you’re going to a festival remember to do some sleeping, otherwise you will get ill. Also take wet wipes so you can stay sort of clean…
Julie: Also, if it’s a big festival, don’t try to move about as big a group because that can be frustrating and everybody loses each other anyway.