HMLTD’s early career has been a dramatic one. A London act that sit somewhere between a boisterous protest and a broad, flamboyant cultural experiment, they’re difficult to pin down on anything from genre to outlook, exhibiting a kind of glam-punk, style-borrowing ethos.
Once, they were a major label investment project, making and then dumping an expensive album along the way, as NME hyped them as the next big thing. With a new version of that debut album, titled ‘West of Eden’, finally on the market, they’re experimental approach has brought them to a scatty but enthralling release, and a more natural (to them), anti-capitalist stance.
Frontman Henry Chisholm is a politically poignant figure, and he’s not in the least bit shy about the journey the band have been on so far, or how he views modern day society. It’s not a pretty angle.
“People are isolated,” he explains. “We’re in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and I think things like Brexit, Trump, these things are just responses to a larger crisis. At the start of the 20th Century, religion started to collapse, which is a good thing in some ways, but I don’t think it was fully replaced. Collective views have disappeared, and we’ve been left with this kind of alternative individuality. That’s part of why the left are no longer viable. We all see things as individual, not from the view of a community.”
The album title, in a typically oblique way, is a reference to HMLTD’s inherent air of protest. ‘West of Eden’ is a reference to biblical banishment, a nod to Chisholm’s broader metaphor. They’re not religious, so much as borrowing the imagery to make a point. In this case, it’s about the band’s own “spiritual quest,” one they hope to bring an audience along with.
“We live in a world that’s toxic, and full of exploitation,” Chisholm continues. He’s happy to talk about this stuff in-depth – delivering the message, it seems, is the core purpose of the music. “It sits oddly releasing a record in a commercial way,” he admits. “We don’t think we’re going to bring down a system, of course. That’s not realistic, it’s more about spreading a message. We have to work with what exists.”
“We wrote about 30 songs,” he says of the record. “The result is a record with a lot of different influences, it’s really, really varied. To us it still feels like an album, though we could have done a second album in the process. The original album [the one recorded with Sony, but never released] felt like a collection of songs rather than a connected whole. This one is the story of a downward spiral. It’s heavily influenced by Nine Inch Nails, who are probably the most important band to us.”
“It’s certainly been a rollercoaster, and a bit of a struggle,” he laughs. “It’s been a strange thing to go through. We had a lot of hype, but you come out of the other end of that, and then you’re considered to be ‘established’ and it doesn’t work in quite the same way. You’re not quite flavour of the month anymore, and that’s okay, but then it’s time to go out and do something real, something that makes your point.
That point? It’s clear in Chisholm’s mind that the whole thing is a protest statement. “We’re speaking out against cookie cutter culture,” he says. “Against brainlessness, taking things for granted, and regurgitation. It hits to the current situation. Not everyone’s going to like it. We’re fine with that.”