In a 1984 interview between journalist Dylan Jones and The Smiths’ Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, Jones asked the pair why they thought the band had acquired such a dedicated following – one that, later years Morrisey aside, set the benchmark for what an indie-rock band could attain.
“Because what we say is quite basic,” Joyce replied. “It’s truthfulness and it’s deeper than just the music… People write to us and say they have to listen to the Smiths every morning before they can do anything… we want to get that feeling across to as many people as possible.”
The Lathums, who hail from Wigan (not far from The Smiths’ neighbouring Manchester), obviously aren’t the first indie-rock outfit to have won a loyal swathe of supporters since then, with their relatable wordsmithery and chords of conviction. But they’re undoubtedly riding high, following the success of their number one debut album, 2021’s How Beautiful Life Can Be, as they head into the release of the humbly titled follow-up, From Nothing To A Little Bit More.
And they’re all too eager to get their message out, as 23-year-old lead singer and songwriter Alex Moore tells me during one of the rare few days he’s “not too busy”.
“As deep as it might be, just because a couple of lads absolutely loved music and wanted to start a band, we’ve created a whole community of people; all over the world, not just from where we’re from. We’re creating a legacy, creating a path, something really special for all the crew we work with. On a base human level, it makes me so, so happy.”
What might sound overblown is, in fact, far from it. The Lathums are a rare example today of honest, salt-of-the-earth songs that hit you to the core, which have seen them rise from the local pub circuit to chart-toppers (their number one debut beat Drake’s Certified Lover Boy, no less).
In June, the plucky lads from Wigan will take on their biggest show yet, at Manchester’s 8,000-capacity Castlefield Bowl. “Even within the first couple of days [of the show’s announcement], the support has been amazing. We’re happy people are happy for us because it’s a massive achievement.”
The irony isn’t lost, then, that part of the magic of their debut was that it paid homage to the power of music itself – the very thing they’ve won people over with. Beyond the holy, swirling bells at the start of their debut album’s opener, ‘Circles Of Faith’, for instance – a track that was written suitably in the pub – Alex hits us with a clear-cut offer in the opening verse: “I’m gonna gather all the information that I need / To describe the things I’ve seen / I struggle talking / That’s why I sing to you.”
This paean to songwriting regularly features on the rest of the record. ‘The Great Escape’, although not dedicated to Brighton’s much-loved festival for emerging artists, comes across as an ode to the art form, echoing Pink Floyd in its title and Bowie with the line “Is there any life on Mars?”. The final, repeated refrain, “John Lennon shouldn’t have died”, sounds like a spontaneous add-on, a battle cry to the history of music, delivered with some of Alex’s most towering, pained vocals on the album.
And is there a better-titled ode to music than album closer, ‘The Redemption Of Sonic Beauty’; a track which praises music on a level as technical as “Augmentations, syncopations, good vibrations / Music to my ears, oh, baby”?
It’s somewhat stating the obvious, then, that songwriting is where Alex feels most at home. “I’ll never fight writing songs,” he tells me. “It just happens now, it’s a natural thing, like breathing is for me, and eating. It’s just within me. And when the songs want to present themselves, they will.”
Nowadays, it’s not just songs that present themselves to Alex. When the band were queuing at an airport en route to a show, a very special voice note landed in Alex’s messages – from none other than The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
“We were rushing about, getting our bags together. One of the bags was too heavy so we were loads of Wiganers, loads of Mancs, and a couple of Scousers, throwing our bags about and separating bits. I was just stood there and got a message with a little voice note. I made everyone stop what they were doing and said, ‘Just listen to this’. That was a very good moment,” Alex chuckles.
Specifically, Flowers had professed his adoration for The Lathums by sending over a rough demo – if a voice note can be termed as such – of the band’s sunny-side-up title track of their debut. The moment forged a relationship which led to The Lathums supporting The Killers on a Europe-wide support slot, which included a full circle moment of Alex and Brandon Flowers duetting ‘How Beautiful Life Can Be’ onstage in Amsterdam.
“Just how beautiful life can be”… indeed, it has its moments, with Alex saying he’s been living his dream since the band’s first tour. “No, that’s a lie that,” he catches himself, remembering. “I’ve been living it since we were playing those little sweaty pubs, before anybody knew who we were.”
Yet, whereas How Beautiful Life Can Be revels in a life brimming with music, the forthcoming record From Nothing To A Little Bit More takes on a more melancholic hue – one that often comes with age. After all, here’s a songwriter in his early twenties whose lyrical output is bound to mature and reflect the heartache and loss life throws at you – and won’t pretend otherwise on an album.
“In the beginning, writing songs was always just therapy for me. I’ve always known I was different to people, but I didn’t know why,” Alex explains. “When I was younger, I just wanted to be like everybody else, but I’ve always known I’ve thought differently to people.”
“I’ve always been quite individual, but I prefer being the way I am now, and I think people appreciate that as well. It inspires them to be who they want to be as well and not have to conform.”
“Once you lose that authenticity, you become something you’re not; and that was why people fell in love with you, why people felt connected with you. On a base human level I don’t ever want to lose that. I’m just genuine in the way I am, and what I’m saying to people; I never cloud it or dress it up, I’ll always be honest.”
Such tact is delivered from the get-go on the new album, with yet another to-the-point title in the opening track ‘Struggle’, a meditation on some of the most confronting periods of Alex’s life. With Alex singing, “I sometimes think back to when I was young / To happier times but now they have gone”, it’s written from a nostalgic standpoint, setting the tone for From Nothing To A Little Bit More.
“It’s hard to put everything into one song,” Alex says. “There’re many songs to talk through our journey. But I think the soul of ‘Struggle’ – the bare bones of it – describes how we see things quite well. On the same token, it’s just a base human emotion. It’s not for us, it’s for everybody.”
The track has so far had as much cut-through with audiences as the band’s debut album. During a pub tour The Lathums undertook across the country last month, Alex explains, “there was a fella that came and watched us. I’d never met him before, but he’s obviously a fan of the band, he’d seen us a couple of times.”
“He grabbed me really tightly and said, ‘Do you know that feeling when you don’t know what’s going on with you and you can’t tell anyone? Everybody’s felt that, everybody on the planet.’”
“I had to almost shut off for a second because it proper got to me. It just hit home. I know it’s just a song, and when all of this goes, and we’re all old and grey, it won’t matter – but right now, the way it’s affecting people, and the way it’s affecting us, is crazy.
“It sums up that whole feeling we have as humans, and as young people. We just want to spread as much love and as much light as we possibly can. We just want to make everybody feel like they’re part of something.” A similar thing was said in 1984.
From Nothing To A Little Bit More is out Friday, 3 March.