Label: Red Bull Records / Sony
For a band whose music so often celebrates the beauty it’s possible to find in life’s most challenging moments, even Flawes have had their patience tested in 2020. The dynamic electronic pop trio had started the year off well: in January, still on a high from a headline tour the previous month, Flawes released their debut album Highlights. A string of singles had been laying the groundwork for 18 months and for JC, Huss and Freddie, 2020 was going to be something of a victory lap. “We had everything to look forward to,” recalls frontman Josh ‘JC’ Carruthers. “We had five shows booked at SXSW, then it was over to LA for MusicExpo, along with a European headline tour and festival main stage appearances. They were real dream-come-true moments.”
In the end, of course, they weren’t. Like the rest of us Flawes discovered that 2020 had some unexpected tricks up its sleeve. The first signs came when the band were relaxing in a pub at the end of a long day rehearsing for SXSW and noticed some alarming virus-related news blaring out of a pub telly, which in the weeks that followed meant that every single one of the band’s plans fell through. “We had all this momentum, and we didn’t want it to slow down,” JC remembers. “So we kicked into gear,” drummer Josh Hussey (aka Huss) adds, “and we asked ourselves: what can we do to keep ourselves sane?”
The immediate answer involved a flurry of activity: covers, isolations sessions, weekly Q&As with fans, livestreams all over the place. The more longterm answer ended up being Reverie, a six-track EP packed with self-belief, euphoria and determination. Holding Out For The Win, for instance, was written about what JC describes as “that split second in a relationship when you realise: this is something special”. “It’s based at the start of a relationship and it documents the moment of falling in love with someone and realising there’s something to be lost here,” he adds. “It’s the realisation: I need to make this work.” The band used original 80s synths in the song, but not in any attempt to sound retro, with JC explaining: “We didn’t want the song to to sound like something from the 80s, we wanted it to sound like something from 2021.” Meanwhile guitarist Freddie Edwards, the only Flawes member not to be called Josh and therefore the only Flawes member not in need of a nickname, found himself inspired by the saxophone he’d loved in Bruce Springsteen songs, challenging himself to play guitar like a sax player.
Elsewhere on the EP there’s What’s A Boy To Do, which Huss sees as “about believing in yourself and going for a goal knowing that even if you fail, you’re still proud of yourself for seeing it through”. And in Against All Odds there’s a story that seems as relevant to life in a band as it does to making a relationship work. “We can relate that song to the music industry and those family events where an uncle says: ‘Oh, are you still trying the music thing?’” Freddie says. “Especially with everything that’s happened this year it’s almost as if people don’t recognise making music as an actual career — this is a song about trying to prove those people wrong.” And while Reverie may have its feet rooted in reality but more than anything it’s an EP about escape. “I’m generally a very optimistic person and my glass is always half full,” JC says, “but when I’ve got stuff on my mind I can put it into a song and leave this world behind. We hope it’s empowering — we’ve created a whole world with this EP, and anyone can join us there for half an hour.”
To be fair the Flawes world was already really quite well-realised. By the release of Highlights the sound of the band’s earliest releases — spacious, downcast, nocturnal alternative pop — had developed into something rather more positive and atmospheric: a confident, elegant and uplifting sound that somehow made as much sense on a festival stage as it did on the dancefloor. Lyrically the band had spread their wings too: Ghost Town, for instance, with ROZES on vocals and its spooky video shot in Philadelphia, was about a lifeless relationship where romance had given way to convenience. Freddie recalls: “At the start we had an idea of what sort of bands we wanted to sit alongside, but as time progressed we started to write whatever felt natural for us — meaning Flawes became more organic and natural.”
The band had hit the ground running in 2016, when their debut release Don’t Wait For Me had unexpectedly ended up being a Radio 1 Record Of The Week, scaling the Spotify Viral Chart and ending up in heavy rotation on US TV, with Flawes slowly but steadily building up a huge catalogue of tunes written in LA and London and finished with the likes of Finneas (Billie Eilish) and Lostboy (Dua Lipa, Grey). Highlights contained songs about love, heartbreak and what JC saw as a series of open letters to himself; specific enough to be meaningful to the band, but open-ended enough to resonate with the band’s swelling fanbase. And it was perhaps no surprise that the band’s live reputation was picking up so much momentum. JC, Huss and Freddie had individually cut their teeth in a variety of onstage situations best described as far-ranging: JC toured the world with Ella Eyre, Huss spent two years touring as part of Mahalia’s band and Freddie, whose dad had been a member of Dexys Midnight Runners before spending 30 years quite literally rocking all over the world with Status Quo, had somewhat improbably spent a year on the road with the latter. “We’d been in bands before and had projects that didn’t quite work,” Huss says today. “We thought: let’s put all that experience together in one place.” Freddie recalls: “We’d been on other people’s journey’s. We’d each been sitting in the passenger seat — and it was time to take the wheel.”
For JC and Huss there was a connection that dated back even further. They’d grown up together in Huddersfield and were once in rival bands at school, though Huss plays down how much rivalry there ever actually was. “It was hard to see JC’s band as rivals because my band wasn’t as good and we knew it,” he laughs. “The first time I heard him sing he was banging out Stacy’s Mom in Year 8 assembly. I stopped at the door and thought: ‘The song’s probably not appropriate for 12-year-olds, but he’s got a great voice.’” Despite diverse tastes — Huss was into The Ordinary Boys and Fall Out Boy, and idolised Travis Barker, while JC was into Jeff Buckley and Jamie Cullum — they’d turn up early for jam sessions before school, later using the same home studio in a mate’s garage.
The connection drifted as the pair separately left Huddersfield but it was instantly reignited when they randomly bumped into each other years later in London. The timing of that meeting couldn’t have been better. A week earlier, while rehearsing with Ella Eyre, JC had played some songs he’d been working on, prompting Ella to announce: “This is amazing, your band should support me on the next tour.” When JC explained there actually was no band, she gave an ultimatum: “Sort yourself out in three months and you’ve got the slot.” Huss, following that fortuitous meeting, was the first recruit, and when a friend put the pair in touch with Freddie that was that. “Well,” JC remembers thinking at the time, “that was surprisingly easy.” The trio settled on the band name Flawes, drawing on lyrics that were all about acknowledging and sometimes even celebrating the mistakes and imperfections so many of us try to hide. Nobody should be perfect, JC reckons. “Your imperfections make you what you are,” Huss adds. “Embrace them and you’ll be happy.”
In 2020, embracing the rather imperfect limitations of lockdown has also had a positive impact on the band, with the Reverie EP showcasing Flawes’ most extraordinary music yet: uplifting inventive pop that offers escapism as a welcome respite in a year when reality’s been a lot to handle. The Massive Attack-inspired I Don’t Quit For No-one, whose lyrics recall some of the more challenging episodes in JC’s musical past, is typical of the resilience and optimism running through the EP. “When there’s so much stuff going on in the world, maybe with this music you can escape for thirty minutes,” JC reasons. “In that small way, it feels really empowering.” Recording the new songs separately during lockdown, with producers like Toby Scott (Gossip, Gorgon City, Pet Shop Boys) joining the band remotely, presented new but exciting challenges for Flawes. As Huss points out: “The new setup resulted in a lot more individuality in these new songs. It’s been totally collaborative and I’m so proud of how it turned out.” The band add that their refreshed sonic identity was partly inspired by the experience of performing live last year. “We’ve always been most comfortable playing together live,” notes Huss, “but the question’s been: ‘How do we match the record to how we are live?’ It feels like with this EP we’ve pulled it off.”
When they’ll actually be able to take these new songs out on the road remains to be seen but as ever the band, like the central message of their music, remain optimistic. “We have a very positive attitude in Flawes and when I’m writing lyrics I’ll always go towards positive themes, trying to find a positive in any situation,” JC smiles. “That’s where all three of us feel most comfortable. We don’t want to live in a sad place. Flawes is all about finding light in a difficult world.”
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Label: Red Bull Records / Sony
Few bands launch as explosively as Flawes, who bolted from the blocks straight on to radio within a mere three months of forming. Fewer still survive the hype, keep control of their career and appear as though there was always a master plan.
Flawes’ new body of work is an audacious leap on from the London-based trio’s adored EPs. The result of a self-imposed 18 months out of the limelight to nail the sound that will define them, their all new songs are instantly addictive. Flawes’ widescreen beauty and shimmering electronics remain hallmarks, but their new sound is bolder, sleeker and defiantly uplifting, tailor-made for both dancefloors and festival fields. “The band took off so quickly that there was never time to decide how we wanted to sound,” says Huddersfield-born frontman Josh Carruthers, aka JC, whose warm, soulful vocals are now more muscular. “We’d never played live when our first single jumped on to Radio 1. Nor had we written as a band. We achieved so much in a fantastic two years and changed a lot too. Our songs were becoming more direct and dramatic, more upbeat and less atmospheric. It was time to take a step back, explore new ideas and focus on the future.”
First release ‘Don’t Count Me Out' couldn’t capture Flawes’ fresh sound and fighting spirit more fully. A soaring ode to self-belief, it was inspired by a songwriting session in which the band were forced to stand their ground. “It’s a passionate song about refusing to be brushed aside,”says JC. “It’s a universal message, but having been away for a while, it’s also us announcing that we’re back, on our own terms.”
Flawes was formed by JC in the summer of 2015 in strange circumstances. All three members had worked as session musicians, but planned to start their own bands. JC and drummer Josh Hussey, aka Huss, were childhood friends from Huddersfield who had spent their teen years in different bands, sometimes supporting each other at shows.
Both moved to London separately before their bands fell apart and they took on session work. JC spent two years touring the world with Ella Eyre, but continued to write songs on the side. When Ella asked to hear some, she was so impressed that she booked JC as a support act. The catch? He didn’t have a band, had only completed a handful of tracks and the tour was in three months.
A chance meeting with Huss set the wheels in motion and an introduction to Twickenham-born guitarist Freddie Edwards sealed the deal. One rehearsal later, Flawes were a band. Several weeks were spent learning JC’s minimalist songs and on the cusp of supporting Ella on a sold-out UK tour.
The reaction was instant. BBC Introducing played their track ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ and, to Flawes’ astonishment, it was made Record of the Week on Radio 1, reached No.8 on Spotify’s viral chart and was chosen to soundtrack trailers for the hit US TV series Lie To Me. Labels lined up to sign them.
The next two years was a blur of shows, songwriting, airports and festival appearances. In 2016, Flawes’ released more music which helped their streaming stats soar, but incessant touring had begun to beef up their sound. ‘Could This Be Real’, their final single of 2017, revealed an upbeat new direction.
“Initially, I stood behind keyboards on stage,”recalls JC.“But you can’t do that at a festival. Out front, you don’t want lots of laid-back songs. Plus, we were writing together, adding more live drums and bigger guitar parts. It was a natural progression.”
With a debut album in mind, the trio stepped back to immerse themselves in writing and recording. Already, the band’s next future classic ‘Look No Further’ was underway.
“Look No Further began at my parents’ house in Huddersfield,”recalls Huss. “We’d just finished a tour in Leeds and the three of us went back there for our tea. JC had to get back to London so Freddie and I took a crate of Heineken left over from the tour up to the attic and that’s where the song began. It’s changed a lot from then to where it is now, but it set us on our way.”
Ditto a session in Wales with the producer Jim Elliot (Ellie Goulding, Foxes, Halsey) which spawned the gorgeous ‘Good For My Soul’, which features piano, JC’s dreamy falsetto, sleek beats and a boisterous chorus that demands arms be held aloft. The song was inspired by a break-up, but is really about coming out the other side, stronger and wiser.
“It’s an empowering break up song,” says JC. “It’s about a mate who was dumped out of the blue by the woman he’d hoped to marry. But in the end, he was happier without her.
“All of the songs have a positive message. Partly it’s because we had so much fun making these songs. Being in this band has been incredible for all of us. We’ve been around the world and achieved stuff we’d grown up dreaming of. We naturally found ourselves looking for the positives in life.”
This latest body of work was written and recorded last year between London, L.A. and the English countryside. ‘Don’t Count Me Out’ and the shapeshifting ‘Take This Slow’ were co-written in L.A. with the producer Josh Cumby. The latter opens with a voice recording made when the trio touched down in L.A. for the first time and features Freddie on ukulele.“You might struggle to hear it, but it’s in there,” laughs Freddie. “It was a 16thbirthday present I hadn’t played for years. I had no idea what the tuning was supposed to be, but somehow it worked.”
‘Take It Slow’ is about enjoying the moment, which JC admits he’s guilty of forgetting to do. “I’m one of those people who’s always stressing about what’s up next,”says the singer. “Looking back, I realise how many amazing experiences we’ve had since the band began. Did I appreciate them at the time? Not enough. That’s something I’m trying to change. In the lyrics I namedrop Somerset Avenue, the street I grew up on. The song is about where we came from and where we are now. I love the voice clip because it’s genuine, not staged. We got off the plane exhausted but buzzing and I wanted to capture that moment.”
The nostalgic dancefloor anthem and soon-to-be single ‘When We Were Young’ was begun in L.A. with Kesha producer Drew Pearson, before Flawes added its ‘80s influences back home. ‘Highlights’’ spine-tingling title track was co-written with Nick Atkinson and Ed Holloway (Lewis Capaldi, Gabrielle Aplin). The optimistic, sun-soaked ‘Still Not Ready’ features a 10-strong gospel choir from east London and the fast-rising L.A. singer Alxxa guests on the majestic ‘Would You Mind If.’
“We had the time of our lives making this album,” says JC. “We worked every day to make sure that taking the time out was worth it. Now we can’t wait to get back on stage. I plan to appreciate every moment.”