“So do you know The Sheafs,” I joked to the bartender that was pouring my beverage at The Electric Ballroom. He donned a t-shirt with the band’s logo on the front, and I figured that the question was worth asking.
“You just say SHEAFS,” he explained. “But yeah, I do.”
I stopped in my tracks: this was my Almost Famous moment. As he passed over the drink, I blurted out that I was an American music writer looking for UK acts to write about, which was the full and honest truth. I was desperate to discover any local group that had the distinctive possibility of breaking into the American music scene…and SHEAFS had been just that group.
I’ve never before witnessed that mind-blowing moment before, that the great music journalists of the past spoke of, until I saw SHEAFS open up for Greta Van Fleet. You know what moment I’m talking about: the unbeknownst-to-you opening band that makes you stop in your tracks and almost drop your beer, because they’re the manifestation of everything new that you’ve been searching for in music. Seeing as how they had been that band for me, I had to pick their brains.
And it seemed that I would soon enough have the chance, because upon hearing the words “music writer from America” I found myself being ushered by the bartender (who I would later find out is Taylor Hetherston, the co-founder of a UK music promotion agency called Live Circuit) to a smoking section.
“Stay here,” he said, stepping outside onto an outdoor balcony. I downed my drink, putting my last-minute journalist cap on, thinking of every possible way to speak to these guys. When Taylor returned, he ushered me towards lead singer Lawrence Feenstra, who leaned against a brick wall, separated from the rest of the venue by a red velvet rope. Lawrence has the looks of a younger, tamer David Johansen, dresses like a younger, tamer Kurt Cobain, but has the same brutal stage presence of a younger, tamer Iggy Pop. At one point, he stage dove into the crowd, who passed him back past where I was standing, before hesitantly sending him on his way to the stage. It was like the audience, who seriously dug the group, didn’t even want to let him go.
The performance itself represented the place where the fast paced indie of Arctic Monkeys mercilessly collides with the British punk of bands like The Clash, or even the Sex Pistols. Their lyrical content from songs like “Mind Pollution,” “Popular Music,” and “This is Not a Protest” speak vehemently and brashly of their own opinions of everything that they see is wrong with the modern music scene. They’ve been introduced by Christian Carlisle of the BBC as a “punk Libertines” and, as much as I’d like to come up with my own equally great comparison, I’ll have to simply give up and agree with Carlisle.
SHEAFS is made up of Lawrence Feenstra on vocals, Charlie Eastap on drums, Chris Goodacre on guitar, Charles Mellor on guitar and Callum Wright on bass, although when I spoke to the band, we all agreed that Callum looked a little too busy for the interview. He stood about fifteen feet away, chatting with a group that I couldn’t decipher as either fans or friends, and I wasn’t going to be responsible for dragging him away. Based in Sheffield, the group has been around the UK music scene for two and a half years, releasing the EP Nobody’s Watching in 2016, as well as multiple singles in 2017 and 2018, according to their Soundcloud.
It was almost surreal speaking to the four members after watching the performance. The opening song, “Fickle,” saw Lawrence sneering the words to the crowd below as Charles, sporting a wild beard-and-hair combo, churned out gloriously distorted solos while Chris harmonized on vocals and riffed on the guitar. While Charlie looks like the youngest out of the group, his drumming is unparalleled; his thrashing pushes the beat of the grungy song forward, while Callum’s bass playing seems to keep it all together, adding a backbone to the whole picture. At one point in the show, a TV screen (similar to the one on the cover of the group’s single “Shock Machine”) and signs declaring, “THIS IS NOT A PROTEST” are passed and thrown around the crowd, mimicking and accentuating the strong messages of each respective song. The audience couldn’t get enough. When they walked onstage, I overheard someone in front of me say that he could care less if Greta Van Fleet went on; he wanted SHEAFS to come back.
But in the outdoor bar area, reserved for acts and their followers, they were calmly holding drinks and standing around me in a small circle, awaiting questions. No thrashing or stage diving occurred.
“We play for the American crowds,” Lawrence told me, when I asked about how their main influences effect their music.
“Yeah, like Blink-182,” Charles chuckled, quickly adding, “Well, that one’s actually a joke.”
They cited Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s earlier work as a huge influence, because of their grunge sound and guitar riffs, along with Cage the Elephant’s discography, due to the progression of the music from album to album, and the strong energy that even their catchiest songs possess.
“They sort of resemble our group as well,” Chris added, “because they’re a five piece group.”
So how did this five piece group come about?
“We all went to something called ‘university’ together, which would probably translate into something like ‘college’ over in America,” Lawrence said.
“Yeah, college man,” Charles joked in his best American accent. “Like, we were all jamming out in the dorms.”
“[Lawrence, Charles, Chris] were together for a while and we were trying to find a drummer and a bassist–”
“We’re still trying to find one, aren’t we?” Charles interjected, smirking.
“But we struck gold when we found them, really, because we’ve got a great group,” Lawrence continued.
“We also struck gold to have Greta Van Fleet supporting us, didn’t we,” came another quip from Charles.
So how exactly did you get on the tour with Greta Van Fleet?
“Someone came to see us,” Charlie explained, “when we were doing our own show like, somewhere in England. And about half a week before we were supposed to play with them, when we were in Scotland of all places, someone said, ‘Lads, you’ve got a message; you’re set to play with Greta Van Fleet next week.’ We found out that their three shows in Germany had sold out, as well as this one here, which was wild.”
It became apparent when they all began talking about how comfortable they felt touring with Greta Van Fleet, how the band and the management made them feel, “really at home,” as Chris said, that SHEAFS hasn’t been used to this type of opening act attention, especially on a mostly sold out tour with a headlining mainstream band. They seemed truly grateful and excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences.
On the subject of the headlining group, we started talking a bit about Greta Van Fleet’s constant Led Zeppelin comparisons in the media.
“We have that,” Lawrence’s eyebrows raised as a signal of recognition. “Do you know a band called Arctic Monkeys?”
Are you fucking kidding me?
“There’s people out there who…like, I swear, they say that about us,” Chris nodded.
So what are your hopes for the music scene nowadays? Like your song, “Popular Music” prompted me to ask this, but modern music…let’s be real here, it’s not good. Your songs seem to, like, project that thought even further.
“You can take some things from popular music that’s out there now, like the hooks and the melodies, but at the end of the day you go to see them live and it’s just a solo person on the stage with a DJ. There’s not much live performance to it, and that’s where we feel we’re different in terms of…well, we really bring something to it,” Charlie said.
“Performances just really aren’t that interesting now,” Chris agreed.
“Now it’s all about music streaming and all that,” Charlie continued.
“Like Spotify, and all of that stuff is normally what people are into,” Chris shrugged.
“Like, [speaking in terms of] the importance of an album now in the popular music scene,” Charlie went on, “There’s really no need for it now, because people can just keep dropping single after single, and keep pushing it that way.”
“It’s interesting he said that, because we got told that any other pop artist will never sell a number one album,” Lawrence added. “Any guitar band might could scratch it if they’re good enough, but like…the pop artists just go with the singles, that’s what they’re about. Because they can get a lot of streams that way.”
“And to get as many featured artists as you can,” Charles interjected. “Like, songs are always featuring somebody else in the pop scene in every song you hear.”
“But like, if we could get that opportunity…” Chris laughed.
“Yeah, like if we could get Calvin Harris.” Charles smirked.
“So Calvin Harris, if you’re listening…” Lawrence chuckled.
“If you’ll have us,” Chris added, “we’re in.”
All Calvin Harris laughs aside, something tells me that SHEAFS are going to do just fine without him.
I spoke to Taylor Hetherston, the bartender who introduced me to the band, after the show, to get more information on his promotion company, Live Circuit. “[It’s] a promotion company based in London, soon to be expanding to Brighton, Paris, and Rotterdam,” he told me. He continued to explain that the company’s aim is to create a literal circuit of collaboration between musicians, venues, promoters and media, not just to help further the careers of incredible musicians, but to bring quality music to everyone involved.
And that just might be what the American music scene needs.
To find out more about Live Circuit and discover fresh, new UK music to impress your friends at parties, click here.
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