Anybody’s first impression on hearing Joseph Lyons aka Eaves might reasonably be how old he sounds. He even has a song titled As Old As The Grave, which could be a reasonable description of a voice which sounds like it has been simmered in oak vats since time immemorial. The next thing that strikes you is the wisdom in his words – dark yet unusually spirited tales of love, death, hope and alcoholism which have reduced audiences to attentive silence at gigs, festivals and on tours with the likes of Slow Club and Nick Mulvey, whose gigs he traveled between via a National Express coach, “carrying my guitar bag on the bus!”
Heavenly Recordings’ exciting new signing could be the north’s answer to Nick Drake, if the singer-songwriter-pianist wasn’t such an amiable and chatty 23-year old, who listens prog metal bands such as Opeth and Mastodon as well as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, who describes his music as “this weird psych singer songwriter sound” and whose lyrics display thoughts and wisdom far beyond his years.
“I think a lot of it comes from my background,” he muses, cheerily, over a cup of tea in the very Leeds café where until recently he was washing dishes. “I grew up in Bolton in a family of seven. No family is perfect but it wasn’t the most comfortable environment. A lot of my imagery comes from that working class upbringing and things that were happening as I was growing up. Alcoholism, stuff like that. I’m distanced from it now, but now and again I will come back to it. They know I’m singing songs that are rooted in those times, but I don’t want to be dishonest or pretend it didn’t happen.” Indeed, perhaps in Lyon’s raw honesty lies the secret of his songwriting: beautifully constructed, melancholy but uplifting tales which pack real emotional wallop.
Lyons got the music bug very early – perhaps even earlier than he initially was aware. His mother was a classical pianist. His father used to sing Neil Young and Led Zeppelin songs to him when he was very young. “I’d think, ‘This sounds awful’, he chuckles. “Then as time progressed I’d stumble across these songs and take them to my Dad and he’d say, “I used to sing that to you all the time.”
Lyons’ parents had Bruce Springsteen and Carole King albums, which led him to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. He remains in awe of Nick Drake’s “tonal sound, dark progressions and interesting jazz tones. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it, but I like that.”
After learning to play piano in his childhood but switching to guitar in his teens, Lyons initially dabbled with his friend’s prog rock band – the, er, uniquely-named Beef Fleece - before a place at Leeds College of Music offered the opportunity to pursue more serious musical ambitions. It was while he was a student – the dish washing helped with the fees – that he was presented with a life-changing decision. After recording a song called Little Rock delivered the sound he’d always wanted, he’d started putting songs online and was receiving substantial interest. “A couple of emails at first. Then a load of emails. Then booking agents would get in touch saying, ‘I’ve got this show available if you fancy it…’” By the time he was being offered dates in London – making his debut at the Green Note, which was packed with fascinated industry scouts – he realised that something would have to give, and that would have to be his studies, which he abandoned earlier this year after giving a final performance at the college.
“I was getting all this interest and was really focused on what I want to do,” he shrugs between sips of tea. “The only reason I went to college was to use the studio. I think I made my money back by using the studio too much!”
Now hooked up with a bassist and drummer, which means he can play folky music with Led Zeppelin thump, he’s never looked back. Lyons opted to sign with Heavenly Recordings over various multinationals because the revered label offered the “artistic and aesthetic control” of an indie, but with the heft to take his music to the world.
The first results of that partnership is a very strong three track EP, As Old As The Grave. The title track, recorded with producer Cam Blackwood in London’s Voltaire studios, dips into Lyons’ background, and the working class tradition of work hard, drink hard. “People who finish their day with drink and lose their ambition in the process, and before they know it they’ve barely left the county.”
Another song, the haunting Alone In My Mind (For Mannington Bowes) tells the story of a shopkeeper - who was attacked during the London riots as he tried to put out a fire outside his shop - with breathtaking empathy and candour.
“I read that story in a newspaper and it just stuck with me,” Lyons explains. “When I first started following the story, he was in a coma. Then I found out that he’d died. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.” Then one night, unexpectedly, the song just appeared.
“I’d had a few drinks… It was one of those rare times where, in an inebriated state, I wrote a poem, closed the book and woke up in the morning and read it and thought, ‘Yeah, this is alright.’ He remains haunted by the fate of Richard Mannington Bowes, and hopes the song will give a lasting voice to someone who would otherwise be forgotten.
“Nobody knows who he was, or who his family were. He’s just another person who’s disappeared. He went to put out a fire like it was a normal thing, and then he’s... gone.”
Never without his notebooks, which burst with poetry and writings, Lyons’ conversation is peppered with poetic references to “leaves gradually turning a little bit golden” and talk of how above graffitied walls lies “stunning architecture.” In song, he is emerging as one of the few musical documentarists of real life in modern Britain. The beautifully wistful Timber, recorded with just voice and piano in the ageing Greenmount studios in Leeds, is what Lyons calls his “get the hell out of here” song, which again touches on his upbringing, dreams and death, and especially the desire to get from where he was to where he wants to be.
So where does Joseph Lyons want to be?
“In ten years time I’d like my own house in the middle of nowhere, a studio full of instruments, and for things not to be as intense as they are at the moment. I like green, countryside, creeks and rivers. A bed, a sink and a studio.” He’s chuckling. “I’m not asking for much.”
2. Dove In Your Mouth
4. As Old As The Grave
7. Alone In My Mind
9. Creature Carousel
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