All About Minor Victories

Published June 6, 2016

ABOVE: MINOR VICTORIES. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRIAN SWEENEY.

“It’s really strange talking about a record with no history,” musician Justin Lockey says of his latest release. “Most bands exist years before a record, so this one is really strange.” On Friday, Lockey and his new band Minor Victories released their self-titled debut album. The four band members had never been in the same room until after the record was finished, rather two years ago, Lockey, who is also the guitarist in Editors, sent Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell a piece of music. She returned the music with accompanying vocals, and shortly thereafter, the pair added Mogwai‘s Stuart Braithwaite and Lockey’s brother James to the lineup. Listening to Minor Victories (out via Fat Possum), it’s clear that the quartet is more than just another side project-turned-super group. Together, the Lockey brothers, Goswell, and Braithwaite create their own unique platform and sound.

“The struggle was the balance, so we didn’t get too far in a Mogwai world or Slowdive world,” Lockey continues. “But I think we got the balance right; it’s not too Mogwai-y, it’s not too Slowdive-y, it’s not too Editors. It just sounds like our band and that’s the most accomplished it could be.”

Lockey’s sentiments echo throughout the stunning album: No one voice is louder than the others, allowing equal amounts of lo-fi and lofty vocals, guitar, synths, and drums to resound. Yearning to know more about the process behind Minor Victories, we spoke with Justin over the phone while he was “on a road in torrential rain, driving to Newcastle,” the city where he grew up.

EMILY MCDERMOTT: So I want to start with when you first sent music to Rachel. It was in 2014, right?

JUSTIN LOCKEY: Yeah, 2014. My band, Editors, has the same managers as her band, Slowdive, and my manager suggested that I get in touch with Rachel. That turned into me sending some music to her and a track called “Out to Sea,” which ended up on the record. She sang on it and sent it back and we went, “Oh cool, let’s do something.” I was very familiar with her history; she’s a bit of a legend, but she’s really down to earth. When I first talked to her, it wasn’t even about music. It was just general chitchat. It was all really easy.

MCDERMOTT: How long was it before you actually met in person?

LOCKEY: Oh god, that was ages afterwards. I met her briefly at Latitude Festival in the U.K. We talked on every medium—Twitter, email, phone—but this was the briefest of brief moments, maybe not even five minutes. After that, she sang vocals on two or three tracks on the last Editors record, so then we met properly. We were recording in the middle of nowhere, in Northwest Scotland, in complete isolation. She came and hung out for a few days.

MCDERMOTT: Can you tell me about the writing process? I imagine writing with four people via the internet could have been rather difficult.

LOCKEY: It’s actually been the easiest record I’ve ever made. I think it’s because there’s big respect for each other and what each other has done—and nobody writes shit parts. [laughs] Basically it started with one of us writing a piece of music, albeit some rough kind of layout, and then that would go to the next person. No one was precious about it. We had no pressure on anything, because we didn’t set out to make a record; it was just a thing that extended into a record. When you take that pressure off and nobody knows about it, you don’t rush. You take your time putting things together in the best way possible.

MCDERMOTT: So how did you know it was finished, or that this thing had become an album?

LOCKEY: It just felt right. We never went back and redid parts. We just built it up, almost like preschool and building blocks, but the building blocks happened to be delicate, dynamic pieces of music from four people. It’s like you get one track back, “Oh that sounds really good,” and then you get another back and you’re like, “Oh wow, that sounds pretty cool too,” and then, “Another one!” Then 10 tracks later, it’s like, “Holy shit, we’ve made a record. How did this happen?”

MCDERMOTT: Are you going to tour?

LOCKEY: Yeah, we just did our first shows two weeks ago. The first time we ever played live as a band was on BBC, on national radio, which was quite frightening. Playing live, sound-wise, it’s a very loud, vivid version of the record.

MCDERMOTT: Can you tell me about the first time all four of you finally met in person?

LOCKEY: Yeah, we hadn’t been in the same room until way after the record was finished, which was strange—recording a record with three other people and never being in the same room as anyone. We started rehearsals in March and the night before, we all went out for a drink in Glasgow. There were no great surprises because there were no egos, no “my band’s this, my band’s that.” That’s not the kind of people we are. It was like, “Oh cool, we’re all together, it’s kind of strange, but not really.” Like, I live with my wife but I was more in touch with Rachel than my wife for most of the recording—in terms of technologically connected.

MCDERMOTT: I really can’t imagine writing an entire album without having been in the same room as the other people in the band.

LOCKEY: It’s completely bizarre, but it was also really natural. In some senses, it was more natural than a record done in a room with the rest of the band, and I think that’s because there’s no point to prove. The natural order of people standing in a room, there’s an unspoken hierarchy in any band. On this record, for us, there was no hierarchy. James wrote a lot of the original song parts, but no one will ever attribute them to him because James is not in Mogwai or Slowdive. It’s bizarre now, hearing people’s thoughts on the record. It’s like, the songs that you think Stuart wrote, he didn’t write. The songs that you think Rachel wrote, she didn’t write. I don’t think that would have happened if we had been in the same room.

MCDERMOTT: That seems like a good way to open yourself to different ways of working.

LOCKEY: Definitely. It’s a big leap of faith, but you have to do that to push yourself forward. It’s not like anyone’s unhappy in their band; sometimes it’s just good to stretch yourself to a point you never knew you could.

MCDERMOTT: Speaking of pushing yourself further, what did you personally learn from this project?

LOCKEY: I think I learned restraint and making it known [what you do]. I’m a guitarist in my other bands, but I played barely any guitar on this record. It’s mostly string arrangements, piano, and drums. So I learned that I’m not a guitarist. I play guitar for a living, but I’m definitely not a guitarist. I think on this record I learned how to not be a guitarist.

MCDERMOTT: This is probably a boring question, but I have to ask about the name Minor Victories…

LOCKEY: It’s actually not boring! [laughs] There is a band in Newcastle called Lanterns on the Lake—they have this spaced out, Americana, post-rock kind of thing—and they released a record called Misfortunes of Minor Victories seven years ago. At the time, I told the lead singer, Hazel, who I’m friends with, that one day I would steal the title and use it for a band. She said, “You can’t because it’s the name of my record!” and I said, “I’m going to anyway.” Her partner was mixing this record, so she heard it from start to finish millions of times, liked it, and was cool with me borrowing the name. So there you go, there’s a story. [laughs]

MCDERMOTT: I also wanted to ask about the creative process for your videos, because as of now you have “Film One” and “Film Two,” which are both very different, and then “Breaking My Light” is also in a different visual vein.

LOCKEY: Me and my brother make films and we have for a few years now. We have our own film company. When you’re in a band, you always have to send your record to somebody else, explaining what you’re trying to visually achieve. That takes it another step away from the original source material. We knew what kind of vibe the songs had and how we could complement them with our films, so I didn’t want it to be too messy. Everyone’s trying to make fucking films that are like Hollywood movies, but they’re still music videos, so you end up with this headache, miss-matched narrative, and badly made film, and then they just turn the music up anyway! So it was like, “We’ll do what we think works in a symbolic and semi-optic way.” I just want people to slow the fuck down and listen to what the music is here for—to listen to.

MCDERMOTT: What about the album cover?

LOCKEY: I did that, too. It would’ve been really easy to do some photography that matched the mood of the music, but a photograph always reminds me of a memory—a creative memory or a snapshot of a place. Because we didn’t share that history as a band, I didn’t think it was right for us to have photographic album art. I thought something graphic, something that we could strive toward that’s very uniform, made more sense. It doesn’t try and tell a history; it’s so stark. It’s like, “This is point A and I’ll mark it with this here cross.” It’ll grow through time as the band moves on.

Also, when I’m making music, I draw a lot. I have sketchbooks and pencils lined up on the table when I’m listening back to what everyone’s feeding into the record—I do this with every record. Generally, I draw cubes. I do it almost obsessively. I fill notebooks. So the cross itself [on the album cover] comes from a drawing I did. 

MINOR VICTORIES’ DEBUT ALBUM IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE VISIT, THE BAND’S WEBSITE.