Tribes: ‘If you can’t play the songs live, then you should stop doing it’

VF speaks to Tribes frontman Johnny Lloyd about cosmic tattoos, intimate venues and the importance of live performing ahead of the band's Live At Leeds 2011 show.

Up-and-coming Camden rockers Tribes have emerged from MySpace to mainstream attention, which has included a place in Zane Lowe’s “Hottest Record” slot. They are quickly gaining momentum too with appearances confirmed at a load of festivals and gigs this summer. Not bad for a band that doesn’t even have an official song out yet.

Their first single, ‘We Were Children’, and the EP of the same name are due for release on 6 June, with a full album expected at “the end of the year or early next year”. For those unfamiliar with their sound, which has been compared to Nirvana, frontman Johnny Lloyd describes it as “90s influenced rock and roll”.

“We’re very much into our sort of classic rock bands, like The Stones and Pavement,” says Johnny. “We consider ourselves very much like a British rock band, but we are quite heavily American influenced. Musically, we would call ourselves more influenced by REM than Blur, but I think lyrically it’s very British.”

Although their growing popularity will see them perform at larger events like Reading Festival (as yet unconfirmed, but Johnny says they’re “really, really looking forward to it”) and Summer Sonic in Japan, the foursome still have love for the more intimate events.

“We’ve played some big places but we love playing to small crowds. I think it’s just a better atmosphere,” he says. “With where we are at the moment, we fill small venues; we’re not a big venue band at the moment, so we have the most fun when there are a couple of hundred people there as opposed to 2,000.”

However, when reflecting on the gigs they have done so far, Johnny names their performance at XOYO in January as a particular highlight. “That was our sort of biggest show so far. I think it was about 600 people and it was our headline show, so that was great. It was the biggest crowd that we’ve played at and there was a really good vibe in the room.”

It seems to be the live performances that are helping Tribes along the road to success, with various commentators noting their tight performances. At a time when myriad pop acts are infamously reliant on auto-tune for record sales and miming for live performances, Johnny thinks it’s “totally vital” to cement a reputation as a live act.

“Obviously record sales are down and everyone seems to be relying on MySpace praise as opposed to their live shows, but it’s all about live really, that’s where it’s at. I think if you can’t play the songs live and you’re not a very good live band, then you should stop doing it.”

Now that the band’s breaking through, there must be a fair bit of pressure? “No, I don’t think so,” Johnny replies. “I don’t think there’s any pressure really when we play because it’s not that kind of music really, is it? We play well and we’re feeling good about it, but I don’t think there’s that much pressure for us to do well. We want to do well and we’re very ambitious, that’s what drives us.”

With his apparent devotion to live performances, you’d think the Midlands-born singer would’ve been to a long list of festivals. But, unlike his festival-going band mates, he was “always too broke” as a kid, only managing a couple of visits to Glastonbury. That said, he still isn’t short of a strange festival story.

“We were in Texas at a festival with our last band and I remember I woke up with a dog licking my face and a cosmic tattoo on my arm, which is pretty bad. I couldn’t remember getting it at all and it’s still there. It’s quite big.”

Dodgy tattoos and amorous dogs aside, what does the future hold for Tribes? “Well, we are a really ambitious bunch and we’ve just signed a deal, so we want to get the album out and just do as well as we can out there really.”

Tribes are set to appear at Live At Leeds 2011 alongside James Blake, Frightened Rabbit and many more.

Tickets are on sale now priced at £17.50.

Click here to buy Live At Leeds tickets.

Find out where else you can catch Tribes here.