Manchester has long been revered for its alternative arts scene. From the Madchester boom of the early ‘90s – coined by infamous Factory Records’ owner Tony Wilson – to the Gallagher brothers brandishing their Northern clout in a Britpop battle with Blur to top the charts.
And its streets are still home to a wave of rising artists, including post-punk trio LIINES, who performed on the same bill as fellow Salford songwriter Tim Burgess of The Charlatans earlier this year at The North Will Rise Again festival. Burgess was integral in saving two of the city’s most iconic venues from closure last summer, as O’Sullivan explains.
“[Tim] was part of the group that bought Gorilla and the Deaf Institute. Deaf Institute for us is very close to our hearts. We've done loads of gigs there and Zoe DJs there.”
LIINES also performed as part of Gorilla TV, founded by the same collective to stream live performances from the empty vessels of clubs and venues around the area. The shows were the first proper live outing for LIINES’ new addition on bass, Anna Donnigan (Honeyblood, formerly PINS).
But as McVeigh reflects, a lot of the virtual gig experiences didn’t really drum up the fierce backlines that LIINES have become renowned for since forming from the ashes of longstanding indie types Hooker back in 2014.
“We did a few to say, 'We're still here!' but it's not the same as playing live in front of an audience [so] it was nice to get to a microphone, turn the amps up and feel life coming back.”
LIINES debut, Stop – Start (2018) saw the trio – back then with founding bassist Steph Walker – team up with producer Paul Tipler who has manned the levels for some similarly iconic indie outfits from Idlewild to Stereolab. For McVeigh, the collaboration was a no-brainer after a tip-off from the band’s label Reckless Yes.
“[They] called him the Steve Albini of England who recorded Rid of Me by PJ Harvey, one of my favorite albums of all time. I was like ‘you don't need to tell me any more, I'm sold!’”
When the band headed into the studio they had a clear goal in mind, “a 10-track album in the same style as the debut Sleater-Kinney album,” McVeigh beams. “28 minutes of exactly what we wanted,” and it quickly became clear that Tipler was the man up to the task.
“Live, people say we sound powerful anyway but we've struggled in the past to get that across that in the recording. Then as soon as we're recorded with him, we were like, ‘We found our one.’”
The record racked up huge accolades with airplay from Radio X and BBC Radio 6 Music, propelled by the backing from PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music grant, a fund supporting projects by women, trans and non-binary songwriters, composers, artists, bands and performers writing and releasing their own music.
An opportunity O’Sullivan is continually grateful for, “[The grant] helped fund the press and marketing for the release which was a huge, huge support but also, a statement that something like that believed in what they heard because we know how competitive it is.”
LIINES’ debut was an explicit reference to the stop-start nature of making the record with all three members of the group working full-time alongside the band. But, after the last 18 months, writing and recording new material proved just as much of an elusive prospect this time round for their sophomore release, as McVeigh muses: “God knows what this next album is going to be called... A Very Long, Long Wait!”
Following last year’s limited 7” single Sorry/On and On, latest number Keep On Going acts as an aperitif then for that upcoming full-length and felt like the right release after everything the trio has been through, according to O’Sullivan.
“This felt like a necessary song. It's six words but we need those six words and something like that to scream and shout to right now as we're getting back to gigs.”
The song’s refrain to “keep on going/keep with me” has been chanted through festival fields this summer as LIINES returned to the live stage, although the drummer admits the audience might’ve been slightly biased in their response.
“We could have said ‘This is the worst song you'll ever hear’ and they’d have gone 'Yeah!' because they were so happy to be in a tent with live music.” McVeigh adding dryly, “It wasn't the best barometer to test the songs!”
Unquestionably modest, the track delivers dense drums and dark riffs eeked out of McVeigh’s baby blue Fender Jag-Stang which she acknowledges is now utterly indispensable. “I cannot get rid of that guitar. It’s got Kurt's name on it. People come up to me at gigs and want pictures with it.”
So how does she compliment a showstopper like that when it comes to amplification? “I use a Marshall [Valvestate VS100]. I'd love a Fender to match [but] it's just what I've built up over the years. When I started a long time ago, I didn't have anything. I borrowed a guitar, I borrowed my amp.”
The guitarist’s streamline setup has also been newly complemented with the addition of a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive pedal although McVeigh seems tentative to add more to the rig, particularly if it might add unnecessary theatrics to the band’s earnest live shows. “Does it want a neighbor? Can my foot do a third pedal? I don't want to be doing the Riverdance when I'm trying to look intense.”
But while the riffs and the rig might remain sparse, the band’s ambitions towards LP2 are only getting more complex. “We’ve hit four minutes in our new songs,” boasts McVeigh. “Prog!” O’Sullivan jokes, quickly following up more curiously, “Is there a prog-punk? There should be.” Just like their Manchester masters before them, LIINES are rolling with it.
- LIINES' Keep On Going is out now via Reckless Yes.