We at Impact would like to introduce you to an “Alt-rock/Indie Rock band formed of 5 university drop-outs, who thrill crowds and disappoint their parents.”
Pithy, but perhaps not entirely accurate: their parents have been just as impressed by the rise of Tusk, the Nottingham-based collective whose Facebook page features the above description, as the rest of us. Unlike many other aspiring young musicians, however, this following isn’t restricted to their admiring family and friends. During my conversation with three of their number – Ned Jones, Sebastian “Seb” Doyle and Jamie Irving – it strikes me just how many of the right people they’ve managed to impress at the right time, from local music venues and promoters all the way up to nationally renowned talent scouts and record executives. Encouragingly, the challenge to improve and accomplish greater things clearly motivates them.
“We definitely appreciate constructive criticism, as it’s way more useful to us than our friends just telling us how great we are” says Jamie, the bass guitarist. “Performing arts are an incredibly competitive industry: loads of less fortunate bands have reached our level and hit a ceiling because they didn’t have the know-how to improve. Luckily, we have friends and other people we trust who we can run our work past and get honest feedback on whether it works.”
Tusk’s origins can be traced back to the evenings spent by Seb and Alex Perry, both now also the group’s guitarists, playing together in the University of Nottingham’s on-campus musical facilities during their first year of study. Once they decided the idea of forming a band together appealed to them, the other three were added as the year went on through learning of their like-minded interests and various social connections, with Jack Gray, their drummer, the last to join. The band’s name, as Jamie admits, was chosen for no particular reason: “you can easily overthink it and choose something that’s trying too hard to be funny or ironic, so it’s better to just have something that sounds interesting”.
“You can easily overthink it and choose something that’s trying too hard to be funny or ironic, so it’s better to just have something that sounds interesting”
With the lineup finalised, they began to write their first songs and play them for friends as first year grew to a close: they soon moved onto studio recording, with their first completed track, “Dull Ache”, uploaded to Soundcloud in early 2016. The song won them attention from a number of Nottingham’s local promoters, performances at various local venues, including the popular Bodega, soon followed. They tell me more nationally influential label scouts have since asked about them: with the exception of Jack, all have now suspended their academic studies. As Jamie admits, “you can’t afford to let these opportunities slip by: we agreed we’d be in the best position to take advantage of the attention we were getting if we could primarily focus on the band and getting our voices heard”.
“The Reading & Leeds festival performance came at a really important time for us”
Although ostensibly an alternative-rock band, none of them are keen to be pigeon-holed. Citing Johnny Cash, Jeff Buckley and Lou Reed among their primary influences, it’s obvious they have a great respect for the icons who popularised their melancholy yet uplifting style, with their music blending the sombre vocals of Ned over an often mid-tempo guitar-heavy backdrop. Yet they also tell me of their admiration for more contemporary acts such as Kings of Leon and, intriguingly, Mark Ronson.
Clearly, according to Ned, this suggests they aren’t afraid to tackle pop music, provided it doesn’t compromise their own musical instincts. “We’ve definitely got a poppy element to our music, but I think that’s more part of our natural style – a lot of modern pop music is very contrived, with songs seemingly pieced together to make something sounding like a label ordered to happen. It’s a tough decision acts have to make if it might affect their integrity: if an executive came to us one day and said we had to put Taylor Swift on the chorus, I’m not sure what we’d do!”
Their performance at this year’s Reading & Leeds festival, on the BBC Introducing stage, marked a point of great significance in their careers. Keen to attract the attention of Dean Jackson, the massively influential radio presenter with a great track record in spotting talent, they uploaded a recording of “Dull Ache” to the BBC’s website (which the band strongly recommends new acts to try). After the first attempt garnered no response, they submitted a second recording of the track, and were asked to an audition: however, they were unsure if they’d done enough to impress at the time.
“The Reading & Leeds festival performance came at a really important time for us”, Seb tells me. “We’d been working on new material for a lot of the summer, but we felt a bit stuck in a rut – the opportunities we wanted to progress our profile weren’t coming. It’d been some time since our BBC audition and we’d heard no response, so we assumed we hadn’t done enough to impress them this time and weren’t sure what was next for us.
“Then all of a sudden I get a call from Alex, who tells me we’ve got big news – “So, we’re playing Reading & Leeds”. It was such a shock, I didn’t know what to say for a few moments. The promotion Dean Jackson gave us in the lead up on his show was brilliant, he’s a truly special guy”.
The performance itself, in front of an audience of technically several hundred but also the thousands of other festival-goers moving between stages, was a moment of great satisfaction, even if, as Ned describes, it took a while to sink in. “Beforehand we were all pretty nervous, and some of the more surreal stuff – like seeing yourself on giant screens for the first time – took time to adjust to, but once we started playing the nerves fell away: we actually felt surprisingly deflated after we’d finished. It was like we’d reached a major milestone but now we’d actually done it, it didn’t seem so daunting anymore. Hopefully that bodes well for the future and our next milestones.
“It was like we’d reached a major milestone but now we’d actually done it, it didn’t seem so daunting anymore.”
If their rise so far is anything to go by, I’ve no doubt that they’ll be just as single-minded in plotting their future plans whoever may be judging them. Given how well they’ve survived in such a competitive environment so far, we can expect to hear much more from Tusk in the future – and, just maybe, their doubts about disappointing their parents can cease. “When our parents came to see us after the show, I finally decided to tell my mum that I was dropping out of my course: rather Britishly, I’d been putting it off, but I didn’t think she’d be able to judge me too harshly now of all times!”
Images courtesy of Jonjo Rooney