Music interview – Peace: ‘We want to spread some positivity in these times’

Peace play at Live At Leeds.
Peace play at Live At Leeds.
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Harry Koisser, frontman of Peace, is practically a new man. The Droitwich Spa singer-songwriter and guitarist has come a long way from the band’s early heyday; to flirt with the clichéd line, he has found himself over the past eight months, taking up yoga and sobriety as the group gear up for their third album.

“Everything became a little clearer when I eschewed my old, bold ways,” he languidly notes on a breezy Friday afternoon.

“I went and spent a month at Woodstock, of all places; that was the final piece of the puzzle.

“I knew, when I moved back to London, that I had to make those changes after Hertfordshire.”

The name of the ceremonial county doesn’t exactly lend itself as a fear-inspiring moniker, but for Koisser, it is effectively shorthand for a six-month period where he holed himself up in the middle of a lonely farmhouse to write what would become Peace’s latest record Kindness is the New Rock and Roll – and found himself in the middle of a series of strange, occult happenings whilst leading an existence he self-described as “Hobbit-ish”.

“It was quite an intense and terrifying experience, at the time, and it’s still scary looking back on it,” he confesses.

The phrase that became the album title was a sort of mantra for us. It came from a heavy writing period for us that coincided with the world starting to spin out of control; the time between 2015 and 2017 when everything went to hell.

Harry Koisser

“I think naturally I was facing up to things inside of me; but there was plenty of stuff outside to confront there too.

“The only other building within five miles of this place was in a forest clearing, where I discovered this shack with burned statues of the Virgin Mary outside it and satanic, wooden carvings hanging from the trees.”

His experiences didn’t particularly improve either; swarms of flies appeared periodically throughout the farmhouse and the buzzing of hornets that he could never track down cropped up at the same time every day.

“It was definitely like living in a horror film,” he quips. “It was just this bizarre, frightening experience. But I wasn’t going to leave until I’d written the songs; I refused to go until I had what I needed.”

Would he say that it was a warning of sorts? “Yes. It definitely felt like one.”

The aftermath of his stay in Hertfordshire may have jolted him into change, but the sentiments behind Kindness is the New Rock and Roll are those of a long-term empathy for those around them, one that has blossomed in the intervening years since second album Happy People hit shelves in early 2015.

“The phrase that became the album title was a sort of mantra for us.

“It came from a heavy writing period for us that coincided with the world starting to spin out of control; the time between 2015 and 2017 when everything went to hell.

“We were – are, even – wanting to spread some positivity in these times.”

The sentiments spread to their peers too, something Koisser noticed when the band performed a string of shows for Help Refugees and became involved in charity work.

“All around us it felt like people were hanging up their cloak of rock and roll bravado. The obvious clichés like cigarettes and sunglasses, they were being traded away for a kinder dynamic.

“It was very much a conscious break from our teenage attitudes to the world.”

Is he comfortable with his past? “There’s obviously… well, everybody’s done a lot of things that they regret. But I try not to think about it or dwell on it too much, since it’s what has led me to where I am now.

“I wish that I’d perhaps been a bit more sentimental, that I’d cherished some of the good times more than I did.

“I have a T-shirt that I wear quite a lot that I had made with Liz Lawrence (former Bombay Bicycle Club touring member) that says ‘I Forgive Myself’ on it. That’s another mantra that I have, I guess. It’s all good now.”

Were there any songs on the record that eluded him across the writing process? Koisser chuckles. “Probably a song called Silverlined. I’d put the chorus together whilst touring Happy People, when a fan asked what the most 
recent song I’d penned was. I gave her the name and then a few days later, she tweeted us a picture of the title tattooed on her arm. After that, we had to go and finish it!”

The band take to the stage this weekend for the Live at Leeds metropolitan festival, playing the O2 Academy on Saturday afternoon, for a performance that Koisser is relishing.

“I’m a big fan of the city festival, I always have been.

“I used to go to Dot to Dot, before we ever played it.

“Playing in a field is a great, but at those kind of festivals, you tend to roll in, play, roll out again.

“It’s a very different experience with the city; it’s something to adore.”

Kindness is the New Rock and Roll is out tomorrow. Peace play on the Leeds Festival Stage atO2 Academy Leeds on Saturday, from 3.15pm. For details visit www.liveatleeds.com

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