INTRODUCING: Messed Up Youth
from the print issue
It’s a Friday night in St Andrews, and Messed Up Youth vocalist Lewis Oliver is spitting out the lyrics to “Paint”, title track of their EP with the same name. Emily Baxter is throwing her energy into its bassline with near-religious enthusiasm, while newest addition Dominic Hardy holds everything together with a cajón and a wide smile. The choice of acoustic instruments for a grungy house-set might have seemed like an unusual one, considering that their music tends to verge closer to The Offspring than Beck, but it works, and the crowd loves it. We spoke with Lewis and Emily to get a better idea of what Messed Up Youth is all about.
How did the band start, was there a specific event that inspired you?
LEWIS - Technically I’m the only original member of the group. I used to go to the Kirkcaldy YMCA to see if I could find people to form a band with, but it was more of a revolving door of people who couldn’t play too well so I didn’t have many hopes for a while. Then one day I saw a new face with a guitar bag on her back and asked what guitar she had, the reply “actually it’s a bass” made me have a light-bulb moment. That person was Emily and after chatting with her and showing her the songs, she came back a week later with amazing bass lines, that’s essentially when the band properly started in my eyes.
EMILY - Shortly after I joined, our drummer moved away without giving us much warning right before a gig, so our friend Derry kindly filled in for us and we mentioned to the crowd that we were looking for a permanent drummer. John, who was a bassist, was super keen to do it at the time, even though that meant he had to learn to play drums basically from scratch. We went to plenty of places across Scotland together, we even got to play the O2 ABC in Glasgow a couple of times over the summer which really made us feel like we were making it big. Though John’s moved on to other projects on an instrument he’s more comfortable with, we sure as hell wouldn’t have gotten to the point we’re at right now without him. Our new drummer Dom actually recorded our EP “Paint” for us, so he already knew a few of our tunes before he joined, and we’re just starting to get back to grips with things now.
How would you describe the atmosphere of your music? Where do you envision people listening to it?
EMILY - It can be very grungy for sure, normally it’s the sort of thing that makes you want to thrash around or at the very least bop your head pretty seriously. In terms of where people would be listening to it, for me it’s a three way tie between dingy basement, local skatepark or maybe some kind of sketchy dive bar where all the local punks go. A basement gig is something we’ve always really wanted to do, I think it’s a pretty American thing to have a basement, though. Maybe a shed would be the same? Anywhere that’ll blow your ears out works for me.
LEWIS - I’d say our atmosphere is very lively and energetic, we also always have a tendency to be the loudest band of the night despite only having 3 people and that seems to get people really going whether the songs are fast or slow. In terms of people listening to it I’d be happy if it could be part of someone’s morning playlist or having the ability to put it on whenever and just jam out to it and get the vibes and messages we put across.
What makes a good gig in your opinion? Any crazy stories?
LEWIS - While I love playing anywhere to anyone, I really enjoy intimacy in a gig, playing smaller rooms always feels more fun just because of how close you are the everyone, we’ve had gigs where’s there’s no stage and we’re about a foot away from peoples faces with a line of tape separating band from fan and to me that just feels great. That’s mainly due to my love for the old DIY punk scenes on the east coast. However, I’m still more than happy to play larger venues, the more people the merrier.
EMILY - Any gig with a receptive audience is great for me, I think that made our gig here in St Andrews one of my favourites in a while! Sometimes gigs can and do go completely pear shaped, like the one time when the bit on Lewis’ guitar where you’d put the strap just fully came out of his guitar - we tried so so hard to fix it but had to switch guitars in the end and play all our songs half a step down with our other instruments. Sometime though something kind of inconvenient or surprising like that happening makes a gig great for me, it gives you something else to remember it by. One of my favourite gig stories was probably at last year's Battle of the Bands at PJ Molloy’s in Dunfermline. We hadn’t been on the scene too long and I don’t think people were expecting much of us, but when the announcer shouted out our name and told us we were going through to the finals I don’t think there’s ever been anything better.
If you had 4 hours left to live, which 3 albums would you pick to listen to? Assuming that’s what you’d do with your time!
LEWIS - That’s a super hard question to answer since my favorites always change, but if I had to pick it’d probably be “Smoko at the Pet Food Factory” by Frenzal Rhomb, “Dude Ranch” by blink-182 and it’s a tie between either “In Utero” by Nirvana or “Damaged” by Black Flag. Considering that all of them are only around 30 to 45 minutes, I’d still have plenty time to chain smoke and play guitar until my time’s up.
EMILY - This is a tough one for me too, my favourite albums change every week so I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give a concrete answer! One that’s consistently in my top 10 would have to be “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” by Dead Kennedys, not only a super important contribution to punk as a whole but also to my playing - some of Klaus Flouride’s bass lines are so incredible - on “Drug Me”, especially. My second album would be “Retired From Sad, New Career In Business” by Mitski - it was the album just before “Bury Me At Makeout Creek” which brought her most of her popularity so it’s really interesting to hear her voice alongside a lot of different instrumentation, the strings on “Shame” are intense. For now I’d say my last album would be “Forever Malcolm Young” by Frenzal Rhomb - they’re an absolutely ridiculous Aussie punk band who sing about really stupid shit like having their friends cut their balls off, or my personal favourite track “I’m a Backwards Fucking Useless Piece of Dogshit and I Vote”. It’s all just good silly fun. Plus I’d have plenty of bonus time!
What’s the process for writing your songs? Is it one specific band member who writes, or do you all pitch in ideas?
LEWIS - The usual process for songwriting is that I’ll come up with a riff and eventually lyrics to go along with it and show it to Emily and ask how she feels about it. she’s always my go to for whether or not songs sound good since I can trust her judgment. After that she’ll come up with bass parts and potentially backing vocals and then the drummer will sort out the drum parts. We can always toss around ideas as well for changing up certain parts or helping complete them. Sometimes me and Em can just sit together and both work on lyrics and instrumentals in about an hour or so and have a song more or less done since we really seem to bounce off of each other creatively.
EMILY - Yeah, Lewis pretty regularly comes in to practice with a newly written tune and we’ll start noodling around and figuring out our own parts to play along with it. Lewis is a songwriting machine really, but you get quantity and quality, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked anything he’s written. I throw in lyrics from time to time, Lewis and I wrote “Daisies” together and I came up with the backing vocal parts for it - I’d love to contribute more if I had the mind for it!
I think sticking to our Fife roots wherever we go is a way of showing everyone that people making music aren’t just in big cities.
On Spotify you’re listed as “Fife’s premier punks”. Do you consider Fife an important aspect of your identity, in comparison to Scotland more generally?
EMILY - I suppose as Fifers it’s good to recognize that there is some semblance of a scene, particularly in Dunfermline - you’ve got groups like The Plastic Mac, Between The Lines, Amy Lou all making amazing tunes. Outside of Dunfy the “scene” is limited to a few pubs and hotels scattered across the county, all great wee venues within their own right, and a lot of them are completely unknown to anyone who isn’t involved in the local scene. There are some brilliant annual festivals too - Gig in the Car Park in Leslie and Silverburn Festival in Leven, to name a few - but again, it seems like people outside of the scene don’t even know that they exist. At the moment generally, Glasgow’s the place to be if you’re a heavier or more experimental band, and Edinburgh has a great indie scene going for it, but anywhere in Scotland that isn’t a big city tends to be overlooked, it’s probably the same in the rest of the world as well. There are people making absolutely fucking great music in small towns and villages all over the shop, but because they don’t have access to the resources that bands in bigger cities do, like easy accessibility to venues or recording studios for example, they could never get the opportunity to share what they make no matter how hard they try. I think sticking to our Fife roots wherever we go is a way of showing everyone that people making music aren’t just in big cities.
LEWIS - We’ve always sort of been the DIY ‘dirty punk band’ with cheap equipment, so we thought the idea of being ‘premier’ was quite nice, considering people were still coming to see us and enjoying our music despite that. Another good nickname we were given was ‘punk rock underdogs’ but it doesn’t have as much of a ring and is a tad bit cliche. On top of that the Fife punk scene is extremely small in terms of bands, we have a fair amount of metal and indie acts but that’s about it. The only other punk bands in Fife are guys in their 50’s and older who play the same route of bars every couple weeks that take themselves a little too seriously so we thought we’d try to distance ourselves from that at least.
Where do you see the future of the band? Can we expect to see you eventually rebrand to “Messed Up & Middle-Aged”?
LEWIS - Despite being an alternative musician I can still say that I’d love to be successful. Having large amounts of people enjoy the music we make in different parts of the world has been the same dream that I stuck with since I was 8 years old, ever since I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be in the WWE. While I can’t speak for Emily, I think we more or less both have the same belief that we wanna make this become a big thing and keep going at it no matter what. In terms of being messed up and Middle Aged I could possibly see it if there was a demand, although to this day that’s been a fear ever since I went with a band name having the word ‘youth’ in it.
EMILY - I think if we were to last that long people would hopefully know us well enough to not have to change our name!! There’ll be a bit of fun irony in it if we just keep it the same. I agree with Lewis though; it’d be a lot of fun to “make it” in a sense. Hopefully if we keep working hard and get our music out as far as we can, we can keep enjoying ourselves and start playing to more people in more places for as long as possible!