Indie Music

‘The music industry is smoke and mirrors’: how DIY duo the Lovely Eggs are keeping the north weird

Walking through Lancaster on a sunny spring day, Holly Ross has a theory about her home town and its inhabitants. Once towering over the city was Lancaster Moor hospital, formerly the Lancaster county lunatic asylum, which was home to thousands of patients. “People were sent here from all over the place,” she says. “There was a care in the community programme and people settled locally, so you had this real collection of characters – amazing artists who burned themselves out on acid and ended up here. There was one pub they all used to congregate in, a real bunch of outsiders and freaks – and I use that as a term of endearment because that included us.”

For the best part of 20 years, Ross has been making outsider art in the duo the Lovely Eggs with her husband, David Blackwell. The pair play psychedelic punk and infectious garage rock, and – despite playing sizeable UK venues and attracting collaborators such as Iggy Pop – are a fervently DIY operation. They run their own label, and have no manager, booking agent or publisher. They often make their own music videos, build their own instruments, host their own book club and, in 2023, they launched their own TV channel. Eggs TV broadcast a hugely ambitious six-part series featuring everyone from comedian Stewart Lee to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye. “That was such hard work,” says Ross, as we form a production line to pack up hundreds of their latest 7in single Nothing/Everything at their storage space. “But once we dive in, we’re committed to the idea. Even though it might kill us, we can’t let go.”

Another idea they’ve seen to the bitter end is creating custom-made scratchcards they are sending out with records enabling fans to win prizes. “Ironically, they cost more than actual scratchcards to produce, so we’re losing money on the single to do this,” Blackwell says as he places them inside 7in sleeves, surrounded by records, merchandise, instruments and various vintage trinkets. “But it’s all about the art and the idea. We always think about the financial and practical factors last.” The pair have a real, sincere and deep-rooted belief in committing to the Lovely Eggs as an all encompassing artistic endeavour. “It’s not a career to us,” Ross says. “It’s never been a job. It’s a lifestyle, a way of life, an ethos, a commitment to creating.”

The pair have been making music in Lancaster since they were teenagers at the Lancaster Music Co-op, a nonprofit organisation that offers affordable equipment, rehearsal and recording space. The building is currently closed and the pair have been in a five-year long battle to save it. An agreement was struck with Lancaster city council for Ross, Blackwell and local volunteers to take it over and raise a further £600,000.

Which, remarkably, they have. But Ross says the bureaucracy “imprisoned me for two years. That’s how I felt. I felt put in jail, emotionally, every day doing that pen-pushing shit.”

The experience echoes through their seventh album, Eggsistentialism, out next week. The opening punk thrash of Death Grip Kids comes with the scream of “shove your funding up your arse”. But as it unfurls, the album is less grungy guitars and furious railing against the system, and more electronic and expansive as it explores themes of loss, fading memories and survival. “It’s a very vulnerable record,” says Ross. “To let people see that side of you is quite hard – it’s difficult admitting things have been really tough. People think that we’re such resilient people but sometimes you’ve got nothing left to give. The album is a snapshot of when we were at our lowest.”

However, despite the hard times, the Lovely Eggs are not just surviving but thriving. Next week, they will be back at their huge storage space packing up over 1,000 vinyl pre-orders for their album before they head out on tour. It’s important for them to stress that a genuinely successful, self-sustaining and profitable band can be achieved purely on your own terms. “The music industry is smoke and mirrors,” says Ross. “You don’t need to be on a label. All that really creates is money to spend on marketing – the rest is bullshit.”

Even having a family hasn’t stopped the pair’s relentless drive. They’ve been taking their son, now 11, on tour with them since he was six months old. “When I got pregnant our sound engineer at the time was like: ‘That’s the end of the band.’ But we were like: ‘No,’” recalls Ross. “We bought seats on eBay and got the local mechanic to weld them into our van so we could go on tour with our kid. We treat it like a holiday and he loves it.”

Iggy Pop is such a fan of the Lovely Eggs that they ended up collaborating on the 2021 single I, Moron. “That was amazing for us,” says Ross. “From an independent band perspective, just two dickheads from Lancaster, for him to do a single with us just makes you feel like, oh my God, this thing we’re doing must be all right.”

As well as Iggy, they ended up working with another hero in producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse). “We’d had a few drinks and I said I’d love to work with Dave Fridmann, but it was like a joke,” says Blackwell. “That was the gauntlet thrown down,” adds Ross. “I found a number and I plucked up the courage to ring it, but I was quite pissed. I left this drunken garbled message.” A year passed and they forgot all about it until an email landed in their inbox. Fridmann had finally picked up the message, loved the band and invited them to work together. They have been doing so ever since.

We finish packing up the singles and load them into four huge sacks and on to a cart that we then push through the streets of Lancaster to the post office. On the way we stop at the old music co-op, which is covered in scaffolding, as builders bang and clatter away. “We’re managing that £1m project,” says Ross, looking up at the huge building. “Just the two of us and some volunteers. We couldn’t give in. Because of what this place means – giving working-class people access to space and music, just like we had. If the Co-op dies, independent culture and subculture in Lancaster dies, and we can’t let that happen. It’s a space for freaks like us.”

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