It’s raining and I’ve left my umbrella at home. I also have a hole in my shoe, something I discover as I hurry along the cold wet concrete of the Southbank to the BFI’s riverfront café to meet Harry Granger-Howell, the 21-year-old behind LONELY GALAXY. It’s so far very fitting. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks enveloped in the urban landscape of his forthcoming debut ‘EP 1’ on Transparent (label profile here). Urban not in genre but as in built environment, with songs Waiting and Time (download on the right) evoking the reflective detachment of city living; that tension between togetherness and aloneness. It’s a feeling that’s been amplified by the way in which I’ve been listening: through headphones on chaotic streets, packed tubes and night buses, something that Harry can relate to. “I spend my whole life with iPod headphones in,” he says as we sit down at a table near the window, looking out on the choppy grey river. “The kind of music I was listening to when I made [the EP] was just complete exhaustion, when everything is so urgh, so much.”
Having grown up in London, mostly in Camden, Harry started LONELY GALAXY as a solo project last summer when his previous band Video Nasties split up after three years of full-on touring. “When you go from being in a group dynamic to just sitting in your bedroom trying to do stuff on your own, that’s weird and definitely had an affect on it. But at the same time it’s sort of exhilarating as well. In a selfish way, it feels good to have that much creative control.” While aesthetic comparisons can be drawn with the fellow Transparent artists Active Child, Small Black (reviewed here) and Perfume Genius (interviewed here), LONELY GALAXY also recalls the weathered loner Soul of Tom Waits and Neil Young, the latter of whom he’s a big fan. “I can stick on Neil Young and no matter what I’m going through in my life, within about 3 songs, he’ll have a line that will explain exactly how I’m feeling.”
On first listen to ‘EP 1’, that feeling would appear to be mostly sad as inferred by his chosen moniker (“when I played the songs to people they were always asking me if I was okay”) but further listens provide a reminder that there’s a subtle yet vital difference between loneliness and solitude. The latter is a chosen, positive state and one glowing with literary notions of romance. There’s beauty and strength to be found in solitude, an old-fashioned concept in our micro-documented, endlessly connected times. Of Have A Heart, the most lovelorn song on his EP, he says: “When you’re at that worse possible point, the song is about the point just after that, if that makes sense. With the build up of chords and strings towards the end, I found it kind of euphoric in a way.” The video for Have A Heart echoes this via a peculiarly uplifting stroll round Smithfield’s Market shot by former Video Nasties bandmate Joe on his iPhone. The market appears church-like, the traders going about their day as if taking part in some early morning communion. “The workers didn’t know if he was filming or just doing stuff on his iPhone so they just carried on. I love watching the people in that video.”
In rendering an everyday scene soothingly congregational, the video underlines something at the very heart of LONELY GALAXY; the power of perspective. A seemingly sad situation can be ultimately uplifting. Aloneness doesn’t necessarily equal loneliness. So an instrumental track called So Low is both calming and beautiful, while on Time he sings: “I’m going to take my time, I’m going to take it all”, his voice growing more stretched with emotion as the strings crescendo. Fake strings, Harry is quick to point out. “Everything is fake, I’m just doing it all on my computer.” It’s something he’s almost apologetic about, though he needn’t be: the emotion it inspires is no less valid.
Right now he’s in the process of putting together a live band to tour with in the summer and recognises the challenge of replicating that emotion with ‘real’ instruments. “The difficulty with lots of live orchestral instruments is that it’s automatically going to sound huge and epic. But what I want to do, because of the nature of the songs, is create a very personal, intimate experience,” says Harry. “I want to be able to have these orchestral instruments that still retain that level of intimacy. I want it to feel like when you listen to an album by Elliott Smith and it’s like he’s literally singing in your ears, just to you. I want to be personal.”