Mallory Knox’s Sam Douglas chats to Katie Shepherd about their latest album and what’s next for the band after their stunning set at Reading Festival
It may be early afternoon on the first day of Reading Festival, but the huge crowd around the main stage is filled with anticipation for the act about to step out onto the stage. The band is Mallory Knox, a five-piece from Cambridge, and they are returning to the festival for a third time, more fired up and more at home than ever before.
Facing the glare of the unusual August bank holiday sun, it was evident from the moment they took to the stage that this band has grown closer to, and more comfortable in, their own sound. Delivering a winning setlist combining their earlier two albums Signals and Asymmetry with this year’s release Wired, the crowd was instantly ignited with enthusiasm.
This was echoed by Sam Douglas, bassist and vocalist for the band, as we chatted just an hour after their set: “The crowd was insane for this time of day, first day of the festival. That was probably the biggest crowd we’ve ever played.” He also reflected on their first performance at the festival back in 2013, confessing that he felt it had been “a little too early” for them to have played the main stage. “This year it felt like we were ready. We’re ready to try and prove our point.”
Walking out to face a crowd with the need to prove that you deserve your place there might easily be incredibly daunting for any band, but not Mallory Knox. “You go into a tour show and you’re safe in the knowledge that no matter what the crowd is yours, whereas at a festival you know not everyone there is there to specifically see you, so you feel like you’ve got to prove a point. You’ve kind of got to get them on side. And I feel like that’s always been a good thing for us. We like that. We kind of thrive off that pressure. I feel like we’ve accomplished something. I feel like we’ve achieved what we wanted to today.”
Behind such a triumphant performance, however, was an important and raw message – one which has always had undertones in Mallory’s music, but which takes an even greater focus on the new album. Mental health issues are becoming more pressing, but also fortunately more openly discussed. Mallory Knox are a band that are tackling the subject head on. Sam himself has struggled and professed the importance of opening up about it: “I remember when I wrote ‘Better Off Without You’, I kind of wrote the lyrics subliminally, and I read it back and I was like ‘Wow, I don’t know if I wanna put that out there’. But then again I thought if I’m going to rewrite the lyrics then I’m lying to myself. I’ve always said that a song kind of tells you what it should be about, it kind of brings something out in you, so I had to stick with it.”
“It’s a weird thing because I went through a few things with my mental health, but there’s some days where you feel proud to talk about it, and there’s some days where it’s like ‘Fuck off, I don’t wanna talk about it today.’ But we set ourselves up for that.”
It’s not just raw lyrics that create Mallory Knox’s intense and unique sound; the band takes this same bare-all approach to every aspect of their music process. “It’s all very raw for Mallory, we are very much a rock band. We write all of our songs all five of us in rehearsal, there’s no computers. We ain’t even playing with our in-ears when we play live, it’s all very old school. I guess that’s how we embrace the lyrics on this record too. Like, ‘fuck it, let’s just go down to the bare bone.’”
There seems to be something about music that makes it such an effective platform to discuss difficult and personal topics such as mental illness. “For me, when I was a kid and I had people like Blink and Alkaline Trio – bands I grew up with – finding out they’re not invincible either means you find a connection with them.” Sam mused, “You realise your favourite people in the world are vulnerable. You can watch films and get that same kind of feeling, but they’re acting at the end of the day, and with musicians 90 per cent of the time they’re writing something that means something to them. I think that’s why people have such a strong connection with music. All I can do is what my heroes did and write songs that mean something to me, and if they mean something to someone else then that’s fucking amazing.”
Having surely left the majority of the crowd eager to know what the future looks like for Mallory Knox, Sam was quick to feed the flames with talk of new music. “The new stuff we’re writing now is very much an example of what direction we feel like we’re going in, but we’re still new to that side of the music as well so we’re just constantly evolving and constantly growing.” He stresses the importance of this in the future of the band: “you can put as much as you want into it but it’s never going to be the finished article. You always feel you can do something more in two years time… It’s never quite the finished piece, that’s why you keep doing what you do. If you settled on the best, you wouldn’t have to do it anymore.”