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Welcome to Peace 2.0. New management, new record label, new outlook, new tunes, new year. All new. Except there's something that never changes. “I'll always be a hippie,” says Harry Koisser, the resident Maharishi of the British indie scene, and still the man most likely to use the word “groovy” in a conversation. It's been a while since Peace were swelling up tents at festivals and turning guitar cynics into rock'n'roll dreamers with their indulgent mixture of romantic riffs, heart-shaped lyrics and dancing drum beats. After a blistering success with their 2015 follow-up LP 'Happy People' (their debut 'In Love' came out to rapturous hype in 2013), they disappeared. Two years is a lifetime in band years. So what happened?
“After the second record we went to a farmhouse in the middle of a forest miles away from civilization,” he explains. In Herefordshire the four lads rented a property off the National Trust. It had never been lived in, so they moved all their backline into two living rooms, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Harry was there the whole time, with brother Sam, drummer Dom Boyce and guitarist Doug Castle joining him for sizeable periods. At the ripe old age of 24, Harry had never spent so much as an hour in the countryside. “I was a total townie,” he says. “I had to spend six months out in an actual forest. It was very Hobbit-ish, very Hobbit-esque. It was the most creative thing I'd ever done. Also extremely isolating and scary. When you're there alone and it's dark, there's demons…”
Surviving as an indie band in this climate is no joke. “Oh they make it difficult nowadays!” he laughs. If Peace needed any saving, however, it was the forest that threw them a life jacket. The fact that they're back isn't just a testament to their lofty musical ambitions, but proof of their own loved-up fraternity. The most vital part of this third album story is the kinship that binds the lads. For the first two months in the farmhouse they didn't record a single piece of music. They made dartboards, they set fire to fruit, they stapled bananas to the walls, they remembered to laugh. “We were just fucking around together as mates and we hadn't done that for five years,” says Harry. “At the end of the last album cycle we were the most distant we'd ever been.” Touring relentlessly had confused friendship with business but they had to face the music when they decided to forego time off, instead moving right into each other's faces. “That's maybe the reason we're still a band, ha!” offers Harry. “We've been crushed together again into this diamond. If we'd found we couldn't stand each other we wouldn't have made a record, but turns out we all absolutely adore each other.”
Harry himself has actually become even more hippie than before, if you can believe it. Journeying on his very own independent transformative path, he's now sober and he's turned to yoga and meditation. It was a long time coming. “I was not cool, freak of the school,” he sings on 'Under Liquid Glass'. You wonder if rock'n'roll had given Harry a false sense of security over the years, building a bubble of fame and popularity for him to hide in while deep-seated issues went unresolved. “100 per cent,” he says. “I was this new exciting person in 2012 and I'd forged a mixture of the rock stars that I loved: Keith Moon, Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Page… you know, the good bits. I fucking ran with it. As soon as I was out in the woods, everything disappeared and what I was left with was what I had before – the exact opposite.”
The alcohol and the partying had taken its toll. “I can't imagine myself ever drinking again,” he says. For the entire second album campaign he only recalls about eight memories and had screwed his voice up so much so that he tried to call off their massive Reading slot because his throat was “crumpled” from a pointless booze-up the night before. “I kept on ruining these huge moments by getting smashed. To not remember all the really good stuff? It's so sad,” he reflects.
Yoga became a habit six days a week. It completely revolutionised his creativity. “It's like swimming in the ocean all your life and then someone gives you scuba gear and you open your eyes,” he says. “I've had some of the most powerful experiences: full-on out of body moments, seeing and feeling the universe all at once. I can't put it into words.” Taking this with him into the studio after the farmhouse writing sessions Harry felt like he finally “had the keys to the Lamborghini.” Fleeing to Woodstock for a month in 2017 – a most unpractical but pleasingly gung-ho decision – they went to work with Simone Felice (“the coolest dude I've ever met”), a brand new injection of blood. Having made their first two albums with Jim Abiss it was a new way of doing things, a less conventional way. Felice taught them how to use The Force…
“Simone doesn't do any sounds. He gets into your soul. He'll take you into a room and touch your heart, he'll drive you down into the Catskill Mountains and say, 'Smell the pines! Go and splash your face in the stream!' Then he'll take you back to the studio. Unbelievable.” You can hear it not only in the lyrics but in Harry's voice, which soars more powerfully than ever. “I never ever thought I could sing like that. Simone found that. He physically massaged it out of my chest with his hands.”
It wasn't all hokum and magic though. Dom broke an arm during the recording sessions; not an ideal situation for their steadfast drummer. He got hit by a truck while riding his bike halfway through. “He did half the record one-handed. Who knows what's gonna happen when he gets his other hand back!” When they made it back to London, seven functional arms and one album later, they found themselves more satisfied and confident in a record than ever before.
'Under Liquid Glass' was the first taste of new material. Released at the tail end of 2017 it was a collaboration with mental health charity MQ and Harry's most vulnerable statement to date – a look into his own anxiety and mental health struggles. That topic is a big sea change for a band whose second record was non-ironically titled 'Happy People'. “I've always avoided writing about that side of me. When you're being a front man it's easy to put on an act: everything's groovy! And it was! Most of the time… But last spring we'd come back to London and the whole house of cards could have fallen down. I was one of the problems. Enough was enough.” Elsewhere, the likes of 'Magnificent' and 'Angel' are a lot more down-trodden than previous Peace releases; introverted, thoughtful, spacious. The latter is almost regretful of Harry playing a character for years that he can't live up to. At the end of the day, Peace can't inspire a house party at every twist and turn.
With that said, 'Power' kicks off the record in typical Peace fashion. “Hey wake up and smell the lavender!” it begins, with the sprawl of full-blown guitars and fruity rhythms that will please any long-standing fan of the 'Delicious' EP. It's a Peace with expanded, clearer horizons. A more at-peace Peace, if you like. The real treasure on the record, and the one that's inspired the direction of the whole LP, is the titular 'Kindness Is The New Rock'N'Roll'. Think classic McCartney meets 'Be Here Now' Oasis with a little interjection of a gospel-loving Primal Scream and a smattering of Harry Styles' recent schtick about kindness. “He's been getting into his kindness as well, hasn't he? Massive respect,” says Harry. It was written as an acoustic idea pre-farmhouse. “I wrote it in my own headspace and then it became more important as time went on. I love the idea that rock'n'roll is not dead, it's still here pushing the message that if you're too busy to change the world just be a bit kinder. That's the simplest way to make the world a better place.”
With festivals to headline this year and a whole new universe to impact, the boys are well and truly back in town. “We want to be bigger and shinier than ever,” says Harry. “Now is the first time since we started that Peace can be its best. We're gonna throw fuel on our own fire. We're in this post-apocalyptic landscape of pop culture where everyone's living in a big city with neon lights, the young and the poor are being milked, and everyone's screaming over the top of each other. Now's the time to gather our people, get the fuck out, grow an oasis and do our thing.” Follow your leader, kids. He's not going anywhere.
Peace are originally from Worcestershire and are signed to Ignition records (The Coral, Primal Scream) and Communion Publishing.