‘I hope new generations see how futile the old system is’: The Lathums on gentrification, indie-rock nepo babies, and their undying love for Wigan

There was one moment, Alex Moore confesses, when he felt like Emperor of Wigan. Due to play a local show at a roller-skating rink a few days ago, this unassuming singer – frontman of breakout indie rockers The Lathums, the town’s biggest local heroes since The Verve – decided, naively perhaps, to walk the only road down to the gig. Right into the arms of an adoring mob.

“Everybody that was going to the gig was on that road,” the 23-year-old grins coyly, leaning into the wreckage of bongs and crisp packets littering the kitchen table in the band’s HQ. “Got noticed immediately, literally a couple of steps, [everyone was] taking pictures and that. And then they all just lifted me up. Honestly, hundreds of people lifted me up and carried me to the venue. I didn’t take a single step. They were carrying me going: ‘Alex! Alex!’”

It’s exactly the kind of hometown reception you’d expect for a Lancashire guitar band who seemingly shot from nowhere to No 1 in a matter of months. Lauded by Elton John, Tim Burgess, Paul Weller and The Killers, the group released their chart-topping debut album How Beautiful Life Can Be in 2021. The record saw them hailed, sonically at least, as a next-generational marriage of Arctic Monkeys and The Smiths. Carried along by Moore’s rich, swelling vocals, guitarist Scott Concepcion’s Marr-like guitar licks and splashes of “Fluorescent Adolescent” jig, their upbeat songs of everyday romance, ambition and small-town idyll swept like a fresh wind across the sometimes stodgy ground of northern indie-guitar rock.

But if The Lathums are the new kings of Wigan, they’re very modest monarchs. Moore and his band – Concepcion, drummer Ryan Durrans and new bassist Matty Murphy – are polishing off a meat pie breakfast as we arrive at their rehearsal room; a ramshackle unit tucked away in the shadow of the vast, ruined industrial cathedrals of a once proud manufacturing quarter. Concepcion points out some recent flood damage and the spot where they found an industrial blade stuck in the ceiling. “To be fair, we’ve always rehearsed in death traps,” he says. “We’re kind of drawn to them.”

Pausing to pump some iron at a weightlifting station by the pool table (“I used to lift when I was younger”), Moore leads the band on a rare, unannounced grand tour of town. They wave pleasantly at the passer-by who yells, “Keep it up lads!”, as they have their picture taken on a jetty by Wigan Pier. Ducking into the Museum of Wigan Life, they jokingly offer to “come and cut the ribbon” for a new exhibition on the town’s musical heritage and pose for selfies with a fan who spots them roaming the ornate reference library where George Orwell researched The Road to Wigan Pier.

The Lathums seem like wide-eyed tourists in their hometown. Wandering down Wigan’s main bar drag of King Street, they admit to not having a favourite local drinking den, preferring to hang in their rehearsal space, at home with their families, or out in the countryside of “the greenest borough in the north of England” instead. “No matter where you are in Wigan, you’re close to lovely nature and oxygen,” Moore says. “I love that, me. We’re country boys rather than city boys. I’m quite an earthy guy. It’s fun climbing trees. Being in nature, I feel like that’s how you’re supposed to live.”

They’re wary of pontificating on their town being left behind by 12 years of Tory underinvestment in the North, or the effects of the collapse of the red wall in 2019. “There’s a lot of problems going on in our country that extend beyond [any one] party,” Moore says, tactically. Yet they do lament the loss of Wigan’s traditional family market, its galleries and historical mill town ambience, to developers and gentrifiers. “It’s people’s home and it’s getting taken away by people that have no emotional investment in the place,” says Moore. He recalls seeing old black-and-white photographs of a Wigan gone by. “It looks amazing; cobble roads, beautiful old Tudor and Victorian houses. Now, it’s just gentrified. I hope that what is remaining now – not just in Wigan, all around – I hope people start to see the value in it.”

There’s a tangible sense of pride among The Lathums in their roots and background, as well as their achievements in transcending them. When Moore sang of a yearning for escape and adventure on How Beautiful…, the lyrics were borne out of a thirst for experience rather than feeling shackled by small-town life. “For the first 17 years of my life, I’d been out of Wigan about four or five times,” says Moore. “Two years ago, we were all over America, all over Europe from top to bottom, all up and down the UK and Ireland. Within the space of a year, we’d gone all around the world on planes, doing something amazing… I think it should be an ambition of everybody to see something outside of their comfort zone. For me, I want to see all the world and take in all the cultures and all the cuisines, all the experiences, because I don’t want to miss out on anything.”

This is, after all, a band who was put together by a tutor for a project at music college in 2018, realised they had something special and built early support on the gritty local pub circuit. They recall one memorable brawl that broke out at a wedding they’d agreed to play in return for “access to the buffet”.

“We played a really good gig,” says Durrans, “until towards the end, playing ‘The Great Escape’, a song about peace and love and happiness and coming together as one, and a fight broke out and the police came. About three riot vans and four cars.”

To be personally recommended to Universal records by Elton John and, within four years, hand-picked for support slots with Paul Weller and The Killers, then, was “mental”.

“I’d like to say we excite them because we’ve got what a band should have,” Moore muses. “We’ve got loads of drive, loads of passion. Maybe they see themselves in us, when they were starting out.” When Killers singer Brandon Flowers messaged Moore with a recording of him practising the title track from How Beautiful… in a hotel room on tour in Europe, Moore says he “let out a little bit of a girly ‘whoop!’”.

Fittingly, How Beautiful… was a very brightside record. Though Moore sang of being “bottom of the heap” emotionally and facing the challenges and perils of the modern age – screen addiction, fragile relationships, the “guerrilla warfare” against institutionalised bigotry – the album was cut through with the ambition and optimism of young adulthood. “We were still innocent back in those days,” he explains. The new album, From Nothing To A Little Bit More, is a bigger, broodier proposition. Sonically, it branches out towards Echo & The Bunnymen atmospherics, Killers canyon rock and Morricone moments (they blame their new industrial surroundings, and the fact they’re “maturing as people”). Lyrically, it finds Moore wallowing in the depths of despair, during and after the collapse of his only serious relationship.

“It’s just getting darker and darker as the days go by,” Moore says, eyes lowering. “It’s weird because I’ve had way more happy experiences in the past couple years than I did when I wrote the songs for album one, which is more happy. They say that the best songwriters are the sad ones. You need a bit of trauma. I don’t look for trauma but it finds me, unfortunately. It was mostly [written during] the period where you’re in love and that, so I’m not quite sure where those dark things came from. I was actually in love, I was happy when I was writing those tunes. I think I just thrive in the darkness.”

Among the album’s many lines about lost faith, sad-faced paramours and daggers in broken hearts, one stands out. On its reflective first single, tellingly titled “Struggle”, Moore sings: “The voices in my head, they tell me I’ll wind up dead if I continue the path I am on.” Has it been that bad? “At some points, yeah. I’ve never been suicidal, me, but I wasn’t bothered if I died, put it that way. I’ve never said that out loud. I just didn’t want to leave no one behind, that was my thinking,” he says. “I wasn’t doing healthy things and I just wasn’t bothered about what happened to me in the future.” Moore believes he has taken steps upward since, though. “I reckon I’m a bit better now,” he grins. “I want to continue now, I want to live a full life, I want to do good things.”

The Lathums confront the divisions fracturing society on tracks like ‘Land And Sky’

One such thing is to confront, on tracks like “Land And Sky”, the divisions fracturing society, from individual politics to social media. “Kids that are growing up with social media in front of their eyes, I don’t really think that’s a good thing,” Moore says. “I kinda hope the new generations see how futile the old system is, just fighting and bickering and stuff. We’re civilised enough now to be able to have a conversation with each other. We’re all human beings.”

The Lathums uphold the proud tradition of northern guitar music in the face of so many sprechgesang south London post-punks and indie-rock nepo babies. “I wonder who you’re talking about there,” Moore chuckles. Durrans shouts “Ooh, me asthma!” and mimes grasping for an inhaler. Last week, the Irish band Inhaler – fronted by Elijah Hewson, aka Bono’s son – released their second album. The Lathums are not at all frustrated at the advantages enjoyed by wealthier, better-connected bands, mind. If anything, it bolsters their resolve. “Life’s not fair in any regard, really. But we don’t concern ourselves with stuff like that,” says Moore. “Money can’t give you what we’ve got… There are a lot of people out there that are genuinely good musicians, that are writing amazing songs – they don’t get that opportunity because somebody looks better than them or they’ve got more money than them, or their dad’s a certain somebody. Life’s never fair but I don’t mind the challenge, me. I’ll go up against anybody.”

Having roared out of Wigan to break the streaming era’s glass ceiling on guitar bands, Moore is a devout believer in the eternal, redemptive power of great rock ’n’ roll songwriting. “Doesn’t matter what kind of headspace people are in or what the fad is at the moment,” he says. “Proper songs that you can tell people have put their heart and soul into, they always stand the test of time.” And with “proper” songs aplenty, The Lathums can expect to be carried shoulder-high through the ages.

‘From Nothing To A Little Bit More’ is out on 3 March via Island Records

I’ve never been suicidal, me, but I wasn’t bothered if I died, put it that way

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