As anyone who has been in attendance at one of their live shows thus far will testify – where the venues are decorated from floor to ceiling with glitter, doll parts, glamorous pictures and whatever else the six members of the band have dreamt up in the days before – HMLTD are a band of grand ambitions. To date they have created a stir in both their London hometown and in cities around the UK and beyond, attracting audiences as dressed up to the nines as they are 24 hours a day: a select audience of beautiful freaks, seduced by their few singles thus far and their accompanying, impossibly striking videos. They have filled the Scala, the Electric Ballroom and other such places, and are, at present, what you might describe as a successful cult band.
But this is not enough. Not by a long shot.
“Our plan has always been to connect on a much, much bigger scale than this,” says singer Henry. “We want to make big pop songs that get on the radio, we want to be in the papers, we want to be pop stars. And I don’t see why that is something that we should be embarrassed about.”
“It’s very, very easy to shout into a microphone and make a racket and be accepted as a kind of ‘cool’ indie band,” adds guitarist James. “But that means you are only ever going to get to a certain level, playing to the same few hundred people every time you do a show. We want to go beyond that. That’s why we put so much into our videos, and our aesthetic. That’s why we signed to Sony, and not to an indie label. We have always thought of ourselves as a pop group, not an indie band.”
The next step in HMLTD’s masterplan, the connection with the person who is going to help them make this next step a reality, almost did not happen. A few months ago, they received a message on Instagram, from someone purporting to be a producer in Los Angeles, who said he was in love with what they were doing and wanted to help them. “But we get messages every day from people saying, ‘Oh I’ve got this night,’ or, ‘Oh, I run this student magazine’,” says James. “And so we just ignored it for a while, thought it was just another one of those kind of messages.”
“It was only when he tweeted us and we saw that he had a blue tick,” continues Henry, “that we thought we’d better check out who he actually was.”
The sender of this message was one Justin Tranter who – it is fair to say – is much more than just “a producer in Los Angeles.” He has created huge hits for the likes of Selena Gomez, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber – not least the latter’s ‘Sorry’. Many indie bands would have baulked at the very idea of working with such a producer, but for HMLTD it made total sense.
“The way he phrased it in the message he sent us was, ‘I’m obsessed with you guys, I think you’re amazing, and I want to help you become the biggest band in the world,’” says Henry. “So I think he just saw the way we looked – the look was the main thing for him – and got a sense of our ethos and our artistic approach. He just saw what we were trying to do, and that we had these ambitions, and that we want to be very popular, and he was just like, ‘I can help you make this happen.’”
So HMLTD were very soon after this on a plane to LA, and then in a studio with Tranter. The band have previously worked with other, more-rock-based producers, and been
dissatisfied with the process, but here, instantly, they felt comfortable and excited by what they were doing, and how they were doing it. “He left (other guitarist) Duke and I to get on with the instrumentals,” explains James. “And then just worked a lot more on the melodies with Henry.”
“That’s his speciality,” Henry says. “His thing is that you’ve got a great melody, you can have any kind of instrumentation in the world underneath it, and it will still connect with people.”
In this way, HMLTD and Tranter worked quickly. In their first four days, they had four songs. They flew back to England, then came back for another four days, and got another four songs. It was starting to seem easy. As easy and effortless as great, decadent, subversive pop music should. The first fruits of this new collaborative way of working will be ‘Pictures Of You’: a giant, titanic pop song with undeniable, super-infectious hooks that, rather than sounding like the work of Justin Tranter, still bears all the unmistakable hallmarks of an HMLTD creation. “And that is one of the more straight up songs,” says James. “The others are quite avant grade and strange, and totally unlike anything you’d hear on the radio at the moment, but still very pop, which is very exciting.”
You might expect that a band like HMLTD would have a degree of trepidation about coming back with this music and presenting it to their existing fanbase, but Henry insists that this is not the case at all. “The people who really get what we’ve always wanted to do will get it,” he says. “The songs have always just been a part of the overall aesthetic with us, and the music we have made with Justin fits in with the aesthetic completely.”
Indeed, when it arrives, the first HMLTD album will, alongside the work that they have created with Justin Tranter, contain a number of their earlier songs, that are all their own work, not least the next single, ‘Proxy Love’ which contains as perfect a pop chorus as any professional songwriter, highly regarded or otherwise, could come up with. “Exactly,” says James. “It’s all part of the same thing.”
“With HMLTD, there’s definitely a lot of making it up as we go along,” continues Henry. “But there is definitely the skeleton of plan that we’re fleshing out, and the more that we do, the more it feels like it is going to work.”
Anyone who hears their new songs will be hard pushed to not agree. These songs are the final piece of the puzzle of a band who so much seem, in every possible way, what music needs at this point in time. Ask them where they would ideally like to be in a year’s time, for example, and there is not a moment’s hesitation.
“We want to be at Number One in the charts, whatever that means anymore,” says Henry. “We want to be in the tabloids, we want to be everywhere. We want to have hundreds of millions of views on Youtube. We don’t just want to be playing fucking Wembley or whatever it is, we want to be huge in America, and everywhere else.”
“Basically,” he concludes, “we just want HMLTD to matter on a massive scale.”