The surreal rise of Tuff Love: ‘Grace Jones passed by in a golf cart and growled at everyone’
Tuff Love

What becomes immediately clear when speaking with Suse Bear and Julie Eisenstein of Glasgow band Tuff Love is that they are – on the most basic level – two very lovely, warm people who enjoy making music together.

Describing themselves as semi-full time (not part-time), these two, along with their live drummer – Iain Stewart of The Phantom Band – have been gaining UK-wide notoriety over the last 18 months.

Playing dazzling, lo-fi guitar pop songs, the duo (and at times trio) have a tendency to (needlessly) self-depreciate with a trio of EPs named Junk (2014), Dross (2014) and the latest offering, Dregs (2015). They have however assured us that they chose such titles as the words sound nice, rather than it being a reflection on the music.

Tuff Love have just unveiled the new video for ‘Duke’ and had this to say about it:

“If it looks like we are in pain then it’s because we are – it was like doing one big long crunch for eight hours. We did have some support from pillows for head support but they didn’t work 100%. Anyways we now have abs and we did not before.”

Siobhan Smith spoke to Suse and Julie on being ‘political’, counting Paolo Nutini as a fan and still being shocked when people actually turn up to watch them play…

First thing’s first, how did Tuff Love come about?

S: Me and Julie met at a party through friends… (to Julie) I’d heard about you.
J: What?! (Laughing)
S: We had a friend who kept trying to get us to play music together. I wanted to start a new project and Julie wanted to start a new project. Eventually we did. The initial meeting up was quite hard because I was quite nervous. I don’t know why.
J: We were both quite shy and maybe thought that we were both really aloof and too cool? When actually, we were both just really nervous, and terrified!
S: Yeah, then we started jamming and started writing songs. Julie already had some songs so that worked out quite well.

So, you were basically musically match-made by a mutual friend?

S: Yeah…
J: Were we? That’s not how I remember it but it might be true?
S: What? What do you remember?
J: I remember me being like, ‘I want to work with that person’.
S: I just remember Lucy saying ‘you should get together with Julie…’
J: Really? She didn’t say that to me. But that’s cool. I’m glad!
S: There you go, two different stories!

Well, it’s worked out brilliantly, however it happened! You guys have done incredibly well over the last 18 months. You had a busy summer playing all the major festivals.

S: Glastonbury was incredible because we were playing at the BBC Introducing tent and we just kind of assumed there would be nobody there. It’s such a big festival and there’s so much stuff on. Even if you’re not watching bands you can go and do other endless stuff. But, our tent was good. There were people there! It wasn’t super busy but it was just so nice that people came to see us. It was quite shocking actually!

I saw you at Field Day in London and you were great. There were people in the audience and everything!

S: Yeah, Field Day was cool! It was quite a ‘super cool’ festival. I felt it walking about. Like, everyone was really cool. I felt really nervy because it was also a very cool line-up and I was like, ‘oh crap’.
J: I was surprised there were people there to see us. It was really like ‘aw yeah!’
S: Yeah, it was another shocking moment when there were people there to see us at Field Day. (Laughs)

Tuff Love
Photo: Martin Barker

What’s been a career highlight for you so far?

J: The Ride shows were amazing. It was an amazing life moment and a such big venue.
S: Yeah. Playing the Barrowlands was totally insane. Amazing. Best gig of my life.
J: And when Lost Map released Junk – getting our first record out on vinyl, that was massive. It was an amazing feeling.

You’ve released three EPs in fairly quick succession. Why have you decided to do that, rather than hold out for an album?

S: With albums you have to have a long press build up and stuff… Albums are a bigger deal and we just wanted to release a bunch of songs quite quickly…
J: We’re basically not patient enough to wait.
S: Yeah, we just wanted people to hear the songs straight away.

Your first and second EPs were called Junk and Dross. Now we’ve got Dregs. What’s that all about? It kind of sounds like…

S: A trio of crap?! (both laugh) We called the first one Junk because it’s just a nice sounding word. And Dross is also a nice sounding word!
J: And Dregs, we were like, now we’ve started we’ve got to carry on. Sort of, scraping the bottom of the barrel!
S: The last should be called…
J: Backwash! Ahh, we should have called it Backwash. (Laughs)

Maybe that should be your debut album name?

S: Yes! That can be the album name! Such a good idea.

Dregs is out on the 6th of November. What can we expect from it?

S: Erm, more of the same?
J: (Laughs) More. But better!
S: Yeah!
J: Overall the songs are longer. That’s noticeable to me. Although that’s not very interesting…
S: It maybe sounds a little more live. More energy filled because we’ve started playing with Iain Stewart – who is a very exciting drummer. He plays on ‘Duke’ and some other songs. When he plays, it sounds so full of energy. He’s a total drummer extraordinaire. He’s in about a million projects but we’ve managed to get him!

Is it true that Paolo Nutini is a big fan?

S: I think he has maybe listened to our stuff. Johnny from Lost Map heard that he [Paolo] had bought our stuff and went bananas! And then started telling everyone he was our biggest fan. (Both laugh) We played with him at Bellahouston Park and he was so nice. He was so, so decent. So, yeah, I hope he likes us.

It must have been pretty amazing playing such a massive gig with Paolo and Grace Jones?

J: Yes. It was amazing. Grace Jones was really cool. Her set was about an hour late and, before it, a bunch of people were crowded round watching her go from backstage to the stage. And she passed by us in a golf cart and growled at everyone. It was very funny.

You’re signed to Lost Map Records. In the beginning Johnny [Lynch] from the label sent out lots of hand-written notes along with your demos to journalists. Does he still employ that method?

S: No, he’s too busy now! He did that initially because he was really excited about us. I mean, he still is excited about us but…
J: The honeymoon period is over! he doesn’t care about us any more!
S: He’s a very busy man and that was so lovely of him. And it was so nice that it got picked up by the Guardian as well. That was insane. He’s a total legend. We just got a message on SoundCloud from someone saying ‘just been listening to your stuff on the Guardian site’ and we were like, ‘what?!’ Then we Google searched ‘Tuff Love Guardian’, and I was like ‘Oh my god! What the fuck is this!?’ It was quite a cool, big deal.

You are sometimes described as being a political group. What are your thoughts on that? Would you describe yourselves that way?

J: I like that. I like that. I mean, I wonder what our politics are meant to be… But, I hope they’re good! I hope we agree with them.
S: I wonder if it’s because of mainstream pop, like, talking about ‘being in the club’ and I don’t know…
J: We definitely care about what we’re doing and I think [being] honest is the way we make music. Honesty is important to us.
S: I don’t write the words, so I can’t comment…
J: Occasionally! You get to write the odd words!
S: Yeah, anyway, I would like to think that’s true.

So you would agree? 

J: Well it depends on what our politics are! I mean, it could be bad. I don’t know! I think it’s more about our haircuts…
S: Maybe it’s just honesty about our lives.
J: Is it about not being straight? I wonder if it’s to do with not being heterosexual. I wonder if it’s to do with being queer basically.
S: Yeah.
J: I don’t know if that’s true!
S: No, but it’s good!
J: Yeah, it’s very good. And we stand by that, so it’s very good. But I don’t know.

Your tour kicks off on the 5th of November. Are you excited to get back out on the road after a quieter couple of months?

S: Yes! I’m excited about getting out of the house! We’ve had a lot of down time. We are doing stuff but it will be nice to travel about is what I mean.  And playing the new stuff live… we’re really excited about that. We’re playing Iceland Airwaves on the 5th of November and we’ve always wanted to go to Iceland so that should totally amazing.
J: Hopefully we’ll be able to see a couple of things as well, like the hot springs.

Sounds awesome. Very jealous. 

S: Why don’t you try and go for work? And review it?!

Good idea. I’m just going to leave that one hanging there… Over to you WOW247.

Dregs is released on November 6 via Lost Map Records.

Tuff Love play the following dates:

7 Nov: Edinburgh, Voodoo Rooms
8 Nov: Cardiff, Swn Festival
9 Nov: Sheffield, The Harley
10 Nov: Leicester, The Musician
11 Nov: Brighton, The Hope & Ruin
12 Nov: London, Dalston Victoria
13 Nov: Leeds, Beacons Festival
14 Nov: Manchester, The Castle
15 Nov: York, The Fulford Arms
21 Nov: Glasgow, Hug & Pint

Find Tuff Love on Facebook and Soundcloud.

Main photo: Martin Barker