Real Lies – finding your own utopia

By Stuart Bennett

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Perennial talking heads for hire that always appear on music documentaries, seemingly trying to prove themselves to be LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’ incarnate, always talk about great bands being like a gang you want to be a part of. With Real Lies, that’s not quite the case – ‘gang’ implies exclusivity and Real Lies are very much the opposite. If you understand the songs you understand the people, and you get the feeling you could have a good chat with them, and you can – they have their phone number on their social media bios.

Rather than being a gimmick in an age that might offer the facade of accessibility via social media but it’s questionable as to if this is the case or not, this is just how Real Lies work – with a very conscious openness. ‘A lot of people misread the phone thing and thought we were trying to be mysterious and anonymous but it wasn’t – it was the most direct line we could think of’ says lyricist Kev Kharas, and this sincerity and openness is something that their music is built on.

It’s an inclusivity that stems from how the band formed. Renting a detached house in North London, The Lake House, the trio started hosting after parties from nights out. ‘Sometimes we’d have as many as 40 or 50 people back, and I guess a lot of what we do comes from the music we listened to then.’ In The Lake House the band made their idea of the best club in London. ‘When we arrived in the city it might not have been the city of our imaginations, but you find your own utopia which we’ve done with our parties… you arrive in the city and it’s a struggle to turn it into what you want it to be.’ 

The city, or perhaps even more so the idea of the city, is something that lies throughout Kharas’ lyrics. ‘The Way I think about it now is you move to the city and you have an idea of what that could be. Whether you get that idea from watching London Tonight, or from putting tin foil round your aerial so you can pick up pirate radio stations or watching Crystal Palace players with Streets Of Rage haircuts. You form this idea of what London is from the images you see.’


The city that Real Lies are referring to doesn’t have to be London. Guitarist and vocalist Tom Watson explains ‘As we’ve progressed and people have got into the band, we’ve found that the gravitational pull of the nearest city is a universal thing. Things we talk about in our songs like the one club towns are a universal thing. Most people will empathise with that, and it’s got nothing to do with London, that just happens to be our particular example.

There are specifics and name checks of places in their songs that tie Real Lies to London, but also to its suburbs. ‘North Circular’ is a poignant document of living outside of London, and Kharas lying in bed imagining all that goes on in London from outside of it. The suburbs hold a unique place within Real Lies songs. They’re not somewhere to be escaped such as is always their portrayal when spoken about with regards to music. Artists like David Bowie praised for making music and being from the suburbs, yet never championing them – always looking at the fantastical with the intention of escapism.

‘I think there’s a guilt there, as in our music… you can hear the friendship and the fraternity in it. If you move somewhere and you leave something behind. It’s like a photo negative, your life in the city might be white but there’s always going to be a part of your suburban life there.’

It’s the openness in how Real Lies conduct themselves in everything they do, which along with the care and detail they put into their music, makes some of the writing about them more confusing. They’ve been praised widely – but as being some kind of mix of New Order, Pet Shop Boys and The Streets. The ‘90s’ word is also thrown around a lot, and if you can hear that then maybe fair enough, but the extent that many have gone to with it implies that the band are a throwback or a derivative. Real Lies are very much a product of now and nothing less; you only have to look at some of the references in their songs. In ‘Seven Sisters’, a song influenced somewhat by Dion’s ‘The Wanderer’, they make reference to Napoli Right Back Christian Maggio. In ‘Naked Ambition’ they reference a uniquely poignant and heartbreaking quote from a video of an old rave song on YouTube, detailing a lost love proclaiming ‘What beautiful proof of God she was’.

None of this is to try to be clever or funny, however. It’s with a sincerity that Real Lies go about things. These references are another way into the band. ‘You trust in empathy. I can trust if I put a reference like that in that people will get it… it’s just a paraphernalia of our lives’ Kharas states, and this background that is built is important according to Watson ‘ I think the paraphernalia of our lives is very important… you need to have that to understand our band. You need to have the whole album in 45 minutes to get it’.

On opening track ‘Blackmarket Blues’ Kharas takes this sincerity to perhaps one of the albums most stand out moments, a beautiful song that builds in aggression to the final outpouring of the line ‘I love my friends more dearly than I’m allowed to say aloud’. It’s something that could be quite a hard emotion to admit in a song. ‘I try to not detach myself from it, I try to connect to it as much as possible…they’re written in quite an intimate environment, in bedrooms. Pat will make a loop and I’ll listen to it three or four hundred times and write it in one go… so it’s impossible to avoid it and to deny that would be slightly misleading or insincere.’

It’s this juxtaposition between the music and the vocals that show that Real Lies are the musical equivalent of one modern truth: summers always follow a binary pattern. The great summer where you fulfil all your dreams and more – you make your own utopia in the city. Then next year the summer where you re-evaluate everything, nothing lives up to their expectations and you don’t see your friends enough.

Real Lies are the party – but they’re also that brief section of the hangover where you’re sentimental and full of that strange, strange self-conscious clarity.

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