This interview originally featured on TYCI.
At Tuff Love’s core are Julie Eisenstein and Suse Bear, two musicians who met in Glasgow through a mutual acquaintance. Unsure of each other at first, music and a shared sorrow soon united them as friends and artistic partners. Last year brought highlights such as playing Glastonbury Festival’s BBC Introducing stage, and a UK-wide support for the legendary Ride. The pair has made artistic inroads in just a few years of working together, and has now released their first album of sorts, an amalgamation of three existing EPs.
Despite their growing successes, lazy comparisons and labels have followed them. Often described as ‘sunny’, ‘dreamy’ and ‘shoegaze’, and tagged with the “female-fronted” line, there’s much more to the band than these slipshod monikers. “Sometimes I feel it’s as though [people] haven’t really listened,” admits Julie. “When you make something you put so much of yourself in to it, we put a lot of ourselves in to what we’re doing and it means so much.”
Many of the acts they are referenced to have been previously unknown to the band, with the ’90s shoegaze’ label common. “That never even occurred to me. Not that it’s wrong but we’re not sitting there saying, ‘Let’s make it sound like this’ and ‘let’s just write some words’,” says Julie. “It’s such an intensely emotional experience writing a song.”
But despite some ridiculous and, frankly confusing, comparisons and slagging offs (from Belle and Sebastian to “One Direction in drag”), the band take it in their stride, with mixed feelings about wearying references to being a “female-fronted” group. “I wish it didn’t matter [that we were women],” admits Julie. “I don’t think it matters actually but maybe given the way things are, maybe it does still matter.” Suse concurs: “I wish it didn’t matter and that [we were described] as a band rather than a ‘female-fronted’ band, it’s so stupid. But probably because we’re in a stage where everything’s not equal yet, I’m happy to be a female musician and seen as that.”
However, Suse feels that things have moved somewhat in the right direction. “When I was growing up and playing in bands when I was a lot younger, it felt different. Maybe all kids are not encouraged to play in bands. I wonder if I was a boy if that would have been different.” She says that people were surprised when she wanted to play in bands as a child, and she struggled to find similar people to play with. “It would have been nice to play with another girl but it was just a sea of boys,”she adds. “Now you look around and see loads of girls in bands but it really wasn’t like that when I was younger. That’s really good but people shouldn’t be surprised. Women can do anything, men can do anything.”
Progress has been slower when it comes to women in positions behind the scenes, says Suse, who herself studied audio engineering at university. “Maybe being a female musician is fine now but the idea of engineering… It’s not ordinary to get a female audio engineer,” she says. “Quite often at gigs I think we get talked down to and I wonder if that’s to do with [our gender],” adds Julie. “When I hear people say things to [Suse] and I know you know better than them! They’re often trying to be helpful but it’s the assumption [that’s wrong].” Suse continues: “They look at you and see something that’s not associated with the stereotype of an audio engineer, that’s annoying. It’s frustrating, it makes my blood boil.”
The duo, with The Phantom Band‘s Iain Stewart on drums securing the group as a live three-piece, have just released their first album, Resort – a conglomeration of their previous trio of EPs. It is a debut of sorts, and also a line in the sand. They are saluting their past work whilst looking forward to what’s to come. “I feel that each of the EPs has been slightly different and it would be nice if that continued on to the first proper album,” says Julie. “We kind of write a batch of songs, or write bit by bit, but having to think in terms of a bigger project is quite exciting and we’ll see how that changes the songwriting.”
Suse adds: “Hopefully we’ll have more reflection time with writing a new batch of songs. With the EPs it was really fast. We were happy with them but I don’t trust myself enough. If we’re doing an album, I don’t want to feel like that. It would be nice to listen back to an album and think, ‘That’s what I wanted’.”
Taken under the wing of Johnny Lynch, aka The Pictish Trail and boss of Fence Records’ offshoot Lost Map, Tuff Love were one of the first new acts signed to the fledgling label. Carrying on the long tradition of the DIY ethos, Tuff Love’s stripped back clarity is part of their appeal, and for now at least it seems this method is set. Suse outlines that it is the amount of control and time that home recording offers. “I think I’ve been burned in the past by experiences of recording studios, blowing money and not seeing the results I wanted. I always find that upsetting, and I don’t want that to happen again,” she says. “Maybe all we need is one good recording studio experience with someone who knows our band recording us but I feel like a lot of things in our songs come from us sitting reflecting and adding bits whenever we feel like it. We’ve got quite a good way of working at the moment but maybe in the future we’ll try again.”
The near future will see Tuff Love concentrate on further touring and writing, as well as launching Resort at Stereo in Glasgow on Friday 5 February, alongside The Vaselines‘ Frances McKee and the infectious Bossy Love. “I don’t think either of us are natural born performers,” suggests Suse. “We find it quite difficult, but doing a gig that’s good where you feel the crowd is on your side, is really good.”
It’s fitting the band should set Resort free in the city that has undoubtedly influenced the pair. “Glasgow has influenced our way of doing things but maybe not our sound,” says Suse. “Sometimes I’ve thought ‘what if we were in London?’ and I think well we wouldn’t be able to afford to rehearse.” Julie adds: “The way of doing things and the environment [in Glasgow] has shaped our experience as a band and the way we work and given us lots of opportunities to meet lots of people, work with people, talk to people. It’s felt very open and I think we wouldn’t have gotten quite so far if we were somewhere else.”