Peace talk their return as a duo and new album 'Utopia'

Interview Peace: At Last

Five years since their last album and over three since they uttered a peep to the world, Peace are back. Now stripped down to a duo - but with some truly mind-boggling plans up their sleeves - the Birmingham boys are stepping into a wild new dawn.

It’s a brusque yet sunny spring afternoon when DIY are summoned to a strangely specific street near London’s Clerkenwell to meet with Harry and Sam Koisser for what will be their first interview as Peace this decade. In the time since the world last glimpsed the band, they’ve slimmed down to a duo following the departure of guitarist Doug Castle and drummer Dom Boyce, and re-emerged from what many may have fairly assumed was an indefinite hiatus with a surprise link to an entire new album, encrypted by a password sent to dedicated superfans.

You would guess, then, that the location of today’s summit might reveal yet more secrets: a crucial recording location, or a key to where exactly the beloved Birmingham indie stalwarts have been this entire time. But no. “I saw Mike D from the Beastie Boys here once, so this is always where I come in the hope that he’ll pop up again,” grins Harry, picking a pub table on the corner intersection of the street for maximum vantage.

As it transpires over the next hour of what is truly the most bonkers conversation that DIY has encountered since… well, probably the last time Peace were knocking about, this sense of utter commitment to the bit is more telling than any mere geographical location could possibly be. Peace 2.0 are a duo who have spent their time away travelling deep into the musical mind forest and back again, excavating every possible idea and pushing it to its nth degree of potential.

“I think we just adopted a bizarre philosophy coming out of the last record [2018’s ‘Kindness Is The New Rock and Roll’] that we’ll just pursue every avenue fully. If we do a studio session and spend a load of money and we don’t like it, we’ll bin it. Don’t compromise on anything,” says Harry. “You do so much that’s just fiscal, so what happens if you just… don’t. And you just deal with the outcome of that. The point we’re at in our career, you either go all-in or go and do something else. So I thought, if I just fuck off everything except for music then what will happen? And here we are!”

Peace talk their return as a duo and new album 'Utopia'

There are a thousand points of potential failure and we’re discovering each one as rehearsals go on.

— Harry Koisser

The first decision made in the pursuit of total creative freedom was to ditch the noise of the big city and take root in the Somerset countryside. For the past few years Harry has been living in the rectory of an old church, deep in the wilds of Exmoor National Park, with Sam coming to stay for extended weeks and months. “I rented it directly from the Diocese of Bath and Wells,” the vocalist informs us. “I haven’t seen anyone in as long as I’ve been there. I don’t think I KNOW anyone, anymore…”

The pair describe the landscape of their new locale as “just hills and trees and streams”, with only a group of neighbourhood farmers to keep them company. Embedded near the building, meanwhile, was a stone circle that would regularly play host to various mystical goings on. “On the first full moon of the year, I walked past the stone circle and there were three rams standing on the middle stone. I’ve seen some deeply satanic shit on that circle,” Harry says, shaking his head. “The more time we spent there, the more I started hearing these medieval sounds, and then we started tuning all the guitars into this medieval folk tuning. We had to put it into the record because it was just seeping into the environment.”

Ah yes, the record. Titled ‘Utopia’ and currently only available to stream via - a move, they explain, that is costing them in bandwidth what they would have earnt from regular streaming (“The more people listen, the more we pay,” deadpans Sam) - Peace’s fourth is indeed a more organic, spiritual-sounding thing. Across its eight tracks, the sound of running water and twittering birds link dawn chorus-like introductions and moments that feel like that hazy netherworld time between night and morning at Glastonbury. The more you listen, however, the more that ‘Utopia’ still sounds like Peace by any other name - actual proper songs with the sense of melody and fun still intact. As Harry points out: “The whole medieval, feudal vibes, you’ve got to make sure there’s significant techno elements to counterbalance it…”

To get to this balance, the two brothers recount a series of experiments that teeter constantly between the sublime and the ridiculous. Harry spent three months learning how to play the theremin before abandoning it almost entirely; Sam was gifted an “old-ass flute” for his birthday which he was then instructed to master (“A birthday present with an ulterior motive…” he notes); for a while, they explain, they “got deeply into drones”. “We started making these things that we called mouth drones where you just loop noises from your mouth and speed it up and slow it down,” Harry explains excitedly, as they recreate the sound like a pair of human didgeridoos.

Determined to do everything entirely by themselves and in the most authentic way possible, Harry and Sam mixed the album on two old desks from the ‘90s that were so broken “you had to beat them with your fists to get the reverb to work,” Sam recalls. And when it came to working out what to do with only half their original number left in the gang, they had some other ideas…

If we could have thought of a better name than Peace, would we have done another band? Perhaps! But we can’t.”

— Harry Koisser

After nearly a decade in the band and all knocking on the door of their thirties, Doug and Dom’s departure in mid-2020 was an entirely amicable one. “When you go into another era of the band, it’s like going on an Arctic expedition; you’re there for five years and you hope to come back with all your crew intact without losing any men to the frost,” theorises Harry. “And then if you get a bit of time off then it’s like, ‘OK we’re going back out to explore - are you coming with?’ And [them leaving] was more a case of them going, ‘You know what? Being out in the blizzard and spending another decade of our lives in the tent together, losing toes… maybe not…’

Best friends from the beginning and with no dramatic bust-up to walk away from, the question then became how to work around the situation when “it felt wrong to just replace them.” “If we could have thought of a better name than Peace, would we have done another band? Perhaps! But we can’t,” Harry says. “So then we were like, ‘OK, well, what are we gonna do now?’ So we built a machine to replace them.”

Sorry… what?

“It’s a machine that uses a speaker cone, but it’s against the skin of a drum and you can fire bursts of sound into the drum and sequence those. So you essentially have a drum kit that can be programmed to play itself,” he explains. “We’ve developed all these buttons and triggers so we can command the machine and tell it what to do as we’re going, so there’s still a level of improvisation we can do. We experimented a lot and thought, is this ridiculous? But it sounds really good! It’s the furthest you can be from a backing track. There are a thousand points of potential failure and we’re discovering each one as rehearsals go on.”

Those rehearsals are currently underway for a pair of comeback shows in London and Birmingham at the end of this month, which will see Peace debut their new configuration and wares for the first time. Tickets for the 800-capacity shows sold out in seconds - an immediately warm and excited reception to their return that the Koisser brothers still seem slightly shocked by. “I’ve realised [the love] in the last few days and it’s actually been really moving,” the singer smiles. “We thought the website had crashed because people were saying they couldn’t get tickets within a minute, and the ticket sellers were like, ‘No you’ve just sold all the tickets…’”

Beyond that, there’s a smattering of summer shows and an autumn tour in the works, and - crucially - a full roll-out for ‘Utopia’ that looks set to be like little else. There are plans for different versions of the album, reworked to best suit the format they’re being released on; a stripped back, eight-track version for vinyl and then a full-blown, widescreen take for streaming. A few days after we speak, Harry emails DIY to update us on a deal the band are in the process of striking, to buy up all the remaining 1st generation iPod Shuffles and release the record via the once-ubiquitous white USB stick. “We’ve been in touch with CEX,” he tells us. “It’s a lot more expensive than we thought…”

In most ways, the entire project is the exact opposite of what any financial or industry advisor would ever suggest a band do in 2023. But that’s also precisely why Peace - now, as ever - are a breath of oh-so-welcome fresh air; a band who’ll always pick the path that yields the most technicolour results.

“In realistic terms, it is commercial suicide,” Harry laughs, with a comedy shrug. “But I figure, we’ve got to be pure to the things that we want to do and the outcome will at least be interesting. We’ve just got to do it because it’s… fun?”

Taken from the May 2023 issue of DIY. Grab a copy of this issue now.

Tags: Peace, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the May 2023 issue of DIY, out now.

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