Artists and Bands

With Bloc Party on hiatus, Gordon Moakes is now focusing his energy on Young Legionnaire. Here he talks new music, being a drink and playing with Broken Social Scene

Young Legionnaire was started by Gordon Moakes (formerly of Bloc Party) and Paul Mullen (formerly of The Automatic/Yourcodenameis:milo) who met when they worked on a track called “Wait a Minute” for Milo’s collaboration album, Print Is Dead. Two years later, Young Legionnaire formed, having picked up drummer Dean Pearson along the way.

The band released a single on Holy Roar Records in August, which featured two songs, “Colossus” and “Iron Dream,” and their first full-length album is expected to come out in February or March of 2011 on Witchita.

The songs off the single are truly epic alt rock masterpieces. There is a calculated kind of rawness present. Young Legionnaire’s music may be seen as new post-hardcore, on account of the softer, sweeter moments juxtaposed with the heavier ’90s-esque sounds. After Gordon Moakes mentioned the Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement, two of my favourite bands of the past, it made sense that Young Legionnaire is responsible for the best new music I’ve heard in ages.

YL’s tracks feature energetic riffs and lots of reverb. The songs are less dark than Yourcodenameis:Milo tracks and though they remain heavy, they are also entirely catchy. There is a certain velocity that I equate both with Bloc Party and with the last Milo album. This project is drastically different from both Moakes’ and Mullen’s more mainstream projects and the outcome is refreshing, unexpected and in a lot of ways, in my opinion, far more progressive.

The unique Milo-esque guitar work of Paul Mullen is present in YL, as are Moakes’ powerful bass lines and Mullen’s signature vocals, which are equally as pleasant when screaming as when softly singing melodies. Simply put, Young Legionnaire’s sound is explosive, almost painfully tight alt rock with the perfect balance of melody and distortion.

“Colossus” is colossal. It starts off with clean, pared down guitarwork. Then rolling drums and heavy riffs enter behind Paul Mullen’s vocals. This song reminds me a bit of some of the tracks on Milo’s last album, They Came From the Sun, but it has its own progressive sound, which is slightly reminiscent of Sunny Day Real Estate thanks to shifting time signatures and waves of guitar. The outtro is slightly Thursday-esque, but less simplified and more experimental in terms of juxtaposed elements.

“Iron dream” is a charged anthem, pared down and yet more upbeat than “Colossus.” It has a great sense of forward momentum, like all the best Bloc Party and Milo tracks, and features haunting vocals with an echo effect that gives a subtly electronic feel to the song.

Perhaps my favourite song that I’ve heard so far is Young Legionnaire’s track, “Numbers” from August’s BBC Radio 1 live session. Another catchy song, “Numbers” features all the aggressive crunch, force and sustained guitar elements of Milo, yet presents them in a way that is more palatable for the average listener. As always with YL, the solos are epic and electric, but never overdone.

Gordon Moakes recently took time to talk more about YL.

Q: The rocking sound on this album is fresh, unique, less polished and more driven and post hardcore-esque than your other projects – How have you gone about recording, producing and promoting your music? What are the pros and cons of this approach vs. with your other projects (The Automatic and Bloc Party)?

A: The first couple of songs we put down (“Colossus” and “Iron Dream”) were originally intended as demos, but had a great feel, so we just spent a bit of time mixing them for the single. They were recorded pretty cheaply at a studio near where we live in North London called Gun Factory. I think we wanted to capture more or less a snapshot of the energy and power that we’re capable of. The idea was always to record them ‘properly’ at some point, but it hasn’t seemed necessary in this case. With the band being a three-piece, and the initial idea being kind of a stripped-down approach, it definitely fits what we’re trying to do.

Q:  How would you describe your music to prospective listeners and who do you hope to reach, or think you might appeal to?

A: Hmm. We describe it as noise really, but the hope is that it’s noise that will chime with some people. On our introspective days we just get a thrill out of making a racket in a room, but there are days where I look at what’s playing on TV and I think there’s such a dearth of good rock music out there that we can clean up if we play our cards right!

Q: What does this project allow you to do that you were unable to in your other bands?

A: For me, just write and play some really heavy riffs. I mean, I listen to things like Converge at home and while we’ll never be that heavy, it’s a thrill trying to find and play riffs that are just that fat and heavy. For Paul, I imagine it’s a chance to bridge the gap between the Automatic and Milo, i.e. actually be a frontman and write a lot of the top lines and guitar parts, but in a less-is-more set-up. A three-piece is unique thing: you’ve got a bass line, a guitar line and a vocal, maybe two vocals to work with. It’s liberating in a way and as we’ve gone on we’ve started to see more and more musical possibilities.

Q: How has YL been received by live audiences and internet/radio listeners?

A: Good. Like a good new band more than anything else. Of course people are always curious about how this fits in with other things you’ve done, but mostly when we get in front of people they’re responding to what they hear on the spot. And that reaction’s been really good.

Q: What bands have influenced YL? Has shared love for any music contributed to your sound and brought the band members together?

A: Lots of things. The classic alt rock bands for people of our age – Smashing Pumpkins, Pavement and so on. Some really heavy bands like Botch, who I love. Husker Du. But it would disingenuous to discount the music we’ve made before. That’s always informing where you go. You’re trying not to repeat yourself.

Q: What are your future plans? Album release? More touring?

A: We’ve just finished recording the album, which was a big moment for us. It’s great to be able to plan around that. We’re about to do the current Pulled Apart By Horses tour and yeah, there’ll be a more of that next year.

Q: How much time do you have to invest in this side project? Do you see YL as a ‘vacation’ or a long-term commitment?

A: It’s the main focus right now, although I have two children under three who have been taking up the lion’s share of my attention this year. We wanted to make a record [and] after that you just follow where it goes.

Q: What are your thoughts on modern indie rock? How do you hope to alter/contribute to it?

A: Well, there are still pockets of it to get excited about, but of course a lot of dross. But it was ever the case, certainly when I started out, which was about nine years ago. You make music because you think you’ve got something to say that other bands are just missing. It’s a terrible time to start a band in a way, but those times are often precisely the times you need a great band to be there.

Q: If Young Legionnaire was a drink, what drink would it be?

A: Erm, probably ginger beer with a kick of something very strong in it, like tequila.

Q:  If there was any band you could play with, dead or alive, who would it be?

A: I’ve always wanted to be in Broken Social Scene. I love the band and the guys in the band. I’ve played songs on stage with them a couple of times and it’s the best fun ever.

Q: I am thrilled about YL, but I still have to ask – do you think Yourcodenameis:milo or Bloc Party will ever reunite and make new music?

A: I can’t speak for Milo, although I imagine when the stars align they’ll play again at some point. Bloc Party are technically on hiatus and the expectation is we’ll reconvene at some point, but none of us know yet when that’ll be.

For all the latest on Young Legionnaire: