Photos: Mike Massaro

“If we are divisive, it’s more a reflection on the sort of people who are divided, rather than us because we’re not setting out to do that. We’re not setting out to piss anyone off for the sake of it,” James, one sixth of avant-garde outfit HMLTD, states. Yet they certainly don’t shy away from rumour, and a wealth of polarising opinions surrounds them. “We do have a lot of great rumours. We always encourage them, no matter what they are,” he emphasises, “some of it’s got basis in truth, and some of it hasn’t”.

Formerly known as Happy Meal Ltd, HMLTD (‘humiliated’ minus the vowels in case you were wondering) have gained renown for their idiosyncratic, performative essence: “It’s quite funny that we’ve got this far on just showmanship,” James says, “I think at the moment the songs we play live are not really songs in a way and the live shows are complete showmanship.” HMLTD are just back from working on their debut album in LA and a somewhat jet-lagged James explains, “In terms of our upcoming album, none of the songs we play live are going to be on it. It’s going to be a whole new thing and that is where musicianship really comes into it. People are going to see ‘oh actually they do have songs’.” Their current repertoire of tracks comprises a distinct eclecticism; “They really do use a lot of different genres,” James agrees. “I think it’s because these days with Spotify and streaming you don’t really listen to one genre anymore, or one artist because everything’s kind of on a level and on a plate for you. So naturally everyone is into more genres because everyone’s listening to a really wide variety of things, so that’s kind of reflected in our music,” he muses, before adding, “It’s not something we consciously do, we don’t consciously try and mix genres, it just kind of comes out that way. It helps that we have a lot of people writing as well, it isn’t just one person writing so you get everyone’s sort of individual tastes come through”.

“We do have a lot of great rumours. We always encourage them, no matter what they are.”

HMLTD have a reputation for fabricating immersive live shows, delivering a shock to the senses in every way possible. “We always collaborate with people. We never try and do it all ourselves because it would be ridiculous to do that and there’re so many people who are more talented at things than we are.” James details, “for the set design we work with a group called Brockenhurst and Sons. We’ll work with them and come up with a concept and then we’ll give them a budget and be like just run wild. Then on the day we’ll all go in and decorate it together.” Discussing current projects, he reveals “at the moment we’re working on another secret show in February and on the theme for that, which is looking to be infancy; like a babies kind of theme so that will be fun.”

“People are going to see ‘oh actually they do have songs’.”

Their visual aesthetic is undeniably as important as their sound. On the band’s distinctive, often androgynous style, “We’ve kind of always dressed like that,” James tells me, “it wasn’t a conscious choice when we joined the band to be like okay now we’re going to dress like this, but we do have a lot of influences.” London’s fashion scene has undoubtedly impacted them since the band’s genesis, something James emphasises. “We’ve been influenced a lot by people we’ve collaborated with. Charles Jeffery for example, we’ve worked with him in the past and he’s really rubbed off on us. I think there’s a wonderful collection of designers in London at the moment, it feels really fresh and I think inevitably we want to work with that and to sort of bring that out,” further explaining, “this is something we always wanted to do, we’re all into fashion personally. With Charles he reached out after seeing us live. And we ended up, with his previous collection, doing a showcase in Somerset House. He painted us all in different colours, head to toe, and then we were playing a song surrounding this big card sculpture but it was like the side of a building – it was really fantastic – done by Ed Curtis. So that was a really bizarre but great thing to do”.

“We’ve been influenced a lot by people we’ve collaborated with…”

If there were no practical limitations on what HMLTD could create, James assuredly answers that “it would attack every single sense. It would be like virtual reality, ideally. And at some point we will, as technology gets more advanced, put on virtual reality concerts because it will be so much easier and cheaper. But the ideal concert for me,” he envisages, “would be where it really just takes you out, you’re walking down the street and it just takes you into this completely different world where you can’t even know it’s a gig anymore. That’s the dream. We’ve not done that obviously, because it’s kind of impossible but with virtual reality making leaps and strides right now maybe in a couple of years it will be possible.” And knowing HMLTD, that prospect is as terrifying as it is thrilling.

HMLTD play The Station on 17th February, presented by Colston Hall. Their debut album is due this year.