Jacob Lovatt has been a pioneering figure within the Glasgow music scene for some of it’s most important and memorable years. He emerged in the early 2000’s with Uncle John and Whitelock, a raw, rabid hybrid of post-punk-horror, recalling bands like Gallon Drunk, The Birthday Party and The City and Crime Solution.
After leaving Uncle John, he started Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, a vessel for him, and his band which has since cemented his status as the man responsible for the genre ‘doom-wop’, even if that term was initially coined as something of a piss-take. Since the band’s inception, they’ve managed to release three of the most gloriously gloomy albums this country’s ever witnessed. As we discuss, it’s a frustrating and slow process, but worth it for those of us seeking light from the darkness.
In this warm and funny interview with Jacob Lovatt, we discuss the difficulties of making the most from the underground, the restrictions that artists like he and his band faces, being creative whilst managing a family life, the comedy in the sadness of the tunes, and subsequent ‘trenches’ he goes through to make such angelic music.
Let us bathe in the joy and not the misery.
Jacob, you released ‘The Moon. The Hare. The Drone’ record back in 2018, and you dropped the ‘Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ from the main credits, if not in the band makeup – Why was that?
I suppose that personnel shifts had occurred within the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers, somewhere and another. With that album I went to the band said I thought of dropping it. It was more for guys in the media, or guys like yourself, it was just a bloody mouthful. I thought I’ll just do you guys a favour. I thought ‘lets just cut that’. It was a bit of a laugh when I came up with idea of calling the band that. It was really about ‘how big a name can you get away with?’. I wasn’t even thinking it was gonna be a recording band initially, that wasn’t really even on the agenda – I was just trying to find a vessel that I could vent stuff I was writing after leaving Uncle John and Whitelock.
In doing so, move more towards being a solo artist?
There was a little move in that direction, I suppose lyrically and mood wise. I was thinking this is what I do, it’s who I am, and since Uncle John it has been a vessel for me venting my creative, angry or whatever outlook.
What’s the future for the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers?
The way the band works, on the last album, is kind of the way it’s working now. Just after we finished ‘The Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, guys in the band were all just becoming fathers, so that had a big impact on what we were doing musically. You just don’t have time and if you do then you’re not doing your dad job properly. Bringing up kids and being in bands at the same time is difficult, unless you’re making loads of money, but we’re not. At some point we’ll get together. On the last album, I’d booked a studio for 11 days with some ideas. I know Chad (guitarist) had a few ideas and we went into the studio and it was whether we’d come out with an album, or one song, we just didn’t know. It was the first time I’d ever done that and it was a really nice process. That’s probably how things will work in the future. We don’t tour, we don’t do anything like proper bands do, cos no-one asks us to play gigs!
And is that different from your approach when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?
It’s not the same world when I was in Uncle John and Whitelock. People watch what you do in terms of your social media presence, your Youtube output, your… ‘whatever else it might be’. Everyone’s got a job, and everyone’s doing that and music at the same time – and we’re not full-time artists where we can just put all out energies into that. But that was always the way it was gonna be after Uncle John and Whitelock, for me. I’d made that decision. I wasn’t gonna be ploughing into full-time musicianship and going down that route. I wasn’t willing to put my neck on the line, really, thats why its became more about the me writing, trying to come up with songs or at least enough of the songs to to take to the band.
These days you’re now living in St Andrews?
I grew up in Dundee, so it’s strange back to be here, especially after spending 12 years in Glasgow. I feel like I’m kind of haunting myself. I keep kind of almost bumping into an 18-year-old version of me. Although things have not really changed that much. I try really hard to do some writing and get some new stuff on the go, that’s the main thing at the moment. The rest is all looking after kids, wiping arses, changing nappies, walking dogs, doing the washing.
How does living away from Glasgow, the surroundings, affect your songwriting?
I knew it would stay dark but when I first moved north of Aberfoyle, I thought it’s all gonna go towards folk music, that it would become all about the woods and the hills. I was almost expecting that to come instantly, but it didn’t happen. Really, it wasn’t until the last Jacob Yates album where it started to come through [the woods and the hills]. It slowly seeps back through into you. I grew up in England when I was a kid, in a small village and the woods and fields was always around but it’s only just come into my writing now, really.
Did you ever consider chucking everything and just focusing on music?
I was never in a position where I thought this could work full-time. We’ve never had a label say ‘Hey, we’re gonna give you an advance’. At the height of Uncle John and Whitelock, there was a few larger labels that sniffed about. But even then, eventually they were like ‘nah we’re not gonna go with that, that’s not gonna happen’. It has crossed my mind. When I was walking away from Uncle John and Whitlock I was like ‘well if I’m gonna stay it’s gonna have to be full-on, mad type thing’, and I just didn’t wanna go ‘full-mad’. I didn’t think it would be good for me and I didn’t think it would be good for anyone else.
It’s a wee bit frustrating for ‘followers’ of your music having to wait such a long time in between albums…
It’s a tough thing for the guy trying to write them! Time, money, availability… it’s down to that. Each time I finish I then need to find someone to put the thing out. It’s enough of a big thing to go and record an album, but who’s gonna put it out?!
How do you go about getting these records out?
With the ‘Hare. The Moon. The Drone’, I already had that album in the bag. We’d sent some emails out to a few folk, Chemical Underground, a few other Glasgow labels, and got nothing back from anyone. Then, I’d thought about Keith from Optimo, who I’d known for ages. I knew they’d loved Uncle John and Whitelock and I just was like ‘do you, would you, put a record out by me?’ and he was like, ‘dude I’d put anything out by you’. So we met, chatted a bit and he said ‘look, we’re a dance label, and this is something we wouldn’t do normally, we can’t promote you… we don’t have money to put into the project beyond pressing them up’.
Equally, I sat opposite and said ‘well, I’m not going to tour it and or do any gigs really, so I won’t be doing much around marketing it’ etc. We both laughed and he said ‘Ok, cool, lets do it.’ Let’s face it, no ones making any money off of what I do. I’m not and nobody else is.
Presumably the same when you were in Uncle John and Whitelock?
We shifted quite a lot of units but we put a lot of work into that. We sorted out the distribution and we gigged a lot so people were interested and at every gig we’d be selling records. I’m not doing that as much now, or nowhere near what I was doing with Uncle John and Whitelock, it’s just not viable.
I guess real life must get in the way…
Real life has to get in the way, you can’t ‘not’ go to work, pick your kids up from school, and the rest of it, you know. Unless a tour pays more than I’m earning, then it’s not gonna work, and then with that I’m gonna be away from my family and that makes me feel shit too, so it’s a double edged sword. But I would desperately love someone to say ‘Hey, let’s go and tour’. I’d love to be playing live music evert night of the week, ofcourse I would. There’s nothing I like more than standing in front of my band and going ‘this is amazing’. Thats what i get the biggest hit out of.
Let me be one of many to say the output is still brilliant…
It’s nice of you to stay that. I’m very critical of what I do and I always go back and think ‘I could have done that, maybe I should have done this’, and thats of course what you do. It’s good to be like that, I’m not really that satisfied. I’m proud of what I’ve done but I’m always constantly thinking ‘well, maybe I could try this or do that in a different way’. I dunno where the new stuff will go.
Your music, lyrics etc are often quite dark, a huge attraction for myself. You seem a pessimistic sort… is that fair?
*Laughs* Pessimistic maybe. Do I think the worlds doomed? Yeah I guess I do think that, but every time I say that I laugh, that’s the way I look at it. You have to laugh these things, or not take them with any ounce of seriousness. You have to be able to look at the funny side of things. The kind of music that I love is quite often like that too. I think thats just what comes out, I’m trying to sort of emote… I’m trying to write songs that I’d like, where I’d try to get some kind of emotional content across and some emotional cross back from the audience. I’m totally aware of that, that’s something that I thrive on. I want people to feel sad, happy, angry or confused, or bemused. But I don’t want people to walk away thinking ‘God lets go and end it all’.
How about your own metal health – how does that make it’s way into the music? if you don’t mind me asking…
I definitely suffer from darker trenches that I go through and I have issues that I have to deal with. I’m feeling on the up at the moment a bit – sometimes I feel very despondent and difficult. I don’t mind you asking that. It’s good to talk about these things. It’s nice cos you can kind of make these things autobiographical if you want or you can characterise it in a way thats a narrative about something else, so that’s a nice way of ‘sort of’ dealing with it. Without it I’m defiantly a poorer person. If I’m not addressing it it I defiantly suffer for it.
“Had to tell the truth, my lover had upped and gone – hanged himself in the woods with a dog looking on.”
– “Bits of Glass’ from the ‘Goths’ album. I’m slightly obsessed with that song and that line, it’s bleak to the point of poignant.
It’s funny cos theres the myth around it and it being real even and whether that’s true or not, I’ll leave that to the listener. It comes from when you drive along roads you must see bunches of flowers rotting by the roadside, I know a place where I see this bunch of flowers, and it evokes the story and it takes me to place. It does what the song says, it’s just about a couple that break up. She crashes when she leaves and it’s the aftermath of that, and how you deal with guilt, or not *laughing*.
What about the writing of songs like these, how does it work for you?
Some things like that will trigger a narrative, or I’ll piece together a story from that, but it might just be as simple as seeing a bunch of flowers on the side of the road, or an abandoned car on the way to work. That’s where ‘Bits of Glass’ came from. Other things like ‘Care Home’ (From ‘Goths’) will just be things out of the papers, about… you know, the state of the world, and Jimmy Saville and all the rest of it. There’s lots of different triggers, there’s lots of areas, things from my childhood, stories or myths that I’ve read or heard about, it comes from all over the place. It’s great!
The ‘Goths’ album was particularly dark. Can you tell me about that?
On ‘Goths’, all those songs were little kind of gothic/ horror. Yeah, it was a pretty dark album *laughs*. The idea was to make it be so dark that it’s just pitch black. Then there’s a little tiny bit of light that you see creeping underneath the door, maybe that’s a good or bad thing, cos who knows what’s out there. Good friends of mine listened to that record were either like ‘that’s rubbish’, or, ‘it’s too bleak, it’s too down, man, I can’t take it!’
With songs like ‘The Heart’. The line “Five hundred years ago we were cutting off peoples heads, look how far we’ve come, we’re still cutting off people’s heads… burning babies as witches..”. The song is massively bleak, but it has that punchline at the start so there’s instant laughs. But then there’s the line ‘We’re burning babies as witches’, which people are doing right now, burning their kids cos their possessed. While you’re still laughing, you hear that, so then your like these people are just sick, what’s wrong wit these people!?
I do like that. I love lyrics.
How has your approach to writing changed over the years, the influences?
You definitely mature as you go. Sometimes it becomes not far off being ‘automatic’. For me, it can be very much like a ‘third hand’ writing it. I found a song the other day, I was just going through some lyric books and looking at some notes and I found something. I can’t remember writing it, and it cant have been that long ago. It’s of the ilk of what I’m doing at the moment, and I’d just stuffed it in my notebook and clearly hadn’t thought about it since. But when I found it I thought, ‘this is great’! There are times when you are just automatically writing, which is a nice thing to have.
With Uncle John and Whitelock, it was very Marijuana based. A lot of creativity comes out of that but a lot of time you’re just rubbing your head and not really doing anything. So that’s why the lyrical content has matured over time, because I’m not doing that anymore. You just get better at writing just as you go.
In terms of the influence and where things are coming from, It’s not really changed massively from Uncle John and Whitelock, from what I look at and where I take inspiration from. I think the rural side of me, the guy thats sitting on a beach and watching his dog run around, I’m noticing more organic things coming through and theres more of nature of things coming through, it’s getting a bit more Ted Hughes. I’ve been working with a filmmaker called Henry Coombes and he’s interested in the audience and what they’re doing while I’m singing these songs. So while I’m talking about really dark subjects, it’s looking at why are people hugging each other and laughing or why is a boyfriend or girlfriend kissing in the background. I’m never a member of the audience so I don’t really know, it’s an interesting thing to look at. I don’t get to see it from the stage, cos I should be lost in the moment or I should be lost in the moment otherwise it’s a shit gig.
Have you ever considered just publishing poetry?
The project that I’m looking at, at the moment, the filmmaker (Henry Coombes), there was an idea to pull together a documentary around me and the songwriting, the creative process, live performance, and then looking at the reasons of what I write about, the humour, the darkness, the bleakness. We tried to get some funding together to try and expand on that but funding didn’t come through, which was a bummer. So I started to think about trying to do a digital book of poetry and lyrics, but also within that there would be live performance and music. Maybe that would be going back to my songwriting back to when I started until now, which is a pretty vast expanse.
You mentioned the influence of drugs previously, albeit ‘lighter’ ones like Marijuana, and you have written about it a lot in your music – was that ever a possibility for you?
You have to check yourself sometimes. I could have gone down that route and imploded and have done nothing. I was lucky to find a beautiful amazing person in my life who’s now my wife so that totally pulls you through these sort of things, and you go. Thank God for that.
Has there every been a chance of Uncle John and Whitelock coming back together for a tour?
I wouldn’t know, but I would never say no to it. It would be a good laugh, with those songs…
Do you still listen to that band?
I might stick ‘Crowley’ on sometimes, listening to that big booming base. I enjoy that, I have very fond memories. Good times were had with that band but hopefully that’s enough. Maybe I’ll be to be sitting in a chair, in a care home one day, thinking about that time…
Besides music or family life, what are your current passions?
Wandering with my dog on the beach. Like Lemmy used to say, ‘I’m happiest wandering in the fields with my dog’. I am most happy doing that sort of thing, outside of the family, which is amazing and wonderful, but it’s nice to spend some time by yourself.
Jacob, thank you.