“I’ve tried the pea diet and the lemonade diet and the apple cider vinegar diet. I never tried the cotton wool ball diet; I think that might be a step too far”, explains Legends Of Country singer Jof Owen, stirring an Aperol Spritz as the sun sets on a pub garden in East London. “I think the pea diet was probably the easiest. You just eat peas and lemon juice for every meal. It’s actually delicious”.
He's running us through all the different fad diets and fitness dvds he’s tried in his life, along with all the other different ways he’s tried to stay in shape recently. “I really need to buy an old video player so I can do the Tanya Tucker Country Workout video,” he half jokes. “I really think that could make all the difference”.
It’s not actually all that unusual for Holler to be in the pub on a sunny weekday evening talking about losing weight with Jof Owen - regular Holler readers might already be familiar with his writing for Holler on everything from Sesame Street’s country album to the best country jogging songs and the troubled relationship between fonts and country music - only this time he’s with us to talk about his day job, which it turns out isn’t actually being a country music journalist at all.
Best known as the singer and lyricist in twee pop legends The Boy Least Likely To, his songs have been featured everywhere from Easy A to the film Juno, from Coca Cola to car adverts. With their trademark glockenspiels, fiddles and banjos, The Boy Least Likely To mixed country instrumentation with indiepop sensibilities and were one of the last wave of mid-noughties indie bands who could happily play the Pitchfork stage at SXSW and appear on KEXP at the same time as enjoying mainstream success back in the UK with appearances on Popworld, GMTV and the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, and picking up syncs for Apple iPhones along the way.
Inspired by his long-standing love of country music and memories of growing up watching Dukes Of Hazzard and listening to Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, he formed Legends Of Country in 2015 with guitarist Adam Chetwood and producer Rob Jones - best known for albums by Pictish Trail, Meilyr Jones, Rozi Plain and Charles Watson among others – with the intention of further bringing out the country side to his songwriting and making “country music for people who didn’t like country music”.
Their only other album, Talk About Country, was released almost five years ago, but now they’re back with a brand new album, a couple of new members – Sophie Moss from Girl Ray on bass and Rich Thane on guitar - and a brand new sound that moves them even further away from their indiepop roots.
“I’ve been thinking so much about what it means for me to be twee lately”, he says, telling us about the award winning Sentimental Garbage podcast he recently appeared as a guest on. “There’s a lot of crossover with country music, especially with the immediacy of the lyrics. The Boy Least Likely To always had a very strong country element running through them. We played banjos and fiddles and sang songs about going to Nashville. We just didn’t shy away from our love of ABBA and Donna Summer so it always had that side to it too. We always called ourselves a ‘Country Disco’ band. Legends Of Country was just me losing a bit of the disco I suppose, but now we’re kind of putting it back in again”.
The first taste of their new album came in the form of countrified disco dancefloor-filler ‘If That’s What It Takes’, as they edged further away from the “alt” that defined their early records and added eighties synths to their neo-traditionalism. Doubling down on their love of Dire Straits and nineties country and coming up with what they’re calling “Drivetime” country; hi-NRG country pop with a powerful eighties heartland influence pulsing through the middle of it.
They follow it up with the blistering ‘Everything’s Going South’, dropping a little bit of the hi-NRG but keeping the pace perfectly joggable with a Stonesy shuffle and screeching country licks. It’s one of the most exciting country singles we’ve heard in a long time and it puts Legends Of Country firmly in the ring with all the other misfit alt-country contenders fighting the good fight for country music right now.
“It’s a song about the depressing realities of ageing and suddenly realising that you can’t keep going out all the time and getting drunk and ordering pizza in your pants when you get home”, Owen laughs, looking down at the two full glasses of Aperol Spritz he has lined up in front of him. “It’s two-for-one between six and eight! What am I going to do? Not take advantage of a happy hour deal?!”
“I suppose it’s a song about having a midlife crisis”, he continues, “but I haven’t bought a sports car yet or run off with my pilates teacher or anything dramatic like that. I’ve always been having a crisis of some sort in my life anyway, so I guess this is just the latest one. It's a song about all the feelings that come with that sudden realisation that you’ve already lived more years than you’ve probably got left to go. I don't suppose anyone ever deals with it very well, and there are probably worse ways to get through it all than listening to Dire Straits and eating too much Häagen-Dazs ”.
‘Everything’s Going South’ is premiering exclusively at Holler below.
Legends Of Country play The Betsey Trotwood on Monday 13th June - tickets available here. Their album, Anything But Country, is released on September 16th and is available for preorder on Circus Peanut and Hen Party Pink vinyl, CD and cassette here