FOCUS: Reflekter

Raucous Nottingham upstarts put a contemporary twist on classic rock with their amalgamation of ferocious, riff-laden tracks.

The burgeoning success of grassroots British rock over the trajectory of the last few years has propelled countless acts and installed blossoming musical hubs into the hearts and minds of the charismatic and ever-engrossed aficionados of rock and its sub-genres. For a city bristling with brilliant singer-songwriters and quirky new bands of various genres, there has been somewhat of a lacklustre stream of mainstream attention to Nottingham’s rock scene.

Swiping their own unique incisions into the landscape of their beloved home city, four-piece Reflekter might well be new kids on the block, but they’re certainly not a band to underestimate. Despite only releasing three singles to date, the vivacious rock and roll quartet consisting of James Gooch (vocals, guitar), Adam Mitchell (guitar), Isaac Bloomfield (bass) and Seb McNish (drums) sold-out their prestigious October headline date at The Bodega in a matter of days, whilst their performance at Dot to Dot Festival earlier in May was one of the most talked about moments of the event.

Reclining back at the band’s recording studio, Gooch explains how the band, whilst seemingly a new entity for many, have actually been together for some time now. ‘I’ve known Seb and Isaac for a while now and we’ve been in projects with other bands before in the past and we just decided that we wanted to do something new, something fresh. We were looking for a lead guitarist and I met Adam in a bar funnily enough and it sort of just happened from there really,’ he explains. ‘[Adam] came down to a couple of rehearsals and that was it, we just clicked straight away. It was quite an easy process to be fair luckily. We got on straight away and we’re all into the same music.’

"We’re like brothers really; there can be a bit of friction at times but again it’s healthy. You wouldn’t want three other yes men just nodding along."

Whilst Gooch has started to make himself comfortable as commander-in-chief of Reflekter, the singer has been integrated with the Nottingham music scene for years. Despite being in projects before, the transition over to Reflekter was a relatively pain-free experience for the frontman. ‘It’s never the easiest thing because everyone wants to put their own sort of stamp on things, but I think we were all wanting to do the same thing which was pretty good. We all had the same idea that we wanted to do something fresh and really make a good go at it.’

The jaunty frontman’s musical journey began early on in life and traversed a multitude of legendary influences with the help of his parents. ‘I started on the piano, that was the first thing that got me into music, then picked up the guitar and sort of forgot about the piano for a bit! I was like ‘wow this looks cooler!’ My mum and dad were the ones that sort of sat me down in front of a piano one day and that was that. They definitely drove my first adventure into music. I definitely didn’t enjoy the piano to start with, I can tell you it’s hard.’ The singer’s desire for musical enlightenment at an early age was clear to see, but he later explains how his parents’ music tastes made him a better songwriter. ‘Springsteen I listened to growing up from my mum,’ he explains. ‘My dad listened to a lot of Van Morrison, people like that. They were great songwriters which obviously helped. Lyrics are something I pride myself on. That’s a lot of the time what I’m listening for in songs - the words.’

"...any sort of outlet that you can give people through music is a win."

For Reflekter as a band, Gooch’s love of Springsteen and Van Morrison helped structure the multi-dimensional sound that the four-piece have already crafted. ‘A lot of our influences are retro, 60s and 70s bands,’ Gooch states. ‘We wanted to take that but put a modern spin on it and do something that’s hopefully a bit different.’ However, whilst classic artists have provided a vast influence on Reflekter’s sound, they still search for influences in the modern music industry. ‘Going with modern and current bands I guess Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Black Keys that kind of thing, but we’re also keeping heritage to the bands we all love from the sixties and seventies.’

The ethereal blend of music history from the 1960s to the modern day permeates Reflekter’s audience-catching sound. Debut single Caught in a Storm possesses an inscrutable hive of energy that feels like it could erupt at any moment. From the snarling wails of the track’s opening lines, a heightened expectation builds immensely before the band go on the offensive. A track ready for both sweaty venues and festival main stages, Caught in a Storm carries a desirability in the confrontational, swaggering vocals of James Gooch and contains an incredulous concoction of grassroots rock and roll alongside the stadium-soaring sounds of Oasis at their world-conquering heights.

Speaking of the track, Gooch states ‘Caught in a Storm is actually a song I wrote years ago. I think I was only about sixteen or seventeen and it’s just sort of stuck around. It’s a completely new version now than what it was but all the words are the same so I just took the words and we came up with that. I think I was pretty much driving home in a storm! It’s weird how songs can sort of just come from something as simple as that.’ Asked about the rawness of his vocal delivery, Gooch seems eager to tap into the mood of a disheartened and anxious nation. ‘I think there’s a lot of angst in young people at the moment and I think that sort of music can really give an outlet for that sort of anger I suppose,’ he confesses.

For a developing band, the quality of the two tracks currently available to listen to is a testament to Reflekter’s cohesiveness as a unit. Addressing their relationship, Gooch relays ‘It’s pretty great to be honest. Every band has their friction because we’re on top of each other all of the time and that can be hard but no, we all get on great. We’re like brothers really; there can be a bit of friction at times but again it’s healthy. You wouldn’t want three other yes men just nodding along.’

"Having that sense of longevity has been the main aim for me. Finding something that has legs and can be a long-term career for us all."

Whilst there’s an opaque camaraderie to their dynamic, the lyrical process for Reflekter has always been a solo mission for its leader. ‘That’s the way I’ve sort of grown up [writing lyrics], on my own I think,’ Gooch says. ‘Certainly most of the words come from me, I write a lot of the lyrics but I sort of bring the bare bones of a song into practice or whatever and then we put it through a bit of a machine to turn it into a Reflekter sound.’ The singer goes on to say how the older influences for the band have helped him as a frontman. ‘A lot of the frontmen in those decades were great which is something I always take a look on, and not imitate but try and take something from each individual. I wouldn’t say I could do the moves but Mick Jagger is always a great one to watch. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan as well so I listen to a lot of his music. I’d say he certainly influences me more on the songwriting side of things. He can’t put a foot wrong in my eyes to be honest.’

The likes of Jagger and Springsteen are certainly visible influences on the young singer, but it’s also clear to see that Gooch is an exceptional worker when he’s in the writing mood and seems to be following a path to reach a greater audience. ‘I write words pretty much every day, whether they actually turn into songs or not is a different case,’ he says. ‘I just try and pick out words and phrases if I’m in a place that inspires me or even from a conversation with someone that I’ve just met, they might have said something. Words and phrases sometimes just turn into songs I guess. I definitely hope that we could speak to young people through songs. I do feel that young people feel a bit mistreated and neglected and so any sort of outlet that you can give people through music is a win.’

If reaching the hearts and minds of a disenfranchised youth population was the goal, then second single Alright puts the Nottingham band firmly on the right path. Strongly reminiscent of Leicester heroes Kasabian, the single prowls dangerously into a sonically charged new dimension with a feral, quivering riff. Whilst Reflekter look to take influences from legends of the genre, their sound remains set firmly in the modern day, and the frightening prospect is that there feels like there’s even greater room for improvement.

"I think there’s a lot of angst in young people at the moment and I think that sort of music can really give an outlet for that sort of anger I suppose."

Addressing the single, Gooch says ‘I think I sort of came in with it pretty much written already and it was just sort of a case that the other guys write the guitar parts and the drums. Alright was one of the newer ones that I had brought in so it was a bit more band-orientated.’ Speaking of the modern-focused approach to recording, the singer also says ‘Again we were trying to be a bit more modern with that one rather than your sort of Oasis-based stuff. We tried to be a bit more modern, there’s more synths on that and stuff like that.’

With two shimmering singles already picking up fans from across the region, Reflekter’s statement of intent for the future was cemented when latest single 75 Trips was released a short time ago. Fitted with a barnstorming chorus, the blues-rock stomper matches the confrontational bravado laid down by the likes of Liam Gallagher, DMA’s and Barns Courtney when performed live and with a music video celebrating the city of Nottingham, the band have confirmed themselves as local heroes ready for the big time

Given the hype that Reflekter have amassed in Nottingham and further afield in recent months, we ask the singer what he thinks the current status of British rock music is at the moment. ‘It’s a tricky one because I do feel like there are people waiting for something big,’ he offers. ‘I feel like people jump on a lot of bands early and there’s a lot of hype around a lot of bands and it never really reaches the hype that I think people are actually waiting for. Guitar music is coming back around as it always does so it will be interesting to see. There’s starting to be a resurgence again, there’s more of it on the radio again and on the mainstream stations and stuff so we’ve just got to see which bands lead the surge I guess.’

Despite the current hype, the band have very moderate expectations for the rest of the year, focusing on building a bigger fan base and getting more gig mileage. Having to balance jobs as well as commitments to the band, each member has seemingly learnt a great deal over the last six months as Gooch explains ‘I think this time it feels a bit more mature and like we’ve got to grips with things, not just with the writing but with the sound as well. Having that sense of longevity has been the main aim for me. Finding something that has legs and can be a long-term career for us all.’

Having completed their first headline tour, Reflekter are a smouldering cauldron of energy. The new kids on the block are already taking Nottingham by storm, their sold-out Bodega show managing to confirm their prowess despite technical issues, and now they look ready to conquer lands afar. To say they are one of Nottingham’s hottest new prospects might be a bit of an understatement now, given the transcendent nature to their raucous rock and roll rollercoaster, which acts almost as a tale of rock history. With months still to go to consolidate their grip on the city’s music scene, the rising four-piece look set to end 2019 on a momentous high, pushing into the new year as one of the country’s most exciting new prospects.