Quirky four-piece indie band ISLA met at Sussex University a few years ago and have been creating sweet atmospheric sounds in Brighton ever since. The young and fresh band had a massive year in 2016; they went on their first UK tour and unleashed their first EP, ‘Giants’, on the world. Matt Kos (22, lead guitar), John Mear (22, rhythm), James Southard (22, drums) and Steph Rathbone (21, bass) imparted some of their musical and Brighton-based wisdom over coffee with me.
So, how did the band come to be? The four all went to Sussex university and met musically through collaborating on different projects. “Music on campus is a really nice community and we were able to re-brand the music scene on campus,” said James.
I asked the band what their dream for their dreamy music was. “I love playing small rooms that are packed out. The dream isn’t to be absolutely massive. At the moment I think we just want to make cool stuff and keep moving forwards,” said Steph. Matt agrees. He said: “We’re quite happy in small rooms with big stages because we generally have a lot of stuff like my pedalboard or synth. A huge stage isn’t a key to where this band wants to go.” However, James made it very clear that ISLA would never turn down a big gig!
The band is currently a multitasking bunch. Steph gets the table giggling when she says the four all have “boring, grown-up jobs”. Outdoor-type Matt likes to go for walks or bike rides when he’s not at his retail job, while chilled-out John admits it’s much more likely that he’s sleeping or indulging in some Netflix time. Busy boy James works for the SU at Sussex and is always up for any kind of sport. “One of the first times I met Matt was actually because we were both at the badminton tryouts on campus, ” he said.
Every member of the band has a special place in their heart for Brighton (and who wouldn’t?). In his free time, Matt can be found adding music kit to his basket at GAK, Alfie’s or Brighton guitars, while Steph is probably spending her downtime immersing herself in literature at City Books in Hove. James keeps it casual and says he loves to just roam around Brighton and Hove on a sunny day, as cliché as that sounds.
And what about the music scene in the seaside city? Brighton is certainly a music-loving city and ripe with talent. “There’s a big live music scene and a lot of bands, which is great because you get to make so many contacts and see lots of shows, but it is pretty competitive,” said Matt.
Because ISLA has a sound unlike anything I’ve heard recently, I asked the four who they would say their biggest musical influence is. Steph is inspired by Ben Howard’s early tunes and loves the way he can create a big atmosphere; James agrees. John favours Jason Isbell, and Matt’s idols of the moment are Tame Impala. “They’re a really cool band who definitely push the boat out, which is inspiring to watch,” he said.
So, what wisdom can ISLA impart to anyone wanting to pursue a musical career? John and Steph say the key is finding the right people to make music with. Steph and John also think the key is going to lots of shows and chatting with everyone there. Steph said it’s important to give other local bands positive attention because being in the music scene can be hard, especially in a place with such a bustling music scene as Brighton. John said: “Sometimes you play so many gigs you spend more time doing that than going to other shows, but it’s good to watch and network without worrying when you’ve got to put the amps in the car”. Matt, on the other hand, puts the band’s success down to self-belief. “Artistically speaking, believe in what you are doing,” he said. “Don’t get hung up asking yourself what it’s all for, just keep playing and believing it’s what you want to be doing. Make sure you’re getting across what you want to express.”
ISLA’s ‘Giants’ EP is out now online, on Spotify, and on CD.
Click here for their official band website
Click here to find ISLA on Facebook