When Nightbus, a new Manchester-based trio made up of Olive Rees, Zac Melrose and Jake Cottier, play the city’s famous Band On The Wall venue in the bohemian Northern Quarter in February, they deliver with the experience of a band well beyond their years. As they take to the stage to play their much-hyped debut single ‘Way Past Three’, they have a gripped audience in the palm of their hands; whispers among the crowd compare them to Joy Division and The xx.
“Even when our music is quite dance-y, it’s still got this quite melancholic kind of darkness to it, Rees – the band’s vocalist, guitarist and synth player – says, describing the band’s sound a day earlier from their rehearsal space in Stockport. Bassist Melrose goes a step further. “We have this really cheesy and corny phrase to describe it,” he giggles, sandwiched between his two bandmates on their comfy sofa. “It’s like electronic post-punk goth chic,” he says while the other two laugh.
“I think older listeners of Nightbus will instantly hear Joy Division and New Order in our work,” he continues, “but there’s a modern twist on it. From an early age, I was obsessed with bands like The xx and Massive Attack. But we also have a lot of mutual ground with bands like The Murder Capital and Fontaines D.C. The Irish scene is really quite inspiring for us all right now. And I think you carry your influences on your sleeve, don’t you?”
While such bands may be their musical touchstones, Nightbus have a distinct sound of their own. It’s one that captures the eerie late-night space between leaving the dancefloor and returning home as the glamour of a night out clashes with the grittiness of inner-city streets. Indeed, the name of the band came from Melrose’s nightly journey home after his stint working at a busy nightclub. “I was spending all my time in this chaotic nightclub environment, and the quiet moments were the night bus to and from work. I started to think that I wanted to find music that could be played in that environment, on the dancefloor, but also on the night bus home.”
Both Rees and Melrose studied together in Manchester, while multi-instrumentalist Cottier, who plays guitar and decks (he also produces their music), knew Melrose from their teenage years. Cottier and Melrose started tinkering on songs together last summer and, later, asked Rees if she’d like to join them. Soon, all three were writing together and Nightbus was born. The group quickly amassed dozens of tracks. “Enough for an album, easily,” Rees reveals.
Once they had enough songs in their arsenal, Rees and Melrose put their business of music degrees to use, collated DIY press packs and started sending out demos to labels. Within a few weeks, they were signed. “The label just came knocking and we were ready for it to go at that point,” Cottier says. “It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but we’re ready for it to all kick off now.”
They’re planning to release a group of four songs, to begin with, something Cottier says are like “chapters of a short story”. Rees adds that, while the chapters are linked together by the theme of the late-night dancefloor, the narrative isn’t the positive one you might normally associate with the theme. “We document what people get up to late at night, which is, a lot of the time, reckless and a little bit chaotic. We’re not writing songs about how fun parties are; we’re a bit of a reality check to that. We write about the harsh realities of nights out,” she explains.
According to Melrose, the first song, ‘Way Past Three’, is about “a character arriving with a traditional mindset” about what they want to get out of the night. The new single ‘Mirrors’ is about that same character’s ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ part of the evening when dreams collide with reality. With a New Order-like bassline and pulpy lead guitars, they reflect on their behaviour against a backdrop of moonlight hitting cheap neon signs. “The last single is like the conclusion of the short story and it’s quite bleak,” Melrose says. “It’s about the worrying reality of someone trying to get home from a night out, the worrying aspect of trying to stay safe and the grim reality of not being able to do so, building on what happens in earlier songs.”
Existential crisis is another theme of Nightbus’ music, fuelled by “the political state the country is in”, as Rees puts it. She continues: “It’s just all the things young people think about. I think about whether I want kids or not because I’m not sure if there’s actually going to be a functioning world for them to live in. Some of us are working three jobs because it’s impossible to have a healthy work-life balance because of the cost of living crisis. The songs aren’t really about politics, but the state of the world contributes to the bleak mood of some of them.” Melrose adds that a lot of their songs will relate to young people enduring similar feelings right now: “Everyone can relate to the things we’re writing about, and there’s a lot of beauty in that.”
Rees says they feel “lucky” they have music as an escape from their current jobs, working in various bars around Manchester. “I mean, if I didn’t have music, I would be absolutely lost,” she says while the others nod in agreement. “We’ve had enough of balancing work alongside this, though,” Cottier adds, admitting it’s a challenge to write and make music around other work. “We would like to do this full-time now.”
“I would love to not have to work behind the bar and endure drunk men anymore,” Rees justifies for herself. “Just straight up: I’m sick of it.”
One thing the guitarist, singer and synth player doesn’t want to do, though, is make their songs all about her being a female musician. “I studied gender inequality for years and I just want to normalise that I’m a female working in a male-dominated genre,” she says. “I’m always an advocate for women but in my head, I’m writing from a lot of different perspectives: male and female ones. It’s just me singing it. That shouldn’t be a big deal. The more [women] there are [in music], the easier that normalisation will be.”
As night falls, the band are about to start writing again. It’s the night, they say, where their best songs come from. “I do thrive in misery a bit more when I’m writing, so when it’s dark, like now, we certainly tap into that a lot more easily,” Rees explains. “But our music has a darkness to it; our best music comes out of bleak places.”
Nightbus’ new single ‘Mirrors’ is out now via So Young Records