Meet Houseplant, a King’s based four-piece indie band
‘We get to look back and say, we weren’t just studying during uni, we were having fun making music too’
In October 2020, King’s based indie band Houseplant released their self-titled debut EP, which has since racked up a couple thousand plays. Houseplant comprises of Callum McAfee, a third-year Physics student on vocals and bass, Ryan Garvey, a third-year Computer Science student playing lead guitar and handling production, Carlos Barredo, a third-year Physics student playing drums, and Isaac Brannick, a third-year IP & Sociology City student playing rhythm guitar.
The King’s Tab spoke to members of Houseplant about balancing music alongside university, their vision for the band’s future, and more.
How did the band come into being?
“Isaac and I knew each other from back home in York, and we had a band back there. So when we both came to university, we figured we’d start another one. We were looking for other members pretty much straight away,” said Callum.
“Ryan and I met on the first day of first year and became really good friends. I met Carlos because we’re on the same course, and he was looking for a bass player for KCL Jazz Soc. So Isaac, him, and I worked together on that, and then I just went ‘Come and play in our indie band’ and he was like ‘yeah alright,’ very reluctantly.”
Carlos agreed: “Basically, at that time I only played jazz drums, and didn’t have a lot of experience with other genres of music. So I was a bit reluctant and kind of scared that these guys were going to be better than me, but I’m so glad I joined.”
Is there a story behind the band name?
Callum explained that the band name began as a joke: “I was having drinks at the pub with one of my friends back home in first year, and we were speaking about how most indie band names are quite random and stupid. He was like, ‘you could have a band called table, or desktop… literally anything at all.’ And then he said ‘houseplant’, and I thought oh, I know you’re taking the piss… but I kind of liked it.”
“We were debating it for ages, but then once we had our first gig as Houseplant, that was it. The name stuck with us,” said Carlos.
What are your musical inspirations?
“All four of us could answer this question very differently,” said Ryan. “A lot of my background is post-hardcore music, so I’m inspired by At The Drive-In or other bands in the same vein.” Callum added that the band “…has a lot of Interpol influence in there, too. The Cribs as well, Isaac and I are lifelong fans.”
“I love Pavement too, I listen to all sorts of music. We all like what we like to a point, and our interests go in different directions. It’s nice that we’re not all on the same track musically. Being able to take bits and pieces of varied styles and combine them into one rehearsal room is great,” said Isaac.
Joining the band helped Carlos expand his horizons musically. “Prior to Houseplant, I was sort of new to indie music in general. We don’t sound specifically like any of the bands I’m going to mention, but my major inspirations include the drummer from King Crimson and the drummer from The Doors.”
“I think it’s hard to get something original out of a collaboration if everyone is trying to channel one band’s sound. You’re gonna end up sounding like you’re trying to copy them, and not come up with something original of your own, so I’m glad we have different music tastes and styles,” said Callum.
What was working on your debut EP like?
Carlos elaborated on why the band chose to record an EP during the pandemic: “During second year and at the end of first year, we were playing shows once every two months, mostly tunes that Callum and Isaac had written. We didn’t know what was going to happen with the band, especially because of Covid, and so we wanted to get it all down.”
“Also, people who came to our gigs always asked where they could listen to us. Before the EP, all we had were some low-quality sound cloud demos that weren’t even properly mixed.”
“Putting the EP out was a lot of work. We recorded it all at our house, in Ryan’s room, and he mixed and produced the whole thing,” added Callum.
Speaking on this recording process, Ryan said: “It was an interesting three weeks because the pandemic just put uni work on pause. We would record for two or three hours, and I’d sit there with Callum and mix for another 5 hours. It was really enjoyable, but it also got stressful trying to figure out how to get the tracks to sound right.”
“We created a deadline and then forced ourselves to stick to it. Had we not done that, we would have kept putting recording off, and never released the EP. Hard work, but it was worth it,” said Callum.
How has the pandemic impacted the band?
“Because of the pandemic, our last live gig was more than a year ago, in February. Ever since then, it’s just been me going over to Ryan and Callum’s house to figure out the drum parts for the EP, or sending voice notes, taking videos of myself playing parts. It’s been kind of jokes actually,” said Carlos.
“He’d be sending us videos of him from Spain, listening to the voice memos we were sending him and playing the drums along to them,” laughed Callum.
“Ryan basically transcribed everything I played so it would be there when I got back to London. After that, it was just making minor adjustments to the drum parts. Lots of effort from him. We’re going to begin rehearsing in person once lockdown restrictions ease and everything re-opens,” Carlos added.
Has it been difficult to balance university work with music?
The band felt it was most difficult to balance university work with music while they were working on the EP. “During producing the EP, I got incredibly behind with coursework. Other than that though, it wasn’t too bad. It’s so nice to get away from what you’re doing in your degree and do something different that you enjoy– it hits you in a different way,” said Ryan.
Carlos added: “Rehearsal takes up the most time, but still not too much, just two to three hours a week. We’re not too consistent with it either and usually cram rehearsals before a show. I don’t think we’ve ever been like, ‘Oh, we can’t do this gig cause we have to revise.'”
Callum went on to say that the songwriting process is what keeps him most occupied. “If I get an idea for a song during the day when I’m working, I’ll be really tempted to just pick up my guitar and start working on the ideas I’ve got. It really takes over my mind– if I’ve got an idea, I want to finish it.”
“Oftentimes, I’ll think of something catchy and then try to get it from my head to the instrument. I’ll make a voice memo recording of it on my phone, then I’ll go to the shop or something, listen to the recording, and think about what the other parts might be, sing over it maybe. Sometimes, an idea just comes out in 5 minutes and you have a full song in 25 minutes. It just depends on the pace of my brain at the time.”
What’s the vision for Houseplant’s future?
Houseplant plans on releasing more tracks later this year once they’re all in London.”For the future, the main goal is to keep our momentum going. We have lots of music we’re yet to release once we can rehearse together. It’s a case of just wanting to see where it goes and enjoying what we’re doing. If anything comes of it, that’s great, but if not, we’re still going to be coming out with tunes,” said Ryan.
“It’s such a unique joy to be performing in front of 50 people, watching them dance to your band’s music and spreading that joy,” added Isaac. Callum agreed, adding, “We enjoy it so much, so making a career out of music would be the dream. But realistically, aiming for this creates difficult expectations (like getting signed to a label) that we don’t want to deal with.”
“I think the most important thing is enjoying ourselves with the music, and when we do live shows, enjoying ourselves with the people who come along,” Ryan concluded.
Any advice for students who want to form a band?
“Just start. Stop talking about it, and just go ahead and do it. It feels quite daunting at first because you don’t know who to ask to get a gig, or where to rehearse… Just get a group of people, a room to practice, and email every promoter under the sun at small venues in London that put on gigs,” said Callum.
He added: “There’s plenty of really nice people out there who are interested in helping out smaller bands like ourselves that are just getting off the ground. Being proactive makes it easier to get gigs as well. Eventually, you’ll get to know promoters, and then they’ll start offering you more gigs.”
Ryan also spoke about the importance of believing that you can make time for music. “When we first formed the band, we were hesitant about the time commitment and being able to manage all the band stuff, but it’s been so enriching to my university experience. It’s made my three years so much more enjoyable.”
“Even if nothing major happens with Houseplant in terms of reaching a bigger audience, we have this EP that’s out there forever. We get to look back and say, during uni we weren’t just studying, we were having fun making music too,” said Carlos.