The Big Pink’s third album has been waiting in the wings for a long time. It has been a decade since their second full-length Future This, and nine years since frontman Robbie Furze decamped to LA with the intention of writing it. The result is an intimate glimpse into his personal 2010s odyssey, a multi-textural album of darkness and light. The Love That’s Ours moves slightly away from the electronica of The Big Pink’s first two albums, instead ranging across genres from straight up indie rock to a minimalistic yet Shakespearean rework of a Scottish folk song.
But that was a long gap in the middle there. So, what happened?
According to Robbie, what happened was that the essential connection between the band and the work had severed. ‘We just had such high expectations after coming out of A Brief History of Love for our trajectory of where Future This was going to take us,’ he says.
'I remember some of the first shows of Future This, and it just felt funny. It didn’t feel like A Brief History of Love felt. It didn’t feel like I was connecting with the crowd, or I was connecting with the songs.'
‘It wasn’t so much that it didn’t do as well as we wanted it to do, it just…’ he trails off. ‘I’ll tell you what it was. I remember some of the first shows of Future This, and it just felt funny. It didn’t feel like A Brief History of Love felt. It didn’t feel like I was connecting with the crowd, or I was connecting with the songs. I think Milo felt the same.’
It didn’t help that the band had essentially been on the road for four years around A Brief History of Love, having toured for one year before the album and three after it came out. ‘We were pretty burnt out from the process as a whole,’ Robbie says. ‘To come back with something that needed a little bit more energy than we thought it did definitely put some stress into The Big Pink camp.’
The intervening nine years have been another story entirely. While Robbie is keen to stress that there’s nothing wrong with Los Angeles in and of itself, the near-decade he spent there has been portrayed as wandering years. Fed up with the music industry in the UK at the time, he set about doing other things. He moved away from guitar music and became a DJ, even briefly considering opening a club of his own.
‘I went over there to write a third full-length Big Pink record, and I ended up getting slightly sidetracked in DJing and club nights,’ he says.
After co-founder Milo Cordell departed the band in 2013 to focus on his record label, The Big Pink briefly returned with the EP Empire Underground in 2016. Then Robbie stepped away again. Part of the reason for all this, he says, was a sense of disillusionment with indie music in general during the early part of the 2010s.
‘I think that indie as a whole, or what people consider the indie sleaze era, around 2012 and 2013 was taking a bit of a dive,’ he says. ‘We were definitely encroaching onto strictly hip-hop, which I love as much as guitar music, but come 2014 or 2015 guitar bands were a dirty word, especially in London.’
So, he left the country and the guitars. In the intervening years, Robbie’s LA club nights started to gain momentum. ‘I was doing a few club nights that were starting to get very popular, and when foreigners were in town they would come to some of my nights and we became friends,’ he says.
One such friend was Wolf Alice’s Joel Amey, who eventually enticed Robbie back out on the road. He had been working on ideas and demos for a while, passing them around for friends to take a look at, and when Joel asked if The Big Pink would consider supporting Wolf Alice on their American tour, the band ‘jumped at it.’ Around this time, Robbie began to feel like he was reaching a crossroads, and the path he should take was clear.
‘I owed it to The Big Pink. I’d come to LA to do this record, and I’ve got to finish it. So let’s get on with it.’
‘I was getting a bit sick and tired of the nightlife over there, and we had quite a lot of new music. But, you know, it just gave me that thrill,’ he says. ‘I was like, “This is what I’ve got to do.” Not all that DJing stuff and all that kind of silly nonsense. Nothing feels as good as playing guitar and getting on stage and singing songs. It really reignited that sense of being in a band again in me.’
When it came to The Big Pink’s third album, there was also a sense of unfinished business.
‘I owed it to The Big Pink. I’d come to LA to do this record, and I’ve got to finish it. So let’s get on with it,’ he says. Through the Wolf Alice tour he found a manager for The Big Pink and showed her all his demos up until that point.
‘She said, “None of them are good enough. Maybe there’s one.” And I was like, “Ah, fuck you!”’ he laughs.
Luckily, rather than wearing him out, the extensive Wolf Alice tour had left Robbie energised. He went back to work.
‘I went back into my studio in LA, and the songs just came out. Absolutely rolled out,’ he says.
'I think The Love That’s Ours became a concept record because it was all about my struggle to get out of the place that I was in and get back to my home, metaphorically and physically,’
Two of the earliest songs to come out of the process were No Angels and Love Spins on Its Axis, the first two singles on the record. Driven by a sample of Lights On by Bad Cop, the former is a seesawing, almost hymnal statement of purpose that sets the tone for the album as a whole.
‘The idea of a concept record can be a dirty word, but I think A Brief History of Love became a concept record, and I think The Love That’s Ours became a concept record because it was all about my struggle to get out of the place that I was in and get back to my home, metaphorically and physically,’ Robbie says. ‘Not that I was in a terrible hellhole. I don’t want to be too down on LA, because it’s not LA’s fault. It was just that I’d got myself in a dark place in my life.’
By turns desperate and hopeful, No Angels is portrait of someone reaching from the wreck and out into the light.
‘There’s a slight reference obviously to Los Angeles, but it was more the fact that there was nothing saving me. I had to save myself. I had to get myself back. Back up there, and back out. That’s the only way that I was going to get myself to that home that would make me truly happy,’ Robbie says.
The core theme of the album, about that drive to get home, evolved naturally. Robbie thinks that this is one of the things that gave him the confidence to pursue it, because it felt true without him having to shape it or force it out.
‘I think it happens without you realising,’ he says. ‘What’s interesting about that is, when something gets created out of nowhere, I think that’s when you have faith that it’s a true expression. I didn’t know these songs were about this until suddenly you put everything together and you say, “we’ve got a theme, so this must mean something important.”’
Listeners won’t need to look too far for meaning on The Love That’s Ours. The album’s closing track, Lucky One, in which Robbie ruminates on the death of a friend, is one of the most emotional on the record. The story behind the track was, Robbie says, ‘a giant catalyst’ in his return.
‘It was like, look, you’ve just got to get home and you’ve got to stop this madness. We’re not joking anymore out here. It’s about my friend who died, and it was like, this isn’t fun and games. There are people dying here. We’ve got to watch ourselves,’ he says.
That event reminded him of the fragile balance of life and was one of the factors that spurred him to get back to doing what he loves. It drove him to create The Love That’s Ours and helped return him safely home with his unfinished business completed.
‘Looking at the world in all its glory, I think that’s why we need musicians,’ says Robbie. ‘For music listeners, too, music is an outlet that will save your life. If you let it, it will save your life.’