letlive. never followed expectation. Even in calling it quits, the band have managed a two-fingered salute to the age-old idea that you either burn out or you fade away. See, letlive. have done neither.
Not only was their last record their most impactful, but it also saw them take to the stages of Brixton Academy, play to an audience that was decidedly not their own, and make it look easy. There’s a sense of regret and loss circling the breakup of any band, but letlive.’s feels more poignant. Instead of just ‘one of those things’, there’s a hint of tragedy to it. The reasons why the band called it a day aren’t important, but it felt like they had more to give, more to say. More to achieve. There is a rise and a fall with all art but letlive. were far from the decline; they were far from their peak.
The history of letlive. is a turbulent one but throughout the various and near-constant lineup changes, the idea of the band remained pure. There were two consistent members of letlive., vocalist and instigator Jason Aalon Butler and their unwavering truth. From ‘Fake History”s ‘Muther’, which tackles the reality of Jason’s father being in prison and his mother sleeping with another man, to ‘If I’m The Devil…’s ‘Good Mourning America’, which addresses the history of discrimination and division wrapped around a powerful protest anthem, letlive. were a band that threw themselves into everything completely. There was no fear of reprisal. There was no desire for self-preservation. The message came first. Always and absolutely.
The question of which letlive. album is best is one that’ll never be answered. Like only the very best of bands, their output over the past seven years (sorry ‘Speak Like You Talk’) has been varied, controversial and brilliant. ‘Fake History’, ‘The Blackest Beautiful’, ‘If I’m The Devil…’. Each one stands for something different; each one shows off a new incarnation of letlive. Each one is flawed but fantastic. letlive. were a very human band and those scuffs, slips and moments of untethered release mean just as much as the impassioned verse and the throat-grabbing chorus.
And while we could spend pages dissecting each album, celebrating the genius and getting misty eyed over their importance, it’s their apparent parting shot that demands the most attention. letlive. were fearless, whether jumping off stuff or speaking up for the marginalised, but ‘If I’m The Devil…’ saw them take it someplace new. “For me, this record is about opening up that door, seeing if we can walk through it and how far,” Jason explained in the weeks leading up to its release. It was an echo of what he said at the start of last year. “This iteration of letlive. is the version of letlive. that just tries really hard to take it as far as possible and is not afraid of repercussions. Whatever happens, is going to happen so we’re going to keep going and push it as far as we can.”
It saw them finally shake off the idea of genre and embed every influence, inspiration and source of excitement in their DNA. Instead of being jarring, it actually made everything make a little more sense. letlive. had always been an oddity but with this album, they championed it. They used it to make their voice that much louder and more captivating. They took the preached ideas of acceptance, of anything going, and self-belief and put it into glorious practice. It opened doors and ears. It was a record designed to start something. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, letlive. aren’t going to be around to continue it.
Call it a tragedy, a shame, whatever. The loss of letlive. is huge. That band will be mourned and rightly so, but there’s reason to celebrate. letlive. achieved more in their time than most bands could ever dream of. Yeah, there was so much more to do, but the doors are still open. Their invitation to see how far it can be taken still stands.
It wasn’t about selling records, playing big rooms or critical acclaim. They changed lives; they influenced people in a lasting way. They refused to be quiet or turn their back, and they did it all while being entertaining, engaging and honest. letlive. were more than a band. Their ideas of strength in vulnerability, of honesty and humility, are now ingrained in countless chests, and their insistence of that wonderfully powerful word of mouth will mean it’ll never die. “The idea will continue as long as you allow it to. You are and always will be letlive..”
“I believe that art is worth something when you mean it,” offered Jason last year. The value of letlive. is extraordinary because it means something to everyone who has experienced it and everyone who ever will. At the end of this letlive. thing I’d like people to look back and say, ‘They just wrote music, man’. I know the moniker under which we’re sometimes placed, and I know the moniker under which I believe in. If it’s good music, it’s good music.” But here we are at the end, and letlive. did so much more than write good music. They made people better.
Taken from the June issue of Upset, out now.
More from Features
Topshelf Records signees Prawn are back with a new album – and you can hear it a little bit early.
Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, Chuck D, B-Real and DJ Lord have teamed up for new band, Prophets of Rage – and in a time plagued by political turmoil, they’re as provocative as ever.