‘No Debt’ is a song about education in a general sense and about two things in particular, the cost of education and the increasing tendency to devalue education.
The first of these resonates with me because I was lucky enough to be at university when you got grants and your tuition fees paid. Now whether I was a good use of public money is something that is for others to decide. Mainly I decided that I didn’t want a career that used my maths degree, and ended up crashing out of the course. But in my defence I thought then, and still do, that 18 is too damn young to decide your whole working life. The thing is that as I approached the end of my university time the idea of loans instead of grants was on the table. I, like many of my peers, was livid. My college staged a protest against the visit by the then Education Secretary – the odious – Keith Joseph. I and many others took part in the – heavily policed by both the Met Mounted Police and the SPG – first ‘Grants Not Loans’ demo.
The introduction of loans has led to university being a place where you have to knuckle down and get that degree – how else are you going to pay off that debt – rather than a place where you discover yourself, find out what you want in the future and make mistakes.
Universities are now ‘shopped for’ by people based on the likelihood of getting a good degree that will get you a high paid job; rather than looking at where you might enjoy spending the next three years. I nearly went to Liverpool University based on the principle that the available social life and entertainment guide was approximately five times the size of the course guide. I ended up up at Chelsea College, University of London (merged with King’s College at a later date) because it had a reputation for wildness, people spending the maximum amount of time they could spend there (That’s three years course time, one part-time year on benefits and one year as a student union officer by the way) and a casual attitude to course requirements.
The second part of the song, the devaluing of education, is now increasingly significant because of Google, AI and all of those things that mean that ‘you never have to know anything’. It’s terrifying. Elon Musk said today that, in the future, nobody would need to have a job; forgetting that AI can’t do social work for example. The very idea that AI could do a child protection assessment is too scary for words.
There is much more to say about these, and the band have supplied some words which reproduce in full because they say it better than me.
And now to the song itself. The sound here has a mix of Indie, alt-rock, soaring big pop, math-rock and something, which I can’t quite put my finger on, quite retro. The music is as thoughtfully written and made as the words. It is big, no huge, and comes with a tune so earwormy it hurts and a beat that demands you dance. I’d kind of recommend dancing in a group and really reacting to the big swells. And strangely for a song about something so important, I just can’t help myself but to smile and be joyful. But that contradiction is something that makes me love this song. It’s a song for the head, the heart and feet.
The huge sound is, in part, due to the number of extra people added to the core Living Body for this song. There’s big vocals, some wonderful keyboards and all sorts of other glorious sounds. Oh, I can’t not mention the drums, the drums are gorgeous.
Listen to this for the words, listen to it for the sheer musical joy, or, better, both. This song is so so fantastic. I am – musically – in love, people. This makes me feel like no music has for quite some time. This is music that has
it all – great words, fantastic playing, a fabulous tune; it’s, in a word, perfect.
Following summer tour support shows with Owen (Mike Kinsella of American Football), Holiday Ghosts and Dolores Forever, the band are touring as a 5-piece with two drummers, honing their inimitable blend of blissful synthpop and harmony-driven, groove-laden indie/pop/math/shoegaze with this new single, a future classic in the up-and-coming genre of debt-abolition-rock.
Inspired by the US president’s campaign pledge to eliminate student debt and its subsequent crumbling under the weight of right-wing and corporate influence, in its simplest sense ‘NO DEBT’ is a song about how all education should be free, as songwriter Jeff T. Smith elaborates:
The commodification of education creates schisms whereby capitalism deems certain types of learning as more valuable, while others are told by the UK prime minister to “retrain or find other jobs”. Whether it be neuroscience, engineering, queer theory or 17th century textiles, there is inherent value in expanding the overall breadth and scope of human knowledge. Much in the way that no one should be in debt for receiving health care, no one should be in debt for learning something, anything!
‘NO DEBT’ also examines how multinational tech companies increasingly insert themselves into everyday life, challenging the need for traditional higher education while undermining reality and human connection. On the song’s closing line ‘funny, you replied, “Google it”’, Smith notes:
On one hand, who really needs a university education when you can find the answer to anything on a screen in your pocket? But should we really place our entire basis for truth in the hands of one large profit-driven corporation? Ultimately, this poses quite serious future concerns surrounding our relationship to truth, facts, deepfakes, AI and corporate power.
‘NO DEBT’ includes vocals by Living Body’s Jeff T. Smith and Alice Rowan, with additional vocals from friends Chrissy Barnacle (Come Outside) and Jamie Lockhart (Mi Mye), as well as a flugelhorn section from Emily Ingham (Mi Mye). All other instrumentation, songwriting, singing, mixing, mastering and production by Jeff T. Smith at his studio in Leeds, AKA ‘the Bungalow.’
The live session video, filmed at Echelon Coffee Roasters in Leeds, showcases the band’s unique use of interlocking vocal, guitar and bass melodies and dense double-drumming polyrhythms.
Lead by immigrant songwriter Jeff T. Smith (f.k.a. Juffage) the band’s current live lineup includes Alice Rowan (Mayshe-Mayshe), Sarah Statham (Crake, Fig By Four), Annie Prior (Parker Lee) and Matt Simpson. Other contributors have included Katie Harkin (Harkin, Sleater-Kinney, Courtney Barnett), Tom Evans (Vessels), James Yates (Epic 45) and Jack Burgess-Hunt.
Shaped by Smith’s fascination with the contortion of the pop song into a uniquely imaginative and immediate form, his former Midwest-US upbringing and longstanding roots in both US and UK DIY scenes, Living Body infuses timeless pop melodies warped through an experimental and punk ethos. Expanding on the need for music to bring joy into the lives of others in an age of confusion and information overload, Living Body’s music expresses the bleak yet positive, immediate yet complex, pessimistic yet hopeful, exhausted yet perseverant state of modern living.
The band are celebrating the release of ‘NO DEBT’ with select tour dates across the UK:
October 21: Cardiff – SWN Festival
November 1: Brighton – the Prince Albert (w/ Perch)
November 2: London – New Cross Inn (w/ Rubie & Winifer Odd)
November 3: Birmingham – the Victoria (w/ Overcliff)
November 4: Bristol – the Exchange (w/ Lifter)
November 16: Newcastle – Cumberland Arms (w/ Waves of Dread, Madeleine Smyth)
November 17: Glasgow – Hug & Pint (w/ Come Outside)
November 18: Edinburgh – Voodoo Rooms (w/ Hailey Beavis)
November 22: Salford – the Eagle Inn (w/ Real Terms, Oort Clod)
November 23: Liverpool – Kazimier Stockroom (w/ Real Terms)
November 24: Nottingham – JT Soar (w/ Real Terms, Kaliugah)
November 25: Leeds – Wharf Chambers (w/ Real Terms, Jooloosooboo)