Nottingham newcomers Divorce: ‘We have a creative sexual tension between us’

Divorce will support The Vaccines on tour in February  (Alex Evans)
Divorce will support The Vaccines on tour in February (Alex Evans)

A Divorce song is like dressing up to the nines, feeling like a million dollars – and then rolling down a big grassy hill,” says Adam Peter-Smith, lead guitarist of the Nottingham alt-country band. He and co-vocalists Felix Mackenzie-Barrow and Tiger Cohen-Towell are gathered around a sticky table in north London. It’s an autumn afternoon and the last of the day’s light is spilling in through the windows of the old dark pub. The rest of the band seem chuffed with Smith’s simile for their sound. “That’s exactly it,” laughs Barrow. “There’s something very wonky about it”.

The four-piece (completed by Kasper Sandstrom on drums) are due to embark on their headline tour across the UK, followed by a support slot for The Vaccines in February. “We’re used to slogging and it’s quite nice that it’s actually doing something now,” says Towell. Their punchy new single “Scratch Your Metal” recently featured on the A-list on BBC 6 Music. “I really thought the band was from America,” admitted Ezra Furman when introducing the track on her show. Towell laughs, recalling the moment. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh God, are we cosplaying being American?’” Smith interrupts with a strong regional accent: “But we’re from the Midlands duck!”

Furman’s misunderstanding is understandable. The band’s vocals are steeped in nostalgic americana-folk, intertwined with unpredictable blues riffs and sarcastic British humour. Awash with satisfying harmonies (with whiffs of The Magic Numbers), their country-chamber-pop exudes familiarity and sophistication to soften that irreverent, punchy lyricism. It’s this surprising array of sounds – a patchwork of genres reflective of their own diverse tastes (The Carpenters; The Beatles; Fiona Apple; Tom Waits) – which makes Divorce so intriguing.

Divorce have always had something a little niche about them. Back in 2021, when the band burst onto the scene, Towell was always seen sporting a blonde wig. It’s since been scrapped, resulting in intrigue among fans regarding its whereabouts. “I’m here to say this on record: I didn’t mean for the wig to become an independent member of the band!” They all crack up. “We can only talk to the wig through a lawyer now,” adds Barrow. Joking aside, Towell, who is non-binary, adds, “I think when we started this band, I was presenting very differently ... I felt I couldn’t change because of the life I had at that time.” But as the band evolved publicly and personally, the wig was increasingly irrelevant. “I wanted to be a bit more free than that ... The more non-binary I’ve become, the more I feel like I can do all of those things without wearing a wig.”

The bandmates originally met at age 16 through the tight-knit Nottingham music scene. The line-up, though, took a while to formalise. All members previously played in different capacities: Smith was a solo artist; Towell and Barrow were in a duo together; and Sandstorm remains part of fellow Notts DIY band, Do Nothing. In conversation, their respect for one another’s talent is tangible. They use Sandstorm’s absence as an opportunity to gush. “His musicality knows no bounds,” says Towell, as a Bob Dylan track bumbles along in the background.

It was in 2021, sat at the top of a hill in Nottingham, that Divorce was formed. “I thought that they’d brought me up there to give me some sort of roasting or intervention,” laughs Smith recalling the moment. “I don’t know if this is a wacky thing to say but it was like creative sexual tension,” he says of working together. “It felt like we were kids again,” agrees Barrow. Their collaboration also shook things up; each of them took up an instrument besides the one they played. It was a new and welcome challenge. “We were all feeling like we were s***,” says Barrow. “We were right on the edge of what we could feasibly do.”

What they can do is all over their forthcoming EP, Heady Metal – which grapples with “identity and being unsure of it”, says Towell. “It’s about life happening quicker than you can keep up.” Tracks are relatable, but theatrical and full of imagery. Exact meanings are vague enough to be left to interpretation, but specificities are painted in the light, with brief moments that pack a poignant punch. “Felix has a very high standard for lyrics,” says Towell, directing their gaze at him. “I think it makes me vigilant and kind of brutal with myself.” Barrow nods and quotes Tom Waits: “‘A good song is like a Swiss army knife’ – I think that always stuck with me.”

Divorce have sold out multiple nights of their UK headline tour (Alex Evans)
Divorce have sold out multiple nights of their UK headline tour (Alex Evans)

For Barrow, Heady Metal looks “self-scrutiny” in the eye. “I laugh until the room goes dead/ That’s bad/ Gets worse/ Watch me eat words,” he sings on the bluesy, aching “Eat My Words”. “There’s a lot of self-analysis within certain situations, providing opportunities to question your responses to things,” he says. “It comes from frustrations about things that go unsaid; injustice or imbalances you feel – and not being able to address them in constructive ways.”

By now, the group operates on instinct, meaning the subconscious is free to roam. “I’ll write a line because it feels right in my mouth,” says Barrow. “And then I’ll look back later and be like... holy s***, I was saying so many things I hadn’t even worked out.” Smith nods along, “It’s like a letter to your future self.” Although Towell and Barrow often write independently, their process is an intuitive one. “You can predict what the other one’s going to do in a given phrase,” says Barrow. “When you’ve spent that long together, I think there are parts of your subconscious that are very closely linked; there’s a shorthand there.” Smith smiles at his bandmates. “I find it very easy to get on the Divorce train.”

‘Heady Metal’ is out now via Gravity/EMI and tickets for their headline tour are available to purchase here