Having conquered YouTube with their captivating covers of songs as diverse as Adele’s Hello and Drake’s One Dance (racking up tens of millions of plays on the way), scored their debut hit last year with the steamy, Phil Collins-sampling Oh Lord and sold out shows from the U.K. to the States before being handpicked by Bieber to support him on tour in Europe, the MOBO award-winning quintet are poised to bring male harmony vocals back to the charts.
Mood, their second EP – and first since signing to Polydor – sees MiC LOWRY (pronounced Mike Lowry) expand their soulful sound with forays in to funk, hip hop and even garage, while their lyrics have grown ever more explicit. Co-written by the band, Mood was recorded in Liverpool, London and L.A. with an array of A-list producers – among them MNEK (Beyonce, Disclosure), Stereotypes (Bruno Mars, Bieber), Harmony Samuels (Ariana, Chris Brown) and Shift Key (Stormzy, Tinie Tempah).
“Working with amazing producers pushed us to take risks and try out new sounds,” explains Kaine Ofoeme. “We’ve been singing together for so long that we know each other’s voices inside out. The aim was to challenge ourselves and each other to go up a gear. We took everything we’ve learnt from playing live and creating our own arrangements of covers in to the studio.”
“This is the first time we’ve all been involved in the writing and production of every song,” adds Akia Jones. “It meant more to us because it was personal. Our personalities and different sides of us are in these songs. There’s one that’s a booty call and there’s definitely a fair bit of bragging, but there are also lyrics that are more vulnerable, that show our sensitive side.”
Led by sultry new single Don’t Tempt Me, Mood contains six tracks, plus interlude 2U, that explore a variety of sounds, tempos and, well, moods. What they have in common is a band who are tighter than brothers and whose innate understanding of each other’s talents and how their five voices best blend is practically telepathic.
The bond between Mic LOWRY is more than musical. Now aged 21 or 22, they attended the same Liverpool school, Calderstones, where John Lennon was a former pupil. It was at performing arts youth group Positive Impact, however, where the five – then 14 and 15 - forged the friendship at the heart of MiC LOWRY, discovering their shared love of Boyz II Men, pushing each other to practice and improve and sharing the dream that music could become their career.
By then, all five knew they could sing, most were already performing. Ben Sharples and Michael Welsh had been in a Blues Brothers-inspired band in primary school (yes, they wore the sharp suits), singing and playing sax. Ben and Delliele Ankrah had been performing in theatres as part of a Motown tribute – the pair were members of the Jackson 5 and their I Want You Back always brought the house down. Ben, in fact, had been on stage as a child, thanks to his parents, who were in a band that brought him out at weddings to sing Stevie Wonder covers. Delliele hails from a legendary Liverpool musical clan, which includes members of The Chants, a harmony band signed at time of The Beatles, a cousin who found fame in The Christians and a dad who was part of jungle act SX Dub.
“When we met, we’d all been through different experiences,” says Delliele. “We’d been drawn in to music in different ways. But the five of us gelled straight away. There were lots of kids doing the classes, but it was always us who organised extra rehearsals. We broke down songs to change the arrangements and worked out how to harmonise. We became so familiar with each other’s voices that there were no arguments about who would sing what. It became instinctive.”
In 2012, MiC LOWRY – their name stolen from the Will Smith character in the ‘90s film Bad Boys, another shared love – posted their first DIY video on YouTube, a cover of The Temptations’ My Girl. Over the next few years, with the aid of their mentor Esco Williams, their former tutor at the youth group, the band built up a huge online following with their reinterpretations of hits by everyone from Luther Vandross and Bruno Mars to Clean Bandit and Calvin Harris. Their cover of Beyonce’s Drunk In Love was the first to hit the million mark, by which time MiC LOWRY were selling out shows through word of mouth. In London’s Euston station, they were ordered to leave over the tannoy for singing - or rather, for stopping too many commuters in their tracks. In Liverpool, they caused chaos by filming out in the streets. In 2015, they won the MOBO UnSung award.
Inevitably, labels came calling. Last autumn, MiC LOWRY released their debut single, Oh Lord, written by Swedish collective The Family (Iggy Azalea, Fifth Harmony), who came to Liverpool to produce the track alongside the band, and for which Phil Collins gave the rights to sample his ‘80s megahit In The Air Tonight.
MiC LOWRY followed it up with this year’s dancehall-tinged Whiskey Kisses, but by then the quintet had caught the writing bug, penning over 25 tracks at writing camps in London and L.A. for what would become Mood.
Lead single Don’t Tempt Me captures the stripped down, acoustic sound and hypnotic harmonies of their live shows – even opening for Bieber on 38 dates in the UK and Europe, MiC LOWRY bewitched audiences without a backing band. Written with Justin Gray (Amy Winehouse, Mariah Carey, James Bay) in his home studio, it’s a song steeped in MiC LOWRY’s DIY roots but focussed on their arena-filling future.
Elsewhere you’ll hear the slinky, bass-heavy, Harmony Samuels-produced Boomerang with its risque lyrics, the skittery, Timbaland-inspired Know What You Like, the frisky, dancefloor-friendly, Shift Keys produced No Problem and Frustration’s infectious disco-funk. Can’t Lie is a Michael Jackson-sampling song for their female fans, on which MiC LOWRY put their bragging oh hold to bear their souls.
“On every song on this EP, we’ve tried our best to be real,” says Ben. “Mood is us, as we are now, a bunch of Liverpool lads trying to work out where we fit in to the world and having as much fun as we can while we’re at it. That we’ve got this far is amazing. Where we go from here we can’t wait to find out.”