How The Last Dinner Party embraced individuality to become the band everyone’s talking about
They’re the group who shattered boundaries with debut single ‘Nothing Matters’. They don’t care what you think about their sound, their clothes, or their daring lyricism. All that matters is how The Last Dinner Party are setting the bar even higher with their first album, ‘Prelude To Ecstasy’.
The Last Dinner Party photographed against white walls. Image: Cal McIntyre
It’s barely been eight hours since The Last Dinner Party (TLDP) were announced as BBC Radio 1’s Sound Of 2024 winners when lead guitarist Emily Roberts sits down with Guitar.com for a chat. Just weeks ago they won the Brit award for Rising Star and other media accolades flooded in via adoring articles and flashy award shows. The band’s swelling success hasn’t sunk in – they’ve been in the limelight for ten months – yet, with all their professionalism and perception of the music industry, it feels like years.
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“I think the thing that means the most about [Sound Of 2024] is we’ve been told we’re the first guitar band to win it since Haim, which is insane,” says Emily over the phone, who makes up the London five-piece alongside vocalist Abigail Morris, keyboardist Aurora Nischevi, bassist Georgia Davies and guitarist Lizzie Mayland. “Just to be able to have music that involves guitars and be worthy of awards is really great,” she adds.
Although guitar music doesn’t need to be brought back of course, it never hurts when a guitar band gets the sort of mainstream love that TLDP are currently enjoying in their home country. But TLDP aren’t afraid to be who they are. Having met at college and through mutual friends, the group collectively studied English literature, classical music, composition, and jazz guitar. With so much skill wrapped up into one band, and a shared love for David Bowie, it was only right to mush it all together to create a theatrical mosaic of sound.
“The idea from the beginning was that we wanted to draw people in through our live act and spread our music through word of mouth – kind of in the old school way,” explains Emily. “We wanted friends to tell their friends about us, and then at the next gig we’d have twice as many people. We saw quite a lot of that and thought, ‘Wow, this is growing really quickly and how do people know if we don’t have an Instagram yet?’ And it definitely wasn’t at the forefront of our minds to release [Nothing Matters] in a few months. We were just going to see what happened.”
Nothing Matters came out with a bang in April 2023 – knocking the socks off listeners who were expecting an underdeveloped sound from a group who’d freshly entered the scene. But the single quite literally embodies the title, boldly stating “I will fuck you, like nothing matters” in the chorus and embracing a myriad of influences to make up the instrumentalism. From Morris’ airy Kate Bush vocal to Roberts’ wailing Brian May-esque solo, the group holds no boundaries in terms of their style.
Rock Of Ages
“The music is very David Bowie and Queen-influenced,” says Emily, describing what to expect from the band’s upcoming 12-track album, Prelude To Ecstasy. “It’s very Florence and The Machine and euphoric, and the idea is for the audience to feel a sense of catharsis when they’re listening. We want them to feel like they’re on the journey with us when we’re playing and understand the emotions behind the songs.
“We’ve been saying the album represents ecstasy in its extremes and its different ways. In a song like On Your Side, it’s incredibly sad in an ecstatic way, and it’s the same idea with Nothing Matters. Everything has a sense of euphoria and catharsis that hopefully people can latch onto. As for the theme, there isn’t a common one – it’s not a concept album – it’s just a collection of songs that we’ve been working on for years. And it would be nice if people listened to it from start to finish, because it’s put together in a way where there’s an orchestral prelude, an interlude, and an outro, which is also classical. So, it’s all quite specific.”
And it’s not just audio that expresses TLDP’s identity – their classical and gothic aura seeps into their stage presence and costumes in both their live shows and music videos. The band regularly wears corsets and long, black dresses that feel characteristic – a reflection of their literature and classical roots, but also a representation of renaissance art. The main idea is to try different aesthetics to key in with however they’re feeling on the day. But there’s one rule – as long as it’s visual and maximalist. “I think we realised we do all have different strengths and characters within the band,” says Emily. “And it would’ve been a shame not to use that.”
As a jazz guitarist, Emily has a penchant for solos, and shows off her skills in tracks like Sinner and Portrait of a Dead Girl from the album. Her chromatic runs are a testimony to her jazz roots and her love for improv. But what makes the band particularly hand-hitting is how the aspects of contemporary classical composition, brought in from the likes of Morris and Nischevi in tracks like Prelude To Ecstasy and Gjuha, gel beautifully with Emily’s influences. “For the Prelude, Abi said to Aurora quite early on, ‘Why don’t we write some walk-on music that’s quite grand and bombastic in the classical genre’,” says Emily. “So Aurora wrote the whole of the prelude for us to do that. Everyone had their own space to contribute something in the band – and that’s a big strength.”
For young people listening, it’s an example of how learning music in school can pay off; understanding multiple genres and using it to create whatever sound feels right can work out and bring huge success. “That’s really nice to hear – I’ve never thought about that before and I’m glad that you’ve said that,” Emily remarks. “If we can bring out classical music and all these different influences in people, then that’s amazing.”
Having played in the live band for Six The Musical on the West End as well as a Queen tribute group, Emily has her own story to tell from before TLDP took off. She previously studied at the renowned Guildhall School of Music and Drama and reached the semi final of BBC Young Jazz Musician 2020 – all as a young guitarist who looked up to Emily Remler and Wes Montgomery with no clue what was to come.
“I started guitar when I was really young – around six,” Emily tells us. “I went to have classical guitar lessons with a local teacher for about a year, but I realised it wasn’t for me. I was struggling with learning notation and getting it off the ground. Playing things that I enjoyed was difficult, as well, so it wasn’t my vibe. But when I was nine I walked in on my friend having an acoustic guitar lesson – they were strumming and playing some Beatles songs – and they looked like they were having the best time. So, I started having lessons with their teacher as well, and he’s probably the reason why I’m here today and still playing guitar.”
Saints Preserve Us
Guitar-wise, Emily splits her time between Music Man St. Vincent signatures and a Gibson Flying V onstage, whilst she used a Gibson ES-330 and another St. Vincent on the album. “I guess I want to choose guitars that mean something to me,” Emily explains. “I wanted to use the St. Vincent ones because I think she’s iconic and having a guitar that’s made by a woman is quite rare. They’re also designed so that they fit a woman’s body – the shape of it is really light so that it doesn’t hurt your shoulders when you play, and I think a lot of guitars aren’t designed with that in mind. [Her signatures] also have quite a direct sound that cuts across the mix.
“Actually, just before we went in to record the album, the pickups broke,” laughs Emily. “And I was like, what do I do? So I took it to a guy in south London – Providence Guitars – and they fitted it with a Firebird pickup, and I think that emphasised the sound even more. Because I always use the bridge pickup and the Firebird really punches through and sounds quite jagged, so I used that for the album and all of our gigs.”
Gibson largely comes in handy for a heavy and chunky rock sound, so Emily made particular use of one for Track 9, Lady Of Mercy. “Actually, my dad’s cousin lent me that Flying V because he’s a guitar collector, so he’s given me guitars to borrow since I was 16,” she says. “I’m quite lucky that I have that in the family!”
And what about an Emily Roberts signature guitar one day? Is it on the cards? Emily laughs. “I mean, I would definitely want to do a signature at some point, but I guess I’d want it to be similar to the St. Vincent one. I’d want it to be quite modern-looking and have the same ease for playing as a female. But, other than that, I haven’t planned it out yet! I think it’s a bit soon to happen at the moment, but I’d love to do it one day.”
So far, The Last Dinner Party’s success feels like it happened overnight. With hundreds of thousands of adoring fans following their social media, it’s still just the beginning. But who knows when this tumbling ball of momentum will ever stop? By the looks of things, it won’t be for a long time yet.
Prelude To Ecstasy is out on 2 February