story’s just a whisper now,” sings Lucy Johnson on Just A Whisper, the second track from Puzzle’s excellent new LP, Halfway Home.
Listening to Halfway Home is like an unintentional nostalgic trip. Delightful ’90s-inspired indie where the only thing that mattered in our lives was music.
Spending a good chunk of my twenties in Australia flitting from gig to gig, sonically and aesthetically, listening to Puzzle takes me back to the days where acts like Love Outside Andromeda, Gersey, Art of Fighting, and Love Of Diagrams dominated small inner-city venues up and down the country’s East Coast.
With perceptively charming songs that hook you in from the off (Same Time, One Last Lap, Wave Goodbye), it’s the honesty in Puzzle’s songwriting that’s the biggest winner. With a band like Puzzle, there’s no bullshit or ego. Just good people making good music and on Halfway Home, it shows.
This isn’t music for stadiums, streams or social media followers. It’s just three people getting together and doing what they love. Which is fitting, as Halfway Home is released on Defend Vinyl: the veteran Liverpool record store that has now branched out into a label. It seems like a perfect fit (pardon the pun).
With Halfway Home being released earlier this year (the vinyl just landed), Lucy answered our 13 Questions.
1. Can you give us a bit of history on Puzzle?
Lucy Johnson: “We started Puzzle in early 2007. Nicola and I had played a few shows with our first band Johnson’s Bedroom Radio and we were looking to start something new. Around the same time my brother David moved back to Liverpool after finishing university, and the three of us started to write songs together. Mounsey joined us on drums soon after and one month later we played our first gig.
“At the end of 2007, we released our first album Sometimes, All of the Time as a self release. Nicola moved to London the following year, so she left me with THE LADS and we carried on as a three piece. In the early days of Puzzle we played a lot of gigs and spent a lot of time writing music together. There was a really active and supportive scene for DIY indie bands in Liverpool at the time which fostered a creative and encouraging environment to make music in. We put out a lot releases during the first five or six years of the band, some through indie labels and some ourselves. But the party years couldn’t last forever! As time went by and life got more sensible, we stopped playing quite so regularly, but it’s continued to be something that we enjoy doing and get a lot out of. The band has always been something we have been able to come and go from, without any pressure, which I guess is why it has lasted so long.”
2. Congratulations on your new album, Halfway Home. How’s the reception been so far?
LJ: “Thank you! The reception has been great, we are super pleased it’s out in the world. It’s fair to say we took our time with getting it made. We first started working on it in 2015, but various excuses got in the way, we stopped and started a few times, and it became a bit of a running joke whether we’d ever get it finished. But we are really happy with how it turned out. We owe a lot of thanks to Paul Rafferty who recorded and produced it, and brought lots of great ideas to the record.”
3. You’re on Defend Vinyl which is also a staple for any vinyl head here in Liverpool. How did the collaboration with them come about?
LJ: “Graham Jones and Chris McIntosh (who make up Defend Vinyl Records) are good mates of ours – we’ve known each other and played a million gigs together over the last 20 years. When we first heard about their plans for starting up the label, we quietly hoped they might ask us to put our album out. And they must have read our minds, because they did! Releasing the album through Defend Vinyl Records, with like minded friends, was the perfect match for us. We swiped right. A true romance.”
4. The art work to Halfway Home instantly caught my eye. Would I be right in saying that it looks inspired by Sefton Park?
LJ: “Yes you’re right, it’s the bandstand in Sefton Park. We had A LOT of discussion about the artwork cover and went through loads of ideas for it. We spent a lot of time talking about it being a painting of a cat. I spend too much of my life talking about cats so probably for the best this didn’t extend to the album cover. I wanted the cover to reflect some of the themes of songs – nostalgia and a slightly wistful view of the past. The Victorian bandstand felt like a good representation of this as it’s been restored over the years to retain its original grandeur. The splatters of paint represent the filters we apply when we look back at the past and how our memories affect how we view the world. Making it was a nice excuse to blow the cobwebs off my paint brushes and I think it ties in closely with the music.”
5. The key aspect about your music is the level of honesty in your songs. Is this a key focus of yours?
LJ: “That’s a very interesting take, as I think our lyrics are sometimes a little vague! I think they offer a hint of something but don’t give the full picture.”
6. It seems like DIY plays a very important part in the band’s ethos. How important is this aspect for Puzzle?
LJ: “If you ask Mounsey, then the answer is very! We can do whatever we want in our own time. Just imagine a Fugazi quote.”
7. Some fun questions now – do you have any hobbies outside of music?
LJ: “David can complete a rubiks cube in a very impressive time and goes running every day. Mounsey cycles everywhere, and I like art and making things.”
8. Funniest band story?
LJ: “Mounsey would say that it’s a very fine line between funniest story and most bad tempered. David feels that there is a very broad line, and it wasn’t remotely funny. I have no comment.”
9. Favourite boxset over the last 18 months?
LJ: “Woodstock ’99 documentary on Netflix (Mounsey); The Beatles: Get Back (me); The Sandman (David).”
10. What was the last book you read?
LJ: “The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett; Mounsey: A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford; David: The Rider by Tim Krabbe.”
11. Favourite records so far in 2022?
LJ: “Fresh – Raise Hell; David: Yawners by Duplo; Mounsey only listens to music from before the year 2000.”
12. You have a few shows coming up. Is playing live the most exciting aspect of being in a band like Puzzle?
LJ: “Yes definitely. Our next show is in Sheffield with Down and Outs (one of our favourite scouse bands) and Post Archives (one of our favourite new bands). We are super excited about it. Sheffield is our favourite place outside of Liverpool to play.”
13. Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Any last words?
LJ: “You can watch the video for our single, Pick an Age below – filmed in Defend Vinyl and Outpost:
Halfway Home is out now via Defend Vinyl. Purchase from Bandcamp.