“Everyone is living for the prospect of love in future times.”
I ask L.I.F.T vocalist Austin Arthur what his band’s name means, and he launches into a much deeper description than I anticipated. While many artists cite music as their savior from hardship, Austin expresses this notion in a fresh, authentic way. He alludes to the difficulties he and his bandmates have faced, and shares that what carried them through was the anticipation of experiencing love in the future – that life is worth living because love exists far beyond today. And that love for L.I.F.T comes in the form of community, a fanbase that they are just starting to build as a fledgling group on their first ever tour.
The guys and I meet up before their set at Asbury Lanes to stroll the boardwalk and take some portraits. Austin is the most talkative, asking me about the town of Asbury Park and my photography adventures. Guitarist Reuben Pearl chimes in as I inquire about their formation, while bassist Holden Prine and drummer Jamaal Smith are nearly silent, taking in their surroundings.
I learn that their home bases of London and San Diego converged during high school when the boys met each other and ultimately decided to create together. Their aspirations led them to leave the West Coast behind and settle in the UK where they were signed by a label that didn’t quite know what to do with them. The emo hip-hop genre hadn’t yet taken hold – “this was before [Lil] Peep,” Austin explains – and the guys were adamant about sticking to that lane. So, what do you do when you’re ready to give your all but are hitting a brick wall?
You move to LA and do it yourself.
L.I.F.T started to grind independently, and their efforts were rewarded through a deal with Pete Wentz-owned DCD2 Records. Their EP AUTOP$Y was just released, and they’re celebrating on the road with Bishop Briggs before jumping on tour with Fall Out Boy in September.
As we walk and shoot, I find the boys to be kind, soft-spoken, and respectful. With ages ranging from 18-22, I expected overwhelming youthful effervescence or perhaps even residual teenage angst, but the guys project more of a quiet maturity beyond their years.
My first impression is partially shattered once L.I.F.T take the stage with explosive personas. As a new band (at least in the public eye) performing their fourth show ever, they have something to prove – and they know it. Their set is unfortunately kicked off with sound difficulties, which leads them to restart. Once the nerves and embarrassment are shaken off, the boys start to shine. Austin, the most self-aware on stage, happily accepts his role as the communicator and connector. He encourages the crowd to participate and takes time in between songs to plug the band’s new EP and share their story. Reuben has rock star swag in spades, confidently playing as his hair swings over his face. Holden looks lost in the moment, revealing his self-professed “bass face” and breathing in the excitement of being on stage. Jamaal remains focused on the task at hand, set off to the side surrounded by percussion, microphones, and other instruments; he looks well protected in his very own safe space.
As L.I.F.T begin to play “Locked Up,” I hear a front row audience member exclaim, “Ooh, I like this one!” While the crowd skews older than the band’s usual teen trap demographic, it seems they are being won over. Per Austin’s request, they chant, “L.I.F.T!” along with the guys and jump on command.
While profanity and hard riffs jostle my image of the sweet-as-pie boys I got to know an hour earlier, their tender heart returns with “Dressed in Black,” a ballad battling self-destructive thoughts. I notice the atmosphere in the room shift as Austin raps about depression; it’s as if everyone could identify with the song. It’s a pure and real moment – no hype, just honesty.
Austin beckons the crowd to check out L.I.F.T’s music video for “WANNA DIE” before closing their set with “Cassette Tapes” to a genuine sigh of “Nooo!” from new fans not ready for them to exit. Some trickle over to the merch table where Austin’s brother Alex is waiting. I glance back during Bishop Briggs’ set, and all four guys are sitting on the table watching her perform, demonstrating the respect I experienced earlier. With heavy eyelids and nervous stomach grumbles subsiding, L.I.F.T look forward to almost everyone sleeping in separate beds tonight (“there was a good rate at Motel 6,” merch guy Alex tells me), and I wonder what love looks like in their future. I hope it looks exactly how they want it to – a community of kids rallied around them, finding hope in music and in each other.