Every emergent act craves a tipping point, that moment when they manage to break free from their comfort zone and avail themselves to an entirely new crowd. Rizzle Kicks’ moment came last November when they hosted the BBC2 show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In truth, they were already the authors of two successful albums, 2011’s Stereo Typical and 2013’s Roaring 20s, both fantastically entertaining Daisy Age-inspired hip-pop – but their fanbase was almost exclusively the Radio 1 demographic. Anyone over the age of 25 didn’t really know which one was Rizzle, and which one Kicks.
Buzzcocks changed all that. The night Harley Alexander-Sule and Jordan Stephens presided, Fun Lovin’ Criminals frontman, Huey Morgan, was a guest. Morgan, a man who has never quite managed to separate the character from the caricature, exuded throughout a Noo Yoik menace that sat uneasily on a knockabout comedy panel show. The boys’ effervescence grated on his nerves to such an extent that, health and safety be damned, he smashed a coffee mug in a fit of preposterous pique, chunks of it flying everywhere.
“He was off his face,” relays Stephens, who is sprawled on a couch in his record company, legs akimbo, while Alexander-Sule sits upright next to him, a model of decorum and poise. “He’d had a big spliff, and been drinking, knocking back the G&Ts, but they didn’t refill his mug quickly enough. I don’t think he was trying to be a dick; he was just mashed, in a different galaxy to everybody else.”
From the viewer’s perspective, Morgan looked distinctly threatening. Were they, I ask, scared? Stephens laughs out loud.
“We were in a BBC studio! I wasn’t scared at all. It was ridiculous. The more angry he got, the more we laughed.”
Footage from the show went viral, and Rizzle Kicks’ stock soared. Tens of thousands more were now following them on Twitter, one of whom was Ricky Gervais. Stephen Fry was said to be a fan. They’ve been offered all sorts of TV presenting roles since, amid suggestions that they might just be the new Ant & Dec. But the comparison rankles.
“We don’t like presenting,” says Stephens. “Ant & Dec are great, but they can’t do things we can do.” He smiles slyly. “Though they can rap better. And dance.”
Stephens and Alexander-Sule grew up in Brighton, both the product of creative genes: the former’s grandfather was the British film director John Boulting; the latter’s stepfather works in the music industry. They formed the band in 2008 while attending the Brit School.
“Harvey wanted to be an actor, and I wanted to write films originally,” says Stephens. But Stephens, the more motivated, and kinetic, of the pair, was convinced that they had a certain chemistry together, and might just make it in music. Within four months, the pair had written five demo tracks, and made a cheap video of what would become their second single, “Down with the Trumpets”, which quickly amassed 100,000 views on YouTube. Island Records promptly offered them a recording contract, and before long they were being produced by Fatboy Slim and proving themselves the quintessential modern pop act, documenting 21st-century youth with considerable élan.
“People initially saw us as manufactured, but ultimately we did everything ourselves,” says Stephens. “That’s why, when we were put in the spotlight, we just smashed it.”
The fact that this surprises people, he says, is offensive.
“I’ll tell you the thing that annoys about all this, shall I? It’s that, as 22-year-old boys, we are supposed to be liabilities, and nothing but. We’re supposed to do stupid things, and say stupid things that get publicised to millions of people and stunts your growth. It’s like, the moment you become famous, you’re not allowed to be young and irresponsible anymore. You’re not allowed to make mistakes, because mistakes come back to haunt you. That’s why so many kids, Bieber and that, are going nuts.”
Stephens himself has already proved a liability. On his Facebook page recently, he posted: “Can anyone in London help me get hold of any acid?” When the query made tabloid headlines, he quickly retracted it, claiming it was a joke. “It was a dumb thing to say,” he says now, “but it wasn’t for UK consumption. But that’s the game I’m in now. I’m in the public eye.”
Alexander-Sule, who does contemplative silence very well, says: “We’ve had a lot of growing up to do.”
They’ve had to, because their career trajectory has been so breathless. Two albums in already, they are about to release a new single, a blissful slice of summer froth called “Tell Her”, their first straightforward love song (“but not a soppy one”). There may or may not be a third album in the pipeline – according to Stephens, “the market is not about albums anymore, it’s about tracks,” – but the fact is they’ve barely had time to focus on the music of late. Alexander-Sule has just made his first film, The Guvnors, in which he plays, in his words, “a ruffian”, while Stephens is starring in a new E4 crime drama called Glue, written by Jack Thorne. Last year, they both worked on solo music projects, not necessarily for release, but to spread their respective wings.
“It’s important to prove to people that we are not always joined at the hip,” says Stephens. Presumably the more solo projects they do, the less likely they will remain a duo? “Our relationship is pretty strong, I think,” he says. “But we are different people. We don’t live together anymore, and we both have our own best mates, and that’s important because this is a high-pressure job: we need downtime from each other, we need space. But if one of us goes off to do something good, the other one wants to better it, and that’s a good thing for the both of us.”
His partner looks up. “Things naturally develop, don’t they?” he says. “But what we’ve got together is a good thing, so why would we walk away from it now?”
At this, they make eye contact. Something passes between them, and they nod, just once, but firmly, with emphasis.
“Tell Me” is released by Island Records on 11 AugustReuse content