Sat in the bar of The Wardrobe in Leeds, I wonder what my first impressions of Blaenavon will be. Will they be keen to meet student interviewers, or fed up of doing the umpteenth interview before a tour show? My actual first impression: really quite bizarre. As the three Buckinghamshire boys “with a story to tell” (as it says on their bandcamp) approach, I can’t help but notice what seems to be a spoon hanging out of lead singer Ben Gregory’s top jacket pocket. After some small talk I ask: why carry a spoon? Perhaps a pre-show ‘Petits filous’ is the band’s ritual? It turns out they all carry one as a good luck token from an old friend in Leeds. However, the striking moment comes next, as Ben takes out the spoon to tell me about it, out falls a small black package. It’s a condom. He quickly grabs it, holds it to face and whispers ‘black velvet’. Yeah, sounds to me like they’re trying to enjoy the ‘Rock’n’roll’ tour stereotype, but I’ll let you make your own conclusions.
About time for some real questions.
As Blaenavon’s fan base has been constantly growing due to back-to-back support tours with bands including Mystery Jets, The Hunna and DIIV – which climaxed with a headline show in London’s Scala – I decided its a good idea to get to know these emo alt-rockers a little better.
Upon asking where the influence for their band has come from, Ben Gregory’s (vocals) response is, “my parents were both very musical in different ways. My mum is a great pianist and cellist, whilst my dad got me into loads of great records from an early age. I remember mixtapes he’d make for the car with Bowie, Lou Reed and a whole crop of other legends. He bought me my first guitar and that’s when it all started really. I also used to sit at at the piano and cover some really crap pop-rock songs – fortunately those days are almost over.”
Blaenavon’s tracks to date have had a continuously dark undertone in the lyrics, and I’m keen to find out why. One of the three boys pipes up to say “it’s important to us to write music and lyrics that inspire people and to try to steer clear from the typical boy/girl dilemma or even ‘can’t get into the club’ theme that seems to be cropping up these days. We want to capture serious emotion and hopefully make music that people can properly connect with, relate to, and feel they should come back to”. With songs that say “let’s pray for death”, and their single ‘Into the Night’ seemingly a metaphor for letting go and accepting an imminent death, the boys seem to have accomplished their aim of escaping the “typical boy/girl dilemma” with a large degree of success. Whilst at the same time the pace of their songs stops the listener becoming manically depressed.
The prospect of such deep undertones may seem enough to put off someone who just fancies a listen to some upbeat tracks more typical of the genre, however, the three put on quite the show. The dark lyrics juxtaposed with the distorted guitars and unique drum grooves really gives the audience something to enjoy. Not least when Ben Gregory joins Harris McMillan on the kit whilst Frank Wright OD distorts his bass for the climatic breakdown at the end of ‘Prague’ to bring the set to an end. Definitely one to trawl around YouTube to try and find.
Blaenavon have released a number of singles and EPs to date showing they’re enjoying getting to grips with the music that works for them. Added together with the long string of support tours and increased media attention it’s only expected that an album must be coming. So I end by asking, what’s in store for 2017? “Loads more touring! We want 2017 to be the year of the road for us. Our album will be coming out at the beginning of the year, too, so expect the drip-feeding of a few new bits up to then!” Just as I hoped, 2017 will certainly be a big year for Blaenavon, so if you missed them on their support tours I highly recommend catching them in 2017.