Blaenavon’s rise over the past 18 months has been incremental. Their debut album That’s Your Lot flickers between a eulogy to youth, lust and the ambition of a band with an ever-promising future. Infected with jarring rhythms and the blend of light and shade needed to evolve the breadth of the lcord, stylistically, their heads poke above other bands in their peer group. Yet at its core, this balancing element appears to play a strong part in forming their aesthetic. In a way that mirrors their debut, their live show provides a vodka-kick of danceability and fun compared to the ambience of some of their more wistful songs. Though the latter is not to their detriment in any way, the marrying of these elements treats their listeners to poetic confection amidst Ben Gregory’s unfeigned lyricism. This contrast almost provides a metaphor for their ascension and was something I asked Blaenavon about before their show at Liverpool’s Arts Club in what I felt to be a very honest account of how they’ve progressed from humble beginnings to finding themselves in a position that so many young artists pine for.
Q: You’ve had a crazy few months since releasing the album, how has it been?
Ben: Yeah really sick. We did the tour leading up to the album and it was properly crazy but then you can tell that people have been living with it for six months now, they’re singing every word and it feels really great.
Q: This is the third time you’ve played Liverpool this year if that’s right?
Ben: Yeah that’s right, we did our Studio 2 show which was sold out and then we didn’t really expect to suddenly go up to the Arts Club but it’s pretty cool and it’s sold out. It’s nice because we’ve been here a few times supporting others bands and it’s nice to get yourself to play here.
Q: So you’ve recently come off the back of a support tour with alt-J, how was that?
Ben: Yeah sick man, so good.
Q: I went to the show at the O2 back in June, I know it wasn’t on the tour but I thought it was a really great show.
Ben: Yeah they’re lovely guys and we’re big big fans of them, especially their new album so it was just really sick watching it every night.
Q: How did it come about?
Harris: I think it’s probably because we’re label mates in America but we asked if we can do that O2 show and they were like yeah. I think we met before or something like that and you (Ben) played in a band with his brother.
Ben: I think the main reason is that we have the same label in the US and they probably got to pick some things and they seemed quite excited by us and I guess that’s what it is because they were watching us every night and stuff so I quite like to think it’s because they like our band.
Q: I’ve read before that you’ve said they’re a big influence on the music that you make. Did you learn a lot from touring with them?
Ben: Yeah actually. I learnt a lot from listening to their third record and seeing how they play it live because for the first time on this tour we can play some more stripped back, chill stuff and people will be really cool and be really respectful of that, and alt-J have that for a two hour set so it’s quite sick to see a band be able to do that. It was quite inspiring. I wrote a song straight after the O2 show as well (‘Quiet In Your Heart’).
Q: Is there a different dynamic between being a support band on a tour with bands such as alt-J and Two Door Cinema Club and headlining your own tour?
Ben: Yeah, I mean, I take it all seriously but for headline shows I have to really focus that I look after myself because we’re performing for an hour and ten minutes every night. So it’s more rewarding for everyone if you’re in a fit state and you can sing well etc. So instead of having a funny time the reward is seeing everyone singing and not letting the fans down, which might seem a bit cliche but that’s kind of the difference for me.
Q: When I was listening to That’s Your Lot something that really stood out to me when it came out was this contrast you have in the subtlety of the record and how you really project yourselves sonically as well. Is this contrast of light and dark here something you try and work into your shows or do you go for a more raucous approach to play up to the live element?
Ben: Thank you man. I mean yeah, the live show does represent the album but it’s done in a different order so we try and get people really excited with the more sing-along bangers at the start to whip the crowd up a bit and then we bring it down a bit and then go in with some of the heavier stuff, then play the favourite stuff at the end. It’s tricky because we’re playing for an hour and ten minutes so we have to try and make sure it’s engaging for everyone the whole time.
Q: Following on from that light and dark element, one thing that stood out to me on the record was that as well as projecting yourselves sonically you’re able to keep your rhythm section interesting. Is this something you focus on when writing or does it come naturally?
Harris: It’s just a progression from arranging the songs really and then we have a loose idea but I think just playing them live is mainly what makes it really tight. Me and Frank always have new ideas we try and chuck into the pot with every show. We come out after it and say ‘oh that was kind of cool when we did that’.
Ben: We can spend as much time on the rehearsal space as we like but you know, there’s one new one we’re playing tonight, and we’ve only played it 6/7 times on tour but that’s really the only time where it progresses and gets to the right place. You need to playing live in front of fans to work out what they like and what they don’t like.
Q: I’ve heard old demos that you’ve recorded as well for song such as ‘Swans’, ‘Alice Come Home’ and ‘Prague’. What was the process like for recording these old songs and do you think they’ve grown with you as musicians?
Ben: Yeah ‘Alice Come Home’ and ‘Swans’, we’ve been playing those songs for five years and we could have put them on old EPs because it’s safe but we decided to wait. Yeah we recorded a few different versions with our producer Jim (former producer for Arctic Monkeys), we didn’t change the structure much but he just made them sound as fat as we’d always wanted. I guess we needed some sonic assistance there I guess, especially after playing them for four years we knew the songs really well. Brand new songs in the studio can take a bit longer to work out what you want to do with them.
Q: So you’ve said there you’ve had them around five odd years. You guys have been getting a lot of attention sine you were 16/17 years old. I wanted to ask you for young artist there’s so many different platforms to have your music heard, whether it be Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp etc. But with these platforms you have added competition to get your music heard. Do you necessarily think all these platform are a good thing?
Ben: I don’t think any of them are a bad thing. I think it’s great that anyone can get their music onto Spotify, earn their royalties and do their thing without the support of a label which not everyone can have obviously it’s really great because it means you can break off your own back if you make a really sick tune and enough people will hear it. Yeah it’s cool, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter all that stuff, you can get your music across without much of a budget by building up a fan base gradually. It’s good, loads more people can make music and spread it around than 20 years ago. So I guess there’s more competition but it’s good that more people can have a crack, sadly not everyone because it’s expensive.
Q: How did getting spotted by Transgressive come about for you guys? Because you were 17 when you were spotted by them?
Ben: The first thing was that one of our friends run a blog called Crack in the Road and we put all our stuff on the Internet without worrying about it much, then he stumbled across it on Bandcamp and wrote about it on his blog. A guy on Transgressive called Mike read about it on there and then we had a show supporting a band in London. We then just turned up and played. Back then we used to have one in every ten shows we’d be really great and then other nine we’d be really shit and I think we were really good that time so it was lucky.
Harris: Or maybe not that good compared to what we thought was good but he could probably see some potential there. It had loads of our young frineds going mental there too.
Ben: I asked him (Mike) the other day if were any good and he said we were fucking amazing and I said to him you’re so lucky mate!
Q: Have you guys begun thinking about or writing the new record yet or is that quite distant at the moment?
Ben: Somewhere in between. I think we’re just playing around with different tunes at the moment. We’re quite lucky that we’ve had quite a while to think about it and I guess you know that we promoted our first album over quite a period of time so we’ve had a good six months to a year to casually write music without feeling stressed out about the next record so their should be some good stuff.
Q: Do you think you’ll take the same staggered approach releasing EPs in the run up to it or just release the next LP?
Ben: I think it’ll be a lot more brief now. We’ve got the set of hardcore fans now that really care about what we’re doing now. So we just want to keep them happy really, put out a another single or two and then think about getting the next record out. Because, you always make a record and then you put it out a year later. You always a make a record and then it comes out a year later so you always want to stay current to the music that you’re making so it’s important to keep going constantly otherwise you get a bit dated.
Q: There’s been a lot of talk in the music press recently about the stagnancy of guitar-led rock music. Do you agree with this or do you think that rock music should take heed from hip-hop’s willingness to adapt?
Ben: I don’t know if there’s much people can do really, the majority of people in the world these days like hip-hop and pop and that’s cool, we like that much very much too but we’ve noticed from this tour and support tours we’re doing that guitar music is still very much a thing for a lot of people and I guess it’s like a different type of gig. My favourite shows are still rock and roll shows it’s like a different live thing so we’re working our hardest to run around the country forever and show to people that’s what a good show can be.
Harris: We’re not doing it to prolong the life of rock though it’s just what we’ve picked up and it’s what we like to play so whatever will happen will happen.
Q: Do you think the definition of what rock is changing over time? We have people like Kanye West saying he’s the greatest rockstar on the planet at Glastonbury and other artists like Young Fathers and Death Grips making this real poignant music at the moment. Do you think it’s changing and adapting as a genre in itself or are bands tailoring themselves towards that?
Ben: I don’t think you should tailor your music to what you expect someone wants you to do. We’ll never change the style of our music to satisfy any trend but we’ll keep making the music that we want to make and hopefully that’s progressive and if not hopefully it’s great anyway.
Blaenavon released their debut album That’s Your Lot on 7th April 2017.