Interview // Welcome to BLAENAVON
A band with many stories about no story at all.
I caught up with the Hampshire trio just before their sold out show last week (Feb 4) at The Lexington in London. Another regular Thursday night and yet there I was again. The same venue for the second time within just three days. But with one exception – definitely a better band.
Frank Wright (Bass), Harris McMillan (Drums) and Ben Gregory (Vocals/Guitar)
I’ve listened to Blaenavon‘s music for quite a while now and to be fair I was really eager to finally meet and see them perform live. Obviously, I had some expectations and doubts and I must say they are full of ambiguity which, in their case, is actually a good thing.
Here we are then. Three years later since their first release (Into The Night / Denim Patches 2013), with the debut album in the making, barely out of school and out of puberty, entering only their twenties. Are they still those three boys with a story to tell?
We were lying about that – Harris McMillan (drums) starts. We don’t really have a story. But I think we’ve probably got more… more chapters now.
We’ve got 12 chapters – Ben Gregory (vocals/guitar) adds.
But it’s not finished yet – the drummer says.
No! It’s finished – here goes the singer.
No, it’s not finished – and moving back to Harris.
We’ve finished recording the album – Frank Wright (bass) cuts in. I think that’s what we’re trying to say.
We’ve still got a lot more to do – Ben sums up. But no release date yet. We don’t know when but yes, we’ve got those twelve stories. Some of them are long, some of them are short. Actually, they’re long.
I’m already loving the start.
With Dirty Projectors, Cigarettes After Sex and MONEY amongst many others currently on their playlist, the band talk me through their growth and improvement since the beginning.
We spent quite a lot of time on this boat on the lake – Harris says. Two or three months there so we had a lot of time to mess around with the album. I think we were quite different before so yes, our sound has changed.
But it’s really annoying when people ask what your band sounds like – Frank states.
I think we’re a nice mix of different things – Ben says. We do like a lot of guitar music, I suppose. But we’ve got some broader taste that will show across our album.
Blaenavon did a pretty cool session for Burberry Acoustic a couple of months ago so make sure to watch the video below.
That was pretty cool, wasn’t it? – the lead singer says more about the experience. We’re still stoked on that. We were in Manchester for a gig at Fallow Cafe which was one of my favourite shows we’ve ever done. Burberry wanted to film us the day after so we said “Why don’t we do it Manchester?”. They asked us to suggest some places that we thought would be cool for it. We said “Maybe like Fallow Cafe?” and they were like “No guys, we got you The Albert Hall” which was pretty amazing. So we put on some nice clothes and spent the day watching pianos being shifted around from certain levels of The Albert Hall. That’s probably one of my favourite things actually. Very proud of that.
So is it the best thing that has happened so far?
Actually, tonight is a pretty big deal for us – Harris says. We haven’t really done a lot of headline shows and we sold this one out which is really pleasing. The last one we did in London was three months ago maybe and it was half the size of this place so yeah all good.
Being the new addition to Transgressive Records the band was labelled their most exciting signing since Foals. But what guys think about it?
Good bands are on that label and we’re happy to be a part of it – the frontman comments. It’s not up to us really but it’s nice to be described as such. We’re excited if that counts for it.
As you can see, such a young age and yet these guys have achieved so much. Worth to mention, they even got Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys producer) on board when recording the debut album. No biggie. Although, when asked to describe it in only one word they decided to go for nice. I’ve got a feeling that’s a big understatement. I bet the album won’t be just nice. Well, at least they are unanimous.
Anyway, it all makes you reflect and wonder What have you done with you life recently?
But of course, I need to ask about that name – Blaenavon. Interesting fact (if to believe the Internet) in Welsh language the word itself means front of the river or loosely river’s source. But how did they come up with that? Did they consider any other names?
I wish – Ben says.
Ben had this large bag full of T-shirts and amongst them we found one with “Welcome To Blaenavon” written across – Frank recalls. So we thought “What a pretty name”.
Just a gift from a friend with lovely word on it – Ben adds. We didn’t know what it meant and we pronounced it wrongly for about two years but we called our band that. It is difficult to sell as a name though.
But I like a challenge – Harris says. It will be like a new word in a dictionary. Like Google.
And selfie – Ben says.
One thing for sure, people will definitely remember it.
We hope so. As long as they can read.
There’s plenty more.. some story about Tom Cooper and bicycles, some fights in elevators, another Ben Gregory touring with them, top secret chat groups and loads and loads of beer…. However, since they have the tendency to lie during interviews I can’t guarantee any of the above was actually true.
But as it turns out everyone has a story to tell. You just need to know when is the right time to listen.
As for the show…
Opening with building up drums and crushing riffs of Hell Is My Head, taken out of their latest EP Miss World (2015), Gregory‘s towering vocals start to echo throughout the room. I’ll be the one you’ll ever find easily slips Into The Night – the outstanding 2013 debut – bringing youthful nostalgia back. For such a young lads there’s something decadent in their early stuff. The maturity of songwriting skills enhanced by deep idiosyncratic vocals create an atmosphere of romantic melancholy, especially when you realise how dark the lyrics can get. The beginning of the set and I can already tell there’s something special about them. Something different, better to say.
However, new material sees them turning towards more up-tempo beats and poppy vibes. Pray For Death and Alice Come Home go down really well whereas Orthodox Man is stated by the lead singer himself as the catchiest song so far. When delivering the blend of groovy bass lines and never-ending drums, energetic stage presence emanates from the band and despite being a little bit shy but witty at times I think they might be quite mad. They are certainly on the right path to become a great live band. Just give them a bigger stage.
With dancing lights throughout the entire performance we’re heading towards the end now. The majority of the setlist displays new songs. Take Care, being a shout out to the frontman’s mum, is another example of brilliantly written choruses. You know, the ones that stay in your head for a long time. Of course, the fact that a big part of the audience consists of family and mates is surely an advantage.
Finishing off with a mosh pit, Gregory‘s stage diving and Wright joining McMillan on a drum kit during the ultimate fan favourite Prague, the set does not seem like long enough.
Prague leaves the band on top of the world and the crowd, to be precise. But no matter the size of it. As long as this world sounds big enough.
Blaenavon have been compared to other bands stating they sound like early The Maccabees or fresher Wild Beasts or whatever. But as mentioned earlier, not only they’re something different. I guess it’s fair to say – they are something new.
And a little advice here – you better start liking them now before they play The O2 and other arenas. Because that’s gonna happen sooner or later. I just don’t want to be the one saying I told you so.
See some sweet snaps of their sold out London show!
Photo: Kasia Osowiecka