24 Oct 2016

NAOTD #1: Shits And Giggles Backstage With Blaenavon

Photo: Press
30 nights into a 33 date support tour with likes of The Hunna, DIIV and Mystery Jets, Hampshire trio Blaenavon are knackered. Slumped in swivel chairs backstage at Norwich Waterfront, they're the embodiment of either rock and roll in its purest form - with faces coolly obscured by caps and collars - or just pure exhaustion from crisscrossing the UK non stop for the last five weeks. In a matter of days, their biggest headline show to date will take place at London's Scala. It will be phenomenal. But for now, before they bring their thunderous and mighty live show to the unsuspecting Hunna fans of East Anglia, there's time for a casual Q&A about booze, birthdays, barks and bites. 

How was your summer of many festivals?

Harris: It was huge, it was better than the summer of ’69. It was the summer of 2016-9. I’m pretty sure the summer of ’69 Glastonbury wasn’t as lit as it was this year. Quote me on that.

Ben: On Latitude day I had the flu so sincerely badly I kept thinking I was going to be sick before we went on, and then just to test myself I thought it would be funny on stage to just spin around as many times as possible and very nearly passed out. And then crowd surfed. I was trying to give all our rival bands the flu so we’d get all the tours we want. But they’re all in good health unfortunately.

Frank: Reading was like a homecoming show for us, all the kids going wild the way we used to in 2012. They just want to punch their GCSE results out of their heads.

Lets backtrack. Blaenavon is a town in Wales, but you’re not from Blaenavon?

Harris: It’s kind of our spiritual home. It exists as this kind of utopia in our minds.

Ben: It’s got great cheddar and a great Twitter account which keeps you updated on the events there. Like the other day there was an ice-cream van fire. We don’t know how that didn’t subside quite quickly. They’ve got a great brass band, they’ve got a great voice choir, it’s just a really nice place. Then we went and had a picnic there. We did all this stuff afterwards, we just accidentally named ourselves after it and then found out all the cultural history.

Would you ever collaborate with the Blaenavon male voice choir?

Harris: We can’t actually disclose anything. Emails are being exchanged. We always talk about which song would be best to do live with them. We had this dream that when the album comes out we’d go to Blaenavon and play in the Big Pit with the voice choir. We think the best song would be this one we put out years ago called Swans, which is only on YouTube. Hopefully they’d join us for that.



You signed to Transgressive when you were just teenagers. Do you think it’s a good thing for young people to get so much support so early in their careers?

Ben: It’s hard to judge at the start whether people are nice to you because they want something from you or whether they’re actually good people, but we’ve come to know over the last few years that the people at Transgressive just want what’s best for us. But I would be a bit worried if say I had a son and he was getting massive major label offers when he was 15 or something, I think that’s a bit dangerous. Signing’s fine, not signing’s fine, either way as long as you’ve got time and space to continue working on your style and your songs on your own without being force fed too much then it’s okay.

You took your time for a bit, but your three single releases this year look like the first steps of bigger movements. What has the experience been like of finally readying your first LP?

Frank: When we were trying to pick the track listing for the album we had like nearly 100 songs in contention. I think it might have topped 100. We got into some big ‘friendly discussions’ with our label because there are some songs we were super attached to but they didn’t quite fit the record and it was tough to accept that but it was right. So, some of our favourite songs aren’t on the album, but the album’s better for it and I’m sure they’ll come back at a later stage. It’s out in the first quarter of next year, February or March I think. We speak in quarters now because we’re thoroughly run in to the business. It’s the first time we’re being professionals.

Ben: I Will Be The World is about having dreams of grandeur that you’re not really sure you can fill, but it’s nice to make a big, raucous mess about it anyway. That was a real turning point for our band actually, that song. Let’s Pray is about feeling your songwriting capabilities fall away from you while you’re mid-song and being very upset about it and self referencing, like “pray for Ben”, that’s a lyric in there. #PrayForBen? God that’s bad. My Bark is Your Bite is about feeling very inferior to people and doubting yourself lots, so all you do is bark but other people bite and get stuff done while you just sit around on Facebook or whatever. On a swivel chair.



Tell us about doing Let’s Pray in session for VEVO dscvr, and Harris’ choice of attire.

Harris: I was wearing a kimono because I’d had a very severe operation. No one knows that, everyone thinks it was just a funny fashion choice but I was actually sincerely unwell. It’s a fashion choice now though, like… illness chic. 

Ben: We should do them for merch. We were talking about Blaenavon colouring books which we’d get made with all the fan favourite shots from our music videos. So like when Frank drops all the tennis balls in the Let’s Pray video everyone could be colouring them in with a nice green. When we did Harris in the lake in the I Will Be the World video… when Harris chases after that girl in Into the Night. Baseball bat girl. I think that was the best live session we’ve done. It’s a great set-up, like it was really professional and they were all very nice to us and Charlotte [Patmore, photographer] was a legend.


You’ve performed in so many different places on this tour, are there any venues worldwide you’ve always dreamt of playing?

Ben: I really want to headline Madison Square Garden on the next tour. Hollywood Bowl, CBGBs, all these classics. The Coliseum in Rome, Sydney Opera House…

Harris: We want to do a gig in a hot air balloon more than anything else. I think we’d have to have one balloon each and then the PA would have to be on the ground. Ever since we were 15 that was our dream. It’s why we formed a band. That was the name of our hypothetical first album when we were 15. It was either going to be called ‘World Domination’ or ‘Gig In A Balloon’. I remember drafting those in English class.

Frank: Talking of balloons, it’s Harris’ birthday!

I would have brought cupcakes or something but I was running late.

Harris: I’d have been too grateful to be thankful if you’d brought me cupcakes, so I’d probably just be annoyed.

Ben: Harris has done a lot of acid on his birthday.

What’s the best birthday you’ve ever had?

Frank: We said that my one last year was the best one we ever had. It was a Sunday because we went and got a roast.

Ben: It was a Sunday evening when we were two weeks into recording the album, and we’d been living in this lovely little town called Stoke by Clare, which literally just has a church and a pub and the place we stayed. Frank’s birthday fell so conveniently on a Sunday, and we went for a nice little walk and then a roast… [laughs]. Like old people? Yeah. Then we pulled a famous Blaener niner.

Harris: It was always a term we’d considered – having three pints each – going in for a quick ‘niner’. But this time it was nine each. We got to six or something and we knew we were just going to have to go the whole way and we’d bought eight pints from Paul at the Lion, so we spent like 35 quid each in this pub, and then he was like, “boys, do you want another drink?” And the first time we ever heard our album played anywhere that wasn’t a recording studio was out of the TV in his pub. We ended up playing all of it including the nine minute long epics and stuff.

Ben: This was nine pints down. Whenever we announce tours now on Facebook, Paul comments on it and he writes “Can’t see The Lion Stoke by Clare on there!” He’s a massive legend so if there’s any chance he sees this, shout out. We could do a date there on the balloon tour – we’re going to get as many balloons as we can until we can lift The Lion into the sky and take it round the world. So yeah, nine pints each, we bought about 27 pints of beer from Paul that day. Cost about £108. It was a brilliant, brilliant day. Well, it was amazing until we got home, and then I fucked it obviously. I had my 20th birthday at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and that was pretty good fun. The band Money are good friends of ours and we went to the Hype Machine backstage bit, just tinnie after tinnie after tinnie, getting absolutely hammered.

Harris: On non alcoholic drinks! Hammered on like Pepsi and stuff. They can’t arrest us now.

Ben: So Frank and I had those famous good birthdays, and we were just hoping that Harris’ in Norwich would live up to those.

Harris: It’s going to be tough. It’s grey and raining, we’ve been on tour for a long time. But I’m feeling pretty good about it, I think the night has potential. We should go to Pizza Hut, they might bring us free cake. Pizza cake.

My Bark is Your Bite, Let's Pray and I Will Be the World by Blaenavon are all out now. Buy them, they're smashing.

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Words: Alex Cabré