Hampshire trio Blaenavon are arguably the best band you can’t pronounce. Despite only just finishing school it seems like the band have been round an eternity!
Anyway, I caught up with singer/ guitarist Ben Gregory and discussed school, new music and …Mozart.
Blaenavon came to the publics consciousness back in 2013 releasing the Intro the Night/ Denim Patches Single. Do you look back on those songs proudly or would you change these songs?
I think they were good songs at the time, they perhaps wouldn’t make it onto the album now. We were really young. I’m still very proud of what we did. We still play the songs live and they go down well. We’ve revamped them quite a lot so they’re a bit different. So they’ve withstood the test of time well.
You experienced more and more recognition whilst at school. Was it frustrating not able to tour due to schoolwork?
I didn’t really understand how the whole being in the band thing worked, so I never really got that troubled by it. I didn’t realise that we were meant to be touring the EP all the time. We were just recording in the holidays and then going back to school, which I was fine with. It seemed that things were going well and people were interested.
Finally when you finished school, were you all fixated on Blaenavon or did some of you want to go off to uni?
We sort of wanted to go off to uni. Frank wanted to study at Conservatoire. I just always wanted to be in a band, like if it doesn’t work out I’ll go to uni. It’s just too hard to tell if it’s working out, but I plan on doing this and not lectures right now.
So you’ve finished school and the Lets Pray EP was out last week, how did it feel to finally put all the songs out?
We didn’t do anything for a while and we really wanted to come back with something we were really proud of that represented the scope of the album, so we put “I Will be the World” out and had a really sick video for it and everyone got behind it which was wicked. “Lets Pray” was a nice extension on that, a bit more of a jangly one.
One thing that really resonates for me is the artwork for the Lets Pray EP. The face is particularly bleak looking, is there a story behind the artwork?
Yeah it’s done by a friend of ours called Maggie. We didn’t have any artwork for any of the singles, and we were just hanging out with her in her house listening to vinyls, it’s what we do to relax. She had all these amazing paintings that she had done, and then we looked in the attic and there was just hoards of these great pieces. We were like “lets work together, we’re friends, you’re great.” So we’re hoping to continue working with her for the next few singles and get a couple more characters out.
So would you say the face is reflective of the music on the album?
Yeah it is pretty reflective. “Let’s Prey” does seem quite jovial but it is quite dark when you read it.
Yeah the lyrics in “Let’s Prey” are bleak, is there a message behind the line “let’s prey, let’s prey, let’s prey for death?”
Part of the song is really about losing your artistic touch and thinking that you’ve just “f***ed” it and can’t write songs anymore. It’s quite an introspective and ironic number, it was one of the songs that are label liked the song the most, although halfway through writing it I thought it sucked. So then I started to write it about being bad at writing songs.
So if you thought it sucked were you surprised when your label (Transgressive) encouraged you to release it?
No… well the first the demo is really, really bad. But then they saw something in it that I didn’t see. Then we all did make it together as a band, then I started to understand why they liked it.
A lot of the music we have released before are big, building and have huge moments- so it was really nice to put something out that you could tap your foot along to and has a nice little groove. It really does do a nice job on the album.
I read a quote which describe you as “the biggest signing (on Transgressive) since Foals.” Do you feel any pressure to emulate their success?
No, of course not, I don’t feel any pressure because we’re on Transgressive! They’ve put out a lot of good stuff since Foals. The label is a good crowd and everyone is really kind and grateful to us. It’s great that they’ve got such a great heritage with bands like Foals as it’s good to be on a label that have broken an indie band, which is a hard thing to do! It also means we get to see those guys. We’ve had good advice from Foals about what we should be doing.
I don’t feel under pressure to get as big as Foals… but it would be nice!
So could you be headlining Reading and Leeds in 10 years?
Yeah we’ll try and do it in 4!
I look forward to your headline slot then! I heard you did a DJ set with Foals once, what was that like?
Yeah we were like there hype-men, it was in 2013 I think. Our label run a stage at Reading and Leeds, they take over the Alternative Stage. Foals were doing a DJ set afterwards, we got 20 of our friends and acted as the hype-men to try and get people into the event! It was really funny and a really good night!
Speaking of festivals, you seemed to play everyone this summer. Do any particularly stand out for you?
Glastonbury was probably the best show we’ve ever done and the best weekend we’ve ever had! We were in the William Green tent, I’d never been to Glastonbury so didn’t know where it was. It’s close to the man stage, so it was nice that people go through. We won a few people over who thought what was going on in the tent!
There were loads of people that came to us which was nice because we worried playing early afternoon on the Friday. We thought it might be a tough one, but it was packed and we did the best show of our lives!
As well as Glastonbury, I heard you went over to the US for SXSW. How did your set go down?
It was amazing! I struggled a bit with the flu the day we got there. We had six shows in seven days so I completely lost my voice. We just about held it together, and then I turned 20 on the last day, so we had a really fun time!
Currently you’re on tour supporting The Hunna, how are they going?
We’ve done a couple shows with them already which were really really crazy- people lose their brains!
Do The Hunna’s fans seem receptive to your music?
Yeah. Sometimes even when the show is sold out and you’re the support band it’s hard to make the crowd come around. But these shows with The Hunna are packed out and are crazy!
You’ve done loads of support slots with Foals, Bloc Party and The Sherlocks. Do you relish the opportunity to win people over or is it a nerve wracking experience playing to other band’s fans?
It’s nerve wracking if you feel that nobody is getting into it. If you have a few people that are into it and see a couple of people singing along you get confident, then you play better because you know people are here for you. It’s tough sometimes if you think people aren’t interested, it’s hard to keep going. Although, I think we’ve got better at that, just because people aren’t screaming or dancing around people are still enjoying it.
What can people expect from your live set?
Heavy dance moves! That’s the main thing, we rock out really hard. But what separates us from other people are dance moves.
Going off on a bit of tangent, if you could collaborate with any artist alive or dead who would it be?
Wait a second, I’ll just have to ask the others!
Either Mozart, Michael Jackson or Lorde.
Mozart! Wasn’t expecting that! Any reasons behind those rather obscure choices?
Mozart has excellent pop sensibility in his melodies and I think they’d come out in our songs. We’re obviously slightly different genres so it would be nice to collaborate there!
Michael Jackson is because Frank (bassist) does the best “Man in the Mirror” cover of all time in Karaoke, so it would be nice to see them do it back to back!
And Lorde because she’s f**king awesome!
Going off on another tangent, do you regret having such a complicated name to spell and pronounce?
Yeahhh. It’s kind of nice because when you know what it is. You kind of have to get involved to find out what it is. I do worry at shows and we say “Hello, we’re called Blaenavon”, and then despite a good show we won’t get anything from it. We’ve kind of solved the issue now, we have banners and stickers to make sure everyone can find us!
I always say I regret it, but in the 5 years of being in this band I haven’t thought of a name that I would want more. So yeah, it’s kind of different and a bit quirky.
You pronounce it Bline-avon. Think of it like Bryan Adams.
That helps! How did the name actually come about?
From a T-shirt. My friend bought me a massive bag of hand-me-down clothes. I went through it all and the best thing in there was this T-shirt that said Blaenavon. We were at school and I was wearing the T-shirt and I was like “guys… I’ve just realised what we should do.”
You can catch Blaenavon on tour now…