Starting in high school, Blaenavon mostly used their band to distract themselves from school. Six years later they’re international touring artists that are still pulling out some tracks from their early teens. With a strong 2017 release, a rocketing career trajectory and their biggest tour yet, they’re ready to be the UK’s next big export act. We chatted with Ben Gregory of Blaenavon ahead of their set at Osheaga to discuss their rapid career uptake and what happened when they actually played in the town of Blaenavon.
Northern Transmissions: Considering you’d been releasing EPs the past few years, what made you decide it was time for a full-length record?
Ben Gregory (Blaenavon): We’d have liked to make a record sooner, but it wasn’t the right time in terms of us as a developed band. We took a long time choosing the right songs, writing and developing ourselves as players. We just wanted it to be really good so we took our time. It went through a lot of iterations and changes, we could have released 10 different versions of it.
NT: Were there any major stumbling blocks for you guys to get to this album?
BG: Yes but they made us stronger. We did a lot of recording on our own to figure out how we sounded as a trio. We made some stuff that just wasn’t up to scratch, and we got frustrated, but then we went back in the studio to master our craft. We got Jim involved producing and made an end-product we liked.
NT: Starting young in the industry did you ever worry about getting used by the industry or rushing into things?
BG: Although we’re a fairly newer band, we’ve been playing together for six or seven years, so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and like to play as a three-piece. We just made sure the teams we got here and in the UK were non-pushy, safe people. They were so patient with us, they acknowledged that we wanted to finish school and college, they share our vision of how we want our band to be in the long game. Still fun but no flash-in-the-pan band.
NT: Was there ever a fear when you guys first got signed that you might lose the fun of just playing?
BG: It just gave us a platform to do what love doing in front of as many people as possible. We haven’t changed our outlook on playing or making music or touring, it’s all the same. We just got a really good group of people behind us. Before our team we had a hit or miss ratio in terms of our shows, but now we’ve been putting on bangers almost every night.
NT: Did this record feel more like an indication of where you are now or was it more charting your journey from forming until now?
BG: The album really serves as a greatest hits of the last six years, since we started being a band. That’s why it’s so exciting, because it fits into a bunch of different times for us.
NT: Are there any songs on this record that are from when you guys started in your early teens?
BG: “Swans” is one of the first songs we wrote. We recorded a demo years ago, and always knew that it was so good that it needed to go on our album. It was so important to us that we saved for the album because it was worthwhile.
NT: I heard you guys also did a very meta concert in the town of Blaenavon, with the Blaenavon male choir?
BG: We always thought it was a fun idea, because people in the town of Blaenavon must be really confused about why their town’s name is written in all these strange places. So we wanted to show them were weren’t just stealing their name and culture, but that we’ve tried to spread the word about what a nice town it is. We took our music there, got the choir involved, who were really stoked to be playing our new stuff, really nice to work with. Loads of townspeople came to the gig. The most surprising thing was fans came from all over, someone came from Paris, it was a nationwide Blaenavon meet up.
NT: How was managing the band during school and how have things changed since you finished?
BG: When we were in school, the band was a cool hobby on Thursday evenings, and it gave us something to distract us from studying. When we finished, we thought “Let’s not do anything else,” because we’d given it a few years casually and it feels like something really important. It’s great to be able to commit to it properly, tour, and make music.
NT: With five years behind you, what’s next for the band?
BG: We’re doing the biggest tour we’ve ever done in the UK, and right now we’re sitting in Canada, which is pretty weird. We’re going to tour this record and get to work on the next work one. We’ve got some hot stuff ready to go.
Words by Owen Maxwell