Blaenavon frontman, Ben Gregory has always been candid about his struggles with mental health, so to announce the band’s sophomore record ‘Everything That Makes You Happy’ he penned the following open letter to address the group’s fans about the turbulent and challenging times that led to the outfit crafting their latest long player.
In his own words, Gregory sums up the feeling of ‘Everything That Makes You Happy’ and his recent battle with depression and anxiety here: “I couldn’t be prouder for you all to hear this album: an optimistic response to a difficult time. It made sense with the record’s impending release to touch base with you again and explain what’s been happening in our world. I’ve been very open regarding my mental health, and earlier this year things once more took a turn for the worst. In an industry so challenging, I pushed myself too hard and relapsed, returning to hospital for a short time. I know many of you have really been struggling with your mental health, but I can promise you that time heals all and everything WILL be alright. The good news is the music hasn’t stopped flowing and we won’t make you wait another two and a half years to hear more. The support from you all throughout everything has been so warm and I’m honoured to have you guys as fans and friends. I want to make this band one you cherish forever, I want to thank my family for being such incredible rocks through all this trauma and I want to thank you for believing in this band as much as I do. Breathe this album in deeply – it really is one of a kind and from a very special place. All my love, Ben x.”
‘Everything That Makes You Happy’ is a record of great juxtaposition; largely it’s jaunty and upbeat when it comes to its sonic make-up, whilst lyrically Gregory burrows deep into the trauma he experienced as his world unravelled. It’s an album anchored on being vulnerable but also celebrating life and the accomplishment of overcoming its pitfalls. The Hampshire trio’s new album is jolted awake by the beautiful swoon of ‘I Want You’, a song constructed on delicate strings and clip-clopping beats. Gregory can be heard declaring “for love like ours/I’d swim through rivers and oceans of tar”. So far, so heartfelt until the song’s chorus sprinkles in a touch of paranoia as the group’s singer chimes “it’s not what you said/it’s how you said it”. The orchestral-pop flourishes are replaced by a lumbering alt-rock chug on ‘Back This Year’; a song that delves deeply into Gregory’s recent mental health challenges “I’m not the man I’m supposed to be/I’ve lost so many sides of me”. ‘Skin Scream’ burrows into the singer’s bruised psyche, as dreamy motifs paint a sad depiction of relationships and modern life “what’s the point in getting dressed/if I’m going to take my own clothes off again” and “you’re better off lonely” typify this point. The rawness of ‘Quiet in your Heart’ is palpable, as the trill of an acoustic guitar and an isolated voice illustrate the fact that all our actions have consequences, with the direct but brutal “another person you fucked up”. A similar message is conveyed on the lowkey, languid dance-pop of ‘Fucking Up My Friends’, as the Blaenavon man calls out his own actions “here I go again/fucking up my friends”, like a man who’s aware of his behaviour but can’t seem to stop hitting the self-destruct button. ‘Catatonic Skinbag’, a song that’s bestowed with a fidgeting Pixies/Weezer aesthetic as it writhes with a nervous energy, has Gregory crippled by self-deprecation “I never said it would be easy/I’m the last man I’d ever date”. The album’s title track closes off ‘Everything That Makes You Happy’, it’s here where all the elements of the record coalesce; part delicate, part roaring rock bombast. The same can be said of the lyrics; Gregory on one hand can be heard proclaiming “I’ve got a sin I’ll never shake” and then on the other “is it time/is it time/is it time/happiness is coming/look busy”, with the tone of someone calling out for help but is too scared to accept it.
Raw, undeniably confessional, ‘Everything That Makes You Happy’ is a vulnerable but brave documentation of how mental health can take hold but how you can break free of its shackles. I’ll leave it to Gregory to sign off
with these very true words: “the world is lovely/pure/divine/don’t let it crush you”.
Words and Thought of Adam Williams