- September 2009 -
Rocking the Dark: Interview with 'The Blackout'
Written by Dan Collacott
Lostprophets & Bullet for My Valentine helped establish Wales as a fertile breeding ground for new rock acts. Merthyr Tydfil five-piece The Blackout continue this bloodline, sucking the plasma out of the US dominated post-hardcore scene in the process. Earlier this year the band followed up debut record We Are The Dynamite with The Best in Town, the band’s first release through heavy weights Epitaph.
The new record delivers a razor sharp produced mix of emo-pop and heavy riffing, scream woven hardcore that sends out a message that we British can do anything as good if not better to our US counterparts (ok apart from hip-hop and baseball…oh and cupcakes but that’s really fairly irrelevant). I dusted off my black eyeliner to catch up with joint lead-vocalist, Gavin Butler, just before the band set off for their Warp tour stateside. The singer was bleary eyed having got up 6am that morning to sort his and the band’s US Visas, but a full English keeps the wolf from the door as we discuss his favourite track.
‘It's a tough one; It's like Sophie’s Choice. I'm a fan of every single song on the album, but if I were forced at gunpoint by some musical terrorist, I'd have to go with ShutTheFuckUppercut at the moment. It's a big kick in the balls and encapsulates everything we're about.’
Best in Town, was recorded at the pretty un-Welsh like surrounds of Sonic Ranch, El Paso, Texas, with ‘A’ front-man Jason Perry. I asked what it was like working with the 90s indie and pop punk legend?
‘Jason turned up in Cardiff for pre-production and took us all straight to the pub. We didn't pick up an instrument that day, we just bro'd down over a few pints and a meal. It set the tone for the entire recording process; he's very into psychology and quickly found how to get the best out of every member. He's like a five year old in a thirty something body. His energy definitely made it on to this record.’
Most of the new album was put together after the band had left their label Fierce Panda.
‘There was no pressure, deadlines or preconceptions of how the record should have turned out. So as cliché as it sounds it felt really organic and how it was when we were first starting out. But this time we were a lot older and more experienced songwriters. Our writing is very much a combined effort; we all bring riffs, song ideas and arrangements to the table. Then as a band we'll jam it and cut off fat and make it lean and mean.’
The band’s lyrics lurch from fairly worn markers such as betrayal, isolation, heartbreaks, to the vagaries of growing up in Wales.
‘The whole album is against the negative view that because you’re from a small town you should never try to aspire to anything. It's not even restricted to being in a band, it refers to any aspiration you have in life.’
Publicity surrounding the inspirations behind the band’s track I Love Myself and Want to Live – suggested it had aped Nirvana’s classic song I Hate Myself and Want to Die but Gavin denied this was purely an anti-Cobain statement,
‘It's more about embracing life, scraping every bit you can out of it. We're a pretty optimistic bunch of guys.’
The band recently brought their larger than life sound to the Download rock festival where they were flanked by rock legends from Whitesnake to Slipknot.
‘Download was ace. It still feels like a dream to be honest – it's such an iconic festival with such a rich history. We played again the day after because our label mates Ghost of. Thousand had to pull out.’
I switched topic to examining the singer’s career highlights and lowlights.
‘I'm lucky to be in the position where it changes quite often. My most recent (highlights) are probably our Japanese dates because it blew us away being so far away from home and seeing people who speak a different language singing our songs. Saying that we start Warped tour next week, so let's hope that's the next highlight. I've never had one [lowlight] yet. We've played to no one but the other band we were supporting, slept on top of our gear in a van for two weeks, but I don't count any of these things as a lowlight because they are the times you remember and what make the highlights that much higher.’
Gavin explained in comedy fashion how bass player Rhys Lewis once ended up with bleeding on his brain.
‘He had a fight with the LAX Tarmac and lost. We were on the bus that was shuttling us to the plane and he passed out near the door and fell out onto the Tarmac. He'd previously thrown up four times due to food poisoning. He's back fighting fit, and he can now start fires with his mind.’
The frontman had also managed to register a few spikes on the endurance meter whilst on tour in Japan.
‘I had four hours sleep in two days. We hadn’t been on tour for about three months so I went a bit too wild and I was literally drunk for about three days. So much so I ended up in Tokyo’s fish market eating sushi at five in the morning.’
The band’s music is not the only thing bringing them fame, dual vocalist and teen heart-throb Sean Smith’s golden and expertly maintained locks, resulted in a sexiest male Kerrang nomination.
‘We're all very jealous. I think like Sampson all his power is derived from his hair. We'd cut it off but apparently it can't be cut by conventional methods.’
Gavin confirmed the band really did get together out of boredom in a science class, between actual learning, setting fire to gas taps and drawing chalk willies on the blackout blinds (ok so those last three were just me).
‘Matt had just left a band and he and Sean wanted to start a band so the seeds of The Blackout were sewn. The boredom thing is true too; the town that we live in was once voted the third worst place to live in the UK. So for us it was either drugs, rugby or music, and since none of us are stupid enough to throw our lives away for a high or big enough to play rugby... A band was the way we went.’
Everyone likes a ‘if you could rule the world’ style question, and I’m so childish I went ahead and asked Gavin what he’d do with that kind of power.
‘I don't think I can be trusted with power. I'd have the best intentions but I'd probably still end up commissioning some sort of spherical space station with power to destroy planets.’
Hooray even a band as cool as The Blackout can have their inner geek outed with a Star Wars reference!
Gavin revealed the band spend a lot of time on tour, so what better way to pass the time between gigs with the occasional (and very necessary) social networking gag.
‘We always prank each other. The easiest is when someone leaves their Facebook logged in. Changing they're status to the most filthiest, horrifically appalling sentence that are usually sexual in nature.’
So what can fans expect from The Blackout on tour?
‘Blood, sweat and semen. That's right we have sailors. That's how you spell it right?’
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