In Conversation with Blaenavon

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Photo by Steve Gullick

We spoke to Ben and Harris from Blaenavon, before their sold-out show at The Deaf Institute, about their debut album ‘That’s Your Lot’, Ben’s majestic hair and skinny dipping in the Lake District.

How has your UK tour been so far?

B: So far every single one has been really grand, which is weird because there’s usually a duff one in the middle somewhere, but they’ve all been amazing and most of them have been sold out. Tonight’s quite a big one for us because Manchester and London are our favourite places to play.

I first saw you guys perform live when you supported Sundara Karma at The Albert Hall back in February – what was that tour like?

B: Pretty amazing! It was a great insight into what things can be like when you get properly massive, so now we just want to be headlining The Albert Hall for ourselves, but we’ll work our way up to that.

You performed at SXSW this year – how was that experience?

B: Amazing, although we were a little bit late arriving there because we had some visa issues, so we had to cram everything that we needed to do into 3 days. We did 4 shows in 6 hours. And then we also did some sessions and shot a new music video, in which I’m wearing a suit in a swimming pool! That’s for our next single ‘Lonely Side’. And I celebrated my 21st birthday out there, sat by some springs, bathing in the sun.

H: Lots of swimming really! Ben was swimming in a pool of cigarettes and old beer, and I was swimming in the Colorado River.

B: I was incredibly ill when I woke up the next day after that! I had to spend ages singing under the dirty water!

It’s not too clear where you actually got the band name ‘Blaenavon’… how did it originate?

B: The genuine truth is that a friend of mine gave me a big bag of t-shirts, and one of them said ‘Blaenavon’ on it and I was like ‘What is this magical new word that I’ve never seen before?’ I didn’t really know what to make of it, and I wanted people to feel the same when they saw our band name. I guess it’s kind of worked.

When you first started as a band, you were just teenagers… Did you experience any ageism? Or people talking down to you and thinking that you were too young to be successful?

H: People used it in a positive way, like ‘Look how young they are and look at what they’re doing!’, but it was annoying to us and I don’t think anyone is ever actually impressed by that. It’s just something that the press like to pick up on, for their own end really.

B: I’m glad our record is coming out when we’re 21, so people are like ‘This is a good band’, because back then it was like ‘Look how good this band are, for their age! Isn’t that cute?’, which isn’t ideal journalism…

You worked with Jim Abbiss on your debut album ‘That’s Your Lot’, and he’s worked with some pretty huge bands, such as Arctic Monkeys and Bombay Bicycle Club – what was he like to work with?

B: Very exciting and scary and fun, because he’s made those really seminal debut indie records and we wanted to be able to fit into that category with our album. But then he’s just a really personable, lovely man. He had a really similar vision to us and he made us the best band we could be, instead of changing us completely, he upped the ante a bit.

One of the songs that stands out in the tracklisting is ‘Swans’, which is nearly 8 minutes long! What’s special about that particular track?

B: We actually released a demo of that song in 2011 and it’s one of the earliest Blaenavon songs. We never found a good time to release it, but it’s always felt pretty important to us, so we’ve waited all this time and re-recorded it with Jim, for the album. That’s a song about falling totally, madly in love and thinking it’s going to last forever, when you’re about 14/15. It’s sweet.

You’re also selling songbooks, which is quite unique! Not a lot of artists are doing that these days… What made you want to release them?

B: So many people write to us saying ‘What are the chords for this?’ and I normally try to help them out via Instagram or whatever. But we want people to be covering our songs, with their bands, or on their own. It’s really fun for us to see other people’s interpretations of our music. And it’s pretty funny because we’re selling them on this tour, before the album is out, so some people have all the lyrics and chords to songs that they’ve never heard before! So I keep telling people to try to record covers of those songs before the album comes out, to see how close they can get to the original!

Ben, I wanted to ask you about your hair, because it’s pretty majestic! How long did it take you to grow your hair that long?

B: [shows me a picture] Well, this was the last time I cut it. It’s a photo of me and Frank from maybe 2013/2014? So it’s been 2 or 3 years, I’ve only had the tiniest trim since then. Basically, my girlfriend used to cut my hair, but we broke up… So until I get a new girlfriend who has scissorhands, I’m going to keep growing it! [laughs]

Is there any other new music that you’re enjoying at the moment?

B: We’ve got so much love and respect for The Night Café, who were supposed to be supporting us on this tour but unfortunately had to drop out for family reasons, but we’re constantly sending them all our love. We did the Sundara tour together and the moment they rocked up in their van, I just looked at them and thought ‘Yeahhh we’re gonna be mates!’ [laughs]

H: Happyness have got a new album out on the same day as our album is released, and they’re constantly great. We’ve played their first album in the van probably 40 times. Frank [bassist in Blaenavon] won’t stop putting it on.

B: There’s a guy called Rex Orange County, who I went to school with. He invited me to one of his shows and it was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. There were so many industry people there trying to sign him! He’s smashing it and he’s a really, really lovely guy.

You’ve got a summer of festivals lined up, including a slot at Lollapalooza Chicago, which festivals are you most looking forward to?

B: For me, I’m looking forward to Oshéaga in Montréal and Lollapalooza. My stepbrother lives near Montréal, so he’s going to come and see us at Oshéaga. And Lorde’s playing! So it’s all good.

H: Mine would probably be Kendal Calling… I just love Kendal.

B: I always forget we’re doing Kendal Calling… That’s sick! Nice.

H: Last time we were up that way, I went to a place called Buttermere and I went swimming butt naked.