Discovery: Blaenavon

For some musicians, the dream of making it in the industry feels as if it’s just at the edge of their fingertips. Ever since the U.K.-based band Blaenavon started secondary school, becoming a proper rock band was a fantasy; now, with its three members having graduated and entered their early twenties, it’s a burgeoning reality. After years of doodling potential album track listings on notebooks in English class, hounding local bands for advice, and experiencing immense heartbreak that went into lyrics, the indie rock group made up of Ben Gregory (vocals/guitar), Frank Wright (bass), and Harris McMillan (drums) have culminated their efforts into their recently released, colossal debut album That’s Your Lot (Transgressive).

With a range of songs featuring magnetic, sweeping instrumentals that crescendo and crash, Blaenavon takes the listener on a journey of heavy pop and rock ballads, encapsulating the listener in their dazzling sound. Though abstract, the band’s literary lyrics—gracefully penned by Gregory—weave a story of vulnerability, a patchwork of all the passion, effort, and hurt spun into youth. While That’s Your Lot was five years in the making, this is clearly only the beginning for Blaenavon—an essential stepping stone in their path to becoming the contemporary rock gods that they have long aspired to be.

Interview recently spoke by phone with Gregory about the band’s humble beginnings and infinite ambitions, and today we premiere “No One Else in Mind,” their duet with French actress and musician Soko.

SADIE BELL: The band started out in high school English class, imagining up this album together so many years ago. How much of that vision changed and stayed the same over time?

BEN GREGORY: It’s quite funny. There are track listings written down from when we were 14 and 15 and then every six months or so, it would be a completely new track listing until it came to three months [before] we recorded the album [that] we finally nailed them down. It was a pretty diverse, full record with a large scope, but now finally we managed to nail all of the different styles and sounds we wanted to put on the album. One song, I remember, “Swans,” is still on it from the first track listing when we were 14, which is pretty cool, but everything else has changed. We’ve taken a few lyrics and a few chords and stuff from the early material as well, which is kind of nice.

BELL: In that five year period of making the album, how do you think you as individuals and musicians evolved as well?

GREGORY: We stuck to our guns for a long time until we were 16, 17, just being young people not really knowing what was going on, making music because it was super fun. We are still the same band, but we try to make sure we are the best version that we can be, and really learn to accept each other’s skills and difficulties and to get the best of each other, because in a three-piece it is really important that everyone is totally smashing it. So, the main thing is to focus on the music and start to make different sounds, but then most importantly to me [is that] we learned to develop properly as a three-piece and learn each other’s idiosyncrasies.

BELL: Was it surreal to be working so hard as a band still in school, and then to work towards finding success so rapidly once you graduated?

GREGORY: It wasn’t during school, because we were so busy and had so much going on, so it was kind of an escape that we could do Friday evenings or on the weekend to try to get away from our mundane everyday life. Since then, it’s been more like a proper job. It’s been more intimidating, I suppose, but still it means we can properly dedicate ourselves to it, which is important.

BELL: In terms of your lyrics, a lot of them feel connected to gothic imagery and can be pretty dark. Where does that interest come from and what do you think it lends to your music?

GREGORY: Well, I’ve always been really into musicians and writers that tell pretty dark tales. My favorite writer is probably Hermann Hesse. A lot of his stuff is pretty dark and romantic and in your face and gothic, I suppose. And then I didn’t want to, as a musician, write a mundane record about growing up and pigeonhole myself in that way, so I wanted to have a more interesting, darker tale, which I think has worked out quite well.

BELL: A lot of your songs are darker love stories and honest stories of personal experience. Why do you think it’s important to tell these darker stories of youth experiences, and in what way does the album document your life over the past five years?

GREGORY: I definitely write best when it’s personal and from the heart, especially the title track [“That’s Your Lot”], which I suppose is really, really, really crushingly honest. I feel a bit guilty about it now because it is so personal and the people who were involved with it will definitely hear it and be affected by it, but you can’t restrict yourself by what other people think, so I just wanted to write from my life and unfortunately that can prove to be painful.

BELL: The band has a really interesting look and seems to have a strong interest in imagery and fashion. Where does this interest of yours come from?

GREGORY: I suppose I only got involved with fashion a few years ago when I [started modeling for] Burberry, and I think it’s really important. It really makes your stage show a lot grander and more exciting when people see an interesting looking artist and bold looking figures. I think it makes your live show more important for the people if you look like you are a proper rock god. It’s part of the music that you want to be the biggest band, and it’s important to put that image across, so you’re not just an awkward man, you’re a proper rock band. I think it’s important to look my sharpest.

BELL: That’s Your Lot is a bit about destiny. Did you always feel that you were meant to be making music?

GREGORY: Yeah, I knew when I was 13, I think. I kind of led my ways into the right circles and made sure I would see a band, really love them, and then try to befriend them and get good advice from them. I remember talking to bands back when I was really, really young and being like, “Yeah, I think being in a band is the only thing I could ever do in my life to be properly happy,” and some of my best friends now who played in the bands being like, “Shit, that’s pretty profound that you knew what you wanted to do from such a young age.” It’s quite a lucky thing to have your mind set on something so clearly and then actually fulfill it, because it’s hard to fulfill your childhood ambitions, really, so it’s nice that we’re getting there.

BELL: Is this where you imagined that the project would be at this time?

GREGORY: That’s more difficult to say. In terms of the music making and the type of shows that we’re putting on, yes, definitely. We wanted to make something properly grand and real, deep, emotive, and bold, and the album that was originally planned, but we didn’t really know what to expect when we founded [the band]. But the way that it’s been, in the U.K. especially, has been pretty, pretty intense and pretty pleasing, and we are trying to get that in the States, as well.

BELL: Would you say it’s challenging to break out in the U.S.?

GREGORY: Well, we haven’t really tried or experienced it before, so I can’t fully answer that question until the next six months, but last year we had our first shows in New York with really no expectations in November, and they kicked off. They were crazy. We didn’t think anyone from the U.S. knew who we were, but all of the shows were packed and people seemed to really connect to it, which is amazing when you have played so few times.

BELL: What are your hopes for Blaenavon going forward?

GREGORY: Have really massive shows and make sure everyone can hear this album and the next five, and keep doing this as long as we believe in it and it’s interesting and changing and evolving. The moment that we get kind of boring, then we’ll stop, but I think we have so much in us and so many different sides that we didn’t even put across on this album, that we can make so many different styles.