Thursday, 14 April 2011

Interview: The Blackout

Merthyr Tydfil’s finest, The Blackout, have been touring the UK and stopped off in Bournemouth – apparently their favourite of the ‘mouths’ so far – to play a sell out show at The Old Fire Station. I spoke to co-front man Gavin about their busy year, the role McFly played in the creation of their new album ‘Hope’ and his love of pop music. Just don’t mention Justin Bieber!
How has the UK tour been going?

It’s flown by. It’s been one of the best tours we’ve ever done. We’ve never done a headline tour with so many sold out shows before. The kids have been crazy as well on this tour. Manchester and London might have been my favourite shows we’ve ever done.

Do you still get surprised when you see the fans queuing outside from 9am?

It’s crazy! I was talking to someone outside saying they’d been here since 5am! We didn’t leave London ‘til 4am! They said they just wanted to see us. You’ll see us; just don’t turn up at five in the morning because we’re not even here! But I love the fact that they’re that excited about the show. In Manchester the other day we had so many people waiting outside all day in the sunshine and then they came in and we had eight people pass out. They were so dehydrated and they hadn’t been eating or sleeping. So I fear for some of them, especially when they say they’re camping out that night. Please don’t sleep on the streets guys!

What do you need to survive on tour these days?

I just need a toilet bag and a fresh pair of pants. That’s all you need. Although you don’t even need pants because you can always buy pants. Anything to keep yourself clean, that’s all you need. A laptop is always useful too actually. I was going to say to wile away the days, but everyday we’ve been doing interviews so that’s been keeping us sane. Otherwise we’re just sat in the dressing room on a laptop refreshing Twitter.

How has it been touring with Hyro Da Hero and The Swellers?

Really good. We were fans of Hyro and The Swellers anyway. Sean introduced us to Hyro, he said we needed to check out his mix tapes. And Bob caught The Swellers with Young Guns and said we needed to check them out. So when it came to asking people over, they were in the pot. And the tour has been amazing; it’s so laid back for some reason. There’s no egos involved, no competition. It’s just one big gay friend party. I was saying to the bassist from The Swellers last night that it’s mad how well we’ve just managed to click with everyone. It’s one of those tours where everyone has got the same sense of humour, we watch the same movies, listen to the same music so it’s just all clicked and it’ll be sad to see them go.

What made you decide to collaborate with Hyro on ‘Higher & Higher’?

I’m gonna blame Will Smith. We were doing vocals for ‘Higher & Higher’ in London and it was just going to be that riff in the middle eight. Then for a laugh, Sean rapped ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ over it. Jason Perry, our producer, was like ‘Do that!’ and we said ‘We can’t do that Jase, that’s the rap from Fresh Prince of Bel Air’. And he said ‘We’ll give Will Smith some PR, it’ll be fine!’ But, nah, we couldn’t do that. So then he said that we should come up with a rap. But we’re not good at that, we wouldn’t know where to start. But Hyro was already booked for the tour and Sean was pretty friendly with his manager and Hyro himself so we thought, well why don’t we just ask him? On Hyro’s mixtapes, because he didn’t have a big budget or anything, he’d just take rock songs and cut them up and rap over them. He did things to ‘New Noise’ by Refused and stuff by Weezer and Killswitch Engage so he loves rock and metal anyway. So it seemed like the perfect fit for that middle eight. He sent over his first draft we loved it. Some people at first were like ‘I don’t know about this’ because they’re just closed minded idiots. But if you listen to it a bit more you’ll realise that its genius. Not our bits, Hyro’s bits. And everyone has been saying we’ve only done this now because Hayley Williams did the B.O.B. track and You Me At Six did their track with Chiddy. But I just said, ‘Have you ever listened to Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ with Aerosmith? Have you listened to ‘Bring The Noise’?’ It’s been going on for ages, that rap metal mash up. I think it works well. 2001 proved that with Limp Bizkit and other bands of that type that are just huge. People like a bouncy riff and fast lyrics.

How did the recording process go for ‘Hope’?

It took about a month. We started November 1st and ended on November 26th. It was three days in AIR Studios in London to do drums, a week in Banbury in Angelic Studios which is owned by the ex-keyboardist of Jamiroquai. That’s an awesome studio, its where they recorded Band Aid and stuff. Then we did vocals in a little box in the ground in Highbury Corner with no windows for about a week and a half. But it was cool because when we do vocals it’s just me, Jason and Sean. And when we get together it doesn’t seem like work, it doesn’t seem like were recording. I think that’s what Jason does best, he makes you think that you’re not recording an album and you’re just sitting there singing. He relaxes you into an amazing place where he can get the best out of you.

Was it a bit daunting recording the fourth album then?

We didn’t feel any pressure at all actually. I don’t think that was through arrogance, it was more through ignorance. We were all sat in my garage, which I’ve done up a bit so we could all jam in there, so we were in our own little world really. Just writing songs for us. It was only when we came to release it that we thought, what if people don’t like it? But we think it’s the best that we’ve ever done, Jason Perry thought it was the best stuff we’ve ever done too. All the people around us, obviously it’s their job to tell us it’s the best thing we’ve done, but Jason will tell us if something is not quite strong enough. He was pleased with the album so we had a bit of confidence going into the release, but we’ve had an amazing response. You always get the hardcore fans who were there from day one who say it’s not as good as your split EP you released with Sevendust on the back of a pigeon that only five people own. But with this record, people that have been with us forever, as well as people who have never really been into us, are digging the new record. So we must have done something right, or paid the right people.

You and Sean both do vocals on your songs, are there ever any fights over who gets to sing which bit?

It’s usually quite straight-forward. We both come into the process with our own lyrics and then we put that into the melting pot. Sean may have an entire song done and then I’ll just change a few bits, and vice versa. But I think we’re at the point now where we can critique each other’s work. And the same with Jason. One of the songs on the new record, I think it was The Last Goodbye, he said that the lyrics were a bit cheesy. So I reworked them and after listening back to it I realised he was right on that one. So you’ve got to take all these criticisms as opposed to thinking ‘No, I’m right’. Which I think is the cool thing about our band, because everyone comes in with ideas and we all take it on board.

You’ve done quite a few covers in the past and there are some on the deluxe version of ‘Hope’, but are there any songs that you would never consider covering?

Oooh I don’t know. Which songs do I really despise? The thing is, you could take something by Justin Bieber and probably make it a good song. They probably are good songs; it’s just that Justin Bieber’s head is obnoxious. I just want to smack him. What a little brat. But there are probably some songs we could never do. I would never want to cover a Queen song for example, because I don’t think we could do it justice. So I think it’s more for that reason than that I don’t like the song. I have too much respect for some songs to go anywhere near them, even on karaoke.

And are there any songs that you would secretly love to cover?

I quite like a lot of pop. Most of the big pop acts like P!nk, Katy Perry and McFly, I listen to and love. But I listen to Metallica and Every Time I Die as well. And I love taking pop songs and making them a lot heavier. A lot of bands these days, if you strip them down, are really poppy. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But a lot of people think that just because they don’t have a guitar that it’s not a good song, some people are a bit close minded that way. Like McFly for example, their album Radio:Active kind of sold Jason Perry to us. He worked on that and I thought the production was amazing. Then I listened to it more and realised there were some really good songs on there. They could be chucked in a bag with All Time Low or Green Day or any of those bands. It’s just because of where they’ve come from that people think differently about them. But they’re there making music and having a good time so that’s all that matters.

You supported My Chemical Romance on their UK tour earlier this year, how was it to play such massive shows?

It was the first UK arena tour we’ve ever done and we were so excited to do it. We were on top of a mountain in Guilford having press shots done, don’t ask why we were up there, we were freezing our arses off. But that was five days before the tour and we got the phone call asking if we wanted to do it. We were like ‘Duh! Yes! Why are you even asking that question!?’ It was amazing to play those venues and the My Chem fans were so welcoming as well. Obviously not all of them knew who we were, otherwise we’d be the ones playing arenas, but there were a couple of kids who knew us. And we had a blast every night.

Have you now got the urge to do a concept album for the next record after touring with MCR?

It’s a tough one, the concept album. You can either get it brilliantly right or it’s just a bit mediocre. So I think we’re just going to stick to writing big riffs, choruses and catchy lyrics. Stick to what we know. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

You also went to Australia for Soundwave Festival in February, do you have many Aussie fans?

We went there in April last year with Lostprophets, we did a couple of their shows, but I was surprised by how many people turned up to our shows. You’d get anything from 500 to 1000 kids turning up for these festival shows. I blew my mind because we’d only been down there once. But I think the last record, ‘Best In Town’, got pushed quite well down there. It was an amazing tour to do, I can remember talking to Lags from Gallows and he said ‘If you ever get the chance to do Soundwave, just do it, because it’s just one big party for about a month.’ I think there are 660 people on that tour, band and crew. And each one of those people had to be flown from city to city. So you’d get on a plane and it would be full of tattoos and maybe one woman and a baby looking nervous. After every show there would be an after show party with a free bar and you can’t say no to a free bar can you? It’s rude. Plus we got to make some new friends and see friends we hadn’t seen for ages. That tour seemed to be full of people we toured with in 2006 and hadn’t seen since.

What else have you got planned for 2011?

I get a day off after this tour to go home and wash all my clothes. Then me and Sean go off to London to do radio, then we do a video. The we leave for Groezrock Festival in Belgium and do Monster Bash in Germany and we go out for a month with Funeral For A Friend in Europe. That’s my diary right there. And we’ve just released tickets for our October/November tour, which should be fun. It’s a bit of a step up, we’ll be doing some of the biggest venues we’ve ever done.

You’ve also climbed up the bill on main stage at Reading and Leads Festivals this summer.

Yea we were first on in 2008 so it’s taken us three years to get to second. So maybe in 2050 we’ll be headlining. But it’s just awesome to be asked back really. I’ve been going to Reading since I was 17. We’ve all been massive festival goers so it’ll be nice to go back and play main stage again. Especially that day as well. There are so many good bands on the main stage that day; I think I’m just going to sit by the side of the stage with a beer cooler all day.

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