“We played the show of our lives,” Ben Gregory begins, talking about his band’s biggest headline show yet, at a sold-out Scala in London. The Blaenavon frontman is currently enjoying a few days of downtime, sandwiched between the band’s two biggest moments to date. A good time to reflect on a madcap year. “We’d been touring for about six weeks building up to it and that was the pièce de resistance. So many of our friends came from all over the country to see us, and we packed the room out with kids going crazy.”
But looking back is far from Ben’s mind. He and his bandmates - bassist Frank Wright and drummer Harris McMillan - have eyes fixed firmly on 2017, and the release of their debut album. “You can offer people a slight insight into what you do through your EPs and your live show,” he says, “but your debut album is such a bold statement, and because it’s been so long for us, it’s massively significant.” It’s one which Ben believes is “the moment when you become a ‘proper band.’ I’ll feel like we’re a proper band with that LP in our hands.”
“Every song has a characteristic that I feel sincerely dedicated to.”
The three singles showcased from the album so far show a darker, more sinister turn, and the slow but steady drift away from the indie-pop of 2013 debut EP ‘KOSO’ has been a deliberate move from the trio. “With our old EPs, though we’re very proud of them, if we’d released a full-length album of that style and songwriting standard, we’d have had a bit of hype for a while and then been quickly disregarded,” Ben ponders, believing an album that flows between styles and states will allow the band to “not be pigeonholed by our debut album later in our career.”
“We were very much a teenage indie band, and I’m very glad we’ve taken our time about it, because now we’ve made something that’s very broad and diverse and rich, with lots of different sentiments and emotions,” he says.
The trio ended the writing sessions for their upcoming LP with over a hundred songs in the mix. Ben says those that made the final cut did so because they make “a nice emotional journey. Every song has a characteristic that I feel sincerely dedicated to, and the album’s a really nice journey that you swim through.”
“It was deliberate decision to be bolder and darker.”
“‘Swans’, a song on the record, was written back in 2011 when I was basically a child,” he explains, “and it’s refreshing to revisit my old songwriting and see that it wasn’t hiding behind any kind of barriers. I don’t want to do my former self any disservice by revisiting these songs and re-writing every lyric, which is strange because it’s what some of my idols have done.” He cites an old demo tape of Elliott Smith’s, with identical melodies and structure to his later, most successful songs, but with vastly different lyrics. “Maybe I’ll end up doing that too, one day,” he wonders, “but for now, I wanted to be faithful to the way I was feeling when I originally wrote these songs five years ago.”
New singles ‘Let’s Pray’ and ‘My Bark Is Your Bite’ show Blaenavon as a band constantly adapting and evolving, and Ben consistently refers to the album as a “trip” and a “journey”, front loaded with sugary indie pop, revealing a darker, more twisted side in its second half. “It was a deliberate decision to be bolder and darker,” he says. That said, repeating the phrase “let’s pray for death” over and over might be considered a bit overbearing. “I added in the lyric ‘pray for Ben my mopey friend’ to let a bit of light and humour in.”
Photos: Emma Swann. Taken from the December 2016 / January 2017 issue of DIY, out now. Subscribe below.