Blue Bendy on the London scene, touring with Squid, and their juxtaposition-packed debut album 'So Medieval'

Neu Blue Bendy: “I think what unites us is that we always look to take the path less travelled”

Gleefully defying labels at every turn, Blue Bendy are the genre-straddling six-piece who refuse to be put in a box.

Though Blue Bendy are, by their own lyrical proclamation, “the third best guitar band in London” (according to recent release ‘Mr Bubblegum’, anyway), they’re reluctant to confirm who exactly would claim the silver and gold medal podium spots in this particular event. “Whenever we need something from a bigger band, they’ll know what position they’re in”, laughs guitarist Joe Nash. “They’ll be a few nights at after parties whispering ‘you’re number one’, ‘no, you’re number one really’”, agrees vocalist Arthur Nolan, grinning.

As we settle into the sofas at one of the six-piece’s favoured Peckham spots, it quickly becomes apparent that this sort of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness is central to the band’s identity - both in terms of their own distinct sound (“I think all our shows involve an element of the audience just trying to decipher what they’re looking at”, quips synth and keys player Olivia Morgan), and regarding their place amidst their South London stomping ground’s fertile scene.

“A big influence on us has just been [being] challenged by other bands; it forces you to adapt”, confirms Joe. “Yeah, it does really spur you on, doesn’t it?”, says Arthur. “It’d be easy to have much less ambition if you had no competition. If you’re the best band in, say, Huddersfield, what’s pushing you to make anything fucking better?” Far from sucking them into its oversaturated post-punk sinkhole, then, the capital has instead helped Blue Bendy - completed by drummer Oscar Tebbutt, acoustic guitarist Harrison Charles, and bassist Oliver Nolan - to “at least do something different”. Arthur continues: “We’re serious about not taking it too seriously. We mean what we say, and we mean what we play, but you don’t have to be so po-faced about it.”

Taking that philosophy and well and truly running with it, their forthcoming debut album ‘So Medieval’ is a rich, restless exhibition of sky-high ambition, watertight playing, and juxtaposition galore; over ten tracks, it undulates from something approaching experimental pop (‘Mr Bubblegum’), to widescreen, expansive textures (‘Darp 2 / Exorcism’), to dense post-rock (‘Cloudy’) and back again, while lyrical nods to creationism sit alongside those to pop culture, taking the listener from the sublime to the ridiculous with the turn of a phrase.

“We mean what we say, and we mean what we play, but you don’t have to be so po-faced about it.” - Arthur Nolan

Even the visuals are imbued with deliberate contradiction, hinting at the high-low dichotomy within; Joe explains that “a big reference point was larger than life, hyperpop imagery - a lot of SOPHIE and Caroline Polachek - but what sold us on [the album cover] was that the backdrop is just this shitty faux silk curtain. Up front, it’s angelic and grandiose, but it’s all just falling apart behind the scenes.”

“A lot of it is just what we think would be fun, or a bit of a left-field choice that makes us giggle”, takes up Arthur, mentioning the bright refrain of “supersonic man / da da do da da di” on the aptly-named ditty ‘Sunny’. “I think it’s just about keeping ourselves interested - our best gauge for that kind of thing is our own attention span, which seems to be… very low.” It’s true that there’s a certain silliness to points of ‘So Medieval’ - a lightness of touch which belies its sprawling dynamism and unpredictable arrangements - but that’s not to say that there isn’t tenderness or depth, too.

Weighty religious imagery abounds (a product of Arthur’s “lapsed Catholic” background), and is used as a lens through which he explores “a pretty traumatic breakup”. By conflating this painfully human experience with such mythic concepts, the LP frames the emotions involved as being of almost reverential significance; then its self-awareness kicks in, and those lofty poetics are offset with another wry lyrical smile. (‘Come On Baby, Dig!’ is a case in point, referencing Aphrodite and Satan before ending, deadpan, with the line “I should text her”).

“It is kind of frivolous, isn’t it?” Arthur gives a slightly self-conscious laugh. “To be that self-involved that you think the breakup you’re going through is some sort of Christ-like sacrifice. It’s completely honest - I don’t think I would say I was taking the piss or doing a bit, because that is how I felt - but I was trying to play on the humour in that.” Some lyrics weren’t even heard by the rest of the band until the moment of recording. “It probably would’ve made people uncomfortable if I’d sent them ahead. Or they would have just been vetoed”. Joe and Olivia nod the affirmative, smiling, before Arthur continues. “A lot of those vocal sessions were pretty tough going. I’m very insecure, and anxious about it. But if I had a good line or something funny, then I’d send it in the group chat. I find the punchlines easier to share, you know?”

Balancing on the knife edge between humour and heart - without falling into either flippancy or overly-earnest cliche - is a precise art, but this refreshingly unoccupied nook of London’s musical landscape is one to which Blue Bendy have confidently staked their claim. Having recently wrapped on a UK tour supporting Squid, they’re now turning their attention to their own imminent headline run; what fans can expect, says Joe, remains to be seen. “In Glasgow, if I recall, [Arthur] punched the air and shouted ‘I fucking love you Glasgow’ in a moment of unbridled euphoria”, he laughs. “I think when we played our Friday slot at Green Man, [Arthur] had been up for about 27 hours. God forbid if a festival ever tried to schedule us on Sunday - we’d have to do a Weekend at Bernie’s type thing.”

As Arthur puts it: “If somebody does something quite conventional, that’s always going to raise more eyebrows than something left-field. I think what unites Blue Bendy is that we always look to take the path less travelled.” And if ‘So Medieval’ (and, in fact, this whole conversation) is anything to go by, DIY can near-guarantee one thing - whatever they do next, it won’t be boring.

'So Medieval' is out now via state51.

Tags: Blue Bendy, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews, Neu

As featured in the April 2024 issue of DIY, out now.

Read More

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Stay Updated!

Get the best of DIY to your inbox each week.

Latest Issue

May 2024

With Rachel Chinouriri, A.G. Cook, Yannis Philippakis, Wasia Project and more!

Read Now Buy Now Subscribe to DIY