“Scott and I lived together until the day before tour and we were going to miss each other loads so we got him in the band. His stuff isn’t even plugged in on stage,” jokes Ben Gregory.
After establishing themselves as a trio over the past five years via Koso, Miss World and That’s Your Lot, BLAENAVON have took the bold step of introducing Scott Roach to intimate audiences on their current headline tour as their fourth member. Not that the Hampshire outfit need to bolster their sound, it appears that Roach has been included to add further depth to Blaenavon‘s soundscape ahead of their highly anticipated second record. Tracks from said record have crept onto the setlist in the form of Catatonic Skinbag and All Your Vanity, and frontman Ben explains “the influences are a bit different to the first album, but I got a bit better at songwriting and we paid a lot more attention to this. Whereas with the first record the songs kind of wrote themselves.”
The tracks from debut full length That’s Your Lot were, admittedly, “a greatest hits from the first five years as a band,” as opposed to their sophomore, which “will be way fewer singles, because it is quite disappointing when an album comes out and you’ve already heard eight of the songs.” These new tracks are certainly different and lean away from the more indie-pop inspired ones from That’s Your Lot – not only is this good news for fans, but too for Ben Gregory as he admits new music has “made touring exciting again because I was getting a little bit tired of playing that old set after like two years.”
Not only is it the sound that is getting bigger – next year will see Blaenavon support The Wombats at arenas all over the country; shows where “we’ll have a lot more stage room to make the most of, but are a lot more intimidating.” The venues, such as The Crescent, York, seem a million miles away from where they’ll be next year, but there is good reason for that, as Ben reveals, “we’re doing Wembley Arena with The Wombats, so we didn’t want to do a new song for the first time ever at Wembley Arena.”
That being said, though, there is a safety blanket to be had from playing new material to audiences that aren’t primarily there to see you, which is resonated by the band when they say “it is a bit safer there [with The Wombats] because they don’t know any of the songs properly, so we can seamlessly stuff the new ones in.” There is nothing but praise for The Wombats, and rightly so – as bassist Frank Wright points out, “after like five albums they’ve still got all the young people on their side, which is quite an achievement. Those shows in such large venues are a different kettle of fish. You feel like you’re playing a gig in your dreams.”
It isn’t as if Blaenavon can’t go on to replicate this success, though. Frank‘s observation of the tour is that the band have received “splendid reactions all around the country. Our fans are really sweet and they listen and push each other around just the right amount.” The new setlist and new member hasn’t put people off, but instead the opposite is mentioned; “we’re playing quite a lot of new material as well. There are five new songs! People seem to be into them – they’re dancing to them and singing to them.” Perhaps somewhat reliant on these new tracks to create a lasting impression on The Wombats‘ crowd “because we don’t have massive special effects or a light show, so we’ll have to up the ante” gives Blaenavon the opportunity to prove exactly why they have become one of the most exciting British bands over the past 18 months.
Joking that “we’ll have to rely on those lovely chord changes and the harmonies and outfit changes between songs” it is clear that although rapidly approaching the dreaded sophomore record, Blaenavon are laid back and enjoying the freedom of creating an album that they want to release this time around. Ben explains “our label has six people that work for it. There are four of us now, so we can kind of do what we want, which is normally what they want,” which offers a lot more creative control than most. Said record is very much in the pipeline and almost ready to be released onto the world, but as drummer Harris McMillan clarifies, “making it a nice whole thing in terms of not just music we need to come up with new and creative ways to make buying an album more exciting.” Ben jumps on this idea, saying “we’ll do something really exciting after some creative meetings,” before joking “we’ll hire the best guys and use the worst!”
Harris speaks of his vision as to where Blaenavon could be this time next year if the upcoming sophomore record is freed from his self-confessed shackles. He describes approaching the creation process with the mindset of “the world needs a couple of anthems at the minute. When I started out I had a sense that I was kind of selling myself short by trying to make something the biggest it could be. The songs I like are the ones that they’ve thought that about – I like it when artists are bombastic and paint with broad strokes rather than being really precious about selling themselves.”
These broader strokes are evident in new track Catatonic Skinbag, which boasts a more wholesome and textured feel than what has preceded it. Harris continues “we all want to be doing big, ambitious things and there are songs on it [the new record] that are more suited to the bigger venues,” which emphasises further the potential Blaenavon have to blast through the constraints of intimate venues like the ones they are “mixing it up a bit, meeting some new people, testing some stuff we haven’t before and road testing our new band member.” There is a modesty about their approach to this tour, and this is emphasised when Ben adds “it is sick how some people are like ‘I can’t believe you’re playing this place,’ and I quite like that idea that people are shocked we’re coming to these places.”
Essentially Blaenavon are hitting the smaller towns and cities to test out their next chapter in terms of line-up and record before showing what they are capable of on the bigger stages. Before leaving, we asked Scott what he offers to Blaenavon, and in true camaraderie fashion, he gives the vague (yet humorous) response of “I do some juggling. I do some magic. Keep vibes high. General hype man,” before concluding “I’m happy to be here with my friends, shredding my guitar and sipping a couple of Lucozades.”