The Blackout Interview

The Blackout

When I met the Blackout last week for Sound City, I was absolutely thrilled. I’m a big fan of their music, but meeting brilliant musicians is something I’m getting more used to. I was so pleased because these guys were lovely. The Blackout are genuine, warm and hilarious, I spent a lovely hour talking to them with Max. All six boys were friendly and polite, not to mention interesting and funny. I haven’t interviewed anyone who made me feel as welcome, and it’s clear they haven’t let their considerable fame and talent go to their heads. Go see The Blackout, buy their album, and follow them on twitter. You really won’t regret it.

Who are the Blackout?
Sean: I’m Sean, I apparently sing sometimes.
Gavin: I’m Gavin, I sing as well
Sean: He sings a lot better than Sean does. Rhys plays bass, Gareth plays drums, Matthew plays guitar and Bob or James, depending on which day of the week it is
Gavin: and how well you know him...
Sean: Plays guitar. We’re a six-piece Welsh band that has no specific genre I guess. We’re not a metal band, or Rock and Roll or pop. But we have elements of all of those. If you can think of a genre, we’ve tried to rip it off. If the music you like is mess, come and check us out. That’s what we sound like. A big mess.

How is the current tour going?
Sean: It’s been great. It blows our minds that we get to do this, and this is our job or whatever. When we started this band, we did it for a laugh, just so we weren’t bored at home anymore, and now people like us and we sell CDs. In the beginning we never even planned to write or make an album, but somehow a label came along and put it out. Every day it blows our minds that people come and see us, and we don’t expect anyone to come, let alone a couple of hundred people, or more. We’re very lucky that our friends in Lostprophets were looking for a support band once, and they chose us, because we were always really big fans of them. So they took us on tour with them, and that opened a door for us to get noticed. Their fans are awesome, and luckily their fans have kind of become our fans.

Your sound is quite similar to theirs.
Sean: Yep, it’s because I write all their stuff.
And how is Ian with that?
Sean: Ian’s fine with that, he’ll pretend in interviews he’s angry about it, but I’ve pretty much written everything he’s ever sung. If there’s a bit in a song where you think “Oh, I don’t like this.” Then it’s probably because he wrote it, or ad-libbed.

With bands like FFAF, Lostprophets, KIGH and you guys, why do you think there’s such a specific sound coming out of Wales at the minute?
Gavin: Mutual boredom.
Sean: Yeah. I think people in South Wales realise that you’ve got to write a good song with a good verse and a brilliant chorus if you can, because we’ve played with so many bands who are just straight up technical metal, trying to play as fast as they possibly can and as many notes as they can in a second. But then, at the end of the day, when you leave the concert after something like that, you can’t remember any of the songs or what happened, just that you saw some guy wanking off a guitar. Whereas, if you come and see us, Kids in Glass Houses, Lostprophets, Funeral for a Friend, any of these Welsh bands, hopefully you’re leaving with an annoying chorus stuck in your head.

It’s a strange sound to be coming out of Wales as well.
Sean: Yeah, I don’t know what it is; there’s just been a surge of good bands that like good songs.
James: I think what it was as well is that some Welsh bands, take Lostprophets for example, we saw them do well, and they were 15 minutes down the road from us, and we thought, if they can do it, why can’t we? So bands see other bands doing well, and they decide to pick up the guitar and have a go.
Sean: We did the same thing Lostprophets did, where they kind of helped us out and took us on the road, and we took other bands out and helped them out. We took Kids in Glass Houses on their first tour, this awesome band called The Guns, and loads of little bands in South Wales that loads of people don’t know about yet as well, that are brilliant and have been for quite a while. Wales is the hub of Britain’s rock.
I saw you in the Barfly five years ago, with Paramore, and you had an awesome stage presence then, which you still have now.
Sean: I was a bit fatter then, so I was a bit slower.
Gavin: We’ve always been a live band first I think, because obviously that is where we started out and...
Sean: And we’re not dead.
Gavin: Oh yeah, we’re not one of these zombie bands you hear about these days. We love playing.
Sean: When we started we were all just about entertainment and the best parts of other bands we saw and bringing it together. After a while we were like “We should get some songs to go along with this stuff...”

You’ve gone from that to being on a small label to being on a much bigger label. Do you think that’s affected your music and the way you play?
Sean: Not really. We went to them with our record, which we self-funded, and they preach a friendly vibe. To them, whatever’s good for the band is fine. At the end of the day, they’ve got Converge, which is just a glorious noise, and I can’t really see Epitaph going to them and saying “Can you write a chorus? Can you write a Lady Gaga song?” So Epitaph are a really good label, who kind of let us do whatever we wanted, like recording in Texas and shooting the video in LA.

What would you say to bands trying to make it?

Sean: The music industry is a load of shit, don’t bother. Get a job in a meat factory instead. The music industry is full of, really, in all honesty, don’t give up. No matter what happens, whether you play to no-one or someone tells you you’re shit, don’t give in. Play everywhere, and anywhere. We’ve lost more money than we’ll ever make back. There were times when we were offered two shows on one day, so we did it. One was in our home town and one was in Bath. We played Cardiff Barfly once, where literally nobody turned up, and the sound guy walked away, and we played to nobody. So yeah, don’t let anybody get you down whether they like the music or not.
Gavin: I think the thing is, also, not to set out as a serious band. Have realistic goals, like our goals were things like “play on a stage” or “play with monitors”.

Do you worry that your look will get you generalised as a certain type of band?
Sean: I don’t know. We dress in black, but we get judged on my hair a lot, which is ridiculous. How can you judge one band on some guy’s floppy hair? Just because you can’t see my forehead...
James: I haven’t got any hair at all, and I don’t get judged on that.

You have a young fan base; do you think that might put some potential fans off?
Sean: I guess it might do. I’m not really a fan of neon colours, but when you go out there it’s... ugh.
Gavin: I heard a horrible thing; apparently our afternoon gig tomorrow is dubbed as a “glow stick party”
[All groan]
Sean: I fucking hate glow sticks.
James: I might not play.
Sean: Anyway, yeah, I know our young fans might put some people off, but once they’ve been, and seen us play, I think they’ll realise.
Gavin: We do have some older fans.

Fair enough. Do you have any new bands you want to take with you if you get big, in the same way that The Lostprophets did for you?
Sean: All of them. There’s literally loads that are really good.
Gavin: It’s not as if they’re all the same genre as well, there’s a band called Revoker,
Matthew: They’ll be taking us on tour soon. They’re really good.
Gavin: We were on to them for ages to change their name, because their name was rubbish,
Sean: They were named after a road, the A470,
Gavin: It sounds like a boy band, like A1 or something.
Sean: So they changed their name to Revoker and
Who did you like going on tour with?
Sean: It’s always brilliant with Lostprophets. We just came off tour with them, in Japan, Australia and Europe. It’s amazing, because basically when you normally go on tour with a band you travel separately, and you get treated differently whether you’re the headline or the support band. But with them, we were being treated exactly the same. We were basically twelve friends on tour together, and we were all sharing accommodation and travelling. There was no rushing us or making us do things, we were just all hanging out.
Gavin: There was no “Lostprophets dressing room” or anything; we were all mixed in together hanging out in each other’s rooms.

Do you prefer to headline a smaller venue, like The Masque, or play larger venues as a support act?
Gavin: Both shows have a different set of merits. The smaller ones, all the kids are in your face, and it’s all sweaty,
Sean: And they’re all there to see you as well, whereas when you support a bigger band, you can win people over. So it’s nice to win people over, but when it’s your own show, they’re there to see you.

It must be strange though, playing something like this in comparison to something like Ponty in the Park, where you’re playing to thousands of people...
Sean: Yeah, that is a bit of a mad one. We’re done loads of strange, massively big festivals. We opened the main stage of Reading in 2008, and there was a sea of people, and that was ridiculous.
Gavin: We played the Give It a Name tour to something like 10,000 people, and then the next week we came back and played Porthcawl (a small town in Wales) to twenty people.
Sean: At that gig, there was a foam machine on as well, and I spent most of my time falling over. So yeah, I think we like winning people over, but at the same time, it’s always amazing to hear people sing your songs back to you.

Who’s the best one on tour?

Sean: James is constantly angry,
James: Not constantly! Just fleetingly, but when I am I’m very, very, very angry.
Gavin: Our sound guy snores. And his feet... The smell is god-awful. So much that he throws his songs away at the end of every day.
James: He literally has a massive carbon footprint. Those socks are doing damage to the ozone layer. Not just in and of them, but in that he goes through so many. That means they have to be packaged, and shipped, and all the rest of it.
Sean: The thing is, if he kept them on, he’d probably be doing more damage.

Do you have a favourite show that you’ve ever played?
Sean: For me, it’s the Astoria in London, before it closed down. That was kind of monumental, because we’d never played it before as a support act or anything.
James: It wasn’t mine, because I had food poisoning, so I was angry, and really weak, so I barely made it through the show. For that reason, I liked the gig we did at Reading last year, when we headlined a stage. As a kid I went to Reading, so, seeing the iconic yellow line-up, it was amazing to see our name, in our font, right at the top of the tent.
Sean: And this year, we’re high on the line-up at Download. Higher up than Sum 41. We’re just going to get onstage and be like “We’re bigger than Sum 41! Ha-ha, fucking brilliant. Play a song.”

Have you got any new covers coming up?
Sean: We’ve just recorded a few, that we’ll probably be used as B sides. We did Beastie Boys – Fight for Your Right, we did Lump by Presidents of the United States of America and we did Save Tonight, by Eagle-Eye Cherry. Yeah we did, and we fucking shat all over it. It’s absolutely terrible. Nah! It’s alright really. We did a cover of “Lap Dance” by N.E.R.D., hoping that strippers would start liking us, but we aren’t allowed to release it, because we can’t get it signed off by N.E.R.D. We love a cover; it’s more fun than playing our own songs. Mind you, all our songs sound like Lostprophets covers anyway.

Are you working on anything new?
James: Mind your own business! [Laughs.] We started working on a record last week. We’ve been writing amongst ourselves for a few months now, and we got together last week, and we’ve already got about three songs in four days.

Do you all have quite similar music taste?
Gavin: There’s a few core bands that we’re all into, like Faith No More and Korn and Limp Bizkit and stuff, and then Sean’s more into electrical stuff and...
Sean: Electric stuff?! Yeah, plug sockets, pylons, Hoovers. I’m a big fan of the wet toaster.
James: Remember when you went to see George Formby grill? Just went down to Homebase and looked at it.
Gavin: Yeah, so there’s different tastes and it all gets chucked into the melting pot,
James: Or the George Forman grill,
Matthew: The blender.
Sean: Yeah, the blender. And then we pour out a smoothie of rock.

There’s also an extended and more explicit version of the interview as an audio file to come, but be warned that if you’re easily offended or have no sense of humour, it’s not for you.

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