Ben Gregory of the indie-rock band Blaenavon tells Tim Hughes why it took five whole years to release their debut album – and why that’s our lot
Blaenavon’s Ben Gregory is celebrating. The frontman of one of 2017’s biggest buzz bands is cracking open the drinks as he gets ready to release their debut album. And it only took five years to make.
“It’s been a remarkable mission,” says the immaculately coiffured singer – all shoulder-length hair, attitude and pin-up good looks.
“Recording the album didn’t take five years, but getting to a place where we felt the record would do our hard work justice did.
“We had hundreds of songs, total rewrites and re-recording. We have been trying to perfect a piece that means so much to us. Now it feels just right.
“It’s like watching condensation turn to droplets of water and watching them race each other to reach the bottom of the window.”
Since emerging with their breakthrough tune Into the Night, the self-styled “three boys with a story to tell” have been busy doing precisely that. And, That’s Your Lot is Ben’s, bassist Frank Wright’s and drummer Harris McMillan’s mission statement, manifesto and emotional curriculum vitae rolled into one.
“It’s five years of our lives condensed into 59 minutes of yours,” quips Ben.
It’s a heartfelt roller coaster ride through the ups and downs of early adulthood in all its plucky, messy honesty and bravery.
Recorded with Grammy-winning producer Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele, Bjork) its release next month, follows rapturous shows, last summer’s epic sets at Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and Latitude and an American deal with Atlantic.
And now they are heading out alone, with a date at The Bullingdon, Oxford on Tuesday, March 28.
The album includes singles I Will Be The World, Let’s Pray and My Bark Is Your Bite – championed by the likes of Annie Mac, Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens, NME and Fader, and collectively racking up more than 1,500,000 Spotify streams.
That it took so long to pull together, suggests a heavy degree of perfectionism.
“We are pretty hardcore,” he says. “But you need to learn the difference between perfectionism and being a banana.
“Will pluralising the first word in the second verse of the third single affects how people react to the song? Or should we focus our energy on something that matters, like finalising a 59-minute rock opera?”
He admits it’s a soundtrack of youth – but not aimed solely at youth.
“I’m a young person and I will be forever,” he says. “Naturally that’s something I’m going to write about. Young people are mad, brilliant and ridiculous. I wanted to incorporate that because it’s the image I focus on every day.
“But youth is something you eternally reflect on. The picture will become more vivid as we all grow around it, so I hope everyone can listen to this record, understand the motif and indulge.”
What feelings and emotions run through it? I ask.
“Wanting more,” he says. “Floating in your own absurdity. Being so in and out of love that you start to cough up sonnets.”
He admits some of the tunes have been around for a while, with the band being pretty young when they were written. Do the emotions and feelings within still ring true today?
“Yes,” he says. “There’s a song called Swans which stands as the penultimate piece. It’s about the purity of youth and feeling so concrete in your emotions that you think you will never outgrow them.
“As you mature, you become cynical. The romance washes away and while you walk you doubt every step you take for so long that the pavement is 90 per cent chewing gum by the time you’ve got to work. Don’t forget being young, dumb and full of sincerity, because it’s a sad, sad day when you do.”
The album has been incredibly well-received. That must be satisfying.
“People are saying that the music we make is quite good,” he says. “It’s convenient.
“We’re all young buffoons from Hampshire who wanted to do something worthwhile after the school bell’s insipid ringing. Music was victim of mutual adoration. It all fit together so naturally.”
The band actually hail from a small place called Liss, (population, just over 6,000) in the heart of the South Downs. It’s scenic, genteel and well-heeled. So why did they adopt the name of a South Wales town, principally known for its closed down coal mine and steel works? “It’s a beautiful word,” Ben says. “What do you make of it? You can read nothing into it and it makes you want to know more. This is how I want people to view our band.”
The album features acclaimed single Orthodox Man – a firm fan favourite accompanied by an achingly cool video shot by director Francesca Consarino during the band’s first trip to New York, in the winter. The video shows them hitting the streets of the Big Apple on skateboards and BMX. They are all keen riders. So who does what best?
“Frank’s got some pretty serious balls. I like that about him,” says Ben. “If I had to choose someone to defend my honour by executing an impressive manoeuvre in the field of extreme sports, it would be him.”
The title That’s Your Lot has a very ‘final’ feel to it. Surely that’s not ‘our’ lot?
“It is for this version of this band,” says Ben enigmatically.
“This album is the last five years, but they’re definitely over and people need to respect that.
“There’s no point in wallowing in a sound once it’s become flaccid, vapid. We’re a diverse band. We’re going to keep destroying and rebuilding everything until the walls are so cracked and thin that the space is impossible to inhabit.”
So how long before the next one? Surely not another five years?
“I’m ready now,” he says. “There are about four records at the moment bursting out of my tiny brain that I need to release. Finalising LP2 is started to make proper sense. The concept is finalised, it’s just a case of availability. We’re going to tour That’s Your Lot until I shrivel up – then we’ll get back to work.”
The Oxford show follows a stint supporting Reading’s Sundara Karma and Two Door Cinema Club. How much more of a buzz is it to be headlining their own shows?
“It’s a deeply moving feeling to know these people are here just for you,” says Ben. “Screaming your words, staring at your crotch, kicking each other in the shins and getting pregnant. We’ve been a support band for long enough. It’s good to now feel like the big cheese.”
He admits plenty of strange stuff has happened to the band since they started playing beyond Hampshire – not least getting girlfriends. And the funniest thing? “Harris’s facial hair!” he laughs.
So where next for Blaenavon? “We share dreams of world domination,” he says. “‘This far’ isn’t far enough. We’ll get there and then I’ll be able to answer this question more aptly.
“We love watching young people get so excited by our musical output that they smash each other’s spines with pure glee.”
And what annoys you?
“Artists so insincere that I can smell the sweaty handshakes on their sponsored Facebook posts.”
So how rock & roll are they? Will we be seeing them in the bars of Oxford after their gig?
“You’ll be lucky to see me,” he says. “I’m so fast I will probably have torn the entire town to shreds before soundcheck!”
- Blaenavon play the Bullingdon, Oxford, on Tuesday, March 28
- Tickets from wegottickets.com