Blacklisters: “It’s almost like we can’t even write in 4/4 anymore.”

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  • Quite suitably, just before I finish recording my interview with noise-rock quartet Blacklisters, frontman Billy Mason-Wood acknowledges his friend Tom Bedford – who is just walking by – to ask him how he’s doing. “Keep up the good work!” he exclaims, before sitting with his mates outside of Leeds’ most popular and most loved music venue, the Brudenell Social Club. Sat behind me are Leeds post-punkers Eagulls, and inside the working men’s club, a band are sound checking. All this is proof for the social interactivity of the Leeds music scene – the way that Leeds is more than just a city producing good bands, but a city producing a strong musical culture, where the arts and the social collide.

    During my one hour-chat with Billy Mason-Wood (vocals) and Owen Griffiths (bass), drenched in a Monday evening’s sunshine, it’s fair to say we have a lot to talk about. From the current state of Leeds’ musical scene, to influences and musical composition, our chat is more than eclectic.

    With the release of their sophomore album Adult next month, Blacklisters have done more than make a name for themselves – with a heavy dose of The Jesus Lizard/Shellac-inspired noise-rock-fuckery, intense live performances [1] and the new track ‘Shirts’ (which feature a hectic and chaotic music video [2]), the four-piece’s next album is certainly a must for anyone involved in the genre.

    However, having hit their mid-30s and juggling jobs, children and girlfriends, being in a band as cool as Blacklisters proves a difficult ordeal for them. Billy states that “we think it’s difficult just because we got there late. When we started out we were approaching 30, we all had full-time jobs. Our drummers now got two kids. If we’re talking [local bands]allusondrugs and Marmozets, they’re early 20s, not much to worry about… and that’s kinda the place where you need to be in. Like with Marmozets, we played with them on their third gig at Live at Leeds; and they were like little and young: And they just literally went and ate the world. They literally played every gig possible. But they also had some really good people around them.

    Blacklisters band picture

    Having the right people alongside you is just as important as the music. But the band are realists and understand the market – the way that even though they’re a band that creates art, they are also their own business, with Owen claiming that a lot of success is “more to do with the size of the market. Unless you’re in The Jesus Lizard, or you’re Steve Albini (who makes most of his money not being in a band), this sort of style is so niche.

    Having ‘got there late’, it’s a shame that a band as unique in a scene as this one finds difficulty in becoming a more successful band. However, a recent signing to London- and Ireland-based label Smalltown America has helped them extensively. Billy says that “it’s organised us. What Smalltown America has done is given us a way to organise ourselves and remind us what band life is like. Because otherwise, when we’ve got a thing we’re doing like bringing out a new record, touring the record and bringing out videos etcetera, we find it hard to market ourselves. We recorded this album without a record label’s help, so having them there to ‘sort us out’ has helped us massively.

    Having had their new album recorded by Matt Johnson from Hookworms, with music videos been made with the assistance of Tommy Davidson and Tom Hudson from Pulled Apart By Horses – both Leeds-based bands – this social aspect of Leeds as a city, and the mingling and arrival of all the bands has built musical communities, and built the foundations of what some of the much larger bands stand on today. “There’s loads of bands that are just playing about that are like 20-something. A lot of them rehearse at this place called Chunk in East Leeds, and they’ve got a community together. They’re playing together, they’re putting on festivals together; which is like when we first started doing stuff when we started out. I think it’s really exciting seeing these bands just fill in. I thought it was gonna be wet music but it wasn’t.

    The band’s excitement for Leeds as a haven for music is second to none. With Owen and Billy giving praise to the likes of That Fucking Tank and Eagulls, the music scene in Leeds is easily one of the most fast-moving, eclectic musical movements in the country.

    Click the tab at the top of the page to read the second half of our interview!

    Footnotes:
    1. Live concert of Blacklisters
    2. The video for Shirts

  • And with that, we have to talk the new album. Having been three years since the release of their début album BLKLSTRS, the band have been through a lot both creatively and personally. “It took us a while to find a balance of what it was we wanted to make and write. It was all quite instinctual really. I think there was a year where we didn’t even write one song–” “We couldn’t write a song,” Owen interrupts. “When we wrote the first album it was a lot more influenced by the slightly more popular bands like Queens of the Stone Age and Nirvana. And now it was the weirder ideas; we gained a bit more confidence. Without sounding a twat we just got better at writing songs.” They also gave praise to bands Irk (who Billy claims to be “the most exciting band coming out of Leeds this moment”), Super Luxury and Pink Rick as contemporaries of this noisy scene.

    For the new record there’s loads of those sort of bands that just get put into the melting pot, that aren’t really direct influences on what we sound like, but definitely are indirect influences on how we approach music.

    What is clearly more evident about the new album is that there is a distinctive change in the sound. Obviously it’s still as hectic, as chaotic, and as balls-to-the-walls noisy as their previous release, but there is an idiosyncratic change in the nature of the sound. Owen also notes that their approach to song-writing had changed: “If you’re really into bands and really into music (in a musician type way) you’ll look at music the same way you would look under the hood of a car- you’re seeing what works and what doesn’t. Not just listening to something and being like ‘oh sounds alright’, you’re thinking more about what makes it good.

    This new process for them of thinking more about the science of what sounds good, rather than the simple sound of something, is one thing the four-piece have strived more towards within their new album. With Owen’s knowledge of musical theory, and the bands expertise at their respective instruments, the musical-understanding of music is shown more through their next full length.

    It’s almost like we can’t even write in 4/4 anymore. We’ve got a couple that are in 4/4. It got to a point where someone would write a riff thinking it was in 4 and it’s 7 or 5. Or a riff will start in 4 then it’ll turn into 5 or 7, or we’ll chop a beat off, and then suddenly you’re jolting the rhythm; and that’s why we often use 7 because it has this great sway to it, but then it also grabs your attention; it’s urgent. 5 is different and we only tend to use 5 fast, we don’t tend to do things slow in 5.

    Blacklisters Adult

    Having said that, Owen then claims that “having toured the first album for such a long time and toured it for a couple of years, the ones that really grab people by the balls are the ones that are in 4/4,” with Billy adding that “it’s cool to just variate.” That being said, although the band are trying to work with music technicalities more, they still find the simple formula is the one that can really push and drive their songs.

    There had also been a shift in the treatment of lyrics; “there’s still some songs with like no words on them, but there’s also some songs with no lyrics that sound like words. And I have a horrible relationship with lyrics, because like I’m either saying something or I’m not. Like for someone like Morrissey, he’ll say anything about anything – he’s like totally confident to say what he’s thinking. But for me, I’m not necessarily as willing to put out what I feel about stuff out there creatively. But, that does not mean that I can’t do a cool turn-of-phrase now and again, and there are new songs on the album that I have concentrated more on lyrically and have approached songs with more of an idea, and people are gonna hear what I’m saying. The first album is completely different – there’s some absolute bullshit on that. There’s probably about 5 songs that don’t have any written down words. I think on the new one I was more aware.

    We then moved onto touring, and gigging in general. Having toured both the UK and France, it was interesting to see the difference in both audiences’ attitudes, cultures and reactions to the band in the different venues, cities and countries. “We toured France and did a 15 hour drive from Leeds to the top of Brittany and it was like a barn. Everyone that was there had driven like 2 to 3 hours to see us play, and they were all camping, and they had this amazing local beer,” Billy remembers. Owen then adds, “For me it really illustrated the difference that in Leeds there’s bands on your fucking doorstep. Like big bands come to Leeds, and it’s easy peasy… but it’s almost like ‘uh. I can’t be bothered to go to this gig’ because there are so many bands coming through. But somewhere like the north of France, where someone organises the best they can for a band to come in (in this case, a mad dude called Thierry), it’s just a different type of culture; people there are like ‘shit, there’s a decent band coming from the UK and we have to see them; it’s like once in a blue moon.

    We end by talking bands. I asked them what their favourite album of 2015 was, and all they could sing praises for was Rhode Island-based mathcore/noise-rock outfit Daughters’ 2012 self-titled LP. “It’s fucking brilliant. It wasn’t this year,” claims Billy. Owen adds: “Yeah, I was saying this today, like the sound of the bass, and the sound of the guitar, it doesn’t really sound like drop D, power-chord style guitar, and it’s just got an amazing spectrum of sound.

    Billy adds: “They broke up straight after as well because they thought they went to mainstream; and they’re not a mainstream band. I think they reformed quite recently… their album didn’t come out in 2015, it came out about 5 years ago. And you’re saying 2015, and we listened to Daughters’ Daughters 2 years ago [laughs]. If I was to do 2015, I would say Barefoot Beware’s This World Owes You Nowt. It’s mathy, it’s grungey, it’s really cool.

    With everything said, to top off what Blacklisters’ music is about, Billy put it quite simply: “The lyrics have never been the forefront of what we want to say. We’re just a band that wants to make some fucking good noise.

    You can check out Blacklisters on Facebook. Their new album Adult is available now from here.

    Thanks to Simon, Billy and Owen for the opportunity.

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About Author

Obsessive music listener, tea-drinking fanatic, musician, and multi-instrumentalist. I like big choruses and chord sequences that make me go "ooh, that's tasty". I also like really naughty, nasty sounding stuff that makes me throw that face that's like "that's disgusting, but I like it". Living in Nottingham and missing Yorkshire every day.