Orwellian indie rock from relentlessly touring The Blinders: Interview

Just after the world entered the 2010s, the British music press declared the death of indie rock music. Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth meant that the scene was now largely a “musically underwhelming” xerox of groups that came before, “an amorphous genre of music primarily defined by its frequent public agonizing over what it is and isn’t”, and he didn’t even knew if the scene existed anymore when he shared his thoughts on Instagram.

However, a new generation of bands are forcing critics to eat their words. A gaggle of exciting new British bands are poised to catch fire and one of the bands with a reputation as one of the hardest working bands on the planet right now is Doncaster-offspring The Blinders, today based in Manchester, thanks in no small part to their relentless tour schedule.

In a world full of political uncertainties The Blinders represent a generation with strong opinions and no fear to speak up, and when the band zeroed in on Germany and Hamburg we took the chance to have a chat with them before their intimate gig at Molotow. The new rising star on the British indie rock scene talked about how society influences and controls its citizens, Brexit, unhealthy make-up and their plans for the future with a new album in the works.

The dystopian reality of “Columbia”

How did you The Blinders come together and started playing?
Thomas: We sort of magnetized at school together and we all went to high school with one another and were friends. I and Charlie go way back, when we were very young. We were the only ones who really played instruments and were interested in playing with others.

Matt: We started playing together and just went from there.

Thomas: And anyone who has the sort of admiration for music wants to create their own so then The Blinders sort of came out. It’s as simple as that, really.

You’re really into the concept of the dystopian society and dystopian literature. Is it because you read something at school?
Thomas: I mean, George Orwell has a huge influence on us. I think “1984” is a life-changing book and I would suggest it to anyone, but I don’t think we read it at school.

Charlie: No, I think I first read it. I don’t remember where, might have been at sixth form, it wasn’t in class though. Might have been in my sister’s bedroom from which I usually stole.

It was casual?
Thomas: It was an accidental thing, really. Something had stricken us. All that literature; the things we started to write about as we turned eighteen or nineteen was like that. We started to be politically engaged and that fell into our music, bled into it if you like.

Charlie: Definitely, and obviously with Trump’s election in America it sort of became bound together and we ran with that sort of notion.

About your debut album; you put this dystopian element everywhere and the result is a bit of a concept album. How did you get to that? Was it, again, accidental or did you want to do write a concept album?
Thomas: The album we didn’t really think about but, in terms of songs, the dystopian element just provided the level of fiction that we needed. Often you can become quite fearful to be too upfront so the dystopian thing just allowed us to mask what we are, what our feelings were on society at the time. And in such an interesting way I think dystopian fiction is.

What about the name of this world, why Columbia?
Thomas: Columbia to us sort of stroke as new world and when we stopped, we sort of fell into the concept you were saying. It was almost as we were creating our own world of an ultimate reality, so Columbia felt a little starter.

Do you know that Columbia is another name used to talk about America?
Thomas: Yeah, that was the idea. Starborn America and also this idea of a new world.

“Brave New World” really gave me a sense of America honesty.
Thomas: Yeah, it’s pretty spot-on.

Not an Arctic Monkeys sound

You also have an interesting sound, it’s lots of sixties and seventies in there, a lot of influences. Matt sounds a bit like Arctic Monkeys, there’s a lot of Doors, there’s a bit of Black Sabbath somewhere. Is that where you get your influences?
Thomas: I don’t really think anyone strives for a particular sound. Yeah, you do have an idea of how you want to sound, that is why the music is so unique because of individual interpretations of music. If you like our sound it’s our interpretations of our influences, but then again, it’s something that you don’t really think about too much. It has to come naturally.

Charlie: Especially moving forward. The stuff we’re writing at the moment is about letting that sort of flow go in a natural direction. Obviously we’re always listening to different things, I think what you listen to most of the time influences you just like what we read tends to influence us. But like Tom says, it’s quite a natural process.

So it never happened “I want to sound like…”?
Charlie: If anything it’s more “We don’t want to sound like…”. You referenced Arctic Monkeys, that was one of the early discussions. We didn’t want to go in that direction because of where we’re from [Yorkshire, just like Arctic Monkeys] and you don’t really want to be labelled as that kind of band but it’s natural.

I think we had that sort of discussion where we were like “We don’t want to go down…”, but at the same time we want to leave those sort of avenues open.

Thomas: Not that it’s a bad thing, people naturally try and reference certain things because that’s just what’s familiar to them. But you always want to try and make your own sound and we certainly attempt of that.

One of your most famous songs is “Ramona Flowers” and I was wondering if it was an ode to a particular girl?
Thomas: I think everyone tries not to write an autobiographical song because of how close to the bone it can be. So Ramona Flowers in particular was about a number of people put into this one character and then that references the character from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But then that can be said to a lot of songs: think up a lot of issues placed into one particular thing.

Charlie: There are always sort of bits of references there, the whole song’s not necessarily about one person.

Like “You’re So Cold”?
Thomas: Oh, that’s an old one. That was definitely about one person. That’s probably why we don’t play it.

Why not? I love that song.
Matt: Because he’s in the room!

Thomas: You know, because you grow out of it and now that sounds quite immature to us.

Did you get Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim the graphic novel or the movie?
Thomas: Watched the movie first then picked up the graphic novel, enjoyed both immensely.

I personally prefer the graphic novel.
Thomas: Yeah they’re great, they’re awesome. They are good toilet materials.

Matt: You can read it in about 20 minutes.

Thomas: Yeah you can knock it off in about 20 minutes, it’s awesome.

Are we going to see some old pieces in the next albums, like “Murder at the Ballet” or “Swine”?
Thomas: This is something that we thought about, going back and maybe re-recording sort of them. Just so it’s there. But I think the intention is to progress as much as possible. If we did that I think we’ll be regressing.

Charlie: There are other things we want to write about.

You don’t really need to go back.
Charlie: Not that those songs aren’t good. We still enjoy those songs but we don’t need to go back there, I think. Unless we’re desperate and we need one song to fit in the album, we might do that.

Maybe you’ll do a collection of The Blinders’ anthems at some point.
Matt: Nice stuff.

Thomas: Maybe in 20 years.

Second album in the works

There’s also rumours saying a second album is in the works.
Thomas: I think we’ve just come to a dozen songs and it’d be nice to get a few more. Just so we’re all safe and sound when we get into the studio. Demoing will probably start towards the end of the summer. Then we’re looking at going to the studio and work with a producer, which is something that we’re constantly thinking about but we haven’t decided on yet.

I’m kind of interested about the new stuff you’re writing. Is it going to have this kind of sociological theme? Is it going to be more openly political or are you going in another direction?
Thomas: I think we’ll always naturally write critically because that’s just the people we are and an easy thing to criticize currently is the state of society and the state of politics. But then, this second album is more personal, more in the human mind as opposed to the wider society.

Charlie: Yeah, like you say. Obviously it’s kind of early stages anyway. “Columbia” never started out as a concept album in that sense. You might end up with ten songs that do have that sort of similar theme, whatever that theme may be, but at the moment we’ve got a good range of songs that are critical, but like Tom said, a bit more personal.

We are just trying to write about different sort of stuff. We’re trying to challenge ourselves as writers, to explore different themes and different styles of writing. Wherever that will end up to is not clear at the moment, but it’s sounding good to us and we’re playing a few new ones in the set too, and these songs are probably quite a good indicator of that sort of critical and personal stuff.

Another topic on future music; the music industry uses different approaches at the moment. There’s the indie approach, the DYI approach etc. Where do you place yourselves? If you come across a major do you sign for it?
Matt: It depends on the offer really, doesn’t it?

Thomas: A million dollars.

Matt: Take it!

Charlie: It’s a complicated question. I think it’s the worst time to build an independent label. You know, it has its pros and cons as does a major label. You have more or less the freedom to create what you want, but you might not have the backing to go and get you to, I don’t know, places like Germany, for example. You might not have a top 10 album when you’ve created what you want to create. I think there’s always that sort of balancing act to consider. Our situation at the moment works though. Perfectly, more than well for us so yeah, no need for it to change.

So for now it’s ok.
Thomas: For now.

Matt: For now.

Thomas: I just want to be able to go into a studio the next day that you write a song, really. To have that ability to lay a song down and then instantly going to the studio and create something.

Matt: A lot of choices as well having the freedom to have your own music as your own rather than someone else’s sample.

Thomas: And we’re halfway there so, not doing too bad.

Bringing a character with make-up

For some bands, the music itself isn’t enough of an escape and they need to provide the full visual elements for their shows. It should be no surprise that bands who sing sinister stories over devilish dirges would opt to dress like their subject matter for public appearances. On the rock and metal scene it is no surprise at all with bands as Ghost, Marilyn Manson and Gwar, embodying these stories in masks and make-up. 

However, it’s a bit more surprising to find similar elements on the indie scene. And just like the metal world have fans dressing like their heroes, The Blinders already have young fans copying their image.

Changing subject, you’re all pretty different onstage. All of you have completely different characters. Was it a choice? Some bands tend to dress up exactly the same to give a sense of uniformity, but you are different. It’s like you have three really different personalities and you keep them separated on stage as well.
Thomas: It wasn’t something that we really thought about.

Matt: I think it just came with time and then obviously all three different personalities becomes one whole. Like Tom says, we didn’t really think about it. It just became its own entity.

Thomas: As far as each character is just an embellishment of the individual. The stage and especially make-up can allow you to become something that you’re not but somewhere deep down I imagine it’s part of you.

Is that why you use make-up? Where did you get it from? It looks like warpaint.
Thomas: That was the idea, really. It wasn’t anything more than that at first and we didn’t intend to have it as a continuous idea.

Matt: It was sort a spur-of-the moment thing, wasn’t it?

Thomas: Yes, but it’s stuck and then that allowed us to sort of brutally bringing a character, really.

Matt: Regret it ever since.

Thomas: Ah yeah, but just because it irritates my eyes.

Matt: It says on the face paint “Do not use near eyes”.

Thomas: I have been using that for about two years now.

Have you seen the little kid outside the Ritz in Manchester using the same make-up? How did you feel about that?
Thomas: Yeah! As anyone would feel about that sort of imitation, really. It’s amazing! I never thought it would come to that. That was really cool to see. We first saw it in Nottingham though, these two kids who came with black paint.

Matt: We thought “What the hell is that?”.

Summer festival touring

How is it to tour Europe? Is the audience different in Europe compared to the audience in the UK?
Thomas: Apart from this we’ve only done Amsterdam really. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, last night was great. It’s funny to come up here and have so many people; so many I said, it was about 50 people. But even then, we’re incredibly humbled by that. I think tonight will be very similar, a handful of us in the room. The fact is, even a few of those people know the words to our songs, it’s just mind-blowing stuff.

In an ideal world, next year we’d like to come back and do it properly with France, Holland, Germany. The list goes on. We’ll let you know after tonight.

What’s the plan this year? Are you playing festivals this summer? And is there already new music in the works?
Charlie: We’ve got a few. Neighbourhood Weekender, we’re playing a few back over here in Europe. I think there are a couple in Germany we’re doing, and Holland, and also Benicassìm [Spain] and in Lithuania.

We’re doing like a black metal festival in Lithuania, so we’ve got a few. But we’re just trying to write as much as possible at the moment. We’re not really preparing for gigs, we’re just putting all of our efforts into writing new material and we’ve done a chunk already. Yeah, we’re looking forward to getting back into that process and completing that, really.

Photographer: ©Teresa Enhiak Nanni
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Journalist: Maurina Angioni

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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.