Music

Interview: The Blackout

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Ahead of their return to Solus, Jack Glasscock and Louis Browne sat down with The Blackout‘s two vocalists to talk Merthyr and models.

You’re almost halfway through your tour and yesterday you were back at home in Merthyr Tydfil, how was that?
Sean Smith (Vocals): It was lovely – 2008’s third roughest town in Britain.
Gavin Butler (Vocals): Although, some of our crew spent the day there and said it was “all you could need from a town” [laughs].
SS: Yeah, it was lovely.  I got to see the most important woman in my life, my mother. She washed my jeans – thank God, they were smelling.  And I got to hang out with some of my friends who are coming tonight, so it should be an excellent evening.  Because you see, none of the band get on anymore, it’s difficult to be here sitting next to him [Gavin].  We don’t hang out much at home because we were put together by Simon Cowell you see, so we find it hard to talk to each other [laughs].

How are you all still such good friends then?  It’s coming up to 10 years you’ve been together.
SS: Yes, it is 10 years, somehow.  I don’t know how we’re still friends, it’s very difficult.
GB: I think it’s because we were friends anyway.  A lot of bands get together and have to get to know each other on the road, in a small van, with no respite or personal space.
SS: Yeah, I’ve known him [Gavin] since he was 3 and everyone else in the band we went to school with, apart from our drummer who we found working in Giles Sports, and we haven’t changed the line up since.  Despite us trying to change the members – they just won’t leave. [laughs]

So you grew up in Merthyr Tydfil, was there a good music scene around you?
SS: I think there was and there were some good bands, but we still weren’t hearing the music that we wanted to hear.  I think the moment that changed it for me was seeing Lostprophets play a tiny room in Blackwood to 200 people.  They played five songs and it was unbelievable because it was my first ever ‘alternative-rock’ gig I suppose.  The first band I ever saw were Stereophonics and that blew my mind too, but seeing Lostprophets, who were from 15 minutes down the road blew my mind.  So I was like, “I want to try that”, and I did, not as successfully as Lostprophets, but we had a bloody go!
Our first ever gig, we covered a Limp Bizkit song, a Faith No More song and a Lostprophets song.  Since then we’ve ended up singing with Lostprophets and Limp Bizkit on stage, so it’s only Faith No More now [laughs].
GB: I can’t see that happening to be honest.

Is it surreal playing with bands that you grew up listening to and have been influenced by?
SS: I suppose every day of my life is surreal because it just blows my mind. When we started, I never even though we’d put a CD out, I thought we’d be like a live, local band. Our first ever show was in a place called RMs in Merthyr Tydfill, which a year or two ago became the UK’s biggest ever cannabis factory.  The gig sold out, but I think the majority of people there were there to see us fail, like “let’s see what this knobs going to do, he’s going to be crap”.  I think they were sadly surprised that we were alright.  We’ve always just wanted to play live.

Now you play all over the world!  How was the music video in Ibiza?
SS:
Oh, it was crap.  We hated that – women in bikinis, people drinking, hanging out with Pritch (Matthew Pritchard, Dirty Sanchez) in the Mediterranean, oh it was terrible! [laughs] GB: That said, it was hard work at points!  Just trying to keep going!
SS: We only had four days there, and had to shoot two videos.  After the boat party, we carried on partying with Pritch until like five in the morning.
GB: We started shooting the video for ‘Running Scared’ at 9 o’clock in the morning and finished at about 9 o’clock at night and we ended up just going straight out!
SS: We ended up at Pikes Hotel, which is where Freddie Mercury used to stay.  It was us, Pendulum, Pritch, Example; one hell of a party.

Was it the same mental, party atmosphere when you went on tour with Limp Bizkit?
SS: With Limp Bizkit, we didn’t think that we were ever going to see them.  Either that they would have security all the time or that we’d be ushered away from them, because were like super fan boys – when we got there I was like “I can’t believe it”.
I’d loved Limp Bizkit since I was 16, I’d only seen them once at Download in 2010, but since 1999 onwards I was obsessed.  We walked in and he [Fred Durst] was just like “Hey man, I love your Twitter picture” and I was like “Ah, he knows he I am, this is fucking mental”.  There’s a video of us on YouTube playing the first song we ever covered – ‘Counterfeit’ by Limp Bizkit – with Limp Bizkit! It was one of the best moments of my life.
GB: It was mental because we went in thinking that we’d never see them.  But, John [Otto, Limp Bizkit, drummer] came into our room on the first day and we couldn’t get rid of him [laughs].
SS: In Italy, they have this massive fake merch industry, where the merch outside is probably better than the merch inside… and it’s cheaper! [laughs] I was just about to buy a ‘I fucking hate Limp Bizkit’ T-Shirt, when Matt [Blackout, guitarist] called and said “You need to come to Limp Bizkit’s dressing room”.  So, I went in and it was literally wall to wall Vogue models and Fred went “Hey Sean, this is how we roll!”.
GB: You can’t do the accent [laughs].
SS: No, no I can’t.  But yeah, I was just like “No it’s not we’re 12 dates in and I’ve never seen any of this” [laughs]. But what a tour, what a lovely bunch of guys.

Did Fred have the red cap?
SS: No [laughs], but he had several other caps, but he never wore a red one.  He had white, green or black.  I think he might be trying to step away from the red cap.

How does playing as a support act compare with headlining your own shows like the one tonight? Is there one you prefer?
GB: Obviously when you do your own shows, it’s your own fans there – you don’t have to win anyone over and you’re just performing. They’re enjoying it, you’re enjoying it and everyone just feeds off each other.
SS: Yeah, when you’re on as a support you do have to win people over. In the older days when we played smaller venues, you have to go into the crowd and get in people’s faces, even steal people’s drinks [laughs]. Like during that Limp Bizkit tour – I didn’t even think once about us playing for their fans until the day we got there and suddenly realised we sounded nothing like them. We heard that prior to us, they’d had European tours where the support bands had been booed off. So we were like “Oh, here we go..” and chucked a Beastie Boys cover into the second song of our set.
GB: It’s really rewarding when you do these support slots though. Like on our tour with Yellowcard in Europe earlier this year, people would come up to us at the end of shows and say something like “I’ve never heard of you guys before, but I thought that was wicked.” That makes it all even better, just winning people over like that. 

Regarding supports, you took Hyro Da Hero on tour with you. Do you get much influence on the supports – can you get bands you’re friends with involved or are certain acts suggested?
SS: Yes, well Rat Attack who are opening for us on this tour, we got them involved because we’re mates with Mike Lewis [ex-Lostprophets] who’s their manager. We’ve been lucky because we’ve probably chosen the majority of our supports, I’d say like 95%.
GB: There’s a lot of bands that we’d love to take out still but there’s always timing issues – they’ll be somewhere else or have something scheduled.
SS: Or they live in America and it costs too much to get over here! Yeah, we’ve been quite lucky – we took Kids In Glass Houses on their first ever tour and look at them now! Have we got a penny of that?! No – Kids In Glass Houses owe us money, tell them! [laughs]  

You’ve played to some huge crowds on the main stages at Reading & Leeds and Download Festival. Do you feel the same need to win the crowds over for these shows and does it intimidate you?
SS: I don’t tend to get nervous anymore because I think we’ve got the songs there to win people over. I’d like to think we’ve got – I hate the word ‘banter’ because it makes me think of ‘lads’, but I think we’ve got the onstage personas to win a lot of people over. I either want people to love us, or hate us – I don’t want anyone to be like “Yeah, they’re alright”, I’d much rather have them saying, “He’s a fucking prick” or “Yeah, he’s quite funny.” Our drummer still gets nervous whatever the show is though, to 10 people or 10,000. 

It’s seems like you play your live shows without pretention and don’t take yourselves too seriously on stage. Is this approach important for The Blackout?
GB: Yeah, but one time we had to take down our backdrop [Fuck The Blackout] because the BBC were filming our show.
SS: We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously, because at the end of the day, we’re just six boys from Merthyr Tydfil who are somehow travelling the world. Every day I just go “Ah, how have we managed this?”

Finally, you’re coming up to your ten-year anniversary as a band. How do you plan to mark this and is the tour’s name – “The Final Party” – anything to do with it?
SS: No, the tour’s just named that because it’s the last tour we’re doing for this album, but we’ve thought of something else. Our first two records [mini-album “The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout!” and debut album “We Are The Dynamite”] came out on an indie label called Fierce Panda. It’s their 20th anniversary this year so we were thinking about maybe playing a special show where we just play songs off those two records.

Just a couple of days after this interview took place, Gavin was taken ill with a hemiplegic migraine. The remainder of the tour has been postponed until further notice. We wish Gavin a speedy and complete recovery.

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