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The Blinders interview: politically-edged and literary adulation

It’s a difficult time to interview artists. When I sat down to interview The Blinders ahead of their second studio album release, it had to be over a conference call, and vocalist Tom Haywood had bad news almost straightaway.

“In terms of the upcoming tour, I think I can go ahead and say that that’s getting pulled, and we’ll have to move to September dates.”

Having scheduled this to directly follow what was supposed to be an early-May release of Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath, this a serious promotional concern. Upcoming bands depend on touring for security, and this is yet another example of COVID-19’s huge impact upon the industry. Nonetheless, Tom and bassist Charlie McGough were in good spirits: “we haven’t really gotten started in terms of releasing music, and showing off what the second record’s about.”

Plus, an interview over conference call meant they could get coffee whenever they wanted.

‘Politically-edged’ really doesn’t do them justice

The Blinders have been making their way up in the punk rock scene for six years now. Originally from Doncaster, they’re now based in music’s northern jewel, Manchester, where their socially-charged lyrics have won them a loyal following.

‘Politically-edged’ really doesn’t do them justice. Their debut LP Columbia was a critical darling two years ago, in part due to this pointed song-writing, but also its raw production. Much like Parquet Courts and IDLES, The Blinders’ tracks carry over the energy of their live performances. Having been holed up in a studio to record the whole of Fantasies, I asked them how they pulled it off.

“Naturally, the only instruments that are available to us are what our hands can play at the same time,” Tom explained. “That leans towards that more ‘real’ energy and ‘live’ setting that you describe.”

It’s not unchanged from Columbia, though. Both Tom and Charlie credit producer Rob Ellis as having completely changed their approach to creating music. They describe it as moving away from “creating a song just to get a particular emotion from it”, and towards perfecting each of the track’s individual aspects. Time in the studio hasn’t killed the band’s live spirit, but the studio’s advantages should be plainer to see on the new album. 

“It’s always interesting getting time in that studio,” Charlie adds. “It’s refreshing to see how a song evolves from that sort of position.”

‘literature is still the foundation block to what we do, with the music kind of following’

Don’t be fooled into thinking The Blinders’ approach is by the numbers, though. Their hooks have never been protest for protest’s sake, and this isn’t a band that drafts a riff or bassline before anything else. In fact, it couldn’t be much further from the case. Even before their first album, the group’s fascination with literature goes deeper than almost any other band I’ve seen, reinterpreting classic written works into fresh, potent political lyrics. These lyrics always come first. 

“That’s the way we’ve always wrote,” Charlie told me. “Even here the album title was in place before a lot of the songs. As you say, the literature is still the foundation block to what we do, with the music kind of following.”

It’s rare to find an interview with The Blinders that doesn’t reference Jack Kerouac and George Orwell as influences, and the band are so enamoured with Aldous Huxley that perhaps their best-known single is called ‘Brave New World’.

It goes without saying that dystopian science fiction springboards perfectly into Haywood’s branch of political criticism. His 21st century readings of these classics, when paired with the band’s self-confessed ‘love for words’, is still the backbone of Fantasies in terms of inspiration. The Blinders have been quite clear in the past that they don’t believe in true originality, that you can write an entire album without having ‘magpied’ off something else. However, they also don’t believe in reading just to find ideas.

If you wanted to do a ballad, you’d look heavily into [Nick] Cave’s work, or some of Lennon’s earlier records. But don’t think about it too much. Don’t go out there to be inspired. Just keep a steady reading list, film list, etc

 “Sometimes when you read things, listen to things, look at things, you feel like it was written for you, like it describes everything that you’ve wanted to put into words,” Tom says, after discussing the newfound realism of 1984. “In a lot of my songs, I capitalise off that feeling and try to emulate it, which can take you in a lot of different directions. If you wanted to do a ballad, you’d look heavily into [Nick] Cave’s work, or some of Lennon’s earlier records. But don’t think about it too much. Don’t go out there to be inspired. Just keep a steady reading list, film list, etc.”

There’s no need to ask if Fantasies will be inspired by literature – the opening track is called ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ – but Charlie assured me that they’ve been reading beyond the ‘pigeonhole’ of dystopian works. Now a few months from the album’s delayed release, he says that we can expect several cinematic influences to have shaped the record.

The classic Blinders formula is intact, but so much within it has changed. Judging from the two singles released thus far, the same can be said of the subject matter. The two agree that ‘Circle Song’ takes a more personal approach than the snarling hits of Columbia, and in-between the frenetic riffs ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ can often sound flat-out vulnerable.

British punk has always held a mirror to social vulnerability, but rarely do we get an album where the band has turned this mirror upon themselves

Charlie takes this one: “There’s a lot of tracks that reference political issues,” he tells me. “But it is a more personal record, and global political anxieties feed into those individual anxieties, and exaggerate the feelings that we’re having in our own relationships. As opposed to tackling global issues head on, it’s more reflective of an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.”

The Blinders have explored global issues for six years now. To ask if socio-political crises are the basis of their work is to expose that you’ve never listened to them before. However, tying these issues to themselves is new territory for them, and it’s the significant shift that makes Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath so hard to wait for. British punk has always held a mirror to social vulnerability, but rarely do we get an album where the band has turned this mirror upon themselves.

“This is especially due to the age we are having written it,” Charlie continued. “We’re coming to a certain crossroads in our lives, and those crossroads are a lot more daunting when Trump’s in power, say, and there’s a global climate crisis.”

“This record took more of a personal stance simply because we’re human beings and sometimes experience stuff that no one will in a life,” Tom says. “But it is tough to ignore everything else, and because of that it’s taken a bit of a misanthropic turn at times, and can often be quite a bitter and cruel record.”

The Blinders will release Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath on July 17 2020, via Modern Sky UK.

 

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