Black Country, New Road Are the Most Solid They've Ever Been
"We've made an effort to constantly be trying new things as a band, to try and keep the songwriting fresh and to feel like what we're doing is interesting for ourselves and for our audience"
Published Sep 15, 2023It may surprise you to hear that Black Country, New Road are the most secure they've ever been. At first glance, having each member switch roles after two albums — right after burying their discography to boot — sounds like a goose chase at best. Instead, they're right on pace for possibly the first time ever.
The same story's been told about the UK post-punks since bandleader Issac Wood left in January 2022 — just four days before their sophomore record, Ants From Up There, was released. Since then, they've radically persisted, opting to play all-new material on their first-ever headlining tour in North America — but not before releasing it all as a live album and concert film. The songs from their first two albums may be dead, but Live at Bush Hall depicts a band uninterested in any anecdote they've been assigned.
"It's quite an easy narrative to fall into, that the band has kind of had to relearn how to play with each other. But realistically, that's actually not really the case," drummer Charlie Wayne tells me, with vocalist, flutist and saxophonist Lewis Evans adding, "I feel like maybe we're not transitioning right now. It's a real stasis." They both agree that ironically, this feels like the first real album cycle they've done, and that touring these new, more optimistic tracks is only the beginning.
While Black Country hit up Vancouver last month for their first ever Canadian show, they've got upcoming performances in Toronto and Montreal — in anticipation of those shows, read our conversation with Wayne and Evans below. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like writing songs specifically to play them live?
Wayne: I guess it's where pretty much every band starts from, to be honest. Like, you have to write songs, unless you're starting with the real, "We're going in to do an album, we're in a band with like a mission, a musical mission." And normally, you're playing songs, because you want to play shows. And I think a large part of that was the case with the Bush Hall shows.
You actually jumped the gun, because my next question was about how when bands start, they sort of write music to play shows, and that's how small bands get their beginnings. Do you think that writing specifically with that context in mind brought you back to that place?
Wayne: It was definitely exciting to play those shows again. It was really scary as well. But I mean, when we first started playing, the music was much more intense and much more. It's a bit like, we were trying to scare the crowd a little bit, just because that's kind of how I think you stand out. Because, if you watch a band and you're like, "Fuckin' hell, that was quite a lot, like nuts," I guess, you know, [it] kind of leaves a bit of an impression. But that wasn't really the case actually, with the Bush Hall stuff. It was like, "Oh, fuck, this band I like, they've made a load of music that I quite liked. I wonder what this is going to be like. I hope it's good." I think, luckily, to the entire credit of all of our fan base, people have really seemed to warm to it. Which is, I think, great. And very lucky for us.
Evans: You're feeling like you've got to prove yourself, you know? Because people don't know the songs — that's the feeling that it is, that's the pressure that you feel. You feel like you've got to prove that you're good enough to warrant this audience's attention, because they're not hearing the songs they've heard on Spotify. ... You're demanding the attention of an audience for 45 minutes to an hour, [for] music they don't know. So it feels like way more pressure. And it's the same pressure that I definitely felt back in the day when we didn't have any music out or anything.
Do you think that you're better musicians for having to switch parts and play different instruments, or sing for example? Do you feel like you've grown in that capacity?
Wayne: It's quite an easy narrative to fall into, that the band has had to relearn how to play with each other. But realistically, that's actually not really the case. We've made an effort to constantly be trying new things as a band, to try and keep the songwriting fresh and to feel like what we're doing is interesting for ourselves and for our audience. But also, fundamentally, it's still the same musicians in the room, you know? With the exception of Isaac.
You guys have been playing together for years, and you clearly are very good friends. How has that helped in the transitional period of the band?
Wayne: It's just sort of been transitional period to transitional period.
Evans: It really helps, like when you are feeling self-conscious about what you're doing artistically having not only people who you musically respect, but also friends to tell you what you're doing is good, or what you're doing is bad, or you need to change it. It's extremely helpful, and it would be shit without that, to be honest.
Also, yeah, about the transition thing: I feel like maybe we're not transitioning right now. It feels very… it's a real stasis right now. I feel like we've gotten to the point where we've got the best versions of these live tunes. And we're like, kind of waiting to write new ones, really. I think we're just gonna do as much writing as possible. And then that will be the new transitionary period, I guess. But yeah, we'll try and get everyone singing at some point, so that's good. That'll be the next transition.
I noticed that all of the backdrops in your concert film, it's almost looks like it's a prom in a Disney Channel original movie. It very much has that high school production, DIY feel to it. What was the inspiration behind that?
Evans: It all starts with us not wanting to put the album out on streaming, because we wanted it to be a live album, not an album. And when you put it on streaming, it becomes more of an album, people start to view it as a thing that you might not necessarily want them to view it as. … So we put loads of effort into the visuals in the video and we really started a month early to kind of separate it from being an album. It was all about this live gig.
And then someone came up with the idea of doing it like a school theatre production, play backdrops, very handmade, painted, cut-out cardboard. And then we came up with some fake plays that we could use for inspiration for the backdrops.
How much of that sort of production style do you think is going to go into your tour, specifically in North America?
Evans, while laughing: No. We've got a backdrop that we have — our kind of resident artist in house called Rosalyn Marie, she does all of our Instagram posts, all of our posters, for everything. Loads of design stuff for us … We haven't put much effort into stage production ever. We've never really had the budget for that.
Wayne: Though, ostensibly, we may appear to be a successful, professional band, we actually operate on, like the jankiest. It's just a terrible, terrible operation that we're running at Black Country, New Road. It really is.
Evans: Up until like, about six months ago, Charlie was still playing on symbol stands that were taped together. I mean, there's so many of us in the band that you're on a really tight budget, it doesn't really matter how far you get. It's not going to be until like two years where we have the production value of a band who is selling less records than us.
Wayne: You know, we're obviously incredibly lucky, saying that we can't afford to get a stage set or whatever. But then on that same token, the band is large enough to be able to support all six of us as our full-time jobs, which has been the case since I left university — that's actually nuts. That's crazy. It's really, really lucky. You know, that novelty isn't wasted on us.