INTERVIEW: Black Country, New Road | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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December 7th 2021 was supposed to see Black Country, New Road take to the stage of Newcastle University Students’ Union, fresh off the heels of their critical juggernaut of a release, For The First Time. The debut had thrown them into the zeitgeist, immediately cited as the flag bearers for a new era of post-punk. The band cannoned into the conversation of many music enthusiasts, as their cryptic lyricism and long, meandering musical passages brimmed with a daring ambition rarely seen.

By December 2021, the band had began teasing their February 2022 release, Ants From Up There. The Newcastle show promised to be a sneak preview of what was to come, yet in hindsight nobody could have predicted what the band’s future contained.

While the Newcastle concert has been postponed, rescheduled and reimagined, the band has broken through a series of curious milestones. Of course, their sophomore album was a rousing success, delivering a more streamlined vision of their sound, enticing critics further into their world. As Charlie Wayne, the band’s drummer confesses: “I remember labels wanting Basketball Shoes for the first record, but we knew it wouldn’t have worked cohesively. For all the things I love about our debut, what I think it fails to do is create a consistent world. Using Basketball Shoes as the springboard let us to double down on a new sound.” Ants From Up There built beautifully on the foundations of the debut, merging jazz and prog into these violently emotional, mounting odysseys. Where the debut was lauded for its wild exploration, Ants… saw the band discover whatever they had been hunting for. As keyboardist May Kershaw was quick to point out: “The debut shows us finding our feet, figuring out a groove that was us. The second album started with our feet firmly planted, it feels less anxious, we’ve all known each other from school, there’s always been a sense of community and now we’re walking into new territory together.”

It was that sense of community that flavoured the sophomore record, with the team battling against the isolation of the pandemic. “It felt very healthy to get out and actually make something in the heart of winter, despite it being the darkest winter in the depths of lockdown, Ants… had a lot more ‘us’ featured. I think every other track has our backing vocals, there’s really interesting uses of voice and community, we all pulled together because of the lockdown, it certainly felt like the light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and I think that’s reflected in the release!” comments Charlie.

With two pristine releases under their belt, it’s staggering how fetal the band still were, with the lockdown cutting their live experience short. “The idea of playing a headline tour was thrilling, but ultimately nerve-wracking. Dropping an album and not being able to tour it was a bizarre experience, we didn’t feel like we’d proven our worth. We never saw ourselves as part of meteoric rise, most of us were still students at the time!” Yet now, in May 2023, the band’s rigorous touring has left them primed and proven.

Far from the Black Country, New Road originally booked for 2021, this new era of the band is bursting with ideas, concepts and love. The evolution has not been without its stark changes, as January 2022 saw Issac Wood, the band’s frontman, vocalist and lyricist step away from the limelight.

Marching forward, the year saw Black Country, New Road toy with new ideas, teasing a myriad of heightened aspirations. For fans asking what the next iteration of the band would be, the March 2023 release Live at Bush Hall contained all the information needed. Seeing vocal duties spread across the remaining members, the band of multi-instrumentalists showcase a record of new ideas workshopped over the months of touring.

May reflects, stating: “Rehearsals were always a process of fleshing out and having healthy discussions about the structures of the songs, we all have vastly different musical backgrounds, we have so many different flavours getting poured in as we tour. With us all listening to different styles, we tend to think in terms of tones and atmosphere, rather than any particular genre!”

Taking these discussions from the studio onto the road, each of their new tracks feel raw and bonded by that ever tightening community, as that sense of atmosphere is birthed from an abundant live energy.

This iteration of the band still hold the same penchant for grandiose motifs, luscious strings and dazzling horns, yet now there is a real kinship and friendship that has cemented the band through their adventure and it is palpable.

Thriving in a new era for the band, Black Country New Road will play Newcastle University Students’ Union on Sunday 7th May.

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