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Interview: Black Country, New Road Talk About New Album 'Ants From Up There'

Interview: Black Country, New Road Talk About New Album 'Ants From Up There'

C.C. / Interview by Lukas Mayo / Artwork credit: Simon Monk / Wednesday 9th March, 2022 11:30AM

One of the most talked about new albums from the past month has been UK collective Black Country, New Road's ten track opus Ants From Up There. Released during a notably tumultuous period for the group, whose singer Isaac Woods announced his cordial departure only days before launch, BC, NR's second studio long player has transcended such tricky curveballs to be lauded by the likes of Pitchfork, The Quietus, NME and The New York Times — who described the genre-melting record as a "perilous triumph." Avowed fan Lukas Mayo aka Ōtautahi's sensationally talented Pickle Darling (whose five year anniversary 7" vinyl edition of spring onion pancakes is available for preorder now) generously spared the time to cook up some questions for the now six-piece band, thoughtfully answered by drummer Charlie Wayne. Tuck into their Q & A below...

Lukas Mayo (Pickle Darling): Congrats on the new album! I just wanted to start off by saying it is a truly beautiful, beautiful record, and I feel like I’ve already developed such a deep relationship with it. With all of the changes BC, NR has gone through recently, how do you feel to listening back to the album now?

Charlie Wayne (Black Country, New Road): Thanks very much! That’s really kind of you to say. I don’t know whether any of us could’ve guessed that we’d have this kind of response to the album. It’s been quite overwhelming to be honest. I remember being in the studio recording the album and thinking that people were going to be super on the fence about the whole thing — so all the positivity surrounding it has been pretty nuts. I haven’t actually listened to it since it came out. I’ve heard snippets of it but I haven’t put on any of the songs in full in a little while. I don’t really know why, I guess maybe now that it’s out it no longer feels like a work in progress. There’s nothing left to change about it, it’s just out in the world. It’s probably because we’re working on writing new music at the moment and so I don’t think any of us want to feel as though we’ve been caught in what we’ve done before. We’re all focused on writing stuff that feels new!

What I love about your band is that it feels like everyone is at the top of their game, and every part in the arrangement is as creative as it can be. How have you operated as a 7 piece band and maintained some sort of democracy?

I think democracy has always just been the best route for the group. We’re friends first and a band second. It would feel so weird if one of your friends didn’t listen to your ideas or take what you said as bit-part and unimportant. Also, everyone is the best at their respective instrument. Everyone governs their own little space. I think that’s one of the cool things that happens when you have those two elements. Everyone’s idea is respected and heard out. It means you end up with things that are always non-linear and interesting. Just by design it always ends up being a mesh of lots of different musical perspectives. I don’t know really, it just sort of happens — we all get on very well and really enjoy making music together.

The album cover [below] is beautiful! How did that come about?

Simon Monk (the artist), was familiar to Isaac for quite a while before the album was even written. He showed us some of his work and we all really loved it. His work offered a really interesting transition from the work that we’d used before. It had that same, nostalgic quality that the image from For The First Time used. They’re also both situated in this kind of uncanny valley of hyperrealism. Where the images look almost too real to be real. With the image from FTFT, our emotional distance from the subject is created through the context that it’s a stock image. It looks corporate and glossy. With Simon’s art I don’t think it’s about establishing that same emotional distance — but you definitely get the sense that you are looking at an image that conjures a feeling of nostalgia that is as familiar as looking at a childhood photograph. The uncanny quality comes from the medium, it’s a painting not a — it’s a meticulously laboured re-creation of that nostalgia rather than a candid snapshot. I don’t know I’ve explained it terribly and a more articulate or intelligent member of the group would’ve been able to give you the perfect answer. 

The new album feels like a natural and big departure from the first album! What artists were you listening to, and what changed in the songwriting process?

Yeah I think that departure felt really marked by everyone in the group. I remember being so worried about it. Particularly because people had become quite connected to the songs on the first album; I thought that people were going to really resent the lack of dissonance, or the more straightforward songwriting. I think the most important part of the songwriting was that we were creating music for one another, not for an audience. Most of the album was conceived during the lockdown at the beginning of 2021. We had no idea when we would be performing any of the songs. We just didn’t think about them in that context. We were writing music as a way to keep busy and happy during a very bleak time. When you’re in that sort of situation, creating dissonant or aggressive music felt super out of place. We wanted to write music that felt emotional and comforting.

We were all listening to different sorts of stuff, I think that’s one of the great things about the group. We’re all informed by slightly different influences. There is obviously some overlap: Arcade Fire, Billie Eilish, The Beach Boys and Arthur Russell are artists we all like. More specifically though I was listening to lots of Sufjan Stevens, Alex G, Pink Pantheress and Joyce Manor around the time we were writing and recording the album.

What is the song you are most proud of?

I think 'Basketball Shoes' is probably (and maybe obviously) the track that I’m the most proud of. It’s just the sum of all the working parts on the record. We’d had that track for years and felt hard to finally let go of. But it was the place where the rest of the album really came from and so I don’t think there could be any other answer for me. I’m super proud of it.

With the announcement that you won’t be touring this record, what will 2022 look like for BC, NR?

Yeah we’ve been super busy over the last few months, working on getting together a set of brand new music. It’s good! We’re all very excited to get it on the road as soon as possible. We’ll definitely be playing shows over the summer with the six of us performing a new set. It’s been a cool challenge for all of us, and I know we wouldn’t be doing it if we weren’t certain that the material is good. It will change a lot when it’s out on the road. You learn more about a song from playing it live once than you would in 10 rehearsal sessions. But it’s all part of the process, you just have to lean into it. I’m obviously sad that we won’t be able to tour any of the previous BC, NR material, but it logistically just wouldn’t work. I’m really sorry to anyone who was looking forward to us performing it live and I do get that grievance. But it’s not something that we’re prepared to do and I hope audiences will understand that. We started playing music together as friends and that friendship will always take precedent. As I said earlier though, AFUT was never really conceived with the intention of being performed live, it was written at a time where there was no live music. We also managed to get that album recorded and got it out into the world and I’ll always be very grateful for that!

If you had to challenge any other indie rock band in the world to a charity boxing match, who would you pick?

It’s funny, this is something that we’ve actually wanted to do for such a long time. It would probably have to be another band that has six members [The Phoenix Foundation? - Ed.], or a band with members that would be able to take on more than one of us. Or actually maybe we’d just go for a six on one against Jacob Collier. That guy seems to be able to do everything.

'Ants From Up There' is out now on vinyl LP, cassette, compact disc and digitally via Ninja Tune.

Pickle Darling's 5 year anniversary edition of 'spring onion pancakes' on limited edition 7" yellow vinyl is available for preorder HERE.


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