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Escape Velocity

"It Punches You In The Face From Start To Finish": Blacklisters Interviewed
Charlotte Richardson Andrews , June 28th, 2012 09:02

With their debut LP Blklstrs, Leeds based noise rock quartet Blacklisters whirl aggression, energy and dark humour into a wild, pugilistic beast of an album. Charlotte Richardson Andrews caught up with them to discuss why their music's actually an expression of positivity

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Blacklisters’ breed of deranged, frenetic noise rock may sound enraged, but as frontman Billy Mason-Wood tells it, this Leeds based quartet are actually a rather buoyant bunch, albeit with a predilection for sardonic humour and wry, irreverent song titles (‘Clubfoot By Kasabian’, ‘I Can Confirm That Ruth Abigail Holmes Is Not Dead and Is Planning To Make a Movie About Her Life’). The Hyde Park-based band’s first official release came in 2009, with 7” single 'Swords', followed up with 2010’s Belt Party EP. After a smashing set at Reading/Leeds festival in 2010, the foursome were asked to officially open the festival in 2011.

When I talk to Mason-Wood, the crew are fresh from a commendable set at Camden Crawl, an event that coincided with the release of their debut LP, Blklstrs. Produced by Ross Halden at Ghost Town studios and mastered by Carl Saff (Young Widows, Oxes, Melt Banana), Blklstrs is a confrontational sonic assault of a debut, 40 minutes of terrifying, dissonant riffs from Dan Beesley, Owen Griffiths’ stabbing bass lines, unrelenting beats courtesy of Alistair Stobbart and menacing, spit-flecked, lunatic vocals from Mason-Wood - the brilliant, convulsive result of band who’ve been honing their wild, pugilistic sound since 2008.

They’ve earned fitting comparisons to The Jesus Lizard, and cite bands such as Big Black, Slint and Shellac as influences, but Blacklisters are a band very much rooted in the noise rock scene that’s emerged via their West Yorkshire home city of Leeds over the last 5 years, hailing proudly from a capable community of inventive alt rock acts that includes cohorts such as Pulled Apart By Horses, Kong and Hawk Eyes. As Mason-Wood explains during our conversation, Leeds has a long-standing, tight-knit DIY rock scene that can trace its way back to crusty 80s anarcho punk days. Local lineage may be important, but Blacklisters’ local label Brew, which the band signed to last year, is proving just as integral to fostering Leeds’ latest crop of bands. Below Mason-Wood explains why Blacklisters’ face-melting, brain-rattling noise rock is actually a rather joyful enterprise.

Your live shows are charged, chaotic affairs. How did you manage to funnel all that energy into the recording process for your debut LP, Blklstrs?

Billy Mason Wood: We were quite worried about that; one of the chief priorities was that we didn’t lose that energy. We didn’t want to compress it all out and make it sound dead in the water, so we recorded it as live as we could.

Is Blacklisters your first band?

BMW: No. I’ve been playing in bands for years, but Blacklisters is the only one that’s really made sense. We met a few years ago, playing in different bands.

What did you initially bond over?

BMW: We bonded over Devo, and Gang of Four. Neither are particular influences in terms of what we sound like now, but we wanted to do a heavy thing similar to that, and it didn’t work - it sounded terrible. So we brought in other influences and the penny dropped. We wrote a song, which at the time was called ‘Bono’, and all the songs fell in to place after that.

You’ve emerged from a scene that includes the likes of Pulled Apart By Horses, Hawk Eyes and Kong. What makes Leeds such fertile ground for noise rock outfits?

BMW: There’s a guy called Andy Abbott who plays guitar in a band called That Fucking Tank, and he’s blogged a lot about the history of the Leeds DIY music scene. Apparently there were loads of anarcho punk bands kicking around Leeds in the 80s and 90s, and when Abbott was a student he was going to all these DIY punk gigs, but wanted to do something a bit more in fitting with the bands he’d been listening to, so he started doing that sort of stuff, and because it was a student town it caught like a cold, and the people who came to Leeds stayed because of what was going on there, to be a part of something.

Hyde Park, where I live, is where the Brudenell Social Club is. I think it’s the best music venue in the North, if not the country, mostly because of the promoter. It’s a working man’s pub, but he’ll book bands like Melt Banana, Thurston Moore and all the ATP bands when they’re in town. It’s full of this rich energy. It’s a small scene, not like in London, so it doesn’t fracture into different factions; it all stays quite central. You get big bands playing the same line-up as small, underground Leeds bands. At some point I want to make a family tree of all the bands that people in Leeds have been in.

There’s also local DIY record label Brew, acting as a hub for all that talent. Has being signed to Brew helped Blacklisters progress?

BMW: It’s been brilliant. I wouldn’t be speaking to you now without Brew. We’re so close here [in Leeds]; we’ve been friends with them for years. I think they waited a few years before bringing us into the Brew family, when they could see we were ready to do something more than just play the local scene. For two guys who started a bedroom label, they’ve done some pretty astonishing things.

You’re the kind of frontman who’s happy to wander down in to the thick of the crowd during live shows. What kind of reaction has that approach earned you?

BMW: I’ve had a few kisses in my time, from burly men. Depends on the crowd really. We just played Live At Leeds [Leeds’s equivalent to Camden Crawl] and that was full of moshing and crowd-surfing, so I did a lot of that. Last year, some guy decided to grab me and smash me into the railings, repeatedly, which ended up with me in A&E. But thems the breaks, I guess.

There’s a frenzied, unhinged energy to Blklsters, but there’s also a real sense of the pleasure and joy to be had in unleashing that kind of berserker noise. Would you say that’s true?

BMW: Absolutely. Fundamentally, that’s my one true belief about the music I make. I’m quite glad you’ve asked me that question because [in] a lot of the interviews I do I’ve been asked to talk about how angry I am. Outside of the band, I make my living working with kids who are angry, and I’m quite passive and nice. Blacklisters is purely about the joy of doing something that is overt and full of passion. None of the songs are angsty, or about how upset I am about anything. They’re all in good humour, and full of joy.

Does it bother you to be misconstrued as an angry band?

BMW: It doesn’t bother me, but it does make me think people are missing the point. A lot of the bands I like weren’t angry. Some of them were bitter, and cynical, but I don’t think any of them were angry. The Jesus Lizard are a prime example: they were deranged and joyous and it makes me happy to hear people so on the edge, and so full of energy. That’s what I get out of it.

How important are lyrics? Your song titles veer towards the irreverent, and a lot of Blklstrs seem abstract, non-linear and incoherent. Would you say your power as a performer comes through your vocal delivery, rather than the actual lyrics?

BMW: Yeah, that’s it, definitely. In general, I find lyric writing quite difficult. It’s usually the last thing that happens. Normally its yelps, screams and rambles that get turned into lyrics. I like the sound of words, and the way they can construe a mood without being a thing. The music is the most important thing, not the words.

Blacklisters have a penchant for disturbingly dark humour, as seen in the video for your latest single, ‘Trickfuck’. What inspired the song/video?

BMW: In Leeds, on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s an area in the city center where all the big, macho men walked around like they’re God’s gift, making other people feel very small. We told the director that Trickfuck was about stupid but incredibly handsome men and he came up with a few treatments. The one we went with was about a drink that turns you into an idiot, in a horrendous, booze Britain-style mess. We wanted it to capture the ridiculousness of those people.

After 32 minutes of frenzied screaming and growling, Blklstrs finishes with a 5 minute-long instrumental, ‘Shush’. Why?

BMW: ‘Shush’ was really fun to write. When it came to recording vocals, we decided it didn’t fucking need ‘em. Our album is so relentless, and it pretty much just punches you in the face from start to finish. Except for ‘Punch Yourself In The Face If The Answer Is Go Fuck Yourself’, its pretty much an onslaught, so it was nice to finish with that [song]. I think it’s really uplifting. It was played in one take, so there was no doubling, and it was just about letting the other guys do what they do best, without me getting in the way being an idiot on top of it.