Wonderland.

BLAENAVON

Brighton beach hangs with the indie rock trio.

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Spoiler: I can’t pronounce Blaenavon. As much as I love their music, and even after both the band and a Welsh friend tell me how it’s supposed to sound, I still find myself automatically emphasising the wrong vowels and ultimately getting it wrong. However, this seems to be a fairly frequent problem. Catching the guys on the first night of their tour supporting Alt-J, as Ben Gregory, Frank Wright and Harris McMillan warm up the crowd with their infectious indie rock and insanely energetic performance, Gregory introduces them with: “We’re Blaenavon. It’s difficult to spell and even harder to say!” Glad I’m not the only one who thinks it.

As their performance that night continues, numerous declarations of love ring out from the crowd, including calls that attendees had come to see the Hampshire-based trio rather than the main act (a statement I totally shared). Sitting down with the band earlier in the day, I ask how it feels to receive this kind of reaction and it’s obvious they’re still getting used to it – despite being inundated with similar remarks since the release of their incredible debut album That’s Your Lot this year. “Scrolling through Twitter [we see] kids like ‘which Blaenavon lyric shall I get tattooed?’ [and] ‘oh my god, this album changed my life!’” Gregory tells me. “One girl is asking me to pick a lyric from four different tracks that she loves to get tattooed and I just feel like that’s a lot of pressure…”

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It’s not hard to see why the boys have gained this kind of devotion, though. Forming in 2013, their debut is, quite frankly, a masterpiece. An ode to their youth, it’s an embodiment of the band in their formative years. As the tracks glide effortlessly from righteous epics to haunting heart-wrenchers, the record shows the trio’s versatility and gives us a look into their exciting journey that will hopefully long continue. “There’s some stuff that I’m so proud of on there. And, you know, some undeniable bangers,” Gregory says when I ask how they feel about the album now. “Obviously we had to listen to it a lot of times, but it still feels fresh and different things are rewarding with time. It’s everything I wanted it to be, I don’t regret anything.”

Received with critical acclaim, the band have been festival faves ever since it came out and if you haven’t caught them live yet, well, you’re really missing out. I ask if they would be able to pick the best show they’ve ever played and McMillan instantly rises to the challenge. “[It’s] not because it was like a massive show or something that was really important to us,” he begins, “but it was this show we played at this paddling pool venue outside in Austin, Texas. It was a really weird one, everything sounded pretty awful. There were just some people wanting some quiet time with their martinis and we knew we were coming on with our rock show and so we really played on that. We knew we had to do something different and we couldn’t just do what we normally do, so we went full out, like, stadium cock rock. Five minute solos, Ben jumped into the pool in a suit. It was quite funny watching people start to take notice. Like, halfway through things started to get weird and everyone started turning their heads and then at the end everyone was just cheering!”

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Between winning over Texans and debating which lyrics a fan should get written on her for the rest of eternity, Blaenavon never take a break from creating. Releasing the beautiful “Prague ’99” EP last month, the surprise drop featured the eponymous single and three newbies. “[‘Prague ’99’ has] been like the fan favourite. It’s kind of our most important track. It’s the one that everyone sings along to and it’s brought our fans together the most,” Gregory explains. “And we had some worthy songs that we didn’t put on to the album, not because they weren’t good enough, but because they didn’t fit the style. So it seemed like a good time. There’s three other songs that we’re very, very proud of.”

Having finished off their supporting slot with Alt-J, Blaenavon are gearing up for a headline tour in November, including a show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I ask if they ever get nervous before shows and the guys tell me that they’ll never be as nervous as when they performed at the O2 Arena in June: “The moment we’re on stage, we just put on a great rock show.” Gregory jokes, but I can’t help but agree.

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Photography
Iolo Lewis Edwards
Words
Elly Watson
BLAENAVON

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