The Big Read
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May 4, 2018 9:00am
The Big Read: Blossoms – Friends like these
Stockport five-piece Blossoms are having a bloody ball. Having last week unveiled second LP ‘Cool Like You’, a massive album of synth-pop bangers that’s more Kylie Minogue than Oasis, they tell Jordan Bassett how they’re living the dream – and why they pretended to fall out before its release.
Blossoms are talking about the time they went out on the piss in Los Angeles and bumped into Charlie Sheen, Julian Lennon, “one of Bob Marley’s sons”, retired Australian cricketer Shane Warne and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner. “Mad line-up,” frontman Tom Ogden notes. “It’s one of them though, innit? You’re in LA – you’re gonna have a drink, aren’t you? So we just got pissed with [Alex].”
The five-piece had hit the Sunset Marquis bar in West Hollywood, 5000 miles from their hometown of Stockport and light years from the humdrum call centre jobs they left behind with 2016’s self-titled debut album, which shot to number one in the UK album charts.
Turner, who was the last man standing on that hazy night out in LA, has more in common with Blossoms than the rest of their motley crew: in modern times, he is the quintessential example of a musician from northern England who hit paydirt and unlocked a new life for himself. But don’t expect Blossoms to be talking in a mid-Atlantic accent any time soon.
Childhood friends Ogden, bassist Charlie Salt, guitarist Josh Dewhurst, drummer Joe Donovan (who’s blessed with the wit and comic timing of a Seinfeld character) and keyboardist Myles Kellock started out in 2013, when they would rehearse in Salt’s grandfather’s scaffolding yard. They’re wildly industrious: their arrival was announced with two 2015 EPs (the first of which unleashed the ludicrously fun synth-pop behemoth ‘Charlemagne’) and was cemented with that accomplished, self-assured self-titled debut album.
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At the time, NME called ‘Blossoms’ the work of ‘”modernist pop heroes”. The band’s new follow-up, ‘Cool Like You’, explodes the synth-led sound they tentatively explored on its predecessor. There are arms-aloft anthems – such as the booming opener ‘There’s A Reason Why (I never Returned Your Calls)’ – shimmering sci-fi odysseys in the vein of The Killers’ ‘Day and Age’ and even, on the title track, robotic backing vocals that sound like the work of Daft Punk doing The Human League. It’s the work of a band absolutely unabashed in their bid for world domination.
“We never been [afraid of ambition],” Tom says. “Probably because of what we were brought up on and listening to the interviews and the way those kind of bands – Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Stone Roses – are. It was always ‘sky’s the limit’, it was never understood why you’d want to be small.”
Joe adds: “Longevity is our main goal as a band. We want to be the Oasis act – and all the massive bands who’ve got a catalogue of amazing albums and are still getting people excited now. You don’t ever want someone to say, ‘Oh, remember them?’ I don’t want to ever be that band.”
“Like, ‘They had loads of potential,’” Ogden continues in a mock-grave tone, “’but they fucked it.’”
Blossoms seem determined to ensure that this fate will not await them. They’re visibly in love with being a band and, as they roam around the NME office, stop to admire a massive 2011 Liam Gallagher cover that adorns the wall; Tom and Joe get nostalgic about the day they rushed out of school to snap up a copy. There’s no cooler-than-thou feigned apathy here.
The enormous, synth-driven sound of ‘Cool Like You’, in all its anthemic shimmer, was not an accident. “When you first start, you use what you’ve got,” Tom explains. “We only had guitars and a Hammond organ, so I was writing synth lines on a shitty Casio at home. We didn’t have any money to buy a synth.” It was when they teamed up with mentor and Coral frontman James Skelly, who produced both albums, that they began to explore these icy soundscapes. ‘Blossoms’ stepped firmly onto this terrain, but the follow-up is a full-blown waltz across the bridge of an electro-pop spaceship in warp-drive.
Tom has previously talked the album up as “Kylie meets New Order”, though seems delighted when NME name-drops The Human League and Daft Punk in relation to that whirling title track. He scrolls through his iPhone to find a frankly excellent video of keyboardist Myles using the talkbox that wheezes that robotic voice; it’s a long sheet of plastic pipe that looks vaguely medicinal. “We’re just embracing everything we loved in music – and why not?” Tom reasons. “Why can’t we put a talkbox on a song? Just because we’re not two cool French people?”
“We want to be as big as Oasis”
– Joe Donovan
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It’s this kind of thinking that should awards Blossoms the longevity that they so crave. For a band that draws massive, lager-chugging festival crowds, they get away with moments of unashamed electro-pop exuberance that would make Liam Gallagher snap his tambourine. How do they manage it?
“I think that just inevitably comes from where we’re from,” says Tom.
Joe adds: “With us being mates and all coming from a town together, all born in the same hospital – it’s real.”
Anyway, Tom reckons, even the most conservative music fan is actually more open-minded than you might think: “I know people who love Oasis, but they also love ‘Never Too Much’ by Luther Vandross. They’ll also love ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by The Human League and ‘Around the World’ by Daft Punk. People who are stricter, who supposedly only like Oasis and one other thing – they probably don’t, realistically. So that’s why they probably like us. I do think we have broad appeal.” Indie enough for the old-school Oasis fans; pop enough Radio 1 – that’s Blossoms
In support of their bid for world domination, Blossoms toured incredibly hard around the release of their debut – 150 gigs, 43 flights, 45 festivals. It’s the kind of oppressive workload that could crush a band, but of course Joe and Tom balk at the notion that this is “work”. Still, will they take it easier this year to avoid burning out? Tom answers fast, and with a laugh: “No.”
“If I was doing this as a job, I’d get burnt out – but it’s not a job”
– Joe Donovan
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Joe is more forthcoming: “It’s one of those things that’s out of your hands, the bigger you get. I don’t think [we’ll burn out]. We’re young lads in a band; we’re all best mates. If you’re getting burnt out, you’re in the wrong thing. If I was doing this as a job, I’d get burnt out – but it’s not a job.”
Blossoms have had their fair share of normal jobs – Joe and Tom both worked in the aforementioned same call centre – and they’re not keen to go back (though there was the novelty of having a boss who was also a weed dealer; “it came out in the local newspaper and everything,” Joe recalls). Anyway, they’ve already seen the effects of burn-out in the band – albeit in a fictional setting.
Back in February, before the release date for ‘Cool Like You’ was unveiled, a video called ‘Where Are Blossoms?’ surfaced online. This was a five-minute mockumentary that claimed the second album had been recorded, mixed and shelved in the midst of rock band infighting. Bassist Charlie had, it claimed, become a sad, bear costume–wearing mascot of Stockport FC; Myles was a crap rapper who made an extremely ill-advised appearance on the Radio 1Xtra freestyle show ‘Fire in the Booth’; and – perhaps best of all – Joe was an ice cream man whose tragic siren blared out ‘Charlemagne’, harking back to the past as he kicked it with Mr. Whippy.
“We’ve always got to do something different,” Tom says. “I was seeing The 1975 and Taylor Swift deleting their social media [in advance of new material] but I was like, ‘We not that big’. If we did that, no-one would give a shit. Well, the fans would, but not to the same level. So I thought, ‘What’s our version?’” If Tom was the mastermind here – the pop Svengali – Joe was happily along for the ride: “Mate, I fucking loved being an ice-cream man. It was fucking sick.”
In addition to the video, there was the fake Twitter spat, ‘leaked’ phone footage of Joe calling Tom a “diva” and even a joshing interview on the red carpet at the NME Awards, which alluded to in-band tensions. Arcade Fire’s album ‘Everything Now’ was also teased with a series of meta online stunts (among them a ‘leaked’ list of diva-ish backstage demands), which served only to annoy fans. Did Tom and Joe worry Blossoms fans might feel similarly put out?
“We’ve always got our personality across with videos online before, so most people know we’re quite piss-taking and we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” Tom points out, though admits that he briefly had the heebie-jeebies: “I think there were a few days before the mockumentary came out where we thought, ‘Fucking hell, I hope we haven’t pushed people too far’.”
Joe leans back and says, with a grin, “You were going under. I was all right; I was pretty chilled about it.”
There is one low-key moment that sees life imitates art. Joe and Tom leave the NME office and head to a nearby Italian restaurant with the rest of the band, where they repeat the claim that they don’t take themselves seriously. Joe begins an anecdote: “Myles once didn’t go out and meet the fans…”
Myles, who has previously been quiet, suddenly pipes up: “No, no, no, no, no – we don’t bring that up.”
“… And we called him Justin Bieber.” Dejected, Myles sinks back into his seat. “Oh, right.”
The exchange so resembles an outtake from Where Are Blossoms? that I initially think they’re having me on. It’s not really tense, though, and the moment passes quickly –something and nothing. Soon we’re discussing how lovely Paul Weller smells (reader, he reportedly smells very lovely indeed). It’s easy to believe that this is as close as they ever come to flare-ups. Meeting Blossoms, you’re impressed by their charisma, but they don’t seem like they were born to be pop stars that exist in a different realm to the likes of you and me.
Rather, they seem more similar to old-school rockers in the mold of Status Quo and Iron Maiden: down-to-earth, hard-working blokes you suspect would be precisely the same if they were entertaining thousands of people on the main stage at a massive festival, or toiling away in Tescos. Blossoms will need to embark on many more West Hollywood drinking seshes with the likes of Alex Turner before they forget themselves. Maybe that’s an adventure for album three, eh?
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Joe says: “There’s just something about him. Even if you’re not in the room, you know he’s arrived in the building. You’re like: ‘Weller’s here.’ He were dead sound, dead down-to-earth.” We had lunch with him backstage. “You’re like, fucking hell, we’re having Sunday dinner with Paul Weller. How weird’s that?”
Tom says: “To have a laugh with, Noel is probably the best [hero] we’ve met, but that’s just because we spent more time with him [at Manchester City matches].
Tom says: “I talked to him about that Dion album, ‘Born to be With You,’ which now he’s said is a big influence on his new record. That kinds of adds up, dunnit?”