All over the radio, getting mobbed on planes, a “timeless” debut album about to drop: Blossoms’ moment has come. Hamish MacBain meets a band on an unstoppable rise
The other day, Blossoms were on a rare day off in their hometown of Stockport when something strange happened. The five of them had met up with some old mates at a butty shop they’ve been going to for over 10 years, situated right next to the school they all went to and also not far from the houses they grew up in and the hospital they were all born in.
“So we’d just got a bacon roll and were sat outside,” says singer, principal songwriter and speaker in interviews Tom Ogden, “when this car pulls up and someone jumps out to get a photo with us. Our mate, who we’ve known for, like, 12 years, had to take it. How weird is that for him? Right outside the school we all went to, he’s there with people pulling up going, ‘You’re Blossoms, aren’t you? Can we get a picture?’ It was surreal. Very surreal.”
Maybe so, but it would seem incidents like this are far from infrequent in the band’s world at present. Tom describes their spike in popularity and on-street recognition – off the back of extensive radio play for current (and truly great) single ‘Charlemagne’, a triumphant Jools Holland appearance and increasingly incessant touring – as being “like a catapult”. Today, as we watch them swagger through a mid-afternoon set in the sunshine at Norwegian festival Slottsfjell, there are girls pressed up against the barrier wearing ‘I Stockport’ T-shirts (the same design that’s owned by one Matt Healy). And not a month ago, they were in the middle of their first mobbing, on a plane on the way to a festival in Spain (“I don’t think @BlossomsBand can fly economy anymore”, tweeted their tour manager gleefully).“We kind of take the p**s out of it, don’t we?” says bassist Charlie Salt of incidents such as this. “We see the comical side of it; we definitely don’t take it too seriously.”
“You just go with it,” shrugs Tom. “It’s fine. Nine point nine people out of 10 just come up and go, ‘I love your tunes, can I get a picture?’ and that’s it. Someone might shout, ‘You’re s**t,’ but that’s just funny, innit? It’s like, ‘You know my name, I don’t know who you are, so… see you in a bit!’ It’s not like we went on a TV show and it suddenly happened. It’s gradually happened. You go out, one person recognises you; then you go out and two people recognise you. So we’ve sort of been edged into it.”
It’s true that Blossoms’ ascent has not been an overnight one. But that’s the way they like it, and exactly the way they’ve planned it. They’ve more than done their time, as drummer Joe Donovan puts it, “sleeping in the van outside venues, or trying to sneak mates into a Travelodge”, so none of what’s currently happening has come as an unsettling surprise. “By the time we actually got signed, we were already selling out The Ritz in Manchester,” notes Tom. “So we’ve done it in a kind of old-fashioned way. With the label, there was none of that, ‘Oh, what about this producer in New York?’ or whatever that some bands might get. F**k that. We just went, ‘We’re gonna go do what we’ve done for the last year and we’ll smash it for you’. And that’s what we’ve done.” Joe agrees. “You think that when you’re a band who gets signed that it’s gonna suddenly be all champagne and caviar,” he says. “But it’s not. Well, for us it wasn’t like that.”
Before the ink had even dried on their record contract, Blossoms found themselves in a disused office-cum-studio within the grounds of Stockport County Football Club – a set-up put together by Charlie’s grandad, who also owns the scaffolding yard where they rehearse – demoing new songs for the album. “Days after we signed the deal, we were in there,” Tom laughs. “We were thinking, ‘This is mad – that’s happened, and we’re just back where we’ve always known, going to Greggs to get a pie. But it’s just that we’ve got a good work ethic. Everyone who’s worked with us has said it’s, like, an infectious work ethic.”
“Because we all love it so much, it doesn’t feel like work, or like you’re even putting effort in,” Joe says. “When you work somewhere and you get asked to do an extra shift, it’s like, ‘Ugh’. But when you’re doing something that you’re really passionate about, you just want to put everything into it.”
Blossoms have been working hard for a long time now. When their self-titled debut album lands this week, it will be well over two years since the release of the ‘Bloom’ EP that introduced them to the world. From that, ‘Cut Me And I’ll Bleed’ still makes the final tracklisting, as do all the truly brilliant singles that have punctuated the time between then and now – ‘At Most A Kiss’, ‘Getaway’, the re-released and all-over-a-radio-near-you ‘Charlemagne’ – giving ‘Blossoms’ the feel of a greatest hits before it’s even started. “We’ve never been a band that’s relying on one tune,” says Tom. “We wanted to write an album full of singles; that’s just the way we are, the same as the bands that we’re influenced by and look up to. We think our album’s timeless, like all those albums they produced.”
Those bands are – as you can probably tell from the unapologetic self-belief – The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis. Blossoms like lots of other stuff too (“Everything from Abba to The Doors to Arctic Monkeys to hip-hop,” as Joe puts it), but it’s the bona fide legends from just a bit further up the A6 that are stitched into their DNA. You can tell by the way they collectively gush when recounting the time Johnny Marr bumped into them in the Arndale Centre and told them he loved “that great pop record” (‘Charlemagne’), or when Ian Brown tapped Tom on the shoulder to say hello at a party (“I went, ‘I’m Tom from Blossoms’; he went, ‘I know, that’s why I’m talking to you’”), then asked them to support the Stone Roses at the Etihad last month. It won’t be a surprise to hear that after they played, all of Blossoms stuck around to watch a headline show that, Tom marvels, “was already a success before they’ve even played a note – just because of that euphoria of so many people coming together”.
But while they may have inherited their attitude and swagger from these bands, Blossoms have also been smart enough to eschew any retro-classicist tendencies. The shimmering synth line on ‘Charlemagne’, for example, sometimes feels sonically closer to the out-and-out pop acts it’s brushing up against on daytime radio than, say, Catfish And The Bottlemen. To call Blossoms a guitar band or an indie band is, frankly, a little disingenuous. “Obviously we’re influenced by a lot of that older stuff,” says Tom, “but ultimately it’s 2016 and we want to sound as modern as possible.”
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Interestingly, a key figure in helping them achieve this has been James Skelly of The Coral, who was onto Blossoms super-early after hearing ‘Cut Me And I’ll Bleed’, quickly becoming their producer. Given his back catalogue, you might have expected Skelly to take them in a more classic, psych-y direction (which, as evidenced by early songs, they can do), but in truth it’s he who’s pushed them further and further towards a full-on, polished pop sound. Witness one brand new song on the album called ‘Honey Sweet’, about whose delirious catchiness Tom was initially slightly unsure. “I thought it might be too far down that road,” he smiles, “but James had said, ‘You need a tune that sounds like Taylor Swift could sing it’, so we showed him it and he went, ‘That’s boss.’ Soon as he heard us, he was like, ‘You aren’t an underground little psych-y band – you should be all over the radio.’ And we were like, ‘Yeah!’”
“But we’ve never, ever shied away from being catchy and poppy,” continues Tom (who also, with a straight face, describes another new song, ‘Smashed Pianos’, as “Lana Del Rey meets Phil Collins”). “It’s about tunes you can get up and dance to, tunes you’d have on at a wedding. I used to work in a hotel and I used to work countless weddings there. I think that’s subconsciously gone in.” “We’ve always said we’re a pop band,” notes Charlie. “But we’re not trying to sound like anything else. We’re just trying to sound like ourselves.”
Backstage at Slottsfjell, Blossoms are fitting in a couple of rounds of table tennis before they get in their van and head off to Austria, then Korea (where they’ve amassed a decent-sized following), then Australia, then back home. Tom says he’s already written a second album and that the plan is to get the second record out quickly (“like Arctic Monkeys did”) before going off in another direction entirely. “We don’t want to stop. We feel like we’re gonna be around for a long time,” he says. “So it excites me, thinking about that. Like, ‘Where are we gonna be in three years’ time?’”
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, especially considering how exciting the immediate future is going to be. Because by the time of, say, Reading & Leeds (Joe: “That’s going to be massive!”), Blossoms’ album will have been out for a month and suddenly all the thousands of people they’re playing in front of will know all the words to every song, taking them one step closer to the kind of mass collective euphoria they witnessed first-hand at those Roses’ shows in June. At present, on the basis of how effortlessly great their debut album’s turned out to be, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to take them long to get there.
Blossoms certainly believe this, regardless of what anyone else thinks. And more importantly, they want it. “I don’t understand why bands wouldn’t want to get to that point,” argues Joe. “You put so much work into it, you believe in it, why wouldn’t you want to get to the top?” “Everything we say, we believe in,” Tom says. “We want to be that big. We want to be massive – we’ve always said that and we’re not embarrassed about it. “We want it. And we’re ready for it.”