“We’re getting billboards in London now and for idiots like us from Hull, that’s probably the most exciting thing to ever happen,” smiles Bdrmm’s guitarist Joe Vickers.
He might be half-joking, but since the four-piece dropped their self-titled debut album in 2020 (which NME described as a gripping modern shoegaze classic), the band have grown accustomed to such success, scaling up from humble local Northern venues to opening for giants of the game – perhaps most notably a career milestone support slot opening for ambient post-rock veterans Mogwai at the 10,000 capacity Alexandra Palace last summer.
It wasn’t hard to see why this gang of best pals – completed by brothers Ryan Smith (vocals) and Jordan Smith (bass) along with Conor Murray (drums) – struck such an instant chord with their meticulously honed first album. Distilling frontman Ryan Smith’s inner turmoil over euphoric guitar lines and synths, they processed heavy topics of addiction and mental health into something that not only made the pain bearable, but also beautiful.
Fighting the sticky early summer heat from their respective homes over a Zoom call, vocalist Smith attempts to cool down with a glug of a cold beer, before telling NME those songs on the debut continue to stir up memories of that long summer. “It arrived at the right time, it seemed to really resonate with people because of how distracting it was from the sadness of the time.”
Though there was talk of pushing the record back, the band say they needed it out in the world as much as the listeners who took it into their lives. Vickers assures, “I’m so glad we did put it out then, because maybe it wouldn’t have had the same response at another time. I guess it was all meant to be, but it was strange seeing the reaction without being able to act on it.”
It makes sense then, that they’re relishing the thought of an imminent bells and whistles album campaign with their second record ‘I Don’t Know’, which arrives through Mogwai’s label Rock Action this month. A natural sonic evolution, the album drives their sound forward from motoring guitar anthems to a more daring space that’s awash with ambient electronica and visceral, punishing noise. They band explain how staying true to an independent path has helped them build on their disarming debut.
The debut album elicited such a positive response, how did you process that at the time?
Joe: “It exceeded all of our expectations of what we thought it would do. It blows my mind that people took to it so much, it feels very strange but I’m just so glad because it gives us a chance to keep doing it. We’re the kind of people that every time someone buys a ticket for our show we feel blessed that people even care.”
Jordan: “It was at a space and time when we were all quite detached from what was going on, I hadn’t seen the band in a few months, so to come to terms with people actually looking our way and enjoying the music was really strange but also a little bit sad that we didn’t get to do it together. That’s why we’re all so excited for this next album to come out because we can all celebrate it together and do everything that comes with it.”
The debut was rife with coming of age turmoil, how has that evolved on ‘I Don’t Know’?
Ryan: “I’d describe it as the second chapter, the themes are still the same, I definitely had to hone it in because some of my lyrics were pretty to the point. That was an important part of it though. It’s a way of vocalising my own fucking inner turmoil and sharing it with three of my best mates. They understand and they help me shape it into something that people can really enjoy. The listeners can make their own mind up and that’s what we were striving for.”
Did straying into more electronic territory feel like a natural way of moving things forward?
Jordan: “We’ve got the confidence to try new things out now. On this second album, the best part about it was having the first under our belt with a certain sound, it was a launchpad for thinking about where we wanted to go next and what ideas we wanted to get across. I think also partly the fact we’re able to afford more instruments now.”
Joe: “This record is us having the confidence to delve deeper into the music that we love. It is a cliché that we’ve put the guitars down, but I struggle playing the same things over and over again, like krautrock riffs, it bores me and if I am then everyone else is.”
I guess the response to your bridging singles ‘Port’ and ‘Three’ must have helped confidence?
Joe: “The reaction to those two songs was really inspiring. The album had given us such a scope for people to see what we were doing. When we released those two songs, we were actively trying to do something different than shoegaze. It was so well received; they’ve become staples of the live shows. When it came to the second album, it was a case of going all in.”
You’re still very much on your own wavelength, do you feel like outsiders on the indie scene?
Ryan: “I think we’ve always just been us, we’ve never really fallen into a scene at all. That’s not through a lack of trying or anything forced, it’s just because I don’t get along with many people and I’ve found three people who I really do. We’ve got a lot of friends but we love but I could never see us pigeonholed into one place.”
Jordan: “I think we are outliers, I think living in Hull there are very few opportunities to get onto that national market of seeing all of these band’s just because we’re out of the way even geographically. We know bands from around here and neighbouring cities but it’s never felt like we belong to a subset of several bands. I think that’s a strength for us.”
Is there an element of pride that you’ve managed to cut through from Hull?
Ryan: “I still don’t believe it, someone referred to us as the best band from Hull the other day and I was like, what the fuck are you on? I do feel a sense of pride but then I hope more artists follow suit, if we’ve made people look at the city more then that’s really important. It’s the same with Working Men’s Club who we have a lot in common with, they’ve managed to cultivate this incredible career from such a humble small place.”
I guess the shoegaze tag has earned you a kinship with some legends of the genre who have taken you under their wing, what does it mean to be championed by the likes of Ride and Mogwai?
Ryan: “It just blows my mind what we’ve done, who is allowing us and giving us these opportunities, like fucking Ride and fucking Mogwai, that doesn’t happen, I’m still in disbelief. Like why am I speaking to Daniel Avery, why does he want to talk to me? It means so much, I think we’ve been so lucky and we do owe a lot to our first label Sonic Cathedral. They believed in us from the very beginning and opened the doors by introducing us to Andy Bell and that whole sphere of great people and opportunities. It’s bizarre but I really do feel so lucky.”
I guess it feels like an exciting next chapter under Mogwai’s label Rock Action then?
Jordan: “We had a lovely time at Sonic Cathedral and we’re having a lovely time at Rock Action now, they’re both institutions and it’s like passing the torch from one to another. We’re in safe hands with Mogwai and it’s a testament to them that they believe in us.”
Ryan: “We were going to call the second album ‘Welcome To The Family’ because Martin Mogwai’s drummer came up to us with a thick Scottish accent and said that. It does feel that way though, it’s really fucking special and it’s a really rare thing that we’ve happened upon, I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted we’re very lucky.”
Jordan: “That’s the thing as well with them, they’ve had a career where you look up to. They’ve always been on indie labels then started their own to release music that they believe in. To have these four people around us who are so open is really important, there’s no bullshit, they’ve backed us at every stage and done everything they said.”
Where did you find the confidence to resist the lure or a major label, surely that’s something most emerging artists dream of?
Ryan: “I couldn’t think of anything worse than signing to a major. I just love the whole independent scene and I couldn’t see us not being on it. There’s conversations that we’ve had with major labels that have been quite painful, all the extra money sounds great but it’s huge having people you can trust.”
Jordan: “They were saying we’re going to get some brand-new people to mix the record and someone you don’t know is going to master it and there’s going to be a team of ten people looking after your artwork, it’s just like, ‘fuck off’. It gets under my skin, you have these meetings and you’ve just got this cunt in a shirt chatting at you, we’ve been trying to cultivate something for years and then this posh toff is telling you what he’s going to do with your art.”
Just how excited are you to go out and live the album campaign with all the stuff that comes with it?
Ryan: “I just can’t wait; I’m just going mad thinking about it. We haven’t really had an album campaign because the first one was in lockdown so we don’t know anything about it. We’ve put a lot into it so I’m excited to just enjoy it and soak it up.”
Jordan: “It’s those little moments I remember more, like playing crazy venues but also just the five of us being under the Eifel tower after a few beers and that feeling really fucking crazy.”
Not to mention some of those venues that you’re stepping into like Alexandra Palace with Mogwai the sky must feel the limit?
Joe: “That’s fucking mad isn’t it. You’re in the dressing room and you’re in a different wing of the fucking building, you feel like your in British Home Stores. Another huge one was Paris in this giant opera house, just the look on everyone’s face when we were on that stage was priceless, then bombing around the French capital on scooters, we’re living the dream.”
Bdrmm’s new album ‘I Don’t Know’ is out now Rock Action