Being a huge fan of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films, I vibe heavily with the dystopian wasteland feeling that comes with Boston Manor’s upcoming album, Welcome To The Neighbourhood. When listening it feels as if you are watching the whole world burn, as the band commentates and composes over the eradication of civilisation. Keen to learn what goes into crafting an album of this calibre, I had a chat with vocalist Henry Cox, quizzing him about the album, as well as everything else Boston Manor.
As the UK band have been freshly announced for Good Things festival, this was where we began our conversation. Henry was open in his surprise about the familiarity that Boston Manor has garnered in Australia. Having “wanted to come for ages”, Henry says the band are “super excited”, and shared vague murmurs about other show dates in Australia aside from Good Things – which we are very keen to hear more about when it comes!
Focusing on the album then, I asked Henry if he could elaborate on the inspiration behind Welcome To The Neighbourhood. I’d taken time with the album in my review, and it sparked a strong curiosity as to the theme origins. “We wrote the record with a lot of it being about stuff in the world that is less than satisfactory. It’s about a general disenfranchisement of young people and frustration at what’s going on, but also the apathy of my generation and its response to that.”
Henry describes how the record was written from ‘home’; “This town called Blackpool in the north of England, it’s like a weird little mini Vegas that’s shut down now”, and how strongly the environment impacted what was being created. He says “We were there and looking around and it served as this perfect metaphor for all the things we were writing about, so we used it as the kind of backdrop for the record in the end. So those are the themes really, and it just dances around that.”
Written about these specific circumstances, yet open enough for interpretation, Henry says he wanted “an angry record” with Welcome To The Neighbourhood for himself and everyone to use for their own purposes. He says “Whatever is pissing you off personally you can channel that through the album, cause I don’t wanna just ram these issues down peoples throats, and I’m by no means a cultural social-economic expert. It’s definitely not a political album, it’s just me calling things as I see them.”
So while Henry confirms that it’s not strictly intended as a concept album, he shares that the trend captured throughout is a constant uneasiness, inspiring what we hear.
Finding that Welcome To The Neighbourhood flows seamlessly from end to end, I broached the topic of the track listing and album design. Henry explained “Obviously the world has changed and how people listen to music has changed, people don’t have to listen to our whole album but we still listen to albums. And we wanted it to work as well as a whole and hope that people listen to it as a whole, we picked the track-listing deliberately for that reason.”
Exploring the topic of how modern consumption of music involves streaming bite-sized pieces of albums instead of the full intended creation, Henry shared his perspective of being inspired by it rather than deterred. “It’s tough because with Spotify, they’ve been great to us and we’ve been in a lot of their big playlists lately, but it may be that people just listen to those singles that we put out, and they put them in a playlist, and that’s just unfortunately the way that the world’s working but I don’t think that should mean you compromise your full album. Because of that you have to almost work in spite of that.”
Getting onto the recording process, it was a “weird little isolated town in New Jersey” where Welcome To The Neighbourhood was creatively birthed, with producer Mike Sapone. “It was like a little lake town, and there was pretty much nothing there: One general store, a gas station, and a diner like two miles away. It was wicked, we recorded it with Mike Sapone, who’s awesome. We went down there early Autumn and demoed a bunch of stuff. We got home and listened to it all and thought “this isn’t really cutting it”, so we axed like 70% of the record and rewrote it all around Christmas time and January of this year. Went into the studio literally a month later and fleshed it out then.”
Henry calls Mike a “great weird mad scientist”, “a great producer”, and says “I love him”. It was (thankfully) through Mike’s encouragement that the band gained some confidence in their creative expression. “He was definitely the kind of person we needed to help push ourselves and help realise that it’s okay to write whatever we wanted. We were dipping our toes in a little bit before and he pushed us fully in. We were joking when we recorded the record that we were snowed in for two weeks and we couldn’t leave. Everywhere was knee deep in snow. Meanwhile Trophy Eyes were recording in Thailand on the beach and we were joking that if you listen to both albums they both are very indicative of their environments.”
The new album follows on from Boston Manor’s 2016 Be Nothing. Comparing the two, Henry uses the phrase “chalk and cheese”. He’s not shy in that the band are growing and evolving, yet have hit upon something great. “I think it’s a bit arrogant for a band to say “we found our sound on this record” because I think you spend your whole career trying to find your sound, but I think we will be building off of this record for the next record. The first album we didn’t know what we wanted to be, or even what we were, or what music everyone liked. We were scratching around in the dirt a little bit . Don’t get me wrong I love that record and I’m proud of it, but I think we’ve carved a little niche for ourselves with this record that we’ll be looking to expand and twist and distort, but we still will build on this album for the next one. Obviously we’re never gonna write the same record twice, but this feels really right right now you know.”
Henry feels things were over complicated in Be Nothing, and is satisfied with the approach to get straight to the heart of the music: “What is this song at it’s core? Is its main skeleton a vocal hook or a riff that runs throughout the album? Is it just a constant? What can we boil it down to? We kept trying to trim the fat. And I think we did this quite successfully on a bunch of the songs on the album, and definitely kept it as core as it could be. And you can build from that and add to that but if its structure and its skeleton is simple then I think that’s what good music is. You should be able to strip the songs down with an acoustic guitar and be able to sing the songs. I think if you can’t do that then it’s not a great song. Usually anyway, I’m sure there are exceptions.”
As a very visually creative band, the Boston Manor guys watched a lot of movies together to inspire themselves even more for the writing process. They would have a movie playing in the background on mute while they recorded, and would try to sync parts in the songs up with the scenes in the movies, just for a bit of fun. Henry affirms that the visual aspects of his art are a significant part for him, creatively driving the videos of this album, as well as designing merch and artwork.
Exploring this further, we got onto the topic of the dark imagery of “Halo” and “Bad Machine” music videos. These are visual slices of the uneasy world, and thoughtfully designed for this purpose. Henry knew he wanted a “sleazy red neon”, considering red to be the colour of death and sex. “It sums up the feeling I think when you listen to the album. It’s an exaggerated view of what Blackpool looks like; neon and colourful lights. That’s where the “Halo” thing came from. But then we have this black and white aesthetic. The album cover’s black and white – the film noir look. It allows you to play with shadow and darkness and contrast in a way that adds to the feeling of the album. That’s why the two videos are a bit contrasting in that perspective, but yeah. We have another video coming out that I’m shooting currently, and it’s gonna be different still, but still adhering to that aesthetic.”
Welcome To The Neighbourhood releases tomorrow (7th September) via Pure Noise/Sony Australia and can be pre-ordered here: http://smarturl.it/BM.WTTN