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December 2018 / January 2019
Cover story

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer

In their second album 'All That Divides', Black Peaks have delivered one of the albums of the year. Read this month's cover story to find out more.
Published: 2:57 pm, October 05, 2018Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Jennifer McCord.
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer

Black Peaks had it all figured out. After an initial stop as a three-piece instrumental band, Joe Gosney, Liam Kearley and Andrew Gosden teamed up with Will Gardner, changed their name from Shrine and set to work writing a debut album.  

Their aims were simple. They wanted to make music like their favourite bands. They wanted to hit the road like their favourite bands. If they dared to dream, it would be to one day share stages with their favourite bands. 

Black Peaks were still a secret when Zane Lowe heard ‘Glass Built Castles’, fell in love and played it on Radio 1 as his Hottest Record. Savage, sincere and sparkling, the track instantly caused a fuss. 

Interesting but accessible, it shoulders a darkness but makes room for light. It felt exciting, dangerous, and fresh all at the same time. From that moment on, plans quickly fell apart, and the group felt their way forward. “Everything was a guess,” starts Joe. 

In the years that followed, Black Peaks didn’t stop. ‘Statues’ was released, a hulking, brooding fairytale of a debut record, and the band toured relentlessly. They played Wembley Arena with Deftones, toured Europe with System Of A Down and turned heads at festivals all over. It was everything they ever wanted. 

“But it left us in a weird place,” admits Joe. “Instead of winding it down, it got more and more intense until it just finished. A couple of us went home ready to write. A couple of us went home maybe not wanting to do the band anymore.”

“It was to do with pressures, things going on at home and having not stopped properly for a very long time,” continues Will, unafraid to admit things got too much. “I was exhausted. There was so much going on; I couldn’t sleep. 

“Mentally I was in a very bad way at the end of it. All of us weren’t in the strongest position financially, individually or mentally. There was so much going on behind the scenes; I don’t know if I’d be able to describe it to people in a million years. 

“It was such a battle the last two or three weeks of that European tour. We were doing the most amazing things, supporting [childhood heroes and constant sources of inspiration] System of a Down and Mastodon, but some of those days I just couldn’t handle it. 

“We had no idea how to; we’d never done it before. I wasn’t present or able to enjoy it, because I was so tired and needed to spend time with my family.”

“It was a crazy, unique situation coming off the back of it,” adds Joe, “because you realise the fragility of it, the fragility of everything the band is. I got home, I was tired, but I’d just had the most incredible time. 

“I was ready, and I wanted to go out and make more music, but you realise, all the amazing things that happened were because there were four of us making that thing work. In an instant, if all four people aren’t totally invested, then it’s no more.” 

When the band returned home, they agreed to not talk about Black Peaks for a while. They needed to find themselves outside of that crazed, relentless beast. It didn’t last long. What is it with this band and plans? Liam and Joe started jamming pretty much straight away, trying to stick ideas together, go through everything they’d already written and sketch out what came next. 

“There was this frustration ‘cos not everyone was there,” Joe explains. “It sounds stupid, but you want everyone to be in the same room,” he continues.

“I just couldn’t. I wasn’t well,” Will picks up. He needed time to figure his world out. “[I needed] six weeks to sort my head out. For me, it was never ‘this is it’, [the end of the band]. I was never on that side of the fence.” 

He was never going to walk away; he just needed some room to breathe.

“It was so difficult. I was so wrecked. Getting back to reality was even more difficult than touring was, and it was all I wanted. At home, my insomnia was even worse; my anxiety levels were through the roof. My body and brain couldn’t absorb what we’d done. It all seemed mad. I was losing the plot. 

“These guys were amazing, though. Liam and Joe were like, we understand, take your time, we just want to write music with you because we love it. I couldn’t imagine doing that, though. I went and saw loads of doctors and eventually, things calmed down. I felt myself back in my own skin after six weeks.” 

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
"Getting back to reality was even more difficult than touring was"
Will Gardner

Things were different for Andrew, who was offered a job as a Luthier. He’d always built guitars alongside the band, and now, in true Black Peaks style, he decided to chase that dream with everything he had. 

“If that’s what you have to do, you go and do that man,” smiles Joe. “There are no hard feelings, and it’s amazing for him. I just hope he’s happy.”

Dave Larkin is now part of Black Peaks and has been for over a year now. It’s not just the line-up that’s completely different though; there’s a new energy. 

“It’s really fun,” bursts Will. “I look forward to all of it. Sometimes you need that space to realise what a great thing it is, and how lucky you are. If you’re so involved and so deep inside something, sometimes you don’t even know what it is anymore.” 

You can feel lost, trapped or caught up in the momentum of routine. 

“I got so confused when we were away at some points; I fell into these dark holes. I missed everyone, and there were times when we weren’t very nice to each other, just ‘cos we were so fucking tired all the time. We were finding it difficult to communicate properly.” 

Now though, the band have started using their voices and are taking care. 

“It’s been so new and different this time around. We’re approaching this whole thing as different human beings.”

That next phase comes wrapped around new album ‘All That Divides’. Black Peaks are hungry, determined and more connected than ever before. 

“There are so many intense situations, being in a band,” says Will. “We were on top of each other all the time, and you learn so much about yourself and each other, so fast. If you can’t adapt quickly, or forgive and forget grievances, you’re fucked. If you can be patient with each other and be willing to learn, the sky’s the limit.”

“We have more of an idea of how we want to do things this time,” says Joe, before smiling. “We’ve learnt how to look after each other.”  

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer

There’s always been a camaraderie within Black Peaks, but ‘All That Divides’ wants to spread that connection around. Perhaps that unity is inspired by their years on the road. Maybe that need for common ground is a reaction to a world determined to tear itself apart. Or it might just be that Black Peaks know how important friends are, now and always. 

Whatever the reason, ‘All That Divides’ is a fiercely united celebration of bridges over walls. Uncompromising, it finds the band comfortable in their skin and determined to stand tall. 

“This is the thing we wanted to make,” promises Will. “It’s heavier in some places; it’s catchier in others. Some of it is more accessible,” he laughs, “some of it is probably less accessible.” 

It took a lot of practice to get here. The band are precise, unruly perfectionists, even if what they’re trying to capture is always changing and never wholly known. 

Of course, there was a plan for album two. The band were already thinking about it before they released their debut. But because it’s this band, “it changed a lot,” offers Joe. “Initially I wanted to write eleven, to the point, concise songs. An album of Black Peaks singles. The more we got into it though, we realised that wasn’t going to happen. The second track lasts seven minutes.” 

And there’s only one song under four minutes. 

“If and when there’s another Black Peaks record, and hopefully there’ll be loads of them, maybe that will have eleven three-minute songs on. Or maybe it’ll just be four twelve-minute songs. We’ll see what happens. We have no idea really; we’re just guessing.”

‘All That Divides’ came from a lot of creation. 

“Because ‘Statues’ took so long to put out, we did a lot of writing back then,” but it sounded the same, he says. The band didn’t want to tell the same story twice so over a couple of years; they chipped away writing over forty songs.

“We wrote some good songs that were amazing in their own right,” starts Joe, as Will argues that “they would have been fine” - but Black Peaks are aiming higher than that. 

“They just didn’t fit into this collection of songs,” Joe continues. “We’re such an albums band, it all has to flow and be this collection of music from that period. There’s a bunch of stuff that didn’t make the cut. It was a couple of years of writing stuff, then these guys chucking it in the bin.”

“You’re King Bin though,” laughs Will. “We’d finish a song in rehearsal and we’d be so psyched on it, then Joe would say ‘Guys, I’m really sorry but I don’t think this is it’. And that’s it. We could fight it, and we did, but the next time we played it, we knew he was right. There were songs we’d spent a whole year working on, straight in the bin.” 

They tried songs that sounded nice and a bit like Fleet Foxes, they experiments with Drop B - aka the heavy metal tuning - and they wrote some poppy stuff. There was a whole song in 4/4, and it sounded like pop-punk meets Queens of The Stone Age. 

“I had that going round my head for a week. I really didn’t want to let that go,” sighs Will. “Maybe that pop-punk EP will come out after all,” he winks.

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
"There were songs we'd spent a whole year working on, straight in the bin"
Will Gardner

They quickly realised they weren’t that band. 

“We know who we are now,” Joe continues. “We’re quite comfortable with being a heavy band, and we’ll always do that in our own way. We’ll never be heavy for the sake of being heavy. It has to serve a purpose.”

They kept writing and writing until they stumbled upon something. Not a formula, nothing the band do comes close to even looking at formulaic, but a half mantra.

“We need to make stuff that makes us happy,” Will realised. “We got sick of listening to ‘Statues’ before it even came out.” 

Delays, the studio ambition of layering up ten guitars or doing thousands of backing vocal parts, and the need to get all those moving parts aligned stripping away some of the magic for the band. 

“This time, it wanted to be something fresh and exciting,” he explains. “We wanted to contain that excitement we had when we first wrote it. Some bits are right on the edge of being together, which is great. It’s quite explosive.”

Black Peaks songs are lots of things, all at once. They’re heavy, heartfelt epics and winding adventures through chaos and control. They’re also snapshots of days spent in each other’s company. The band knew when they first explored a song, and they remember when it finally felt right. 

A month before they were due to go into the studio, they went away to a millhouse in the countryside for a few days. They had all their gear set up, the means to record inspiration at a moment’s notice, and were getting drunk every night courtesy of a very well-equipped wine cellar. 

40% of the album was written and put together there. After years of grinding, piecing things together, pulling them apart and trying to be so meticulous about everything. 

“A lot of it came down to us being in the right place, as four people and vibing together,” Joe explains. “We probably chucked away some cool shit before we got there but only because we weren’t in the right mindset to make those songs what they needed to be.”

This record is bigger than four friends stuck in a van, though. It’s bigger than dreams gone awry. 

“[It’s] our musical and lyrical response to what we’ve seen over the last two years. We’ve taken it all in,” starts Will. “It’s everything we’ve absorbed; it’s all the horror, amazement and disbelief at everything that’s happened around the world and to us.” 

‘Statues’ was yellow brick roads, second stars to the right and glass built castles. Songs like ‘White Eyes’ saw the band open up and share bits of themselves but lay hidden in all the mad stories and wriggling excess. ‘All That Divides’ doesn’t hide. 

“It’s more real than the last one,” explains Joe. “Lyrically, it’s a story and a statement of what we’ve collectively been through.”

“Shit has gone a bit mad,” says Will. 

‘All The Divides’ tries to find a way through. ‘Slow Seas’ was inspired after seeing the Calais Jungle, the refugee crisis and how not a lot seemed to be done about it. “Where are the heroes?” it pleads. “Where’s the humanity? Too many places cower in fear.” 

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer

It’s something the band had spoken about between themselves, sharing outrage, shame and disgust in private but with this record, they wanted to be heard.

“We’ve got the opportunity to open some people’s eyes and maybe do some good,” offers Will. “It’s not saving lives, but maybe we can encourage people to just fucking talk to each other. 

“Everything is going mad. People are being indoctrinated by the far right; there are fascist newspapers like The Sun turning into this disgusting propaganda machine that’s saying all this hateful stuff and stirring up trouble and division.”

 “All the stuff we want to talk about, now it feels like we have a valid opinion about it,” continues Joe. “Maybe for the first time, we’re not scared to talk about it. Why not use any sort of platform we’ve got to talk about real shit rather than float over the mountain? A lot of the subject matter is directed at the really nasty stuff that is actually going on, but our message is one of optimism.” 

It’s a record that attempts to face the bright side, and if it can’t find one, it tries to create one. It says, “let’s turn this around. Let’s try and fix a lot of this stuff, if we can.”

It starts with ‘Can’t Sleep’, a song about anxiety, insomnia and feeling like “everything is fucked.” By the time it gets to ‘Aether’, it finds space.

“It’s all about breathing and imagining a world where, for a minute, there are no anxieties about this stuff before it decides I will not lose faith,” Will explains. “Together we can come together, and we can fucking do this.” 

Those rallying cries carry through. There’s the multi-layered, open-ended ‘Across The Great Divide’ (still known as ‘Monsters’ to Will), that’s about mourning, worrying about the world at large and wanting to bury your head in the sand, before the blunt impact of ‘Eternal Light’. “Shame on you, red, white and blue,” it screams. 

By the curtain call of ‘Fate 1 & 2’, Black Peaks want you to know there’s a real choice to be made. 

“That song is about the selfishness of a lot of people,” says Will, “where we’re all at and saying maybe we can turn this around and make the world a better place.”

Across the record, those ideals of togetherness, of strength in unity and of being compassionate are championed again and again. They’re the things that kept Black Peaks going, and now, they won’t stop. 

“I hope this record makes people want to get up and do something,” offers Will. “I hope it changes the way they think about some things. We want to move people. We want to spread this to as many people as possible and spread some positivity. It’s about connecting in a positive way.”

And that’s why it’s called ‘All That Divides’. 

“It summed up everything,” says Will. “Not just the sonics, but the lyrical content as well. There’s dark, and there’s light. There are two opposing sides to everything on this record. As soon as we started playing around with that sorta name, it felt right.” 

“The whole cycle will be about all that divide,” Joe adds. “Going back to the fragility of the band and us being a pretty shit place coming out of the last album, we want to turn this into the most positive, awesome thing we can do for the next couple of years.”

Black Peaks know pressure all too well, and you’d think they’d be getting reacquainted as the release of ‘All That Divides’ grows closer. Their debut album made people sit up and take notice, and now that audience is desperate to see what comes next. 

Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer
Black Peaks: Divide and conquer

On top of that, the band have signed to a new label, Rise Records. “They’re the yes people. They’re so supportive,” grins Will. “We get these crazy ideas, and they either say ‘that sounds awesome, let’s do it’, or they make it so it works.” Black Peaks aren’t worried, though. “The record is done, there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“We went through the worry in March,” explains Will. “We’d been sat on the record, and nobody else had heard it. Management are telling you it’s great, but you’re still asking, is it? 

“I only had that for a month this time though, which is good. Last time that doubt went on for months and months. It felt like so much was resting on ‘Statues’. This time, I just feel relieved. I still fucking love ‘All That Divides’. I’m really confident. If people don’t like it, that’s fine. We like it, and we trust each other as four people.”

“You manage expectations, that’s another thing we’re learning,” Joe continues. “We can only do the things that are within our power, so we’re not letting things that we can’t control worry us. 

“We practice all the time. We play music all the time. We talk all the time, about touring and what we can be doing. That’s everything the four of us can do. We’ve got an awesome team around us, so all we can do is get in the room and play music.”

That idea is what first drew Black Peaks together, and it’s what they’re holding dear as the march forward. They’ve never said the wanted to be the biggest band in the world. 

“We just wanted to write some tunes,” says Will. “Playing with the big boys? That’s never been our vibe.” 

But still, the gang hardly shied away from it. They’ve grabbed every opportunity with both hands and held onto it with everything they are. 

Years ago, before all the relentless chaos, Black Peaks told Upset they wanted to take this band as far as it could go. Today, they say the same thing. But it feels wholly different.

“We’ve been on some really inspiring tours the past couple of years,” starts Joe. “We want to be as good as those bands. It almost pisses me off that we’re not that good. But there’s a long road to get to where these bands are. 

“We’ll try as hard as we can to take this that far, if we can. We want to take this band as far as it can go. Who knows where that is? But I think we’ll know when it’s time to bin the whole thing,” threatens King Bin, looking at Will. 

“Stop saying those words,” he protests with a grin. 

“We’re not there yet,” promises Joe. “We’re still working it out, for sure. We’ll continue to try and be who we are and make the music we want to make.” 

“The music for us comes first, over everything,” adds Will. “Face it; we’re not relying on our looks, are we? We’re still hungry for it all. 

“We’re guessing our way through this a lot of the time,” beams Joe. “If we appear to be getting it right some of the time, that’s awesome.”

Taken from the October edition of Upset. Order a copy below. Black Peaks’ album ‘All That Divides’ is out now.

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