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August 2020

Boston Manor: "All these issues boil down to ignorance, and this isn't changing"

Boston Manor are firm favourites ‘round our way. Their second album ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’ was a huge step up for the group and one of 2018’s stand-outs - it even saw them grace the cover of this very magazine. And their third record, ‘GLUE’? Well, we wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Published: 10:36 am, May 04, 2020Words: Alex Bradley. Photos: Edd Taylor.
Boston Manor: "All these issues boil down to ignorance, and this isn't changing"

When the New Year came, there was even more optimism than usual. New decade. New Year. New me. But on top of that was an underlying feeling of, well it can't get any worse, can it?!? Well, it can, and it has.

Taking stock of our lives with all its politics, class wars, the growing generational chasm, climate change, mental health decline, racism, terrorism, viral pandemics and Brexit are Boston Manor. Their new album is all about those topics which divide some and unite others, but ultimately issues we are all stuck with. Fittingly, it's titled 'GLUE'.

"I see this as a time and place record; a 2020 record," singer Henry Cox explains. "It all circles back and even the stuff that is personal is endemic of the bigger world and what we are talking about every day on every social media platform."

The result is an unforgiving social commentary filled with rage, confusion and also apathy set to their heaviest music to date. Henry describes the album's sound as "post-genre" as it flicks from the driven, Nine Inch Nails inspired, lead single 'Everything Is Ordinary' to the lo-fi and distorted 'High On A Ledge', and the upbeat bop of 'Brand New Kids' without falter.

The "glue" which holds the album together as it changes musically is the head-on and candid approach Boston Manor are taking in the album.

"It took a bit of courage on my part because sometimes I have a bit of trouble saying things how they are in lyrics. You can walk a fine line with it being a little bit corny and you tend to lose a bit of the poetry and magic out of it sometimes."

"I think the message is the message, and it deserves to be spoken bluntly because, quite frankly, the subject matter is something that is not going to wait around, so we have to say it how it is now. You listen to some of the greatest lyrics of all time, like Otis Redding or Jonny Cash, and it's plain-spoken and about the delivery.

"'Everything Is Ordinary' is what I would consider to be cool visual imagery, but the plain-speaking of the song had people like 'Oh that's just generic shit'. I was like, if you really listen to it then the message may be very simple, but I'm trying to play around with lyrics but be plain speaking at the same time."

Inspired by Matthew Healy and The 1975's way of being "plain spoken and poetic" and wrapping a serious message inside a well-crafted tune, Henry tackles head-on the Christchurch terrorist attack in 'Playing God', toxic masculinity and suicide in 'On A High Ledge' (with its haunting backing vocals of "Man up, man") and the post-Brexit divide between generations in '1's & 0's'.

But, there is also room for that frustration to spill over which Boston Manor have always been prepared to do. Throwing back to older numbers like 'Broken Glass' and 'Funeral Party', album closer 'Monolith' is unwavering in its chorus line of, "Hey you / fuck you too / I do what I want when I want to."

"Did I overstep the line there?" he asks but quickly justifies. "I feel like when we are angry, we don't tend to be that eloquent. You're very monosyllabic and quite clear, so the message is quite simple."

And that's it. He is angry, just like a lot of people right now.

"I'm at a point where it's gone past being a joke now. We are at a point where all these issues boil down to one named problem, which is ignorance. And this isn't changing.

"I feel like I've had this same reoccurring moment which happens two-three times where something abysmal happens that is insensitive and thoughtless and every intelligent person on the planet - even every non-intelligent person on the planet - know it's a stupid idea. It's like we are walking off a cliff and we know we are walking off a cliff, but we've agreed to walk off a cliff so... let's walk off a cliff.

"It's been happening since 2016, and it's not fun anymore. I'm like, when is this over and why are we ignoring that this is a bad idea? But we go along with it anyway. I'm so tired of having that conversation."

That viewpoint isn't radically different but, rather than merely point out the problems, the singer wants to encourage the conversation on how we solve the issues too.

"I think people need to start doing things themselves and thinking, 'How can I better this? How can I get out there and make my voice heard?' At the same time, it's also our responsibility to listen to other people and not immediately dismiss everyone else's opinion because it's not "my opinion".

"It's a time to shout very loud but also to listen very clearly as well, and I think we have been doing one and not the other and that's the problem."

"It's like we are walking off a cliff and we know we are walking off a cliff, but we've agreed to walk off a cliff so... let's walk off a cliff"
Henry Cox

As well as tackling some of the biggest challenges facing humanity, Henry also held up a mirror to his own life and mental wellbeing in 'Glue'. It's a chance to ground the album in more personal issues and connect how they can be amplified into universal problems.

"I'm not particularly special or interesting," he starts, modestly.

"There are a lot more interesting things to talk about than myself, and I find it a bit easier to talk about that stuff more than me. So then 'Terrible Love' is actually a really hard song to write.

"I was looking after my parents' cottage for a few days while they were away. It's super remote, and I was in a really low point in that time in my life, and I made a big list of all the things I really hate about myself and took a line each and put it into a song. It was really a cathartic, self-deprecating, bit of therapy actually."

He continues: "I've never been amazing at sharing my feelings, and I think a lot of young men who were raised in the period of time that we were, that's a whole problem for them. We need to be more open, but it's hard when you're more vulnerable and putting yourself out there.

"I don't know the person who is listening to the record, but I'm letting them know me, and that's kinda scary to then have people come up to you at shows know your life story and things that have happened to you. It's good, it's important to do that, and allows them to know they're not alone in their problems, but you have to be the first one in that social construct. You have to be the first one to take the step. I don't know; it kinda creeps me out sometimes."

The scope on this record is huge, and Henry is well aware that it doesn't get bigger without becoming "transient and vapid", but with 'GLUE' being released at the start of a new decade, thematically, it was the perfect opportunity to take a snapshot of life in 2020; regardless of how bleak a picture that might be.

Matching their ambition to bottle that wide lens perspective into 13 tracks and one album is how Henry - along with Ash Wilson, Mike Cunniffe, Dan Cunniffe and Jordan Pugh - were equally committed to pushing the limits of Boston Manor musically. Reuniting with Mike Sapone at The Barber Shop Studios in New Jersey, like with their previous effort 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood', they set their aspirations with this album even higher.

"We spent a lot of time making crazy fucking noises," he declares. The album continues to experiment with more synths balancing out the guitars (and array of pedals), but this is unmistakably Boston Manor's heaviest album to date.

Fueled by playing a lot of shows low down on the bill on metal tours and festivals in the last couple of years, the band were assured that laying heavy foundations for 'Glue' was the way forward.

"All our fans love to dance around and have a good time, and we feel very comfortable in that scenario and its always been very much part of our formula, and I don't want to lose that," he reasons. "We are always going to write energetic songs because it's more fun.

We wrote the heavy shit first and went from there. It was really fun to do some of the really riffy stuff; it's my favourite thing sometimes."

From the outside, 'GLUE' is full of very bold statements. Its message is deafening, and the music is unashamedly confrontational too. But it wasn't always this way.

The leap Boston Manor took from their debut 'Be Nothing' to 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood' was massive (and in Henry's words "the biggest jump they will ever make"). The dread-filled pop-rock stylings of their second album subsequently opened them up to a wider audience, and the tours that followed took them from Blackpool to all around the world.

The additional festival here, the extra support tour there, resulted in the band finding themselves away from home for months on end "living the dream". But "the dream", in reality, left Boston Manor in a rut and the prospect of doing it all again wasn't something that sounded too appealing.

"We kind of toured too much, to be honest. I wouldn't take anything back, not for the world, but we got back to point at the end of the cycle where we were just proper burnt out and not really enjoying it. There were moments where I should have been absolutely on top of the world and I was just sort of bummed out and exhausted at times.

"It's a shame really because had those tours been at the start of the cycle then I would have enjoyed them much more."

The lethargy from touring and that the new songs "just wasn't happening" got the band questioning whether they had they could give a new album 100% and whether mentally they had the stamina to go again.

Eventually, four or five very different songs started to come together but making it fit into an album was the next challenge the band faced. At that point they knew the project was going to be "diverse", but they headed to the studio where 'GLUE' started to form.

"We would usually go into the studio have the whole record almost 95% done in pre-production. But we took in so many fucking songs, and some of them were only half-finished, and we would pull it all apart and put it back together again, and it really started to take shape then. Truth be told, two weeks before we went into the studio, I was kind of shitting my pants, 'Have we made a mistake? Are these songs, right? I think they're great, but are other people going to like them?'."

In the studio, the approach was to just make music without limits; and that also meant not completing work out how it would translate live. With the album's release now not far away and live dates to follow shortly afterwards, Henry laughs as he admits he has "mixed feelings" about whether that was the right approach in hindsight.

"Sometimes I am like, why the fuck did I record that like that? The biggest problem we have that is that, if I had my way, we'd have three synths players and an extra guitarist just to make it sound enormous. But obviously, we are limited in that, so I think there is going to be a lot more of putting a guitar down and picking up a synth. The songs lend themselves, surprisingly, to a live setting and I think it will work really well."

"We spent a lot of time making crazy fucking noises"
Henry Cox

Having shown the album to a select few family and friends, the reaction to 'GLUE' is that this is another change in direction for the band, but Henry's opinion is "I actually think this one sits between the two in a lot of ways."

He adds: "I definitely see it as an evolution. I'm very wary that we've done three different albums, but I don't want people to think we are just doing it as a gimmick. It's not like we have to change our sound now on the next record. To me, these songs are just the next step and some of them every could have fitted on 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood' in a way."

Working to bridge the gap between the two albums is the inclusion of 'Liquid' on 'GLUE'. Featuring Trophy Eyes's John Floreani, the single was first included on the 'England's Dreaming' EP which was released last year as a reworking of tracks from 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood'.

'Liquid' was initially recorded along with the track 'Brand New Kids' with the design that they would be standalone singles but both now serve as transitions between albums. It's the emphasis on the value of an album, and how the single 'Drowned In Gold' got "lost" in Henry's opinion, they made sure that song made it onto 'GLUE'.

It was unknowingly the first taste of 'GLUE', but when it came to deciding on the first single for their album, there was only one winner.

"There are a few tracks that are left field for us here. 'Everything is Ordinary' is a weird song, and we knew that's going to be the first single."

With its brash and pulverising chaos, 'Everything Is Ordinary' was always going to be polarising, but that was the point.

"Maybe it's a little arrogant, but that was the aim in a sense. We're at a point now where we want to be the band we want to be moving forward.

"There is no point in use trying to cater to this world that we are still very much a part of. When we started in this world, we were such a different and there is no point in us catering to the people that only want us to be the band we use to be because they're just gonna be disappointed and we are gonna be disappointed as well. We might as well just be honest with one another say, okay, if you want a band that sounds like we did in 2016, then there are a lot of bands right now who do it better than we did it.

"So it's like join us or if its not your thing than its cool. There is no point in us slapping the odd two songs on there for the kids who like it because it's not honest."

That what it all boils down is the creative ambition that keeps propelling Boston Manor forward. The pop-punk band that crawled out from Blackpool is almost unrecognisable but the foundations they lay, the extra reverb and sinister tone in 'Kill Your Conscience' or the flash of violence in 'Broken Glass', were all part of the journey that have shaped 'GLUE'.

"I've started to think of us as a creative entity, and that's how I want us to be," Henry suggests.

Selling himself somewhat short, he refers to himself as a "sub-par musician, but I bring a lot to the aesthetic". Having already worked on poster design, merch and now dabbling in photography too, Henry is pushing the visual side of who Boston Manor are.

"I want to start, moving forward on the next record, using videos as the visual half to us as a visual enterprise. I think we have been very safe with our videos in the past, but I don't like a lot of our music videos at all. I think we are still sticking to this weird 'music promo' format that was necessary when bands were doing showcases back in the day. But why can't every video be like a movie?"

The videos are already making strides with 'On A High Ledge' becoming a one-shot thought-provoking infographic on male suicide rates. That video was one-shot, one-take, possibly by circumstance rather than design. Filmed next to the Crown Court in Blackpool, plans to film around there were repeatedly scuppered by the one guy who runs security there who kept chasing them off. "I felt about 15 again!" Henry laughs.

He also assures that graffiti of the word 'GLUE' which features on the video appeared between the planning and the filming of the video completely by chance but admits it was a little too good to be true.

Again, Boston Manor are always dreaming bigger.

"I wanna score a film. That's a big thing I want Boston Manor to do. Or maybe we could even make a movie, who knows?!?! I think that would be sick. It's something I've wanted to do for a while. We are all big movie buffs.'

Not wanting to get too far off track, he also emphasises how films have already influenced their records.

"All the records we've made we've had films on while we've been recording and sometimes those movies would subconsciously creep into the sound. We watched loads of The Matrix and 90s movies when making 'Welcome To The Neighbourhood' and this one we were watching a weird fucking art house film!'

'And sometimes you'd working on a guitar sound for ages and ages, and a film is playing in the background, and you'd look back on it and be like 'oh it fits with that film now!'"

It's easy to see why they needed 100% commitment before making 'GLUE' because their ambition requires a lot of effort, but Boston Manor are continually conquering all that is set before them. They're taking huge global issues, deep personal troubles, more expansive musical influences and pushing themselves as a creative outlet all at the same time.

The message is the most important with this album but, along with the music, they seem prepared for it to be divisive.

"I do think having songs about the issues that are so aggressive allows people to express themselves and talk to each other, but we will see when the record comes out. People might hate it, but we love, and that's all that matters."

Taken from the May issue of Upset. Boston Manor's album 'GLUE' is out 1st May.

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