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“It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for us”, admits Blanketman frontman Adam Hopper when reflecting on the fast rising Manchester four-piece’s past 12 months.
And although he says it’s a “cliche” description, it couldn’t be more apt for a band who’s just reached the deserving landmark of releasing their debut EP – the ace National Trust.
Just a week before Covid-enforced lockdown, Blanketman headlined Manchester’s YES before releasing their debut single Taking You With Me. The track, which drew comparisons to early Blur, generated a major buzz and sparked interest from label PIAS, paving their way towards the writing of National Trust.
All but one of its seven tracks were penned in lockdown – the exception being the infectious, jagged indie-pop banger Beach Body that’s been around for a couple of years – and sees Hopper and co touch upon themes of escapism in the eponymous track National Trust, the personal impact of the north/south divide on Leave The South, and night terrors in the psychy Harold.
Sonically, the record captures Blanketman, who were named as one of Daily Star's 50 Rising Stars to watch in 2021, at their mesmerising, restless post-punk best, harnessing the relentless energy of their live shows – despite having to send recordings over to producer Luke Smith remotely via Dropbox.
Smith, who has worked with Foals and LIFE, was enlisted for production duties in an addition that marked a “high point in what was a tough four or five months”, Hopper told Daily Star.
“He added that wealth of experience in songwriting, arrangement and playing live”, he added. “He’s played in lots of bands and he’s produced lots of bands. He knows how it works.”
Blanketman’s National Trust is the perfect snapshot of a band brimming with confidence; one that’s unafraid to change direction with their sound and ready to take it to the next level.
Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Hopper to talk about their lockdown experience, National Trust’s influences and themes, working with Luke Smith, and what it’s like being part of an incredible charge of UK and Irish acts.
Hi Adam, how can you sum up the past 12 months for as a band?
“It’s been mostly boring and a little bit depressing, but with some flashes of light going on throughout! In the same way as everyone’s been feeling at the moment, it’s getting quite monotonous. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for us, which sounds like a cliche. We had our headline gig at YES about a year ago. A week later than that, we went into lockdown. The week after that we released Taking You With Me.
“We were a little bit worried in the beginning, as I think most bands were. Because we put that single out when we did, we were lucky to get interest and PIAS getting involved, and offering us an EP deal. That became salvation in a way. We had something to work on and towards, when a lot of other bands didn’t. It was a bit of the unknown. We weren’t really sure how we were going to do it and whether the lockdown restrictions would allow us to do it. How we were going to write it and what songs were going to go on it because we couldn’t see each other. How were we going to put it together?
“We’d been playing for a couple of years before that point and we had quite a few songs built up that were in our live show. We were first planning to pull together some of those songs. The first few weeks of lockdown, I think at the beginning there was a novelty to it. People thought we’d been put in lockdown and we don’t have to go to work. We have this extra free time, what can we do? I wrote four of seven songs in the first few weeks of lockdown. They sprung out of nowhere. Dan (Hand) wrote Harold shortly after that. It just seemed to work as a group.
“The thing that goes with that is people haven’t really heard these songs before. So our fans in Manchester that we’d built up over a couple of years, apart from Beach Body, the rest of them are brand new to everyone. It’s a little bit scary. People seem to like them so far.”
When did the idea of National Trust emerge?
“It was my girlfriend’s birthday and her parents got us memberships for the National Trust. I thought it was very funny. I like the National Trust but I never considered myself becoming a member! The idea was, in that midst of lockdown, some of the outdoory places that you could go to were National Trust sites.
“It just had a really nice ring to it as an EP title. A lot of the time, and I’m sure it’s for many bands, trying to get four or five people to agree on one thing is quite difficult. It was a blanket ‘yeah, that’s alright!’, that wasn’t a pun that was intended. It has nice undertones as well, semi political undertones that work quite nicely.”
Is it mostly all lockdown material?
“Yeah. Beach Body was written a couple of years ago. Dan wrote Harold, that one came slightly later in the process. The other four I demoed those with acoustic guitar and vocals. I was just sending off demos. Jeremy (Torralvo Godoy) was putting basslines down. Dan was getting ideas down guitar parts. It’s crap for Ellie (Rose-Elliot) as she’s the drummer and doesn’t have a drum kit at home. It was in our rehearsal room which was locked at the time. She had to sit tight and drum on her knees, I think!
“It was that period of April, June and July where lockdown was wavering. It was trying to balance a conscience of we’re trying to follow the rules but we’re being offered the chance of a lifetime for us to record a proper EP the first time. When we finally managed to get in, it was the second half of July, by which point we were booked into the studio in August when things opened up again. We just wrote all the songs and finished them on and off in three weeks. Ellie smashed all the drums out in a couple of weeks. It was quite intense. We knew it was probably only going to be a short window where we were able to do it.
“We were in every day writing and in contact with the producer Luke Smith. Usually with a big production he would have come up to Manchester to spend some time with us in the studio. It was all done remotely over Dropbox. We were recording our rehearsals and sending them over, and he would comment on bits like ‘you should try this here’. We got through it but it was tougher because when you’re typing online I’m pretty sure most of the stuff which takes a few days to go back and forth to get right could be summed up in two minutes in person! It was an interesting way of doing things. We’d never done it the other way. We just got on with it.
“We tracked them live because we’ve always felt we’re a live band. I think you can really hear it translate on the EP. There’s a real energy to the songs that you can tell are played in a room by the band. They’re not pieced together, which Taking You With Me was. If you put them next to each to each other, you can tell Taking You With Me is a tracked song while the EP is tracked live. Luke was amazing as a producer. It was a really good experience. It was a nice high point in what was a tough four or five months.”
It’s a fizzing, energetic, jagged indie pop. Do you think it represents a snapshot of what Blanketman is all about? Especially now you’ve said it is recorded live.
“I think it’s varied enough that it’s got elements of our sound throughout it. You’ve got your jammy, more psychy representation in Harold, and your short, sharp, post-punkier elements in Beach Body, and a pop sensibilities in some of the songs, which I always like to bring in my writing. Myself I’m a fan of pop music. I like a strong, catchy melody.
“It has captured us quite well. We’re all quite individual in our tastes. Quite a lot of people think bands must like the same music and be into the same things but it’s really not the case. There are some bands that we all do like and agree on but we probably disagree on more than we agree on! I think that’s what builds up the Blanketman sound. When I bring a song in it’s in its most stripped back form, it’s basically a melody and lyrics and guitar chords and structure. It’s when we all get in a room and everyone adds their individuality to it. Dan’s a great example as a guitarist because his playing is quite original. He’s got a thing of his own going on, really jagged and warped, a bit strange. When you add that to my fairly straight, pop sound, you get something a bit different, which is what I really like. We have that pop vein running through it but I don’t think it’s too twee. I think it’s really nice to see when I take a song idea to the rehearsal room how it’s going to turn out. You just don’t know.
“It’s a good cross section of us in general. The EP really opened us up because I think it was more of us settling down and being ourselves a bit more. In the first couple of years, especially when you’re first starting out, it’s easy to settle in and do what you think you should play like.
“It could be so easy at the moment to slip into post-punk because it’s so massive at the moment. It’s what we had as common ground when we first started. We used to get comparisons to Joy Division when we first started because I have a deep voice. Jeremy was playing these big, sweeping basslines. You play what you know in a way at the beginning. The EP was us starting to settle into our own sound. The things we’ve been writing since I feel like they’re progressing from that point. The EP was a great learning experience in terms of writing because it was the first time we’d go over songs as much. We now write a song and think ‘how can we make it better?’.
“It’s got the comedic value to it, we like to add humour and not take ourselves too seriously. It has hooky riffs, which is a bit part of our band. It’s got catchy melodies and this jagged feel to it. It’s a bit energetic and restless. I’m interested to see how things are going to progress but we’re quite keen to be open in our influences and sound. It’s a little bit cliche but we don’t want to be pigeonholed. It’s a good introduction to us. I feel like things are going to develop. It’s kept our options open to things we didn’t get to do or what we didn’t think worked as well.”
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You tackle themes like national identity on Beach Body, the north/south divide in Leave The South and escapism in National Trust. What was influencing you during the writing of these songs?
“I do think it’s been influenced by the things that were going on around me at the time and the band in general. In terms of Leave The South, it’s more of a personal story than really a big commentary on the north/south divide. It’s about when I was in uni four years ago in Reading. In my final year I was in a bit of a rut mentally. It was those classic situations where you blame where you are and everything around you for how you’re feeling, when really it’s much more to do with you, and you’d probably feel that way no matter where you are. At the time I was thinking ‘I’m skint in the south, all my mates are back up north, down here I feel isolated, and I need to go back up north when everything will be alright again’.
“When we went into lockdown, a lot of people were thinking about people in their lives and those they hadn’t spoken to for a long time. I was thinking about my friends and those I was friends with in Reading. I reached out to a couple of people to see how they were doing lockdown, as a lot of people did. That’s what sparked to write a song about that.
“A lot of the writing is observational and what’s going on around me. With songs like Blue Funk and The Tie, it’s lots of feelings of anxiety and the feeling of being trapped. There is a hope and a light at the end of the tunnel feel to it. Recently I’ve been finding it really hard to write, lyrics especially, because nothing is particularly happening. I feel like I’ve covered the feelings of lockdown with the EP!
“For example, on Harold, Dan gets sleep paralysis really badly and with lockdown everyone was having these weird lockdown dreams. Not deliberately, but I think it’s the circumstances of the time have seeped into the lyrics as well.
“I was listening to lots of music at the time as well. I was really into lots of unashamed pop music from the 60s and the 70s like The Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers, Bowie, and bands like that who were writing really cool pop music. Like the Loaded era Velvet Underground album is uplifting music but with a sinister undertone with it which is what I like.
“Pop was a dirty word for quite a long time but I think now people are thinking that pop music isn’t a lot of the stuff you hear in the charts – it’s about being more accessible about it. That’s why I like listening to it. Other members of the band would disagree with me!”
It was produced by Luke Smith, who’s worked with Foals. What do you think he added to your sound?
“I felt like he was instrumental with it. It was a real pleasure to work with him. He captured us so well. I think we came away from it after hearing the first mixes like ‘this really sounds like us’. We were so happy about that. That urgency and excitement you can hear on the record was definitely down to Luke. He pushed us and got us excited. That was one of the biggest things he contributed, really just pushing us to play the best we could play and do the best with the songs we could.
“He was great at throwing ideas for arrangements and extra synth parts, things we hadn’t thought of. He was really instrumental in getting that energy flowing in every song. It was a real privilege to work with him. We’d never worked with a proper producer before. We’d worked with people who mixed and done a bit of production. We’ve gone and done it a bit more DIY.
“One of the coolest thing he’d do is play a song 7 or 8 times. He say ‘it’s great, but this time just imagine you’re at the Castle Hotel, it’s Saturday night, it’s packed, shut your eyes and that’s where you are. Now play it.’ It was amazing. He just captured it. I think it sounds authentic, which is why I’m excited to play it live as well.
“He added that wealth of experience in songwriting, arrangement and playing live. He’s played in lots of bands and he’s produced lots of bands. He knows how it works. It was having that font of knowledge to help us along.”
You’re part of this incredible charge of bands in the UK and Ireland right now. What does it mean to be a part of it?
“I feel like we’re very lucky. For me it’s strange because I’ve been in bands and stuff when I was at uni, nothing serious, for a couple of years. Reading’s not got the biggest music scene. I do feel like the past two or three years where bands have just sky rocketed. You’ve got bands like Fontaines DC, Squid, Black Country, New Road, that people are really starting to stand up and take notice. There’s this new injection of really talented people coming out and putting bands together. I feel like a bit of an imposter.
“I feel like we’re doing OK. It feels quite privileged to be on some of the line-ups we’re on, playing with bands I really like. You’ve got bands from Manchester and the surrounding area we’ve been friendly with over the past couple of years, like The Goa Express, we’ve known them for a few years and they’re doing amazingly. And The Lounge Society. They’ve just shot up from nowhere on Speedy Wunderground.
“It’s really exciting. It’s nice to see your friends do well. You push each other. It’s that healthy competition. It pushes you and you inspire each other. It pushes you on to want to do better.”
Blanketman’s National Trust EP is out now via PIAS
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