Music Q&A:
Blue Nation

Birmingham-based rockers Neil, Chris and Luke are gearing up to support Dirty Thrills on tour, playing Manchester Factory, 15 Dec

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Tell us a bit about your sound and your influences?
When we started writing for this album we decided to focus on euphonic riff-based rock and our new single Good Times is the first example of that direction. We have similar but not identical influences.
Neil: Led Zep, Cream, Hendrix, Blind Faith, all of them, but also Ocean Colour Scene, the Phonics and Oasis.
For me it was Ocean Colour Scene. Steve Cradock is an exceptional guitarist and Fowler’s voice and songwriting is mindblowing. I always wanted to be in OCS and smash out Hundred Mile High City.
Chris: I started to get into music when Britpop was at its peak. It was magical – great bands were everywhere and all people cared about was music. They say you never get over your first love and mine was Oasis. Their first two albums are up there with the greatest ever written. I love Ocean Colour Scene too and through that got into the Beatles and then Hendrix and then Led Zeppelin. I remember listening to Voodoo Child for the first time and just being absolutely hypnotised by it, same with No Quarter and Champagne Supernova. Jimi Hendrix is god to me. Aside from the music he was culturally so important. This wild-haired black guy tearing around the world with two geeky Brits at a time when race tensions in America were at an all-time crazy high level. He showed the world that race doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s about what’s inside the tin of beans.
Luke: I was raised listening to the most amazing music. When I was around four my mom and dad once dressed me up as a gnome and entered me into talent competition on holiday, I had to dance to The Gnome by Pink Floyd, so you can imagine the other music I was raised on! I prefer my 1960s and 1970s to the Britpop stuff.

What informs your music and songwriting?
Neil: The lads and I tend to write about what is real to us. It ranges from what is going on in the world to life, love and anything in between. It has to mean something to us though, for sure.
Chris: I am someone who very much needs to write with other people. Personally, I find it difficult to write a whole song start to finish on my own. I usually start something and then get distracted after an hour or so and it remains forever incomplete. A few of those incomplete ideas have become Blue Nation songs for the new album with Neil and Luke’s input. I’m really happy how they turned out.
Luke: Lots of things inspire me to write a tune! I’ll sit down with a guitar and a riff usually comes to me quite easily. I will then record it and send it to the guys. Then we will jam it and see what happens.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
Neil: When I started writing music I only listened to one genre of music and was really blinkered. Over the years I have opened up to a really wide range of music and don’t discount anything. You can find inspiration from anywhere and at the start I was really closed to certain types of music. Is that me evolving or just realising I was a music snob in my younger days! Writing-wise the songs have become more technical, moving away from the three chord songs and creating a riff that hooks people in is probably the best way I can describe how I have evolved.
Chris: Hopefully I’ve become a better musician and writer! It’s difficult to look objectively at your own journey sometimes, but I think I’ve arrived at a clear point artistically where I have a good vision of what I want to create both on my own and together with Neil and Luke. I think that’s the evolution – clarity.
Luke: I started playing bass when I was 11. Over the years I picked up and bought a few different types of instruments. Generally, if it’s got strings on it I can get a song out of it! I’ve recently got a sitar and I love playing that.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
We are currently fine-tuning the songs and making them the best they can be for the album, ready for the recording studio. Over the next year we plan to record and release three singles, with supporting videos, then an album around September 2018. Our first single Good Times is due for release on 8 December this year. The video for it is available now.

We have just started working with Ben from IAA Touring and he has secured tour dates with Dirty Thrills. There are other things in the pipeline but not confirmed just yet. We will be doing individual gigs and touring again to support the release of our three singles and new album next year. Festivals offers are coming in for next year already, so it’s getting busy, which is the way we like it.

What’s on your rider?
Neil: Some things we can tell you, some we can’t. Nah, we are not like that, to be honest. We like to treat people how we are treated so as long as we have some water, food and snacks then we are pretty cool. If Dirty Thrills have the brown M&Ms though, we are kicking off! Only joking.
Chris: I think we’re a pretty easy bunch to please. Waitrose salt and vinegar squares though are a must-have. If we don’t have those, I’m not playing.
Luke: I don’t ask for too much really. I like a nice gin. I am vegan and the other two lads are vegetarian so none of the Spinal Tap wafer thin ham stuff. Gimme some tofu or falafel.

Tell us you’re most embarrassing or surreal experience.
Neil: It’s a surreal one from me and a long one so stick with me and excuse the name dropping. I was in a hotel bar in Dublin and these massive blokes were at the door with those curly earpieces in. Thought nothing of it at the time as thought they were doormen. Well 15 minutes into my first Guinness in walks Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day. Happy days, I thought, I’ve always been a massive fan. Went over to him and had a chat and he was sound! Another 15 mins or so passes and in walks the bass player from U2. My mouth hits the floor as this is a member of U2. What are the chances – I’m in Dublin and see a member of U2? Well, pretty high actually. After picking my mouth up off the floor the goddamn Edge walks in and sits down next to them. Now I’m freaking out as no one is going to believe this when I tell them. Another Guinness passes my lips and the night is in full swing. Everyone in this tiny bar is having it and half of U2 and Green Day are here. For the record the big dudes with the curly earpieces are still at the door and they aren’t the doormen. Now the night takes an almighty turn. In walks Bono! Glasses on, wife with him. Yeah, that’s Bono! I’m several Guinnesses in by this point and hope to god I don’t make an ass of myself if I get a chance to speak to them. Suddenly the big dudes by the door start sweeping the whole bar, as in checking everyone out. One speaks into his phone and in walks Bill frigging Clinton! Ex-president of the USA! By this point I’m thinking this is a stitch-up but I swear to you that happened. According to the barman, Bill was meeting them to see if they would put some money toward Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. How true that is though I don’t know.
Chris: Most surreal, I guess would be getting to play Noel Gallagher’s Union Jack guitar for a few hours. That was incredible! Embarrassing stories I have plenty but I’d rather keep them to myself if that’s cool.
Luke: Zach Starkey, Ringo’s son, addressing me by my first name backstage at the Albert Hall, just after The Who had finished a full playthrough of Quadrophenia! I can’t tell you any of the others, but I imagine, one day, they will be in my autobiography.

What song do you wish you’d written?
Neil: To be honest there are so many but if put on the spot I would say Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin.
Chris: There are loads and I often think this. I love Yesterday by the Beatles and wish I had written it. Then on the other hand if I had written it wouldn’t be the piece of music so much as it would be my version, which would be very different. I guess the answer is a song I don’t love but made lots of money – an Abba track maybe.
Luke: The Inner Light by George Harrison, B side to Lady Madonna. It’s just beautiful.

What’s your worst lyric?

Neil: I don’t know. I like the lyrics we write, to be fair. Oh, hang on, my mates take the piss out of me about a song I wrote when I was 15 called Little Billy. Every couple of weeks I will get a voicemail or text message from them singing down the phone to me. I would say that one for sure.
Chris: All my lyrics are generally quite bad.
Luke: I once wrote a song called Your Face, My Fist. It was an angry song.

What’s it like to operate in the music industry today?
Neil: You can complain about it, you can put other bands and artists down or you can grow up and actually contribute. I love it. Yeah, you have your schemers and people after your money but you must have your wits about you. We keep our circle really tight so we only have people we trust or know personally work with us.
Chris: It’s difficult. I just want to make music and enjoy doing it. Luckily, we have a really good manager who looks after all of that.
Luke: It’s tough and competitive, hard work and totally worth it when people enjoy your music.

How do you stand out from the crowd in a saturated industry?
Neil: By not being like everyone else. I see so many artists and bands following the latest craze or what the A&R people are signing and it’s laughable. You have to stand on your own two feet and be proud of what you do. It’s your craft so make sure you are good at it.
Chris: You can either have a gimmick or be really good. I’ll take really good over a gimmick any day.
Luke: You have got to have a bit of everything about you. If you’ve got the gear but no idea then you’ll get found out. You need to be able to write and play, but if you look like a trainspotter you’re not gonna catch people’s eye! Good image and great songs. You need to be a product that record labels want to sell.

Tell us about your worst live show.
Neil: Two spring to mind and one of them involves A&E! A few years ago, we were touring up in the North East and on the afternoon of our support gig in Newcastle, the local headline band pulled out and they were supplying the drum shells. We somehow managed to borrow some and did the gig to an acoustic support act and his plus-one, our manager and the sound engineer. Most dramatic was at an O2 Academy venue when pre-gig our manager tripped on a cable onstage and landed on one of my guitars, cutting his forehead. The show must go on, so post-gig we went to A&E at 4am and got him 18 stitches.
Chris: I played on guitar at a burlesque show with a friend of mine, Beth, singing. I couldn’t hear a thing on stage and had no idea what was going on. I remember seeing people cringe in the audience. I still have nightmares about it.
Luke: Pretty much everything that you can think of has gone wrong at some point. One of the worst things was a 70-year-old northern lady trying to molest me during a performance in a venue that I can only describe as the pub from Shameless!

Tell us about Good Times, your single out on 8 December.
Neil: It’s about being in a place that you are struggling to get out of but knowing that the good times will return and that you just have to push on through. Let the “Good Times come” captures the essence of the song. Ask me after a couple of beers and I will elaborate.

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Interact: Responses to Music Q&A:
Blue Nation

  • Leo
    20 Oct 2017 18:24
    Awesome band

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