Culture / Music

In Conversation with Black Country, New Road

In Conversation with Black Country, New Road. Photo by Holly Whitaker.

I wonder if I’m so endeared to Black Country, New Road (BCNR) because we share the same home town of Cambridge? When speaking to the band's drummer, Charlie Wayne, we joke about having played the same small rooms and how coming from a Cambridge pub venue to playing one of the world’s most iconic concert halls must be quite surreal. The English art-rock band who were often compared to Slint, or their touring partners, Black Midi, have had an equally surreal and unique journey making their third record, Live At Bush Hall. BCNR’s former frontman amicably left the band four days before their critically acclaimed second record, Ants from Up There, meaning that in order for them to keep playing their confirmed shows, they had to write a set’s worth of entirely new material in a very short time.

Wayne tells me that Live At Bush Hall "was written solely to be performed, so I think in that sense, it has served its purpose. It was a unique creative thing for us to do. We haven't done anything like it and I don't think I really want to do anything necessarily like that again. It was written under very specific pressures, which I think creatively was a really interesting thing to do and fun thing to have done."

Wayne acknowledges that whilst the deadlines were ever-present, had the band not chosen to commit to new material, they could have thrown away years of built-up momentum. Wayne explains that the band’s label, Ninja Tune, were incredibly supportive and the only boundary that was placed on BCNR was a "boundary that we imposed on ourselves, which was that we were not going to perform any of the music that we wrote with Isaac. If we're going to perform, which we would like to, we are just going to have to play new music."

With the remaining six members changing and rotating roles whilst splitting the lead singer duties, Wayne explains that “it was never the intention for Isaac to be the permanent lead singer of the band. We'd spoken quite extensively about broadening that out, just for creative and practical reasons because, as I guess it became apparent, it's really intense and quite stressful being the solo voice as well." However, there is much joy and enthusiasm in Wayne’s demeanour as he explains how lucky he feels to work and create with his friends and to look forward to their next incarnation.

BCNR have quite a hard genre to define and incorporate violin, flute and sax into a more traditional ‘band’ line up, Wayne tells me that half of the band went to music school, which not only explains their virtuosic skills but the ways in which they write. "It's a nice medium, because you are able to have people who are able to deconstruct very complicated musical technicalities, but then also have very simple things communicated to them and be able to expand on them without much effort." Wayne reveals that part of the success in their writing is the trust between old friends who met at school, rather than in 'a scene', so they have an intimacy that goes beyond a similar interest or taste.

While touring a large band can be hard work – occasionally even sleeping on floors – BCNR have developed a dynamic that allows them to remain harmonious, and to dip in and out of company as they travel. Similarly, they dip in and out of each other's references when writing and each contribute a unique musical and lyrical style. However, there are some unifying records to the band and Arcade Fire’s debut record, Funeral, is cited as an influence on their writing, alongside Slint’s album Spiderland. One can hear their love of Joanna Newsom in their newer material, as there are elements of the pastoral in their occasionally episodic songs, and perhaps elements of The Smile or Richard Dawson will emerge in their new writings.

For a band that The Quietus called “the best band in the world”, I’m surprised to hear that Wayne doesn’t feel like the band have been creatively provocative, perhaps due to the natural nature of their writing within the group. Wayne explains “I don't know whether we've ever thought about what we're doing as creatively courageous” – the goal being for the idea to sound good in the room and have other people excited by it. That said, BCNR certainly have a penchant for taking the road less travelled, and admit that weirder is often better (and is a lot more fun to play). I have no doubt that it will be even more fun to witness live in the coming weeks.

Black Country, New Road are set to perform their debut Australian show at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on Thursday, 7 March 2024, as part of their Australia and New Zealand tour. To see what else is happening in music this month across Australia, head to our March edition of What's On This Weekend.


Stay inspired, follow us.