Today’s interview, as part of my Artists in Lockdown series, is with Josh from Bristol-based band, BLACK FLIES.
You released The Room in April. Why do you think it is important for bands/artists to keep releasing music throughout lockdown?
I think the emergence of this pandemic and subsequent imposition of the lockdown threw a very fast acting curveball towards artists and the industry; everyone has had to adapt quite quickly. We were quite fortunate I think, in that we had everything for ‘The Room’ set up prior and the release ran somewhat of a normal course, with the obvious exclusion of being able to showcase it in a live setting (the big sad).
I think it’s really important that bands and artists are continuing to release music, in whatever fashion that may be. I think whilst the landscape actually releasing music is for the most part still the same, i.e., digital distribution and streaming platforms, it’s the way in which artists interact with the fans which has fundamentally required a bit of a quick overhaul; I think the demand for new music is definitely still the same. Also from an artist’s perspective I think it’s been a good test for content generation ability; if you’re an artist that relies on going to a studio to record and haven’t been able to due to the ruddy virus, you’re definitely limited in what you have to work with in regards to music and digital assets, so being able to make that stretch and staying prominent on social media is definitely a tough balancing act – we’re starting to run out of things to post now, until we can get back in a studio at least.
How do you think gigs will differ post-lockdown? Do you think bands and their fans will be more enthusiastic?
I think the landscape for live music is going to be a very odd one once ‘normality’ starts kicking in again. The concept of venues having social distancing measures in place – whilst obviously safe and sensible – seems a bit unviable to me; I think the most recent government advice recommends a gap of six meters between people, and then a three metre gap between stage and audience. Firstly, there’s the question of the financial sustainability of venues operating at minimal capacities; you’d barely be able to squeeze a thimble full of people into most of our beloved Bristolian fun spaces – imagine trying to keep a six metre distance at The Ruin or the Old E – I think that advice is pretty unworkable. Secondly, the idea of having a raucous knees up of an evening, with your best pals, at your favourite venue seems a hard thing to contemplate if they have to be almost a transit vans length away from you – no sweaty mid-gig shoulder rubbing. So, I think it will be a bumpy start for live music settings once lockdown fully eases.
In contrast to that though, I can’t wait to get back to gigs – both playing and spectating; I definitely think everyone is getting super itchy to get back out to live music so the enthusiasm will definitely be there. Music without gigs is like eating a sandwich without the filling; bread is a great foundation but on its own, it’s still just bread. We need the whole enchilada.
I’d definitely be interested to see if live streamed gigs stick more post-lockdown. I think there’s an element of personal exclusivity that comes with watching your favourite artists performing in their own home. Either way, it’s been great to see artists at all levels innovating in the ways they connect with fans through technology. Hopefully it will further the progress for VR & AR technologies and their place in live music. A great use of the technology would be enabling music fans who require certain accessibilities that might not be able to be catered for in smaller grassroot venues to see their favourite up-and-coming artists, in some capacity anyway. Small plug: ‘The Music Trip’ are a new Bristol-based VR start-up, run by my pal Sophie; they are offering immersive music experiences so definitely keep an eye on what they’re doing in the field if you’re interested – support local!
Have you managed to work on any music projects during lockdown? If yes, where do you find your inspiration?
Yes! For BLACK FLIES: we’re slowly getting near to finishing a new EP; we’re hoping to get into a studio towards the end of the year (fingers crossed) to get it recorded. Both myself and Jack have been furloughed since lockdown began, so we’ve definitely been quite fortunate in the fact we’ve been handed an indefinite chunk of time to work on new stuff; ironically, I think we’ve been more productive in writing during lockdown than we were prior. Big riff king Jack has been the driving force behind the instrumentation for new stuff; then Tom will polish up the demos and make the sound all lovely and nice; then I’m putting lyrics and vocals together at home, albeit pretty slowly. In fact, I was somewhat technologically inept when it came to music production software before lockdown, so I’ve been utilising this time to get my teeth into, and get my head around it, a bit more. The new stuff is definitely sounding huge though and I know we can’t wait to get it out into the public domain.
I’ve also been tinkering on a solo side project, but that hasn’t really materialised much past making plonky synth noises in Logic yet, so we’ll see how that goes.
Inspiration-wise, lyrically, reading has always served as a creative compass for me; certain words or phrases in particular contexts are always likely to spawn new ideas. Musically, I’ve been revisiting a lot of guitar heavy, transatlantic, alt-rock that I used to practically feed off of when I was 18, and that’s definitely informed my writing recently. I’ve also grown a deeper appreciation for the subtleties and intricacies of vocals in electronic music and have tried to consider this more when writing and layering stuff recently, and how this could tie in with our uber guitar-driven, heavier sound.
Another small plug: the two new Poisonous Birds’ singles have been a great breath of fresh air and inspiration to my musical library. Tom’s struck a perfect amalgam of a lot of my best-loved elements in music; it’s nice when a favourite thing is from people you know. I’ve had the chance of peaking their whole EP too and it’s great (out 14th August) – keep an ear on them!
What is the thing you’re most excited to do once lockdown is lifted?
Actually having the freedom of choice to go out and do things will be a welcome change, rather than having no choice in being confined to home; it’s nice at least to have the option if you want to be social recluse. Also an actual pint, in a real glass, in a physical pub, in the sun, wiv ur m8s; that sounds nice :’)
Has lockdown affected your mental health? How?
I’ve definitely had my ups and downs during lockdown. I’m relatively quiet and introverted most of the time anyway, and have always been prone to a touch of emotional instability, as is everyone – but I think there’s been something a bit more covertly insidious about the imposed nature of lockdown, especially for those with a natural affliction for inward gazing; I think it’s forced a deeper and perpetuated level of introspection on yourself – I’ve definitely fallen victim to this. There’s only so many times you can hear your subconscious peddle the same echoing inadequacies about yourself before it starts to send you a bit down and doolally. I have some physical and internal coping mechanisms in place for down days but it’s definitely been an interesting period, and I’ve definitely had time to think about what I’m doing/want to do with that big scary life thing. Lockdown’s been blessing and a curse in many ways, I guess.
Christ, can’t wait for a pint.
I’m with you on that one, Josh! Thanks for your fab answers.