Blaenavon frontman Ben Gregory sounds off on touring, social media critics, and his latest gig as a Burberry* spokesman
Written by Joseph Bullmore
Photography by Matthew Brookes
Styled by Julie Ragolia
I’M JUST ABOUT to call Ben Gregory, the guitarist and lead vocalist for the band Blaenavon, when I realize I’m wearing the wrong coat. It’s a silly story, really: the Maître d’ at the restaurant where I’d had lunch had given my overcoat to someone else, and, half asleep from the croque monsieur, I’d taken someone else’s (once you’ve seen one blue wool overcoat you’ve seen them all). This means that I don’t have the keys to my apartment, and that my usual preparation for an interview — lots of singing and striding about and power stances — will have to take place in the (parquet-floored) hallway. And I’m doing this with particular post-lunch vigor (two bottles of Macon Lugny with the seabass) when a neighbor puts their head out their door and asks if everything’s okay, because people don’t often chant ‘Let’s pray for death’ at the top of their lungs on a Thursday afternoon, or at least not in this part of town.
“Yea, when I first listened to that lyric back,” says Ben, “I thought, ‘well, people might take this the wrong way.’” He’s talking about the song Let’s Pray, one of the summer singles on Blaenavon’s debut LP. “It’s not meant to be that dark, really — it’s actually about losing your creative talent.” (I want to shout ‘I told you so’ to my neighbors, but I suspect that’ll only make things worse.)
Blaenavon is made up of three 20-syear-olds, and though I’m not sure whether that’s young or old in the music industry, you can smell the teen spirit. The night after we speak, the band posted a video of them using an old keyboard as a skateboard ramp, and Ben apologizes if he sounds groggy because four of them had watched Straight Outta Compton the night before in the company of forty-eight Fosters. The industry press has always made a song and dance about their relative youth (“Our first single came out when we were sixteen. Lots of people say we’re still at school — I think there’s one ancient press release circulating and they’re all writing from that.”), but Ben talks about the job with all the pragmatism of a career novelist.
I’ve never started a conversation with ‘Hey, I’m in a band.’ But I have ended a couple that way.
“I USED TO BE SUPER STUBBORN. THEN I REALIZED IF YOU’RE GOING to take it seriously, you’ve got to be open to everyone’s opinions,” he says. “You’ve also got to tour all the time, and spend a shitload of time rehearsing.” I ask Ben if touring is as traumatic as I imagine it to be. “You think you’d go insane,” he says. “But I feel more sane when I’m touring. I like my friends in my band. I feel home.” The next tour takes in most of Europe under the wing of Two Door Cinema club, so you can see Ben and the boys somewhere along the way, if you’ve got a spare weekend. Alternatively, just go to any duty-free lounge.
“My friends would call me up and say, ‘I’ve just seen you on this huge billboard in the airport!’” He’s talking about his recent turn as a Burberry model. “I thought I would hate it. But it turns out standing around in a trench coat with nothing on underneath it is quite fun, actually.” Not a bad look, even when blown up to thirty feet. Better still are the ensembles critiqued, with millimetric drooling, by a fan account called ‘blaenoutfits.’ (Sample review: “Frank’s off-white jumper makes the soggy nappy look so HOT.” I wish I could reprint the accompanying emojis.)
I say something like ‘Groupies, am I right?’ while trying desperately to not sound like a mid-twenties hack living vicariously from a deserted hallway. But Ben assures me that his mother’s Hampshire cottage is rarely overrun with international fangirls. “No, I’ve never started a conversation with ‘Hey, I’m in a band.’ But I have ended a couple that way.” In fact, Blaenavon receives something much more constructive from their more militant followers: instant feedback.
“When we post something online, there are a few commenters who tell us exactly what they think. It’s a pretty good feeling when these people who have liked us from the start tell us that we’re doing okay.” One of these is called Miko Chan. “She finds out stuff about us before we do.” Another is an unknown avatar by the name of MetalMonkeyLeroy. “I have no idea who this person is,” says Ben. “But he’s there, without fail, commenting on everything we do.” Ben tells me that Kerrang (I know right, how did Kerrang survive the financial crisis?) once gave one of their early efforts a particularly catty review, which they cherished as a sort of rite of passage. But when MetalMonkeyLeroy raises his eyebrows, Blaeners sit up and listen. “If we ever drop a ball I think ‘No, I’ve let Leroy down!” says Ben. The new album is very good — Leroy can rest easy, even if my neighbors cannot. It’s called That’s Your Lot, and I hope it isn’t.