Hope is the preserve of the foolish and the brave, the light at the end of the tunnel and the ball and chain that leaves reality inescapable. ‘Hope’, the new album by Welsh pop-bruisers The Blackout, is just that – except it sounds killer at ear-bleeding volume.
“The title came up a lot when we were looking through the lyrics,” says Sean Smith, “and we saw the recurring theme of the double meaning.” “It’s a strong emotion,” agrees Gavin Butler, “because the word itself has a sadness to it. But the album is about pushing forward and keeping your head high.”
And with touchstones ranging from Prince to Slipknot, ‘Hope’ is the work of a band reenergised. Having signed with Cooking Vinyl on a worldwide deal at the beginning of 2011 The Blackout are looking forward to leaping to the next level with a label that shares their independent-minded philosophy and which was enthusiastic about ‘Hope’ from the very beginning.
The progressive home to the likes of the Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, Does It Offend You Yeah? and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, Cooking Vinyl have watched the band grow from small-town heroes to a global rock force. The label has a reputation for letting the artist call the shots, and considering the overwhelming response to The Blackout’s Pledge call it’s the perfect match for a band who are dedicated to their fans above all.
“We knew all the clichés about the difficult third album, but we never even spoke about it,” laughs Sean. “We got together at Gavin’s house and ran through the songs we had. Of the first 13 we wrote, we used 11. In our eyes, we were writing the hits from the very beginning!” Once the album was fully written, they recorded it in AIR Studio in London and Angelic Studio in Banbury, again with Jason Perry at the helm.
Wind back to 2005, though, and Smith, Butler, Matthew Davies, Rhys Lewis, Gareth Lawrence and James Davies were a bunch of mates from Merthyr Tydfil. “The band was a by-product of our friendship,” remembers Butler. “We’re all from the same town and have known each other since God-knows-when – my mother used to take me to nursery and I’d hang out with Sean as a baby.” By the end of 2006 they’d toured the UK with co-conspirators Lostprophets and released their debut EP ‘The Blackout The Blackout The Blackout’ on Fierce Panda (launchpad for, er, Coldplay among others); at the close of 2007 they’d torn up stages around the world, including dates in Japan, the US and storming sets at Leeds and Reading Festivals, and unleashed ‘We Are The Dynamite’, their debut full-length, on an unsuspecting world. They had also sold out the prestigious London Astoria while technically unsigned.
2008 brought with it ‘The Best In Town’, their dynamite second album recorded with Jason Perry in a Texan studio in the middle of the desert, which caught the ear of Epitaph Records owner Brett Gurewitz, who promptly signed the band. They toured relentlessly over the next year, consolidating their UK fanbase with a stint on the Kerrang! Relentless Energy Drink Tour and living out some old-school fantasies by touring with Limp Bizkit in mainland Europe; Sean even performed with the Bizkit at the personal request of Fred Durst on one occasion. They became regular fixtures on the UK and European festival scene, appeared on magazine covers and played bigger and bigger shows all around the world. And when the time came to work on their next record, The Blackout bunkered down and got busy. Despite some textbook Blackout mishaps – drums were tracked by Philip Jenkins from Kids In Glass Houses and Tom Winch from Hexes after Gareth broke his shoulder trying to beat a cheetah in a race at Bristol Zoo (no, really) – they came out of the experience stronger than ever.
“We don’t need to prove anything to anyone,” states Gavin. The opening song ‘Ambition Is Critical’ goes ‘We don’t need to wear your crown’ because we don’t need anyone’s approval. We’re doing what feels right to us.” With their army of fans – the ever-vocal Riot Squad – at their backs, The Blackout made their most confident and fluent album yet. Getting funding from the very people who travel night in, night out to see them play via Pledge allowed the band to get closer than ever to the people who literally keep them going. “It opened our eyes to the fanbase we had and how committed they are to us – and we are to them. We’re a very hands-on band and we like meeting the people who keep us going,” says Sean. “When it came down to a lot of the Pledge activities we thought it would be the same people on a lot of the same things, but they were all different. It gave us faith as we realised there’s thousands of people more who liked us than we originally thought.” See? With hope, you can do anything.