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Interview: Boston Manor vocalist Henry Cox talks latest album ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’

In our interview with Boston Manor vocalist Henry Cox  shared with us why he needed to make “an angry record” for the band’s just released sophomore album ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’, what it was like to open Download 2018 and how an “awful cocktail” inspired the sickest Boston Manor tattoo.

Boston Manor gave Donington Park the riotous awakening it truly deserved when they opened the Main Stage on the Friday of Download 2018. Now, the Blackpool five piece are ripping it up once again with the release of their highly-anticipated second album, ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’. Released last Friday, the record sees the band emerge from chrysalis of their punk rock beginnings of their acclaimed debut ‘Be Nothing’ to take a walk on the wild side .

Produced by Mike Sappone (Brand New, Taking Back Sunday), the album dissects a fictionalised Blackpool to a hard-hitting 90s rock and industrial inspired soundscape that chills you right to the bone. Packed full of infectious made for arena anthems, including recent singles ‘Halo’ and ‘Bad Machine’, it has Boston Manor hitting for the big leagues.

Catching up with vocalist Henry just days before the release of the album he was vibrating with excitement. In the interview he reveals why for the record he “wanted to tap into the frustration that a lot of young people and older people are feeling about the way the world”, which 90s alt-rock bands inspired the album and what his WWE NXT entrance song would be.

You opened the Main Stage at Download 2018 on the Friday. What was the performance like for you?

It was incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, because obviously it’s such a prestigious festival. The Main Stage is enormous and we were the first band of the weekend incidentally, so we were under a bit of pressure there, but we felt pretty comfortable once we got going. It was the highlight of the year for us, definitely.

Did you manage to catch any bands at Download?

Unfortunately not. The rest of them [Boston Manor] stayed, but I had to jet off…I really wanted to see Marilyn Manson. I keep missing that guy at festivals..he’s always just left the festival we get to. Mastodon the year before was sick and Code Orange as well; I’ve never got to see them before so I was really excited about that.

 

You’re releasing your second album ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ this week. How are you feeling about it?

Just excited, we’ve been waiting for this to come out for quite a while now. A little nervous, it’s definitely something different and I don’t know how everyone’s going to respond to it. The feedback from the singles so far has been brilliant. Excited, because that means we get to play it live and that’s what we’ve been really excited to do – prepping for tour and playing all the songs, it’s really exciting.

The album marks a more heavier and darker sound compared to your debut album, ‘Be Nothing’. How would you say you’ve evolved as a band since your first album?

It’s worlds apart, because we figured out what we wanted to do over the last three years. It’s lending from a lot of alternative rock from the 90s that we were listening to: Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins and that kind of stuff.

We started messing around with electronics, so there’s an industrial vibe and hip hop as well – it’s a bit of a melting pot of genres at time. We were really throwing sh*t at the walls and seeing what stuck and getting experimental with stuff.

The first album we felt so much pressure because it was for the first album – normally, it’s the other way round – but, for this sophomore album we didn’t feel any pressure whatsoever even though normally that’s the case. The rules, there are no rules! We just wanted to have fun making it.

Usually bands say that they have their whole life to write their debut album,  but for their second album they have hardly any time.

We rewrote the whole thing about two months before we went into the studio. We had it written, we demo’ed it and kept three songs from those sessions – we’d written about ten or twelve- and scrapped most of the record and rewrote it. I think we work really well under pressure, it came out roses.

You recorded ‘Be Nothing’ in two weeks in Southampton. How did the recording process differ for this album?

Totally different. We had a month to record it and also had two to three weeks of pre-production. We did it in America with Mike Sappone and we just spent it in this weird, isolated, Twin Peaks-esque town by this lake. We were literally snowed in for about two weeks, so it definitely felt a lot like The Shining at times – I think it set the tone for the vibe on the album. I must admit even when we recorded it, I was thinking‘ this is very different from the last time we recorded’.

What was it that attracted you to work with Mike Sapone?

We got on a call with him and we talked about the type of record we wanted to make and he just got it…Our favourite band is Nine Inch Nails and he also loves Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Brian Eno, Aphex Twin all that kind of stuff, so he started vibrating as soon as we told him about this kind of sh*t!

He brought in all these crazy analogue synths he’s been collecting over the years, which he never really had a chance to use on a project like this – he was like a kid in a candy store. It was a really good fit.

He definitely put our minds at ease when we said, ‘wow, is this too different? Are we pushing the boat too far out’. He just said, ‘there’s no rules, just do what you want to do, what you think is good and then worry about that later’. He’s pretty much responsible for giving us the confidence to pursue our own creativity. Big up to Mike Sappone and we’ll be making our next record with him, for sure.

Lyrically,you’ve said that the album is a “fictionalised Blackpool” and is about the frustration with the apathy of your generation. Do you think music can make meaningful change in society? What do you want people to take away from the album?

I think so, I’ve been careful to say that I don’t have any answers for this and it’s not by any means a political record either. But, it’s just a case of if it gets you to feel something and challenge yourself a little bit, or at least become aware of what you think is wrong or makes you uncomfortable about the world.

I’m just calling things as I see them on this record and hopefully that evokes something in other people. It’s really an angry record is the kind of be all and end all, the buck stops there; we just wanted to tap into the frustration that a lot of young people and older people are feeling at the way the world is at the moment.

Are other artists giving that a voice right now?

I think there’s some artists, but I do feel a bit sedated by music at the moment. I do feel sometimes it’s very happy-go-lucky.

What we were talking about was how the kind of music we’re referencing or influenced by for this album, when that was about it was in reaction to a similar socio-political cultural state of being, and the reaction to that was this aggressive music. We seem to find ourselves in a similar kind of place, but instead it seems to be very bitesized, dumbed-down and a bit nauseating at times.

People seem to have two gears, either: super mopey, feeling sorry for yourself music or party music. There doesn’t seem to be any spectrum of emotions, in popular music at least, anymore – it’s just one or the other. Maybe that’s just me, maybe I’m not with it. But, that’s how it came across to me. I just wanted to make an angry record, that’s it really.

Were there any records in particular that influenced you?

The record influences wasn’t necessarily they had something to say, but sonically and the confidence in which their messages were put across: Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails and even Nirvana. None of those artists are sitting on a panel and discussing these ideas in long-form, but they’re seeing things that frustrate them and echoing that in their music.

Those artists were making music and speaking out at a time when social media didn’t exist. Now, if an artist makes a controversial comment they get feedback immediately, which could make bands adverse to making music that is going to be socially challenging.

A hundred percent. It’s really annoying as everything you said is true but on the flip-side of that, because people don’t want to have an unpopular opinion, people almost piggy-back off these universally accepted concepts, like “f*ck racism” and stand on stage in front of a hundred thousands liberal, progressive thinking people and say something like that. Well, yeah I don’t think anyone in this audience harbours racist or far right views – you’re just scoring social brownie points by doing that.

I’m a musician, I’m not a politician or even a role model or anything like that so I definitely don’t have a soap box to stand on, but I think things are definitely more complicated now. I was going to say things aren’t as black and white as they used to be, but in a way they’re more black and white as you’re not allowed to sit anywhere in the middle – you’re either on my team or against me seems to be the rhetoric right now, especially on the Twittersphere. People are so opinionated and if you don’t vibe with them then ‘f*ck you’ kind of thing, which is not a healthy way to progress and discuss ideas.

You’ve said ‘England’s Dreaming’ is your favourite track on the album and it’s about “realising you have nothing in common with your fellow man”. Where did the idea for that track originate from?  

That specifically to me is about in the last year and a half a lot of things have happened in Britain, things like: Brexit, intense terrorist attacks, to all sorts of political reform. It’s really divided people, particularly in the UK, but I think that’s echoed around the world.

When a lot of this stuff happened and it was on the frontpage of all the newspapers – terrorist attacks, issues of immigration, Brexit – you’d be in the pub and you’d hear something come out of the mouth of someone next to you and you’d think, ‘that’s f**king appalling, I can’t believe that someone from the same place that I’m from harbours those views and thinks that it’s so acceptable to say that out loud’. Previously, people kept a lot of that horribleness buried down and I started to see this nasty streak in people that I would walk past in the street or see in the pub.

I’d come back from tour at this point and I’d had such a good time and I came back and thought, ‘f**king great to be back in England, innit’. I think that was the time and place, I’m not saying that’s indicative of the British people, but definitely in an older generation I’ve started to see really hateful things come out of people’s mouths and I felt very alone and a bit alien – it felt alien to me, like ‘I don’t recognise this place I’ve come home to’. That’s what ‘England’s Dreaming’ is about to me.

When we were saying few about bands are talking about what’s going on in society there’s IDLES’ new album [‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’], which talks about what it is to be a man, why patriarchy is damaging and immigrants.

I love that record, so good.Lyrically, it’s very funny as well, it’s such a great record….I need catch them live sometime.

Visually, this album also marks a change for you as a band as there’s a dominant black and red theme on the album and single artwork and in the ‘Halo’ video. The video for ‘Bad Machine’ was also very cinematic, like a horror film in a way. Where did the inspiration for the visuals come from this time?

It started with the red neon. I was waiting for a bus in Blackpool and I saw this buzzy, red, sleazy, neon sign – there’s a lot of that as it’s sin city in a way – we knew we wanted the effect to match this world we were painting and this version of Blackpool. Red is the colour of death, sex and violence so I knew I wanted red to be the central colour around it. The ‘Halo’ video came from there and the same with the album cover.

I directed the video for ‘Bad Machine’ and I had a lot of these visuals in mind when I was writing the album. I knew I wanted it to be quite provocative and, like you said, the horror film vibe and we wanted to go with this film noir aesthetic – shadowie, sinister vibe. It was a good way to add a classic feel to it as well, a little bit timeless. It just worked, really. The album’s black and white and the red in the ‘Halo’ video and it just gave it right feeling as opposed to if we did it in full colour.

In the ‘Halo’ video it shows you having 1993 tattooed on your arm. Was that a real tattoo?

That’s real [laughs].

We have Old Sarum Tattoo parlour at Download where people often get the tattoo of the Download dog tattooed on them. What’s the best Boston Manor fan tattoo you’ve seen?

Loads, man. It’s pretty crazy. We’re obviously not an enormous band, but we’re very lucky as we have a very dedicated fan-base. Honestly, one every other show someone will come up and show me a Boston Manor tattoo. At festivals this summer I’ve seen loads, everyone got the diver; everyone got really creative with it and take a lyric they like and have a design that meant something to them done, it was wicked.

My favourite is my best friend who has a really dumb Boston Manor tattoo that’s related to an in-joke between me and him. I once made him this awful cocktail that was meant to be like a smoothie, but it went horribly awry and it had some gin in it and there’s a lyric about gin in one of our songs.  He has this bright red, ugly smoothie tattoo, it’s massive, on his forearm with lyrics around it. I do like that one for personal reasons.

I’ve seen loads and I get so excited every time I see it. People have f**king big ones as well; some girl had a whole forearm done, some dude had a back piece and sh*t. People are crazy, but we feel very lucky to have fans like that.

It’ll be interested to see what tattoos people have done off the back of this album

I’m excited. People get my handwriting tattooed, which is weird as I’m dyspraxic and I have horrible handwriting. I warn them every time, but they’re insistent and I’m always very honoured when people do that.

 

The mascot of Download festival is the Download dog. Do you own a dog? If not, what is your favourite breed?

I sadly don’t own a dog, but I’m a dog person for sure. Favourite breed? I do love Staffies and I also love Dachshunds, especially little baby ones – they’re cute. But, I think if I was going to get a dog I’d probably get a mongrel from a shelter.

Download hosts WWE NXT, if you were a wrestler what would your entrance song be?

That’s a question that. I’d go with something like Code Orange, I think it’d be intimidating as f**k and come out looking pretty scared. Maybe I’m not tough enough to pull off that off or maybe something like Tiger Jaw or something super happy-go-lucky.

One of my best friends is a WWE wrestler, he did Download this year, he’s James Drake. He lives down the road from me and he was there all weekend. It was the first time him doing it this year and he had a wicked time.

I don’t know about the entrance song, maybe something really camp like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Freddie Mercury

‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ is out now on Pure Noise Records

Download Festival 2019 is returning to the hallowed grounds of Donington Park on 14-16 June 2019. See you in the pit? \m/