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Interview: Kerrang! Radio’s Alex Baker talks Finding Fresh Blood

Earlier this year we launched our Finding Fresh Blood competition to give a new UK band the chance to open the Avalanche Stage at Download 2019 this summer.

The mammoth task of sorting through the entries, listening to the bands, and picking that all-important winner went to Kerrang! Radio’s legendary new music champion, Alex Baker.

We caught up with Alex to find out how he chose the as yet to be announced winner, what his top tips are if you’re a band starting out and why he can’t get enough of new music . Over to you, Alex!

How many entries have you listened to for the Finding Fresh Blood competition?

I mean, just so many! We had thousands of entries and the quality was absolutely off the scale. Usually one or two in every hundred submissions is really good – this time around we were struggling to find the bad ones!! The UK music scene is just thriving with unreal new talent, it inspires me every day.

What qualities are you looking for when you’re listening to the entries?

It’s so hard to explain what I’m looking for without sounding like I’ve lost my mind… but for me, it’s always been the same: PROPER talent shimmers out at me. It’s like a tangible thing, it has a physical effect on me.

Sure a song can be great, and sure people can play their instruments, and “cool, a band’s doing something a little bit different” – that’s all the basic stuff you look for when trying to uncover talent. But the unbelievable stuff reaches out and grabs me, viscerally. It leaves me trembling with excitement, thinking “I NEED TO TELL EVERYONE ABOUT THIS BAND, RIGHT. NOW.” And sometimes, it’s not even that obvious WHY they are having that effect, you know?

Avalanche Stage

What’s been the most random entry you’ve listened to?

There was one dude whose submission basically consisted of him playing acoustic covers of folk songs. I mean, he was alright…but I can’t imagine him lighting up the Avalanche Stage at Download…strange.

Without telling us who the winner is, what three things can we expect from their performance at the Avalanche Stage?

UNSTOPPABLE, FIRE, VIBES!!

You’ve been supporting new talent on Kerrang! Radio since 2007. What keeps your thirst for new music alive?

Helping people achieve what they deserve to achieve. I’m not some selfless music angel though, I get a massive kick out of it myself… but yes, that feeling of discovering someone and helping them grow from a confidence, exposure and connection point of view, and then watching as they become massive is just such a fulfilling feeling. It’s a gift, really.

I know what it’s like when you’re in a band (I’ve been in many over the years), I know what a significant difference having “a champion” makes, so whenever I can, I’ll be that person for artists.

Then of course, there’s the audience side of things. Introducing people to their new favourite band is also a privilege that I will never take for granted…my role isn’t just to say “here’s a great band, check them out”, but to influence and shape my audiences tastes, to push them out of their comfort zones and take them on musical journeys that they perhaps would never have taken themselve. I mean, I can just keep going… my thirst for it is unquenchable.

Avalanche Stage

What band are you most proud of discovering first?

This is a tough question as it requires a soul-search into my interpretation of the word “pride”. I’m one of the first people to ever support Bring Me The Horizon and have probably played them more on-air than anyone else in the country. Their success knows no boundaries and they will continue on to become one of the biggest bands in the history of British music… so FOR SURE I’m super proud of the role I’ve played over the years with those guys.

The same is true of Architects, Enter Shikari, Lower Than Atlantis, Don Broco and many, many, many other artists. BUT, I’m as proud of my involvement in those guys as I am about finding artists that so many people are still yet to hear of (unless you listen to my show!)… The likes of Gracey, Luckie and Ulysses Wells, bands like Krowns and Press Club, and just so many others. Mostly, I guess I’m proud to be a trusted voice for new music and know that my recommendation carries weight… Regardless of how big those artists go on to be. Does that make sense? Sorry if that makes me sound like a total twat. Hahaha!

What three tips would you give to a new band just starting out?

These are not definitive, but the three that immediately spring to mind are:

  1. BE AUTHENTIC. For the love of god, write music that you LOVE, don’t try and be anything. People can smell a fake a mile off.
  2. Be in it for the right reasons. If you’re starting out because you want to be famous, quit now. Fame is terrible and in many ways is the worst thing about success. If you’re starting out because you love music, you live for music and you have the skill to tell stories and communicate real emotions through your music, then don’t let anyone stop you.
  3. Don’t expect it all, immediately. One of the things that I’ve seen time and time AND TIME again over the years is that the bands/artists that keep going are the ones that make it. It is a graft. It is a commitment. There can be no plan B. As soon as you have a plan B, the game is over, because being a successful artist is a commitment and it’s HARD WORK…anything that takes you away from that singular, focused aim will derail you. Work hard, continuously and consistently and the rewards will come.

Who will you be watching at Download 2019?

There are just so many bands I want to watch this year. Hahahaha! Shikari, Fever 333, RedHook, Tool, Hot Milk, Black Futures, The Wonder Years – basically EVERYTHING I CAN!!

What’s your most favourite memory of Download Festival?

There are so many, I think the first year that my show (Fresh Blood) partnered with The Avalanche Stage was the absolute ultimate though. As a kid I’d dreamed of being involved in this way with Download, so that was a really special moment.

The Download Dog needs a new band to listen to on his walkies, what can you recommend to him?

Depends on his mood! If he’s in the mood to run about, drink beers and have a great time I’d probably recommend that he walked his way over to The Avalanche Stage on Sunday to watch RedHook – a SUPER exciting new band out of Sydney. If he wants to just laze about though, daydreaming of his next meal, I’d definitely give the floaty tones of Eyre Llew a listen…they are like Sigur Ros…but from the UK.

Join Alex at Download 2019 for our headliners Def Leppard, Slipknot, Tool, and many more bands on 14th-16th June 2019.