After their stunning set supporting My Chemical Romance, The Blackout talk to Conor O’Nolan about the fans who funded their new album and hanging out with Limp Bizkit
The Blackout have come a long way from their school days in Merthyr Tydfil. Formed by vocalist Sean Smith and guitarist Matthew Davies as a way to pass the time, the band added three more members – bassist Rhys Lewis, drummer Gareth Lawrence and a second vocalist, Gavin Butler – but the lineup was still incomplete. “We were doing that for about two or three years and then we felt sorry for James [Davies, rhythm guitarist] because he’s so ugly and we just saw him moping the streets, thought we’d give him a guitar. He still can’t play it.”
The band spent years on the road, gradually building a fan base whilst supporting larger acts such as Funeral for a Friend and Lostprophets. They eventually became subject to the fawning gaze of rock tabloid Kerrang! – who nominated them for Best Newcomer at their annual K! Awards, following the release of the band’s debut EP, The Blackout! The Blackout! The Blackout! They subsequently released two albums: We Are The Dynamite and The Best In Town and their success subsequently increased.
To fund their latest album, Hope, they took a somewhat novel approach. Instead of getting money from their label, they went to their fans by using the medium of pledgemusic.com, and launching “Operation Riot Squad”. In short, The Blackout offered varying packages from signed albums to offering to play at house parties in exchange for pledges of various amounts.
“It’s basically, the way the music industry is kind of fucked now I guess, and it’s a better way of making money where both parties are happy,” explains Lawrence. “We’ve literally just opened ourselves up to our fans and said: ‘Look, if you want to do this, you can do this’.”
Such unorthodox methods proved to be an enriching experience for the band and created a tight bond with some of their lucky fans. “It’s a good thing for the community of Blackout fans because a lot of these kids have gotten together from all over the country to chip in the money so they can all [gather] together in somebody’s house and then we’ll just turn up. We’ll spend three quarters of an hour playing and then spend the rest of the time just sat around talking to people, meeting the kid’s parents and stuff. It was wicked.”
However, this more egalitarian system has not proven profitable for the group: “We literally didn’t see a penny of it. Ten per cent went to the Teenage Cancer Trust and the rest paid for our album and not a penny more was going anywhere else. A lot of people thought we were trying to get rich!”
Their financial pitfalls aside, Smith is confident of the album’s quality. “I know it’s obviously clichéd to say, but it is literally our best work yet. We’re looking forward to people hearing it. I think it’s a step up in our game.” The band managed to spend much more time writing than they ever had before and were fully prepared upon entering the studio. “For this album, we had 25 ideas and songs in various states of completion. We’ve got better at the songwriting process and making a record.”
Following their stint with My Chemical Romance on the World Contamination Tour, the band will have no time to relax. “We have a day off, then we go to a country not far away from Ireland called Australia and we spend two weeks in Australia. This is where they send all the convicts apparently. Apparently, it’s just all thieves trying to steal musicians.
“Having been on the touring circuit for so long, The Blackout have managed to play with some of their favourite bands, including the sadly not-yet-forgotten Limp Bizkit. When Fred Durst and co came up, Davies was especially enthusiastic: “When I was 16, Limp Bizkit were the biggest band in the world. So it was like dream come true stuff. And we were like: ‘please don’t let them be dicks’. And they weren’t, they were the nicest guys. They were all incredible.”
Despite recent success, the band still has some horror stories to tell, their first show in Dublin in the Voodoo Lounge was nearly empty. Their trek brought them to Northern Ireland, and experience they were genuinely unwilling to talk about. Lawrence explains: “We played Derry, and we were setting up inside, there were 300 kids outside. They were all standing against the wall getting steamin’.” The band thought that it was going to be a great show, but in reality “15 people came in and the rest were outside throwing bricks at police cars”.
These days, the punters turn up for The Blackout rather than petty vandalism and if what O-two saw at The O2 when The Blackout supported My Chemical Romance is anything to go by, they’ll be headlining such massive arenas sometime soon.
The Blackout play The Academy on April 2nd. Tickets are €18.50. Hope is out on April 4th.