INTERVIEW: Boston Manor’s Henry Cox gives an extensive look into the new record, growing up in Blackpool and much more!
This next interview is a long one but definitely worth the read! Last Thursday, I headed out to the Royale in Boston to chat with Henry Cox, the front man of easily one of the most exciting bands coming out of the UK right now, Boston Manor. Fresh off the release of their sophomore record, “Welcome to the Neighbourhood”, the band is finishing out a run as main support for Real Friends with Grayscale and Eat Your Heart Out along for the ride as well.
While Boston Manor’s first album, “Be Nothing.”, may have put them on the map with pop punk vibes, Cox told me the music they’re making is the direction they’ll be going from now on. Despite the set being dominated by the more noir vibes on the new record that night, the kids were still there for it in full force. And just two hours or so before the set, I sat down with Cox for a breakdown of everything from the tour to the new record to their hometown of Blackpool. As well as a serious talk about the music industry in these times, Cox read like an open book and it made for a very refreshing interview.
I’m not going to lie, I watched some documentaries about the music scene in Blackpool today. I watched the grime one.
Oh okay, I was going to say was it the grime one?
Very different from you obviously, very different from what Boston Manor does. But maybe to just kind of jump into it, how would you describe the scene that comes out of Blackpool? Obviously you’re a little bit different then people like Little T.
It was great, I watched the whole thing. He was incredible.
I think he’s going to big, I actually think he’s really talented. So the whole Blackpool grime thing, it went viral because it was so ridiculous. I’m no expert on grime but it’s very London-centric and we’re way up North. And it’s all these really tiny kids, well they were at the time when it first came out. Literally little, little children saying the most depraved shit at each other. So it went viral from that. Vice has done two documentaries on it. It’s like a soap opera, we keep up with it religiously. We’re like ‘Oh man Sophie Aspin sent a new diss the other day, did you check that out yet?’ We’re all over that shit. But that kid, that Little T guy, I mean he’s like 14. I think when he’s older he’ll be a really good rapper. We actually met him once, we were doing a press shoot on the promenade just outside of the town center. He walked past us and he was like ‘are you doing a photo shoot or something’ and I was like ‘Aren’t you Little T?’ And he was like, ‘How many views on Youtube do you got, I got 10 million’. Well, like fair enough man, sick, cool.
But I mean when we were younger, there was a scene for a while but only when I feel like we were about fifteen to seventeen. Maybe a bit younger. Because there are no venues, well there’s one venue in Blackpool and it’s 3.5k cap. There’s no like barrooms so they have shows there every couple of months. I mean it’s very rare, because it’s such an out of the way place. Nobody goes there. We had Arcade Fire once and some bigger British bands and stuff. It’s pretty rare, so we would put shows on in like pizza shops and scout huts and basements and stuff. But we kind of had one go at it because as soon as you do one show and it was all metal and hardcore, so there’d be a lot of mosh pits and stuff so straight away the owner would be like ‘well I didn’t sign up for this.’ They’d call the police and the show would get shut down and you would never get to play there again. So every time you’d have to find a new show. For a while people did that. We all went to university and stuff, went away, and as far as I’m aware, there’s no real scene there. There’s a very, very talented band called Strange Bones who are friends of mine from Blackpool and they do a gig quarterly. And it’s always sold the fuck out, they’re great. But there’s no scene there anymore unfortunately which is a real shame.
I mean we always talk about it. We really do want to bring it back and maybe do a big gig there or something at some point. Make a big thing of it, almost like an all day event. Almost build a venue out of one of the old piers or something. Because they used to have all sorts of things, it was a show business town. It’s not very equipped for modern music but we’d love to hire a PA, set up security and set up a proper gig but it’s just money and time and press really. I’d like to try and kick start something but we’ve just been on tour for two years so we haven’t had time pretty much.
Then speaking of it, I’m sure you’ve been asked a lot about it considering “Welcome to the Neighbourhood ” is still so young. The record is only about two months old. To me at least, this album is very different then the debut record. You’re definitely going in this different and good direction. When did you really start putting these songs together? When did the album really start forming for you?
I guess like a year ago. Really Spring of 2017 but it feels like we spent six, seven months writing fifteen percent of the record and then the month before we recorded it, doing the rest of it. We went in to it during pre-production, then got it all back and decided it wasn’t what we wanted it to be. And then we rewrote about half the record before we went in to record it. I think we kind of knew what type of record we wanted to do for years before. As soon as we had done the last record to be honest. It is a massive change but for us, we always knew that was the direction we wanted to go. We just kind of decided to not drip feed it and just record that record.
And maybe for these sets, this is a main support slot for you. I know you’ve definitely worked your way up to that. You’ve been that first band, in this time in the US which I believe you only have been touring for about two years. For these sets in particular opening for Real Friends, considering the other acts you’re on tour with are a bit different, how have you been approaching these sets? Is it mostly the second record, are you still playing a lot of that first record?
It’s kind of 70/30 I’d say. We’re hitting the new record pretty hard because it’s such a stark difference and that’s more of the direction we’re headed in. I feel like if someone’s hearing our record for the first time, there’s no point in trying to tease them with music that’s in the past if that makes sense. There’s no more pop punk music coming from us so if that’s what peaks their interest, then there’s a million other bands that do it better then we ever did. But equally obviously, there’s a bunch of kids who have seen us a bunch of times. Who like our band and to not play any of that, it would be a disservice to them.
We just did a UK headliner right before this and we decided to make it mostly “Welcome to the Neighborhood” and some kids did comment on it. But this is hard to gauge, because this a tour where we don’t sound like any of these other bands, and there’s a lot of kids here that have never heard of us. 50/50 usually, which is great. It’s what we want because we can make new fans. It’s not an headliner, and in the UK it was, so kids were there to see us, but the reaction was insane in the UK. I’ve seen a lot of kids singing along at these shows but I want to make sure that we’re kind of setting the precedent for where we want to be going eventually. We’re already working on a new record right now which is coming sooner then people kind of think. Well not necessarily a new record but we’re working on a few projects. So we’re not slowing down any time soon and we’re definitely done with the whole do a record, wait two years, do another record you know what I mean? People won’t wait that long now.
It’s a different era, it’s a different time.
It is, a hundred percent.
I know from talking other bands, they stay in that frame and being like I want to ride out that wave. It’s not the time for that anymore always.
I mean don’t get me wrong, if we put this album out and it went straight from us supporting in these kind of rooms to headlining these rooms or bigger and selling them all out. Then you’d be like, okay this is obviously a massively successful record. We should ride it out but those records are fewer and fewer now a days. They come so rarely and especially in rock music. I think it’s more song based and it kind of breaks my heart because we always regard ourselves as an album band. We’ve grown up listening to records. I still listen to music a lot on vinyl and stuff. We deliberately engineered this album to be listened to as one solo piece of music but unfortunately, it’s just unrealistic to expect everyone else to digest music in the same way. So you’ve got to try and sort of balance the two out.
The thing with us is that we just have a lot of ideas. We just like writing music. If I had way, I would rather have more time to write. We write a little bit on the road but when we’re writing on the road, it’s more just sort of just getting down the base ideas. We do the bulk of it when we get back but I’d love to have more time to actually spend in the facilities to really concentrate on it. Because you’re a professional musician, your job is to make music and perform it. And that whole side of your job description gets overshadowed just by the need to tour to make money. To survive. It’s a real shame, back in the day, 70’s, 80’s, the Led Zeppelin days. They’d only do two tours a year and they’d spend the rest of it writing. They’d be like here’s your quarter of a million dollars, go and spend six months in the studio. Which is to me stupid. No one needs that long in the studio but they did have that amount of time to perfect their craft and develop their art, to write music. By the way, I’m not comparing us to Led Zeppelin but I’m just saying it would be nice to not be like you have three weeks to make fifteen tracks let’s fucking go! It would be nice to have more of the means at our disposable to experiment and do that. So we’re just burning the candle at both ends and touring and writing at the same time. And trying to just not slow down with that side of things.
And you’ve been on the road so constantly these last two years. At least in Massachusetts, three or four times now. Probably even more then that.
I think four, maybe five times? But I think it’s four times.
Maybe you’ve been doing it so steadily, I know I interviewed you on the phone to preview when you played The Sinclair a long time ago with Have Mercy.
That was only a year ago.
Only a year ago? Which is crazy, but even then the crowd was so strong for you. They were singing every word and I know from being outside, hearing girls saying ‘oh I’m only here for Grayscale and Boston Manor’. I know you are starting to progress a lot. Do you think a headlining tour is still a while away for you?
I’m hoping we’ll do a headline tour next year. We were going to do it sooner and we kind of thought, it’s do different. We’re a British band and it’s very rare for British bands to have any audience in the US. I can reel off twenty British bands that are right now playing arenas that have half the fan base we do here.
I mean we’re a small band here but there’s arena bands that we would be taking out here which is crazy right? So for us, it’s a case of like let’s not rush this. Especially since we’re entering new territory sonically, let’s try to pick up fans from as many places as we can and as soon as it feels ready to do so, then we will. I think it’s definitely on the cards for 2019 for sure. I don’t want to say that for certain because it’s a little too soon to know. We did a week or so of headline shows last year and they were great. A couple of them sold out and they were so much fun. It felt really exciting to do and we had a great time. We spend a third of the year in America so I mean I’m here more then I’m home.
Really, at this point?
Yeah pretty much. We’re on tour most of the year but I’m probably in America more then I’m actually at my own house. So it feels like home at this point. It’s great so yeah, we’re definitely planning to do it soon. Just as soon as it’s viable but I would imagine it to be around fall 2019. We’re going to try and get something in the books for then for sure.
Then you kind of talked about it earlier and I’m sure you can’t talk about it too much, but you mentioned you’re already writing. I feel like you guys are constantly writing or that seems like the plan but maybe focuses or hopes for these next few months? You guys are still so young. I saw Don Broco play when they were opening for Mike Shinoda last night.
Oh I know, which is crazy for me as a British person because they play arenas.
Yeah there were maybe fifteen people there who knew them. So it is hard to come over here a lot. I know You Me At Six used to play thousand cap rooms and when they come here next, they’re playing a room that holds five hundred.
Did they do thousand cap rooms here?
They did yeah! They sold out thousand cap rooms here, so they did have their time and they kind of slowed down coming back here as they got older which is natural but they just announced coming back.
Yeah so they’re making the effort but you’ve been doing it nonstop for the past few years. Maybe focuses or goals for Boston Manor over these next few months?
Well, our main thing is we have so many aspirations creatively but we’ve come up at a weird time. We kind of caught the back end of scenes being crucial. With Warped Tour and stuff, and the kind of back of end of the real pop punk wave. Where it all blew up and it was all I’m a pop punk kid, I’m a hardcore kid. And we’re kind of post that now. We’ve kind of built our fan base through that and it served us very well. We’ve never seen ourselves as a pop punk band and the direction we’re headed in is further and further away from that. But I suppose my goal personally as an artist would be, we’re definitely experimenting with more and more different sounds especially on music we’re writing now as well, but would to be one of those artists who establish themselves as a band that doesn’t have expectations creatively. Where you can just be like, you don’t know what it’s going to be but if they do something that is a bit different, that fan base doesn’t just go fuck you. This isn’t the record that I wanted, see you later! There’s a bunch of bands that are lucky enough to have that parameter as how they work and they’re very lucky to have that. But yeah, that would be cool. I’m still trying to write songs for punk kids that make them want to jump up and down and go crazy. Whilst also writing slow jams and all kinds of shit. I’m trying to figure this out in my own head, I mean we all are. So just kind of keeping going and doing what makes sense. I always say this in interviews but it’s true, in 2018 as a guy in an alternative rock band, I’m not at risk of losing my mansion or not being played on MTV2 anymore. Or losing my millions of dollars. So what do I really have to lose other then we have a very moderate but dedicated fan base in America. But if we’re not doing ourselves a service as musicians and satisfying ourselves creatively, then what’s the point? I could do any number of jobs, I could go work at McDonald’s and I would earn as much money as I do now. So what’s the point?
I think kids sometimes don’t realize how little you make as a touring musician. Unless you’re selling out arenas or something.
The funny thing is, I kind of want to talk about this but I don’t have the opportunity to do so without sounding like I’m bitching. And I love it. I wouldn’t change my job for the world and I know I’m lucky to be in this position. Say I’m on a work trip and I have to drive from place to place, when I’m doing all that work as well as the job I’m sent to do, I’m on the clock. So if you added on the clock all the times that we’re traveling, sitting in green rooms and playing shows, even writing music and then you added out the amount we each make in a salary per year, I’d be making twelve cents an hour. It would be like third world labor.
Because you get paid for the show, not for all the sitting around during the day and getting ready for the show.
Right. Kids don’t realize but you have to be playing, to earn really above minimum wage, arenas now. Theatres maybe, but that would have to be theatres globally. And arenas, to really be making a respectable wage that you can come home and say ‘Yeah mum, I can buy a house.’ The kids at our shows have more money then I do which is crazy. But obviously, kids will read this and be like well ‘Fuck you, you get to travel the world’ and I know that, I’m very lucky. I count my lucky stars. I even was talking to the guitarist of our band about it today about how lucky we are and I say this every day and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But when kids think people in bands have it easy, it’s one of the toughest jobs in the creative world I would say. Don’t get me wrong, there are nurses and doctors that have it tougher then we do.