The sleepy village of Bramshott, has a haunted past.
Not so long ago, horror film extraordinaire Boris Karloff was among the residents of the Hampshire town. Known for his portrayal of the twisted monster in the films that depict the terror of Frankenstein, the actor spent his days living in a house shaped like a coffin, up until his death in 1969. The house is said to be haunted by a lurking figure of a man, and the bone structure of a dog that once lived. These tales have been whispered between locals of the supposed most haunted village in England, and the members of Blaenavon are no exception.
“Our most straight-up, down to earth friends would say they had seen ghosts and stuff like that. We always used to go to house parties there and troops back through the woods and these church graveyards and stuff, and in the middle of this walk there is the house of Boris Karloff.” Harris explains.
“Whenever you walked there there’d always be a collection of single shoes that were left on the bank, never a pair. You’d just think who is it and why?”
Forming the basis of the local teens’ cautionary tales, the boys of Blaenavon take that warped magic and inject it into their music. Their debut album, That’s Your Lot and latest EP, Prague ’99, are storybook collections of songs that observe and analyse every intricate element of life and find darkness in light and light in dark. For Ben, the message is “kind of that things end, things die, and it’s really horrible but you’ve got to get over it.”
As we grow up, we’re taught these lessons in the stories read to us before bed. Ben’s favourite was Hansel and Gretel; “There’s some very sensible ideas like with the breadcrumbs, that’s a sick idea.” He says, before digressing to declare a love for the recent Stranger Things series and the messages embedded in that. “I guess stories that try and teach a sensible message don’t generally have a really, really dark ending which you can’t really do with kid’s shit.”
The haunting vocals of ‘Alice Come Home’ tell of a lonely looking boy and the feeling of drowning in pearls, and its rhythm runs like footsteps through a forest. Fan-favourite and forever timeless, ‘Swans’ warns to be as gentle as the song itself – soft and warning, it wears an ethereal coat to protect the warm glow that it projects from the cold.
In essence, these are encompassing sad songs that celebrate their heartfelt reign. Confessing their love for the sad song, Frank reiterates; “It is okay to be sad and there are benefits. People treat it like this thing that you’re not meant to do but I think sometimes it’s good.” To the agreement of his bandmates. Ben is laid out on a sofa, whilst Frank and Harris sit snug together.
“When you hear a song, especially in headphones, it’s a very personal experience – it’s you interacting with that song.” Frank begins, “It’s the same with sadness, that isn’t really shared as much as other emotions, so maybe when you have a song that is somebody else’s sadness then it’s breaking through the barrier. You’re getting into somebody else’s sadness and that’s very touching.” He concludes, before half-standing and declaring, “Who would have thought that I’d have said that guys?! Wherever it’s good or not it sounded profound.”
‘Death In The Family’ is a certified sad song, for it croons for a lost love and swirls into descent. Whilst ’12’ in comparison is repetitively hypnotising in finding the comfort of a place where there’s no need to be afraid.
But, it isn’t all just sad songs and melancholy for Blaenavon. I discover a particular, maybe peculiar interest in dry roasted peanuts that connects the band. “They have different overdose levels,” Frank explains, “I don’t know if you know but when you’ve had too many dry roast peanuts and you keep on eating them, and you start to feel sick? That threshold is different depending on the brand.” Sainsbury’s are accused of having too much cinnamon, yet that doesn’t stop him from throwing them into his mouth.
Ben however, is more concerned with the welfare of terrapins being kept as pets, for “people always fuck it up.” Doting on his own turtles, Bruce and Steve, he explains how they’ve recently relocated to Brighton as he had to move house. “A lady called Frankie is looking after them and she’s doing such a good job. I have a Whatsapp chat with her, it’s sick!” he says, flicking through his phone to find a photograph of his turtles majestically gazing at one another. “They’ve been going on play dates with other turtles.”
Harris’ passion is the fictional accuracy of ship stories. Citing the work of Patrick O’Brian, having read a series of 20 books depicting the life of a 19th century sailor and the wars he sees, Harris explains; “It’s not really dry because of the accuracy because the guy writes in a very human way. He has a very deep understanding of how humans interact in that kind of sphere. It’s a bit like being on tour actually. I remember a passage talking about how laughter is absolutely necessary to get over the toils of being in such a confined space with a bunch of blokes doing the same thing every day.”
On tour, the mystery that blankets Blaenavon is truly lifted. The boys are on fire. They own the stage like knights in battle, whilst as gentle as their messages. It’s rip-roaring and sweat-dripping, an ecstatic performance of life. “Because we have a lot of young fans, I guess [the gig] is a chance for them to not worry about school and college and what people think.” Ben explains, “They come to these things and have the opportunity to release and have a great time, and meet other people, and wake up and think ‘wow, what a sick night’ and then move on to the next one.”
Blaenavon have the perfect balance of mystique and openness. Their songs – scribed letters analysing the nooks and crannies of life itself – are connected to, quite simply; real blokes with big hearts and a whole lot of intrigue. They’re a trio who project themselves, and we just all seem to just get it.
Words by Tanyel Gumushan