“Suck my prick, fuck mother!” screams an irate man as he climbs out of his car window to hurl abuse at a passing vehicle. It’s what Black Country, New Road are greeted by the second they step out of their tour van at a service station just outside of Wales. Gravel spits and tyres squawk as one car screeches off in pursuit of the other. It’s not the only incident of road rage we’ll encounter. Later on the poor guitarist from The Claque and Girl Band has a man going apoplectic – bordering on violent – at him because their tour van is blocking his exit; then, an hour or so later, two cars lock into a fury of raging horns and shouting as they weave in and out of one another mindlessly on a main road. “There must be a dog milk shortage,” says the band’s singer and guitarist Isaac Wood.
Road rage and dog milk may seem an odd opening, as incongruous and irrelevant, but in the company of Black Country, New Road these little moments are jumped on and immediately worked into their lexicon. Talk of dog milk stems from a conversation earlier in the morning that got increasingly twisted, surreal and sketch-like, based on the fact that Wood is wearing, ironically, a ‘post-milk generation’ t-shirt. This soon set the band off down a rabbit hole of other dairy alternatives and potential slogans before they arrived on the idea of dog milk being a new craze. Soon enough “fuck mother” and “suck my prick” appear in the band’s vocabulary as frequently as dog milk does, sitting alongside the endless quotes from stuff like Limmy’s Show, Athletico Mince and Nathan For You. Being in the company of these seven young people (aged between 20-21) for two days is a bit like being inside an ever-evolving sketch itself. There’s a constant barrage of humour, references, skits, bits, impressions and in-jokes; albeit interspersed with performances that make them one of the most exciting new bands in the UK.
Along with Wood, the band is made up of Tyler Hyde (bass), Lewis Evans (sax), Georgia Ellery (violin), May Kershaw (keys), Charlie Wayne (drums) and Luke Mark (guitar). While they have only released two singles so far (‘Athen’s, France’ and ‘Sunglasses’), these combined with blistering live shows have resulted in the band feeling like both a success story of 2019 and a key new group for 2020. Also, along with the rising resurgence of genuinely excellent post-punk music, BCNR have found themselves lumped in as part of a scene that includes Black Midi, Squid and other bands usually found to be playing at the Windmill in Brixton in their early days. “It’s a great compliment to be put together with bands like Black Midi and Squid,” says Wood, as the band sit in a beer garden with pints on a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham. “They are incredible people and they are inspirations to us.” Evans echoes this too. “They push us to be better. Not better than them but to be better musicians and to write better songs.” Wood then adds: “You look at them and go, ‘ah, fuck, I need to go and practise.’”
To paint Black Country, New Road as simple post-punk revisionists would be to do them a huge disservice, though. They unquestionably possess the spirit, dynamism and sense of experimental momentum that the best and most out-there bands from the late 1970s possessed, but they also traverse through pop music, free jazz, post-rock and klezmer to arrive at something that feels distinctly modern, that eschews simple categorisation. Even if Slint have come up a few times as a comparison. “Slint are an incredibly good band,” says Wood. “So I’m ok if people think we sound anything like them.”
The band’s debut single ‘Athen’s France’ was released on Speedy Wunderground and produced by Dan Carey, who immediately felt like he’d tapped into something special with them. “It was so refreshing to see a band who take everything so seriously and aren’t allowing themselves to be dragged in any direction by an external force,” he says. “They have this very strong idea and they seem intent on pushing it as far as they possibly can. The intensity with which they approach the music, combined with its unusual nature, is what makes them so great.”
The follow-up was ‘Sunglasses’ a sprawling 9-minute juggernaut of a track that builds and growls before it swoops and glides and then crashes and rises again. It’s as stirring a piece of music as any released in 2019 and, similar to Carey, producer Andy Savours felt he was witnessing something unique unfold. “I was pretty blown away by the ambition and the power of the sound they were making,” he tells me. “Often bands with multiple members and unusual line-ups can be sonically messy and confused, particularly early on, but they sounded so focused and compact – like one raging beast. Even though ‘Sunglasses’ is a nine-minute epic there is no waste or excess. Working with people who’ve put that much thought and creativity into their music before coming in to the studio is such a pleasure. They can also really, really fucking play.”