Austin – “Excellent choice,” said Charlie Salt, bass player for Blossoms, when he saw The Zombies playing on my Spotify. It wasn’t a coincidence—before our interview I had been double-checking my suspicion that The Zombies were a primary source for Blossoms’ music. (Ed., Best New Bands’ interview with Blossoms took place during last month’s SXSW.)
“We like the simplicity of it,” said lead vocalist Tom Ogden. “When we first started the band we knew we wanted to sound a little bit like ‘Time of the Season,’ a bit charming and a bit sexy and a bit dark.”
That would have been two years ago, in the Manchester suburb of Stockport where Tom and drummer Joe Donovan grew up together. Tom had played together with both Joe and Charlie in a revolving door of small Manchester bands, but the three hadn’t played together before forming Blossoms. “I think from the first few shows and the reception from the crowds, we knew it was going to go somewhere,” said Salt. The Zombies may have been at the front of their mind because Joe and Tom had drawn on them before, covering The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” for a former area band. For Joe, it had a lasting impact on his playing. “It’s just such a cool vibe, it was a good starting point,” said Ogden.
As gratifying as it is to hear that you were right, it wasn’t a tough guess. Blossoms’ small body of released material has had them pegged early on as psychedelic revivalists, with a few touches of post punk to keep you guessing. They’re latest single, “Cut Me and I’ll Bleed,” is reminiscent of Echo and the Bunnymen in the way it manages to maintain its pop catchiness amid shrill and dark toned guitars, until the chorus turns sharply, the group vocals kick in, and the organs become the most prominent part of a 60’s wall of sound arrangement. But for all that, psychedelic is a label Blossoms has disputed. “When you first start, you don’t immediately know exactly what you want to sound like,” said Ogden. “It was cool at the time and we were influenced by it and we like it, but as we’ve grown as a band we’ve realized it’s not psychedelic, it’s just dark melodic pop songs,” said Ogden.
A psychedelic artist would say that, wouldn’t they? We’re talking about a genre of music inspired by disassociation, hallucination, and freedom from every constraint imaginable. It’s easy to imagine a straw man flower child talking about “transcending labels.” Except that Blossoms aren’t flower children at all. Their interest is in pop music, in the broadest possible sense. If they sound psychedelic it’s because that happens to be pop music, too. Just like the other artists they’d been listening to in the two weeks leading up to SXSW—Madonna, Michel Camilo, Dr. Dre, Mike Oldfield, and Tame Impala.
“Why do you have to put a genre on it?” asked Ogden. “Even the psychedelic bands get part of their influence from Madonna, you know what I mean? They don’t have to say ‘I’m psychedelic,’ they’re just them.”
Maybe a better way to put it would be that while Blossoms isn’t a psychedelic band, but they’re a band that’s released mostly psychedelic music so far. “Winters Kiss” may be their biggest departure, with ultra-clear guitar tones, low-tempo prettiness, and emotional clarity that call to mind Fleet Foxes. It certainly falls under “dark, melodic pop songs,” but it’s not quite a fit for the category defined by the creepiness of “White Rabbit.”
Whether “Winters Kiss” indicates what’s to come for Blossoms, or whether they keep putting out material that people can’t help calling psychedelic, may be beside the point. Blossoms write pop music with a democratic philosophy: with an emphasis on the popular, and the conviction that a catchy enough hook can have universal appeal. That kind of approach requires covering a lot of bases, though. “We want it to be music that gives you a good feeling, like in the summer. Something you want to sing along to,” said Ogden. “There are some songs in there you want to cry to, do you know what I mean? Pain, and heartache, and stuff like that, but, you can still have euphoric songs that do that. Like ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,’ it’s a euphoric voice, but very melancholy as well.”
“When I write songs, I want it to be the song everyone at the gig sings along to,” said Donovan.
That big tent approach to writing music recalls the world touring, world class pop acts that have come out of the same Manchester scene Blossoms have emerged from—The Beatles, The Stone Roses, Joy Division/New Order. It’s something the band is aware of.
“This is probably the worst question to ask me,” said keyboardist Myles Kellock. All questions about the band’s hometown were referred to Kellock, because while the others are from outlying suburbs, Kellock is from Manchester proper. “But it did have an influence, all those bands. A lot of people say they hear echoes of New Order when they hear us,” said Kellock. “They’ve got the melodies, and they’ve got the sing-along choruses.” Salt broke in to talk about Peter Hook’s bass lines, a major personal role model, and the relatively less accomplished musicianship of Bernard Sumner. “When you see him play ‘Regret’ live, you can tell he’s not much of a guitar player. All the beauty is in the songs.”
Even the maligned lyrics of Bernard Sumner have something the group admires. “There’s an innocence to them, isn’t it?” said Ogden, speaking of “Bizarre Love Triangle” and songs like it. “They’re kind of indefinite, but I also feel like he’s singing what came to him in exactly that moment as he wrote the song.”
Given how they conceive of pop, it’s no surprise that Blossoms would have a lot to say about New Order. The group’s melodic sensibility came close to achieving the kind of universal appeal Blossoms strives for. And New Order, it’s also worth noting, took a long and winding road to get to “Regret” from “She’s Lost Control.” And not just due to the death of Ian Curtis—New Order followed their nose through the musical trends of the 80’s and early 90’s, releasing a string of near perfect records that were unmistakably them even as they adjusted to new habitats. In other words, it’s a good blueprint for what Blossoms wants to do.