Blanketman: A Bigger Mixing Pot

Blanketman are a fairly new band to me, only ever hearing their name in the wind, never being able to give them the time of day. Missing their sets at festivals and not knowing when they were playing gigs, though not out of malice, just from the sheer volume of amazing bands in the UK right now. Safe to say, after devoting my ears for a hair over 20 minutes to their National Trust EP and being totally blown away by their sound, energy and charisma, I will be paying a lot closer attention to their comings and goings. 

The band have gigged extensively throughout Manchester, exploring the nooks and crannies of the city and all of its weird and wonderful independent venues to entertain the Mancunians in the know. Blanketman only had a couple of singles out before the recent EP dropped, but have certainly made a big impression on the UK scene, they’ve certainly made a large dent in Manchester. National Trust combines a high energy, meticulously sharpened sound with a humorous and intelligent voice from the mind of frontman Adam Hopper. Collaborating with producer Luke Smith, the band travelled down to London for a sunny weekend in the summer of 2020 to see years of work come to a crescendo in the form of a debut EP, finally putting Blanketman’s name on the map. Being familiar with Luke Smith’s work in the form of Hull band LIFE, there is definitely a whiff of early LIFE on tracks like ‘Beach Body’ and ‘Blue Funk’, which can only be a good thing. National Trust was recorded totally live, and you can tell. There’s something to be said for the aura that a live track relays; the power of a band knowing exactly what they’re doing and doing it perfectly. That’s what music is all about, and Blanketman have done it. 

After missing my first interview opportunity with Blanketman’s Adam Hopper (professional I know), I made it my mission to set up a new date with one of the most talked about bands surrounding the week when they would release their EP. A couple of days beforehand, I got an email notifying me that Adam was, again, in the waiting room of our Zoom meeting. Quickly getting off another call, having just made lunch, no makeup on and basically wearing my PJ’s (as we all are, I’m sure), I ran up the four flights of stairs in my house, jumped into my office chair and joined Adam in the meeting room. After apologising profusely, for the second, third, fourth(?) time, Adam and I got to chatting about moving to Manchester to start up a band, how his bandmate drunkenly accidentally got them their first gig at the Peer Hat in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and finally revealing tour plans for this summer. 

Hi Adam! How’s it been?

Hello! It’s been okay. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster really, I think everyone’s had the same kind of experience in a way, it’s just been very up and down. A lot of uncertainty, not quite knowing what’s next, but relatively speaking, we’ve kind of done okay as a band. You know, during lockdown we managed get the EP recorded and put some music out throughout. So we’ve kind of made the most of it I think, and made it work in that kind of way.

You guys met in Manchester right? What’s the story with that?

Well, I went to Manchester to start a band essentially, after I graduated. Two of the other members of the band came to uni in Manchester, and Jeremy moved from France to start a band in Manchester, I actually put an ad on joinmyband.com, which is essentially like an online lonely hearts for musicians. It apparently doesn’t work that much but I feel like we were pretty lucky. I just put an ad on there saying what I wanted to do, and stuff like the kind of music I was into and they all replied. I guess it’s kind of like the equivalent of putting an ad up on a practice room wall a couple of decades ago. Now it’s obviously a bit different, it feels quite like a traditional way of meeting a band, just sort of quite randomly. So we all just met up for drinks with just me, Dan and Jeremy at first. It took us a couple of months to find a drummer – Ellie – she responded to the ad as well so yeah that’s how we all met. Bit of a weird way really, I don’t think many bands actually joined bands via Join My Band.

So obviously you went to Manchester seeking to start a band, but other than that, what drew you to Manchester?

It’s always had that kind of mythology hasn’t it – like that of a ‘music city’. Obviously, the past history of the music scene and the culture around Manchester sort of drew me towards it. Jeremy as well, being from France, I think he had quite a romantic view of what Manchester would be. For me, I always had that kind of like “I’ll go to London or go to Manchester,” and I ended up going to Manchester because Manchester is closer to friends and family, because I’m originally from East Yorkshire. Just a bit more affordable, not particularly interesting. I’d never actually been to Manchester before I came here so when I came to look at houses, it was the first time I’d been in the city.

What was that first kind of feeling that you got from Manchester?

It was great. It just seemed friendly, just a really nice sort of atmosphere about the place. Obviously, you go into sort of places like the Northern Quarter. Me and my partner went there and there’s all the record shops and all the venues and other pubs and stuff. It’s just like, I’d never lived in a big city like Manchester – I lived in Reading, which is like a large town. I’m from a really small market town so I’d only ever sort of visited bigger cities on holiday and things like that – just day trips – so I was quite drawn to the prospect of actually living in somewhere more metropolitan, a bit bigger.

What’s been your favourite Manchester venue since moving?

Probably, for different reasons, Peer Hat is probably my favourite Manchester venue. It’s just like a small like basement venue, right in the Northern Quarter and quite tucked away off the main streets. It’s kind of become like a real hub of sorts, of the underground music scene in Manchester. It’s partly down to the people who run it. They take chances on people and give you gigs and they’re just so passionate about music and the arts and things like that, they’ll just welcome anyone with open arms. That’s where we had our first gig, and a lot of subsequent gigs after that. The Peer Hat is where we spend most of our time as well, out drinking and stuff – you can sort of guarantee if you go there, you’re going to know a lot of people who are about. It’s one of those places. I also really like YES as well, which is obviously quite a new one. Does good cocktails, it’s reasonably priced, and we’ve played quite a few shows there as well. It’s a really nice addition. It’s a good place, but I’d say the Peer Hat is probably my favourite, it’s closest to my heart.

From you guys getting to Manchester, and then playing your first gig at the Peer Hat, what was that journey like?

It was nice slowly trying to build a band, and I’ve never really had that before. For Ellie and Dan, it’s their first band they’ve ever been in. So it was good, I think we just were just meeting once a week and we were all new friends so it’s always something quite exciting about a fresh relationship. I don’t know, it was nice to meet people who seemed somewhat like-minded. Whenever I’ve been in bands, it has always been one member or a couple members who you don’t quite see a common ground with in a way, they’ve never seemed to slot that well or there’s always something that’s not quite right. This time, it worked – it was four people who are like-minded. We actually got the gig because Jeremy drunkenly on New Year’s Eve was badgering the owner of Peer Hat, and said “I’ve got this brand new band together”, and [the owner] was like “well do you want a gig then?” I think the gig was like two weeks later, so it was quite a quick one, might have been a little bit ramshackle. I think it all happened fairly quickly, really. I arrived in around August and then obviously the others got there in September/October, and our first gig was very early January, so it was only in the space of a couple of months that we played our first gig. So yeah, it was quite quick.

You guys met and bonded in quite a unique way – I think it’s so interesting to hear about how bands formed, especially you guys, because it’s so off kilter. Most of the time it’s just a ‘oh I know this guy and this guy, and we’re starting a band’ kinda thing… 

‘We went to school together’ as well, that’s quite a normal one for a lot of bands – like they’ve known each other for years, since they were in secondary school. I think we’re all from quite different walks of life, so of all the different stages in our life, the age ranges from, I think, 23 to 29. So it’s like everyone’s at slightly different phases of their lives, but that’s a good thing. You’ve got the older members of the band who perhaps have a bit more experience and a bit more wisdom and have been around the block a few more times, but then you’ve got the energy and the drive of the younger members who just want to, you know, go for it. It’s a nice dynamic, it works well. I think sometimes like if you’ve got a band of like four 18-year-olds, who want to have at it straight away. It’s not necessarily like the best sort of recipe, but I feel like the stage that we all are now is kind of in the way that we kind of work together, because of that. It’s probably been quite positive for us.

Do you see that coming through in your music, your live performances and in the writing aspects?

I think it’s a bit of a fairly common misconception from people outside musical circles that bands will all like the same music, and ‘if they’re in a band together they must all be into the same bands’. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. There’s obviously a bed of bands that you do have in common, but not as many as many as you’d think. Everyone’s bringing influences from different places. Obviously, I think whatever period you’re growing up in, even within the space of like a few years, the landscape of bands can change so dramatically from what’s popular and more people listening. When I was 16 it was cool to like The Libertines, but when Dan was 16, he was going to The Windmill to see bands, and that’s great because you’re kind of bringing in these different influences that you might not have gotten. 

It’s been great for me personally because I’m terrible at trying to listen to new bands and music. I kind of like to stick to what I like and then listen to it religiously. Having Dan who’s a few years younger than me and a bit more proactive at finding newer, more obscure bands, is great. It’s great for writing as well because the more that you listen to and absorb, in a way, the more original you’re going to become. The more influences you have, the more places you’re kind of dipping into and taking a bit of inspiration from then the bigger the mixing pot. At the end of the day, it’s probably a more original product you’re gonna get out of it, which I think is working quite well in our favour.

What went into recording and writing the EP – give me the whole story.

Most of it was written in the first lockdown, last April/May time, apart from ‘Beach Body’. That’s been a song that we’ve played in our live set for a couple years. But yeah, I would never say that it’s a lockdown EP. I do think the themes that surround it inevitably are the situation that we were in when we were writing it; that has probably seeped in. A lot of being trapped and anxious and wanting to escape, but also a lot of humour in it as well. I think that’s one of the main ways that we’ve kept ourselves going through lockdown, from being able to laugh at things and have a joke at things that are going on, even though they might be quite bleak. So we’d written the songs-ish, but obviously, being locked down we had to change the way that we were writing songs so it was a lot more like remotely sending each other bits and bobs and half done songs. There was that period where the restrictions were going in and out, and in the gaps we were able to meet up and go into the rehearsal room. It was like a window of a month. We found that gap where we could get into the rehearsal room to slog it out and finish them properly. Ellie wrote all of her drum parts in two weeks and went and recorded it in London within the space of about a month. We recorded all seven tracks in a weekend. They’re all cut live as well, which we’re really happy with. It’s quite important for us because we’ve always sort of said that we’re a live band. I think you can hear that in the tracks, you can hear the energy. It’s not kind of just tracked individually in a room, you can tell that it’s played together.

I think, when the singles started to come out, we went into more of a lockdown. It’s been really good to be able to put music out because I feel grateful that we’ve had to keep plugging away. With the way music works at the moment, you need to keep releasing stuff to stay there and stay relevant, otherwise, you just get forgotten about. If you stop for an extended period of time, it’s quite easy to kind of get swept under the rug, so it was good that had a few bits to gradually trickle out throughout the lockdown to keep us appearing like we’re active, when really we’re sat inside our bedrooms eating food and watching telly.

Where does the EP get its title, National Trust from?

There’s a track called ‘National Trust’ – I wouldn’t even say it’s a title track, it’s just that we liked the name. It’s kind of just a joke about how my girlfriend’s mum got us memberships to the National Trust last year. I just thought it was quite funny, because I never really pictured myself becoming a National Trust member. It’s quite a nice, catchy name for an EP isn’t it? And also, with the political tones of it as well – you’ve kind of got that double entendre which is quite nice. So yeah, that’s how that came about. It just worked quite well as a theme, with some of the songs that are on there. It just worked nicely – I’m very pleased with it.

I absolutely love the artwork as well!

It’s great isn’t it? If you split it into segments, the bottom left and the bottom right are the artwork for our two singles that we put out, so it all fits together. It’s by an artist called Darren Newman, who’s based in Manchester and he’s just really talented, so I was really pleased with that. We really like illustrative album covers, so we’re really pleased that we’ve managed to get one, because I think it was quite last minute in the end. We were really lucky to get one that we all liked as well. It’s hard to get four or five people to agree.

So wrapping up, after the EP release, what are you guys planning for the big future of Blanketman?

We’ve got quite a few bits planned; we’ve got some festivals going on in autumn: Manchester Psych Fest and Stag and Dagger in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which I feel really lucky to be on. Also Dark Arts in Leeds as well, that’s got a class lineup. Then, we managed to organise a tour, so we’re going on our first headline tour in August, fingers crossed. We’ve only ever really played in Manchester before, we played in London once we’ve played in Hebden Bridge, but we’re going to be going around the country now. We’ve written lots of songs, so hopefully there’ll be lots more songs coming out. It’s quite strange because obviously like you’re in that kind of like step behind, because we’ve been playing all these songs for ages and no one’s been able to hear them. 

Words: Willow Shields // Photos: Through The Eyes Of Ruby (Owen Godbert & Ste Fletcher)

Blanketman’s ‘National Trust’ EP is out now via PIAS. You can stream the full record here.

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