OTwo Interviews: Tom Herbert of BLONDES

Image Credit: Cole Bleu

Isabella Ambrosio has the chats with Liverpool-based Tom Herbert of BLONDES about familial love for music, genres, and what fans can expect next.

I had heard of BLONDES in passing before, through vague conversations and promotional emails. But it took me all of five seconds of one of their songs to realise - I want to talk to these guys. They were originally a four-piece band from Liverpool that met in college. Their music is exactly what is popular nowadays, but in the best way; the modern alternative band wave, where there’s a heavy electronic influence, modern pop melodies, guitars and drums. It’s a wave of bands that write about being young, growing up, developing, maturing. They capture the essence of what it is to be young and carefree. I’ve found myself quite interested in this new wave of bands, like modernlove. and The Nagging Doubts, where they have such a varied range of influences, and take so many different pieces of genres in a modernised, pop way. 

BLONDES do this quite well - their tracks take pieces from early pop-rock, alternative, indie, some punk, some emo, some rock, some pop, and fuse them in a very pleasing, easy-to-listen-to way. I had the pleasure of speaking with Tom Herbert, the bassist, on a Friday evening, which I had to admit, I was surprised by. Because it was a Friday night and who wants to do press then?

Herbert was incredibly friendly and easy to talk to. He fidgeted with a vape in one hand and played with his hair with the other quite often. It seemed to be a thing he did when he was thinking. I started off with my typical, “do you mind if I record this?”, receiving the typical response of “Not a bother”. And the very creepy Zoom-lady voice that follows; Now recording.

“That is quite scary,” he comments with a smile, referring to a comment I had made about how creepy her voice was.

“It’s a little unsettling, yeah. So, let’s talk about the big thing that’s happened for you guys, and that was the success of ‘Coming of Age’ on TikTok. So, where did that come from? Did you guys upload your sound, or did someone upload it for you?”

“Someone did it for us. This was, god, what year are we in now? 2022? So, two years ago, actually, two years ago next week I think. During COVID, we all lived together, we were all dying, not dying, but I felt like I was dying.”

“You all lived together? There’s five of yous, right?”

“Well, there was four of us at the time, and we lived with a girl, Charlie, who is like our band mum, who’s like the best person in the world. I love her. Us four lived together during COVID. And none of us had a TikTok, apart from Alex [Davidson], he downloaded it and he came across our sound, like the song. And it was like, ‘this is weird, why is our song on it?’ And when we clicked on the sound, there was something like 100,000 videos made from the sound and it was like, ‘What?’. So, people kept making videos and it was trending, TikTok got in touch with us and said, ‘Ooh, you’ve got a trend, do you want to make an official trend?’ And we were like, ‘Uh, yeah, cool. Of course.’ So, that happened, and then we got loads of label contacts which was stressful, and then we got management, which is good, because they did all the admin stuff. It was mental.”

“It was all at once.”

“It was like a two week period where we went from being just four lads who were trying to be in a band to having management and label interest.”

“So, obviously, you guys would have been independent before?”

“We literally, every song we released before then, I think there’s only two or three of them on there now.”

“It was ‘Honey’ and ‘Supernatural Highlights’.”

“Yeah, that one, god, I forgot about that one. We had an EP out before, but when we got management, we did it all ourselves. So, we paid for recording ourselves and all of that, so when we got management, they said it wasn’t a good recording sonically so we took it down, and the only one that’s still survived the big cull was ‘Out of the Neighbourhood’. It was crazy, it sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, but our lives kind of changed in two weeks. It was very weird.”

“I feel like that’s how media works nowadays anyway. It can go by in just a second, so you have to take advantage of it.”

“Exactly. It all happened so quickly. And that’s the good thing about TikTok and social media in general, if you do one thing, if you do one video, if you have one song, if ten people hear it, and tell ten people, it spreads so quickly.”

“Yeah, that’s genuinely all it takes. With ‘Out of the Neighbourhood EP’, that was released a year ago?”

“Yeah, god, that year’s gone quick.”

“So, obviously, I have to ask,” I smile and he smiles too, knowing exactly where I’m going with my question, “Have you been working on music?”

“We’ve got so much new music ready to go, like so much. I think we’ve got, officially recorded, 3 or 4 songs. Then, we’ve got like 5 more ready to record. We’ll be on tour soon, and we’ll be playing 3 new tracks, of which 2 of them are ready to go, waiting to be mastered, which takes like a week, which is fine.”

“How does it feel to have all of the mastering being done for you? And it just kind of comes back to you and you’re like, ‘Ooh! This is it!’.”

“It’s weird, but it’s also really nice because it’s like, you’ve done all this work on this project and you send it to someone who knows what they’re doing with all of this sound and the sonic stuff. And you get it back and it’s like ‘Oh, we’ve got a song!’. That’s the best feeling, when you’ve got a finished piece of art that’s presented to you that you did. And we’ve got so much ready to go, hopefully, we’ll have some out this year, that’s the plan. We changed labels.”

“You signed to C3, right?”

“C3, yeah. It’s not signed yet, but we’ve got a UK partner as well, to help them. That hasn’t been signed or announced or anything yet, but… it’s with the lawyers, and I hate that,” he rolls his eyes.

“You just sit there and wait for a bunch of old dudes to discuss your fate,” I laugh.

“Yeah, it’s like, ‘Cool, can we have a say?’ And they’re like, ‘No, no. We’re lawyers.’.”

“It’s like, ‘Shush, we know what we’re doing.’”

“Yeah, exactly! That should be done in like two weeks, so we’re just gonna smash out as much as they’ll let us do.”

“And are you going to tour?”

“We’re touring at the moment with Courting, we have three dates left with them. And then in the new year, I can’t give you any dates, any places, or anything, but we are doing a tour. We don’t know when, or where, or what.”

“So, you guys wanna do a tour.”

“Oh, one hundred percent. With the release of the next EP, or the next couple singles, we definitely wanna go on the road. We’ve been dying to do it all year.”

“Is that a major part of you guys?”

“Oh, the gig part of it is the biggest part of it for us. Playing with your mates on the stage is the best feeling ever. Obviously, we love the writing and recording, honestly, I prefer it less than the gigs. I love live shows.”

“I think that’s a very common thing for musicians because a lot of people fall in love with music at a concert for the first time. Like, you may love music, but you go to a gig and you find, ‘Holy shit, this is so much better than I thought.’”

“And the energy you get from playing to people, you don’t really get that from listening to music on your phone. It’s a completely different feeling. Like, I’m more on the business side of it. I don’t do as much writing as the other lads, so for me, the gigs are the best bit because you get to interact and meet people, sell merch, make money.”

“While, simultaneously, doing something you like.”

“Yeah, exactly! It’s the best thing ever.”

“Well then, what got you into music? If you’re not on the writing side of it, what got you into it?”

“My dad, probably. I joined the band originally, as the manager.”

“No fucking way,” I start laughing.

“Yeah, it was about 2019 when I joined. I joined because I love the lads, but they’re clueless. I was like, ‘Right, I can organise things, you guys are useless, you’re all like very talented musicians, but you couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery, so I’ll do it’. So, then we had a gig, our first festival which was Dot to Dot, at Nottingham University. And the drummer at the time, who now works for the government or civil service or something like that, he broke his arm skiing so he couldn’t drum. And I said, ‘Well, I have a bass guitar’, so our lead guitarist went on the drums, and I went on the bass, and then the drummer came back and his arm was fixed, but then our other guitarist at the time, decided to study abroad. So, I said, ‘Oh, I’ll stay on the bass, and Alex [Davidson] can move from bass to guitar.’ And I was a terrible manager, I think I organised one gig.”

“But, you still thought you would be better equipped than them?”

“Oh, god yeah. One hundred percent.”

“So, back to your dad and his love of music. Did he play or was he a music fanatic?”

“He played piano, and he was in a band when he was like 18, but he was a massive music fanatic. We go to gigs together all the time, so many. He listens to music all the time, every car journey, there’s music, at home, music. All the bands I like are the bands he likes.”

“What bands would you like?”

“For me, New Order, Sex Pistols, Public Image, The Pogues, Arcade Fire, but he’s been in the news recently for some bad stuff so not anymore, but really, anything, like 80s, I love ABBA, that type of stuff.”

“I read on one of the profiles about you guys that you guys used to get really drunk and do ABBA covers…”

“Oh, god, yeah. We still do that to a certain extent. I get drunk more than the rest of them because I’m single and the youngest. I’ve still got life to live.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 23. I’m the baby of the group. When we’re drunk, we’ve got this little cocktail drum kit in the boys’ flat, so we get really drunk and play on it and it’s the best thing ever. The flat neighbours don’t care for it.”

“You know, I want to encourage it so bad, I really do, because I understand it, but I’ve also been that flat neighbour. I was living in a house, it was a semi detached house and the people next door had four boys under the age of 12. And one of the genius relatives decided to gift him, not like a cocktail drum kit, but a drum kit.”

“Good,” he nods with a smile, “I like that. Not for you, but for him, brilliant.”

“So, with the decades of influences, you said like the 80s, what other bands would you draw from?”

“New Order, definitely. The Cure, a lot. We all have different tastes though, so Alex [Davidson] is really into his disco, Stroudy [Stroude] is the biggest Beatles fan ever, I’m into my new wave stuff/post punk, Will [Potter] is more into indie, like Brit Pop… it’s kind of like the Cure, modern stuff like Two Door [Cinema Club].”

“I kind of, and correct me if I’m wrong, I got a little bit of The Smiths?”

“Yeah, no, I can get on board with that.”

“It was kind of the vocals and the style and the way he draws out his vowels. It was very ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ and I think that’s great.”

“A lot of the writing the boys do is quite poetic in the sense that it is talking about an issue, but in a weird and different way.”

“I don’t want to say a glamourised way, but it’s definitely put in a way that’s a little more delicate. Especially with, ‘Low on the Comedown’ and the juxtaposition in that song, having a very ethereal, euphoric backtrack to talking about wanting to do drugs and I thought that was quite interesting.”

“That was the first song they wrote, before I even joined. That was on the first EP, that survived the kill. That got totally redone twice, because the first time we did it, we tried to make a primal scream, type thing.”

“Like a Miles Kane, Last Shadow Puppets, ‘Bad Things’, primal scream?”

“Kind of. Kind of like more… ‘Moving on Up’ drum style, it’s weird. We were on tour with Inhaler at the time.”

“Before you continue, I went to secondary school with Eli[jah Hewson], Robert [Keating] and Ryan [McMahon].”

“You lucky bastard, Eli’s the nicest person ever. They are the best boys ever, they’re so nice. I drunk call Ryan [McMahon] sometimes. I think I called him drunk once when I was in Liverpool. I don’t think he answered, but I sent a voice message anyway. They’re all so lovely, so nice. I love them.”

“You were on tour with them, yeah?”

“Yeah, we did three shows with them, but they got COVID, so we had to cut the tour short. We recorded ‘Comedown’ and we had them in the studio. They were sitting there with us, we had a band called The Let Go, but they’ve got a different name now, we had other bands, our manager, there were like 12 people in the room and it was awful.”

“I can’t imagine 12 people in a studio.”

“12 people with so many different opinions.”

“Too many chefs!”

“Honestly, and then we did it again, with just us five, and our producer, and it was very much like, ‘Okay, this is it.’ We don’t have any of these twelve part harmonies, or some shit. Two guitars and a bass.”

“Was someone actually suggesting a twelve part harmony?”

“At one point, I think there was… some desires from some quarters, I can’t name names, but we did have a load of vocals on it. One of our friends, Nicoletta, sang on it and it was so much going on. This song is going to be a brain problem. It was fun, but also, the end product wasn’t what we wanted and we did it again and it was like, ‘yeah, this is it.’”

“So, whatever has been left on Apple Music, it seems to me like indie style vocals over a pop-rock bass and euphoric synth?”

“I can get on board with that, yeah,” he says with a beaming grin. I laugh,

“Okay, I was hoping I wasn’t too far off, but I guess, how would you combine so many different genres without it being so confusing? Because sometimes you can’t just have too much going on.”

“Especially the new stuff, that isn’t released, we have a way of writing now, it’s taken us a while to find it, in the past year, living in Liverpool with access to really good studio and good producers, and coming into being musicians and having way more confidence than before we did any of this. So, we’ve got more structure now of how we want to sound and with the EP, I think you’ll get more of that. All the songs are related in a way, some which are more rock-y and upbeat, and some which are more quiet, but the style is still there. Like the jangly guitars, the kind of chugging bass, the vocal synth. It’s kind of more knitted together now, we used to write anything that came into our heads and put it out. Like, ‘Honey’ is completely different to ‘Minimum Wage’.”

“I think that’s a very important phase in a band’s life, is figuring out who they are and trying all of these different things and figuring out what suits you guys.”

“Yeah, one hundred percent. You can only make good songs if you make bad ones to start with.”

“Because then you don’t know what good songs are.”

“Exactly, you have to try a riff and if it doesn’t work, we can get something else good for it. We always jam out in the studio and practice, whether we’re on different instruments, we all come in and are able to figure out whether it’s good or whether it’s rubbish. I’m really excited for people to hear the new songs, they’ve had a good reception live.”

“So, you don’t have any dates?”

“No, I wish we did,” he sounds sad when he says it.

“Definitely, at least one this year, because the label stuff is nearly sorted out, and it’s just putting music out. And both the American side and the British side are really keen to get music out, so we’re all on the same page.” 

I genuinely can’t wait to hear the new music and the progression BLONDES have made as musicians.