It was a ‘sunny-ish’ day in Amsterdam (her word, not mine) when I caught up with Pip Blom, lead singer and guitarist of the group of the same name, soon to release their second LP. And let’s face it, chatting to Pip and hearing her band play would make most days sunny.
‘Trouble in Paradise’, the last track on Welcome Break, out early next month, had just faded away, and after a few pre-release listens I was of the firm opinion that this record takes over where their splendid debut, Boat, left off two summers ago.
I’d also just had my first viewing of the impressive promo video for ‘You Don’t Want This’, the second single from the LP. Will Pip and her bandmates – her brother, guitarist Tender Blom, bass player Darek Mercks and drummer Gini Cameron – wear those matching, eye-catching red outfits on their forthcoming run of National Lottery-backed Revive Live UK tour dates, I asked, tongue pretty much in cheek.
“I don’t think so! I do really like it in the video, but … I like to be able to dress (in) whatever I feel like. It’s very restricted, although it does look very cool, I agree.”
You don’t really want to feel you’re wearing a band uniform, I guess.
Some bands seem to like a uniform.
“Yeah, they do. Quite a lot of bands. But I don’t think it’s something for us.”
Actually, that vivid red reminds me of a past LP cover. Maybe the White Stripes or The Hives. Perhaps even Devo.
“I think a couple of people are reminded of the White Stripes, so it’s probably that.”
How about the rather lurid eye shadow from the video for previous single, ‘Keep it Together’? Might the four of you be sporting that on stage?
“Ha! Both of those decisions – the bright red and bright eye shadows – were made by the directors of the videos. And I really like those vibrant colours. It works really well.”
Well, top marks to Sara Elzinga for the latest promo, plus Danny and Isabelle Griffioen for the earlier one.
“Yeah, we’re very happy with it. Until now, we haven’t really done a lot of videos we’re in. We’re either busy or uncomfortable with the whole idea. But this was a very good experience, and we’re very happy that we’ve got two cool videos now!”
‘God, you feel like you’re outnumbered, and you’re wasting so much time;
They think you are successful, ‘cause you never leave the house.’
‘You Don’t Want This’ also serves as a perfect opening track for the new LP, not least its lines about a perceived lack of confidence, wasting time, and being stuck at home. Something so many of us will empathise with after this difficult last 18 months or so. For us and perhaps the band too, so long off the road.
“The funny thing was that I wrote all these songs before Covid happened. So it’s not really with that in mind, but that’s one of the reasons I don’t usually explain all the lyrics. If you listen to it, and think, ‘Ah, this is something we all had these last 18 months’, I find that so special – that people can own songs in their own way.
“I really like hearing what the lyrics mean to different people. And not everything is about me either. Half of it is, half of it isn’t. I like keeping it in the middle – what is and what isn’t!”
‘Keep It Together’ also works as something of an anthem in these uncertain times. Was positivity a challenge at times for you – as for so many of us – as things unfolded?
“Definitely, and it’s still a challenge, because in the Netherlands we’re still not allowed to play regular gigs. They’re still seated. I think the biggest challenge has been looking forward to something, then it being cancelled again. That’s happened six, seven, eight times.
“That’s something I hadn’t really experienced, anything like it. But we did manage to turn it around, with a lot more time to work on the album, get videos done, all that kind of stuff. That would have been very hard if we had to play at the same time. So I’ve tried to look at it in a more positive way, but …”
It’s about making the best of a bad situation really.
I’m guessing you’ve at least had the advantage of being able to home-record.
“Definitely, especially for the beginning of the songs. I write all the demos at home, send them to the rest of the band, then everyone (works on) their parts. But we did record the album in the UK this time. That was very nice and felt quite special, because none of us had been outside the Netherlands in quite a while.”
Self-produced and mixed by Caesar Edmunds (PJ Harvey, St Vincent, Queens of the Stone Age), the new LP was recorded at Big Jelly Studios in Ramsgate, Kent, more of which later. But first, with the band about to head over for the first of two sets of UK shows, I let on to Pip how I saw a remark recently from the lead singer of an established band I love, before their first gig back, talking about having nerves like never before. This was someone outwardly confident, but – like with so many of us – there’s bound to be that genuine concern, ‘Will I still be able to do this, after so long?’.
I get the impression you’re not so much a ‘frontperson’ – despite the band name, this seems to be very much a band enterprise. But has that still crossed your mind?
“I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen when we play. I’m not sure that I’m going to be very nervous, but I do feel there’s going to be a lot of adrenaline – just the feeling of people being there. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I hope I won’t get too nervous, but we’ll see.”
I hope not, and when I discussed something similar with your Heavenly Recordings labelmate, Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne, she was of the opinion that hopefully audiences will be on the side of the performers and help them over the line, knowing full well all they’ve been through to get back to this point.
“Yeah, fair enough!”
Pip Blom’s own break from live action followed an extensive touring schedule which included a successful opening set on Glastonbury Festival’s John Peel stage not long after the release of 2019’s Boat, the lauded four-piece then soaking up their inspirations and cosying down – in Pip and guitarist Tender Blom’s case at their parents’ house, over three months writing 20 new songs, 16 of which then became demos to structure and flesh out in the studio.
With plans slightly complicated by the Covid-19 crisis, the band then headed our way, decamping to Big Jelly and after a fortnight of quarantine setting to work recording over three weeks with engineer Al Harle, the resultant Welcome Break’s title inspired by the ubiquitous services dotted along the UK motorway and A-road network.
And judging by my first few listens of the new record, it’s difficult to detect any awkward two-year gap. Maybe that’s partly down to many of the songs having already been written, but it’s a record full of brilliant hooks, riffs and 90 degree turns, with plenty of pared-back introspection too, yet also big assertive, life-affirming moments.
“Nice! That’s awesome to hear!”
And after Boat, it seems that you’ve landed, so to speak, albeit with the transport theme continuing, this time celebrating the hospitality of a 60-plus year-old institution of sorts, one of which just happens to be around five miles from my house, at Charnock Richard services on the M6. Is there a photoshoot planned when you’re back over with us?
“We should, definitely! One hundred per cent. I’m really looking forward to going back, and miss all those places that we don’t have in the Netherlands. They’ve been a really big part of our lives the last three years before the corona(virus) happened. I can’t wait to go back, and hang out and eat, like, dirty food!”
I should point out there – before the litigation professionals jump in – that those are two different things Pip’s looking forward to. And isn’t that funny, I suggest, that something a lot of us tend to think as a mundane pastime or just a necessity as part of getting from A to B is now viewed by the likes of Pip with some form of nostalgic fervour.
Last time we spoke, you told me you wanted launch parties for Boat on a floating vessel, but it was too difficult to work out, and too expensive. How about a service station happening this time?
“Mmm … there’s not going to be anything very, very special, I think, but we should do something special. And we are going to be playing the Electric Ballroom, which for us is very special – it’s such a big venue. And on the release day, I think we’re going to be playing Rough Trade in London. We did that last time, and that was lots of fun. But next time we should get a proper party.”
I’m guessing you’re looking forward to these forthcoming dates, and then – not so far off, albeit in the dead of winter – plenty more. Seeing you at Band on the Wall in Manchester was a definite 2019 highlight for me, or of any year. This time I hope to get along to The Ferret in Preston (now rearranged to November, with details at the foot of this feature/interview), then hopefully Manchester’s Academy 3 in February. And might there be a radio date with BBC 6 Music’s Marc Riley, a great supporter down the years, while you’re in the North West?
“We are definitely looking into it. We’ll just have to see, with the schedule, how it’s going to work. It’s on top of our list, for sure.”
Looking at those dates, the September tour ends at Ramsgate Music Hall on September 30th. If the UK’s become your second home, you could argue that Ramsgate is your base here, having recorded the LP there too. You obviously felt at home enough last time to return.
“Big Jelly Studios is such a cool place. It’s big, but there’s also a very homely feeling. That’s one of the reasons we really enjoyed coming back. We also played the Music Hall before, and that was really fun. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s such a calm and friendly town, and at the same time very pretty as well. We had so many good memories there, and always love to go back.”
Well, seeing as that’s where I spent my very first family holiday – in the summer of 1968 when I was barely seventh months old – my own nostalgia tells me I agree with you. That said, it’s a place I’m pretty sure I’ve not managed to get back to since my youth. I’m clearly overdue a visit.
I also enjoyed the band’s latest live video, featuring another great new song, ‘It Should Have Been Fun’. And it seems odd to say it when this four-piece have only been on the scene a few years, but it’s classic Pip Blom. That slow-build, then that joyous chorus and glorious surge of guitar, with Pip and Tender on form, Gini driving them on, Darek locking in. What’s not to love?
“Ha! I completely agree with what you’re saying. When we were mixing the record, lots of the choruses are a bit louder and there’s that extra push, I guess. At one point I was thinking, ‘Are we doing this too often?’. But I think for now, it’s really nice and it works, and we all like playing that live – it gives you that extra push to go that extra mile!”
Your overlapping vocals with Tender always impress me too. There’s something about that sibling blend that works so well. I often use the example of Tim and Neil Finn, but there are plenty more examples out there. There’s something intuitive, I guess.
“I personally really like it too. It’s funny though, because Caesar Edmunds, who mixed the record, at one point said it was so difficult as our voice tones are quite similar. He had trouble getting our vocals on the same level, then still hearing the difference. I said, ‘Maybe it’s because we’re brother and sister, and he said, ‘Dudes – that must be it!’.”
While we’re at it, ‘Faces’ is another track I’m loving … not as if there’s a duff track n this record. It ebbs to and fro’, like waves lapping in. It shows your development as a band, although I think it’s always been there to some extent.
“Ah, that’s great! I think with some of the tracks we tried to experiment a bit more. I think because we played so any shows in 2019 that we managed to get a bit more into the details, like certain drum patterns. And I think ‘Faces’ especially is one of those where the drums change quite a lot. And I’m really glad we got to do that.”
Then we hear your more grungy side on the splendid ‘I Know I’m Not Easy to Like’. But you ain’t fooling no one, you know. It’s that old ‘you won’t like me when I’m angry’ vibe. I kind of reckon we would though.
“Ha! It’s funny, because it’s very hard for me to get really angry, and I try to get proper angry, singing. It’s still a work in progress!”
Getting back to the Amsterdam lockdowns and recording at home, were you in just a family bubble, or were Gini and Darek in the house too?
“No, we were in a family bubble, and they were in their own. We only got together when the songs were already kind of finished, when everyone started adjusting their parts, the four of us together, I think in May or June.”
Finally, last time we spoke – in May 2019, with a link here – I suggested on publishing that you were being ‘secret squirrel’ with me, being cryptic about as yet unannounced surprises. Then I learned you were opening the John Peel stage at that year’s Glastonbury. How was that experience for you?
“It was so much fun! That was definitely one of the best weeks in our lives. We got to go for the whole week as well. And the gig was so much fun. Definitely a never forget thing … and we hope to return to Glastonbury, if possible, again. It was a dream, everything we expected and more. And that is quite unusual. Usually, if you’re really looking forward to something, it can disappoint. You hoped it was going to be fun and then it was just alright. But this was so much fun – it was awesome!”
More to the point, what are you holding back on me this time? Any big surprises up the sleeves?
“Not really. It’s still all very up in the air with booking things. Everything we’ve got planned is announced at the moment. And hopefully in a couple of weeks or maybe a couple of months, when there’s a bit more clarity in terms of travelling and all that kind of stuff, there will be lots of festival offers coming in. But we have to see.
“And of course, we’re doing lots of our own shows. We’ve got quite a lot planned, and that’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Welcome Break is out on Friday, October 8th via Heavenly Recordings, and can be pre-ordered here. Additionally, the band are set for an eight-date UK headline tour in February 2022, having previously been confirmed as part of a National Lottery-funded Revive Live tour this September, the earlier dates part of an initiative through the Music Venue Trust, a UK charity supporting grassroots venues during this challenging period.
Fortunately, due to the work done by the Trust, including its Save Our Venues campaign, most avoided closure, the focus now shifting to reviving the grassroots live music scene, hence the Revive Live campaign, the National Lottery underwriting £1m touring and production costs for more than 300 live performances to help venues open and get artists back on the road.
As well as tours by established and up-and-coming artists – including Seasick Steve, Ren Harvieu, Wolf Alice and The Vaccines – household names such as Sir Tom Jones, Sam Fender, Frank Turner, Mahalia, James Arthur, Fontaines DC, and Rag’n’Bone Man are playing special one-off shows in grassroots venues. For more details of Revive Live dates, head here.
Stop Press: Unfortunately, due to sickness (not Covid 19), Pip Blom are no longer able to play their planned September shows in Sunderland, Glasgow, Barrow-In-Furness, Preston, and Stoke. But they have managed to reschedule all bar the Glasgow show, adding, “We really hope that you can join us, but if not refunds will be available at point of purchase”.
Pip Blom’s (Rearranged) Revive Live tour dates, September/November 2021: Sunderland Independent, September 11th – postponed (see November listings); Glasgow TRNSMT Festival, September 12th – appearance cancelled; Barrow-in-Furness Underground Music Society, September 13th – postponed (see November listings); Preston The Ferret, September 14th – postponed (see November listings); Stoke Sugarmill, September 16th – postponed (see November listings); York Crescent, September 17th – sold out; Ipswich Smokehouse, September 18th – sold out; Newport Le Pub, September 19th – sold out; Reading Face Bar, September 20th; Leicester Firebug, September 23rd – sold out; Southampton The Loft, September 24th; Gloucester Dick Whittington, September 27th; Norwich Waterfront Studio, September 28th; Cambridge Portland Arms, September 29th – sold out; Ramsgate Music Hall, September 30th – sold out; Stoke Sugarmill, November 12th; Barrow-in-Furness Underground Music Society, November 13th; Sunderland Independent, November 15th; Preston The Ferret, November 16th.
Pip Blom’s UK headline tour dates, February 2022: Glasgow St Luke’s, 7th; Newcastle Cluny, 8th; Manchester Academy 3, 9th; Dublin Academy 2, 11th; Nottingham Rescue Rooms, 12th; Bristol Trinity Centre, 14th; Brighton Concorde 2, 15th; London, Camden Electric Ballroom, 16th.