The Cover Story

Bob Vylan: “Our work is never done – the job is never complete”

On release day for their sensational third album Humble As The Sun, we get in the van with Bob Vylan as they tear through two sold-out shows, and find a band focused not just on success but how to channel the power of love, community and independence...

Bob Vylan: “Our work is never done – the job is never complete”
Rishi Shah
Esmé Bones

Struck down by food poisoning, Bobby Vylan is feeling violently sick. Spending the best part of their album release day sipping on hot lemon and ginger and napping in the van, Bob Vylan’s inimitable frontman is in survival mode, conserving every ounce of energy for the two gigs happening later this evening. Taking over the suburban London town of Kingston for the day, shows with Banquet Records at PRZYM and the 150-capacity sweatbox of The Fighting Cocks await the band, as they herald in the release of their third album Humble As The Sun.

Fast-forward to 8pm, and Bobby is fighting his way through the first set, mustering up the strength to sing the opening lyric of He’s A Man, a tongue-in-cheek take on toxic masculinity that references everything from Sunday roasts to chicken kormas. Bobby shakes his head with a wince. “Even just thinking about a chicken korma…” he nervously laughs, sick bag at the ready. Urged on by the crowd and the radiance of drummer Bobbie Vylan, he emphatically powers through both shows – although we do catch a rare glimpse of him sprawled across the dressing room sofa in between sets.

Kerrang! first greets Bobbie at lunchtime, who emerges from a London black cab to load in to The Fighting Cocks. ‘Rock and roll lives here’ reads the writing on the windows, a statement underlined by a room coated in posters, stickers and colour from decades of punk rock history. After headlining London’s 2,500-capacity O2 Forum Kentish Town last November, the show is a welcome throwback to Bob Vylan’s DIY roots, up close and personal for just a select few fans.

“There’s a sense of nostalgia, I guess,” he confirms, sat alongside Bobby at a coffee shop two doors down, shortly after soundcheck. “The bigger the shows get… just having that physical divide there, it does change things. It seems silly, because [Bobby] constantly hops over the barriers anyway!”

Since the grime-punk duo dropped their second album …The Price Of Life in 2022, the rise of Bob Vylan has been unstoppable. Picking up the Best Album accolade at The Kerrang! Awards that same year, after crashing into the Top 20 of the UK charts, there’s a lyric on Humble As The Sun – among many – we can’t help but agree with: ‘The album went to 18 / But they know I’m Number One.’

Staunchly independent from day one, the twosome’s success story is a gigantic middle finger to the exploitative major label machine that they continue to speak out against. The band stand as living proof that another path is indeed possible, a notion bluntly emphasised in their acceptance speech for Best Alternative Music Act at the 2022 MOBOs: ‘Everybody that’s here, bigging up Atlantic and bigging up Warner, fuck that, us man did it ourselves.’

Humble As The Sun arrives, therefore, at a point of considerable momentum for the duo. Crucially, as with every aspect of the band’s business, it’s arrived entirely on their terms.

“Nothing is ever by force, we move when we want to move,” Bobby tells Kerrang!. “We played our biggest show to date last year, with no new album out. Believe me, there were plenty of people, like our agent, [telling us], ‘You’ve got to get new music out.’ To be able to play Kentish Town Forum [was] testament to the work that we’ve been doing.”

So, what went down at Kentish Town? “The sound of 2,500 people was deafening. It’s probably the most in-the-moment I’ve been at a show,” reflects Bobby. Bathing in the outpouring of adrenaline from the crowd, the night served as a celebration of the community that Bob Vylan have built and cultivated, and the persistent work ethic that underpins their journey so far. But the pair know better than anyone that such relentlessness is just the nature of the beast.

“To be honest, I do get quite burnt out. I think right now is probably an instance of that,” Bobby explains calmly. “But in an attempt to get the message out there to as many people as possible, we have to operate like this. It's the determination, though. I feel like [our] work is never done – the job is never complete.”

From their debut LP We Live Here through to Humble As The Sun, Bob Vylan’s discography offers a brutally honest snapshot into the racism, poverty and social injustices that continue to plague modern-day Britain. Speaking up for those without a voice, the rebellious duo wear their fury on their sleeves – what you see is what you get, and they’ll say it louder for the people in the back. They’ve become a vital band, encouraging other artists to unapologetically stand up for their morals, utilise their platform and cut any half-hearted bullshit.

On their latest record, the aggression takes a different avenue: empowerment. For all the doom and gloom, there is still plenty of hope for the future, a sentiment Bob Vylan hammer home across the 10-track collection. Repeated affirmations of self-love and worth close out Hunger Games, while closing track I’m Still Here leaves you fired up to stand tall on your own two feet: ‘I’m still here / They’ll never take me alive / I survived, I survived, I survived,’ Bobby roars. Weather the storm and hang in there, because better times will come.

“Even though the subject matter is sometimes quite heavy, there's a lot of hope throughout the album,” explains Bobby. “I wanted it to seem celebratory and bright and happy.” Mirrored in the artwork, which sees the singer's dreadlocks styled in the shape of a sun over a clear blue sky, the album reshapes the adversity of the present into faith for the future.

In a world that can be so miserable at times, where on earth do Bob Vylan get their optimism from, then?

“One thing I’ve recently discovered, I just enjoy it when people try hard at stuff,” Bobbie tells K!. “I realised it because I go climbing all the time, and I’ve noticed it [too] when my sister's writing scripts. It’s something that always makes me smile, when somebody's putting effort into something they care about – it doesn’t really matter what.”

Bobby takes a moment to ponder. “My family, to be honest. My daughter and my dad are basically what keep me alive.” Sometimes, sources of inspiration are closer to home than you think, and there’s beauty in the simpler things in life. “Finding hope in stuff, it can be hard sometimes. Especially because things seem as though we're set up to fail. There's nothing that we can do to change any of the hardships that we've gone through. But, what do they say? ‘This too shall pass.’ Everything – good times, bad times – they will pass.”

“My daughter and my dad are basically what keep me alive”

Bobby Vylan

Family has a significant role to play in the album, namely on its lead single Dream Big, which features vocals from Bobby’s daughter, nephews and nieces. “[I] wrangled them up in the front room, set a microphone up. They were doing it [out of] time, one of them was saying ‘Dream pig!’” he chuckles. “I won’t forget that experience, and I don’t think they’ll forget it. It’s now immortalised on vinyl, and it’s there forever for them to hear and refer back to.”

Riddled with profanities, Bob Vylan’s music isn’t exactly child-friendly. But tonight at the PRYZM show, there's a young fan on the barrier called Reginald, who holds up an inflatable eighth birthday balloon. “Give it up for little Reggie!” grins Bobby, dedicating Dream Big to the birthday boy and adapting the chorus, much to his delight: ‘Dream big, Reg, Reg, Dream big’. Reginald is clearly buzzing, gifted with Bobbie’s drumsticks to really put the icing on the cake – this too is a day he’ll never forget. It’s a microcosm that personifies Dream Big, a song that can inspire anyone, from all walks of life, old or young, to pursue their ambitions.

“That song, really, is written for my younger self,” says Bobby. “It’s also important for me to show [my daughter] that things are possible. Anything is possible, you’re capable of doing whatever you want to do. It’s hard work, it’s graft. It was very important for me to have my daughter laughing [on the track]... it’s a sound that just brings immense joy to me,” he beams, alongside Bobbie. “When we play it, every time, it makes me so warm.”

Bob Vylan were dreamers – and they still are. Perhaps it was their rebellious, stubborn nature that gave them the drive to fulfil their ambitions, instead of getting a “real job”, as encouraged by friends and family from a young age. But, as Bobby now realises, this was borne out of a place of fear, not malice or a lack of belief in his ability.

“I understand now that people’s concerns and disbelief, especially my parents’, were rooted in the fact they’re working-class. We don’t have that privilege of living an ‘artist’s life’ – you finish school, you go to college and get a job. There’s a route you take, and being an artist is not a route that you take to keep your head above water. There is a worry. ‘My son, I love you, do not condemn yourself to a life of poverty by trying to be an artist.’ But as I got older, I realised, of course, why wouldn’t they be worried? He’s gonna be poor, and I cannot afford to keep him afloat.”

Imparting this truth and self-belief upon the youth of today is of paramount importance to them, explains Bobbie, articulating this balanced approach that has come with maturity. “I guess people do have a duty to tell kids that maybe you should have something [else]. But at the same time, if you dissuade people from trying to chase those things, you don’t have any artists, athletes or anything. Before you tell them that they’re gonna fail, just let them try.”

Whatever Bobby’s daughter wishes to pursue, be it dancing, cooking or something else, she has his full support – as long as she has the work ethic to match. “My daughter’s in a far better position than I was at her age. It’s night and day. This kid does not know half of what I went through, and she never will, because that’s the job that me and her mother have done. So maybe she will be able to live rent-free, maybe, and chase what she wants to do. I would happily give that, as long as she’s serious about it.”

But Bob Vylan aren’t done with dreaming just yet. They dream of a fairer society, for their friends and family to be safe and happy. Amidst the bleak picture of Britain they paint on Humble As The Sun, there is an urge, an undying drive to push forward in the face of a broken system – however far away paradise may seem. “I don’t know that it’s near, but you have to act and work as if it is,” Bobbie declares. “I will be long dead before racism’s ended, before poverty’s ended. A lot of the stuff I personally do, I won’t see the fruits of those things. But I can do what I can, in the time that I have, to help push it in that direction. If I help move the needle a millimetre, I’ve done my job.”

“Shoot for the moon, you reach the stars,” adds Bobby, flipping the saying on its head to demonstrate their mentality. There is no ceiling to where they can go, what’s still to be achieved, and the legacy they are already laying down, where they’ve crashed through the barriers of what independent artists can achieve.

“There is this assumption that if you’re DIY, it has to be amateur,” begins Bobby. “They are not synonyms of each other. It’s important to show we can be independent, but have all of the appearance of a major label operation. We’ve got billboards in the city. The song is on the radio, our faces are in the magazines. All of those benchmarks that major labels [set], we’re showing that it’s possible. You don’t have to take that deal and agree to some of the terrible terms and conditions of managerial contracts. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll force labels to re-evaluate their practices – and that can only be a good thing.”

“If I help move the needle a millimetre, I’ve done my job”

Bobbie Vylan

Change is already brewing from within. While She Sleeps sold out Alexandra Palace off their own backs. Bambie Thug has rocketed from the Dogtooth Stage to the Main Stage at Download in the space of 12 months. South-coast punks SNAYX have one of the most dedicated fanbases in the country. The common denominator? No label, no voices in your ear, no ulterior motives. Independence is king.

“I think you’ll probably find if [up-and-coming] bands are aware of Bob Vylan, Bob Vylan is likely a source of inspiration in terms of how we conduct our business,” Bobby explains carefully. “You’ll find that more artists are believing in themselves as independent artists in this genre of music, because of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

In a time where the machine continues to feed algorithms and swallow up grassroots venues – from Southampton’s Suburbia to Bath’s Moles – Bob Vylan are flying the flag for the independent spirit that’s served them well since day one. Throughout the afternoon in Kingston, we meet some of the smiley figures from their inner circle, who bring an infectious energy to the camp on this day of celebration, and fuel the suffering Bobby with enough carbohydrates and hot drinks to get him through the night. Strolling down the high street between venues, Bobbie pops into Mullan’s, coming away with a camo bucket hat and some funky sunglasses, after a seal of approval from K!, for what it’s worth.

Amidst the madness of album release weekend, the duo’s calmness is refreshing, taking each moment in their stride. It’s a far cry from the release of …The Price Of Life, where skyrocketing vinyl sales meant late night drives to Coventry to drop off hundreds of extra records. Fortunately, it’s an eventuality they’ve accounted for this time – though you can never underestimate their loyalty of their fans.

“It’s clear to see, we are building something undeniable,” Bobby concludes, a tone of pride in his voice. “But we will have also burnt down plenty in the process” – he smiles, ready to go to war with anyone who disagrees with him. Bob Vylan vs. the world. There’s only going to be one winner.

“We’re gonna leave a mark here. They’ll know our name.”

Humble As The Sun is out now via Ghost Theatre. They play the Kerrang! stage at Slam Dunk Festival on May 25 and 26 in Hatfield and Leeds – get your tickets now

Read this next:

Check out more:

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?