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Henry Cox paints quite the picture when describing moments in the studio working on Boston Manor’s excellent fourth album, Datura.
“You know when you were in primary school and you’d do music, and the teacher would come with a big box of weird things that made weird noises?” the singer chuckles. “We were all just picking up weird stuff at times, and bashing away at it all. Don’t get me wrong, it was also challenging – but it was a lot of fun.”
While Datura certainly sounds much more meticulously put-together than that those childlike images (despite Henry joking that there’s a lot of “chaos” floating around the band’s shared Dropbox folder of music), it was one of the most interesting creative endeavours of the Blackpool band’s career so far.
Teaming up in a Brixton studio with Hundred Reasons’ Larry Hibbitt on production duties, Henry and his bandmates – guitarists Mike Cunniff and Ash Wilson, bassist Dan Cunniff and drummer Jordan Pugh – took their time over the pandemic, distilling a more cinematic sound and accompanying moody aesthetics, and enjoying the artistic freedom they were afforded.
Amidst a “day of admin” and fresh from watering his plants and walking his dog, Henry talks us through all things Datura…
At what point within the whole process of making Datura did the concept of having a ‘night-time’ feel come about?
“I think it was early on. I kind of knew what the songs would be about, because I had decided that I was going to make a personal record about some issues that I have, and use that as a bit of therapy, really. And we’ve always loved the shadowy, night-time aesthetic, anyway – we’ve channelled it into a lot of our music, and we love playing in that world that we’ve built. So we went back to that world a little bit, but we also decided that we’re going to make an album in two parts – so this is part one, and we like the idea that part one is beginning at dusk and ending at dawn, and then part two is the opposite; it’s the next day. When that concept emerged, we decided to really double down on it, and make it a chronological narrative.”
Did you need to get the darker one out of your system before you can move on to a brighter, daytime record?
“We haven’t written that much of the second part yet, and that was kind of deliberate, because it’s in tandem with life as we are experiencing it. I don’t think that I’m there yet, mentally, and I don’t think it’s fair to write a record about overcoming that issue if you haven’t done that yet. That’s what I’m waiting for. I’m doing a lot better than I was 18 months ago – I’m in a pretty good place in my life now. But I really want to make an album that makes people feel good. We’ve written a lot of doom and gloom over the years, and we keep saying that we don’t want to keep beating people with the misery stick! So this all feels very natural.”
You’ve always had those dark and personal moments, but would you say this is your most personal album?
“I think so. I would say it’s the most personal complete project, because I’ve written lots of songs that have been quite personal to me and my experience, but I’ve never written a whole album from that perspective. I’m a bit scared of being that vulnerable, and it’s a bit of a two-way mirror, writing very personal things that you put out into the world and anyone can look at and comment on. You’re opening yourself up to the good and the bad. I’ve always been a bit scared of that, because I’m quite a private person, and I’m quite shy – which will probably make a lot of people laugh, but it is true! But it was a moment of clarity, really, when I’d written a couple of songs and had a day where I felt like everything was falling to bits, and my wife sat down with me and said, ‘Well, why don’t you just write about this?’ And it sounds like the most simple thing ever because it’s literally my job, but it had never occurred to me to write down some of these things that I was in floods of tears about. And from there I just carried on doing it.”
When you told the band, ‘This is my headspace and this is what I’ve written,’ were they all on board?
“Yeah, they were really up for it! This was actually the first album in a long time – or maybe the only album – that we’ve made where we were all on the same page. That doesn’t take anything away from the other albums, but that is rare to be on the same page, creatively, at the same time. There’s five of us! We all contribute equally, and everything is split five ways, so there’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. But straight away everyone was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m all in for this.’ That was awesome, and it made things quite smooth when we were putting the songs together. There were no big roadblocks to overcome.”
The album opener and title-track, Datura (dusk), is so different to previous album GLUE’s explosive first track Everything Is Ordinary. What gives you the most amount of pride about that song?
“I love that intro – it might be my favourite track on the record. I think we realised that a lot of our albums have exploded and have gone all-out straight away, and that’s really cool. I like a lot of albums that do that, and it also reflects what we usually do live. But I wanted to set the tone, because this record is quite a big emotional commitment – it’ll be two albums that will probably end up spanning three-to-four years of our lives, so I wanted to give it the gravitas that I felt it deserved. And the lyrics are a poem that I wrote two years ago in the pandemic, and I had it sitting around for ages and I wanted to do something with it. We had multiple versions of it. There was one version where it was just an acoustic guitar, and it was like a Nirvana vibe, and then there were other versions that were more of a full song. But we had written Floodlights on the square, and we thought it would be such a cool way to go into that, and plant our flag in the sand of this record.”
Equally, you’ve got the likes of Foxglove and Passenger which have your typically massive Boston Manor choruses. How did you strike that balance between those and then the moodier, more soundtrack-esque stuff?
“We’re good at writing those big, energetic songs that everyone can sing along to, and that’s been our bread and butter. If we were to play a show or release a record that was missing those moments, it would be doing a disservice to our fans, I think. But, at the same time, we don’t get out of bed in the morning just to make those songs. We’re a bit older than we were when we first started the band (laughs), and our tastes have changed, and we want to satiate our own artistic self-indulgence, I suppose. We want to have a bit of fun and surprise ourselves. Without sounding arrogant, [the more anthemic songs] come quite naturally to us, and what really excites me is the more unusual songs in our repertoire.”
The album is seven songs – were you at all worried people would react negatively to that?
“No, I never thought about that! And then I saw a bunch of people complaining about it, and I was like, ‘You realise this is free?!’ All you’re doing by buying it is validating and supporting it after the fact – and of course I’m eternally grateful for anyone who would support us. I can’t express my gratitude enough for that. But you could quite easily listen to this 1,000 times on Spotify and I won’t get a penny from it, so the fact that people are feeling that we owe them more songs is funny! But I respect that those people cherish the concept of an album, and I think that’s really cool. I love that we still have a community in this sphere of music that very much appreciate an album. And you’ll hear an album, so anyone reading this who’s mad at us, don’t worry!”
Would you say this is also pushing back against the streaming model and focus on singles, almost, where you’ve created an experience that people don’t just dip in and out of?
“Someone asked me recently if there was one song I could recommend that encompasses the album, and that’s a good question, but I was saying, ‘Well, not really, because each song is a little piece of the puzzle.’ And I don’t mean for that to sound pretentious! But they’re all very different, and there’s no one song that is the embodiment of the whole record; it’s equal to the sum of its parts. And that’s also why it’s a bit shorter: because we felt as though this told the story and the message as we wanted it to. And, another thing – which wasn’t necessarily part of our decision making, but it’s an interesting point – is that if you look at any artists’ streaming numbers, after about track nine on an album it starts to really fall off, and there’s a quarter of the number of plays that the first five songs have. Not that streaming numbers would ever dictate our creative process, and I mean that sincerely, but it’s an interesting exercise in, ‘Will this incite people to digest this in one piece because it’s shorter?’”
What do you hope that fans will take away from Datura?
“I hope they find some solace in the message. This sounds like such a platitude these days, but I do hope that people know it’s okay not to be okay. Things don’t have to be absolute rock bottom for them to be valid. Your problems don’t have to be absolutely the worst of the worst for them to be genuine, and it’s okay for things to be bad for a while. But also, talking to people is the best thing to do, and being honest with yourself is the best thing to do.
“I hope this makes people invest in us, and I don’t mean financially. When I was growing up, and still now, my favourite bands were the medium-sized ones who were quite cult-y in their appeal. I made friends through those acts, and there were layers to it all, and a lot to invest in. I want these songs to last, and to have a place in people’s hearts for a long time. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I hope this album finds its way to people that care about it. I would rather have 500 people that absolutely love it, and have thoughts and opinions on it, than have 5,000,000 people that heard that one song on the radio and come and watch it and then leave once we’ve played it.”
Datura is due out on October 14 via SharpTone Records. Boston Manor tour with Alexisonfire from the same date. Visit store.kerrang.com to order your Inertia flexi disc now.
This interview was originally published in the autumn 2022 issue of the magazine.
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