Sometimes headlines almost write themselves. While acclaimed English art-rock sextet Black Country, New Road are making their first ever Arizona appearance Tuesday, September 20 at the Hotel Congress Plaza with fellow UK post-punkers Black MIDI, the band is undergoing extraordinary personal and musical transformations while on tour in America. One could almost write “Black Country, New Road – New Country, New Road, New Band!”
“This country is so big,” bassist Tyler Hyde says with a laugh over the phone, referring to the strange new world she finds herself in called the American Eastern Seaboard. “Baltimore was such a crazy crowd. I've never played to a crowd like that before, to the point where we were all holding ourselves and feeling on stage – that was alien to us.”
At the time of the call, Hyde and her bandmates have just pulled up to the venue in Raleigh, North Carolina – just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the birthplace of flight. “Woah, that’s amazing!” She says upon discovering the location of the Wright Brothers’ historic achievement.
Much like Arcade Fire, the Canadian-American art-rockers who came before them, Black Country, New Road have been the subject of much praise and analysis by the UK music press; one writer for The Quiteus called the group the “best in the entire world” even before the release of their debut album. That debut, For The First Time, was subsequently nominated for the Mercury Prize – the award given by the British Phonographic Industry to the best album released by a UK act – and reached number 4 on the UK Albums Chart. Talk about hype.
Yet, to say that Black Country, New Road is in a transitional period is an understatement. After barely two years passing between the band’s first releases, ensuing hype, and the eve of the release of their second full-length LP Ants From Up Here, the band’s lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood departed the band, citing mental health issues. All before their first-ever American tour. The band has since made good on their word that they would continue as a band but would not perform material written with Wood. Just like starting over.
The set for the American tour the band find themselves on at the moment is comprised entirely of new material the band has written prior to hitting the road, with various members sharing lead vocals, including Hyde. “We’ve got bits of these songs but we unfortunately haven't figured out how to find a way of continuing to write while on the road,” she admits. “It's a bit frustrating, but I'm constantly writing what my book and I think people do some bits behind closed doors, but the conversation is still there. But you know, it's our first tour, we’re just a bunch of kids trying to figure out how to do this basically.”
Beyond that, the band is technically short one more member – violinist Georgia Ellery – who is back in the UK overseeing the debut release from her other band Jockstrap. The current American run features violinist Nina Lim in her place.
The band’s fanbase has been simultaneously supportive yet scrutinizing in this period of transition, with recordings of the band’s new sets already circulating around YouTube enough that people are already turning up to recent gigs singing songs that have yet to be released officially. Several ‘bootleg’ live albums of the band from this tour already have upward of 50k plays. Throughout these recordings, Black Country, New Road have in fact been workshopping a little less than a dozen new tracks, and plan to diversify their instrumental palate. Hyde, who grew up a classical guitarist, originally actually declined to be a bass player for the band before being convinced. “I said no four times!” Hyde says laughing. “Imagine if it stuck as a ‘no,’ I wouldn't be here in Raleigh right now.”
As opposed to returning to her original instrument, Hyde says she plans to modify her playing moving forward and possibly incorporate new instruments into her repertoire. “Recently I just got a new bass, a Mustang, and it's so much smaller and it feels like a guitar,” she says. “I think from now on my bass playing is going to gradually become more like guitar. But you know what? I'll probably start playing something stupid that we haven't even heard of. Hurdy gurdy or something like that.”
Hyde says that the pressure and culture-shock of the tour is alleviated slightly by the presence of Black MIDI, with whom they have collaborated in the past under the portmanteau moniker Black MIDI, New Road. She goes on to say that just before the band set sail, a friend who had previously toured America gave her some crucial advice. “Just look at each day as it comes, at max look towards tomorrow, but don’t look beyond that,” Hyde says. “I'm trying to remain as much in the present as possible right now just for health reasons.”
Despite wrangling the pressure, Hyde is quite the upbeat interview subject. She’s looking forward to exploring America as the band heads out west in the coming weeks, having already taken advantages of days off to walk the streets of various American cities with her bandmates as opposed to traditional ‘sightseeing.’ “When I don't have much time off, I like to just walk instead,” Hyde says. “I find that if you go sightseeing, it takes up too much time or you get worn out and you don't see as much.”
Black Country, New Road are certainly in for a fascinating career arc going forward. For a band that has had to go through and all that they inevitably will go through – all on the cusp their first American tour – Hyde says the band will know they’ve officially ‘made it’ when one thing happens:
“When we can get our own room[s] in a hotel, instead of having to share.”