The Stockport five-piece Blossoms caught the imagination with their debut album of 2016, which sailed to number one in the album charts. It was quite an achievement, but this young band’s propensity for producing straight ahead classic pop fare with an 80s vibe, hit the mark big time. As will, almost certainly, the new album, Cool Like You. A bit shinier, and more synth-driven, it’s still full to the brim of catchy, melodic pop-rockers that will take them to another, more rarefied level.
Tom Ogden writes their music, and he took some time out just before the release of the album (and his birthday!) to talk to Brightonsfinest about songwriting and ice cream.
Like when the first album came out, this must be pretty exciting times for you?
Definitely, if not more exciting in a way. We’ve been sat on it since last summer and we’ve been itching for the world to hear it.
Only a couple of singles have been released, plus we’ve road-tested a couple of songs. We went away with Noel Gallagher last week and played a couple of the songs off the album. But we want everyone to hear everything now.
How will be you marking the day of release?
We’ll be doing an in-store in Manchester, and we’ll be serving ice cream at Foodie Friday, which is a market in Stockport. We’ve done a bundle. If you pre-order the album we’ll serve you some ice cream. And on Saturday it’s my birthday. We’ve got the night off!
The material is much more synth-based, and you wrote much of it on a keyboard?
Yeah, it was a natural evolution off the back of the first record. Some of the songs off that record were written on a keyboard as well. I suppose I gained confidence from that, and then invested in a few keyboards, vintage synthesisers that we used on ‘Stranger Still’, re-issues of old stuff, but made modern. It gets you into that world. There was no pressure from anyone, about making a new record. I was writing songs in-between touring the first record. And because we had a bit of time off at Christmas, we demo’ed a couple of the songs, and it was like, ‘Oh, wow’, it looks like a record. So we booked some studio time in May.
To me, as a songwriter, you feel like you’ve maybe got everything you can out of one keyboard I had at home, an electric piano, and you look to other things to inspire you. Invest in yourself, I suppose. Which is what I did.
Does that mean on stage you’re playing keys, or are you still playing guitar?
No no, still playing guitar on stage. The piano was the first thing I got to learn, but I never got to the point where I was amazing. I started getting into it again a couple of years ago when we were making Blossoms.
You’ve obviously got an ear for a melody, and know how to write a song! I think you were also inspired by listening to a lot of synth-based music…
A lot of playlists on Spotify, to be fair. I know it sounds really 2018, but when you’re on the road all the time, it’s easy. I listened to Spotify synth playlists; Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which was a big 80s soundtrack for the video game that we loved growing up. Kinda went back to that, really. Big, melodic pop songs.
I read that Prefab Sprout was something that you latched onto.
Just that song, ‘When Love Breaks Down’. A lot of the keyboard sounds on that were inspiring.
How’s the reaction been when road-testing some of the new songs and new direction?
We started off more guitar-orientated, but as we evolved as a band we’ve used both synths and guitars. There’s a lot of synth lines on the first record. We’ve always married the two. It’s a natural evolution, really. We don’t suddenly sound like a grime act, or something like that! The guitars are more driving on this one, building up the rhythm, while the synths are doing the more sparkly melodies.
How does it work, a typical Blossoms song? You come up with the initial idea, then take it to the band?
I write the whole song, at home. Like a classic songwriting approach.
Where did you learn this ability to write?
Just chasing it and working hard at it. I’ve always been able to do it. My dad has a good ear for songs and he kind of, even when I was 14 or 15, he would point good songs out. I was encouraged by that. And listening to a lot of music growing up, trying to emulate it. But obviously if it was that easy, everyone would do it.
Well, as well as having a natural ability, songwriting is a craft that you have to work at.
Yeah, definitely. You have to have that natural ability at first, but it depends how far you want to take it. I’ve dedicated the best part of the last ten years of my life to chasing that, and never stopped doing it. I love it.
How about on tour, do you ever find the time to write?
Not really. I might noodle about on the guitar a bit, and take down ideas, song titles and lyrics – but I’ll never write on tour. So, when I do get home, I’m not just starting with a blank canvas.
Any songs on the new album that mean the most to you?
I really like the last song on the album, ‘Love Talk’. That’s where I’m at in my life at the moment. It’s like a long distance love song. I’ve always found it more difficult to write positive love songs. The lyrics can sound cringey, can’t they? If you don’t get it right. But, when you’re unhappy, it’s easier to say exactly how you feel. That one sums up what it’s like being in a relationship while on tour. I’m a big fan of those old Phil Spector songs, The Ronettes and stuff. You might not be able to hear it, but I can hear it. I know what I’m trying to channel.
Your last album came out less than two years ago. It’s good to see acts such as yourselves release stuff more regularly.
We finished the album last September, so that was pretty much bang on 12 months from the release of the first album. It is quite a quick turn around, but that’s because I continued writing songs after we finished the first album, before it had even come out.
James Skelly, who produced the record, he’s always on to me to send him songs, and inspire me in some way. No one was pulling me in any other direction. People left me to write songs. And once I felt I had a batch that I wanted to show people, me and the keyboard player, Miles, demo’ed them. And that got everyone excited. And because we had been touring, everyone was eager to get some new stuff down. That’s just the natural way of being in a band. Well, that’s the way we are.
You mentioned James Skelly, who’s with The Coral. They’ve got a new album coming out and touring with the Manic Street Preachers at the moment. You’ve been working with him almost since the beginning. What is it about the relationship that seems to work?
He’s got very wide music tastes, and is very in touch with pop sensibilities that you might hear on an 80s record, do you know what I mean? He’s really switched on with guitar and keyboard sounds. And as a person, he’s not in it for any other reason than the fact he loves music. He’s probably held himself back in the past because of that. They (The Coral) probably could have been bigger than they are. But, he’s happy with what he’s done. We just get on. It works.
Most of you grew up all together. There’s some weird fact about you all being born in the same hospital.
Yeah, we were. Joe and I have had the longest friendship, since we were 12. We went to our first gig together, to see Oasis, 2009. Started getting drunk together. I started writing songs with a different band, and Joe was always on the fringe, coming to the gigs and coming to the studio and playing tambourine or something. I think he was just waiting to pick his moment. It was kind of inevitable, and it happened at the right time. We were getting better. And we met Charlie and Josh. It all aligned at the right time. It’s been the same band since, we’ve never had any one else. It started off with four of us. We didn’t have a keyboard player, and Miles joined after about six months.
There was that mockumentary you made, a fictional account of you splitting up, which had a few people worried…
We finished the record last summer, and we had a little bit of time off. We’d seen what The 1975 and Taylor Swift had done with social media, deleting things. ‘Where have they gone’? We’re not big enough to do that so we came up with idea of ‘Where Are Blossoms?’. We pretended we’ve got these jobs in the meantime. Joe’s an ice cream man, Charlie’s a football mascot, that kind of thing. We thought people would find it funny, and know what we’re doing. We made it, it was all our idea.
When you started gigging you all had jobs, and Josh was still at school?
Josh was just 15. A couple of us worked in a hotel, Charlie worked with his dad on the odd bricklaying job. And Joe was a sailor. We all had to give that up to go on tour. At that point we didn’t have a record deal. No one knew where the future was going. I never thought I would be in a band doing this, even when I was writing songs. I just enjoyed doing it. That’s probably why it works.