The Blinders’ Thomas Haywood on Bob Dylan, his creative process and self isolation
Born in Doncaster, today based in Manchester, The Blinders are a trio made up of Thomas Haywood (guitar and vocals), Charlie McGough (bass) and Matthew Neale (drums). Since breaking onto the scene with their politically-charged debut Columbia in 2018, the South Yorkshire lads are back with their second album Fantasties of a Stay at Home Psychopath.
We are not short of loud, brash rock bands these days, but every so often, one comes along that has something new to say. Scouring YouTube videos, social posts and old interviews before our chat, they look almost like any other too-cool-for-school, laidback indie rock band. But once they get talking, it’s clear to see that this project is a melting pot of cultural and historical knowledge, blended with Turner-esque vocals, clever lyrics and genuine musical talent.
We caught up with frontman and guitarist, Thomas Haywood, to chat about growing up in Doncaster, The Wizard of Oz, and what to expect from their upcoming album.
How are you and what have you been up to?
In all honesty, I’ve been self-isolating, as they call it. I got a bit ill about a week and a half ago but I’m doing alright actually, I’m quite enjoying it. I’ve started painting and stuff like that.
You’ve known each other since school. How has your relationship as friends, and as a band, changed throughout the years?
I mean, we’ve grown up together I suppose. We still have a very good relationship. Like you say, we’ve known each other since school and we’ve spent the best part of seven days a week with each other for the past nine or ten years now. We haven’t cracked yet if that’s what you want to know. That’s just the kind of people that we are. We still always lean upon one another and I don’t think that will change really.
How would you say growing up in South Yorkshire has influenced your sound?
Quite heavily, I think. I think coming from Doncaster was quite important, you know? Breaking into the big bad world. I think that’s more to do with the families that we were raised by. Being from a working-class background is quite a rarity when it comes to bands these days, it seems. We just apply that attitude in everything we do, we work really hard. But you know, I think we could have been from anywhere and still ended up in a similar situation. At the end of the day, we’re just made up the way that we are, I suppose.
How has your sound evolved since first starting out?
The first record felt like switching on a microphone, waiting for the red light and the word go. The second album felt a little more planned and more fleshed out in terms of, we actually had an idea of what we were doing this time around. Your sound changes naturally with a change of producer as well. We went in to record Fantasies with a guy called Rob Ellis who worked on some of our favourite records by Anna Calvi and PJ Harvey. He worked on some Marianne Faithfull stuff as well which straight away caught our attention. He has been quite instrumental in moving us towards different instruments. There are a lot of keys in this one. We now have an understanding of how to reflect a sound that’s in our heads, rather than just trying to play something and make it sound good. That just comes with more experience in the studio I suppose.
What’s one thing that you know now that you wish you’d known when starting a band?
There are a thousand things that I know now that I wish I’d known at the beginning. I mean, I wish I’d have known more about the whole industry before. It’s a fucking tough old one. There are a lot of leeches who will take you for every fucking penny you’ve got if you’re not careful. I wish we’d have had a little more understanding about that but that’s just the music industry, so.
Who would you say your biggest influences are?
I think Bob Dylan is a big influence. He is one of, if not the, greatest songwriter of our time. Everyone takes a leaf out of his book. I sort of lean heavily onto a lot of Jack Kerouac stuff. He was pretty big for me when I was about 19. It just gave me a good lease of life I suppose. I started to understand that I wasn’t alone in this sort of pursuit of happiness, which doesn’t really exist. But we all try anyway, even though getting there isn’t what it’s all about. I suppose that’s one big metaphor for being in a band. There are a thousand more, probably somewhere on the internet.
What inspires you when you’re writing?
I think it’s important to write every day because you never know what’s around the corner. It can come at four in the morning or it can come when you’ve just heard a song that has inspired you with emotions. Trying to create a song that emulates a feeling is an inspiration in itself. The most interesting points of inspiration are the ones that come without warning, like a lightbulb moment. And you just chase it down the rabbit hole for as long as you can.
If you could have written any song in the world, which would it be and why?
Oh fucking hell. That probably changes every day but off the top of my head, I really like what Bob Dylan did with A Hard Rains A’Gonna Fall. He sort of goes on this surrealist description of modern America. At the time when he wrote it, bombs were pretty much about to drop. It was the height of the nuclear crisis. How he can lace his words with that much fear, it’s amazing. It’s a really good listen. It paints a real picture in your head.
Your new album is called Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Probably something when we were all 16 or 17 years old, you know. When you think nothing matters, which it doesn’t really. I suppose that’s why that age is such an interesting age and one to look back on. I suppose I’m not really a crazy kind of person. I think that’s what Fantasies is all about. It’s not necessarily this idea of a neurotic person who does things which are strange and off the whim. It’s just genuine thoughts which rot inside. You feel ashamed, sometimes, to have those thoughts. So being able to package that up in a way like this, like a fictional character or an exaggerated version of yourself, we’ve just blown that out of proportion and really had some fun with it.
What was the creative process like making this album?
We started writing for this record pretty much straight after we finished the first one. So naturally, we had a lot of songs to choose from when the time was ready to go in and record. It was an interesting process that we followed with Rob Ellis, he would maybe take away ten songs in the end. We wrote one song in the studio which was finished a couple of days before we laid down the tape. We approached it with more control and an understanding of the studio. It’s a lot more personal this one I think. The last record, we just tried to get our hands on anything and write about it. We naturally found ourselves going down that fictional, dystopian route because that’s what we felt like writing about and we had a lot of interesting things to say about it. The second record is much more personal and well-thought-out. We took our time with this one, whereas the first record felt like a bit of a rush.
What is your favourite track from the album, and why?
Circle Song is probably the one that I couldn’t believe we’d written. If you’d had told me when I was 17 or 18 years old that I’d write that, I’d have laughed in your face. I really like the direction that Rob Ellis took us on with the music as well. I’m really pleased with that one.
If you could re-write the soundtrack to any film, which would it be?
You’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, right? There’s a Dark Side of the Moon put-over. It’s called The Dark Side of the Rainbow. It will blow your mind. There were a lot of conspiracy theories around that The Dark Side of the Moon was written as a sound over for The Wizard of Oz. If you play the record, it’s almost as if the music is speaking for the acting. It’s fucking bizarre. Anyway, I’d like to have a crack at that. It’s stunning, it really is.
You have a string of shows lined up this year. What can people expect when they come and see you live?
Oh you know, some songs off the first record, some songs off the second record. I mean, it’s no secret that we like to really push the boat out when we play live. With the nature of the way that we write the songs, the music often reflects the words and the words tend to be towards the more discontent side of things. Things can get a little heated. So, don’t wear a jacket or a coat when you come down to one of our gigs. Just put a t-shirt on because it will get warm.
If you could be quarantined with one person, who would it be and why?
I don’t know really because you have such dressed-up version of people in your head and at the end of the day, they might not actually be like that. You’re better off picking one of your friends. It’s a lot of time to be with one person. There’s a guy called John McCullagh, from Children of the State. He’s a nice lad. I’m keeping an eye on them because they’re a fucking great band. They’re working with one of the Skelly’s on Parr Street at the moment, so that should be interesting.
Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath is out 8 May. The Blinders UK tour dates have now been rescheduled from May to September. For more information check out www.theblindersofficial.com/live