It’s sword rentals, suits of armour and wrist cramps with Blue Bendy: “Good first albums need to take risks”

BLUE BENDY ditch rock star clichés for signed vinyl and sword rentals on debut album, ‘So Medieval’. Check out the latest cover story for our New Music Friday playlist edit, PLAY.

Words: Stephen Ackroyd.

It isn’t easy being in a band. It might sound like it’s all glitz and glamour: headline shows, adult fizzy pop, bright lights and adoration. It isn’t. It’s actually mostly waiting about logistics and, erm, cramp?

“We were at our label HQ signing booklets going inside the limited edition vinyl,” guitarist Joe Nash explains. “250 doesn’t sound like loads, but wrist cramps start about 100.”

Still, there are positives and negatives. It’s the first day of spring, it’s not raining, and Blue Bendy are “feeling fresh and pretty floral”. Alongside scribbling their names across hundreds of records, they’ve been looking into renting swords and suits of armour for a music video. Maybe it is pretty glamorous, after all.

The band’s debut album, ‘So Medieval’, is a testament to their unconventional approach. It’s a glorious sonic labyrinth, a clash of genres that sounds like an olden-days rock opera scored by a band raised on a healthy dose of psychedelics.

“I think we had the core of ‘Cloudy’, ‘The Day I Said You’d Died’ and ‘Come On Baby, Dig!’ written before our EP ‘Motorbike’ came out in 2022,” Joe recalls, shedding light on the album’s long gestation period. “We were certainly playing ‘in progress’ versions of these at all the gigs supporting the EP release. They were the first three we recorded.

“The full album came together over quite a long period, over probably more than a year of free weekends and evenings, with huge favours pulled in from lots of people, especially the many slogs into the early hours from Nathan Ridley at Hermitage Works studios who did the whole thing. It really felt like a proper body of work came together when we knew who and when it was going to be released; that’s when it really started to feel exciting.”

When creating the record, the band operated in the moment, trying out ideas and seeing what stuck or prompted a reaction amongst the group. “We work out what we want to write by writing,” fellow guitarist Harrison Charles reveals. “Taste is a huge part of this process; whatever ideas appear, they either die on the vine or we fall in love with them and get giddy. You have things you don’t want it to be that governs a lot of the direction, but ultimately, the album is a collection of ideas that came from nowhere. Then you fall in love with them. Then you hammer at them, mutate them, kill them, resurrect them until all that love is gone, then you put it out.”

“Lyrically, it’s about polar opposites colliding with each other,” he continues. “For me, Arthur [Nolan, the band’s vocalist] is a romantic that’s been warped and manipulated by the constant barrage of violent, meaningless, odd content. It’s as if Byron was in that scene in A Clockwork Orange where his eyes are clamped open. He’s a corrupted butterfly catcher.”

Like most new bands trying to exist in the middle of a Tory-sponsored hellscape, financing the album proved to be their most significant hurdle, something of which Harrison offers an understandably candid assessment. “The biggest challenge is money,” he admits. “When you’re in a band like Blue Bendy, talking about what you do doesn’t seem to put people’s hands in their pockets. It’s always been important to us to show people that you’re making something you really believe in, making music that isn’t meaningless and derisory but is completely authentic and has every bit of every one of you in it. So we had to scrounge around, recording sporadically. Once it was all done, then we got enough money to pay off the debts.”

We don’t want to compromise

Harrison Charles

The album itself is a wild ride, drawing on a rich tapestry of influences, from “big religious imagery” to “delusions of grandeur”, as Joe explains. “Not that we’re religious, a couple of lapsed childhood Catholics, but there’s a really fun angle to explore in the holier-than-thou, larger-than-life attitude whilst dealing with insecurities, intrusive thoughts and crippling anxieties. There’s this enormous dark undercurrent in lots of religions, too, which you’re only ever one step away from if you don’t make all the virtuous choices. I don’t personally hear this as a concept album lyrically, but I know a lot of the tracks snake through ups and downs, highlights and lowlights of Arthur’s eventful past couple of years.”

This thematic diversity is coupled with an unexpected honesty. “There’s a lot of sincerity on the album,” Joe continues. “Not that we’ve never been sincere before, but there are definitely more moments of being more open and disarmed, full songs as opposed to brief moments. There are still plenty of wry jibes and pop culture nods, from Kendall Roy to Instagram meme lords.”

Of course, debut albums are always a big moment for any act. A first proper marker in the sand, you only get one shot at it. Get it wrong, and it could be your only chance. Not to pile on the pressure…

“I think all good first albums, from bands anyway, need to keep a rawness and to take risks,” Joe muses. “It’s the first full statement you get to make, and people have only had samplers in singles and EPs up to it. I think to overproduce a first album is to do a disservice to it; it takes away the fact you’ve probably spent years writing these tracks in bedrooms and garages, only for it to sound like it’s been meticulously crafted in a posh studio.”

“The debuts from bands like Pavement and Stereolab aren’t necessarily their best sounding,” he continues, “but are so full of quirks and foibles and loaded with so much energy and personality that it feels like you really know who the band are from the off.”

That sort of desire to show personality and presence, rather than a shiny, easy-to-stomach product, is part of what makes Blue Bendy tick. They’re a band who give the impression that being musicians isn’t a choice for them; it’s a necessity. Harrison echoes this sentiment. “There’s not a lot of choice in the matter,” he explains. “I think it’s the only way us, as a band, can express ourselves coherently. There have been moments where it would’ve been easier to pack it in, shake hands with everyone in the band and pop off to give your job in retail the attention it deserves, but we can’t for some reason. A lot of bands would’ve quit had they gone through what we have, but we’re too scared to do anything else.”

Still, perseverance plays off in the end, and the future’s looking bright for Blue Bendy. They have a tour on the horizon, festival appearances at Green Man and Deer Shed lined up, and a new album already in the works. “We’re going on tour in May, which we’re really excited about; it’s our longest headline tour by far. We’re kicking things off with an album release show in 3/6th of our hometown of Scunthorpe. We’re also writing a tonne of new music, with half an album or so in progress,” Joe reveals, painting a picture of a band who don’t really know how to stop moving.

Their ambitions, as you’d hope, are as vast as their sound. “It’s tricky because we don’t want to compromise in any way,” Harrison considers, “but we also want to reach as many people as possible. We want people to define themselves with Blue Bendy in the same way we define ourselves by our music. We’re also shy and don’t particularly want to impose that on anyone. Longevity and consistently making really important records that we’re proud of would be nice.”

“One MGMT hit that we can all live off for the rest of our lives,” he adds in at the last minute. “Throw that in there, too.”

Joe’s aspirations mostly come down to playing new places or returning to important ones. “To play in Japan would be nice,” he considers. “A little Tokyo / Kyoto doubleheader with enough time to soak up some sights. We get tagged in stuff from there all the time, but it turns out it’s expensive to fly six people halfway around the world.”

“A couple of us have found and also lost parts of ourselves at Primavera in Barcelona, too, over the years – playing that would feel like a bit of a full circle moment, especially if we did ‘The Day I Said You’d Died’, a lot of what that song is about.”

With a tour kicking off, festivals booked, and a new album simmering on the blocks, Blue Bendy are in perpetual motion. ‘So Medieval’ is just the first chapter for a band about forging connections, sparking emotions, and staying true to their creative truth. At least, it will be once that wrist cramp wears off. ■

Blue Bendy’s debut album ‘So Medieval’ is out now. Follow Dork’s PLAY Spotify playlist here.