Black Peaks have been on the road seemingly endlessly since Statues was released. Just a few hours before they would play to a packed out Moles, Bath, that they’d later describe on their Facebook page as “one of the most fun and intense shows we’ve ever played”, I grabbed a coffee with Will Gardner, the band’s vocalist.
We chose a small coffee shop with misted windows to escape the cold February afternoon. The UK tour had started two weeks before the Bath date, and with a show nearly every day, it was evident that the tour was tiring. Still, it didn’t stop Will being charming and enthusiastic. Two strong elements of his personality that probably have helped the band get to where they are now – alongside a lot of hard work, of course.
How’s tour been going for you?
That’s a big open question.
(He laughs nervously.)
I mean, it’s like a real up and down really. Mostly its great fun and it’s incredible a lot of the time but it has its dips and everyone gets a bit tired sometimes but going out to play shows everyday is amazing. We’re in a very lucky position, really.
How did you meet? Were you friends anyway you liked making the same music?
No, not at all, Liam and Andrew have known each from school. Joe was travelling and waned to make a group that was actually going to achieve things and he came back and saw Liam play was like ‘I want to play with that drummer, he’s really good’. My old band didn’t work out and I’d been with them for about six years. The day after things went sour, I then got a message from Andrew saying ‘do you want to join?’ and I said ‘yeah, that sounds sick!’ We just hit it off massively. It was a bit weird for the first 2 months, getting to know each other and stuff.
You’ve been on the road a lot since your EP came out in 2012. Did you ever find it difficult because you didn’t know the guys very well?
Oh yeah, it’s been a real weird journey getting to know each other. It still is. Even though I’ve only known these guys for 5/6 years, I know them better than some of my closest friends. These guys are some of my closest mates in the world, but it’s different. It is a working relationship; you do some of the hardest things together. You go through countless sleepless nights and working really, really hard. The adrenaline and highs and lows of it all really. There are most where we clash, but most of the time we get along like a house on fire really.
It’s really nice to have such an honest answer to that. When it comes to writing, what’s your process like?
It’s kind of changed a bit now because the first record [Statues], Joe came up with a lot of the ideas and then we work-shopped them together and then finished the songs together and then I would go away and write lyrics and melodies. But the next record we’re working on now, it’s already much more of a group effort and everyone’s bringing new things to the table and it’s really exciting.
(‘Ah coffee, that’s better! Yeah, wicked!’ After a few sips of his cappuccino it’s clear that tour has been taking its toll on the singer.)
I know you play saxophone and you’re ridiculously good at it, but do any of the other guys play any instruments? Might we hear any sax on the new album?
(Will breaks a piece of chocolate chip cookie off for himself and offers me some.)
Maybe, I don’t know! We haven’t quite got to that point of adding more stuff… Andrew plays a lot of guitar as well. Liam’s just drums, drums, drums. I’m the only one who does other stuff really. It’s a bit of joke between us that I play jazz. They all find it really funny.
Do they tease you about it?
All the time. All the time.
If you could listen to one record for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
Wow… (he pauses and looks deep in thought). Probably ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis. It’s just got so much depth and variety in it. It’s just a perfect, perfect bit of music. A lot of its improvised as well. I think if I was going to have to listen to something for the rest of time, that’d be it. It’d have enough substance in it. I still find new things in it.
So, you’re from Brighton where the scene seems very busy from the outside. How did you find standing out? Did it ever worry you?
It’s very competitive. People in Brighton are really hard to impress. After we built up a certain amount of momentum, we found that we were actually struggling a bit – just because people had seen us quite a lot. We had a buzz for a bit and then it was suddenly like ‘man, we have to get out of Brighton’ because people wouldn’t come and see us. Luckily, the radio stuff started happening, we started getting taken over by some big management and all those things led onto us getting quite big. It was tough. We wouldn’t be the band that we are if it wasn’t for Brighton and the scene that we come from.
(He asks about the scene in Bath and seems surprised when I tell him that people will travel from Bristol to come and see the gig.)
Gun to your head, what genre is Black Peaks?
Don’t kill me, please don’t kill me, we are post-progressive hardcore. Yeah, there’s a bit of Oceansize in there, a bit of Dillenger… all sorts. There’s quite a lot of Dillenger in the next record too.
I’ve noticed you do a particular stance when you sing certain songs (see photo below). Is this just an aesthetic thing or is there another reason for it? It’s becoming something that is you.
I do it in a few songs and it’s really a breathing thing. I was experimenting in the studio when we were practicing and I put my arms out. It felt, it might be absolute crap, but it feels like it gives me more air. I’m opening everything up, shoulders back, arms out. When we started playing bigger shows, I was thinking about the breathing thing and I guess it’s sort of like a gesture as well. [Say You Will] is quite a raw song and it just started happening. I do it whenever I need to do a big, long, high scream because I need as much air as possible.
Valentine’s Day’s coming up. Have you ever had a terrible date and if so, what happened?
Great question… yeah. I was seeing this girl and we’d hooked on a night out. After meeting a few times. She was a model and we got on really well, I thought anyway. We went for a coffee a few weeks later, definitely a date. I couldn’t find anything at all to talk about. At least on a blind date, you can kind of excuse yourself. But it was like really, really awkward. After like 4 pints, it was like ‘oh, we can get along now’. Yeah, that was probably the most awkward…
We’ve recently been running by Daz Cook, drummer of ‘You Slut!’ called ‘How to be in a band your parents hate’. Do your family like what you do? Are they supportive?
They do, yeah. They’re really supportive. My Mum and Dad have always been amazingly supportive, incredibly so. My Grandma and Mother-in-law is always going ‘when are you going to stop doing that silly screaming stuff’? (He laughs.) I think its so funny because since he signed to Sony, everyone suddenly was like ‘oh okay, so you’re serious? People actually listen to that and like that?’ I’ve always been really lucky with that though. I think my Mum and Dad were always really polite about my last band.
Do they come to any of your gigs?
I started gigging when I was 5 in choirs and stuff so they came to all those so they could look at me like ‘aw, there’s our little boy!’ but now they’re like ‘oh… great’. 25 years worth, you know? When we played Concorde in Brighton, that’s the only time I’ve been like ‘please come to this gig’ because it’ll be really good. They really, really enjoyed that one.
Do you have a favourite gig you’ve ever played?
Ever? Wembley was pretty amazing. But I think I enjoyed Download more. I was laughing the whole gig, where I was a lot more self-aware, like mapping out everything I was doing and trying to be as conscious as possible for Wembley. I don’t feel like I was having a totally great time in a way. For sheer surprise factor and magic, there was one in Hungary that we did. It was unbelievable. 5,000 people turned up… in Ukraine… it was just magic.
How did it feel to step out on stage for that show?
Completely breathtaking. The crowd, the noise… it was similar to Download but it was just so unexpected in Ukraine.
Do you feel like you can expect a certain level of following now or do you still get surprised when loads of people turn up to your shows?
We don’t expect anything. We’ve worked really, really hard for the last 4 years and we’ve done a lot of touring.
Of course, you were Shrine before. How did you come up with the same Black Peaks when you discovered you needed to change it?
(He seems genuinely pleasantly surprised that I knew about them pre-Black Peaks and it’s evident just how grounded Will is.)
When we were Shrine, we got our first manager on board. He told us we were going to get into legal battles because of our name as soon as we had any major success. We had to completely rebrand. We spent 5 months trying to find something, going through so many different things. Star constellations, all sorts. One day, I was like ‘mountain ranges’, ‘volcanoes’? Thinking there was no way it was ever going to work or that the guys were going to like any of them. I found a list of 10 out of 500 and I found this one that was ‘Black Peak’, which is a super volcano in Alaska and there’s another in America as well. I suggested it, thinking they weren’t going to like it. After a while, we decided to pluralise it. It really describes our music because it’s dark and dynamic. I still didn’t like it, honestly. Even after we rebranded, I still wanted ‘Black Peak’, but it’s too late to change it now!
Was it a setback to have to change your branding?
Big time. We were so convinced that it wasn’t going to work, that Shrine was always going to be a bigger band and this was going to be the death of us. Luckily, it got the radio play and picked up by Zane Lowe and Daniel P Carter, then Annie Mac… the new name launched it really.
What happened between the first EP and your signing to Sony? How was the process for you?
Very stressful and real hard work. We got ourselves into a lot of debt making the album, like a lot and labels were swimming around being interested but undecided on us. Some people were giving us money, we were borrowing money to make the record and then legally being in a place where we had to give it back… it was hard, really hard. But then ‘Statues’ reflects that. There’s a kind of tension that was there when we were tracking it. We were so passionate, frustrated, angry, worried and paranoid… all of those things are in that record. Not going to lie, it’s not what people think… ever. It’s a lot more… horrid. We wanted it to be perfect and it was tough. But then since getting it out and the campaign running up to that, it’s been outrageous. We had almost every single song from the album played on Radio 1. Every single song on the whole album.
(He lists each song from the album and the radio 1 shows they were played on to check.)
I’ve never actually thought about this before… this is crazy!
Alive or dead, who would be your ideal tour for you to co-headline with?
Tool spring to mind… Definitely Tool. For me personally though, Miles Davis’ band in Madison Square Gardens or something like that.
Catch Black Peaks supporting Bury Tomorrow on their UK tour in April.