Backstage - Black State Highway

On episode 53 we featured the awesome Black State Highway, one of my favourite new bands in the UK. Their debut album has been one of my most played records in 2014 and narrowly missed out on a place in my top 20 favourite albums of last year. I caught up with guitarist Olie Tretheway to get the lowdown on the band and their future plans for world domination.

Karl - Firstly let me say thank you for giving up your time to have a chat with us and also for giving us permission to play one of your songs on our show, we all loved the album and it was a pleasure to share your music with our listeners.  So how did you guys meet, tell us the story of how Black State Highway came to be!

Olie - Some of us were mates from our hometown of Reading, Gordon, Liva and I used to have a rock covers band which played around the pubs of Reading to earn a bit of cash while we were at college.  It wasn’t until later, when we moved down to Brighton that Black State Highway were formed.  We all moved down here to study music at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music which is where we met Jon and added Harry (also an old friend)| to the band.

Karl – I have followed you guys for a while on Twitter now and have always been impressed by your music but the album really blew me away with the quality of the songs. How long did it take to put the album together and at what point did you take a step back and think, we have a real cracker on our hands here?

Olie - I’m really pleased you think so!  The album was made very quickly, we had originally planned to do an e.p but some record label interest prompted us to make an album instead.  It had to be done really quickly and on a shoestring so the whole thing was recorded and mixed in about 10 days.  We’re actually really happy that we did it this way because it means that there is nothing clever going on, we just set up our gear in a room and played our songs together as a band, so it actually sounds like us.  To be honest I don’t think we ever thought we had a ‘cracker’ we just made it and went ‘right, lets hope people like it’, we sort of weren’t sure if it was any good or not, but the reaction from press and fans has been amazing and made it worthwhile.  We can’t believe how far we’ve come in the past 4 months since the albums release and we have a lot of people to thank for it.

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Karl – You clearly have some great influences as musicians, hints of the big guitar bands can be heard in there but the thing that jumps out to me (and I could be wrong) is the Rage Against The Machine/Audioslave vibe I get from the record.  You can feel it in particular on 'Tekkers' and 'Common Man', are you fans of Tom Morello and Co at all and who are your main influences generally?

Olie - You're right, I listened to Audioslave’s first album for a week at a time!  It’s an odd one because I think a Rage Against The Machine comparison made it into our press release.  A lot of people don’t understand why, including myself sometimes.  You can’t really compare a pioneering American politically driven band like them, with people like us.  I mean, we come from different worlds not to mention different decades.  However there is something to be said for a bluesy pentatonic riff… we love riffs!!  We all know that Tom Morello is one of the best riffers.  In terms of our influences, they are really varied and you would get a totally different answer depending on which band member you ask.  For me personally I like a real variety of genres and artists, but at the moment I have become a big fan of more current bands like Triggerfinger and Gary Clark Jr.  I’m getting well into those fuzzy guitar sounds.

Karl – Your music is full of hooks, great riffs and the vocals give your music a really bluesy but powerful edge,  Liva has got a great vocal range and a great presence.  With the success of bands like The Pretty Reckless music fans are taking female fronted rock groups a lot more seriously (and so they should!).  Do you see bands like these as an inspiration?  

Olie - Its funny because we probably see them more as competition!  There are so many female fronted rock bands emerging now, many of which are a bit ahead of us in terms of their careers so that USP of having a female vocalist is fading a little and it’s a case of fighting to stand out.  For a band at our level the industry feels like a big competition and a real fight, so we try to use this attitude to help us improve and hopefully stand out when we perform.

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Karl – Without being greedy, when can we expect to see a new Black State Highway album and what else have you got planned for this year?

Olie - There may be a new album on the horizon, but it depends on a few things, particularly the fact that we are broke like most bands!  There is still a bit of milk to be squeezed out of this Album so you can expect another video and single release.  We are trying to gig as much as possible and hopefully get onto some of the bigger festivals.  You can keep up to date with our tour dates on our website www.blackstatehighway.co.uk

Karl - How do you guys like to digest your music?  We have had some great debates about streaming digital media as opposed to CD but we are all big vinyl fans and couldn't be happier to see a surge in it's popularity over recent years.

Olie - Because I am so impatient I am guilty of downloading albums from iTunes instead of buying CD’s and I use spotify a lot to discover new music, however I do also have a growing vinyl collection as well as a CD collection so I guess I digest it in most ways.  I really love to put a record on, and when I’m at home I listen to a lot of vinyl.  The problem is that iTunes is so convenient when you're out and about craving a particular type of music.  It is always better to get stuff from the artist, that way they might see some of the money, and be able to make more music with it.

Karl – What are best bands you have seen live (yourselves excluded of course) and is there anyone you regret not seeing when you had the opportunity?

Olie - The best band I have seen live are Triggerfinger, they played at the Borderline in London last December and were incredible, it was also amazing to see them in a relatively small club.  I would also put Aerosmith up there and also Skindred, they really get the crowd going and are a lesson in showmanship.  There are too many great live bands to bang on about so I wont list them all!  I regret not seeing Sabbath last year and also not seeing Truckfighters.  Truckfighters also played Hard Rock Hell last year and we were really excited to see them but our schedule got in the way and we were gutted to miss them.  Any band where 50% of their live photos depict them flying through the air shirtless must be good to watch!

Karl – Last but by no means least our show is made up of two sides of a record, side A focuses on music and side B we discuss video games.  Are any of you gamers?  If so what do you play or what did you used to play, do you have any fond memories?

Olie - Harry plays games the most I think and Jon is really addicted to football Manager.  But we all love playing FIFA, when we used to live together it was a continuous ongoing tournament.  If there is one thing we would love it is a van with a TV and FIFA in it.  We were seriously addicted to that game at one point and we have great memories of drunken FIFA related arguments and fights.  The guys also used to play Worms a lot which strangely used to result in the worst arguments.

Karl - Thanks for your time Olie and it's a shame we couldn't do this over a beer but I will get down and see you live this year that's for sure, good luck in 2015!

Olie - Thanks so much Karl and to ABOG for your support!

Stay tuned to their website for future updates and if you can, try and see them live in an intimate venue while you have the chance as I see big things for this talented outfit. You can download the awesome self titled debut album from their website as detailed above, on iTunes or from Amazon.