Interview: Harry Armstrong of Blind River
Interviewer: Paul Hutchings
You should have heard of Blind River by now - did you miss our album review and Devil's Island episode with the band? The boot stomping, arse kicking quartet from Guildford have been raising a storm with their live shows since formation in 2017. Shows at Bloodstock in 2017 and 2019 as well as countless other festivals and a relentless gigging schedule saw the band release their debut album ‘Blind River’ in 2018. Their sophomore release ‘Made of Dirt’ has now arrived and it’s a fantastic follow up. Paul caught up with frontman Harry Armstrong, a veteran of the rock and metal scene for a chat.
The Razor’s Edge: Hi Harry, how are you doing?
Harry: Yeah, I’m alright. It seems to be all over around this way, especially since the recent events. I just hope there is no second wave.
The Razor’s Edge: I hope so because for you guys, not having any gigs is a nightmare. I know bands have been booked to play in September but is that realistic?
Harry: The optimistic view is September; the realistic view is February. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned, and it is more likely to be sooner if people take a little while to stay at home and read a book and educate themselves.
The Razor’s Edge: It’s a weird one isn’t it. The whole essence of a rock gig is that everyone is up close and sweaty.
Harry: Yeah, the world’s weirdest mosh pits!
The Razor’s Edge: Congratulations on the album. I pre-ordered it, so I’ve had it for a couple of weeks. I’m waiting for the shirt and physical copy to arrive.
Harry: We’ve had a bit of a nightmare with the printers for the shirt bundles, as you should have had them a week ago and they hadn’t been printed. In this environment you can’t really complain.
The Razor’s Edge: Well, it’s not a problem and the album is brilliant.
Harry: Thanks for the support.
The Razor’s Edge: You recorded ‘Made of Dirt’ in four days. How does that compare with the first album?
Harry: We did that in four days, might have been three.
The Razor’s Edge: And the first album, you toured the music a lot before you went to the studio.
Harry: Yes, we toured for a good year before we went and did it. We were playing gigs and getting festivals offers and people were asking where they could get the album and we had to say well, we don’t have one. It took off really quickly. From the initial idea of this band when I first started talking to the other guys about it and we agreed that songs are better when you know them inside out. The way bands used to operate was that they would write their album, then go and tour it for a year, fine tune it and then record it and that’s what we did. All of the songs on the new album have been played live, four or five of them maybe 20 times to get to know them. It’s the way we work. It helps with the fine tuning.
The Razor’s Edge: I’ve seen you several times. Both Bloodstock events, HRH, and twice at the Patriot in Crumlin, the first time when you were supporting Marco Mendoza and we only came to see you.
Harry: Yeah, I remember that. That was a weird support slot. It’s great the Patriot. We were due there recently but of course it was cancelled.
The Razor’s Edge: So, did you play any of the new stuff at Bloodstock 2019 (I was there but might have been a little pissed by the time you were on)?
Harry: We definitely played one as we have video footage we used for the new album but we only had a half hour set so we made sure it was full of winners, stuff we knew inside out. Bloodstock, yes, nearly a year ago now and since then we’ve been gigging almost every weekend until the coronavirus outbreak, we played 30-40 times and every night we tried to play a couple of new ones, not all new ones, boring the toss out of people; everyone knows what that’s like when you go to see a band and they only play new stuff – fuck that! We tried to bring in as much new stuff as much as we could, usually in pubs with about three people there!
The Razor’s Edge: And what about the writing of the album? Is it a collective?
Harry: Yes, very much so on this album. On the first one a lot of the structures were already there when I joined the band because those guys had been trying to coax me in for a while but I’d been too busy, but then I ended up going in and writing some of the lyrics. This time it was much more all of us sitting in the jam room. We know each other a lot better now. Most of us were friends anyway but we really know each other now, having shared the back of a van at 3am in the morning, bonding. There is no bullshit. We just sit in the room and if someone comes up with a riff and we all agree on it then we use it. All of the riffs have to have everyone of us grinning and tapping our feet before we will use it. So that was the writing process, even though I didn’t write any riffs I’d still be throwing in my ten pence, “that’s shit!” you know, or “yes, more of that”.
The Razor’s Edge: So, the approach is much more of an old school approach rather than the modern email type?
Harry: Yes because that is what we grew up with. It’s the ethic we believe in. A lot of people are into, you know, you can make an album in your bedroom and that can be cool; some great music can come out of that, but this band, we just love the idea of just getting in a room and smashing it out. That’s why we were able to do it in such a small space of time. These bands that take six weeks or even months to record an album, it’s often the reason why there’s not much energy. If you only have four days, you get in there and hit it running. There are variations but sometimes it’s over processed and I want to hear the mistakes and the guy getting tired.
The Razor’s Edge: What about the rest of the band. Are you happy listening to an album once you’ve made it because you know all the songs so well?
Harry: That’s a good question. Since the album was mastered I haven’t gone back to it, I haven’t got a physical copy yet as Will is organising all the mailouts and we are not allowed to get together so I may have to buy one! I’m not a massive one to listen back to my stuff. Every now and then I’ll get drunk and dial up a band on YouTube that I used to play with 20 years ago, and I’ll go, yeah, I remember that, it was cool. I won’t put the album on in the car and go for a drive.
The Razor’s Edge: You’re not just a vocalist, you play guitar and other instruments, so you can hear the mistakes that maybe others make?
Harry: Yeah, but there aren’t many mistakes. These guys are at such a ridiculous level of musicianship, it’s what convinced me to join them.
The Razor’s Edge: What I meant was that I’ve spoken to a few people who say I can’t listen to an album as I’ll hear the mistakes. And the producer will turn around and say, you’ll be the only person to hear that error.
Harry: That’s very true, it’s often why I don’t listen to stuff until a lot later, so I don’t remember what the mistakes were. If I listened to the album now, I’d go, aarrgghh, that’s the bit I wanted to do better or that bit should change or that bit is too quick. Six months on I’m happier to hear it.
The Razor’s Edge: I read a quote that said that there was a time and a place for miserable bands but sometimes all you want to do is have a few beers and a party which I guess it right because if I was having a party, I’d want you guys playing it because I’ve never watched you without a beer in my hand for a start! But there are messages on Made of Dirt which need to get across. Is there a blend to be achieved?
Harry: Kind of and kind of not. I don’t really want people to listen to the message, but it is there if they are interested. I put a lot, more subtle references to how I saw the world on the first record because I didn’t want to spoil the flavour with getting too deep. On the new album people have picked up on it but at the same time I don’t want to spoil a good night out. People are interested in what I have to say and have come up to me after gigs and said “I really dig the point you are trying to put across but it is difficult to put across your ethos and philosophy in a three and a half minute song. Just making a few points, you know, we could be better at this or that, these people are arseholes, that kind of thing! Just be like Bill and Ted and be excellent to each other.
The Razor’s Edge: I don’t want to be critical at all about the debut album because I still play it every couple of weeks; It’s one we both love. There seems to be an organic progression on the second album. There seems to be a little more finesse and quality on number two, whilst retaining the dirt under the fingernails. Is that fair?
Harry: Yes, I think that’s more than fair, and I’d agree with it. I remember my girlfriend coming up to me after one of the gigs we played, and we’d played a lot of new stuff and she was moaning that it was too much like the old stuff. But she was drunk so I forgive her. So, yeas, it’s about improving on the formula, it’s taking the idea and fine-tuning it like you say so it’s a very fair point. To me, it is a more coherent idea of what we are doing or trying to do so yes, that’s more than fair.
The Razor’s Edge: The reviews for the album are coming in all the time, which is great. Are you doing more media and interviews for it now?
Harry: It’s kind of just starting off. We are an unsigned band putting it out on our label that doesn’t exist and we have to figure out all the legalities of the music business and all the forms we have to fill in to get it all official. It’s been a hectic time and we are doing our own PR. Will is at home licking envelopes to send CDs out to everyone and the rest of us are chasing up interviews, I’ve been doing the website and the artwork for the album. It’s all DIY outside the five of us and people like yourselves who are willing to do this for us; the only thing we can’t do now is hassle people for gigs which is damn annoying! In the last week interest has definitely grown.
The Razor’s Edge: One of the reviews on the web described you as part of the new wave of classic rock which is not something I’d have tagged you in but certainly you are part of a rock n’ roll revival. Does a label mean anything to you or do you just class yourselves as a rock n’ roll band?
Harry: It means nothing to us at all. We are just a band. I suppose at some point you must categorise it and put it in a certain label. If you described us as psychedelic new wave disco pop then people wouldn’t find us who might like us. It’s not a problem I have, we are a rock band, a heavy metal band, heavy rock, whatever people want to call it. I have no problem being tagged in with the new wave of classic rock scene – I think we are probably a bit too heavy enough for it to be honest …
The Razor’s Edge: I think you are also not generic enough to be in it.
Harry: I’ll take that as a compliment. We’ve been invited to play nights that are dubbed as classic rock and it feels like we are the thorn in the middle of it. I have no problem being on those bills or playing with those bands, some of whom are very good. As with every genre, you take it or leave it. If I was to think of that genre, I wouldn’t think of us though.
The Razor’s Edge: Your sound is something that over the two albums is now identifiable as Blind River. Do you have an intention to come up with that sound or is it just what comes out of your sound?
Harry: The latter. At no point in any discussion, certainly that I’ve been involved with (and you may need to ask the others!), at no point have we sat down and said we need to sound like this. We’ve all crossed paths in other bands, we know what each other is like and likes and we are friends and we have a certain idea about what we enjoy as music. That ethos of creating music that we would enjoy listening to is the idea. If we enjoy listening to it then that’s the basis. Writing it in the jam room, hammering out and if when we finish all of us are grinning going “yeah, c’mon” then that’s what we want to create. It’s interesting to hear that people are telling us that we have our own sound or are identifiable from it. It’s the first time we’ve got it, maybe because the album is more us, but I’ve never really thought about it before. The intent is nothing more than to have fun and it seems to be working. I think!
The Razor’s Edge: Of course, what I really want is to see the new music live.
Harry: So do I, so I can remember how it goes!
The Razor’s Edge: The bigger concern that I’ve found with many bands now is that they are releasing an album and then can’t tour it for a year and then will be forgotten about.
Harry: A lot of bands have recorded albums and were planning to release it around now and have cancelled the release and are sitting back until they can tour it. We talked about doing that but straight away went “sod it, let’s put it out”, because we don’t know how long this will last, and if it is til next year then let’s just write album number three!
The Razor’s Edge: And where did you record it?
Harry: It was a little studio in Chichester called The Old Chapel, which is surprisingly, an old chapel. We wanted to go back to where we recorded the first album, but the guy was fully booked unless we had waited until now and then of course, it wouldn’t have happened, so we just searched for recording studios with huge drum rooms because we want that live feel, fit all of us in one room. We wanted somewhere for us all to be there, mic it up and press record.
The Razor’s Edge: And when did you record it?
Harry: March, absolutely. I remember cracking open a bottle of wine as we’d finished it and watching the news about the spread in Italy, and literally a week after we’d finished it everyone was told not to do anything.
The Razor’s Edge: You’ve done well to get it all completed.
Harry: Before we announced anything, we got in touch with pressing plants and the printers who we thought would do the t-shirts and made sure that we could get everything in time and then gave ourselves an extra two weeks in order to get everything ready and it’s still late. It was impossible to tell but we’ve done alright.
The Razor’s Edge: Indeed you have. I’m pleased that the publicity is building, and people can still get the physical copy. I certainly want my music in physical form where possible.
Harry: Me too, in fact I’m still a big vinyl buyer and it still annoys me when I can’t get something in vinyl. Maybe I’m just old or a hipster. I like to have the physical product and give the band some money to show my appreciation. Streaming off Spotify seems unreal.
The Razor’s Edge: Yes, I heard a radio article talking about the Proms and the fact that they are trying to do it this year minus most of the audience I assumed, and one of the musicians on there said that her music had been streamed six million times and she’d earnt £12.
Harry: That is obscene.
The Razor’s Edge: I hope that people will buy the physical copy from you and pre-orders have been good.
Harry: The weird thing is, and it goes back to that new wave of classic rock thing, part of that feels to me that there is a lot of people who have had kids that have grown up and gone to college or whatever and they are going, what was I doing before I had kids, oh yeah, heavy metal, and they go out and want to buy albums and come to gigs. It’s a great thing. They want to own a physical product. It’s not just people like that of course, but there are a lot of people who do want to own a record again.
The Razor’s Edge: I think I’m started to piss the wife off with the amount of stuff I’m buying during lockdown.
Harry: I’m a postman for a living and I’ve noticed the number of parcels, it’s worse than Christmas but I’m just as guilty because I can’t go down the pub and spend my money. I’m going yeah, I’ll buy that, and that, the whole King Crimson remastered back catalogue!!
The Razor’s Edge: Exactly. I had the email today to confirm that the Remastered 40th anniversary edition of ‘Permanent Waves’ has been dispatched …
Harry: Don’t tell me that… It’s tough being a record collector.
The Razor’s Edge: Can I go back to what got you into music in the first place?
Harry: Good question. I’m envious of people who got into music because their dad had a Zeppelin collection because my dad was the biggest square, he thought The Beatles were noisy. The first band I was I was a death metal band which he hated, and he refused to listen to anything I did after that. I guess it was Top of the Pops and Radio 1 Rock Show. I was into some of the poppier stuff when I was super young, but I guess it was seeing Motörhead and Twisted Sister on Top of the Pops that made me go, hang on a minute. I was around 13-14, seeing Motörhead on The Young Ones and I was like, what is that, and where do I get it? I’ve always been curious about music. It freaks me out that people who say they are Foo Fighters fans and they don’t even know that Dave Grohl was in Nirvana. That’s a massive thing not to know. I want to know everything about a band, who they were before, what bands they were in, what were their demos like. Down the rabbit hole and you discover amazing music. There is a whole cornucopia of stuff out there to investigate.
The Razor’s Edge: One of the bands I’ve spoken to recently is the BPMD outfit and they’ve done an album of covers which includes the version of ‘Evil’ by Cactus, originally written by Willie Nelson for Howlin Wolf in 1954.
Harry: I heard someone talking about ‘Evil’ the other day saying that Clutch had covered it and Monster Magnet had covered it and that they didn’t know who had done the original and I was like, why don’t you find that out, how can you not know that stuff.
The Razor’s Edge: and it’s not like you can’t find it these days is it! Three clicks.
Before we finish, let’s talk a bit about live music. You played Bloodstock twice, 2017 and 2019.
Harry: We were the opening band in the Sophie Tent on the Sunday in 2017, certainly before midday. I remember because we were still hammered!
The Razor’s Edge: Last year you played there on Thursday, which is the party night. I was going to ask you the difference, but you’ve just answered it!
Harry: I was just as smashed last year! The Thursday night was better but partly because we were a better band but of course there wasn’t another stage to clash with. Both gigs were great. The first time we played, at 11:00am in the morning or whatever, we were expecting nobody to be there but as always happens at Bloodstock, everyone was out of their tents and wanting metal to shake the hangovers off. We had a great time. It was a bit bigger last year, the response felt stronger. I don’t know if people had seen us before or remembered the name or we just lucked out and got a good crowd.
The Razor’s Edge: You’ve played a few festivals now. Do any standout for the right or wrong reasons?
Harry: Everything stands out for wrong reasons because you always remember the bits that go wrong. You were saying earlier about people who can’t listen to the album without hearing the mistakes. Well, it’s the same with any gig. It’s the same with life. There are gigs I remember, god, I was so flat on that note and people are saying “great gig”. It’s an individual experience. If people aren’t having a good time no band is going to blow your mind but if you are open minded and up for it the worst band in the world can make you have a good time. Festvials are good fun but over too quickly. I do prefer the sweaty gigs squeezed up, the blood, sweat and tears. Festivals are a nice, experience. You look out and there are loads of people; Look, there’s a guy wearing a Viking helmet; Look, people fucking in the corner! It’s a different environment.
The Razor’s Edge: The great thing about Blind River is you can do both so well. The swagger, the rawness and the groove translate into equally.
Harry: I’m glad to hear that because I don’t understand bands that can’t. I’ve been in bands with people who have said “what’s the point of doing this gig. It’s just a shitty little pub”. Well, because it will be fun.
The Razor’s Edge: And there will always be at least one person who has made the effort to come and see you.
Harry: Exactly. I guess it’s the difference between people who want to be a rock star and people that want to make music.
The Razor’s Edge: A couple of quick -fire questions. Five albums you never tire of listening to.
Harry: Blimey. There are so many. ‘No Sleep Til Hammersmith’ – one of the most energetic albums of all time. Any Bon Scott AC/DC but I’ll go with ‘Let There Be Rock’ because that is a beauty. I like early Brian and all of Bon. As bands get more successful, they tend to get watered down. I love Back in Black as much as Highway to Hell, but after that I get a bit lost. I listen relentlessly to ‘Dimension Hatröss’ by VoiVod. I’ve tried to convert people countless times and they hate it. That album amazes me and every time I listen to it I hear something new. I used to not understand why people did not get them. Why do you not love ‘Brain Scan’? And people would listen to it and go, this is the most boring thing ever. But they are an acquired taste and when it came out it was so different to anything else going on, the use of discordance and jazz in metal which blew my mind. Under The Blade by Twisted Sister, that always get’s me going even though it’s the MTV stuff that they get remembered for. And maybe Kyuss, ‘Blues For The Red Sun’.
The Razor’s Edge: Brilliant. Are you big on meeting heroes?
Harry: I tend to stay away. I’ve met some ‘big’ people and as I’ve got older, I’ve understood how people can get in their faces and I don’t want to be that person getting in their faces. If I happen to be next to someone at a bar, I’ll say hello, but I’ve gone up to people when pissed in the past and they’ve just told me to fuck off.
The Razor’s Edge: What about a gig you were at that you’d love to see again?
Harry: there was one I saw that I was angry that the band didn’t film it. It was my birthday and King Crimson were playing in the ruins of Pompeii. I maxed out the credit card and flew over to that and it was stunning. I love the Floyd set there but I was sitting there watching it going “this is so good”. No bullshit, no flashy light show, just the band playing, and I wish they had recorded it.
The Razor’s Edge: And finally, a movie you could watch repeatedly.
Harry: I’m a big movie fan and I watch a lot repeatedly, but I would probably stick Mulholland Drive on; I’m a big David Lynch fan.
The Razor’s Edge: I would normally finish by asking what the plans are for the next six months to promote the album …
Harry: You bastard! You had to bring it up again!
The Razor’s Edge: Sorry! Good luck with the album and hope to see you on a stage again before too long.
Harry: Cheers, and thanks for the interest.