Interview with A Bête Bloom – Dan Mawer Speaks

6th March 2018 // 2018 // Hull // Interview // Local // Music

I like a man who arrives on time. I like to be a bit early, it’s a habit of mine, but I spot Dan Mawer, unassuming frontman of La Bête Blooms, bounding down Prinny Ave, actually a couple of minutes early. Already, I’m impressed.

We’re here to talk about their new single, the rabble-rousing call to arms, entitled, funnily enough, Take Arms. As I write ‘call to arms,’ it strikes me how lazy it is, given the actual song title. Is ‘thrown-down-gauntlet’ better? ‘Rallying cry’? Probably. You’ve got three for the price of one now, so take your pick. I’m sticking with ‘call to arms’ because that’s what it is.

If you meet Dan, you wouldn’t be able to comprehend that the words being literally spat out of the speakers are his, such is the ferocity of his delivery. I don’t think he’d mind me saying that he is one of the politest young men I’ve seen operating in the Hull music scene; softly-spoken, impeccably-mannered and completely devoid of any of the ego that should rightfully be his, being as he is, the frontman, focal point and chief songwriter of one of the most consistently excellent bands in the city. At his age (26), had I been in his position, I would have been the most insufferable prick to walk the streets of Hull. In fact, if memory serves, I probably was anyway, and I’d never picked up an instrument. But the pent-up rage, rasping at you, commanding you to rise up, taking aim at modern life belongs to Dan, and it’s quite disarming when you meet him in person. It’s also refreshing when you see lesser individuals swanning around like they own the f*cking city.

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La Bête Blooms have been going for about eight years, but he says there has never been any rush to put an album out; they seem happy to continue releasing singles and Eps, snapshots of moments in time, or bookmarks in their lives. The singles serve as documents of where they are at that particular time, and there’s no real desire to commit to an album, as it may seem disjointed, and do their mission a disservice. It’s a novel way of operating, but it speaks volumes about the way they are determined to do things their own way. He concedes that, at some point, they may put out a collection of songs encompassing what they’ve already done, but the album is not high on his list of priorities. It seems to suit the diary-like aspect of their songs thus far, so as compromises go, it’s a typically minor concession. In these days of album-tour-for-two-years-album, ad infinitum, it’s a brave statement of intent.

I mention that to me their name itself conjures up an image of The Stone Roses, the oxymoronic juxtaposition of two disparate elements. Stone and Roses. Bête (beast) and Blooms. I remark it’s clever, and any nod towards my beloved Roses gets my seal of approval. I’m soon set straight though.

‘No, it’s not even as considered as that. It just came from when I was an angsty teenager and just wrote a load of words in a notebook and chucked ‘em together, like a Bowie cut and paste jobbie.’ I don’t know whether to be crestfallen, but end up being impressed with its obvious nod to William Burroughs via Bowie. I should know, five minutes into our conversation, not to assume anything. It’s beginning to resemble Tales of the Unexpected, such is their knack for not playing by the book.

Dan’s partner in crime, and musical genius, John Copley is absent today, but I observe that he is the Yin to Dan’s Yang, or vice versa, it doesn’t really matter which way round, but the seemingly opposite forces are key to the band’s success. Dan is softly spoken and mild-mannered, whereas, and I hope John won’t mind me saying this, but he is the brasher of the two and it seems to be the complementary clash that glues the band together.

‘Yeah, that might be part of why we work well. I started doing acoustic open-mic stuff as an awkward teen at the Adelphi. I met loads of people through those experiences. I met John and yeah, he just gave what I had in my head another dimension. In fact, I don’t even think I’ve heard my guitar since he joined (laughs), I might as well not even have one, ‘cos he’s such an amazing guitarist. It all changed after he joined. It just made everything feel more comfortable, and the sound I’d had in my head was now fully realised.’

Was it as easy as that? You just clicked?

‘Well not as immediate, but we fed off each other. I think I bring an element of shoegazey stuff to the table as well as lo-fi American alt-rock like Pavement or Neutral Milk Hotel, whereas John’s more abrasive American punk. Between us we seem to have found a happy medium.’

I mention that although the sound can be sometimes harsh, there’s always a strong sense of melody running through all their compositions. Dan seems grateful for this observation,

‘I’m glad you said that. I grew up with my mum playing The Beach Boys constantly, so I’m glad that the melody’s in there, however deep it may be buried (laughs.) From my dad, I got the harsher sounds of Hendrix, so that definitely comes through in the music. I think the two influences are incorporated into our sound. One without the other would be a bit naff, so it’s good they offset each other. You absorb what you grow up with, don’t you?’

Talk turns to Dan’s stage persona. The contrast between the courteous young lad sitting in front of me now in Pave and what he becomes on stage is quite remarkable. It’s like watching two completely different people. Onstage, he’s a tightly-coiled spring of nervous energy, reminiscent of an In Utero-era Cobain. It’s a transformation akin to Clark Kent morphing into Iggy Pop. Is it a nervous thing? Do get nervous before you get up there?

‘Not really, no. I’ve been doing it for so long, I guess I’ve developed this stage persona, you know, I’m definitely not the same person. I think it probably started when I was doing acoustic stuff, and people weren’t listening so I used to get angry about it. It’s my go-to persona. It eradicates the fears totally. As you know, I’m a big Hull City fan, and I think when I’m watching or playing football or performing onstage, it’s the only time I turn into something or someone else. Something just takes over and comes to the surface. It’s the only times I’m completely fearless.’

There’s a restlessness about the band, and seeing as he’s sitting in front of me, watching snow fall outside of Pave’s window, it’s apparent in his assessment of how he sees the band progressing. It’s as if the sudden sprinkling of snow has ignited his desire to move on; the change of weather, however brief, inspiring thoughts of change within his band.

‘Like we mentioned before, each record is a snapshot, but now that’s gone, we need to push on. I get restless, get bored of doing the same style; we want to do something different. We’ve done that post-punky Fall stuff. The last record was a document of how I felt at that time, but it’s not now, so I want to try out new stuff. I’m excited about the new record. We’ve got Emily Moulton doing some vocals and it’s got scuzzy synths in it. It’s a new direction, and we’re all really pleased with it. I usually write it all on GarageBand, take it to the band, and they’ll pick at it and make it better. The process works because the finished product sounds amazing. Sometimes our producer, Matt Peel, will say, ‘Dan that’s sh*t’, and he’ll probably be right, he used to scare the sh*t out of us, but he’s become a friend whose input we really value now.’

He sounds like a megalomaniac Martin Hannett-esque character, I say.

‘Yeah, but he got the best out of them, didn’t he? He gets what we’re trying to do, and it was his idea to incorporate the synths which is a totally new direction for us, but it f*cking works. We weren’t sure at first, but it sounds amazing. Emily being part of it is again, a masterstroke.’

Take Arms is a definite rallying cry; resolutely Northern, incorporating hard-edged electronic elements, and rasped vocals that seem to spit out of your stereo. It’s a work of genius and easily the best thing they’ve done; definitely a radical departure from their established sound. They seem restless, determined to push on, abandoning the past. Like when I write a piece, then I revisit it months later, I can’t bear to read it, and want to consign it to the recycle bin. This seems to be the way the band works too, and it’s impressive. It’d be far too easy to rehash a winning formula so it’s highly commendable that they’re keen to keep evolving and changing. It’s the hallmark of a great band.

It's a song for everyone. It revels in its inclusiveness, as lyrically they take aim at the big issues, and the not so big issues, but those that affect us all on whatever level. It playfully pokes fun at modern life in 2018, dismantles common misconceptions and lays waste to lazy stereotypes. There’s a lot in there, and it sounds massive. It’s the sound of the disenfranchised wind milling the f*ck out of everyone in its way. You’ll not get a better endorsement than that from me.

The single will be officially released on 6th March on The Adult Teeth Recording Company, and will be on all the main streaming services. I note to Dan that the palette has become broader, incorporating the wider world, rather than internalising the personal.

‘As you mature, the violence dissipates, you’re not as angry or agitated. You get a girlfriend, a house, domesticity, there’s not a lot of outlet for rage, but it brings about a more mature approach. All you need to do is look around you though, there’s plenty of different subject matter.

Do you have to suffer for Art? Go through hardship to write about real concerns?

‘The last EP was about stress and anxiety, the whole EP was based on that, inspired by surroundings, but the new stuff is still inspired by what I see around me. Whether you’re living an idyllic existence or not, you still see hardship, just look out there…’ he motions to the legacy of Austerity Britain that is a constant in plain view everywhere. ‘There’ll always be things to be outraged about.’

I ask if his heavy involvement in the weekly Sesh at Polar Bear has informed his musical outlook:

‘I guess so, I research bands every week, for fun more than anything, but it gives me a greater sense of what’s happening. It’s hard not to take on what I see when bands play live. Being around live music you obviously learn, and take bits. I sometimes get tired watching thinking, ‘I can’t give as much as you.’

So, what’s next for La Bête Blooms? With this new song, are you keen to keep momentum going?

‘Sure. We’ll keep trying to keep building on what we’ve got. I’m not chasing anything like I was before so it’s a bit more relaxed. We’ll do stuff whenever we feel like it. I was always in a rush to get things done as a kid, now I’m enjoying it more cos I understand how it works now, I understand what the industry is rather than chasing it. I understand what it is now, and not how to work in it, and why I don’t necessarily need it like I used to. We can operate quite well outside of it without getting bogged down in all the politics of it.’

‘We’ve got a handful of gigs lined up around the single release. We tend to go down well in Manchester, then we play Polar Bear on 3rd May. We’ve mainly chosen northern venues because I think there’s a tenacity about us as northerners, there’s a strong sense of community. I go everywhere with Hull City, and, not to take anything away from the south, I feel we identify more with our sense of northern-ness, it’s certainly where our concerns lie, so we’ll be taking it to mainly northern towns.’

All that remains is to wish the band well with their new, amazing single and blag a guest-list for their Polar Bear gig. When we can once again witness expert musicianship and the singular spectacle of Dan’s transformation into a Tasmanian Devil as he exorcises demons in spectacular fashion. And Take Arms is a performance I, for one, can’t wait to see.

You hope it’ll be beastly, as they’re most definitely blooming.

And for a band operating almost entirely on their own terms, they stand alone, and one can only applaud and wish them the best of British.

Well, northern

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