Who needs vowels anyway? bdrmm interview with Ryan Smith

8th May 2018 // 2018 // Live Music // Interview // Local // Music

By some glorious synchronicity, and a stream of three unrelated, but intertwined events, I’m sitting here in Queens with Ryan Smith, songwriter, vocalist and guitarist with the excellent BDRMM, the local band who are most definitely on the rise. There’s a distinct buzz about these lads around the city as they are firmly establishing themselves as major players on an already busy local scene.

The interview came to pass, after seeing them headline The Sesh a couple of weeks ago. Usually I’m in and out, smoking and gabbing and half-watching the bands, but with this one, I stuck rooted next to the bar for the full set. I’d seen them twice previously, but this time they blew me away with their sound that fuses Four-Tet electronica with Nowhere-era Ride, Slowdive and Diiv. This was quite literally music to my ears, as, as well as my fondness for all things Mancunian, except the football teams, the dream-pop/shoegaze genre or whatever you want to call it, is up there with my preferred listening pleasures. And they’re mega-melodic with it. It’s accessible yet credible and they looked like they were having a ball up there.

Fast forward a week or so, and a young lad in a red beanie-hat approaches me in Welly.

‘Are you Mike Robbo?’

My default reaction is, ‘what the fuck have I done now?’ I’m already preparing excuses and apologies for every conceivable scenario. The perils of an over-active mind.

But he introduces himself as Ryan from BDRMM. I say that I saw them recently and was really impressed. He seems genuinely moved, and I ask if he’d be up for an interview. I’m no A&R man, but I like to think I can spot talent when I see it. So, we swap numbers, but I don’t hear anything for a week or so, so I presume it was beer bravado.

My boiler had been fucked for about three weeks, so I was having cold baths until I finally found a plumber who knew what he was doing. We got chatting, and it was the usual, ‘I recognise you from Welly days, back in ’90.’ Again, I hoped it wasn’t because I was a dick. We got chatting about music when it became clear that those days were my pre-dick years. He asked me if I’d heard of BDRMM, and I told him, yeah, I’d seen them three times and I loved them.

‘That’s my lad’s band,’ he proudly informed me. I told him that I’d met him last weekend and we made hazy arrangements for a chat. Long story short, he sorted my boiler out, I jumped in the (hot) bath, and I receive a call from Ryan about ten minutes after his dad had left my house. We arranged a day and time, and here we are in a busy Queens on a Friday teatime.

The first time I saw BDRMM was at FireFest last year, and despite my early exit due to food poisoning, I caught these lads, and was asking everyone who the fuck they were ‘cos despite fluids coming out of both ends of my body, I noticed them and how good they were, so I stuck around for their whole set, before having to retire to a nearby toilet. I caught them again at Früit, when they supported at a sell-out Black Delta Movement gig, and finally at The Sesh recently where they turned in a masterful headline slot. Their first gig as a band was in February 2017, and the transformation in both confidence and richness of their sound has developed dramatically. For the better of course. Which doesn’t detract from how good they were at the start, it’s just that it’s quite a radical transformation. I put this observation to Ryan.

‘Yeah, the first stuff I did was basically just me on my iPhone.We recorded Happy at Hull Uni, where we all produced it collectively and is featured on our 2nd EP Yucky, which is on Bandcamp and Soundcloud through LoveOurRecords. Kare was recorded in Leeds at The Nave by Alex Greaves, who also produced TRASH and PLAZA, and we also recorded the next single The Way I Want with him there too, so that’s why the sound is fuller, and closer to where we are now.’

I say Kare is really dream-poppy, I mention Slowdive and Ride and he seems happy with those comparisons. Kare marked a radical change, even though it’s only their second outing, and it’s closer to what their live shows are about; indicative of the direction they’re heading in. I tell him the headline slot as The Sesh blew this old cynic away.

‘There were so many technical difficulties that night, but you have to adapt, people only notice if you start to panic yourself. It’s tricky, but you have to look as though you’re not fazed. Gotta stay positive or people are gonna notice.’

I often see bands come offstage almost in tears because they’ve hit a bum note or whatever, but the audience is unaware. I think they’ve played a blinder, but they’re inconsolable. From this side of the stage, all is rosy unless a band goes into total meltdown. I’m the same when I DJ, and smash two records together and it sounds like horses galloping through the pub out of sync. No one ever notices. But it’s indicative of the professionalism the band aspire to, and it’s a good sign that they take what they’re doing seriously.

Ryan, at 24 years old, started messing around in his bedroom in September 2016, and it was just him by himself. People seemed to dig it, so he decided to get a band together. He was listening to a lot of Slowdive and new electronica, like Four Tet and Aphex Twin, and thought it was appealing to incorporate, dance music, which is driven be melody and rhythm. The shoegaze influence also comes across. I mention it all sounds very Radiohead in its trajectory.

‘Haha, yeah, I was brought up on a diet of Radiohead from my dad, which is a strong place to start. There was also a lot of The Smiths and The Cure. Arctic Monkeys’ first album had a massive impact on me, like most kids of my age. They inspired me to give it a proper go, take it more seriously. My dad gave me a guitar when I was 14 and I never put it down. I had three guitar lessons at school, but I couldn’t be arsed with it, so I just taught myself by playing along to Green Day and Arctic Monkeys.’

I mention that music at school for me was all violin and classical music. I was probably put off wanting to be a musician by school music lessons. I got a violin, but was jumped on the way home from school, and my violin was smashed to pieces in front of me because it wasn’t cool. I really regret not learning guitar but there was no option for that at my school. And if being a musician was going to get me beaten up, I’d just bury myself in rugby. Ryan mentions his dad’s regret was never forming a band, so like me with my kid, he’s passed his love of music onto his offspring. And he’s immensely proud of him, as I am with my daughter’s talent.

‘Radiohead was my biggest influence from the beginning, which is a high benchmark to aspire to. At one point, there were three CDs in dad’s car on constant rotation: The Arctics’ first one, Ministry Of Sound’s Electro Hits Volume 2, and In Rainbows, so I absorbed all that subconsciously, and the combination informed my musical outlook, I guess. It was an eclectic mix.’

Radiohead obviously, throughout their career, have incorporated a myriad of different styles, so there’s a lot to get stuck into there. Aphex Twin also crops up as an influence. As do Blur. I mention that in my heyday, we were forced to choose between Oasis or Blur, and it almost became like a tribal warfare thing. He’s aware of the Oasis/Blur thing, but it’s quite shocking to hear how violent it sometimes got. It all seems ridiculous now.

Ryan’s brother, Jordan is on bass, and at 18 years old, there’s no hint of sibling rivalry; he’s even already got his own side project, KIND DAZE. Joe Vickers from The Morphines, who Ryan also played with in Babies is on rhythm guitar. There’s Danny Hull on keys, and Aaron Moreton on drums. Danny’s stage presence lends the band an energetic stage presence as he thrashes around like a Tasmanian Devil. I love the idea that there’s an electronic element, as it bucks the trend of guitar punk, which is done so well by Hull bands, but by incorporating electronic sounds, another dimension is thrown into the mix. There’s a trend these days that if an indie band wants success, they have to put dance beats into the stew, to water down the guitars. BDRMM, though are the antithesis of bands like Blossoms, and other indie-lite bands. The electronics they employ are resolutely left-field, and make the shimmering guitar sounds more muscular instead of insipid. And playing to increasingly bigger crowds within the space of just over a year, they’ve honed their live sound and stagecraft spectacularly well. You wouldn’t believe their first gig together was a little over a year ago. They’re locked in and tight as fuck.

‘Our first gig was with Tom Skelly at Adelphi. It was a last-minute invite, ‘cos someone had dropped out. That was February last year. Our second gig was supporting The Hubbards at Früit, so from that intimate gig at Adelphi to a sell-out at Früit was a big step, it all happened really quickly. But we were so excited to be doing it, there was no time for nerves.’

I ask if being both lead guitarist and singer is difficult, as his guitar sound is quite intricate and complicated.

‘No ‘cos when I’m not working, I spend all my time writing and practising, so it’s just from practice and constantly playing. It just happens. I’m incredibly passionate about it, it’s literally all I do (laughs)’

I mention the band have been acknowledged as a band to watch by many of the more seasoned local musicians, and they’ve got their backs. This is by no means a criticism, but Hull is very much lo-fi and punky, and BDRMM offer something a bit different, bucking the trend. He mentions that The Cure are big influences, mirroring myself in a way. They were my gateway indie band. We agree Plainsong is one of the best openers of any album and concerts.

‘It’s great to receive support from the older crowd. And we feel we are left to do our own thing, and we’re thoroughly enjoying it, but being acknowledged by the bigger bands is a huge honour. We do our own thing, but we always go to all the gigs to support local scene, Hull’s a really supportive environment to be working in, and we’ve got to show support. We go to The Sesh every week ‘cos it’s an institution, and it’s just class week in-week out.’

You’re clearly on the rise in hull, how far do you want to take it?

‘Well, we’ve Just signed with a Leeds based management company Pizza for the People, which takes a lot of the stress out as far as booking and promo goes. We’re in the middle of booking a headline tour for the end of the year, so obviously, we’re excited about that. Our new single The Way I Want is out on the 7th May. An album’s difficult without funding, so an album’s a while off. But we aim to release a mini-album towards the end of the year. It’s surprising how un-rock ‘n’ roll it all is; if you want to aim for the stars you’ve got to have decent dollar behind you. The next step’s going to be hard; to break through. We’ve all got jobs, but not enough to fund an album just yet. Bizarrely, I learned we’d been playlisted on Radio 1, dunno how (laughs). It was Phil Taggart’s show, the 10pm slot.’

It’s a good thing I tell him. My musical education was listening to John Peel under the bedsheets from 10-12 every Monday to Thursday. Most of my music knowledge comes from those late-night Peel slots.

I ask Ryan what he thinks of the current music scene.

‘Locally, there’s this band, Brosnan. They’re criminally under the radar, but they’re amazing, they’re making such good music that they deserve more recognition.’

The usual local bands crop up, and rightly so. We talk about Alex Turner’s divisive speech at the Brits a few years ago. ‘That rock ‘n’ roll, eh?’ you know the one, where rock music has to wade through sludge, but will always triumph. Rock bands had to break through. But it doesn’t seem to have been quite as prophetic as he claimed, with very few guitar bands penetrating the ‘sludge’ of the mainstream.

‘Yeah, I think bands have got more experimental. It’s gone the other way if anything, ‘indie’ bands have gone back underground, with the exception of very few, and even then, it’s mostly the more established bands. Our dream is to be in a successful band that’s not up there, (points to the sky), we want to sell out shows and be able to enjoy it without any of the celebrity bullshit that comes with it. Just carry on as we are, and achieve a level of success that doesn’t engulf you.’

So, what can we expect, musically, from BDRMM next?

‘The Way I Want, the new single is less safe than the previous two. We’ve got people with us now, they’ve seen us live, so we can afford to move away from playing it safe. Our audience knows what we’re about. A lot of the music I’ve been writing has got more of a dance rhythm to it. Four Tet and Thievery Corporation are big influences. Kid A is an inspiration of how to use electronic music in what’s basically a rock group setting. As long as dancey stuff isn’t used in a tacky way, the results can be incredible. So, we’re moving in that direction, musically.’

We talk at great length about our shared love of bands like Mazzy Star, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine and the like, but I ask him if anything outside of music influences his writing.

‘Outside of music, I mainly take inspiration from watching people. Also, real life suffering informs the music. Failed relationships. Great art comes from suffering, I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Now I feel content, but I’m looking to feel unhappy again so I can write about it (laughs). It’s terrible, artistically, being happy (laughs.) Just everyday life influences the music really.’

It has to be asked, what does their name mean?

‘Because I started doing everything from my bedroom, the name comes from ‘bedroom.’ People assume it’s from ‘boredom’, which pisses me off ‘cos ‘boredom’ is a better name.’ (laughs)

As we wrap up, I can’t help feeling that the confident, polite young lad in front of me and his band have a big future ahead of them. He exudes a mixture of humility and confidence which is endearing and tricky to pull off. I, for one, am looking forward to their next move, and watching their upwards trajectory closely. I like the cut of their collective musical jib, and wish them all the best. As he gets up to leave for work, I ask if there’s anything to add.

‘Yeah, a massive shout out to my mum and dad, who’ve been extremely supportive, Massive love for them. Also thanks to my music teacher in school cos she made me want to go away and do the exact opposite of the crap she was peddling. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. So, cheers for being so bad that I went off and did my own thing.’

And with that, he’s off. Point made. Point proven.

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