Boss Keloid aren’t one of the UKs best kept secrets anymore. The success of new album, Family The Smiling Thrush, has seen to that. And as drummer Ste Arands revealed to Rushonrock’s Rich Holmes, the magical mystery tour has only just begun…
“We were convinced that this would be the one that got a load of shit reviews!”
According to Ste Arands, Boss Keloid didn’t know what to expect when crafting Family The Smiling Thrush, the band’s fifth album.
Given the swathe of praise for the new record, the Wigan outfit clearly had nothing to worry about.
Indeed, the interstellar excursions emanating from Family… – powered by tour de force performances from vocalist Alex Hurst – have penetrated deep into the rock and metal community’s psyche.
Boss Keloid’s latest opus builds even further on Melted On The Inch, its evolutionary predecessor.
An intoxicating cocktail of stoner metal, prog, space rock and lurching riffs flows from songs like Gentle Clovis and Grendle.
There’s a strong hint of British eccentricity to much of Family… and a willingness to explore new creative landscapes, while keeping the Keloid essence intact.
The North West Baroness?
The Lancashire Kylesa?
Not even close mate…
“We knew it was the best we had done,” says Arands. “But we had no idea what people were going to say.
“We only write to please ourselves, like a lot of bands. It’s a very self-serving thing. We have never tried to fit any mould. It is only ever a vanity project. Whatever we are coming out with just happens to be released to the public.”
Boss Keloid’s breakthrough was 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm, an album of titanic riffs and rippling grooves that helped the band stand out from the post-noughties stoner/doom pack.
And it would have been easy for them to keep replicating that sound.
Instead, the adventurous Melted On The Inch arrived in 2018… and that laid the groundwork for Family The Smiling Thrush, which was recorded in December last year.
Arands explains: “Melted was really us experimenting again and seeing what we could do.
“If we were playing more of the same we would immediately be turned off by it, having played Herb Your Enthusiasm for so long.
“We played Herb before we even recorded it: those songs grew and evolved and got tight before we even recorded them.
“With Melted we were writing right up to the day, throwing stuff in there in the studio. They evolved later live after we recorded the album. So it was very different.
“Herb was set in stone and by the time we got to Melted we were a bit bored.
“We wanted to do something else.
“Melted was a bit of a reaction to how stuck we felt in Herb. Not that we don’t like it – we enjoy it and we play the songs now and again – but it is a very samey record and very ‘punny’.
“It’s a drugs album and you don’t want to get stuck in that niche.”
From 2010’s debut, Angular Beef Lesson to Family… Boss Keloid’s identity as always been wrapped around the otherworldly fretwork of Paul Swarbrick, one of the most distinctive guitarists to have emerged from the UK in the last decade.
The scale of the six-stringer’s impact is not lost on his bandmate…
“Boss Keloid is a pyramid of influences and at the top of that pyramid is Paul Swarbrick with his weird riffs,” Arands explains, as he sheds light on the guitarist’s role. “He is the weirdest genius, the way his mind works… He just popped into the world of music having spent 30 years in his bedroom playing weird riffs to himself.
“He listens to these odd bands and works stuff out. And because he never had any formal teaching he never really knew where a bar was meant to end or anything else.
“He will write a riff and bring it to us and it is 23/16 time – what the hell is that man?
“So it’s his riffs at the top of it and the band as a whole bringing our influences as well, and us all collectively turning what he brings us and shaping that into a song.”
Is it hard to keep up with him?
“Yeah, in every way, but that is why he is one of my best mates,” laughs Arands. “All of the best friendships they often present challenges and he has kept me challenged for ten years plus now and he has made me grow and grow and grow.
“I try to make him sound good, he tries to make me sound good.
“Like everyone else in the band it is this weird, collaborative marriage!”
He continues: “We all have very different tastes from each other and when those tastes converge in the venn diagram that’s where Keloid is.
“Liam (Pendlebury-Green, bass) is into Japanese electro and all sorts of weird shit, Paul is into Converge and Keelhaul and aggressive angular stuff, Al is into dub and reggae and world music amongst other things, and I am into dad rock like Steely Dan and Toto…
“We have always been aware that our combination of influences makes this pretty odd sounding music!”
The evolution of Boss Keloid…
Ste Arands admits that the band’s rapid progression has pushed the quartet.
And pushed them hard.
Listen to the likes of Flatt Controller, the juddering, Botch-esque tune which brings Family… to its conclusion, and it’s easy to see why they spend much of 2020 honing their craft.
“So much more work went into my own playing on this one,” admits the sticksman. “An example would be the beginning of Grendle and the beginning of Flatt Controller. With both of those riffs, I can play over them, but I was never happy with what I was playing.
“I spent months riding to our studio on me bike and spending four hours up there and then coming home for me tea, just because I didn’t want to do (the record) a disservice.
“Being a critical guy I still can’t listen to it without cringing.
“At some point I hope to be able to listen to it properly!”
Another key factor in Family’s bold, multi-hued approach was producer and Conan bassist Chris Fielding, who recorded the album at Foel Studio in the Welsh countryside.
Fielding’s technical expertise has been called upon by the likes of Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard, Winterfylleth, Atavist, Urne and Electric Wizard.
Arands praises Fielding to the hilt.
“Chris is very, very good with people,” he reveals. “He is the most patient guy in the world and he knows how to read a room.
“When Alex, for example, is trying a harmony part or a particularly testing vocal part, Chris will know how to push him, but so he doesn’t just burst and kill everyone. He gets there and he pushes himself beyond what he thinks he can do.
“Chris has definitely added to the quality of the album. He has an appreciation of an old-fashioned sounding record, where you can hear the space between the instruments.
“I feel a lot of modern records they are just full-on and they are there for 40 minutes and you feel suffocated afterwards. There is no real tension and release in the dynamics.”
Boss Keloid: the next chapter
Arands reveals that they are already working on ideas for new material. Weird, cool, fucked up ideas, apparently, which have had the band ‘nearly throwing guitars through the window’.
He says they’ll be taking a slightly different direction once again. “We have tried to challenge ourselves.”
And in preparation for post-lockdown touring, Boss Keloid, typically, have their heads down.
“We’ve been working hard at the live show,” Arands explains. “There is no excuse not to dig your heels in and get something achieved if you’ve have a break like this.”
So just how much has he missed playing live?
“It has been crap. You realise how much you have taken it for granted and that it would be absolutely terrible if it is over forever.
“As soon as there was a glimmer of hope and we started to talk about that sort of thing happening again, we couldn’t wait to get back out.
“The itch is there. We are just crossing everything!”
Family The Smiling Thrush is out now on Ripple Music. Check out our review here.
Boss Keloid are touring the UK in November with Tuskar – the tour starts off at The Anvil in Bournemouth on November 18.
The band also play Damnation Festival in Leeds on November 6.