We won’t lie. Black Midi – the most promising and talked about of all young British bands – are everything that you’ve heard about them. Confident, or even jaded and cheeky onstage but also so good, that you instantly forgive them their antics. The first impression, when we sat at OFF Festival to talk with their guitarists – Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin and Geordie Greep – was exactly the same. And as always in such cases – we were wrong. Matt and Geordie proved to be kind, funny and humble. But anyway – as they’re very young – they couldn’t avoid some questions about their school.
As each one of you is just 20 years old, it’s safe to assume that you’ve started listening to consciously listening to music in the era of Internet. How did you start?
Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin: Well, for me, my dad had a lot of CDs at home, a lot of records and stuff, so I was kinda exposed to it from the young age, so that’s how I started listening to music properly. But obviously Internet as well – like Youtube and stuff.
Geordie Greep: The same for me.
We wonder if the same bands are iconic for you as for the older musicians.
Matt: Me and Geordie are quite into Led Zeppelin obviously, Jimi Hendrix of course… Those two.
What kind of music did you listen to from the records of your parents? Those two?
Matt: Yeah, I guess so. My dad used to listen to Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and that kind of thing, so I’ve listened to that as well and then he had loads of like… Green Day and Good Charlotte (laughs) and that kind of stuff as well. I was listening to it when I was ten or eleven.
You’ve met in BRIT School, right? There’s an interesting concept behind it. We don’t have such schools here in Poland.
Geordie: Essentially it’s just a school which is free. You don’t have to pay, you just have to pass an audition. It’s a regular school but it has specialised facilities for the arts and stuff. So you can go there to do drama or music or filmmaking… There’s a lot of different courses. They are all very specialised. It’s a kind of vocational courses, so you don’t do any examinations. You just learn it very practically and they’re quite varied so in the music course it’s not just only performance or just history of music or music theory. It’s a mixture of all of these and more stuff. By the end of the course you can work out what you want to pursue in music. Some people come in thinking they’re going to be session musicians and end up being music journalists or something like that, you know? It’s just about finding what you want to pursue in music or if you want to do music at all.
And were you sure from the start that you want to make music?
Geordie: Yeah, for sure. I think that for me personally it was just like not a question of like doing music or not as a career. It’s just a way to do it – to play music and to meet people to play with them and stuff.
BRIT School is known because such artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse graduated from it. Was there a pressure in that school to be as successful as they are?
Matt: No, not at all. It was like the opposite basically. All the music teachers are really open-minded to all sorts of different music. They never pressure you into listening to anything specific. They were more on the side of “listen to whatever you want”. They show you a lot of different stuff, so it’s not like a “pop star school”.
Do they know, what you’re doing? Do they listen to your music?
Geordie: Yeah, they came to a couple of gigs and really liked it.
Before you released your album, you had a chance to do some things that usually are possible only for bands that already have some music out. I guess, playing with Damo Suzuki [lead singer of Can] is one of those things. How did it start?
Geordie: We played a lot of gigs at this venue in Brixton, London called The Windmill. Damo Suzuki does this thing, where he goes across every city in the world and plays with local musicians of that area. Just improvisational gigs. So we played at The Windmill quite a lot, maybe every year. He let the guy who books the bands at the Windmill know that he’s going to play there again that year, last year. And the guy thought it would be good to get us as the backing band since we’ve been playing there a lot. So he kinda just organized it and put it together. And we were thinking: “Uh, maybe it will go one way, maybe it will go another way” but it turned out really well. And it was all improvised, yeah.
Did he give you any advice?
Matt: No, I wouldn’t say so. I mean, we didn’t even talked much. What he did say before the show was: “I’m gonna jump up in the air, and when I land just make noise”. That’s it.
The next thing that you did before releasing the album was that famous KEXP session. Was it a big thing for you? Did you prepare for that specifically?
Geordie: It wasn’t really a big thing. We were playing at Iceland Airwaves Festival and that was just one of the things that we were going to do while we were there. It was like: “Oh yeah, we do this thing, it’s filmed, that will be fun and interesting and stuff”. But we didn’t expect it to, like, take off on Youtube or anything.
We wonder if all that cool stuff that you did before releasing your first album, made you feel pressure when it came to deliver it.
Geordie: No, not really. I think when we were working on it, at some point we knew we were satisfied with what we’ve done. So it wasn’t really about the initial response or reception. It was just about: “now that it’s out it will be there forever”. And we think it’s good.
Could you tell us a bit about the idea of the word “Schlagenheim”? What does it mean?
Geordie: Oh, it’s just one of the words in the songs, but it’s a fictional kind of thing. Not a real word.
Speaking of words. As we’re in Poland, we have to ask about those polish lyrics in “Years Ago”.
Geordie: Oh, yeah, just ask him about it (laughs).
What’s the story behind it?
Matt: The story? (laughs) It’s all just broken polish, isn’t it?
No, it’s really ok.
Matt: (laughs) Yeah, i mean, I’m quarter polish and my granddad used to live here. He was, like, a soldier in World War II. I have a lot of family here as well. I came last year and year before for the holiday, so… I don’t know, I just have this love for Poland and I just wanted to put some polish words in there. And also I thought it sounded mechanical – the timbre of the words and stuff… So I just put it there.
You sing a lot about social issues, like wage slavery, urbanisation, situation in Flint. Do you – as 20 years old musicians – encounter such things on your daily basis?
Geordie: I can’t speak too intelligently about any of that. I don’t really have anything intelligent to say. Of course there are things going wrong all the time but when we write lyrics it’s more about stories than real stuff.
After the release of “Schlagenheim” you’ve gone on a long tour. What’s the hardest thing about touring for you? And what’s the best?
Geordie: The best and the worst thing is the unpredictability of the quality of the shows you play, because you really can’t tell how good the show is going to be until you’re on stage, playing. If you expect to much of it, you will inevitably fall flat and the ones you don’t think too much or at all before playing usually turn out really good. It’s just really unpredictable how the show will go – that’s the great thing and the bad thing about it.
As we are on a festival, imagine that you organize one or curate one stage. What bands would you invite?
Geordie: Oh yeah, Jerskin Fendrix…
Matt: Black Country, New Road…
Geordie: Death Grips.
Matt: Yeah, Death Grips, Lightning Bolt…
Geordie: Who else…
Geordie: Jpegmafia… Whoever wants to play, really. Get everyone! (laughs)
The last thing – we have to congratulate you for that Mercury Prize nomination. What does it mean for you?
Geordie: You can’t complain (laughs).
Matt: Yeah, you can’t complain. It’s kinda random, because when we started out, we never saw, or I personally didn’t see it come to that level, so… pretty cool.
Why is your album going to win that prize?
Matt: (laughs) Why? I don’t think it will, personally.
Geordie: Because it’s the best work of the 21st century! (laughs)
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