Emerging back in 2016 with their energised debut ‘Be Nothing’, this was to be Boston Manor’s first and last foray into more standard fare punk. 2018’s follow-up, ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’, gave birth to the idea the Blackpool five-piece wanted to be more than another band in the same scene. It built a world that encapsulated a version of their hometown in a noir, watch-your-back landscape. Then, 2020’s ‘Glue’ took this even further, expanding upon the soundscapes through glitchy processed sounds. And now, ‘Datura’ is Boston Manor rejecting expectation.
“That’s probably why it’s taken until album four to do something on this scale, because I think it’s only at this point that we’ve felt confident enough to trust in ourselves,” opens vocalist Henry Cox. “Even when you’re making your third record, you’re not exactly tenured at that point. I don’t feel tenured now! It’s still kind of figuring it out, and the whole process of making an album is such a specific and long thing it takes practice to get it right.”
Indeed, with no two Boston Manor albums sounding alike, they’ve created an organic fanbase, one which falls in with them and respects whatever choices they may make (even if they can be a bit vocal sometimes. Henry mentions reading Reddit threads: “I thought it was really interesting to see people’s different takes”).
“Once we made the first record, we kind of knew that. I mean, in my eyes, that’s just as much an emo record as a pop-punk record, but it was definitely formed by that Petri dish of early-00s alternative music that we all grew up on – and I love it. I’m quite flattered actually that it’s held in such high regard by that diehard pop-punk community, which we have pulled away from, and some people have come with us, and some people still cherish that record, but the rest of it isn’t for them.”
Pinpointing the turning point of their direction as ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’, while looking to just where Boston Manor wanted to progress, they realised “it feels different, and it feels like our own [sound] that no one else has.” A bold move that they happily pulled off, Henry and co. – Mike Cunniff (guitar), Ash Wilson (guitar), Dan Cunniff (bass), Jordan Pugh (drums) – are thankful they get the opportunity to test different waters without severe backlash from their fans, that is “providing that the songs are good,” Henry reckons. Drawing an invisible Venn diagram in the air, his calculations lead him to believe that it’s the middle section – sat between their punk roots and their inquisitive nature – that they reside, often wandering into the outer sections because, well, they can.
For ‘Datura’, Boston Manor found a dichotomy between the natural and the industrial. Inspired, of course, by their hometown. “It’s got a lot of nature to it,” Henry explains. “But it’s also crumbling and industrial, and a bit fucked up.” Relying upon the atmospheric as much as it does a crunching chorus, it is, by a large margin, the most experimental Boston Manor release to date, and unapologetically so. Having the confidence to, say, include a predominantly instrumental track when there are only seven total, stems from Boston Manor creating their own musical and visual language. “Which is crazy to say,” Henry beams. “We do have some element of a blueprint when it comes to making albums and writing songs.” He continues, “And anyone that knows us at all is probably sick with us bashing on about our hometown because it’s all we fucking talk about, but it is in a lot of senses a muse of ours.”
“It is part of our visual language and our musical language as well. So where we still write all our music, it’s where we practice, so it’s got a very big place in our hearts, and it’s very much at the centre of our kind of creative vision.” The fictionalised version they first constructed with ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’ becomes larger than life with ‘Datura’. Through various field recordings – of hustle and bustle, and of nature, all straight from the source – Boston Manor are doing all they can to make their Blackpool tangible to the ears. Although, Henry is quick to add, “by no means is it a sequel to ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’, but it definitely feels like it’s part of the same canon.”
There’s also the fact that this is part one of two. With the second half still germinating in the minds of the band, just what it will sound like is anyone’s guess, but the cold hard facts are that it will indeed be flowing from the rapturous bird song of closer ‘Inertia’, and present the daytime to ‘Datura”s encroaching and encompassing nighttime. However, a case can be made for the success of an experiment having a say in any future endeavours. As if that’s the case for ‘Datura’ with Boston Manor? Henry doesn’t seem to think so. “We’ve always tried to be on a little island in terms of what we’re creating,” he explains. “And not exterior influences or factors. But we’re only human, and if, for instance, there was a song that was panned, we probably won’t be able to help it; we’d be aware, we run our social media.
“So if anyone is directly talking about us, then we’ll probably see it so, you know, potentially but to a small extent. We don’t write to briefs, and we don’t write to what’s popular at the time or any of that kind of thing. Otherwise, we would definitely have written more commercially viable music!” he laughs. “So I like to think, generally speaking, we always try to put the blinders on when we’re writing because there’s so much noise, isn’t there?
“People look at their contemporaries, and I think that’s a really bad road to go down because you really shouldn’t compare yourself to other people because it’s not a useful exercise. Even if you sound similar to one band, you’re a completely different entity, and what would work for one artist would never work the same for you. I just think it’s very important to try and look inward rather than outward wherever possible. But at times, it’s gonna seep through, isn’t it, because it’s crazy loud static.” But, being a band of straight-shooters, Henry quickly adds: “We have a phrase that’s a bit of an in-joke in our band that’s, ‘I reserve the right to change my mind’.”
While at seven songs, it can feel like a short burst compared to their previous efforts, the promise of more, as well as the might of the likes of the anthemic ‘Passenger’, prove Boston Manor are one of those bands it pays to keep an eye on. Few are finding the courage to explore sonics and visuals with such gusto – including touchpoints of Blink 182’s self-titled album and its use of interludes, and Burial, particularly his cut ‘In McDonald’s’ – but then Boston Manor have never seen themselves as being part of a particular scene.
On what it is about them that allows their experimentation to survive and thrive, Henry offers: “If I had to hazard a guess, we’ve always kind of been the black sheep of whatever ‘scene’ we’ve been a part of. We were too emo for the pop-punk kids, too pop-punk for the emo kids. Going back to the Venn diagram, I guess we kind of sat in the middle of a bunch of different things, and that appeals to some people who maybe felt a little misrepresented in their tastes in this big old alternative bubble that we live in.”
There’s also a case to be made for Boston Manor being underdogs in this world, and it’s something Henry mentions readily. “Some people may feel that we play into that, but we’ve always very much felt like that we’ve never had like any great leg up from anyone. We come from a very underrepresented part of the country, which is partly why we’re so proud. And I suppose maybe that has attracted people that are into different things, and not necessarily the zeitgeist at all times. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I’m very glad.”
And when you boil it all down, Boston Manor are just a band. Four mates who set out on a mission to have fun and to see if they could change their lives while they’re at it. And while the sounds evolve at a rapid rate, as for if the band’s mission has changed, well, what do you think?
“No, and I’m very proud of that,” Henry says defiantly. “It’s never been about more than us writing songs to impress the other members of the band. We’re all original members; we’re best friends – like best, best friends. We get on like an absolute house on fire. I just never tire of that company, which we’re very lucky to be 10 years in and still [having] that.”
Taken from the November issue of Upset. Boston Manor’s album ‘Datura’ is out now.