Brighton mystery-pop quintet The Beautiful Word are no more. A cyst on singer Megan’s vocal cords, its subsequent treatment and her slow slow recovery ended the band. But fear not, every set back is an opportunity, and from the ashes of their ball gowns and glockenspiels rise Bloom.
Ahead of their imminent debut gig, Brighton Noise spoke to Megan, Scotty, Gruff, Emily and Tom about old times and new plans.
New name, all the old songs dead and buried, new sound. What made you decide to come back from the break this way and not just continue with The Beautiful Word?
Tom: We have grown up, different sounds, new toys. To quote Garth Algar “live in the now!”.
Gruff: It’s actually been a long time coming. We were discussing name changes for nearly a year but couldn’t find one to stick with until just a couple of months ago. As for the sound, things were gradually changing towards the end of TBW and that just kept on maturing over the year we’ve not been gigging.
Megan: Yes, we’re a lot different from the 2007, twee three-piece in matching hand made Disney dresses.
Em: We haven’t been hiding all this time, we’ve been cocooned. We weren’t going to spend all this time metamorphosing and remain caterpillars! We did like being caterpillars mind you, but we just changed a lot from 7 years ago that’s all.
Give me a quick history of TBW
Em: Meg and I met at college. I told her a story about how a fizzy lace got stuck up my nose once and then asked her to sing on one of my songs (Golden Box…!). We’ve sung together ever since with a variety of characters. Tom joined us in 2012 and sprayed some much needed fun and rhythm all over the reliable folk foundation we’d made. When did Gruff and Scotty join us? They feel like they’ve always been there.
Scotty: I think I came in to the fold around 2006/7? I was after Gruff that’s all I know. I met Megan at college, and we became chums (like 10 years ago!), then after college I was just working 7 days weeks outside of Brighton so never saw anyone ever. One day a couple of years later I got a text from Megan asking if I wanted to play bass for her band, originally I thought she had sent the message to the wrong person, but it was in fact for me! My life took a very different direction from then.
Megan: Yep Scotty is our shy one. And also ridiculous at bass. So that’s nice.
Tell me about your throat problems Megan.
Megan: I’ve always had throat problems, huge amounts of paranoia about losing my voice, and lost it often, since school. It’s very embarrassing wanting to be on stage and do everything right and have nothing come out. A large amount of this was in my head so when a cyst grew in my vocal cord it took a while to get diagnosed!
When did it reach a breaking point?
In March 2014 we’d had a show at St George’s Church, beautiful place, it should’ve been magical, I cried after. It sounded OK and I was told I was just being a perfectionist but I felt like there was a weird block in my throat and it was hard to make the sounds. I had a camera down my throat August 2014 (after refused referrals) after a tour which was great fun, but super stressful, because I basically couldn’t make my voice do what I wanted it to, and they found the cyst.
Which meant an operation.
I decided to have the operation in December which had a slight chance of making it worse but a big chance of making it better. That was fun because I wasn’t allowed to speak for two weeks. They had to cut the cord open and dig the cyst out so it was a longer recovery than having a nodule removed or something. I got really into Alan Watts and Zen philosophy, could only really interact one-on-one because I had to write responses down. As a person with little experience of even being in a room on my own it was the strangest thing. I learned loads and it was actually amazing in the end to do it.
The scary bit is when recovery took a lot longer than anyone thought it would. I was allowed to speak just in time for Christmas, but couldn’t for more than 30 minutes without it going. This is when I started to freak out. It continued up until March, getting better very slowly. I got into other things, made a puppet of Alan Watts who now performs at festivals which is nice [caught Alan at Supernormal; big Hit – Ed], started blogging, anything I could do at home in silence I tried. I couldn’t be in big social groups without getting frustrated, I became a sort of over-the-top mime because I was so used to joining in. Not being able to sing made me hugely depressed. Doing practice with the guys really saved me, I bought a new synth, I worked really hard on the pads and the lead synths, I focused on that.
How is it now?
I’ve been having speech therapy now rather than a vocal coach and just in the last two months it has really improved, all my top end is back, coming in with the summer it’s been an explosion, I can talk in pubs and be heard, we’ve been polishing up all the songs and adding harmonies, I sing all the time, I’m out all the time, I can speak to my friends, I’m probably partying a bit too hard because of it, I’m so bloody happy to be back it’s unreal. All this energy is going into the show which is ace. I am grateful for the experience in the end because it’s all brought me here.
Tom: Its been a long year. Some amazing new material has been created because of it. As humans we are good at adapting to new things. I believe our new sound reflects our ability to adapt. We have captured the good from the scary, the light from the dark, the hope from the despair. Its an interesting situation for a band to be in. It was unexpected and I believe we are still finding ourselves with the new format.
Scotty: For me it felt as if a part of me was missing, like a missing puzzle piece, though it took me a while to realise that the piece was band shaped. It is very comforting/balancing for me to be playing music again.
Em: When did you guys become so eloquent!
Gruff: I felt pretty bad for Meg as I can’t imagine not being able to do what I love for that amount of time. I think we all knew we would get back to gigging, no matter how long it took her to recover. It has been a long year and we’ve really missed playing live, but it’s given us some serious time to work on a different sound.
I know it’s difficult to describe your own music, but would you try to describe how your sound is changing.
Tom: Alt pop.
Megan: Tom nailed it. Let’s not mess about, we’re a pop band. I like to think we’re an interesting one.
Scotty: Our sound is becoming more mature, if you compare our newest tracks to our original TBW stuff back in the day it definitely has a more edge to it, and a lot more energy.
Gruff: We’re definitely putting more energy into our songs and performance now. Back when TBW started, it was quite folk and twee and we were suited to smaller venues. That wouldn’t work any more.
Em: In the beginning we were definitely children (weren’t we all!). We acted and dressed like children, throwing sweets into the crowd… stuff like that. And the sound was much more child-like. Through our adult experiences and thanks to the firm touch of the hands of Mother and Father Time, we have matured and aged, and our sound has gone with it.
I feel like I’ve always made the music I would like listening to, or have been accustomed to listening to. In 2006/7/8 when I was a whimsical innocent Scottish fairy that was folk music mostly. Now, I like dance music and pop music and alternative creepy vocal dirty everything music.
Megan: Yeah me and Em have changed a lot, there’s a lot more electronic stuff we listen to, anything new, new rhythms…
And who are you all currently listening to?
Scotty: I am listening to a mix of things at the moment, a selection of these are Symphony X’s latest album, Rush, a J-Pop group called Perfume, electronic artists like Tycho, Ochre & Boards of Canada, to name but a few, and I listen to podcasts, currently all about astronomy, because I am a huge nerd.
Tom: Yung Lean, JML, Everything Everything, Nice Guys of OKCupid.
Gruff: Tame Impala, Nick Hakim, Metronomy. Currently getting into some jazz. That’s where the best drummers are at.
Em: Current stuff…. Everything Everything, Alt-J, Major Lazer, Django Django, Dutch Uncles, UK garage, and a lot of house music…. Also Depeche Mode, Neneh Cherry and 80s Disco because I am from the past, and although I am enjoying the abundant musical fruits provided by this futuristic world I yearn for familiarity and like to surround myself with artefacts of my real life as a teenager from the 1980s.
Megan: Depeche Mode up to 1985, Human League, Bassline, anything from Off Me Nut Records, still obsessed with Dirty Projectors, Why?, Austra, School of Seven Bells….
Tom: Someone will write the bare bones of a song, we will all come together, after that we will all add little parts. The break from gigging has been nice because Emily and Meg have really been putting songs together.
Scotty: Tom also writes some songs. They’re all right. Usually Emily, Megan or Tom will play us their song idea, then I just work out the notes by ear and start messing around with ideas. I know if the others don’t say something then I must be doing OK!
Em: Tom’s songs are better than all right!
Gruff: Some songs come out instantly, everyone’s picks out their parts and it’s a winner. Some take a bit longer. We revisit and restructure. Not to say they aren’t good songs, it might just take more trial and error.
Em: I still find it hard to not write folk songs. The rest of ‘em beef them out and make them good.
Megan: Folk is good! Emily is always all “My songs all sound the same’ and I’m like “Well it’s a good thing they’re good!” – We used to just bring a finished folk song and put parts on it but that’s not really enough for us now to make something we actually like. We mess with it all a lot now.
Bloom’s launch gig. More than just a gig?
Tom: It will be just another gig.
Em: Tom you are so dry. Meg, how much do you want to give away?! It’s going to be way more than just a gig. Imagine our excitement for science and nature manifest into visions that the audience can see and be involved with… something like that. Plus our music.
Megan: There’s a lot of wiring being done. Paper mache. Lights. There may be some brain projections. We’re into the whole audio visual vibe now. Plus it’s selling out so we need to make the most of the vibe with a maximum amazing show.
Scotty: It will feel like the official first chapter of a new story.
Gruff: Yes, a new chapter. Not just another gig for me, I’m excited to play new material and I know it’s going to be a busy one.
And the vibe of the band is currently what?
Gruff: Bloomin’ marvellous.
Em: HEARTACHING ENTHUSIASM FOR EVERYTHING, omg the world and everything in it
Megan: I love you Emily.
Plans plans plans, what comes next?
Megan: Depends how people take this show. It all depends on that really. It’s all new.
Tom: Album, tour, money, hoes, repeat.
Scotty: It would be good to get our new material recorded. Also Tom’s point four has merit.
Gruff: I third Tom’s point.
Some of you do musical things outside of Bloom. Quick run down of those?
Scotty: Me and Gruff play in another band with the totally sensible name of “The Nice Guys of OK Cupid”, kind of a mix between the Beatles, Weezer and Nirvana! It’s very light hearted and fun. I have also helped another local artist named Al Gray with recording on his new EP.
Em: I’m into Zimbabwean thumb piano music in a big way. It’s a massive part of my life that rarely crosses over into the band directly, but definitely affects the way I write music (rhythms etc). I teach it at festivals and residentials. There’s a whole community of people across the world who are obsessed with the instrument (mbira – look it up!).
Megan: I’m in Gaggle which is a Anarchic Feminist girl gang/choir. We just finished a show at Almeida with Charlotte Church. I love my Gaggle girls.
Again and again I’ve heard you stress DIY, What does that mean to you, how does it manifest?
Scotty: We handmade all our instruments
Megan: We didn’t really set out to be like this but anyone that’s tried to manage the band couldn’t go as quick as me and Emily, we were getting to the emails first, we’d been doing it ourselves for a while, we had the enthusiasm, we have the energy. Now ownership of the process is important to us. Songwriting to projections to website, we do photoshoots and videos with some awesome people, but always collaboratively. We’d never turn down help and would be up for more on the team but they’d be in with us – not telling us what to do.
Who/What do you rate in Brighton. Musicians obviously, but anything else this town has too.
Tom: Great question. I rate anyone who is out there playing their own music day in day out. You make this city what it is. Its why I pay some much on rent and why I don’t want to leave. Just get out there and play. If you’re not in a band then just go down to the Green Door Store or the Albert and see some bands. The small band you see today could be headlining glastonbury in 5 years.
Megan: Yes even if I don’t rate the music of a Brighton band if they’re going for it I don’t bitch. Expressing yourself is really hard, it’s vulnerable. Oh OK I do bitch, when bands obviously aren’t expressing their actual selves and what is coming out obviously seems like a means to an end, to please the maximum target audience or whatever, I don’t like that. People that are making stuff they really love for themselves and sharing the love, I like that. people like Flash Bang Band, Written in Waters, Jungfrau, Plum, Yumi and The Weather, Emperors of Ice Cream, they all do themselves really well.
So what’s the best musical instrument and why is it the bass guitar?
Tom: Bass guitar is the best. People buy certain kinds of speakers so all they hear is the bass.
Em: What’s a bass? my guitar has 6 strings and plays treble and mid too.
Scotty: I find a large amount of the time the bass guitar is the unsung hero instrument of the band, it’s the link between the rhythm and the melody. Sadly it’s the kind of instrument where if it’s not there people notice, but when it’s there people don’t notice! But in a way that is kind of it’s charm.
Megan: Scotty taking it personal, everyone loves the bass, me and Emily more than ever since we got too into bassline.
Gruff: If I could have one instrument in my monitor, it would be myself. Nah, it would be bass. Can’t stay locked in without it.
Additional material by Honor Hewett.
Photography by Nathalie Hammond, Camille Lafon and Kesh St Hewind.
Bloom’s debut is at the Albert on 20th August.