Class Of 2015: Blackberry Smoke & The Temperance Movement

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In March last year, Paul Sayer and Luke Potashnick paid a visit to Shepherd’s Bush Empire, a London venue that the British pair’s band The Temperance Movement had headlined just a few months earlier, to sink a few beers and check out a show by the fast-rising US southern rockers Blackberry Smoke.

Both bands are signed to Earache Records, but what happened was all very agenda-free. After the show, Sayer and Potashnick chipped up to the dressing room of the Atlanta, Georgia five-piece. Over a few drinks, influences and mindsets were discussed. Very soon the musicians realised they had more in common than just a record label. The idea of the British band and the US band teaming up for a tour was mooted, but at the time, nobody took the idea too seriously; it was just small talk, the kind of idle, friendly chatter forgotten about by the time the hangovers had worn off. Except that on this occasion it wasn’t.

Less than a year later, The Temperance Movement were boarding an American Airlines flight to Chicago to commence their debut US tour, set to run from February 18 until May 9. The band were opening for the aforementioned Blackberry Smoke, but also filling their off days with their own headline shows. The stats looked daunting: more than 16,000 miles in a Sprinter van, 50 concerts and as many radio sessions as they could arrange (in the end, some 40-odd stations were visited). But timing-wise, things couldn’t have been better for the Anglo-Scots, whose self-titled debut album had been released in North American just a week earlier. First impressions are often accurate. And as Classic Rock joins the tour at the Aztec Theatre in San Antonio, Texas, that dressing-room debate at Shepherd’s Bush confirms some true commonalities.

“There are some very real connections here,” affirms Blackberry Smoke singer Charlie Starr. “For starters, both bands love the Rolling Stones and Little Feat.” Bearing testament to this statement, on the tour’s final night, both bands came together onstage to jam on the Stones’ Street Fighting Man.“Just like us, The Temperance Movement play rootsy rock’n’roll music,” adds Starr. “Although many of our fans haven’t heard of them yet, those guys are doing a great job of opening for us. What they’re doing is really catching on.” “I’d like to think that both of our bands are very honest, musically speaking, and we’ve probably both got a bit of a retro thing going on,” Paul Sayer agrees. “They make great albums and so do we, hopefully, but it’s also more about the live performance. Our foundations are in touring.“However, especially here in the States, Blackberry Smoke are considered a country-rock band,” he continues, “whereas we are viewed as a rock’n’roll band. That’s one major difference.”

Nevertheless, for The Temperance Movement, hitching a ride with an established act such as Blackberry Smoke is a no-brainer. “They’re onto their fourth studio album and have been touring for years. They’ve got a real following over here,” explains Sayer. “This is an absolutely mammoth tour that goes right across the country. We had hoped that their audiences would like us too, and it’s proving to be a good match. But when you’re out on the road together for so long, it’s also really important that you like the people you’re with.” Though each band administers a slightly different twist to the formula, at the heart of both acts is a desire to take a form of rock music that’s been around for years and add a contemporary thumbprint to it. “Right from the beginning, our primary goal has always been honesty,” insists Charlie Starr. “Older people understand what we do because it’s what they grew up with, but now they’re bringing their children along, and those kids are getting into it as well. It’s exciting to see so many teenagers turning up, though it happens more in the UK than here in the States.” Something else shared by The Temperance Movement and Blackberry Smoke is their label, Earache Records. Since the mid-1980s, the Nottingham-based independent has been at the forefront of grindcore, thrash, doom and extreme metal, releasing albums by bands such as Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Carcass and Cathedral. However, after enjoying unexpected mainstream success with the signing of Rival Sons for their Pressure & Time album in 2011, the label wanted more. Both bands believe Earache has done a good job. “I’d never even heard of Earache until we started to work with them,” Starr admits, “but if you meet Digby Pearson [founder/managing director] and Dan Tobin [label manager/A&R director], they like good music, no matter which genre.” All the same, one wonders whether the unlikely alliance has caused any odd situations – people expect Band A, sporting grimaces and corpse paint, and what they get is Band B, with beaming smiles, loon pants and unfeasible facial hair? “Not at all,” Starr guffaws at the suggestion, struggling to hide his amusement. In fact, the singer’s sole experience of a hater from the world of extreme metal came via the internet. “There was an online article explaining how Earache had got three records into the UK’s Top 30 within a year and this staunch metal guy wrote underneath, ‘What the fuck is this? Get back to the real shit!’” he laughs. “But he was there all by himself; nobody commented on his post and I felt a little bit sad for the guy.”

There’s no release date scheduled and the final tracklisting still requires confirmation, but The Temperance Movement have already completed recording their second album. Its contents were put down shortly before the band jetted out for this US tour with Blackberry Smoke. Once again the quintet worked with their co-producer Sam Miller, a longtime friend of the band, though the runaway success of The Temperance Movement, which entered the UK album chart at No.12, allowed them more than just four days in the studio. “In some ways it was made the same way as the debut and in others it’s fairly different,” Sayer reveals. “Because we really like it there, we returned to Fish Factory Studios which is where the first record was made, but the sound we had in mind was in some ways quite different. So to mix things up, we also worked at a couple of other studios, including a very productive but intense week at Rockfield in Wales. “Writing-wise, a lot of what went onto the first album was done by Luke, Phil [Campbell, vocals] and myself even before there was a band,” he continues. “Eighteen months later with Nick [Fyffe, bass] and Damon [Wilson, drums] on board, we’re a five piece. A lot of writing was done in the rehearsal room but because we were touring so much, we used soundchecks to jam out some ideas.” With Campbell living in Glasgow and the rest of the band London-based, the group worked out basic musical frameworks and sent them to the singer, who tweaked the melodies, “chopped things up and moved them around” and then added lyrics. Understandably, the band are cautious about saying too much about the record’s direction at such an early stage, though when asked to explain that quote about some of the music being “fairly different”, Sayer offers a flavour of what to expect. “The first record was made with no preordained idea of direction – the five of us had listened to so much of the same music that things kind of fell together,” he explains. “One thing that hugely influenced us now was the size of the venues that we now play. Some kinds of music sound better in bigger venues. With the first album we were playing tiny rooms like London’s The Water Rats or Nice ’N’ Sleazy in Glasgow. You play to fit the room. But now that we’re in much larger rooms, it’s definitely influenced the music. There’s kind of a subconscious acknowledgement of what people want to hear from us – especially as a lot of the songs were written in soundchecks.”

Although Blackberry Smoke released their own latest studio set, the Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen)-produced Holding All the Roses, as recently as February of this year, plans for their fifth album are already afoot. “It’s about time and I’ve started to write some songs, and we always have songs left over from the previous record,” says Starr. “If they’re good enough and if they fit the bigger picture then they get used.” The band return to the UK for a five-date tour in November. Having existed since 2000 and failed to make it across the pond to play here until a debut show at London’s Barfly some 13 years later, Starr agrees that they’re trying to make up for lost time. “The energy and excitement that exists between us and our British fans is quite something,” he says. “The way we’ve taken off over there is a very pleasant surprise. There have been times when we’ve been onstage in the UK and, the only way I can explain it, is that it felt like home. Sometimes it’s felt even better.” Don’t be surprised if, further down the line, Blackberry Smoke and The Temperance Movement decide to transport this Stateside love-in to a series of British venues. “Both bands are going to be incredibly busy over the next couple of years but were the diaries to align, that would make for such an amazing tour,” Sayer enthuses. “Mostly you’re just ships in the night when touring with other bands, but we really formed a bond with The Temperance Movement,” says Starr warmly. “Musically, it’s a great fit, and offstage we’ve been spending a lot of time just hanging out. Going out again together is something that Blackberry Smoke would welcome.”

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