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High Hopes: Black State Highway

Rewind to 2010, and the newly formed Black State Highway were officially Brighton’s worst nuisance neighbours. “At the start we all lived together, and it was carnage,” remembers guitarist Olie Trethewey. “We had beer bongs running off our balcony down to the garden, while we partied and played football. One time one of us had a girl in his room and we were all throwing potatoes at him while he was trying to get it on. I once got locked out on the balcony all night. I noticed that after we left they gutted the place.”

Four years later, the line-up of Olie, Liva Steinberga (vocals), Gordon Duncan (bass), Jon Crampton (guitar) and Harry Bland (drums) are still not averse to “titting about”. But recent times have brought new management and a sharper focus, culminating in the band’s blazing self-titled debut album, released in August.

“It’s our little ‘hello’ to everyone,” explains Olie. “Like us poking our head up. We did it all ourselves. During the sessions, Harry found one of those old-school labelling machines, so by the end of the week everything was labelled. I’ve still got ‘Richard Head’ on my guitar case.”

As you’d expect from a band with roots at the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music (BIMM), there are some serious chops on the album. But Olie insists that songs and attitude come first: “I wouldn’t say we’re musical eggheads. A lot of people go somewhere like BIMM as a rock’n’roller in a leather jacket, and leave with a feathered hat playing jazz. We’ve managed to keep hold of our primal drive. Just smash an E chord really loud, y’know, not fanny about. And Liva is a real hard-ass. You just unleash her and watch her destroy.”

Olie admits the band’s crunching brand of blues-rock is not for everyone. “You know how sometimes a riff can make you do that face, like someone’s just done a shit in front of you, and your face screws up and you turn your nose up?” he says. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve. We played at a church in Southampton once. We rocked up and there were grandads, grandmas, young kids. Our finale was Highway To Hell, and we just thought fuck it, and went for it. There were old ladies flinching, with their fingers in their ears, and children weeping. It was bad, but it was funny, you know what I mean?”

Happily, since then Black State Highway have found their audience – selling out venues including the London’s 100 Club and O2 Academy Islington. And while Olie still toils by day with a local removals firm, he’s hopeful that the band’s debut studio album will kick-start their ascent in earnest.

“I don’t know if bands can be as big as the Rolling Stones anymore,” he considers, “but we’d like to follow bands like The Temperance Movement, or Black Stone Cherry, and be in their position in a couple of years. We want to go all the way.”

Black State Highway is out now via Hear No Evil.

Black State Highway is out now via Hear No Evil.


“I’d say we’re for fans of Led Zeppelin IV,” says Olie Trethewey. “It was one of the first rock albums with riffs, and soft songs, and then groove-led songs – it’s got everything. I like to think our album has variety too. And we’re gonna keep on trying to write more and more freely.”

Henry Yates
Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.