“I know people will dig it. In fact, I’m going to say I think people will love it. It’s the best album we’ve done. It’s beautiful, man,” says frontman Alex Hurst, who’s on fine form as we sit down to talk about the rather splendid news that a fifth Boss Keloid album is in the bag, ready to be released this summer.
“I can’t stop listening to it,” he continues. “Which is really weird as I usually can’t listen to our stuff. And from me that’s high praise because we’re so fucking fussy, man. We usually come away after recording and after taking it all in, with little things that bug us that we wish we had done differently, but we are all pretty adamant this one is spot on.”
It’s been a long ride for the Keloid boys, from the nascent days of their early musical explorations in a practice room in their hometown of Wigan, to gracing huge stages at Bloodstock, ArcTangent and Damnation festivals and garnering universal critical acclaim for 2018’s Melted On The Inch. Alex and Paul Swarbrick first met at a Clutch show in 2005. “Me and Paul Thomason had been friends for a while, and he mentioned him and his buddy Paul Swarbrick had been jamming a few things together and were starting a band and in need of a singer. At that Clutch gig I thought he was a complete nutter because him and Paul Thomason went nuts and ended up all over the floor and I was thinking ‘who the fuck is this’? Swarb had a catalogue of riffs coming out of his arse. For 33 years Swarb had been stuck in his bedroom with these riffs, and that’s why the early stuff is just completely mental haha.”
Fast forward fifteen years and Boss Keloid have signed to Ripple Music for album number five. “I’ve got a lot of stuff that’s been released by Ripple over the years,” Al says. “I’m a big Wo Fat fan, I love Yawning Sons, and Mos Generator have riffs coming out of their bottoms, fantastic live band. [Ripple owner] Todd Severin is an absolute gent, a genuinely lovely bloke. I definitely didn’t think there would be a label from America interested in us, but it turns out Todd’s been following us since [2016’s] Herb Your Enthusiasm, and he loves Melted On The Inch, and he was very keen that he wanted to work with us on this one. He’s been very accommodating with everything. We knew what we wanted with pressings, timings of things coming out, stuff like that, and he just said ‘dudes, just do what you do, and I’ll look after the rest’. It’s gone so smoothly. We’ve spoken to Todd about him helping us get over to the USA for some shows. I’d love to take our music over there.”
The stylistic jump between 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm and Melted On The Inch was significant. We wonder if there’s been another giant leap on the new one? “It’s definitely heavier than Melted, but has more light to it,” Al replies. “Some of the tunes are so catchy. There are more twists and turns. There are no keyboards on it as our keyboard player left, which is fine – Matt [Milne]’s our friend for life. We started to rearrange things, where there would have been keyboards me and Paul worked on guitar parts together to make things more interesting. Both guitars work together perfectly on this album. I’d say it’s a real mix: some The Calming Influence Of Teeth  stuff will come out but then it’ll just break into something that sounds like John Denver. There’s even some sexy solos that sound like Slash could be ripping them out.”
Lyrically, the band’s music has always been open to interpretation, but in light of family members passing away and the challenges of the pandemic, it’d be easy to assume that the new album will be quite bleak. “No, they’re positive, inspiring lyrics,” Al assures. “There’s a strong message of community and communication running throughout them. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from a band called Akae Beka, ended up getting them tattooed on my hand. They’re a reggae band from St Croix in the Virgin Islands. Their singer Vaughn Benjamin died in 2019. His lyric writing has inspired me so much over the last six years. The theme of community and communication has come out of the lyrics, and out of Vaughn Benjamin: friends, family, band.”
Benjamin has also informed how Hurst delivers his vocals. “He does a lot of syllable matching, certain words you think of you can change the syllable, and you can change the rhythm of how it’s sang. So, I’ve looked much more at the rhythm of singing on this one, rather than just my usual shouting, I’ve really thought ‘Where could I go with this lyric?’.”
“I’ve sunk my vocals more in the mix this time round. I think we failed a bit on Melted On The Inch, because whenever I put it on – which is very rare – as soon as my vocals kick in I’m like ‘fucking hell, turn it off!’ cause they’re so loud and prominent. I’ve really let rip on harmonies this time as well, and it sounds perfect.”
With the pandemic having been with us for twelve months now, we ask whether this can be considered a lockdown album, but it turns out its roots go back to a time when coronavirus was a term used only by doctors and virologists. “Some of the riffs go back two years,” Al tells us. “It was all written before lockdown. We’ve been tinkering with it during lockdown. We’re an absolute fucking nightmare, we swap and change so much until we get to the point where we can say ‘yeah that’s cool’. It always takes a long time. It’s been more of a community of us all getting stuck in. Previously it would be Swarb having a bunch of riffs, and he and Ste [Arands, drums] would piece them together, then I would come in and we’d work out where a chorus should be. It’s been much more of a collective effort this time, and I think it’s benefitted from that. Ste has been an absolute beast with ideas. He would keep shouting out harmony ideas and asking me to try them and I was like ‘nahhhhh that’s going to sound awful’, but once I’d tried them I’d be listening back thinking ‘fucking hell, how did Ste even hear that idea in his head, it’s genius!’ We’ve let Ste reign on this one, let his ideas just flow.”
The album was recorded at Foel Studio in Wales in December, with Chris Fielding once again at the mixing desk: “Chris is great at capturing a good sound. But this time we said to him ‘listen dude, we really want to work with you, but we really want to throw suggestions out into the recording process’, and he was way happy with that. We booked an extra day just to mess around with drum sounds with him. He was so flexible, anything we suggested, he would try it. He was so open minded to trying different things with us. The drums sound fucking amazing on this album, almost like a Steve Albini kinda thing, which isn’t Chris’ normal sound. We wanted to really dive in and see where else we can take it, and he was open to that. We absolutely loved Foel, it’s such a perfect place. We had a brilliant time.”
When the new album lands on your stereo this summer – if you listen very carefully – in one of the tracks you’ll hear a secret vomit. There has to be a tale behind that… “Haha yes!” Al exclaims. “Our bass player Liam [Pendlebury-Green] opened a bottle of wine after we’d finished recording, he’d already had a few beers, and he ended up in the toilet and he was making the most incredible noise you’ve ever heard in your life. It was like Cannibal Corpse x 1000. So, I just wandered upstairs with my phone and thought ‘I’ve got to get a recording of this’. And then the next day when we were mixing, I gave the recording to Chris and asked him ‘can we load it in that gap there in that track?’ And he did, and it sounds fucking great man!”
We sense that album number five will delight the Keloid faithful, but also bring them to a significantly wider audience. Frankly, it feels like the band are on the cusp on much bigger things, but for Al the band are just taking life as it comes. “Man, we just plod on and do our thing. We want to share our music because we believe in it, but do we want to be as big as Gorija? We’re far too weird for that I think.” We suggest to him that the weirder their music has gotten over the years, the more mainstream they’ve become. “I guess so, yeah,” he agrees. “We’re not afraid to jump to the next level, and our families aren’t afraid to help us go there as well. We’ll just have to see what happens. We’re all busy guys: I have my own business, Swarb is an architect, Liam works for a law firm, Ste is a data analyser, so we can only do what we can do. But I feel this new album is the best one we’ve ever done.”
As we wrap things up, you can tell Alex is thrilled with what the quartet have come up with this time round. “It’s the first album I can listen to all the way through and not be pissed off with myself, because I hate listening to my own voice. I personally just think it’s awesome, and I love it, and I’ve never been able to say that about the others. I’ve always gone ‘I wish we’d done this; I wish we’d done that’ when listening back, but I can listen through this one and I’m just happy with it. If I died tomorrow, I could say ‘that was a good album’.
Boss Keloid’s new album (title TBA) drops this Summer on Ripple Music. Click here for more info.
Words: Andrew Field