Boss Keloid emerged from the English underground a decade ago with their debut, Angular Beef Lesson. 11 years and four more albums brings us to Family the Smiling Thrush, the band’s fifth album, streaming exclusively via Decibel. The album is the most fully-realized of the band’s career; Boss Keloid fully embrace their prog leanings on Family the Smiling Thrush while retaining the sludge of their early work.
On Family, “progressive” doesn’t mean “overly technical.” Boss Keloid keep things focused on riffs and grooves, indulging in psychedelia, booming vocals, welcoming melodies and tasteful guitar solos. Throughout the album, Boss Keloid maintain an atmosphere of grandiosity without becoming pretentious, aided by the heaviest songs like “Grendle.”
Decibel caught up with drummer Ste Arands to discuss Boss Keloid’s musical growth, their future and the pandemic. Family the Smiling Thrush is out June 4 on Ripple Music.
It’s been three years since your last album, Melted on the Inch. What’s new in your lives or in the band since that album was released?
Since Melted, we’ve been pretty much consistently working on this new album. We had a change of bass player, with our original bassist Liam (Pendlebury-Green) re-joining us for this one. Matt (Milne, keyboards) decided to part ways with the band a few months back too for personal reasons, which we all completely understood, but which meant we had some re-arranging and re-writing to do before recording. That was a bit of added pressure, but we all love a challenge [laughs].
Other than that, the only other change has been our signing to Ripple Music this year. After our relationship with Holy Roar ended, Todd [Severin] reached out to us as he’d been following us for a while. He’s been very accommodating with everything, and we’re extremely grateful and happy to be working with Todd and Ripple on this new album.
The band seems to be leaning more into larger-than-life prog rock than other releases. Are you actively trying to push your sound in a more progressive direction or is this just the result of playing together for more than a decade?
I can honestly say that whatever direction any of our albums sound like they’re going in, it’s never been a conscious effort on our part ahead of writing anything. I think it just comes from the mix of influences we have as a band. I personally believe this current line-up is our strongest. We’re more comfortable with each other as players than ever before, and each of us are more comfortable than ever bringing our own ideas to the group and influencing the songs in our own way as a result. All four of us have quite different tastes from one another, so I imagine those differences create a lot of the oddness in our sound.
The lyrics for Family the Smiling Thrush seem both serious and personal. Can you explain what you were writing about and what you wanted to say? Is it a concept album?
Although most of the songs are written about a personal experiences, they’re hopefully written in a way which anyone can relate to their own lives. That’s one reason why the specific story behind a song is rarely revealed—to help people relate it to whatever they want to without a pre-existing idea of what’s being spoken about. Some of the songs on the album came from positive experiences, but some of them are written about quite negative, traumatic events too. The overall aim with the album concept though, was to speak through each of the songs about the lesson learned, or the more positive point of view to be taken from each of the events the songs relate to. Trying to be an optimist and see what can be gained from a situation rather than how it’s negatively affecting us is helpful I think.
Boss Keloid has much sludgier roots as a band. As your sound becomes more prog rock-oriented, is keeping an element of heaviness important or is that a sound of the past?
I don’t think the heaviness in our music is necessarily important to our sound, or us. We all enjoy that side of it, but I don’t think any one of us would complain if an album started to sound a lot more mellow. I think we’d roll with it and see what happened to be honest, and we’ve often talked about doing that in the past. Ideas are generally kept and worked on, or forgotten about and binned based on whether we all like the sound of it. If even one person can’t get along with it, it goes straight in the bin. The heavy sound is so common I suppose as it’s one of the few areas where we overlap with our individual tastes.
What was the writing and recording process for Family the Smiling Thrush like? Does one person write most of the music or is it pretty collaborative?
The writing process this time was the most collaborative it’s ever been. When we wrote The Calming Influence Of Teeth, most of the music would be arranged by Ste (drums) and Paul (guitar) before being handed to the others to come up with their parts. These days, everything is much more organic, and most of the ideas come from us all just jamming in a room together and seeing what happens. The writing becoming more of a group effort in that way has definitely impacted the sound for the better in my opinion.
We recorded in Wales at the legendary Foel Studios with Chris Fielding who worked with us on our last two albums. Chris is great to work with, and knows how to push us all to try to get the best out of us on the day. After our previous experience with him, it also felt very comfortable, so it was a no brainer for us to work with him again. With a lot more physical space this time around to record in, and a lot of lessons learned from our previous two recordings, we focused on getting a bigger, more natural sound with this album—especially with the drums. It was important to us that the drum sound be as clear and “live” sounding as possible, and I think Chris has managed to capture that perfectly.
Obviously the Covid-19 pandemic slowed or affected everyone involved in music to some degree. How much did that affect Boss Keloid and the release of this album?
Everything was put on hold overnight when the first lockdown hit, and like most people, we were completely unprepared for it. We’d been meeting up weekly for the last decade to play together, so when everything was stopped, it was hard to get used to not having that regular outlet. It had been easy to take that for granted beforehand, and it’s definitely something we won’t take for granted in future! Once it was safe enough, and we could take enough precautions, we got straight back to writing and managed to get everything finished off in time to record in December 2020. Other than a couple of dates being pushed back, and gigs being rescheduled, we’ve had quite a stress free pandemic to be honest. A lot of people are a lot worse off than us, so we really can’t complain!