Life has been a bit of a whirlwind for Brighton quintet BLOOM. When a vocal injury threatened to derail their previous incarnation, The Beautiful Word, it made the band question who they were, what they wanted to be and whether they actually connected with their music anymore. It has now been over a year since this pivotal moment, and in the time since Bloom have recouped and crowdfunded their new album What Is Life. We had a chin-wag with vocalists Megan and Emily to discuss surgery, their new direction and what it means to them to be truly independent as a band.
The first thing that hits you about BLOOM’s sound is the dual harmonies; they are on point! Was it a collaboration that was instinctive and natural or something that you both had to work on to perfect?
EMILY: Megan was the first person I really sang with properly, so I think we probably grew together over the many years since then, in terms of technique. I seem to recall we bonded over our love of harmonies, Kate Bush and pick and mix the first time we met.
It’s well documented that singer Megan had to undergo vocal surgery and your previous band, The Beautiful Word, had to go on a year hiatus as a result. How serious was it?
MEGAN: Well, to be honest, my voice won’t ever be the same as it was, I’ve lost range and I’m huskier. The operation was relatively successful, but when you’ve got a cyst the size of your thumbnail inside the actual vocal cord it was never going to come out without scarring. However, the whole thing has made me think more creatively and reassess what we do and why we do it. I’m not interested in perfect voices so much, I want to hear the broken voices more. I’m interested in connecting with people. A slightly broken voice can totally do that.
Did being forced to put The Beautiful Word on halt make you think about the direction you had been going in and where you wanted to go musically in the future?
MEGAN: Absolutely. We’d been working non-stop on getting out there for 6 or 7 years. I was so depressed without playing live when we stopped and I realised in the past I was sometimes more interested in getting heard than making something I wanted to play and hear. This new album is 100% music made for us. Not that we’re not happy to show it to you!
As The Beautiful Word, you garnered a lot of notable press including support from BBC and BBC Introducing, touring with Ellie Goulding and performing at large UK festivals including Secret Garden Party, The Great Escape and T in the Park. How scary was it to leave everything associated with the name and start all over again? In hindsight, do you feel that it was worth the risk now?
MEGAN: The name had some momentum but also had a lot of old releases that didn’t represent how we sound now. People that had heard of us knew us as this super twee, silly band. I never really liked the name either. Now I’ve had a couple of years away from it I am really proud of our teenage legacy, we’ve even put all the old albums back up for sale. But at the time I was over that stuff and really wanted to start again. We’ll never be a serious band, I don’t think being serious is necessary to be taken seriously. We just don’t write so many songs about ladybirds and cream and things.
Your press release states that after watching one of your shows, Emiliana Torrini said, “I loved it and smiled circles”. How perfectly does that describe the live experience that you want to give an audience?
MEGAN: Haha, yes, that was a long time ago when we first started out. Obviously, I’ve never let that quote go, it made me so happy! We write about things that are quite painful really, but I think we come from a place where if you are going through these things, it’s OK to find ways to be happy when you can, to be looking up. There’s a lot of hope and optimism in the music and we hope that comes across and helps other people, not just in a sort of surface-level party way but really lifting people up from the inside.
You’ve described your music as “alternative cosmic pop… influenced by tiny wriggling things, giant galactic things, magic, nature and people”. As it happens, it’s the perfect description! What was it that helped formulate your sound musically?
EMILY: The moment that really made me start to think about the tiny and the macro was at a Bjork Biophilia show a couple of years ago. It blew my mind in so many ways, but I think I regard that as a moment my focus shifted to extremes in each direction. To be honest the seed was planted years ago. We’ve always been playful in our approach to life really, and it’s taken until my late twenties to realise that’s actually a legitimate and totally cool approach to have as an adult!
MEGAN: There is an actual book called ‘What is Life’ and me and Emily both got a bit obsessed with it and we hope we don’t get in trouble for calling our album the same thing! It analyses the moment that dead matter becomes an organised, living system. Still, no one has a clue and still its beautiful. Subtle low-level things that are totally incredible when you look at them – like moss – they inspire me too. I hate the concept of bravado or front when everything people are and everything that’s around us is amazing anyway, and openness is so much easier in the long run. So in many ways, I try to keep things simple and exposed with our music and focus on why each little keyboard line is great and accentuate that.
The synth in recent single ‘Shout’ definitely gives the track that spacey, otherworldly feel. We also loved the video (whereby you document footage of mushrooms ~ blooming ~ as per your namesake)! We heard that you often create your own videos; how did you come across the footage?
EMILY: Haha, that last video is much more interesting than it sounds. We’ve become obsessed with the wonder of life in the day to day – that goes from mushrooms sporing and growing and then dying away, through to the supposedly mundane but pretty insightful daily routine of the average human.
MEGAN: I love rush watching mushrooms grow! It’s beautiful to watch anything grow, you can lose hours on YouTube watching time-lapses. Anyway, I couldn’t get permission to use the videos that I originally wanted and then I found all this public domain footage from the 1940’s and thought ‘This is even better, I need to use this’ so I spent a few days messing with it and cutting bits together.
The video clearly symbolises growing up and stretching to fulfil your potential. You’ve recently finished recording your debut album What Is Life which was funded using Kickstarter. Were you surprised by the amount of people who were willing to support you to allow that to happen?
EMILY: YES. I am actually ashamed at my lack of faith. I had no idea we would get the support that we did, and was totally overwhelmed by it. [I’ve been busy] packaging bucketloads of vinyl and CDs and t-shirts ready to send to Kickstarter backers. It’s the kind of errand I absolutely do not mind doing. It reminds me of the awesome support network we have as a band.
How do you feel now that it is finished and what can your audience expect? Are there any surprises?
MEGAN: There was a lot more experimentation than I expected.
EMILY: For those who knew us as The Beautiful Word, it’s similar songwriting but overall it’s BIGGER. I guess we’ve had more life experiences to write about but also we’ve discovered synths and fuzz and 808s that really fills it out. You still get the classic dark lyrics sung to a cheerful tune vibe, so don’t worry about that.
Was the artwork for the album something else that you did yourself?
MEGAN: Actually no, it was done by this amazing artist called Karen Constance. She let us use her collage ‘Girl and Clown on a Mountain’ for the artwork. It’s basically perfect.
EMILY: I LOVE KAREN. The album cover is perfect. It’s as if she knew!
You are pretty diligent in being DIY, from crowd-funding your album to booking your own tours and how you intend to market yourselves as front-women. Do you feel that your band would be damaged by being on a label and do you feel that women especially put their image at risk by doing so?
MEGAN: At 19 I was desperate for representation and validation and all that. By 21 I was happy doing it all myself. These days I don’t know if I could let the control go. It’s really great to be able to conceptually work through the project from the lyrical meaning to arranging the tracks to what you wear and how you are seen. I was worried about not ‘looking’ like a frontwoman when we filmed our Kickstarter video. So, in the end, I decided to not wear any makeup at all. For the upcoming video for the second single, I did the same thing. I wish it hadn’t felt like such a big deal, I wish I didn’t care so much. I try to look at why I get worried and if that is a feeling worth having and if I could get away from it, it’s not easy to do, no matter where you are on the culturally constructed hierarchy of an ‘acceptable woman’s appearance’. I still scrutinise my appearance but managing ourselves we can do things to stop that being the focus and also hopefully influence those that listen to our music to see that as less of a focus in their own lives.
EMILY: I was just thinking about this today, and feeling so grateful that although we are technically ‘in’ an industry which so often encourages women (and men) to look and act a certain way, somehow we’ve created a niche for ourselves where we absolutely don’t have to do that. I hope we can continue to do that and if at all possible encourage or inspire other women to do the same. There was a time in the early Beautiful Word days when I thought that if I was playing a gig I had to literally wear a dress otherwise I wouldn’t be taken seriously or something. I don’t wear dresses, it was entirely uncomfortable. I am so grateful to have the freedom to look the way I want to now when playing and I would be nervous of how a label might change that, but hey – if there’s anyone out there, show us what you’ve got and we can talk!
MEGAN: There’re loads of smaller labels now that value bands with a strong personal identity and have rosters of artists with a similar angle on things. That is something I would be up for getting involved in.
You’re a Brighton band and the town is known for being a hub for creativity. Do you feel that there is a sense of community between creatives and if so, how? Is there anyone we should keep our eyes peeled for?
MEGAN: Brighton is amazing. The audiences don’t move very much, but there is so much happening. Look up Octopuses.
EMILY: Ha. Yeah, Brighton audiences are pretty static. Go anywhere north of London and people actually seem happy to hear music! But overall Brighton is a great creative hub – we’ve met loads of amazing and inspiring individuals and groups over the years. It’s hard to single people out, but as we’re talking Octopuses who are playing our launch, I’d also say Fukushima Dolphin who played with us at our Brighton show – psychedelic party B52s vibe.
You have all known each other for a long time now. Why do you think you have succeeded in working together creatively for so long?
EMILY: I think that Megan and I have created niches for each other in the creative process – there are certain skills that each of us is better at in songwriting and we complement each other in that. It helps that we are all pretty easy going too as a band. To be honest, we all spent our formative young adult years in close quarters, so that’s gotta be worth something! We ended up listening to a lot of the same music and generating the same sense of wonderment about life that we always go on about…
MEGAN: I love my band guys, we all lived together for years, we’re all pretty close now. Because we do our own press and booking, we’re taking a lot of knockbacks, which can make you think ‘Hang on are we just rubbish?’ But I could never think that about the other members so it’s easier to do the cringe self-promotion thing because I’m promoting them. Emily balances me out in loads of ways and is my best friend ever. It’s cool to think about because we started this thing to make something external together but it’s actually given me so much to have this person that I sing in harmony with that has spent all this time with me and knows me better than most. I don’t know how I would survive without Emily now.
Bloom’s debut album What Is Life is available now via their Bandcamp.