‘It’s like the 70s vomited in here!,” jokes Blossoms drummer Joe Donovan.
It’s an overcast Wednesday morning in mid February and Blossoms are in high spirits at their rehearsal space and unofficial HQ in Stockport, the Greater Manchester town where the band grew up and where they proudly remain to this day.
From the outside, it appears to be a standard unit on a nondescript industrial estate, located next to a carwash and a garage manned by mechanics who are only too happy to point out the location of their notable neighbours.
But inside, it’s an entirely different story. For as Donovan puts it, the main rehearsal room seems every bit as indebted to the 70s as the dancefloor-primed tunes with which Blossoms initially made their name.
Soundproofing panels wrapped in a geometric print adorn the walls while parquet covers the floor. In the midst of this, the band — Donovan, singer Tom Ogden, bassist Charlie Salt, guitarist Josh Dewhurst and keyboardist Myles Kellock — are kicking back on a comfy velvet corner sofa. It is the kind of setting that Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner might have imagined when dreaming up his fictional Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, or one that millennials, having discovered Twitter’s endless obsession with 70s conversation pits, would lust after.
The lavish rehearsal room is testament to exactly where Blossoms find themselves in 2022. It’s a space to call their own after establishing themselves as one of Britain’s biggest guitar bands with two No. 1 albums since 2016.
Just as the first three records saw them dabbling in everything from the disco-primed synths of ABBA to the New York funk of Talking Heads, Blossoms’ fourth album sees them tackling new ground once more.
In Ribbon Around the Bomb, which arrives in April, the group have delivered arguably their most introspective effort yet. It dials down on the synths that featured so abundantly before and instead offers a sound that wears a love of classic songwriters proudly on its sleeve.
“You have to aspire to achieve something new”
— Tom Ogden
“In the past, what I’ve listened to has always fed into the songs. I was really into Talking Heads on the last album and it really fed into those songs,” Ogden tells Rolling Stone UK.
“But on this one, the songs were just themselves and we could make them sound a little bit like Paul Simon. We’ve recorded real strings, too, so it’s a grander-sounding record.”
As well as Simon, Ogden points out that the jaunty charm of recent single ‘Ode to New York’ has a “bit of a Harry Nilsson thing going on” — the track boasts flitting guitars that are immediately evocative of that singer’s storied American songbook.
And as the Big Apple-referencing title of that track suggests, it is also their most observational and, at times, personal record to date.
Ogden had begun writing their fourth album when the pandemic hit and, like most of us, used that time to reflect on life. But in his case, it was the small matter of charting the experiences of five teenage friends from Stockport who had taken on the musical world and won.
“There’s a lyric on [album track] ‘Visions’, which says ‘was I complete at 23?’ We’d got a No.1 when I was that age and I’d got with Katie who I’m now married to. Where do you go from there? Our producer James Skelly said, ‘That’s what the album should be about’ — and then everything just started to make sense.”
“We basically didn’t want to be Blossoms-by-numbers and James really helped with that,” Ogden adds of Skelly, who has produced all of the band’s records so far alongside Rich Turvey.
Elsewhere, an unlikely source of inspiration emerges on their latest single ‘The Sulking Poet’, a track that, according to Salt, is the one that wears its Paul Simon influences most proudly. It also just so happens to be named after a devoted Instagram fan page that Donovan previously discovered.
“I found this Instagram fan page called Ode to Ogden,” Donovan explains. “I showed it to Tom because I thought it was really funny, and it had this bio which said, ‘here to celebrate the beauty of the sulking poet.’”
So, does Ogden , in the challenging role of being the band’s primary songwriter, ever find himself living up to that title?
“Not really with songwriting, but I’ve been told to smile more over the years,” he clarifies. “In most of my photos with fans I’ve got a face like a slapped arse!”
The record, with its mature progression from 2020’s Foolish Loving Spaces, is also the mark of a band who are assured in their sound and happy to tweak the formula that first generated success.
The classic Blossoms knack of delivering catchy pop hooks is still intact, but it speaks volumes that the record is bookended by Bond-esque string arrangements organised by Kellock, who usually delivers those recognisable synths.
“There’s an aspect of wanting to challenge people,” says Ogden.
“You can’t please everybody, but it keeps us fresh. Change is good; you can’t keep the same thing all the time. You look at what Arctic Monkeys did on their last record, and we look up to them. Being in a band, you have to aspire to achieve something new.”
This new-found assuredness, Ogden admits, is a contrast from one of the band’s biggest gigs before the pandemic — a huge homecoming show to 15,000 fans at Stockport FC’s Edgeley Park stadium in 2019. It was supposed to be their moment of crowning glory at that point in their career, but Ogden found himself walking off stage at the end and failing to truly appreciate and enjoy the scale of their achievement.
“We were into the same shit, same area, same upbringing. We’re a very tight-knit group”
“We’d just played Stockport County and I wasn’t happy,” he says. “I remember coming off and analysing it. I was obsessing on perfection and thinking, ‘That needs to be better, I was flat there, the crowd looked bored there.’ I was driving myself mad off the back of it for all that summer.”
The problem deepened, Ogden explains, when he began watching other notable singers perform. “I just wasn’t confident as a frontman. I was comparing myself to other frontmen. I just remember watching The 1975 and thinking, ‘[Matty Healy]’s a great frontman, but I’m shit.’ “I wasn’t, but you beat yourself up. So when we were able to release the last album, I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’ Then fucking lockdown hit!”
Ogden was finally able to road-test that new confidence at the band’s sell-out concert at Manchester Arena last year, which had been delayed due to the pandemic.
While that show was a huge success, the band say it’s only the latest step on the path to bigger things. They exclusively hint at plans for a big outdoor show in a Stockport field next year, but die-hard Manchester City fan Donovan says they won’t be stopping there.
“There’s the Etihad Stadium itself,” he says. “When there’s local bands like The Courteeners who have been doing shows like that, you just think, ‘There’s no reason why we can’t do gigs like that.’ We don’t see a ceiling as to where we can get to.”
That confident belief in the future’s limitless possibilities, you sense, stems in part from the evidently strong relationships that exist within the band.
It’s partly down to family ties (Ogden is now Donovan’s brother-in-law after marrying his sister Katie last summer), but perhaps it’s more that they are a group of friends first, and a band second.
“It’s the stuff that predates Blossoms,” adds Dewhurst. “Going on tour and having these experiences has only solidified that. Everybody had a rapport before Blossoms was a thing. We all knew of each other at least before.”
Ogden adds: “There’s no real ego in this group, too. You’ve got to have a bit of an ego but not to the point where it’s detrimental. We were into the same shit, same area and similar upbringing. We’re a very tight-knit group and we don’t let anyone in to poison it.”
Or, as Charlie Salt puts it: “There’s a really weird frequency running [through] the Stockport water, and we’re all on it.” A frequency that, all being well, will continue to blare out for quite some time. From Stockport, to the world.