A Chat with Balaban and the Bald Illeagles (05.06.20)

Hailing from the West Midlands, Balaban and the Bald Illeagles are a three-piece indie-rock band. With a sound influenced by everything from Blur to Pixies and Bowie, this group is carving a niche in the UK rock scene. We had a chance to chat with Roscoe Balaban (RB), Ian Onion Whittaker (IW) and Jonny Cosy Compton (JC) about their new release ‘Blossom’, future plans and favourite smells.

OSR: How did you come up with the band name ‘Balaban and the Bald Illeagles’?

RB: Well, the band name comes from the fact that both Jonny (drums) and Onion (bass) have no hair and usually sport unkempt beards. They have both been stopped and searched at airports as they were mistaken for potential flight risks; thus, a play on words was coined: ‘Bald Illeagles’.

OSR: Were there any other band names up for consideration?

RB: Thinking of a band name is always one of the hardest tasks because you don’t want to have a generic name, especially a band name that would get lost if searched on a social media platform. BATBI was definitely a unique name. I did quite fancy Roscoe Balaban and The Charm Offensive, but I’m pretty sure there’s already at least one group in the world called The Charm Offensive. I’m sure Onion thought up a couple of more tongue-in-cheek band names, but BATBI was the best.

OSR: What can you tell us about your new single ‘Blossom’?

RB: ‘Blossom’ was born out of an old riff I’d written years ago. I’d been wanting to use it for a long time but had never written the song it would fit into. Then last summer I had a new colleague at work. I only had the pleasure of knowing her for three months; she was just a great person, warm, kind and absolutely loved life. She went to a music festival last summer and she never came back to work. It turned out she had overdosed and passed away. She was 20 years old. Those moments really put life into perspective, so ‘Blossom’ is about not taking everything for granted and as cliche as it goes “live each day like it’s your last”.

OSR: What was the writing and recording process like?

RB: The writing process is pretty rigid. I write the words, guitar parts and sing, then I usually send the guys a phone recorded demo so they can get an idea of the tune. We go into the rehearsal studio and we play around it ’til it feels good. Sometimes what comes out isn’t what you expected, but it always seems to work.

Recording-wise, we used the same studio as we did for our debut album Going Clear last year. Stourbridge Studios (in Stourbridge, funnily enough) with a man who I’m happy to call a friend now, Chris Wilson. He has helped to make us sound even better.

OSR: How did you feel when the single was released?

RB: Well, with everything happening right now, we decided to release the single on a whim rather than wait as there’s no telling when everything goes back to ‘normal’. So, because of that, I don’t think we had a chance to feel much at all.

We were excited about the video that Chris Wilson of Stourbridge Studios made for the song. It’s a stock footage video mainly showcasing life and death; the images were poignant and fitted the song perfectly. When it got released we had a great reception, at least among the local community, especially fellow Midlands musicians. There is a kind of mutual appreciation society in Stourbridge and the hub for all music as far as I’m concerned is the town’s premier venue, The Claptrap. We cannot wait ’til live events are allowed again because there will be more than one knees up down there!

OSR: What do you feel makes you unique?

RB: It’s extremely difficult to be ‘original’ because music has reached such a saturation point that almost everything has been done before. We just try to take all the musical influences we’ve ever had and channel those, and I think we have come out the other end now.

On our debut, we definitely challenged ourselves to make every song on its own. There are no two tracks on that album that sounds the same, however, I think we’ve managed a signature on what we do. The new material is feeling a lot more cohesive. Maybe this next album won’t be so much about musical variation, but lyrically I’m hoping people think I’ve taken it up a notch. 

OSR: What do you want people to take away from your music?

RB: Honestly, I guess I just want REAL music fans to listen to our tunes and go ‘now that’s a real band’. When you’re an unsigned band who really care about what they do, whilst at the same time have stopped thinking about ‘making it’, I think you keep the raw passion for what you do. We just want to stay honest with ourselves and I want people to feel that honesty when they listen. Overall, what I want people to take away from the music is substance.

We live in an age where people don’t challenge themselves to think independently and most music on the airwaves isn’t really about anything, which is criminal when you think about it as we live in a world where there is a lot wrong. People should be angrier about how the country is run. People should be angry about autocracy that dominates social media platforms. People should be angry about billions of pounds of public money being spent on things like HS2. People should be angry about the fact we’re down to the last 10% of rainforest. People should be ANGRY.

Unfortunately, we all live in our bubbles and we stare blankly at our smartphones as we wait for the next amusing meme to appear (myself included, I’m not innocent). I believe music can be educational and, if people have the attention span, I’d hope they would really listen to BATBI’s lyrics and know that they are actually about something.

OSR: Where do you want to be in five years?

RB:  Ideally, to be able to attract a crowd of 100+ to venues outside of our hometown! Perhaps supporting ‘bigger acts’ whilst always maintaining a DIY ethic. I doubt we’ll ever sign for a label because we’re too real and we’ll probably make more money just self-releasing and promoting, as long as we do it right. Finances permitting, I’d love to set up a record label and sign all of my friends’ bands! Never let go of your dreams kids.

OSR: How would you describe BATBI as a band?

RB: Simple for me. Honest, urgent and vital.

IW: Three blokes with a disdain for popular culture and just make music because they love making it. Hopefully, we will get a few fans along the way.

JC: The most awesome band nobody’s heard of.

OSR: If you were a superhero, what would your powers be and why?

JC: Flying because I could go anywhere!

IW: I’d love to be able to walk through walls. I could get into all sorts of embarrassing situations, then get out of them just as fast.

RB: I’d be Captain PR. A man with the ability to make bands bigger than The Beatles with the click of a finger.

OSR: What is your favourite smell and why?

JC: Walking through the fields local to me. The smell of the countryside takes me away from the day job spent on the bustling city streets.

RB: It’s got to be the smell of onions and garlic as they fry in a hot pan.

IW: Mr Zogs Sex Wax. It reminds me of the seaside where I used to live and loved going surfing.

OSR: What else is on the cards for BATBI?

RB: Hopefully we’ll get into the studio as soon as possible to finish recording our second album Post-Truth Apocalypse Blues. In the meantime, as with ‘Blossom’, we may well release another single to keep our profile up! Of course, we hope to be playing shows around the UK and even in Europe if the situation permits it! Everything is always easier said than done; we’ll have to wait and see.

Thanks to BATBI for chatting with us! You can find more about the band on their Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Spotify.

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