We've heard the story a thousand times before: outcasts become friends, friends become band, band become overnight sensations. It's British indie's twisted take on the American Dream; everybody wants a piece of the proverbial pop pie, but only the privileged few pass the industry 'gatekeepers' standard and steal away with the goods. Next out of the blocks? Bloxx, of course. One of Britain's best up-and-coming bands, Dork spends a virtual hour in the company of vocalist and guitarist Fee Booth ahead of the release of their debut album, 'Lie Out Loud'.
"I feel like I blinked, and here I am now. The last three years have been a whirlwind of things I'd never assumed would happen from being in a band," muses Fee. She's both bewildered and besotted by the success they've achieved in such a short time, from supporting The Wombats at Ally Pally with less than ten songs to their names to opening up a stage at Reading & Leeds. It's an experience that's been utterly unexpected and refreshingly humbling.
"We're so lucky - there are bands out there that try and try and try and try and try and put all of their energy into it and probably deserve to be the biggest band in the world, and they just don't ever get there, and stuff like that happens. I feel incredibly lucky, and undeservedly in a way, that we've gotten to where we've gotten, from nothing but our own effort, because we never thought we'd be here."
It's true, few including Fee, guitarist Taz Sidhu, drummer Mozwin Norohna and bassist Paul Raubišķis could've predicted they'd go from pulling pints and singing about sessions at 'Spoons to putting out a pop-conscious collection of arena-ready indie-anthems and festival bangers, and yet, here they well and truly are. As the release of 'Lie Out Loud' edges ever closer to its due date, it's been a time of sobering reflection for Fee and the gang, one that's subconsciously seeped into their development as a unit.
"We didn't do anything before those big massive shows, it was throwing us in at the deep end. We were probably really bad, we were probably the worst band anyone has ever seen at Ally Pally, but it was the best thing that could've happened for us."
"I always think about where would we be if we didn't actually play any of those Wombats shows, or go out with The Night Cafe, or the Two Door [Cinema Club] shows. And yeah, it can send yourself into a 'mare, and you think 'maybe we're only doing well because we did those shows', but I mean, if we were that terrible when we did those shows, we wouldn't have any trajectory."
Bloxx's trajectory, it would seem, is never-ending, sky-rocketing up a label executive's spreadsheets like a spacecraft owned by Elon Musk. It's a sensation Fee is as excited by as a kid at Christmas, but it's also a double-edged sword that her mind hones in on regularly:
"Looking back to 2016 and 2017, those start-up years, to where we are now as humans and as a band, it's just strange because we've achieved so much, but I feel like looking back on those experiences we had when we were so young, part of me wishes I took more time to sink the moments in.
"You look back on those moments when you feel like you weren't as mature then as you are now, and you kind of go 'maybe I'd have done it a bit differently' but not in a regretful way. It's more like, 'I wish I could do them again now with what I know now, re-do them feeling a little bit more like I've got my life figured out'."
Figuring their lives out is just one part of 'Lie Out Loud''s puzzle, another piece being their attempts to streamline and synthesise their grungy 90s indie tones into a more mainstream indie-pop approach. In fact, so much of 'Lie Out Loud''s development was designed to break away from the 'grunge' brush they've been brandished with.
"I don't hate being called grunge, I just think there's so much more depth to the stuff we're doing, and once you box off a piece of music as something, you're limiting yourself to an audience. I've never been the sort of person who loves being boxed into one genre, I wouldn't want to put out that sort of music all the time, and it just become same-ish, and everyone expecting to hear the same thing all of the time.
"We've done that really well with the record because everything sounds a bit different. I wanted to be unexpected and not do something we've done ten times before, it was fun to step away from it, and hopefully now not just be called grunge, because I'm just like 'yeah, we might've done that in 2016, but we're kind of different now."
Different is a bit of an understatement. 'Lie Out Loud' twists their straight-up indie-rock into a tornado of explosive synths and melodies that melt your mind as you sing along to them word-for-word within minutes. Bookended by the titular track and 'Swimming' - two cuts that are the closest to paying homage to their early days with big riffs and even bigger choruses - 'Lie Out Loud' diverges into lo-fi dream-pop on the highlight-stealing 'Changes', and blurs into staring-up-at-the-clouds singer-songwriter heaven on the acoustic anthem 'What You Needed.' Taking such a big step away from their core sound was something that came naturally to Fee.
"I've always had that pop sensibility, and I've always been an acoustic writer, from the day I started writing music. It's the instrument that I've written on since I was a child. Back in the early days of Bloxx, where I would send demos to Dirty Hit and get rejected, they were all acoustics, and they were all in that world.
"I just wanted to go there once and see what it's like, because the beautiful thing about Bloxx is that everything we've released so far has got our sound, it's got our take on it, but nothing is exactly the same. I like that I've had the chance to experiment. People have belief, the label have belief, management have belief. Everyone has been like, 'yeah, you know what, you can kind of go a bit weird if you want to', because it's still us. When I write songs, I write them as if I'm on a stage and as if it's that part of the set. What do I want people to be doing right now? And I think that songs like 'Changes' and 'What You Needed', in particular, are going to be monumental."
With monumental changes comes monumental songs, and Bloxx have a box full of the bangers now, having amassed a serious collection of arena-ready anthems over the years. While she may write away on an acoustic guitar, every single song you'll hear on 'Lie Out Loud' was made with the bigger picture in mind.
"I try and write bangers for stadiums. The thing in my head is always 'where do you want to be, what show do you want to be playing, who do you want to be there, and how do you want them to react', and I think writing tunes to that is a lot easier when you think about the response it'll get."
Of course, when you've got a penchant for popping out bangers and find yourself sitting comfortably towards the top of all the Next Big Thing lists, the volcano of pressure that comes with having to deliver on their debut album and live up to the hype must be close to erupting, and it's something that haunts Fee's mind like a ghost.
"I think any musician who says they're not feeling pressured is lying a little bit, and maybe it's just me, I don't deal very well with pressure and stress, but I 100% think, looking back on the process of the album I didn't do enough to write, and I didn't work my ass off as hard as I should've done, and you start to think 'is this great enough?'"
It's a sentiment that seeps through to the way the ever-evolving music industry is keeping artists constantly on the tips of their toes, and for a band about to pass the make-or-break point of their career, the pressure to stay competitive is very much real.
"The biggest pressure of the music industry is making sure you don't get dropped by your label, making sure you're writing tunes that might be played on the radio, making sure you're not gonna fall off the radar and be one of those bands who was up and coming for three years and ended up just releasing a really shitty debut album."
Regardless of the pressures that come with bringing 'Lie Out Loud' to the masses, Fee and co. are as proud as peacocks of the music they've made and the journey they've been on. The twelve tracks that make up the album are all the band's babies, having been nurtured during the band's labouring of love for the last three years.
"I'm incredibly proud of the record, because it isn't so one-dimensional, it isn't the same thing twelve times. I tried to appeal to everyone and still like it myself, and still enjoy what I was writing and still enjoy what people would listen to, because if we were putting out twelve songs that I wouldn't like or the boys didn't like, or songs we all hated, but people loved, I don't think that would be fun anymore."
Appealing to everyone, whether it's writing big-room bangers or singing about slinging pints in 'Spoons, has always been a 'thing' for Bloxx, they're a little like the people's band. On 'Lie Out Loud', there are Instagram captions in-waiting, tucked away in songs that sing about the struggles of the youth generation, from navigating love in all its guises and discovering one's self in a world too obsessed with copycat culture. Writing so openly and striking a chord with someone, somewhere, is always at the forefront for Fee, and practically the basis of what Bloxx was built on.
"From day dot, I've always said about being relative and being very open with lyrics. I find that interesting when I listen to songs, and I've always said writing from my own experiences is important. There's always someone out there who can relate really hard to what you're saying, and they're the songs that resonate really well with people, and I'm always trying to incorporate that into our music.
"A good example is the whole 'Spoons thing, that was kind of our starting point. Writing that song [2017's 'Coke'], it felt like the right thing to do, and I always think writing music where you place yourself in a situation that has been important to you, is cool because people will recognise that and people can get into it."
As well as 'Spoons, Bloxx have always been about empowerment and the normalisation of what should by now be cultural standards. As a queer artist, Fee - and Bloxx as a whole - are advocates for the normalisation of queer music, which can often be found front-and-centre in their songs, shifting into role models for the next generation.
"I think a lot of artists are doing that really well like Girl In Red and Phoebe Bridgers, and it's paving a new direction and creating accessibility. You're singing for a whole generation and group of people who do the same thing and are in the same boat as you, you know?
"I think it's cool that when you have the platform to sing about whatever you want to sing about; it's important to sing about whatever you want, because people can hear and people can listen, and people can normalise all of these things."
While their debut album definitely lives up to the hype, Bloxx have already begun to think about their next move on the music industry chessboard, checking the rules every once in a while to walk the fine line between artistic integrity and commercial success. The industry's ability to shapeshift is forever on their minds.
"It's weird, albums happen and whatnot, but they're not really as important as they used to be in a really sad sort of way. A lot of big artists will just do single single single single single, and streaming has changed that so definitively because when you release a record, the whole record doesn't get put on New Music Friday, the whole record doesn't get put on the front page of Apple Music, it's just one song.
"It's the new thing to just keep music coming as much as possible because if you do have a favourite band, you're not going to care if they release two albums in a year, as long as they don't take five years between each album, if they've got a steady flow of singles. Obviously, albums still matter to me, I would hate to now not put out another album and just do singles and EPs for the rest of our lives. The whole thing of doing an album and promoting it for two years is a thing of the past, it's like 'lets put it out, let's tour it, let's put another one out when we come off tour'. It's just kind of weird, isn't it?"
With recent Dork cover stars Sports Team landing at Number Two in the album charts with their debut album 'Deep Down Happy', anything seems possible for the current crop of UK indie bands. For Fee, and for Bloxx, it would be the icing on the cake after the dreamlike journey they've been on for three years.
"It's really hard to explain Sports Team, isn't it? A lot of people say they're like Marmite and you either love them, or you hate them - but I don't hate them, and I don't get the Marmite reference. We went on tour with those guys, and they're great. They're doing something that a lot of people love, and I respect them for that. It's like a blast from the past.
"We're a bit different in the sense that we're not doing anything to be a chart band. We're not trying to be a Number One band - we're not even trying for the Top 10 - but if we do, god, I wish for nothing more than a Top 40, even a Top 100. I don't really care. It doesn't matter about charting. I've been trying to not let it stress me out about what we're going to do in the charts. Fingers crossed though, it takes 2500 copies to get in the Top 20, so we just need to beat that!"
Like Sports Team and their contemporaries, leading a full-fledged invasion of the UK charts would be like a blast from the past, a tale akin to the underdogs that came before them. Either way, in 'Lie Out Loud', Bloxx have brought the world the bangers.
Taken from the August issue of Dork. Bloxx's debut album 'Lie Out Loud' is out 14th August.
Featuring Declan McKenna, Fontaines DC, Another Sky, KennyHoopla and more.