[ there's no place like home ]
by Craig Young

With the release of their second EP, Ecliptic, on Copro Records, Nottingham's The Blueprint -- consisting of Karl Middleton (vocals), Matt Grundy and Will Burchell (guitars), Mark Clayden (bass), and Chris Billem (drums) -- are continuing to gain both fans and momentum with their post-hardcore sound. Having all come from well-established English musical powerhouses -- Pitchshifter and Earthtone9 (both RIP), and Consumed (still kicking it mightily) -- all five members of the band are well aware of what it takes to make it in the music industry, and what the industry can take from you in return. Their approach to creating longevity and sustaining viability is simple: start modestly, grow smart, never lose sight of who you are and where you came from, and never give in, give up or grow apart. As Karl so aptly put it, "The most important lesson learned [is] to stand together and not let petty shit get in the way."

Ecliptic marks the second of three planned EPs from the band, and is part of their master plan to allow room to grow, develop, and find themselves as a cohesive unit before committing to a proper full-length and the demands it requires. Between albums they've been playing shows to cement a solid following outside of the fans who've continued on with them from their previous bands. Having had the chance to see The Blueprint play live, I can testify that their set is a lesson in power, dynamics and superb musicianship; an experience I would highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity to see them.

Ponying up the cost of an international phone call, I spoke with Karl, Matt and Mark following soundcheck at a recent show to talk about their new release, future plans, why they've chosen to go about things the way they have, what they expect to gain in return, and why no one deserves to end up a prize in some A&R person's trophy case. With strong songwriting and a sharp business acumen, the band are certain to gain wide exposure, and deservedly so. As I've said before about them: The Blueprint are the greatest supergroup you've never heard of -- yet.

[ clockwise from top: karl middleton, mark clayden, matt grundy, chris billem, will burchell - photo by mike wright ]
photo by mike wright

How have your most recent tour dates been?

Karl Middleton: It's been going well. The last few shows we've done have been really good, actually. Normally, we have one really good show and one rubbish show, but this has been really good. We're just waiting for a bad one to happen [laughs]. But it's been good. There have been a few diehard fans that know the songs really well already, and that's cool. Generally speaking, the reception has been getting warmer and warmer.

It was mentioned previously that some fans have already learned the lyrics to the new EP and have been singing along to them when you play those songs live.

Matt Grundy: It was kind of unexpected that people would know stuff that quickly. We've actually had people e-mail us through the website asking if we could put the lyrics to the songs up so they can learn them by the time we come to play their town. So, yeah... It's the depth of the responses that makes me feel good about it. It's not just people saying, "Yeah, your record's great!" The fact that people obviously are that much into it that they want to go to that extreme and want to know every word is really good, because when you put a lot of effort into the small details of writing a song and making a record it's nice to know that it doesn't go unnoticed.

It definitely is the ultimate compliment. That and having fans pull out the Bic lighters at shows. [Laughs]

Matt: [Laughing] Oh, yeah!

Has the reception been any different between Ecliptic and zero*zero*one? Do you feel like you've noticed an increase in terms of exposure?

Mark Clayden: I'm really pleased with the new CD. We've been getting all sorts of positive responses from the magazines, from the fans, and from people like John Peel, who's been playing it, which is great because I haven't heard from him for years. We've been getting a really good response across the board from both musicians and fans. We really feel that Ecliptic is a step forward, a progression, from zero*zero*one. We've put a lot more effort into the songs this time around and we're really pleased with it. When we finish this latest set of gigs we'll start work on the third and final EP.

Matt: I think there has been more exposure. There's more people starting to catch on to us not through the bands we were in before. There are more people coming along giving us reviews and stuff who have just found the record, who are not going, "Oh, I should review this because they're in blah blah blah..." They're reviewing it because they think the record's good. The mainstream press... half of them are still hung up on what bands we were in and won't review it outside of that context, which is tiring, because the way the band sounds and the angle we're writing from is not the same.

Is it difficult to live down the ever-present specter of members' previous and, with Will and Chris, current bands? Does it make things more difficult? Does it make you want to try harder?

Karl: It's not been difficult for me, personally, because I think Earthtone9 had a much higher press profile than it did in actuality. Pitchshifter were a big band, where Earthtone9 never really was. So we're pretty much playing the same sort of venues as we did in Earthtone9.

Matt: It was something we knew was going to happen, so we have to consciously not pay attention to it. We definitely knew it was going to happen with the first record, and we thought people would've gotten over it by now, because we figured once they had lived with the first record long enough they'd go, "Wait! This has nothing to do with their other bands!"

[ ecliptic ]
[ give a listen! ] "International House
of Dirt" MP3

None of us were the key writer in any of the bands we were previously in, and this time we're all making an input, but that background is still there. It's frustrating when we keep hearing from certain corners, "This is okay, but it's not as good as Pitchshifter or Earthtone9." They can't really hold us up against that because what we're doing is something different, but obviously the former influences are going to be there. It's just something we have to deal with, but we just have to get on with business, basically.

Is this part of the reason you decided to record a series of EPs rather than a full-length?

Mark: Our initial game plan was to do three EPs, because we thought a full-length album was too much to dump on everybody and say, "Hey, we know we all come from other bands, but here's our new band and here's 12 songs." We really felt that we wanted people to watch our progression across three EPs rather than from just one record. So in a way the people who buy the music grow with the music as we do.

Matt: We wanted more flexibility to explore avenues. This way we have more freedom to figure out where we want to go, find our strengths and build on them. It was more a musical decision more than anything else, and it seems to be going well so far. I feel we've made a marked improvement with the way we work and the overall sound of the band from the first record to the second record, and I think it's going to get better with the third EP.

The songs on Ecliptic seem to be fuller in terms of dynamics than zero*zero*one. I'm hearing better separation between the bass and guitars, the drums sound bigger, and there's a larger dynamic range in the vocals. Is this the result of the natural evolution of the band's songwriting, or was there more of a combined effort in the how the songs were written and recorded?

Karl: I think it's just that the more you [play music] the more you realize where you want to go with it. It's just like a process of weeding, really; of natural evolution. I think that part of the problem with doing EPs is that instead of writing songs over a long period of time and having a lot of songs to choose from, you instead tend to get songs all of a certain type. I think the first EP, for me, was predominantly more aggressive and upbeat, whereas this one is sort of more mid-paced and brooding. I think that the idea is that when we do an album we will write over a longer time span so we'll have more songs from our repertoire to choose from; songs that have a wider array of sound.

Mark: I think it's definitely a natural evolution in the song writing. Also, we sat down with [producer] Andy Sneap this time around and told him how we felt we thought we wanted it to sound, as opposed to before where we trusted his production skills.

Andy Sneap also produced zero*zero*one. How did you go about picking him?

[ will burchell - photo by mike wright ]
photo by mike wright

Mark: We picked Andy for lots of reasons. One, because he's a really fucking good producer. Also, Karl's former band, Earthtone9, did their last album with Andy, and Chris and Will did their last Consumed album with Andy. So he's somebody that we all knew and were very comfortable with.

With Pitchshifter we used Machine twice to produce albums [www.pitchshifter.com and P.S.I.]. Once you feel that you can work well with a producer they become an honorary member of the band and everybody feels very relaxed around them, and that's the most important thing. If you get a producer you're not comfortable with, everyone sits down to start playing and they're so nervous because he's very unapproachable, and it ruins everyone's playing and it ruins the record.

Matt: Andy's a very good producer. He understands where we're coming from with our sound, and his residential studio is half an hour's drive.

The two "interlude" songs on zero*zero*one -- "Descent" and "Reclamation Program" -- were some pretty progressive pieces that were very different from the rest of the tracks on that EP. I had sort of assumed it was a musical avenue that would be explored further on Ecliptic, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Mark: Well, we did start with an instrumental ["Elements of Refusal"] on the new EP. A lot of people were saying -- and fair enough, they're allowed to -- that having too many instrumentals made them frustrated because the rest of the songs were so good that all they really wanted to hear were those non-instrumental songs. So I think in the back of our minds for Ecliptic we decided to make it mostly proper songs.

Matt: We're not straying too far from the central core of what we do, just reaching out here and there. The idea with "Elements of Refusal" is that we wanted to have this big, almost epic, opening to the record. It was sort of in line with the instrumentals on the first EP but nowhere near as electronic. There are electronic elements mixed in a couple of tracks, but the whole live aspect of our music is in there as well. And there are electronics throughout the songs on this record, but it's just touches of it here and there. I think the next record will see those elements coming in a little more into the body of the songs as opposed to separate tracks. It's going to grow with each record as we try and figure out how to get the technology in there but still keep the live vibe of the band.

Do you have any songs written for the upcoming EP?

Karl: There are three or four unfinished songs that have basically been written by Matt. We're trying to write more and more as a band, so we're trying to take the songs, fit pieces to them, and write them in a rehearsal environment. There are some unwritten songs, but they're likely to get pulled to pieces and you'll probably never hear them in their original format.

Is your plan at this point to still record a full-length after the third EP?

Matt: I think so, yeah. That's generally the way we're feeling. After the third EP we'll assess where we are and decide what to do, career-wise.

Sounds like one of those "what am I going to do with the rest of my life?" moments.

Matt: Yeah, it'll be like graduation where we have to figure out where it'll go next.

[ karl and mark - photo by george davison ]
photo by george davison

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