Belfast duo Blue Americans – Kris Platt and Daniel Morgan Ball play a Belfast headline show at Voodoo on Sunday, May 26th 2019. The two-piece released their brand new single ‘Sunchaser’ on 29th March, taken from their upcoming Sum Yen EP out on the 12th April via LAB Records. Mark Millar met up with Kris Platt and Daniel Morgan Ball in their East Belfast studio to talk about The Sum Yen EP, their musical ideas and upcoming shows.
How did the Blue Americans get together?
Daniel: We were in a band called More Than Conquerors for many many years beforehand. When that band ended, Kris moved to Paris. Towards the end of More Than Conquerors, we were getting more into production and doing everything ourselves. Kris and I would naturally write songs together so whenever he moved to Paris, we started bouncing songs back and forward to each other and Blue Americans happened when Kris eventually moved back to Northern Ireland.
Why Blue Americans?
Kris: The name came from a brand of American cigarettes. Daniel: In our other band, we went to SXSW and tried to do the whole American experience because we hadn’t been there together before. So we smoked a load of fegs and wore cowboy hats and stuff.
Blue Americans’ sound is not something you would expect from a band from Belfast. What are the bands musical influences?
Kris: I don't think we consciously made a decision to sound like that - it was the kind of music we were listening to at the time, and that's how it came out, and it's still that way. I guess we have definitely at this point, after a year and a bit, figured out what we want to sound like. We are still pushing ourselves to make different sounds, but I think every song will always sound like us. Daniel: We have always been fans of pop music, so that shines through in what we do. We go from heavy metal to the cheesiest pop ever and everything in between. So that's kind of what our sound is.
Blue Americans play a Belfast headline show at Voodoo on Sunday, May 26th, 2019 Are you looking forward to playing for the always ‘up for it’ Belfast crowd?
Kris: Yeah, we are - it’s been a while since our last show. It feels quite far away because we aren’t used to leaving it so long, but we know it will creep up. We are doing the Belfast show, and we are playing in London around the same time. Now we are looking at what the set is going to be, and what it's going to look like because we always want to make our live shows an experience. Daniel: It's not like people show up and a band is there playing - it has to be an entire experience of lights and production and sound. Everything has to be good.
You will release The Sum Yen EP on the 18th of April. Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it should sound and the kind of songs you wanted to write about?
Daniel: Not really - we do what we always do, and that's to write as much as possible. It just so happened that these four new songs were cohesive enough to put on an EP together. Kris: It's one of these things that you realize afterwards and lyrically it all made sense together.
What is your songwriting process?
Daniel: It depends - a song could start on a guitar with Kris by himself, or it could start with me sitting in the studio with a loop, and then I'll build the loop up and send it to Kris. He will then throw it back and say, "This is absolutely horrendous.” Or “This is great.” And then we will go from there, and I force Kris to write some lyrics on the spot (Laughs)
Do you find writing the lyrics come easily to you Kris?
Kris: Sometimes, but there are other times when writer's block happens, but I usually have something to say. Most of the time anyway.
Is there a particular song on the EP that you thought “this is why we are doing this?
‘Honey’ was definitely the first track where we thought “This is good.” And then ‘Dumbo’ happened. ‘Dumbo’ was a long process of writing whereas ‘Honey’ was super quick and done in a day and a half while ‘Dumbo’ took months. Then we started playing it live and realized there was something special about it. Out of the four songs, it's hard for us to pick our favourite ones, but I think they all fit together. When the songs were mastered, and we created the artwork we were very proud of them as a body of work for the first time. It was an excellent feeling.
Have you any plans to release an album any time soon?
Kris: We are writing a lot at the minute, and we are in talks with our team about what our next step is. So I guess as soon as the EP is out we will move on to the next thing. There will be more music either before summer or after. That's the plan at the minute. Whether there's going to be an album, I don’t know but because we have released singles for so long and we've done an EP we kind of like that world and we might want to continue that, but we will see.
How do you consume music - streaming, Vinyl or CD?
Daniel: I still listen to albums, not just Spotify playlists. Kris: The whole Spotify playlist thing is something that we have been a part of - it’s a fantastic thing to get your music on New Music Friday and the like. But it's a strange thing to think that it's playing in cafés and people aren’t listening properly.
You worked on a re-imagined version of Fatherson’s album Sum of All Your Parts. How did you get involved in that?
Kris: We have known Fatherson since 2012. And then in 2017, I played the guitar for them for almost a year. I went out in February with them and played festivals and some of their last shows before they began recording their new record. And because I was there more than I was here, I heard the songs, and we wrote 'Charm School' together, so we knew the songs inside out. At that time we were still making music as Blue Americans, and they heard all of our stuff as well, so I think when it came to it they wanted their songs to sound a bit like us and a mash of the two bands. They came over to Northern Ireland for a week during summertime, and we had barbecues and made some excellent music.
How does it feel being a band in the current music climate?
Kris: It's not the easiest thing in the world, but we do it. I can't imagine doing anything else. There are tough parts like trying to get fans and shows and stuff like that.
Do you think there is a healthy music scene in Northern Ireland at the moment?
Daniel: It’s changed quite a lot. Back when we were with our old band the Belfast music scene was thriving. Everyone played each other’s shows all the time, and there was always a gig on at Auntie Annie's venue. Now I think everyone has become a bit savvier in the music industry. So they hold back playing shows and are flying out to London doing showcases and meeting with A & R’s. But back then it didn’t matter. The music scene in Belfast is so different now compared to what it was back then.
What are you most grateful for, about being able to be a musician every day?
Kris: I think being from Belfast can be a tricky thing because you're not in London and you can't go and play, but one of the things we are grateful for is the studio we have is a lot cheaper than London or anywhere else. And also the friends we surround ourselves with are trying to do the same thing. So we are grateful for the camaraderie. Daniel: Kris and I are pretty much full-time musicians for a living, and to do that in London would be nearly impossible, but for us, it's so easy because it's so cheap to live here in Belfast in comparison. Kris: Also, we know the promoters and radio DJ's so it's like a big family, which is a good thing.
Out of all the records in your collection who do you have the most albums by?
Daniel: I think I bought Snow Patrol’s album 'Final Straw' five times because I kept getting the CDs scratched so it’s definitely 'Final Straw'. Kris: If I were to go back to my mum's house and look at my CD collection, I would say I have the most albums from Metallica. They were the band I grew up with.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
Kris: I have been playing the record ‘Hats' by the Blue Nile. It's not a new album, but I have been playing that constantly. It's really good. Daniel: All I do is listen to Radio One. I’m big into the new Billie Eilish song, ‘Bury a Friend.’
Blue Americans live dates:
Thursday 16th May – London The Waiting Room
Sunday 26th May – Belfast Voodoo
More shows are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.