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Bdrmm 2023 press be careful

bdrmm and the need for seclusion

27 June 2023, 16:00

Three years on from their self-titled record, Kingston upon Hull shoegazers bdrmm speak to Ashwin Bhandari about their home town pride and the process of recording their sophomore album I Don’t Know.

Founded as a transition from frontman and lead guitarist Ryan Smith’s literal bedroom project, bdrmm became a fully fledged rock outfit in 2016.

Over Zoom, conversation with his brother Jordan who plays bass and synth, and guitarist Joe Vickers starts with talking about what they were listening to in the formative years of the group’s existence. Yuck’s 2011 self-titled record is a particular talking point, with the group admitting to frequently listening to it on CD as an accompanying soundtrack to their various cross country ventures towards London shows.

“I love that record so much. Yuck were one of the first UK bands to do Dinosaur Jr and Pavement worship well, it was very fresh and exciting at the time,” Vickers smiles. “Funnily enough, I remember Ryan saying that he wanted to get a Yuck tattoo with the guy on the front the other day.” Smith remarks that the depth of the record gets better over time, with songs like Suicide Policeman being appreciated even more so than when he first listened to it at 16.

As with many northern musical artists, bdrmm’s pride for their corner of England is no exception. Vickers remembers a darker time where their city was voted worst in the UK and overtime went through a transformation during the City Of Culture bid in 2017 which he describes as “50% good, 50% shit.” He cites The Adelphi as a particular venue of interest that in his opinion has fostered the entire alternative music scene in Hull in a single 200 capacity venue. “We’ve actually only ever played that venue in Hull, but going from watching bands there at 14 to them trusting us to headline it is a great thing. We even went back there to play a birthday party recently rather than doing a corporate weekend festival on the other side of the country. More recently, we’ve really felt supported by everyone in this musical community. The Humber Street Sesh Festival has really helped local bands get a leg up as well, it’s like you’re not even in Hull when you’re there!”


Despite the group’s name being a fitting moniker for the aura of their music, the omission of vowels already had a comical reaction from the start. A story is recalled of a time Ryan’s boss at work used to think their band was a ska band called ‘bad riddim’, however there are no regrets with their choice of band name as Vickers acknowledges its idiosyncratic nature. “I try and avoid the conversation as much as possible, like when someone is being friendly and asks out of curiosity, ‘so, what’s your band called?’ – you lower your head, internally sigh, and think ‘I’m gonna have to explain this vowel scenario over and over again.’ Smith interjects; “Cheers to my brother Ryan for putting us in awkward social interactions with literally every single person outside of music that we meet for the first time!”

2020 album Bedroom was an unexpected success both critically and in terms of greater exposure for potential touring ventures when concerts across the country became viable again. With glowing reception from the likes of Rough Trade and NME, bdrmm weren’t afraid to cite classic shoegaze bands like Slowdive, Ride and Jesus and Mary Chain as big influences on their work. Veteran fanbases of these artists were naturally attracted to the band’s sound and praised them heavily in various online communities.

Vickers jokes that he’s both excited for and dreading an inevitable Pitchfork review of their music one day. “A 5.2 score? I would simply never recover!” he smirks. “But, in all seriousness, that whole notion of getting accolades from music journalists we grew up reading is a surreal thing. When the reviews came out, we felt so detached from everything that it sort of still hasn’t set in.” When discussing face to face reception, Smith recalls there was a show recently in Liverpool where bdrmm were testing out the final track on I Don’t Know and a fan told them it was ‘shit at first, but liked it when it got heavy at the end’. “I wanted to be like, ‘excuse me sir – can’t you see we’re trying to cultivate a vibe here?’”

BDRMM 2023 forest

Previously, Ryan Smith’s lyrics tended to focus on past relationships, a sentiment where Vickers jokingly points out that his bandmates can match the songs with his girlfriend at a particular time. With the songwriting content on I Don’t Know, the content shifted to more universal themes of frustration, poor mental health and the frustrations of touring in the post-lockdown era under the effects of Brexit. Smith doesn't hold back on this, as evidenced in the opening cut “Alps”: “Surrounded by despair, they feed us crowded lies, this is not a dream, tearing us apart, limb by limb.”

The whole record is littered with a sense of universal dread that arguably has not been honestly expressed in UK rock music since Radiohead unleashed Hail To The Thief in 2003. This dramatic shift resulted in the lyrics being more open ended with their interpretation on multiple listens. “Having to jump through so many ridiculous hoops just going to a different country, it was something that made us really bitter and I think it definitely stepped into Ryan's lyrical content. When it came to the recording sessions, we encouraged him to avoid using 'I' or 'me”, just to show the songs off in a different light,” the band note.

The first song that bdrmm worked on for I Don’t Know, “Hidden Cinema”, also became the last one they finished. Filled with soft, melancholic vocal textures and immersive guitar riffs accompanying lyrics about inner anxieties, the song went through many versions and dates as far back as the band’s early demos, listed simply as ‘untitled’ before settling on a name, taken from a book found in a charity shop about the history of banned films in the UK. Smith states that the song also went through multiple lyrical rewrites before settling on the final project.

“I seem to remember Ryan being like ‘nah not good enough’ and would just go into a forest with his notepad and relisten to it a few times over with his headphones. Our good friend Alex Greaves who produced the record was so adamant there had to be a chorus, otherwise it would have been four verses going nowhere. You can tell over the electronic and sub bass territory is where we had to shoehorn a chorus in there! We love him because he’s not afraid to tell us if he thinks something is shit.”

Having described recording at Nave's sister studio, The Calm Farm in Wetherby as “summer camp they never wanted to end,” the band spent a week there playing football and hanging out with the owners. Being there also meant that they had to rely on less technology and access to certain instruments, allowing them to create a more solid foundation for the bare bones of the record. Vickers reflects on how hospitable the owners were, often popping in and out to see how the band were getting on. “They were just such characters! To be cut off from the world, I think, was what we needed at that time. We had spent so much time trying to make the record before that, and it was just going nowhere, so getting rid of any outside influence. It was really inspiring in a way to all of us.”

As well as providing earworm-worthy bass lines, Jordan Smith also creates the majority of oil-based artwork for the band, believing that the accuracy of what a band sounds like should reflect the image for each release. He states a specific artist for this mantra, Russian art theorist Wassily Kandinsky who, in his eloquent words; “once said some shit about the music being the thing talking and not me, which I found really interesting and always really wanted to do”. Whilst his father always had art canvases around his family home, Smith’s interest didn’t fully develop until he started writing music in college. “I made the current artwork in a shed during the winter where I was freezing my bollocks off! It was horrible-I’m gonna try and add some more to it. Having checked on it recently, the canvas has gone a bit moldy but I’m sure I can get 20 quid for it if the album sells well,” he dryly remarks.

BDRMM 2023 Katherine Mackenzie

Having recently signed to Mogwai-curated label Rock Action Records not long after opening for the post-rock titans at Alexandra Palace, the conversation ends with some hints as to what the rest of the year has in store for the dreamy four piece. The amount of freedom, confidence in bringing new ideas to the table, and delving into genres such as slowcore and cinematic art rock has paid off massively.

Vickers and Smith both agree that it feels as if the huge sounding live shows they always wanted to perform can be pulled off thanks to the added electronic textures and drone samples in their repertoire. “It's nice to hear everything we worked so hard towards in the studio actually be there, instead of having to sacrifice things which we maybe had done before just because we didn't know how to get it all playing together. Now, with all the synth stuff, it feels like we’ve got so much more we want to mess around with in terms of a follow up record. It’s gonna be crazy!”

I Don’t Know is out June 30th via Rock Action Records

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