The self professed Willy Wonka’s of ear candy, Balcony, a four piece alt-pop band, open up to Erin Cobby about the inspiration behind their latest hit, signing with Parlophone Records, and how harnessing nostalgia is helping them move forward as a group.
Listening to their effortless music, or witnessing their goofy brotherly affection for one another, you would think that Balcony had grown up round the corner from one another. In fact, their formation is one of pretty incredible chance, connecting through online call outs or via mutual friends. Jack (guitarist) explains that he met Jamie (frontman) chatting to a girl at a party, “she didn’t fancy either or us so just hooked us up instead”, he laughs. This formed a pretty strong start however, as after this meeting and subsequent rehearsal, they went to the pub and decided to “become the next Coldplay”.
Their differing accents, hard to decipher as they excitedly speak over one another, are a testament to their disparate beginnings. Jamie’s accent is particularly apparent as he leans in too close to my voice recorder, “I do vocals and I’m the Australian. I can sing, I write a lot of the songs”, he explains. Jack pipes up to explain everyone’s heritage, which actually spreads over three different continents. Both him and Dave (keys and anything else he can “get his hands on”) come from the UK and Johno (drums) grew up in Bermuda, before moving around considerably, resulting in a voice that’s quite hard to place.
They’ve all also led pretty different lives, with each of them pursuing wildly different careers before coming together to form Balcony. Jamie spent time as a janitor at a music school in Sydney. “Just like Curt Cobaine”, Jack reminds him. Dave worked as a labourer and Jack spent time pretending to flyer, hiding them in his room before dumping en masse. Johno had a very contrasting music career while at university, operating under the name “BRaains!”, (a ‘z’ would have apparently been too much) and running UK ‘bass’ nights, made up of a bit of Dubstep, some Garage and a lot of Grime.
These assorted upbringings and following vocations have also affected their music taste, with the band members naming influences as varied as Justin Timberlake and The Stones. Johnno states that: “at the beginning it was kind of a too many chefs kind of thing. We’d be like ‘oh we should put this in, we should put this in’, and it was all elements of the music we listened to, so it took a while to get in the swing of things and realise how to write properly together”. However, this has definitely contributed to their unique sound, and as Johno says: “the melting pot helped in a way because we’re so into trying loads of different shit in terms of influences.” It seems that they can agree on one genre however. “We all just love pop to be honest,” says Jack, “it brings us all together.”
Another overarching interest for the group is harnessing an old-school American feel. Jack explains that “shows like the O.C, with the American teenager vibe, have really influenced everything we do”. This feeling of nostalgia features in a big way for many of the group’s tracks, but is perhaps most evident with their latest release: ‘Girls’. The video features the band in synchronised power poses, changing from white boiler suits into a range of flamboyant patterns. The tone is playful and pastel, capturing an 80’s vibe that John Hughes would have been proud of. Jamie looks directly into the camera smirking while singing “I just wanna kiss girls… sometimes wanna kiss boys”. The inspiration for this track, Johno tells me, came from the night after their first headline show. “We went to an afterparty, spent a lot of time in The Dolphin in Hackney. We were in there and I just went over and gave Jamie a smooch, as he was in danger. Some girl was really keen, and he had a girlfriend, so I thought “I’ll take one for the team, this is for Jess. So around that, we started thinking about how funny it was that people judge other people for just kissing who they want because it shouldn’t’ be about that”. Jamie explains that this song “sounds exactly how we’ve always wanted the band to sound. It’s really similar to one of the first songs we ever put out called ‘Don’t Leave Me Behind’. So that just proved to me that we did have a clear vision when we started, and we’ve just gone back full circle”. I ask if that meant they were lost for a while. He grins and asks cheesily, “or, we were being found?”
Having just jumped off two tours, they’re definitely making it easier for others to find them. The most recent was a short stint with ‘Tones and I’, and prior to this they supported Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi on his UK tour. For both Jack and Dave, growing up in London, the highlight of the Capaldi tour was playing the Brixton Academy. Dave explains that the experience for him started before he even touched his keys: “from the stage, we pointed out all the spots in the crowd of where we had seen bands perform. It was a real experience to remember, just stepping out onto the stage, not even when people were there.” Jack had grown up watching DVD’s with his dad of gigs at the venue and says that the whole experience for him was characterised by “just trying to walk in the same spots as Keith Richards.”
For Johno and Jamie, not growing up in the London music scene, different gigs are more sentimental. Jamie picks their first headline show at the Camden Assembly, having audience members sing their lyrics back to them for the first time. Johno instead recalls a special festival experience: “When we played on the Boardmasters stage there was this dude who was clearly not quite himself doing gun fingers, and when we played ‘American’ he just kind of lost his shit”, Dave chimes in,“he got on his mate’s shoulders as well, and there wasn’t even that many people in the crowd.”
Festival crowds are something the band has really gotten used to, playing 20+ festivals last summer. Johno explains that despite this familiarity with the festival set-up, not all their gigs went smoothly. “I can’t remember who said it but it’s that classic phrase of whatever can go wrong at a festival will go wrong. Especially as we rely on a lot of equipment because of how complex our set up is. When you only have 10 mins to change over it’s like fuuuuuuuck”. He also explains that the quick turnover times are not the only challenges the band faces when playing a festival. “Obviously you get in front of a whole bunch of people that have never heard of you before and it’s our job to convert them … it doesn’t always work out”. “Like flipping a coin”, Jack pipes up.
It seems that the odds have been with them however, as one result of gigging is a developing yet dedicated fanbase. Johno states that the meanest comment they’ve got online was “a dude took the time to be like you guys are 5/10. So we’re not 0, that’s still 50% and I’ll take that”. This has also been helped by signing with TAP records and the exposure this has allowed them. They now even have an instagram fan account, set up by one girl who comes to all their gigs from Belgium. Aside from reaching a wider audience Jamie explains that since getting signed he feels more pressure to deliver. Not just from the label, but the pressure he’s putting on himself. “Your own standards of what you want to achieve keep on getting higher and you realise that the only way for you to feel fulfilled is to be producing stuff as good as Maroon 5”.
While the boys seem to have developed some pretty high benchmarks they are still refreshingly grounded with Jack ending the interview by stating that his biggest takeaway from getting signed is that: “it’s just super lucky that we get to do what we want every single day without other stuff getting in the way”. As they sit there jostling each other I can easily see that this collective humility isn’t something that will fade with fame, as each band member is ready with a playful insult to keep one another’s egos in check. While this band may have formed somewhat by chance, it seems clear to me that they were always fated to become a family.
Writer: Erin Cobby
Photographer: Niklas Haze
Stylist: Zane Page
Groomers: Rebecca HampsonHam & Francesca Quagliatti