“It was difficult for all the wrong reasons” says Ben, lead singer, who suffered a stress-related breakdown in 2017. The band took a break while Ben recovered, and his openness and honesty about his experiences has been commended by Blaenavon’s fans.
We caught up with Ben to discuss his journey, the messages behind Blaenavon’s new album, and becoming a CALM ambassador...
You must be super proud of the band’s long-awaited second album, Everything That Makes You Happy. When the news of its release hit socials this week, the reaction was overwhelming and positive…
"Yeah, I was sitting on this album for a little while, we couldn’t really work out the best way to do it. And then it got to the stage where we thought... let's just put it out. So we thought we’d pop it out quickly and it’s nice for people to be able to listen to the album in full, where they can listen to new songs in a row, as opposed to drip-feeding singles this time."
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Everything That Makes You Happy. Out this Friday 25th October - preorder at the link in the bio. We're premiering two new singles from the album today. Tune into @zanelowe on @beats1official at 5:30pm to hear I Want You, and listen to @anniemacdj on @bbcradio1 at 8pm to hear Fucking Up My Friends.
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Did you find the break you took a creative time in terms of songwriting and self-expression? Was it a therapy of sorts?
"Unfortunately for people who have symptoms like I had, with big highs and big lows, I’d go through stages where I'd write a lot of music in a really quick period. And then other stages where I’m in a bit of a darker place where I wasn’t right for quite a while. So, after I came out of hospital this time, I certainly wrote loads for a few months and then had a bit of a dry spell where I couldn’t really get out what I wanted to say for a while. I was writing so many songs and I got really stuck with the theme of mental health and hospitals. And I think I've kind of written those songs to death now. That’s how it affected me and I'm trying to explore other avenues now."
Have you found Blaenavon’s success overwhelming at times?
"Our first album did well, but it did well to the extent that I could still interact. There were a lot of people at the shows, but a low enough amount of people that I could interact individually and speak after show and connect with the fans properly. It wasn't like arenas or anything, so I didn't feel under pressure like that. I think the bigger your band gets maybe the more pressure there is. We got to a level where it was manageable. But then a while later, I just got so much stuff on - so many fans sending me letters and stuff about mental health. I did find that quite overwhelming, because you want to help people to reach out to their family or doctors or the people at CALM, but there's only so many letters you can reply to. That was quite a distinct part of my first breakdown. I was taking on too many people's problems and I should have really been focusing on my own."
Going forward, how do you see yourself working taking into account the challenges that come with the industry?
"When I first went into hospital, I think I kind of came back into it a bit too quickly and went on tour too much, and that took its toll again. So right now I'm just taking every day as it comes. The record’s coming out, but I'm not playing any shows for a while and I won't do that until I'm 100% because it’s still a bit of an uphill battle sometimes. So it's just about taking it as easy as you can really. I’ll get back to touring when I’m ready, because that can be very stressful and difficult at times."
How have the fans reacted to your openness around your mental health?
A letter from Ben
Do you feel you have a responsibility to promote a positive message as a role model?
"I do feel like I need to spread the right message to the younger fans especially, because so many of them open up to me when I meet them at shows and on Twitter about what they've been through and how the music’s helped, which is an amazing feeling. It’s an honour that I can write music that can help people recover from dark times. It’s pretty incredible, I never expected that to happen."
What would you like to achieve from collaborating with CALM?
"I want to be an ambassador because I think the message, especially on the new album, is one of positivity following these kinds of struggles. And if we could help get that message across to more people on a wider scale with CALM, I think it would be a more practical way of getting the message across that I want to get across."
Need support? Worried about someone? CALM’s helpline and webchat are open daily 5pm-midnight. Get access here.
Have you been affected by suicide? The Support After Suicide Partnership is a hub for anyone bereaved or affected by suicide, where you can find emotional and practical support.