“It just makes us laugh… There’s nothing deep about us!” laughs Ste Arands, drummer of Wigan-based Boss Keloid. He’s talking about their song titles and why they frequently come from unlikely places. Specifically, he’s referring to a viral video from Australia known as ‘Democracy Manifest’ (which he does in fact, ask if we’ve seen. We have now). In it, a “huge Australian geezer” as he puts it is manhandled outside a restaurant as police attempt to arrest him, ostensibly for dining and dashing. In the video, he shouts "What is the charge? Eating a meal? A succulent Chinese meal?"; the man’s name was later revealed to be Cecil, which would ordinarily be of fairly little consequence. This time, however, this eventually gave rise to the song ‘Cecil Succulent’ off the latest Boss Keloid album, Family The Smiling Thrush. It bears absolutely no topical resemblance to the viral video.
It’s very difficult to give an accurate description of Boss Keloid that doesn’t involve the word “weird” but also there is - despite their claims - an incredible amount of depth that goes into crafting their songs. They evolve gradually over time in their jam space, being thrown out if the band aren’t satisfied. In fact, as Ste tells us, “[a]t one point we had an entire album written that we binned because it felt like it wasn’t us, it felt like we weren’t writing for the right reasons.” Those reasons, as he later elaborates, are quite simple in a way; they write primarily for themselves. That’s what’s given rise to their unique sound that encompasses all manner of the weird and wonderful. As he explains of their process, “The only challenge we’ve had really is when an idea pops up in the jam room and we think, it’s a bit fucking weird that one, a bit left field. Can we really use it? Yeah fuck it! If it pushes a button somewhere and makes us smile, it can be as wacky as it can be really, nothing’s off limits!”
"Yeah fuck it! If it pushes a button somewhere and makes us smile, it can be as wacky as it can be really, nothing’s off limits!”
One of the key things to bear in mind is that despite pushing themselves sonically as much as they can and the esotericism of their lyrics, there is a very grounded and personal basis for much, if not all, of their writing. As Ste explains, “Alex [Hurst, vocalist] doesn’t like to describe the specific place songs come from - they all come from a specific place in his life but they’re written in such a way that it could be interpreted by anyone, relate to someone in their own life.” Listening to Family The Smiling Thrush, the lyrics are deeply relatable in many ways. ‘Gentle Clovis’ calls for people not to forget their own individuality, without it getting in the way of being part of a community (“Your individuality breaks the mould that binds you / There is no similarity, it’s your own direction”). Elsewhere, in ‘Cecil Succulent’ Hurst bellows “I don’t wanna / No I don’t think I’m gonna / Be part of something / Something that amounts to nothing / I don’t wanna / No I don’t think I’m gonna / Fake a feeling / When the feeling has got no meaning”.
There’s a deep vein of positivity running throughout and not just a relentless, toxic optimism that doesn’t acknowledge the dark. Title track ‘The Smiling Thrush’ was penned by guitarist Paul Swarbrick after his father passed; it sees him examine both the good and bad while seeing what lessons can be learned. Ste elaborates on this, saying “there’s got to be a balance. As well as acknowledging nobody’s perfect and everybody has their faults - he’s one person who had his faults as everyone does, he’s seeing the good and the bad, the man as a whole, appreciating what he had with him.” Their songwriting is unflinchingly honest, even when the lyrics are obfuscated just enough to make them more relatable so that others can take their own meaning from them.
Despite the negativity of the previous year and a bit, Boss Keloid are determined to be a force for good, a jar full of sunshine and rainbows with their majestic, soaring songs that strike the perfect balance of anthemic and prog weirdness. “It wasn’t a conscious decision but we saw the album heading in that direction after we got sort of two and a half, three songs in, say, we thought it’s a good direction to aim for and a route to follow with the writing”, Ste explains. This is due, he says, in large part to vocalist Alex - “he’s just the king of positivity! I don’t know how he gets through his life sometimes... he’s always fucking smiling!” he chuckles. That’s not to say it’s solely him that pushes this direction; “he’s worn all the other three cynical bastards around him down over the years and made us all reasonably positive!"
"I don’t know how he gets through his life sometimes... he’s always fucking smiling!”
That determination doesn’t just extend to their sound - it’s their core message, one of positivity, community and of learning to listen to each other. “I just see it as more and more of a problem these days, people are more and more polarised, less willing to listen to the other argument… it’s easy to be a pessimist because I see people arguing more and more about pettier things. But the optimist in me sees this as maybe that slight bit of inevitable backlash whenever humanity takes a step forward… If there’s any positive we can see in it, it’s to see a new, better way of doing it is on the horizon and everyone can benefit.” Ste muses. It’s a bold, unifying message and one that they do hope resonates with people. But in characteristic fashion, there’s an undercurrent of not taking themselves too seriously as we sign off with any final words from Ste; “I hope people enjoy [the record], it’s up to them. If one person enjoys it, great. If you do, thank you for listening. If you don’t, thank you very much for listening anyway!”