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Bob Vylan on Their New Album 'Humble as the Sun,' Learning From Nature, and Acknowledging Their Power

'There's a lot of badness that is happening in the world but we haven't allowed the struggles that we've come through to defeat us - actually, we've used them to our strength, to our advantage.'

bob vylan
Source: Ki Price

Bob Vylan is doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing.

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Bob Vylan doesn't pull any punches. The London duo, made up of singer/guitarist Bobby Vylan and drummer Bobbie Vylan — no, those aren't their real names, and no, they're not going to tell you their real names — exploded out of the underground with their 2020 debut We Live Here, blending grime, hip-hop, alternative rock, punk, and dance music into their own confrontational sound and taking on weighty subjects like economic inequality and institutional racism with a sharp tongue and an even sharper sense of humor.

Despite — or perhaps because of? — their refusal to compromise their resolutely DIY ethos, their 2022 album Bob Vylan Presents: The Price of Life became a hit. It was the first entirely self-produced, recorded, mixed, and released album to crack the top 20 of the UK albums chart, and it helped them win the first-ever Best Alternative Music Act trophy at the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Awards that same year, bringing the Bobs a whole new level of well-deserved success.

With those kinds of achievements under their belt, Bob Vylan no longer has anything to prove, and they know it. Their new album Humble as the Sun, released on the group's own Ghost Theatre record label on April 5, expands their palette both sonically and emotionally. Co-produced by Jonny Breakwell, it's their first record to feature an outside producer, and the first to open with a delicate wash of organ and piano and unabashedly inspirational lyrics. Bob Vylan is still rightfully pi--ed off about a whole lot of things, but they're also taking the time to stop and celebrate how far they've come.

While on the road to support the new record, frontman Bobby Vylan also took some time out of his busy schedule to catch up with Q and explain exactly why he's feeling humble as the sun right now.

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bob vylan humble as the sun
Source: Ghost Theatre

Bob Vylan released their new album 'Humble as the Sun' last Friday.

First of all, congrats on the album release! Your baby is out in the world now! How does it feel?

[Laughs] Yeah, feels good man, thank you. Worked hard on it and it's good to have it out. It's getting a good response as well, which is nice, innit?

When you were making this record you were coming off of The Price of Life, which won you the first ever Best Alternative Music Act award at the MOBOs and became the first self-produced, recorded, mixed, and released album to reach the top 20 in the UK charts. Did you feel any extra pressure to follow that up or was it more just excitement?

Not really pressure to follow it. Because everything is separate, innit? They continue one from another but it's not... The job of one album is not the same as the job of the next or the previous. So it's easy to kind of just leave what was accomplished by the previous album for the previous album. I think that's the healthiest way to look at it, is to just treat each individual album as its own thing and not be too concerned with what the previous one did and if this one is gonna be better or worse. They're all just different, you know?

What would you say the job of this album is? You've talked in past interviews about how every album you've released was because of something that needs to be addressed. Like, The Price of Life, obviously, was addressing the cost of living. What were you trying to address with this record?

Well, this album is really ... I mean, they're all written, lyrically especially, for myself, so that I can have music that speaks to me. You know, it's about me. It's how I think and how I feel. This album, I suppose it was to offer inspiration and empowerment at times when I've needed it. And to remind myself where I've been, where I am, where I'm going. And then hopefully it can do that same thing for other people that hear it and listen and feel empowered at tracks like "Humble as the Sun." And they can feel unstoppable with something like "Reign." They can feel resilient when they listen to something like "I'm Still Here." That was really the purpose of the album. First to have those things for myself, reminders for myself, and then hopefully other people could feel similar things when they listen to it as well.

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It's definitely a more hopeful and empowering kind of album. Is that just a choice that you made or is it a reflection of where you are now versus where you were a couple years ago? Or are there things that you've seen in the world or your community that inspired you to feel more hopeful?

It's a mixture of all of those things. Like you say, we had great success with the previous album. And so it's hard not to acknowledge that and act as though that didn't happen, it doesn't exist. And so when those things happen, when we had that success with the last album, I think we're very vocal about it. What we've been able to achieve, we've been able to accomplish. And then that then influences where we are and it influences what we write about.

But then also seeing certain things. You know, my daughter getting older and seeing how good she is about certain things in the future. My nieces and nephews, how they are about things, the future as they get older. Sure, there's a lot of badness that is happening in the world but we haven't allowed the struggles that we've come through to defeat us. Actually, we've used them to our strength, to our advantage. And we've won now! We have the album chart and all of those things. So I think it would do a disservice to ourselves and others to not acknowledge that power.

The record is called Humble as the Sun, which I think is a great title. You've said the album started as a conversation with nature and the sun. Could you talk a little more about that and what that means?

I found myself in a studio space that I hadn't had the opportunity to be in a space like that before. I was always working in my bedroom. And the studio space had a beautiful garden and it was summertime and there were birds in there and I was working on the record. And so it really just grew out of that, just sitting in that space and being able to create for kind of as long as I'd be able to throughout the days. And take time away from creating and sit in the garden, eat lunch, and be surrounded by nature, but then also be able to go straight back into work. And so I found myself meditating in that space, spending lots of time in that space, watching things that happen in that space.

With a bird that would come every day that I was eating lunch in the garden, come fly over to the table, take a little bit of whatever I gave it. That was a daily occurrence. Just seeing how all of these things operate and how all of these things do exactly what they're supposed to be doing. The bird is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. The cat weaving around the garden looking for a mouse or something, it's doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. The sun is always up, doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. It started to make me feel more confident in what it is that I'm supposed to be doing as a writer and allowed me to express quite loudly some of the things that we've accomplished, some of the places we've been.

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Also just the fact that you're recording in a real studio is kind of a new thing. This is the first time that you've recorded in a real studio. This is the first time that you've recorded with outside collaborators and producers. What was that process like?

It was great. It was nice to have Jonny [Breakwell], who co-produced it, on board, because he took the reins on all of the production choices in terms of microphone placement and amp placement. Just different things that change the sonics of the album. So that was quite nice to not have to worry too much about that and just be able to kind of pitch in where needed. And then of course with the mixing side of things as well, that was nice. Because that's something that I usually do as well, Jonny was in charge of mixing, so that was quite a big weight off my shoulders.

And just the spaces, it was multiple spaces that we worked in. Each space kind of has a different energy so it was cool that we got to use a couple of different studios throughout the process. And it sounds like such a cohesive record. Because that was something I was worried about, because usually everything is done in one place, even if that place is just a bedroom, you know? But we managed to make it sound a cohesive record despite the fact that it was kind of pieced together all over the place.

I know you guys have really been blowing up. What are some of the coolest rock star moments where you're like, 'Oh s--t, this is big.'

I suppose certain stages. Opening up for Biffy Clyro. Opening up for Offspring was cool because that was arena-sized venues. So that was a big moment. And then of course certain things like winning the MOBO award, that was a big moment, because there's an award that we've both grown up watching on TV. So it's kind of a full circle moment. They're the three probably that stick out in my head.

I don't know if you saw last month James Blake went viral talking about how hard it is for artists to make a living in the streaming era. You guys are sort of in unique position — you run your own label, release your stuff on your own label, so you're kind of in a slightly different category. But do you have any thoughts about the economics of making a living as an artist?

It's tricky. I think as an artist you need to foster an audience that actually cares about your art. We're lucky that we can sell CDs and vinyls and cassettes and people care about owning a physical copy of the album. So that's good, because obviously streaming doesn't pay. And we play a lot of live shows, which helps. Streaming won't be here forever, I don't think. It will be something that evolves or changes, and it might get worse. It might not get better, it might get worse. But I think it's harder for up and coming artists. Mid-tier, like ourselves. Artists who kind of find ways to make a living from it.

But there are little things that you can do in and around the business on it. But I suppose it depends to what degree you're involved in the industry side of it. I think independent is probably the way to go for most artists because you end up making more off of each record than you would if you were signed to a major label. You're also more likely to be able to keep a bigger percentage of your live shows and your merch sales and all of that stuff. And obviously merch is another thing that helps artists sustain throughout their lifetime. So I think it's finding ways to create an audience that cares about owning a physical thing that is attached to the music, because no one wants to rely on streaming.


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