20 questions with BILK : “There’s much more use in honest criticism rather than dishonest harmony”
“20 questions” is a feature where writer Tom Farmer touches on 20 topics with some of the UK and Ireland’s most promising new acts. It’s a bit like Vogue’s 100 questions, but a lot shorter and a fair bit less glamorous. May contain strong language and shit banter.
This week’s guests are BILK, the riotous Essex three-piece with an exciting hip-hop/punk hybrid sound. After two years of successful singles and releasing celebrated debut EP “Chipped out”, BILK signed a record deal with Scruff of the Neck, Independent Label of the Year and home to other future indie heavyweights such as The Reytons and Twisted Wheel. With a knack for telling stories of their childhood, from fights after England’s World Cup exit to a messy trip to Amsterdam, the lads clearly have something that many relate to.
Frontman Sol and bassist Luke join me from their legendary shed in Essex’s Suburbia, with its walls covered in stolen street signs and posters demonstrating how to roll the perfect spliff. As the smoke swirls out of Sol’s cigarette, we discuss the importance of telling real stories, the relative importance (or unimportance) of football and 2020 life lessons.
TF: How and when did you all get together?
Sol: We met on Instagram.
Luke: The power of social media.
Sol: Yeah, exactly. Our first rehearsal went well so we thought we'd start a band. Nothing else (music-wise) was taking our fancy at the time. So we just thought “fuck it, we’ll do it ourselves”.
TF: How would you describe your sound? Would you say it’s more punk, more rap or a sort of fusion?
Sol: It's a mix of different influences I’d say. A mix of punk music, hip hop music and Indie music. But we don’t really like to put it into one box or one label. We tend to find that if you start making rules around music, it makes it less enjoyable and less exciting. If we start liking ABBA, we’d start making songs that sound like ABBA.
Luke: Not that we would ever like a tune that sounded like ABBA.
TF: Thought you had given me an exclusive there!
TF: I saw you finished recording your EP on Tuesday. What should we expect and when?
Sol: It’s just a mix of different tunes really, talking about things that relate to myself and us as a band. There’s a few different themes and stories on there. It's just the mix of the different shit that we've been writing for…
Luke: The last year probably?
Sol: Yeah. We're really happy with it and can’t wait for it to come out.
Luke: Yep, it’s banging. It’s coming out near the end of the year.
“No one was really saying what we could relate to, so we would just do it ourselves”
TF: Is the new EP all going to be all very bouncy and riotous, or are you going to have a couple more tracks like “In your car”, which are more soft and slow?
Sol: Obviously, we can’t disclose too much information! But there’s some good tunes coming- that’s all you need to know.
TF: Lots of your songs are anecdotal and tell a story. Are they all true? Did you really get knocked out the night England did, get your drink spiked at a party and had a bad trip in Amsterdam?
Sol: Yeh they’re all true!
Luke: You have been very unlucky.
Sol: When I got knocked out, the first thing you said to me when you came to see me in hospital was “It’d make a good song!”. But yeah, I like writing about stuff that’s happened to me and that I find interesting. The new EP is all about situations that you might get find yourself when you’re growing up and becoming an adult. You experience different feelings and you go through things you feel a certain way about. It's good to express that.
TF: Your tracks are packed with references to Essex and suburbia. What is it about living in the suburbs that inspires you?
Sol: Well, I think that only rap and indie music really gets a platform at the momen. Rap music is all kind of from The Hood, talking about driving around in flash cars. I couldn't really relate to that. But then I couldn't relate to the indie stuff either, because a lot of it's just done by posh kids who went to private schools. Some of their music at the moment is decent, but we couldn’t relate to it. No one was really saying what we could relate to, so we would just do it ourselves.
TF: Essex is probably best known globally for its reality TV stars. Does it bother you that Essex has this image, which is so far from what you seem to stand for?
Luke: Not really, nah.
Sol: It doesn’t really bother me, now that I think about it. As much as you can try and change the world through music, you can only really change your surroundings and talk about the society that you live in and comment on that. It all stems from where you live: a lot of people are products of their environment, and it's good. We enjoy representing where we're from, and talking about that kind of thing that we go through.
“You get a lot of these bands that just do something that’s been done 10 times over and it’s boring”
TF: Have you got any unlikely influences?
Luke: I don’t really know, that’s a good question.
Sol: I think when I’m writing a tune, the influences come from wherever. If you’re listening to jazz music, a little bit of influence comes from there, not that I really listen to jazz! The point I’m trying to make is that it’s good to take bits of different music that you like and incorporate it into your own. I listen to quite a lot of grime, which sounds nothing like what we do. So we just try and listen to everything with an open mind. You get a lot of these bands that just do something that’s been done 10 times over and it’s boring. We just want to write tunes that people can relate to and go mad at a gig for.
TF: If one person DM’d you and complimented your music, who would you want that to be?
Luke: Probably you, Sol. If you ever DM’d me, I’d be a bit starstruck.
Sol: We’re not the type to get starstruck, I don’t reckon. Maybe Dizzy Rascal? Or Mike Skinner, he’s a genius.
TF: First song you fell in love and had on repeat?
Sol: Probably an Eminem tune, to be honest with you.
Luke: Yeah, I honestly can’t remember. Not sure whether to give a joke answer or not!
TF: The last song you listened to before you spoke to me?
Luke: Probably “Drop” by the Pharcyde!
Sol: Oh yeah! Do you know that tune?
TF: Nope, is it any good?
Sol: Yeh, it’s proper ‘90s hip hop.
TF: You say in one of your songs “some people take football way too seriously”. Would you rather sell out Brixton academy or England win the Euros?
Luke: Sell out Brixton academy, without a doubt!
Sol: I couldn’t really care that much about England winning the Euros, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s on we watch it and want them to do well. It’s the only time the country’s not fighting and everyone actually likes each other. “I got knocked out the same night England did” isn’t just a crude story about me getting knocked out in a pub fight, but also laughing at how- as soon as we lose the World Cup- everyone hates each other again. It’s literally a football competition!
There’s so much fake shit about now. The social media, the news. It’s all just bollocks.
TF: I see you’re in your shed where you rehearse. What’s the most random shit you have in there?
Sol: Can you see the anime poster? And there’s a poster with different ways to bill a zoot there. We've got stolen road signs, random CDs we’ve picked up at boot fares. We've got posters, rip outs form magazines. Stickers.
Luke: It’s all pretty random.
TF: Didn’t you plan to host a gig in the summer during lockdown? What happened?
Luke: The car park one?
Sol: We sorted out to play a car park in Chelmsford. When all the security was gone, we thought we could just set up and play an underground gig; just get everyone pissed and have a good time. We were promoting it for 30 days and then, two days before, the Essex police messaged us.
Luke: They said they would fine us and we couldn’t really afford that so we cancelled it.
Sol: They said they might prosecute as well, which obviously wouldn’t be ideal.
TF: Favourite films?
Luke: I like a bit of Shrek, to be honest with you.
TF: Any particular favourite?
Luke: Shrek 1 obviously!
Sol: “Trainspotting”, of course. “Human Traffic” is a good one too. All the old Disney films too, like Peter Pan.
Luke: Can’t really go wrong with Peter Pan, can you?
TF: Not at all. Do you reckon Trainspotting influenced you at all?
Sol: I think it definitely has yeah. it's very gritty and true to life, you know. It doesn't hold back from any realistic elements of it. There’s so much fake shit about now. The social media, the news. It’s all just bollocks. There’s much more use in honest criticism rather than dishonest harmony. That’s probably why I relate to it. Not that I do heroine.
TF: If you weren’t in a band, what would you be doing?
Sol: Probably homeless! I can’t imagine not being in a band. I’ve done the call centre jobs, working 9/5, and I don’t want to live a life like that. Luke doesn’t want to live a life like that, neither does Harry (drummer and third member). We may as well give it our all while we still got the time.
TF: You mentioned Eminem earlier as a big influence from hip hop. So if Eminem was in one corner of the room and a punk icon like Paul Weller was in another corner, who would you go and talk to?
Sol: I think it would literally depend what mood I’m in.
Luke: Tough one. Probably Eminem I reckon.
TF: What’s next for you?
Sol: Well we’ve just recorded this EP and just finalising it now. We’ll drop it and hopefully people will like it. I don’t really know- we’re still getting our shit together and rehearsing, really.
Luke: Hopefully play some gigs and touring at some point. That would be great!
TF: Where do see yourself in five years?
Luke: Split up, heartbroken, band in the ground.
Sol: Haha, yeah. I feel like we’ll either be doing something completely different or we’ll be really big. Or maybe having just split after being really big.
TF: What’s one lesson you’ve taken from the last year?
Luke: Don’t do running. I had a little running phase when it was sunny but now I think “why did I bother?”.
Sol: Just walk, there’s no rush. Of course, this year’s been a weird one, but if you can take anything from it…
Luke: You only live once!
Sol: YOLO? Nah, I’m trying to say something deep and meaningful here. Just get on with life really. Learn to be by yourself and enjoy your own company, spending time watching “Peter Pan” and “Shrek”.
TF: And listening to JLS?
Luke: Yeh, that’s the good life.