INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
Comprising of five talented musicians – Mark Blissenden, Carlos Macklin, Paul Sarel, Trevor Simpson, and Jonathan Wainberg – from the city of Hull, Bunkerpop draw from an eclectic range of musical influences to deliver a truly unique, diverse, mostly instrumental sound that leaves the listener free to make their own interpretation of it.
The band have been building up a devoted legion of followers over the past couple of years, initially in their home city, and now spreading across the UK, with this, as well as live performances that actively encourage audience participation.
Having recently brought out a self-titled debut album, the quintet spoke to me about what can be expected from it, as well as a lengthy recording process, which saw them work their fingers to the bone in order to produce the best possible release.
How did the band initially get together?
Bunkerpop came together in the spring of 2016 by a succession of flukes and accidents. We were originally practicing a David Bowie song in preparation for a tribute night to him at the Hull Adelphi, which Jonathan – our keyboard and synth player – had organised.
This led to a couple of new tunes squeaking out of his equipment, which we liked, and that then led to a hastily-arranged recruitment of mates to form a full band practice. The first tune we played all together was ‘Bunkerpop Theme‘, which is on our debut album.
How did the name Bunkerpop come about?
The name comes from a space at the place of work that Paul was working in. It was a windowless concrete room underneath the south stand of the KC Stadium (home of football club Hull City) with flickering strip lighting which caused twitchiness and mental health problems to all who worked there. We called it “The Bunker“.
This was coupled with the fact that Paul was playing a lot of tunes by an artist called Lonelady, who has an excellent tune called ‘Bunkerpop‘, so it seemed to fit the mood of the music too. It’s a terrific name.
What would you say was your approach to songwriting?
We have a three-pronged approach to writing songs. Often, they will start with the five of us playing together at practice. Somebody starts, and the rest of us will then join in, which is sometimes very successful, and occasionally awful.
We are very good listeners, so we are kind to each other and nobody overplays, as we like to keep it simple. Other times, we’ll start from scratch in the studio and build a tune up that way, and then practice it for live performances.
We also combine the two approaches mentioned to come up with a third way, which is to record a live take, then splice it up, add things, take things away, and spew it out the other side.
What inspires the band lyrically?
Most of our tunes have no lyrics, but we do like to have a narrative of sorts running through them on recordings, with things like samples of dialogue or sound effects playing a big part in what we do and how we present ourselves.
Without actual lyrics, the songs are open for interpretation, and we trust the listener to have enough integrity to come up with their own thoughts and feelings.
With our debut album, we hope to capture a mood with each tune. We are quite an upbeat band, but we do have a darker, more cynical side which runs throughout it.
You recently brought out a new single, entitled ‘(Are You Ready) For Something’, to an overwhelmingly positive response. How have you been dealing with that?
The tune is a great track, so we knew it would get a positive response. It was one of the first to be finished for the album, so we had to sit on it for about a year before officially releasing it as a single, and we never got bored of it during that time, so we guess we knew it was a goer for a single.
Also, we made a brilliant video for it with our friends Mark Richardson and Anna Bean, who are both very talented. It only cost £18.80 to make, and it was all shot in around 90 minutes.
And the track was taken from the band’s recently-released first album. How was the recording process for it?
The basic live tracks were recorded over three sessions at Gorilla Studios and the Hull Adelphi. We got our friend Bob Wingfield to engineer and press record whilst the band basically played live.
We then took the recordings and worked, re-worked, and worked on them again, with some stuff being dumped altogether. We then did all that again and again for 12 months, adding extras such as the samples, overdubs and edits, with Mark – who plays percussion in the band – taking hours, days, and eventually months mixing, splicing, sliding, and perfecting until we were all happy with it.
We then had it mastered by Pete Maher – who has done mastering for The White Stripes and U2 – and he gave it a shiny finish. It’s a terrific record.
And for those who have yet to listen to the album, what can they expect?
So far, we’ve had nothing but positive feedback, and a lot of musicians like it. It’s a double album with three tunes on each side, but no numbered sides, as we didn’t want listeners to think which side is best.
Instead, they’re coloured sides which represent a mood, so the listener can choose a mood instead of an order. The sound is gorgeous on it, and there is a lot of space with very clean production, which is perfect for the tunes, as they’re mostly instrumental.
Our influences range from Kraftwerk, to Daft Punk, to Can. It’s groovy and strange, as you can dance to some sides, or you can chill out to others. Some of it is very pretty and nostalgic, whilst other parts are aggressive and fuming with the state of it all.
The band are from Hull. How is the contemporary music scene there?
There are a lot of good people doing great things in Hull, and most folks are more positive about the city nowadays after years of there being a lack of confidence.
Bunkerpop exist in a bit of a vacuum doing our own thing musically, but we’re appreciative of what is going on elsewhere. There seems to be a real vibe, and people are being braver in putting on bands and experimenting with different genres.
It’s healthy, and after visiting another major city in England only a few weeks ago, we have come to appreciate that we have a vibrant music, arts and creative scene going on in Hull. It’s a unique and brilliant place to live. It’s edgy, and it has its problems, but by jiminy, we love it.
How is the overall experience – for you all – of playing live?
The band are brilliant live. We adore playing live, it’s where it’s at for us all. We will not stand for mediocre, because why should anyone stand for that?
We are visually and sonically on another planet, which is perhaps the moon, or in a shuttle on the way to Mars, when we play live. The audience play a big part in any of our performances, and stage invasions are encouraged. We include the whole room in a performance, as there are no boundaries between us and the audience.
We have our uniforms, as we are a team, and we play together to create joy and happiness. Boom!
Now that the album has been released, what are the band’s plans for the near future?
We have just played the first couple of gigs of a summer tour. The gigs shall see us take our stage show to many other exciting places, including festivals and parties in such exotic places as Nottingham, Rugby, Hull, London, and Barrow-in-Furness.
We’ll be bringing the Bunkerpop dancers to some performances, and we also have a loyal following of friends and fans who often jump on the Bunkerbus to create chaos and joy at gigs.
We’re also continuing to push the album, which has already sold 50% of its first vinyl pressing, and we will also be bringing out a new video out soon, which has been made by our beautiful friend Mr Nicholas Broten of Fonda 500.
We may have a little rest in September, but we are planning another blast of gigs for this autumn, and then we will be moving onto the next batch of recordings. We are totally independent, and we do all of the bookings, promotion, artwork, recordings, social media, and organisation, so it’s pretty full on.
And lastly, what is your long-term aim?
I guess the long-term aim is to keep going, and to enjoy it as much as we can. We’d also like to be very rich, so we could concentrate all our efforts on this, but realistically, we’re happy to cover costs, get experiences, and meet incredible people.
We have already met smashing folks who are doing this for the love of it, such as Richard McKerron in Derby, Will and Jason in Nottingham, and the I’m Not From London record label, and it’s always great to see old friends too, like Jimi from Gigantic.
What really makes us happy is being creative and playing. We’ll be moving onto recording new stuff soon, as with the momentum we have, we can’t really afford to stand still.
This time next year, Del Boy…
THE SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM FROM BUNKERPOP IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: