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Your Space Or Mine

Bob Vylan shed new light on the politics of punk and grime

Basking in the sun of their 2022 MOBO win and multiple releases under their own independent label, Ghost Theatre, Bob Vylan remain one of the most respected cross-genre bands on the scene, bringing their new album Humble As The Sun to the streets across the UK with BUILDHOLLYWOOD this April.

Known as Bobby and Bobbie respectively, Bob Vylan are a duo renowned for their brazen lyrics and commitment to music with meaning, building an identity reminiscent of a genre yet created or credited for its hold on the ears of the masses. BUILDHOLLYWOOD spoke with guitarist and singer Bobby to learn more about the politics of being political, their 2022 MOBO Award win, and the magic of their upcoming album, Humble As The Sun.

Bob Vylan’s sound is uniquely compelling, aligning the rage of punk with the poetry of grime to generate music fuelled by both the weight of lived experience and the hook of driving guitar riffs. There’s a measure to their lyrics; an outpouring of discourse tempered by what can only be described as a pretty reasonable assessment of the political situation we find ourselves in. “It’s confrontational”, Bobby shares in our conversation, a word that captures the vim and vigour found in tracks like “I Heard You Want Your Country Back” and “England’s Ending”, and yet Bobby is anything but confrontational, instead, he’s an artist generous with his thoughts and musings; be it on fatherhood, the state of foreign policy, or the blissful warmth of the sun.


Words by Elsa Monteith

Humble As The Sun will be Bob Vylan’s fifth studio album released by their own independent label, Ghost Theatre, a venture the duo hope to develop in the coming years with plans to sign new artists as they further their reach and reputation. “We want to treat the artist as artists should be treated”, Bobby shares, citing the vital importance of respect in the industry and the role it’s played in their rise to notoriety. Bob Vylan are clearly giving in nature, nurturing relationships with allies in the industry that share their values, and helping to shape a scene that advocates for change and fosters fairness for artists and listeners alike.

In 2022, Bob Vylan were the first act to win the Best Alternative Music Act at the MOBOs, a category new to the awards, and a long overdue acknowledgement of punk and rock as a genre of Black origin. Bobby shares how they only found out about the nomination after being tagged in a post on instagram; “it was a complete surprise”, he says, but a good one by all accounts, as they made MOBO history as the first recipients. That same year, Bob Vylan won the Kerrang! Award for Best Album, thanks to their 2022 album Bob Vylan Presents the Price of Life, a mark of how their sound has developed over the years, and a recognition of how it will always remain loyal to the driving force of political change.

April 2024 sees the release of their latest commitment to justice, with their upcoming album Humble As The Sun delivering yet another thunderous soundtrack to the plight of our wild isle, seen on billboards across the city.

Could you begin by introducing the music of Bob Vylan to someone who may not have listened to you previously?

It doesn’t shy away from confrontation you know, we discuss certain things that are considered quite serious topics. One thing that people tend to label us as is a political band, as a lot of the topics that we talk about are connected to politics in some way. Whether that’s the politicisation of our existence as like, Black men in the UK, or if it’s the economic state of the country, or, you know, inequality that we see in this country between different classes. So yeah, I’d describe our sound as political, confrontational, punk and grime-infused guitar music.

Do you like being called a political band?

I feel indifferent about it, I think. I understand why people call us a political band, and I know that people feel a need to categorise things so that they know where to place them in the world, but it’s not something that we set out to be. It really happened because, again, our existence as Black men in this country is politicised. And so it’s hard not to be a political band, if that is your existence, and you choose to address that existence. It’s not like we’re making a song about foreign policy; we’re talking about our lived experience, and I suppose with that, you’re gonna end up touching on things that are political.

In 2022 Bob Vylan won the Best Alternative Music Act at the MOBO Awards, the first year the MOBOs had an alternative music category. This was a long overdue acknowledgement of punk and rock as a genre of Black origin – how did it feel to be the first to win the category?

Yeah, it was incredible. We didn’t expect to win it. We didn’t know we were going to be nominated; I think we’ve got our ticket to go to the awards on the day of the show. So, there was never a moment where we thought, “we’ve got this in the bag”, we didn’t even know if we were gonna be able to get inside there. When our name was called and we got up on the stage and we said what we said, and it kind of sank in, it felt great, it felt like much overdue acknowledgement of rock music being of Black origin. And that’s important.

In many ways, grime and punk have a lot in common – they tend to be political genres with powerful lyrics. Tracks of yours like “Grime Music Made Me Do It” and “Frontline” really speak to this meeting of genres – how do you find this intersection is received by listeners?

I think us straddling that line between the two genres and subcultures allows us to bring in people that may not listen to one or the other, and then suddenly they’re listening to both. I think with our audience, the main thing that draws them to our music is not necessarily the genre, it’s more the lyrics. It’s the conviction that we talk about those things with, and the brutal honesty that we address them with, because, again, there isn’t any label or anybody telling us that we can’t say this, and we can’t do that. It’s not censored in any way. I think that’s the thing that people listen to the band for.

Do you have any musical or political influences that people might not expect?

Politically, there’s probably nothing that would surprise people who listen to the music – they’ll get a sense of who I’m reading and listening to, but musically, there might be some things that that surprise people, you know. On this new album, there are certain things that maybe I’ve pinched; a lyric or sample, and I’ve then used it in a way that made it new. There’s a Manic Street Preachers line which might not be too surprising for people politically, but again, it’s not a band that I’ve ever heard us mentioned in the same breath as. They have a song called Repeat, which has the line “repeat after me, fuck Queen and country”, and I’ve taken that line and given it a new meaning, with the current climate and our relationship with the monarchy in mind. It’s coming from me, and it’s coming from the culture that I come from. It gives it a different kind of feel when I say it.

The honesty and grit of punk and grime really comes through in your lyrics – addressing current affairs and issues of injustice feels like a central part of your music. Do you feel like politics, self-expression, and lived experience will always inform your sound?

I think as a writer, I write what I know. And so while maybe not all of the music that Bob Vylan makes in the future will be so obviously political, it will always be from a place of lived experience, because I make the music for myself, first and foremost. That’s the main reason why I write, it’s like a cathartic process, you know, to write about my own life, and what I’m going through and what I’m feeling and what I’m thinking. It was never like, “oh, I want to make people dance”, or “I want to make people cry when they hear me play the guitar” or whatever. I just want to talk about what I’m going through.

What inspired you to create your upcoming album, Humble As The Sun? And what makes the sun “humble”?!

The sun is not humble – it doesn’t diminish for nobody, you know? The sun does not care whether you are scorched by it, or if it’s not visible enough. It’s just doing what it’s supposed to do every single day, and it’s not asking for your permission to do it; it’s as loud as it wants to be. That was really the thinking behind the title. We had been creating this music in a bedroom, and then a friend of mine gave me access to a purpose built studio in this beautiful back garden in London. So in the summer I was creating in that studio, but spending time in the garden as well, eating my lunch and eating dinner and then slowly beginning to meditate out there. I started to build this relationship with the space through meditating. And then those meditations slowly turned into conversations with that space. And the sun being the illuminating light of that space, it resulted in conversations with the sun. I was recognising that this thing was always there and how it unapologetically shines as bright as it wants to. I just thought; that’s exactly what I want to do. That’s exactly how I want to live my life. I don’t want to dim my light for anybody, even when times are hard. And if it’s a cloudy day, I still want to be there just as bright as I always have been behind these clouds and behind these hardships.

It feels like the sun really connects with you as an artist.

Yeah. There’s this belief that artists should be humble, like we should be just happy to be here, as though you shouldn’t take any kind of sense of pride in your work and you shouldn’t be vocal about what you’ve achieved or what you’ve accomplished or what it is that you’re doing. I think that’s kind of strange. We’re an independent band and we’ve gone on to have a top 20 album on our own record label that was completely self-produced and self-released and self-mixed and recorded, and we’ve won a MOBO Award and a Kerrang Award and we haven’t had to compromise what it is that we say or do to get these things and to get to these positions. Why would I be quiet about that? To be quiet about that would do a disservice to not just myself, but also to the people around me and the people that are watching this journey.

I’d love to hear more about your label Ghost Theatre. Why was it important for you to remain independent and create your own label?

It started out of necessity, you know, and I’m quite thankful that nobody found us at that early stage to take us on. At that point, I may have done it, but because we were working so hard on creating this music and taking the band further and further, it ended up getting to a point where we kind of no longer needed a label or if we did need it, it was easy for us to pass on the offers. What they were offering just didn’t seem like it was enough, and that doesn’t necessarily mean financially, it can also just mean that they weren’t thinking big enough or long-term enough, or they weren’t thinking about the culture of the band, and what it can be. Ghost Theatre is a label that has one act, and we’re that sole act, for the time being. I want to make sure that we’re creating a label that is knowledgeable and capable, and able to release people’s music and get it out there just as well as any of these other labels can, but is also fair and treats the artist as artists should be treated.

How did the partnership with BUILDHOLLYWOOD come about?

We’d never done a billboard campaign before, but our distributor recommended BUILDHOLLYWOOD, and we managed to work out something that is beneficial to all parties involved and feels fair for all parties involved. And that’s an important thing, I think, as an independent artist, I feel grateful for those guys to take a chance on Bob Vylan and what it is that that we’re doing. It’s like a step to building a long-lasting relationship, where it doesn’t just feel like we’re just about taking your money, it’s deeper than that. You can tell that by the way that they’ve interacted with us, and the way they’ve been accommodating. And that goes such a long way.

The posters and billboards are set to pasted up across London — how do you find making music in the city? Is it a space you connect with?

I’ve lived all over the place; different parts of London, different parts of the world, different parts of the UK. But London is definitely a city that I have a deep connection with. I grew up partly around East London, so it’s somewhere that will always feel like home. And creating there can be quite nice, because sometimes it’s quite good to create in the noise, but sometimes it’s nice to create in peace and quiet, you know. I feel quite fortunate that throughout my life, I’ve always had a mix of both. It’ll be exciting to see the billboards up in a city that is home and in areas that are up the road from where I grew up.

Speaking of London – could you share three favourite places to hang out in the city? It could be a venue you loved playing, a bar, a cafe, library; anything that resonates.

The Blackheart pub in Camden is probably my go to pub – I’m not a drinker but I get a non-alcoholic beer and play the pinball machines (laughs). You don’t find them in a lot of places nowadays, you know, and these pinball machines, they’re in great condition, I don’t know how old they are. It’s a good environment; kind of dark and like a little dingy but in a nice kind of way. And then Cook Daily for vegan food in East London. And then the last place would be my dad’s flat. I just feel like I’m reconnecting with home there; even the way that the floor creaks and the door sounds, all of that stuff just makes me feel at home.

It feels like anonymity is an important part of your messaging. What stops you from sharing your identities?

If I’m recognised on the street, or on a train, or in London or wherever it kind of makes me feel a little uncomfortable. It happens, and I can’t help that. But what I can do is create some level of separation between the band and people’s desire to know everything about us. If the barista down the road makes good coffee, you might have a little chat with them when you go in, you might ask them, “Oh, how’s your day been? What have you been up to?”, and they’ll tell you whatever they feel like sharing, and you can respond and tell them whatever you want to tell them, right? But you’re there because the coffee is good. It doesn’t matter who their partner is, their marital status, where they live, what they pay in rent, if they have children or not. They’ll tell you what they want you to know. But the coffee is good. And I kind of have that same opinion – the coffee is good over here. I’ll tell you what we want to tell you, and if you listen to the music, we’re telling you quite a lot. But just enjoy the coffee.

What’s next for Bob Vylan? What does the future hold for you?

This is just one of a few albums that I would like to release this year, as well as a web series that I’m developing at the moment with the focus of turning it into a full length TV series. There are other acting things that are being worked on by other people that I’m part of, too. This next year will really be a time of more music, and also a focus on some of the other things that I enjoy like acting, and some fashion stuff that I’ve had in I’ve had planned for a long time, as well as building the label and signing our first artist. It’ll be good to release our first non Bob Vylan project on that label. It’s exciting.

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