BNQT (pronounced Banquet) released their debut album to almost universal acclaim in April. On the face of it, and given the embarrassment of musical riches the band has to draw from, that shouldn't be a surprise.
Midlake's Eric Pudilo, himself a prodigious songwriting talent, put together a group comprised of Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, Travis's Fran Healy, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses and Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. Not surprisingly given some of the names on the last list, the album, Volume 1, has a wistful West Coast sound that harks back to the classic songwriters of the 1970s.
You might also like...
With so many seemingly disparate stars involved, it was never going to be long before the word supergroup reared its head. But is this something Eric embraces or balks at? "It's certainly a word I've used, but you have to take it a little tongue-in-cheek," he says. "If you look at the definition of the word, we are a supergroup; we all have other projects that we've come from. But I don't want people to think we're using the word super because think we're better than other bands! So it's not something we take too seriously."
"One thing about this band is that if really feels like the pressure's off. We all know each other from touring and being on the scene over the years, and we're all fans of each other's music. It's just really a lot of fun to be involved in."
Maybe the world's most (in)famous supergroup was The Travelling Wilburys, and by aping the title of that band's debut album, BNQT aren't exactly discouraging comparison. But again, Eric is quick to stress his humility in the presence of such musical titans. "Obviously the similarities are there, but I've said before we'd be like the sub sub Travelling Wilburys," he continues.
At this point Fran Healy pipes up and asks "If we're the Travelling Wilburys, can I be Roy Orbison?"
It's perhaps no accident that Healy chose to be the Big O, the most all-American musician of them all, in his fantasy Wilburys line-up. He says every since he was young he's "always dreamed about being in an American band". And with BNQT, he's finally seen his dream come true.
"Travis is the only band I've ever played in and obviously I love playing with the boys," he says. "But there was always something about American bands, and when you meet them touring they're just different. You meet them and you think, 'wow, some of these can even read music!'.
"They're so tight and, well professional isn't the word because bands from the UK are professional too but...". The word Fran is reaching for never comes, but his point is clear. So far, the experience of playing with Eric and the rest of BNQT has thankfully lived up to his apparently stellar expectations.
"It's been great. We do obviously have that international influence but I do see this ultimately as an American band. I've been with Travis so long, and never really played with anyone else, it's almost like we're married. So weirdly it does feel a bit like cheating on them," he jokes. "But I'm really enjoying it. I've never actually told them how good it is in case I hurt their feelings!'
One thing that you notice with Volume 1, which isn't always the case on a record compiled by various authors, is that it's a very coherent record. Even though each member wrote two songs, there's a sense of continuity. You can hear Kapranos in his 'Hey Banana', just as Lytle's fingerprints are all over 'Failing At Feeling', yet you would never begrudge them appearing on the same album. According to Eric, this is something that happened more or less organically.
"We all have fairly similar styles anyway, so it's not something I was really worried about," he says. "Everyone came with their ideas and we worked on them together, so it was always going to end up sounding like a record by one band, even though we have great songwriters coming in and creating great songs."
The 'band' is already working on the next record, after a brief hiatus to tour Europe this autumn. I put band in quotes because the personnel will not be quite the same as that that wrote and performed on the same record.
"We've got some new people coming on board for the next one, including John Grant," says Eric. "Inevitably with the kind of revolving door policy there's going to be a slightly different feel to it, but it's still going to feel like us I think."
One person who's being revolved out is Fran. "I've got to go and write the new Travis record, so I can't be involved in the next one," he says. "But it's really been a blast playing with these guys. It's always nice to get a phone call from someone you respect asking you to come and play with them. There's a lot of mutual admiration on the scene, and to play with some of the people you've got to know and whose music you like it's a good feeling."
BNQT may be a band of brothers, but crucially there's not a sense that they're having more fun than their audiences, either live or on record. It's this that elevates them above the self-indulgence of over, less successful collaborations or supergroups. For this reason, fans will be looking forward to the upcoming tour and album. And that's why we're looking forward to it too.
BNQT are on tour:
Monday 30th October – PARIS – Bataclan
Tuesday 31st October – LONDON – ULU tickets
Wednesday 1st November – GLASGOW – Old Fruit Market
Thursday 2nd November – DUBLIN – Vicar Street
Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.