Black Midi: ‘To make the brutal and crazy moments stand out, you need to have the complete other side’

On a whistlestop tour of the US, Cameron Picton, bassist and vocalist with Black Midi, can’t help but marvel at one of New York’s spectacular sights.

Black Midi. Picture: Atiba Jefferson
Black Midi. Picture: Atiba Jefferson

“We were just driving in Brooklyn and I saw lightning strike the Empire State Building; it’s like the best day of my life,” he says excitedly.

The night before the band had played to 5,000 people at Central Park Summer Stage. “There was an awesome vibe, it was really good,” Picton says.

Black Midi are due to return to North America in September for a 25-date jaunt with fellow Brits Black Country New Road. “It’s by far the longest tour we’ve ever done,” Picton notes.

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    In the experimental rock band’s absence from the UK, their third album, Hellfire, entered the charts at No 22 – their highest placing yet. While Piction and bandmates Geordie Greep and Morgan Simpson may believe the charts are “not really a true reflection of popularity”, given how much they are swayed by streaming, Picton concedes: “Most people care about it a lot and it is an important thing to get a decent position.

    “The first record (Schlagenheim) sat just outside the top 40. With the second one (Calvacade) we did this golden ticket thing which meant that almost all of our album sales were void just to see if not being in the chart had a detrimental effect, but it didn’t actually have a massive negative impact. This time we thought we’d just do it and see how it goes by doing it with minimal effort. But it’s pretty cool to have a top 40 album.”

    Like its two predecessors, Hellfire regularly spins off at musical tangents – everything from dense maths rock to lounge jazz is represented – but Picton believes their vision is becoming clearer with each album they make. “Every time we finish one or one comes out you get this drive to do the next one,” he says. “Especially recently now this one’s done you’re itching to write and record songs again. This year we’ve really gone deep on touring commitments which hopefully will pay off and mean that next year we can do a bunch of writing and recording and build up an even bigger catalogue than we have now.”

    Although mostly written and recorded in a fervour of activity last July, Hellfire includes older snippets of ideas from the band’s infancy including a jam that Greep and Simpson did while they were studying at the Brit School. Amid the brimstone are tender moments. “That was what we were trying to do on Cavalcade and I think did even better here – to make the brutal and crazy moments stand out, you need to have the complete other side,” says Picton. “It just makes everything work a bit better, and it’s a nice way of keeping you on your toes.”

    Black Midi play two shows at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on August 28. “It’s going to be good, says Picton. “We’re going to do a pool tournament afterwards. The people of Leeds versus the members of Black Midi. I’m terrible at pool so I may get destroyed but Morgan’s a pretty clear favourite in that competition, I reckon.”