For the First Time
“I don't think it's an incredible, incredible album, but I do think it's an honest portrayal of what we were like and what we sounded like when those songs were written,” Black Country, New Road frontman Isaac Wood tells Apple Music of his Cambridge post-punk outfit’s debut LP. “I think that's basically all it can be, and that's the best it can be.” Intended to capture the spark of their early years—and electrifying early performances—For the First Time is an urgent collision of styles and signifiers, a youthful tangling of Slint-ian post-rock and klezmer meltdowns, of lowbrow and high, Kanye and the Fonz, Scott Walker and “the absolute pinnacle of British engineering.” Featuring updates to singles “Sunglasses” and “Athens, France,” it’s also a document of their banding together after the public demise of a previous incarnation of the outfit, when all they wanted to do was be in a room with one another again, playing music. “I felt like I was able to be good with these people,” Wood says of his six bandmates. “These were the people who had taught me and enabled me to be a good musician. Had I played the record back to us then, I would be completely over the moon about it.” Here, Wood walks us through the album start to finish.
Instrumental “It was the first piece we wrote. So to fit with making an accurate presentation of our sound or our journey as musicians, we thought it made sense to put one of the first things we wrote first.”
Athens, France “We knew we were going to be rerecording it, so I listened back to the original and I thought about what opportunities I might take to change it up. I just didn't do the best job at saying the thing I was wanting to say. And so it was just a small edit, just to try and refine the meaning of the song. It wouldn’t be very fun if I gave that all away, but the simplest—and probably most accurate—way to explain it would be that the person whose perspective was on this song was most certainly supposed to be the butt of a joke, and I think it came across that that wasn't the case, and that's what made me most uncomfortable.”
Science Fair “I’m not so vividly within this song; I’m more of an outsider. I have a fair amount of personal experience with science fairs. I come from Cambridge—and most of the band do as well—and there's many good science fairs and engineering fairs around there that me and my father would attend quite frequently. It’s a funny thing, something that I did a lot and never thought about until the minute that the idea for the song came into my head. It’s the sort of thing that’s omnipresent, but in the background. It's the same with talking about the Cirque du Soleil: Just their plain existence really made me laugh.”
Sunglasses “It was a genuine realization that I felt slightly more comfortable walking down the street if I had a pair of sunglasses on. It wasn't necessarily meditating on that specific idea, but it was jotted down and then expanded and edited, expanded and messed around with, and then became what it was. Sunglasses exist to represent any object, those defense mechanisms that I recognize in myself and find in equal parts effective and kind of pathetic. Sometimes they work and other times they're the thing that leads to the most narcissistic, false, and ignorant ways of being. I just broke the pair that my fiancée bought for me, unfortunately. Snapped in half.”
Track X “I wrote that riff ages and ages ago, around the time I first heard World of Echo by Arthur Russell, which is possibly my favorite record of all time. I was playing around with the same sort of delay effects that he was using, trying to play some of his songs on guitar, sort of translate them from the cello. We didn't play it for ages and ages, and then just before we recorded this album, we had the idea to resurrect it and put it together with an old story that I had written. It’s a love story—love and loss and all that's in between. It just made sense for it to be something quieter, calmer. And because it was arranged most recently, it definitely gives the most glimpse of our new material.”
Opus “‘Opus’ and ‘Instrumental’ were written on the same day. We were in a room together without any music prepared, for the first time in a few months, and we were all feeling quite down. It was a highly emotional time, and I think the music probably equal parts benefits and suffers from that. It's rich with a fair amount of typical teenage angst and frustration, even though we were sort of past our teens by that point. I mean, it felt very strange but very, very good to be playing together again. It took us a little while to realize that we might actually be able to do it. It was just a desire to get going and to make something new for ourselves, to build a new relationship musically with each other and the world, to just get out there and play a show. We didn't really have our sights set particularly high—we just really wanted to play live at the pub.”