A little over two years ago Childhood frontman Ben Romans-Hopcraft had a revelation. “I’d gone to uni purely to meet people, and I’d just started hanging out with Leo,” he says, referencing his songwriting partner and Childhood’s devil-eyed guitarist Leo Dobsen. “And even though we’d had this vague idea about forming a band together, we didn’t have any songs or anything. We’d never played a single note, in fact, but for some reason we just started going around telling everyone that we were this amazing new band, like, ‘Yeah, we‘re Childhood, have you heard us? Oh, you haven’t?! You really should, we’re pretty sweet…’.”
Somewhat bizarrely, this back-to-frontapproach paid off, kicking Ben and Leo into action so that by the time their first demos – recorded in Ben’s room between listening to everything from old Marvin Gaye records to new Bradford Cox ones – found their way online, there was already a baying audience waiting for them. Record industry scouts and tastemakers soon followed, even though the twosome weren’t anything approaching a proper band yet.
“We literally had no idea what we were doing!” Ben laughs now. “We were still experimenting with everything – how to write together, how to play live, what gigs to do, who ran them, what line-up. It wasn’t until we left that we released ‘Blue Velvet’, and then we got it together with Dan (Salamons, bass) and Jonny (Williams, drums) and became what you know today as Childhood.”
Still one of the band’s best loved songs, ‘Blue Velvet’ tells you everything you need to know about the mini-masterpieces Ben, Leo, Dan and Jonny craft. Lush, sonically-infused, scarily melodic, boisterous and brimming with a dreamy wanderlust that sets them apart from the rest of London’s new band scene, it’s one of the many gems they’ve come up with ondebut album ‘Lacuna’, made earlier this year with London’s producer-of-the-moment Dan Carey.
A re-recorded and beefed-up version of ‘Blue Velvet’ opens the album in fine style – unequivocallyrealising its full potential. “It had to be good, really!” says Ben, adding,“I think the main thing we were going for, and this counts on all the tracks, was to get this juxtaposition between having loud guitars and soft melodies. We’re all about the contrast and personality.”
It’s this idea of split dynamics that drives Childhood, he continues. “I love people like the Cocteau Twins ” and Felt, but then you’ve got Leo who’s totally on newer stuff. He was onto Mac DeMarco before anyone else in the world, and Real Estate and Deerhunter. It’s quite a potent mix, and we always try to define Childhood as that. It’s always eclectic, it’s aware of soul, and dub, and indie, and dance, and it’s all about mixing up English and American music and seeing what you get.”
Mind you, ask Ben where the beating heart of Childhood lies, and the singer will tell you south London. Brixton, where he grew up and still lives now, is a key influence – most obviously on the likes of the slow, dubby ‘Right Beneath Me’, but also more ambiguously on the album’slyrics. “It’s nostalgia,” he explains. “The gentrification of Brixton pisses me off massively, and a lot of the songs are about having that foreign feeling of when you’re somewhere so familiar that’s changing. ‘Blue Velvet’ is about that, ‘Falls Away’too in a way. Similarly, I can’t help but write songs after the name – Childhood. Maybe I’m inherently nostalgic? I almost think I don’t wanna be like that, but the truth is I can’t avoid it. I think writing about it is my way of taking the shackles off…”
Perhaps the most commendable thing about ‘Lacuna’is how as an album it twists and turns, showing off manydifferentsides to a band who, lest we forget, are still in their infancy. One minute they’re evoking Motown if re-imagined for the post-noughties generation (‘You Could Be Different’) before taking in krautrock (‘Pay For Cool’), baggy (‘Solemn Skies’) and even veering deep into Todd Rundgren territory (‘When You Rise’).
It all makes for a thrilling listen, but Ben’s unphased when it comes to trying to pin down what it is that makes the songs work so well together. “A lot of bands have a certain sound they’re defined by,” he says. “But in Childhood we do it all on a vibe. When I feel like I’m listening to us then I know we’re onto something good.”
Make no mistake, on ‘Lacuna’ Childhood have come up with something very good indeed. And as they’ve been telling all and sundry since even before theygot going – you really should check them out, they’re pretty sweet…