They’re one of 2015’s hottest new bands and from Oxford. Tim Hughes reports

Radiohead, Supergrass, Ride, Foals... every now and then an Oxford band comes along which makes everyone sit up, shut up and take notice.

The latest is Balloon Ascents.

Seemingly from nowhere, this frighteningly young and terrifyingly talented five-piece have emerged as one of the great hopes of the Oxford music scene — one of 2015’s hottest new bands, and the next one most likely to hit the big time.

Frontman Thomas Roberts has, of course, heard all that before, and is undaunted by the weight of expectation heaped on the shoulders of this band of former schoolfriends from Headington’s Cheney School.

“It’s comforting to know we’re on the right track but we can’t get ahead of ourselves,” he says. “We have to stay focused and improve to give people even more of a reason to tip us. I think we should listen as little to a bad review as a good one. That means doing things our way; doing things we deem to be right until we prove ourselves wrong.”

Thomas (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, piano) and bandmates Robin Christensen-Marriott (bass, vocals, French horn), Jonny Vickers (electric guitar, vocals), Henry Soothill (electric guitar) and Otto Wolf (drums, vocals) met at school united by a love of good music and a determination to make their own noise.

The common bond that has come from spending such a large chunk of their lives together (they have played alongside each other since the age of 13) has shaped Balloon Ascents.

Thomas insists it would not be the same without it. “It’s only just become something I appreciate,” he says. “We can only work together in the way we do, because we’ve all known each other for so long.”

“We were around each other most of the time and were into the same genres of music,” says Robin. “We’ve all been lucky enough to have been taught music from an early age, but in different ways. Jonny started on classical guitar, I first played classical French horn, Henry learnt electric guitar, Thomas jazz piano and Otto violin.”

Their sound has shades of their Oxfonian predecessors Radiohead and Stornoway, and wider influences, including The Beatles, Neil Young, MGMT, The Beach Boys, Tame Impala, Mogwai, Bert Jansch, and avant garde composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

“We play alternative rock-pop with a strong emphasis on melodic lines both in the vocal and guitar work,” says Robin. “We spice things up with gripping vocal harmonies, rhythmical changes in feel and undulating melodic bass.

“I think there’ll always be a difference between what we want to sound like and how we actually sound,” adds Thomas. “That’s the beauty of this whole thing.

“I might say we sound like Neil Young but someone else might hear Stornoway. Ultimately, I think if I could come up with the perfect description of our sound then we’d be doing something wrong.”

If there are hints of Stornoway, that might be down to the band’s Oli Steadman, who worked with the lads on their debut EP. “Working with Oli has been eye-opening to the world of music on a real scale,” says Robin. “He has given us a large boost in our understanding of recording and the production of songs. He is very calm, driven and collected, and is a great person to look up to for advice.”

He admits Stornoway’s naturalistic folk-pop may have shaped their sound. “Stornoway are folksters and if their folky melodic lines and general song arrangement have rubbed off on us, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he says.

Last year saw the band playing more than 50 shows — including a home town set at the O2 Academy Oxford and a string of European dates. They also did five intimate Sofar Sounds sessions. You may even have heard them headlining the entertainment at Oxford city’s fireworks display.

The Oxford Times:

“It was a great experience touring Europe,” says Robin. “We were let into so many wonderful people’s lives and shown much kindness. We really locked-in together on that tour and have been a tight-knit band ever since. Our wonderful co-manager Jo Frost put on the majority of the dates and kept us organised.”

Thomas adds: “Our show at the O2 Academy in November was a great way to end 2014. It was filmed too and the footage will be on youtube soon.

“Shooting the video for our tune Cutout was also pretty epic. We were in that hall for more than 12 hours with lights, cameras, guitars and dancers.”

Next Friday, January 23, they play one of the most special shows yet — an EP launch at the Bullingdon, in Cowley Road, with tickets available from Oxford-based ticket site This Is Good Music — or Tigmus.

“It’s gonna be special,” says Thomas. “It has been quite an experience getting everything sorted in time. The EP, the video, the merchandise — and we’ve still got to rehearse for the show!”

Both admit it’s great to have the EP out. “It’s a new experience for us, but it’s very exciting,” says Thomas. “It’s a very personal affair. We’ve been with these songs every step of the way; we wrote them, we rehear-sed them, recorded and mixed them. And now we’ve got to let go a little.

“It’s a great relief,” adds Robin. “We feel happy, for once, with the outcome of our recordings. And the launch will be a great juicy cherry to go on the EP Chelsea bun.”

Thomas agrees, but questions his bandmate’s knowledge of baking, laughing: “Do Chelsea buns even have cherries on them?”

“We just want as many people as possible to hear our music and to see us live,” he adds. “We’ve got some-thing special going on and I think everyone needs to experience it.”

Balloon Ascents
The Bullingdon, Oxford
January 23
Tickets from tigmus.com