Adam Hopper is used to getting his hands dirty. After focusing on archaeology in college, the Manchester native — who fronts one of Britain’s best new bands, the post-punk-retro Blanketman, with the new debut EP “National Trust” —went on an excavation to the Reading-adjacent ancient Roman town called Filchester, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
“The excavation went deep, and I actually found an Iron-Age brooch and some coins,” he says. As in the recent Netflix docudrama “The Dig,” he adds, he wasn’t allowed to keep his find: “Because if it doesn’t make it into the research books, it’s kind of obsolete. It doesn’t mean anything if you take away its historical context.”
Hopper was obsessed with history and artifacts as a kid, and never dreamed of any career but archaeology. But when he attended university, all the new friends he made were musicians who moonlighted in rock combos.
Eventually, out of peer pressure, he started a couple of his own, and was penning originals in Blanketman by the time he graduated. Buoyant, bass-heavy anthems like “Harold,” “Beach Body,” and “Leave the South” are all on the EP, which was released in March.
So he changed career horses in midstream. He says, “I just loved making music, and I think when I started writing my own songs — that’s when I really started enjoying it. And then with performing onstage — one of the best things about being in a band — I guess I got hooked.”
The singer-guitarist sees a strong connection between the dual pursuits. People study archaeology to review lessons from history, to comprehend what went right and what went wrong.
Musicians are essentially always doing the same, he says: “Looking back into the past, thinking, ‘What bits do I really like? Which bits do I not like as much? And how can I change that and put my own stamp on it?’ So I think there really is a link between archaeology and music.”
Blanketman’s sound doesn’t just scratch the Manchester surface. Hopper tunneled past the prog-minded Elbow era, the Oasis/Britpop age, and the Stone Roses/Madchester years, too, to hit the late-‘70s strata of The Fall, The Smiths, Joy Division and Tony Wilson’s legendary Factory Records imprint.
“It’s funny with Joy Divison,” says Hopper of the influential group, which morphed into New Order when its funereal-voiced singer Ian Curtis hung himself in 1980 at 23. “They touch most new music coming out of Manchester at the moment, since there’s been a resurgence of more post-punk bands.”
He has yet to meet local hero Johnny Marr of The Smiths, but he’s become friends with his son Nile, who’s been helping Blanketman record new demos at his studio. Other noted musicians, like Fall bassist Steve Harley, have joined the young outfit on hometown stages.
“We practice in a place called Brunswick Mill, and Joy Division used to have a room there, and the room we rehearse in used to belong to The Fall, which is really cool,” Hopper says. “The rooms haven’t changed much since then, so you’re definitely smelling the same old damp smells as those bands did. And with the amount of beer that gets spilled on those carpets, it’s got layers and layers of historical musicians’ beers from the past however many decades.”
Yet things are drastically different now. Once-affordable mill studios are being commandeered by big securities firms, who are kicking their creative clientele to the curb. “So I’m not sure how long we have left in there, and it’s very sad to see,” he says.
Realizing that in today’s world, a working-class band like Oasis won’t likely rocket to superstardom, Hopper and Blanketman aim lower, at a more realistic gut level, utilizing thrumming guitars, bass-heavy melodies and Hopper’s droll intonations and atypical lyrical observations.
In the “National Trust” title track, he deadpan-croons about he and his girlfriend joining the eponymous U.K. charity for the preservation of historic sites and buildings. “Which I thought was quite funny,” he says, because it’s typically considered to be quite a middle-class thing. But it’s actually brilliant, and our national parks are great.” He plans to visit them, too, as soon as vaccinations kick in across the country.
He also has a backup plan if concert touring doesn’t rev up soon. Like his father before him, he can theoretically return to his old day job: “It’s a coffin factory, and I worked there for a few months a year ago. It’s quite a surreal place, once you become acclimatized to everything that’s around you. And all the people who worked there were quite jolly, surprisingly!”