Deadheading had the opportunity to chat with Cheriff Bakala, who was featured in the Al-Jazeera documentary “Sunday in Brazzaville”, about songwriting, the challenges of recording in the DRC, and plans for his next musical project.
DH: Quelle a été la première chanson que vous avez jamais écrite?
What was the first song you ever wrote?
CB: La première chanson que j’ai écris, était une chanson d’amour appelé AMOUR ; en cette période j’étais au collège et c’était mes premières poésie.
The first song I wrote was a love song called LOVE; during this time I was in school and it was my first (musical) verse.
DH: Vous avez continué à enregistrer votre album malgré des difficultés comme les coupures d’électricité dans le studio. Que pensez-vous être l’aspects le plus difficile de faire de la musique?
You continued to record your album despite difficulties such as power cuts in the studio. What do you think you are the most difficult aspects of making music?
CB: Malgré les coupures d’électricité ,nous avons continué à enregistrer notre album, car nous sommes déjà habitué de travailler dans de telles conditions . L’aspect le plus difficile en musique c’est la production et la promotion de nos œuvres , car composer une musique et faire son arrangement est une routine.
Despite the power cuts, we continued to record our album, because we are already used to working in such conditions. The most difficult aspect in music is the production and promotion of our works, because composing and arranging music is a routine.
DH: Comment décririez-vous la scène musicale actuelle à Brazzaville?
How would you describe the current music scene in Brazzaville?
CB: La scène musicale de Brazzaville à de l’engouement , le public est au rendez vous , mais les productions sont rares par manque de sponsors et subventions.
The music scene in Brazzaville is full of enthusiasm, the public is the place to be, but shows are scarce due to lack of sponsors and subsidies.
DH: Généralement, ce qui arrive d’abord quand vous écrivez: la musique, ou les paroles?
Generally, what comes first when you write: music, or lyrics?
CB: Généralement , quand j’écris ce sont les paroles qui arrivent avant par inspirations, et quand il y a la présence d’un instrument cela facilite la manière de composer.
Generally, when I write, it is the words which arrive before (musical) ideas, and when there is an instrument present, it facilitates composition.
DH: Y at-il jamais une disparité entre ce que vous avez l’intention d’écrire et ce que vous vous retrouvez avec?
Is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you end up with?
CB: Non, il n’ y a pas de disparité, car il y a des chansons qui viennent par inspiration; donc assez facile á écrire et à composer. Le plus difficile, c’est quand on vous impose une thématique. Mais on s’en sort toujours.
No, there is no disparity, because there are songs which come about from being inspired; therefore, it is quite easy to write and compose. The hardest (way to write) is when you impose a theme, but we keep doing (it).
DH: Que préférez-vous: enregistrer ou jouer en direct?
What do you prefer: recording, or playing live?
CB: Je préfère jouer en direct, puisque l’émotion est plus forte du fait d’être en contact avec le publique.
I prefer to play live, because the emotion is stronger when in contact with the public.
DH: À quel moment avez-vous sérieusement commencé à envisager une carrière en musique?
When did you start to seriously consider a career in music?
CB: J’ai commencé à envisager une carrière en 2003, quand j’ai intégré l’un des grands de hip-hop de l’époque, LÉGITIME BRIGADE.
I began to consider a career (in music) in 2003, when I joined one of the greats of hip-hop at the time, LÉGITIME BRIGADE.
DH: Y at-il quelque chose que vous souhaitez que vous aviez connu quand vous avez commencé à jouer de la musique?
Is there anything you wish you had known when you started playing music?
CB: Quand j’ai commencé la musique, j’avais toujours voulu entreprendre une carrière professionnelle riche en tournée dans différents pays, pour des échanges culturelles passionnantes: dans le partage et la réception des expériences.
When I started music, I had always wanted to start a professional career with lots of touring in different countries, for exciting cultural exchanges: the sharing and receiving of experiences.
DH: Où trouvez-vous des influences pour votre musique?
Where do you find influences for your music?
CB: Ma musique est influencé par des sonorités Téké (Cong-Brazzaville ) mais aussi par les rythmiques Bémbé ,Kongo et nzobi de mon pays le Congo.
My music is influenced by Teké sounds (Cong-Brazzaville) but also by the the Bémbé [popular in festivities and celebrations], Kongo and the Nzobi [a ceremonial practice of seeking healing through music and dance] rhythms of my country, the Congo.
DH: Quels artistes vous inspirent le plus?
Which artists inspire you most?
CB: Les artistes qui m’inspirent sont: Franklin Boukaka (Congo-Brazzaville); Femi Kuti ( Nigeria ), et Michael Jackson (USA).
The artists who inspire me are: Franklin Boukaka (Congo-Brazzaville); Femi Kuti (Nigeria), and Michael Jackson (USA).
DH: Qu’avez-vous prévu pour l’année à venir?
What are you planning for the year ahead?
CB: Pour la prochaine année , je prévois un spectacle de musique-chant-théâtre axé sur les citations de Nelson Mandela. D’ailleurs en 2012 j’ai crée *Martin Luther King, apôtre de la non violence*sur les textes de King,puis *Sony la bombe à hydrogène* sur les textes de Sony Labou Tansi; aussi un nouvel album est en vue.
For the upcoming year, I am planning a musical theatre show focused on the passages and quotes of Nelson Mandela; in 2012, I created “Martin Luther King, Apostle of Non-Violence”, (based) on King’s texts, then “Sony’s Hydrogen Bomb” on the texts of Sony Labou Tansi. Also, a new album is in sight
DH: Pouvez-vous voir la musique toujours être votre objectif principal?
Can you see music always being your primary objective?
CB: Oui, je compte continuer dans la meme lancé pour des projets artistiques diverses: le coaching, les ateliers…
Yes, I intend to continue in the same way for (completing) various artistic projects: coaching, workshops…
DH: Qu’écoutez-vous le plus actuellement?
What are you listening to at the minute?
CB: Actuellement , j’écoute Jacques Loubelo (Congo) et Asa ( Nigeria).
Currently, I am listening to Jacques Loubelo (Congo) and Asa (Nigeria).
DH: What’s your favourite song to play live?
DB: I like playing “Sudden Death”, which is a new one (and is literally being mixed right now), because it starts with a pretty long vocal intro, and it makes me feel really special.
DL: We don’t play it that often, but when we do I really love it because it’s more bass-oriented towards the end; “Kissing and Cuddling”, which is really fun to play and energetic, so I enjoy it.
MB: I’m the same as Dualta- anything fast works for me.
DB: I was going to say “Daggers” actually, because it makes people go crazy; it’s normally the last song and everybody loses their shit.
DH: How did you arrive at your current incarnation?
DB: There have been a lot of different line-ups. I’m the only founding member in the band at the minute. Five years ago, I started a band with a couple of friends of mine at school, and we were just like a garage band; we did covers and that, and then we starting writing some originals and doings some demos. So that was a three-piece, and the bassist and the drummer left, so Michael (Brown) came in to do drums, and we got another bass player, Jack, and we put out an EP called “Ethanol”, and we toured that- we went to England for the first time and whatnot. After that, when we came back, Michael and Jack left, and I met Dualta and Rhys.
DL: Rhys and I were out busking at Guildhall Square, and Dylan got chatting to Rhys after that, and Rhys was going to play bass with him and got in the band, but he didn’t want to play bass; he wanted to play guitar, so Rhys kind of knew me and I didn’t play in any other bands, so I came in on bass then. I knew Charlie too, who then played drums for-
DB: -maybe two and a half years? So we lasted for like a year with him and Rhys, maybe less, as musical differences got in the way. I wouldn’t say that we really started though, until after Rhys left- then Dualta and I started getting very seriously into it.
DL: We were playing loads and loads of shows; anything we could get.
DB: Yeah, we were writing and demoing flat out, trying to get ourselves out there, and then we did “Daggers”, which did quite well for us- we sold all the copies of it and we knew we were doing alright, and got some radio play.
DL: Did some festivals and stuff over the summer and all-
DB: -and at the end of the summer, we had our differences with Charlie, so we parted ways with him. After Michael had left, we’d stayed friends, and we went to tech together, so we were always hanging about, and he knew Dualta because he’d stood in on drums for a couple of gigs that Charlie couldn’t make, so we started jamming together.
We thought that we’d start a side project, us three, and then when Charlie left we thought, “Why not get Michael to play in this band?”.
DL: Michael jumped in with us halfway through a tour His first show was in one of the same venues that he’d stood in at before, so that was cool.
MB: I was off the plane from a holiday about six hours, and I went to bring these two presents that I’d brought back, because I always hung about with them, so I just brought them a load of tobacco, and they said, “Do you want to play show tonight?”, and I just said, “Aye, why not.”, so it was like “See everybody later, I’m away on tour!”.
DL: This is the “Lost Avenue” line-up now, definitely. It’s much tighter- the whole writing process and touring process, and everything about it works. This is the best it’s ever worked.
MB: We all get along too like, and that’s one of the main things you have to think about. Like if you don’t get along with somebody, how can you spend a week, or two weeks, in a room with them? We all get along, and it’s lethal craic.
DH: What, if anything are you doing differently with this release?
DB: For start, we’re spending a lot more time on it. The last time, when we did “Daggers”, we tracked four tunes in two days and mixed everything in a day; this time we tracked the two tunes in three days, and we’re probably going to take longer than a day to mix. We’re going to get them mastered by someone who’s done a lot of work with New Found Glory and a lot of pop-punk bands, and stuff like that in the States.
The way we’re releasing it too, we’re going to put it out on lathe cut, which is like a seven-inch single kind of shape.
DL: It’s not vinyl. It’s handmade, so every copy sounds slightly different.
MB: Even the way you put it onto a record player, you have to change the weight of the needle and all. It’s like a limited edition sort of thing that we’re going for.
DL: We’re only doing twenty of those. It’ll be online, and the download codes will be available for t-shirts and CDs and stuff, but we want to make these limited edition.
DB: We know who our fans are, and we know that they’ll appreciate having something that only they have.
DL: It’s more intimate.
DH: What are you learning from recording this time?
DB: We’ve learnt that the more time (spent recording) the better, but we’re also learning that less is more, in terms of stuff like how many overdubs you’re going to do. We’re letting it be a bit more natural.
DL: Before, we were all, “Distortion, distortion, distortion!” like, but it gets lost, and nearly sounds sloppy.
DB: Unless you have six months to sit and mix.
DL: I think this time as well, because we’ve worked with Chris (Cassidy) and Caolan (Austin) before, we’re more comfortable. We’ve got a really sound working relationship, so we’re not hesitant to voice our thoughts or opinions on the production. The sounds we were getting were good, but this time, being more involved with the production, we’re getting what we really want.
DB: We have a better understanding of how things should sound. Like last time, I was just, “Get the Marshall and Orange out and turn things up full with my Gibson!”, but this time it’s on the Vox, which is slightly more refined and it’s a cleaner amp, and – I’m not going to switch to it, because I couldn’t play a Fender live-, but I’ve been using a Telecaster here, and a Mustang quite a bit too.
DL: I’ve been using two basses too, and there’s some really good bass amps, but there’s others with guitar heads that produce more experimental sounds, because they give a good bit of distortion, but not so much that it’s getting lost. It sounds more like us, and more advanced.
MB: I used thirty five drums. This is my first time ever in a studio, and they do it live here, which is something else. It really does capture the energy, which there’s a lot of in these upcoming singles. I didn’t know how it would be in a studio, but you walk through the doors here and it feels like home, which makes everything so much easier. I think you’re able to play much better when it’s live; you’re less tense, and the thing with Chris and Caolan is that they’re patient. They want you to get it right.
DL: We’d never recorded with a click track before. We recorded “Daggers” with a click track, but the older stuff- we took it offline, so people aren’t able to hear it. So now, it’s far tighter, and just everything about the Smalltown studio is brilliant.
DH: “Lost Avenue” technically started out in 2010. Is there anything that you wish you’d known when you began to make music?
DB: When I started out, I didn’t know anything, and I’m glad I didn’t, because you can’t know anything unless you do it. We had a lot of fuckups; our first ever demo, which I don’t even recognise as being in existence-
DL: I’ve never heard it.
MB: Neither have I.
DB: – it was so shit. I sang in the worst Tom DeLonge type accent, and we printed about ten copies and sold them to our friends at school, and we just got the biggest amount of grief. But I have learnt that if you’re not one hundred percent proud of something, like if you don’t love this song more than you love any other song, then don’t put it out, because no one will care.
DL: I wish I knew how to play bass. I was playing in this band for nearly a year before I bought a bass. I was playing other people’s, and I didn’t really care about that aspect of it, but now I love it more than guitar or anything else. It takes a while in your head, because “it doesn’t sound as good as a guitar!”.
MB: I wish I knew I had to put a hundred percent in. The first time I was in “Lost Avenue”, I was giving it a good amount, but I wasn’t giving it a hundred percent, and now that I’m back I’m just throwing my everything at the band. Even with song writing, I’m throwing in ideas, which I haven’t done before, and in doing that, you feel much better about the song, because it makes you love the song.
DH: Are you proud of your previous releases?
DL: I’m proud of “Daggers”.
DB: No, I’m proud of “Ethanol”, because it-
DL: We got loads of press for that, in “Hot Press” and “Louder Than War”.
DB: -at the time I thought it sounded trashy, because I was listening to a lot of glossy pop-punk, but now that I’ve gotten into hardcore, stuff like “Minor Threat” and all, it’s made me realise that it doesn’t have to be amazing.
DH: Is song writing typically a solo or communal affair?
DB: It’s a mix.
DL: Dylan more often than not presents the idea, and comes in with a riff or idea, and then we’ll have a basic drumbeat to start, to get the structure of the song, and then I’ll come up with an idea that’s different from Dylan’s, and I’ll say, “I’ll play my idea and you play yours!”, so it saves us from having to pick, if I play my idea on bass and he plays his on guitar.
DB: Sometimes it sounds crazy-
MB: Sometimes it sounds terrible!
DL: Sometimes it does sound terrible, but in the whole song, there might be one bit in the middle that’s we’ll stick with and use somewhere.
DH: Generally, what comes first: the lyrics, or the music?
DB: Usually, I’ll write lyrics before anything else, but the melody will be there in my head, and I’ll know what the melody is, so I can try and jam it on guitar. So I’ll maybe have the lyrics and the melody and the chords, but know that it’s not a well-rounded song, so me and Dualta will normally come up with the music, and jam the verses and choruses from there, and Michael will flash it up a wee bit.
DL: We just keep playing it-
MB: While they’re doing that part, I’m in hibernation for about six months.
DL: He’s only been in the band for six months!
MB: No, they do their bit, and for the most part, while they’re doing that, I just sit back behind the kit and listen, and listen, and listen. They might be doing that for an hour, so I’m just sitting there listening, because the way I write my drums, nothing’s too complicated. You can’t go over the top, and when you do go over the top, there’s a way to make it sound right, and there’s a way that makes it like you’re showing off.
When I’m done listening, I’ll do a simple beat, and like Dylan says, it gets flashier, but it’s still not showing off. Any song that I’ve written with “Lost Avenue”, the drums are never the same as they were when we first played it. They always end up being completely different from what we start with, and it just keeps evolving, but it gets to a certain point where we say stop.
DL: I was playing something completely different (before recording) from what I’ve been playing in the studio. Given Chris and Caolan’s input as well, it always seems to evolve further in the studio. We go through about twenty five stages of a song.
DB: The only thing that stays the same throughout is the words.
DL: Even this time, some of the lyrics had to be altered slightly, to fit the timing.
DB: They tweak themselves. We’ve played these songs maybe thirty times before coming in here, at shows, and we don’t really use set lists. We have an opener and an ender, and we play the songs, and with everything we do live, we add in jams, and it’s all very spontaneous, so we might go afterwards, “You did something there that should be in the song.”, so we don’t sit down and go “We need to add this and that.”. Then, when we get into the studio – we’d sent demos to Chris and Caolan, so maybe they’d be like, “That’s good, but what about a double chorus?”- we alter things further.
MB: One of the things that I’ve liked about doing these singles is that Caolan himself is a drummer, so he really advised me on my playing and all. In “Sudden Death”, I’ve tweaked the drums in that, and instead of me shouting through to him, he actually came out and chatted to me for about five minutes. The key thing that Dylan said earlier too, about less is more, not going over the top; you don’t have to go over the top for it to sound tight. You don’t have to be going mad, and there was this part in “Sudden Death” that was really messy- we thought it was brilliant, playing it live and all- and it just sounded too messy in the studio, so Caolan’s really helped me strip it back, and it sounds much better now.
DL: The song writing for these two songs, because we demoed them, we were able to listen back, which we did a lot of times, so we could say, “That should be different.”, so the songs were nearly rewritten after they were demoed, and we were able to keep going back to them, which made a big difference.
(MB has to leave early)
DH: Is there ever any disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually come up with? If so, do you find that frustrating?
DB: I find it good, because usually every song I write is, in my head, a single.
DL: Like Dylan says, when I start off, everything that I write, I see as a single too, because Dylan and Michael are into things being a bit more experimental. I’m into shit music, like I love it, but the majority of people hate it. Just like, messy and discordant noise, like No Means No and Fugazi and that kind of thing. So Dylan will have-
DB: See, them two boys don’t, but I really appreciate pop music, like choruses and hooks and singing along and shit. I love Dischord (Records); I love Ian McKaye and Fugazi and No Means No and punk music, but I also love pop. Not pop like Nicki Minaj, but The Cure and The Smiths- good pop music. I like pop-punk too, and that sort of thing. So, for me, everything’s a single; if you listen to the Black album or Green Day, every song could have been a single.
DL: So Dylan writes a single, and there might be a noisy bit or a breakdown that I’ll come up with, like a tempo change or play it at half-time or something, so it makes it really sludgy.
DB: Sometimes we have stuff like that, and we think, “It’s good, but it’s not going to be a single”.
DL: Unless it’s really good.
DH: Have you ever written anything that you felt you couldn’t release? If so, why?
DL: There are loads of songs that we’ve completely forgotten about.
DB: Yeah, it used to be that if we wrote a song, we’d just record it and put it out. Since “Daggers”, we’ve written maybe twelve or fifteen songs that were all going to be this single.
DL: For a month and a half, maybe two months there, we were just churning out songs, and there were so many arguments about what we should record. The song “Killing Time” that we’re recording in here, we wrote that not that long ago, but we had to go back and do demos for it.
DB: Now that these songs are of a higher standard, we don’t feel like we can go back and put out songs that are good, but not of the same standard.
DH: When are you hoping to release these singles?
DB: We were thinking about doing it in September, but we had a chat with Caolan, and we’re now thinking about putting them out in the summer, because we’ll be doing festivals and whatnot, and we’re starting to tour in September and October- we’re doing the UK in September, and Ireland in October, and it’s going to be our biggest tour yet, so we can’t wait- so we’re thinking that we’ll put the singles out in June to build the hype-
DL: So that people will have something to listen to in the meantime.
DB: Then we’ll hopefully start mass printing it while we’re on tour- for us, mass printing is about 500 copies- and then take them on tour, but there’ll be download codes and stuff too, so we’ll maybe put the lathe cut ones out in June.
DL: More than likely, we’ll release these at the start of the summer, but up until yesterday, we were for releasing them in September, so-
DB: At some point in the next five years, they’ll be able to hear the songs. Saying that, we’ll probably play them to enough people in the meantime-
DL: Yeah, I’ll probably end up leaking them; sharing them on Facebook by accident or something.
DH: How did you come to be involved with Slop Records?
DB: That’s our own label.
DL: It’s just a platform for us to release our music. Dylan and I sat drinking every night for about two weeks, and were like, “Let’s make a record label!”, so we had a file block of notes and everything, and were all up for expanding it-
DB: -and then we realised that it was going to take money. Maybe in the future, but right now we’re at a point where we can’t go putting out other bands’ records-
DL: -because we’re so focused on or own stuff, there’d be no point.
DB: We still chat about getting other bands on board though, because we’d go see a show or someone would be supporting us, and we’d be like, “We should sign them!”, but in the meantime, it’s just us.
DH: It seems that you’ve been moving towards a more polished, but yet more traditional punk sound. Has that been a conscious decision on your part?
DB: It’s been extremely intentional. We got into hardcore and stuff like that, and different bands always change you to some degree, so “Daggers” was very much influenced by post-hardcore; bands like At The Drive-In and No Means No. Even a lot of local bands too-
DL: Yeah, Jetplane Landing and Fighting With Wire are two of my favourite bands.
DB: I think we’ve reached a point where we’ve gotten into so many bands that we’ve taken all that and moulded our sound.
DL: The stuff we’re releasing now isn’t post-hardcore; it’s Lost Avenue. We’re not trying to be anyone else; we still take influence from other things, because we love music, but now Lost Avenue is a definitive thing.
DH: Of all the groups that you tend to encounter, punk fans are probably the most puritanical in their approach to music. Do you find it difficult to make that kind of music without being accused of plagiarism?
DL: When you listen back, you can hear a lot of bands in our music.
DB: I don’t think we’re ripping anybody off, so it’s not really a problem. I think that with punk fans, there can be a lot of snobbery, and some seem to appreciate bands that are guilty of plagiarism, to some extent. I mean, they liked “Ethanol” because it sounds like a lot of other dirty garage bands, and they like it because they just like for being that kind of punk.
DL: Even with a lot of people that listen to British punk, like the Sex Pistols, don’t listen to American hardcore. For instance, I really like hardcore, but I don’t really like British punk.
DB: I have a book about American hardcore, and at the end they talk about what became of all the people involved in it, and it was like, “Ian McKaye, of the fantastic Minor Threat, went on to start a post-hardcore band that wasn’t as good called ‘Fugazi’.”, like, what?! They’re one of the best bands of all time! So there is a snobbery with punk, if something doesn’t fit and isn’t exactly what they want it to be.
DL: A lot of people are happy to listen to the same band over and over again, or even the same band in different formats, with different members.
DH: With that in mind, do you feel a certain pressure to sound a particular way?
DB: No, definitely not. It’s not something we care about, so if we come in with something that we don’t think sounds like us, we then think, “Well, we’d better get it out there.”.
DH: What do you prefer: recording, or playing live?
DB: Playing live. It’s what we do.
DL: I do like recording, because we don’t do it that often- say we spend four days recording, we spend the rest of our time practising and playing live- but for me, playing live is the best thing ever. Our first UK tour was the first time we felt like we were touring properly, like we were sleeping somewhere else every night. I mean, when you’re playing Ireland- we played in Cork, and we were going to drive home that night, but the car broke down so we slept in it instead- no matter where you are, you can drive home the next day and go onto the next show, whereas when we were in the UK, we were on public transport-
DB: -and getting to play a different city every night, and meeting so many different people. Being on the road too, with Michael and Dualta all the time, you get close, and you have a great time together.
DL: It gets to the point where we do feel like brothers.
DB: You get to know each other so well, and it’s so good- it’s like being on a never-ending holiday with your friends, which is the best part, and then playing the shows is a very close second best. It’s unbelievable to be able to play to people whose accent you’ve never even heard before. It’s especially strange too, because when we were in London, a load of people came and asked us for CDs, and that kind of hit us-
DL: We were like, “Are you serious?”.
DB: -I mean, living in what must be the musical capital of Europe, and they’re asking us for CDs; it was a good trip.
DH: What’s the best gig that you’ve ever played?
DL: Sandinos, last week or the week before. We had posters everywhere, but we were shitting ourselves a bit, like, “What if nobody comes?”, but everybody came, which was class.
DB: It was something like six people off capacity, and it was our headlining show, which is a big deal. It wasn’t our only ever sold out show, but it was the only sold out show that we were headlining. We’ve played sold out shows supporting and stuff, but that different because it was ours. For me, when we played in Manchester, that was the bee’s knees. We weren’t headlining, but we were playing in Aatma-
DL: It was the most non-venue venue that we’ve ever played. It was all boarded up, and you went in an alleyway, and then an even narrower alleyway, and then a fire exit. We were standing outside, asking people, “Do you know where Aatma is?”, and they were like, “Yeah, through that door.”.
DB: It was decent, and we were supporting D.O.A.- they were the first band to ever be called hardcore.
DL: It was over capacity by a hundred and five people, and capacity was maybe eighty five people, so it was a real mess.
DB: Headlining Whelan’s was a great gig too- we were playing the small room, and it’s some spot. We’d played Cork with a band called Fangclub from Dublin, and they were nice guys, so they gave us the name of the guy to get.
DL: There were about a hundred and fifty people there, so it wasn’t like the wee room in Sandinos!
DH: What about your worst gig?
DL: There’s never a bad gig. Sometimes there’s a bad crowd- one time we played at a festival to two people- but that was still one of the best gigs ever.
DB: I’ve never played on that I’d call a bad gig, because-
DL: At the end of the day, we’re still playing somewhere, and that’s what we want to do. So there have been gigs that have been badly run-
DB: Everything could go to shit; we might not have been paid, there might have been nobody there, or everybody might have been a shit, but-
DL: Sometimes all those things happen at the same gig, and it still wouldn’t be a bad show. All gigs are the best gigs- you’ve got to enjoy yourself!
DH: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of making music?
DL: Probably getting people on board, sometimes, but not so much live, because everyone’s into- especially in Derry- music, but there’s not so many people into our kind of thing, but it seems like people are coming round and getting into heavier stuff. Maybe I’m wrong, but it does seem to be coming back- before, people who would listen to the music that we like would maybe just have sat in the house when we were playing, but now they’re coming to our shows, which is great.
DH: What was the first song that you ever learned to play?
DL: I played piano first, but that doesn’t count, because I didn’t really play songs, but on guitar I learnt “Time For Heroes” by the Libertines. I still don’t know many songs on bass- I’ve only played bass with Lost Avenue, and I only play it at practice- I don’t play it in between, but we practice so much that it doesn’t really matter, and it’s not worth my while taking my stuff home like!
DB: I learnt “One” by Metallica, but I probably couldn’t play it now.
DL: I used to always play covers before I was in a band; I’d just sit in my room and play all this stuff that I definitely couldn’t play now.
DB: I never like playing other people’s songs. We’d be the worst cover band in the world.
DL: Some days at practice, we’ll be messing around and be like, “Ah, we’ll play that!”, and then we can’t, so we just go back to all the Lost Avenue stuff.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
DL: Shite. No Means No, Descendents, Fugazi.
DB: At the minute, I’m listening to At The Drive-In a lot, because of the reunion and all. I still listen to blink-182 all the time- no shame.
DL: Smashing Pumpkins as well.
DB: Yeah, Smashing Pumpkins. The newest album is good; some of the stuff on the album is quite like Machina, but there’s one tune on the album called “One And All”- it’s just so Mellon Collie, which is good.
DL: Dirty guitar and dirty bass- it’s so grungy.
DB: Mellon Collie’s just unbelievable. Adore too- I think it’s so underappreciated.
DL: Siamese Dream too, it’s briliiant. “Mayonaise” is probably one of my favourite songs of all time.
DB: A bit of Guns N’ Roses too. I’ve been listening to the Use Your Illusion albums again-
DL: They’re class.
DB: A bit of Fall Out Boy too, actually. Just before we started tracking in here, in the week running up, every day after we practised- we pretty much practised constantly- we’d sit in the practice room when we were done and go round the house and play every CD, just to see what sounds good. So we ended up listening to everything, in my room with all the CDs from like, primary school, lying, so “From Under the Cork Tree” and stuff.
DL: Every blink album.
DB: That, and the new Pixies’ album- I think “Indy Cindy” is great.
DL: We listened to a load of different things, because we wanted to figure out how this would sound.
DB: We listened to a lot of Jetplane (Landing), actually.
DL: Yeah, Dylan got me a Jetplane CD for my birthday. I mean, the singer’s downstairs- it’s so weird.
DB: It’s not weird- you’re not like a fan girl or something!
DL: No, it is weird! It’s strange to think that on the way up in the car, I was listening to Jetplane, and I was for walking into Jetplane’s building .
DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked?
DL: Ah, stuff on direct influences?
DH: Go for it!
DB: For me, probably in terms of lyrics- Billy Corgan, big time. Black Francis, when it comes to lyrics too- they’re both geniuses. Even in the way he (Francis) is singing. We were sitting- last night or the night before?- listening to Doolittle. Axl Rose, just as a singer- like it makes me want to be better. I think, in terms of guitar- Tom DeLonge. See if you listen to their self-titled album? There’s a lot of good stuff on that. All round, and as a performer, Laura Jane Grace from Against Me!. She’s unbelievable; I’d say she’s my favourite all-round performer. They’re one of my favourite bands of all time.
DL: For me, Rob Wright from No Means No. Big, dirty bass tones-that’s where we got the idea to use the guitar head. All the bass players that were in Descendents; all of them were amazing.
DB: The first one was the best.
DL: Tony Lombardo, wasn’t it? He was class. But yeah, that’s probably it. Michael would probably have said, for him, Travis Barker.
DB: Yeah, blink-182 and hip-hop. He loves hip-hop. I’m not really that into it, but it’s his thing. Classic rock, too.
DL: Yeah, John Bonham. And Atom Willard, from Against Me!. He did some stuff for the Offspring and on Weezer’s green album, so he’d be another one.
The Autocratic’s debut single, “Beluga”, is a highly promising release, with a seismic whopper of a riff and a pounding pace that will have you air drumming for days.
Consisting of Connall Ennis (bass and lead vocals), Odhran Bryson (guitar and backing vocals), and Conor O’Kane (drums and backing vocals, the alt-rock trio have spent the last few months making waves and playing gigs in and around their native North Coast.
Evocative of old school Arctic Monkeys by way of ‘80s surf-punk, “Beluga” is an undoubtedly killer tune, practically spilling over with meandering basslines, mean vocals and some superlative shredding. Going on this incredible initial track, The Autocratic will definitely be worth watching in the coming months, so if unconventional takes on traditional rock structures and contagious choruses sound like your kind of thing, you’d better get on board.
Beluga is now available to stream exclusively on Deadheading.
Deadheading got to talk to William Doyle of East India Youth before his first show in Belfast about playing his last “Culture of Volume” shows, Brian Eno, and gardening.
DH: What’s your favourite song to play live?
WD: “Hinterland”, probably. It’s a bit obvious, maybe, but it’s like the dance peak of the set, and I’ve worked out a way to play it that it’s kind of different every time. It’s a very malleable thing- some of the songs are a bit more rigid, and that’s fine, but with “Hinterland” I’ve gotten to that point of the set where I can just let go and sort of enjoy it, I think it makes a big difference, so that’s always going to be my favourite to play. It really gets the blood pumping, so yeah.
DH: Are you sick of playing “Culture of Volume” yet, and do you find that having to continually engage with each song has changed how you perceive them?
WD: I am, yeah. It’s been so long now; the first album came out the year before last, and it was about a year before “Culture of Volume” came out, so it’s just been non-stop touring. I’m not bored or sick of it, I’m just having to invent new ways to make it interesting again, I think, and it’s getting harder and harder as the tour sort of winds down. I’ve been doing this version of the set for a year, like what with the gear and stuff I’ve got on stage, so it’s time for a change, but it’s a bit late in the day to bring in a massive C change now.
I was sound checking some of my old songs that I haven’t played for a while today, but it didn’t feel right. There’s always a mixture of the two records, but I was going to play the “Total Strife Forever”, the sweeps, the instrumental strings, but it’s not quite where I thought it was. I haven’t played it in a year and a half, maybe, so I’m a little bit rusty with it, but I’m quite keen to bring back that part of what I do, just offset the pop moments with something that bit more abrasive.
I just think that the pop thing hasn’t worked out as well as they thought it would. I love pop music, and I always think there will be a melodic focus to what I’m doing, and I just thought after working on things that would become “Culture of Volume”, it was like, oh, it seems like it’s becoming more of a vocal-led album and it’s more pop-focused, but the longevity hasn’t really been there with the material in quite the same way.
In terms of how I feel about the material, I feel there’s some moments of “Culture of Volume” that I love, and there’s other moments that really aren’t doing it for me any more. Like “Beaming White”, it just seems like this empty shell of a song to me. I think that one was the main pop experiment, and I wanted to do a Pet Shop Boys sort of thing, and I think it worked, but what it’s loosely about doesn’t really hold much of my interest now.
With “Culture of Volume”, I don’t really feel like the person that made that album any more, even though the period during making “Total Strife Forever” was much weirder and more emotionally ridiculous, I feel like it’s closer to my intentions generally. The thing is, the idea that every statement you make artistically is this definitive thing that you have to stand by forever is kind of crazy, you know, your feelings develop, so I might feel differently about that.
I went through a bit of a rut with “Total Strife Forever” for a while, and I guess your opinions change and playing things live over and over again, they develop in different ways. I’m all about having a relationship with the songs; they’re not just this passive blob of a thing.
Maybe not with “Culture of Volume”, because I think it’s still too new to have that distance from it. “Total Strife Forever” has renewed itself in ways I didn’t think it was going to. There were songs like “Turn Away” that I feel, like, some of the lyrics were things came true after I’d written it, rather than things that happened while I was writing it, which is a bizarre thing to happen, but it happened a couple of times with that album, and maybe that’s why I have this weird emotional relationship with it, because “Total Strife Forever” was all about that moment and what happened prior to it, whereas “Culture of Volume” still feels like it predicted things going forward.
You can’t not draw from personal experience- I don’t write fiction or narrative based stuff, but obviously I don’t really like to ascribe one song as being this particular moment or memory or person or whatever, like they’re influenced by those things, but they’re a bit more abstract in that, I think that’s what I wanted to do. You paint an atmosphere rather than try to capture a specific moment, maybe.
DH: Do you find that you approach writing with more of an ambient sensibility than anything else?
WD: Yeah, for me, it’s all about creating an environment. Eno’s always a good example of someone who’s able to create an environment with what they do. Everything’s interpreted by people, and that’s what it’s there for rather than you forcing a meaning onto someone else, you give them enough tools and they’re able to build this environment themselves, so that’s more exciting to me.
DH: What made you decide to add vocals to “Culture of Volume”?
WD: Playing live, and getting more comfortable with my voice and enjoying that aspect of it, and in the next one too, you know you’re going to end up touring the next thing for a year or however long, and I wanted to convey that a bit more live. It was a challenge as well; I pushed my voice a lot more than I did previously. It’s just grown into this thing that I didn’t really think it would, like I love singing, it’s one of my favourite things to do, so I just wanted to create more opportunities for me to do it, I guess.
DH: What comes first when you write songs, the lyrics or the melody?
WD: Melody, always. I hated putting lyrics to songs before, but I’ve worked out a new way to do it; because I haven’t been able to write too much music on the road, I’ve been writing a lot more poems and stuff like that, and I’ve been training my brain to write things down within that form, and you start to worry less about rhythm and rhyme and stuff like that. The words are more important, so I’ve been writing them first and then fitting them before I’ve even written the rest of the song sometimes. It’s just attacking it from a different side, it’s been so much more enjoyable lately, and the words are so much better at the moment, so that’s good. I’m glad I’ve been able to figure that one out because I really hated writing the lyrics sometimes.
I got most stuck on “Beaming White”, and maybe that’s it, it’s always the easiest songs that flow out of you, like “Heaven How Long” and “Carousel” are my two favourite songs of mine, in terms of everything they give, and they’re the ones that happened the easiest, I suppose.
Things change so much anyway- sometimes the song has been written and then the arrangement changes or maybe it becomes a different style of track, so I don’t know, it’s a fluid thing.
DH: How much do you use oblique strategising as a means of writing?
WD: Not very much. I actually told Eno that I don’t find it that helpful! They’re interesting, and I think as time’s gone on I’ve employed them more than I would have otherwise, but I think they’re things that I memorise, but when you use them in the traditional way and pull them out randomly, I actually don’t find them that helpful then, I find them frustrating, because it’s sometimes like, “Go outside and shut the door.”, and I know it’s meant to promote lateral thinking, but I can’t really interpret that one.
Some of them have made a lot more sense to me over time; at the moment what we do in my house, I stick them on the front porch, and when you open the front door there’s two doors that go into the living room, so we’ve got one on each door at the moment, so we shift them around a bit, and when you come in you think about them , and they’ve helped more in terms of that, but I didn’t use them a lot during “Culture of Volume”.
DH: You met Brian Eno. How did you find that experience?
WD: It doesn’t really get much better than that for me. In terms of people, I think I’ve learnt more from him than from any other artist, you know, from reading their interviews and getting into their music and stuff like that, so that was kind of it for me, but then again, it’s always the people that you don’t expect to have an impact on you that do.
DH: I hadn’t realised that you play everything yourself during live shows. Do you find it liberating or frustrating to be the only one on stage?
WD: The more into it you get, the more you forget that you’re the only person up there. It depends how well the show is going really, if the crowd are into it then I find myself in my own space, and it doesn’t make much difference that there aren’t any other people up there. There’s a lot to do, but you get used to it. It took some time initially, especially with the set up that we’ve got now- I think we debuted this set up this time last year, so we’ve just been doing that, but at that point it was like, “There’s so much to do, there’s drum bits here, and bass guitar!”- but now it’s more like second nature, and I enjoy it a bit more, but I think it’s always important to keep changing it up. The next record will be a different thing; there might be other musicians as well, but I think that’s going to take a long time to come together, as I haven’t formed a super group in my head yet, so we’ll see how it goes.
DH: What are you planning to do with your time off?
WD: Carry on working actually, but just not touring. I’m setting up some collaborations at the moment, writing with other people, trying to do bits and pieces like that, but I’m doing all the visuals myself for the next project, so it’s going to take a while, because I’m out of my depth with that stuff. I don’t know what I’m doing with it, so I’m taking a year to do it, so yeah, maybe I’ll actually go on a holiday or something like that, but that seems like a weird idea- it’d be nice to go somewhere on holiday rather than go there to play a gig.
DH: You were previously a member of “Doyle and the Fourfathers”. Do you miss being in a band?
WD: No. I mean, I miss the guys, but I don’t miss being in that band. I miss playing with other musicians regularly, like that is an exciting thing to do, and it’s a shame that I haven’t been able to work that into what I do now, but it’s a necessity really. Like I say, hopefully I will be doing more of that. But no, I think the problem with that band is, and any band you’re in your teens, it was like, “We’re going to get signed!”, and all that, and there’s an aspiration to do those things, which is great, because that keeps you going, but also you miss the point as to what’s enjoyable.
If I was to do something like that now, it would have to be more of a non-committal thing, and I’d have to enjoy doing it, because I just stopped enjoying being in a band, but I do miss playing with people. With that band, I was 18 or 19, and it was all ego- like you don’t realise it at the time, but when you grow up you realise how stupid you might have been at some points, but I’m over that now.
DH: What was the first song that you ever learnt to play?
WD: I started off on violin actually, because it was available to learn at school. I guess it gave me that basic knowledge of frets to transfer onto guitar. I couldn’t play it now, but I think it was Scarborough Fair (on the violin), but the first song that I learnt on guitar was probably Green Day or something.
DH: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music professionally?
WD: A gardener. Some friends asked me this recently, because it was part of a conversation that we were having, so I don’t know, there’s something similar between cultivating something and trying to put beautiful things out into the world, which is what I think you’re always trying to do with making art, but there’s less judgement with gardening- like, no one’s going to have a go at you on Twitter, or at least if they did, you’d have to respect them for it.
DH: Do you find that using software helps or inhibits the creative process?
WD: Helps, but only because I’m used to it. I’ve been playing with it for like ten years now, since I was fourteen or fifteen, I just had some software and didn’t really know what I was doing, so I started off with and still love Cubase. It’s through necessity that you learn it, so I now find it easy to translate ideas into reality using software. I’m not really a hardware or gear person, like I don’t own any synthesisers really and I’m not interested in doing it. Ryan (Vail) was talking to me about the gear that he’s got set up on stage, and I’m like, “It looks cool to do me, and this can do some cool stuff!”, but I’m just not really interested in it. I don’t even consider myself as an electronic musician really, I think of myself as a songwriter, I suppose, and I’ve used electronic music as the vehicle for that.
DH: When did you first get into electronic music?
WD: Just through playing with software and stuff, really, I just happened upon electronic sounds. I didn’t really listen to electronic music at the time- maybe it was Beck or someone like that, or the idea of all that overlay and sampling and stuff like that, it came more through that. I mean “(Midnite) Vultures” is quite an electronic record in itself as well, and “The Information” was too, but there wasn’t a particular moment. I mean, I’ve had plenty of epiphanies with it, but I don’t think of it as being electronic music always, because I don’t really think of Eno as being wholly electronic- he’s an artist who uses synthesis and stuff, but I don’t think of it as being electronic. I think we’re able to use software in a way to build error into things now, and that gives it this human quality. I think building that into it is important to do always, because it creates interesting, unpredictable moments, and that’s what leads you to conclusions, and that’s what makes things sound human when you’re dealing with electronic music and synthesis and software.
DH: What’s been the most frustrating aspect of being a musician professionally?
WD: Touring. I enjoy it, and you make it work for you, definitely, but I’ve found it frustrating in the last year or so that I haven’t been able to write or create on the road, and like, you fly into somewhere the day before the show, you play the show, and you fly back out afterwards, and it takes you three days to do one gig, and I can’t do any other work, and you barely see any of the places that you go to.
I don’t like to be moaning, because I do get to go to such incredible places and meet brilliant people and play to wonderful audiences, and that’s the best part of it, but sometimes the more tedious parts do start to outweigh all that. But it’s just another creative challenge to be able to solve, “How can you make this interesting for yourself?”, so we just try to go and see as much as we can whenever we can, eat interesting food and try interesting beers and whatever. We’ve had an amazing time the last three years, touring together, but it’s just that the touring doesn’t always agree with what I want to do creatively.
DH: What are you listening to at the minute?
WD: I had a good listen to “Blackstar” today. It’s really good, it’s brilliant. It’s a shame that he didn’t release more weird stuff like that until the end, because it had so much to offer, it’s a really strange album. Like “The Next Day” had some weird parts, but it was straightforward, and this has atonal sax solos, and the phrasing of the vocal is completely off from what’s happening in the rhythm section, but it’s just a really dense and beautiful thing, and it feels like a shame that he wasn’t doing more of that. No one’s made a record that sounds like that.
So that mainly, at the moment going back to an album called “Quarantine” by Laurel Halo, she’s amazing, she’s one of the best, and that album especially has been one of the most important records for me the last few years, so I gave it a bit of a break, but it’s an amazing record, and it’s got one of the best album covers that I’ve ever seen. It’s quite a weird record, but it’s incredible.
DH:Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
WD: Eh, no. Don’t think so!
You can buy Culture of Volume at http://eastindiayouth.co.uk/ and catch East India Youth’s last Irish performance until 2017 at the Button Factory in Dublin.
Deadheading was thrilled to catch up with the creative powerhouse that is Daveit Ferris to talk about his latest (and naturally, colossal) project, 365 Sparks, in which he will release an original song for every day of 2015.
DH: What appealed most to you about the idea of 365 Sparks?
DF: The grandiosity and sheer scale, knowing it’s a unique project, the
challenge itself and knowing I’d better myself in a lot of different music related
facets. To be honest, absolutely everything was appealing about it
and I was as excited as a little kid at Christmas whilst assembling all the
ideas for it in the early planning stages circa November 2013. I’ve always
written an absolute tonne of songs but I’ve never been as prolific as I’d
like to be on the recording side. I’ve lost hundreds of songs simply by
never recording or writing them down, and eventually I wound up
forgetting they ever existed. It simply was time for me to live up to my
potential and do something really BIG.
DH: What made you decide to make it a reality?
DF: Coming close to dying in October 2013 with something called Supraglottitis
completely changed my outlook on life. I know that sounds as cliched as a
Nicholas Sparks movie, but it’s the first time I’ve ever truly been close to not
existing. Prior to this happening, I’d almost convinced myself that I had all
the time in the world to finish my collection of projects and as a result, I have
hoarded hundreds of half-written scripts, almost-completed novels, poetry
books, websites, graphic books, etc… that are soundly asleep on various hard
drives. This incident made me realise that my life is totally finite and I need
to be completing these projects and not half-doing 50 at one time. I decided
that my next project would be my sole focus and I’d complete it before giving
my full attention to the next thing.
DH: Do you like the independence that comes with releasing and distributing
these songs by yourself?
DF: I decided from the planning stage that I wanted this project to be completely
DIY. There was no bravado or arrogance involved in this decision, just a
realisation that I could and therefore I should. Also, due to the time sensitive
nature of the project, I didn’t want to be involving other folks just in case of
cancellations and postponements. I’ve always been happiest when in full
control of my creative output, so meandering down that independence line is
very comfortable at this stage. I’m obviously biased, but I’d question
musicians who are happy to relinquish control of any side of their output
without being involved in some capacity – from the songs and mixing, to the
artwork and website design- all those things are extremely important to at
least be a small bit involved in.
DH: All of the songs contain autobiographical elements, but to varying degrees: do you find it difficult to determine what you are comfortable sharing with
the public? Is it hard to draw a line?
DF: When I look back at my lyrics in all my previous bands, it’s abundantly clear
that I was not comfortable singing about myself at all. Almost all my
previous lyrics were peppered with artistic jargon that just served to mask
that they were all about me in some shape or form. ‘Write REAL lyrics’ was
actually one of the lines that I scribbled on my whiteboard before I started
the project, so it was a conscious decision to not conceal my true feelings,
ideas and stories under a smorgasbord of clever words and witty phrases- I
really wanted to be open about everything. I touch on depression, cancer,
rejection, family matters, anger- there’s no way I could have done that
before this turning point in my life- 365 Sparks could have only happened in
2014/2015 because until then, I simply wasn’t ready to be honest, lyrically.
There were lines that I did eventually redact, but literally the only time this
happened was when I felt that the person I was writing about might take
offence and be hurt by my words or memory- there’s always other options in
songwriting and sometime the punk-rock thing to do is not be a dick for the
sake of being a dick.
DH: When you could have focused on any number of creative ventures (for
instance, your poetry) why did you decide to prioritise 365 Sparks?
DF: Poetry poses absolutely no challenge to me at this point and I’m sure there’s
good folks reading this that will feel the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I
love writing poetry and still do very frequently, but it doesn’t enthrall me the
way songwriting and recording do. Before settling on 365 Sparks, I was
planning on making an indie film. I know that sounds as pretentious as hell,
mainly because I don’t know the first thing about how to do this- but that’s
what I’m all about. I wanted to go out and learn a completely different set of
skills and exist in a completely separate universe than the musical one I’ve
always known. I haven’t given up this idea though and was pleasantly happy
with the material I developed during those few months… Never say never!
I’m just one of those guys who wants to be on his deathbed knowing he’s
created music, poetry, books, films, websites etc etc- as opposed to just lots
of music- you know?
DH: Do you actively seek inspiration for your songs, or are you more spontaneous in your approach to writing?
DF: Honestly, I don’t really make concrete plans to sit down and write all that
much. I know that’s laughable coming from me of all people, but generally
my only struggle is choosing what I’ll write about as I usually either want to
write about butterflies fighting volcanoes or clocks pretending they can
speak Latin. I don’t recall ever trying to specifically coax inspiration from
the world to inspire a song, but I have paused movies hundreds of times in
my life in order to write a song about a new feeling that came from that
moment. I’m inspired by absolutely everything about our world. I find that
when I feel like writing that I have ample topics to spin words around. I’m
just always receptive to being creative and that keeps me away from the
dark gloom of writer’s block- besides, I’m one of the few that believes you
should write your way out of writers block – as confusing as that may seem!
DH: Is it difficult for you to write about personal matters?
DF: It used to be impossible. I think when we’re younger, we’re all trying to
cover the flaws and pretend we’re basically perfect- and whilst that facade
can work for a short time, it’s a tough world to live in and stay connected
with. My remedy for this in the past was basically to sing about other people
as opposed to, ‘Here are my feelings about ..’- I just didn’t want to be
perceived as weak for doing so. That’s early 20’s, now in my very late 20’s
it’s a completely different story. I actually enjoy the songs in which I’m
talking about really personal stuff, and those will likely be the songs I carry
forward from this project and play in a live setting because I can feel a small
electric buzz on my bones each time I sing them. I wish I could have gotten to
the honesty stage in my music a long time ago, but it just took me longer than
most to destroy that wall and expose my flaws for all to see.
DH: What comes first: the lyrics, or the music?
DF: It changes so frequently that it’s impossible to answer. At this point in my
creative life, I’ve written a song pretty much every single way one could’ve
been written. Both have pros and cons. I love writing lyrics first because I
usually end up with alternating melodies due to the uneven syllable count on
the lines, this means that each line usually has something the previous
didn’t, and that can keep the listener’s attention a lot more vs a completely
symmetrical set of melodies perpetually grinding away. Writing music first
can be fantastic too though, because on something like ‘Animal
Liberation’ [which is rock-metal riffs galore], I just decided to riff it up from
the start and not even stop to consider the vocals. When it came time to lay
down some vocals, I had no choice but to find something that fit because the
music was already complete, this alone threw me in a new direction.
DH: Has your song writing process changed much since this project?
DF: My songwriting process, editing, arranging, mixing, mastering [and 1,000
other relevant things]… have all improved 100x within this single project.
Those all are positive outcomes I was hoping to get from doing this so
intensely for two years, so it’s worked out nicely. In terms of writing, I’ve
pushed myself down roads I’d never have gone down before simply because I
didn’t want to write 365 rock songs. It was not only fun, but very
interesting to see a whole different side to music. I’m way more interested in
electronic music than I was when I started because I listened to a lot for
sonic inspiration during 2014.
DH: Have you ever written anything and felt that you couldn’t release it?
DF: Within this project? Sure. In letting my lyrical guard down for these 365
songs, there were definitely moments when the guard completely fell and
exposed things a little too much. I became too open in songs and as a result I
did scrap a lot of lyrics and start new ideas where their ghosts were. As
someone who has always added a protective atmosphere above their lyrical
intention, this was brand new ground and I needed to dig into that soil and
truly find the depths before I could settle on a comfortable place that slept in between honesty and personal comfortability.
DH: You previously enjoyed success with bands such as The Mascara Story and
Telephone Bruises. Do you miss being part of a band? Is it something that
you would ever consider doing again?
DF: A band in it’s organic state is not something I’d be interested in doing at this
point. I don’t really feel designed to be an equal music shareholder in a
collective creative endeavour. I’m so intense about music that it has made
former members uncomfortable. As i alluded to earlier, I like to have my
hands in all facets of what a band is, from the writing, to production, to the
graphics and website- I don’t really leave much room for other opinions
because of that. I don’t apologise for being this way and I couldn’t change my
behaviours even if I wanted to – but I definitely can appreciate that this setup
wouldn’t be ideal for other musicians. I mean, I am the guy that left an
early band simply because the band already had it’s main songwriter and I
wanted to have my songs heard- so i can hardly speak negatively about this.
There’s nothing I love more than seeing bands that are all great friends and
truly sharing something special together – in fact, I envy that a lot – but it’s
just not how it’ll work with me and history shows that, many times over. To
be completely frank, i have outworked and out-passioned every musician
I’ve ever worked with and most of them have told me as much, so I don’t feel
bad repeating this to you. This isn’t to say I’m even in the top 5 ‘most
talented’ of those aforementioned, but my intensity has been there from the
very first day. I mention this because I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not
going to find another ‘me’ with that matching intensity, and more to the
point, it’s not fair on me to judge others based upon my intensity- it just
can’t work that way anymore. When I do eventually get a new band together,
it will be musicians hired to help me bring my music live. Think of the way
Dashboard Confessional, The Rocket Summer and even John Mayer work-
it’s just one person with a changing sideshow of wonderful musicians
helping to bring their sound to the stage. I have huge respect for
collaborating bands- I don’t want to be seen as bagging them all just because
it doesn’t work for me- it’s just not the right fit for me and that’s why I’m
exploring a different avenue this time around.
DH: Was it always important to you that you released your music under your real name?
DF: Not at all. In fact, it was totally accidental. My idea was always to use my
name as my central hub of creativity and rebrand all my creative
departments as something different. The moment it changed was in
mid-2007 when I was trying to make a band called ‘Telephone Bruises’ work
out. It simply wasn’t working despite a lot of effort. So instead of moping
around, I wrote 10 songs, booked a studio in Lisburn and moved down there
for a week to record a new album. The only instrument I didn’t play was the
drums, I hired a session drummer for that. I showed the ‘Telephone Bruises’
members my finished album and it got approval from them all. I decided to
brand the release as Telephone Bruises even though no member other than
myself had any involvement. I saw it as a kickstarter to help the band find
their buzz and to have something to build upon; but it didn’t really change
anything internally. Ultimately i wound up rebranding it under my own
name as initially intended and that kickstarted the ‘solo’ era for me. The
next year, I released five solo albums and my first poetry book; so you could
say it felt really great to be working at the creative level I wanted to for such
a long time.
DH: Are you planning on recreating any of the songs from 365 Sparks live?
DF: Absolutely. My plan is to hire a live band to help me bring the best of the
music live. I’m going to call it 365-alive – did you see what I did there? The
great thing about having done so much music is that there’s not a looming
deadline for playing live, you know? When bands release a 4-track EP in
January, they kind-of have to be out playing in January- I don’t feel that
pressure due to the sheer amount I’ve released, and that’s cool. I have missed
playing live a lot over this last year – and that’s really been some of the first
times I’ve yearned to be back on stage since the Mascara Story days. It’s a
new feeling. I think it stems from confidence in my new work and new found
confidence in myself as a person, not a musician, but as a person. I love that I
have enough songs from this project to do a rock set or an acoustic set of
completely different material- that’s exciting for me. But how in the world
am I going to choose that first setlist? Paper in a top hat?
DH: How important is creative control to you?
DF: It’s critically important. I want my work to represent me fully. I’ve talked
about it before in interviews, but it’s so vital. There almost seems to be a
stigma around folks like myself who want to have a hand in every single
aspect of their output- that we’re arrogant, egotistical and narcissistic- I see
it very differently and think we’re just hard workers. Just to be clear, I’m
not saying that if you literally have never used Photoshop before, that you
should make your album cover in Microsoft Paint and release it to the world- being DIY extends to being the one delegating other creative and talented
people in various roles, and you’re still involved in the process. There’s a
hundred things I’d hire someone to do before doing it myself. I think too
many musicians give themselves a get-out-of-jail-free card and then go and
spend the rest of the week with their x-box. I’m not preaching from my
soapbox here, but I’ve seen this happen and heard it happen a lot.
DH: Did you feel a significant amount of pressure (due to the scale of 365 Sparks) whilst writing, or was it an enjoyable experience?
DF: Songwriting is my passion, so I’m always happy when I’m working on
creating something new in that realm. I’ve written thousands of pieces over
the years so I knew I’d not falter in regards to the writing component of the
project. The recording side was where my self-doubt lay as although I’ve
recorded myself before, I’ve never really brought it to this level before.
There was a lot to learn and I’m still learning all the time, but there’s enough
there that I’m constantly interesting in learning. The writing was a really
enjoyable experience, except for the days when the sun was melting the
streets and i was stuck in my studio couch trying to come up with something
new whilst having heat stroke. Fun!
DH: What was the most difficult aspect of this project (either personally, or as an artist) for you?
DF: It was incredibly, incredibly stressful. It’s impossible to feel progress is
being made when the goal is so huge. I remember finishing my 10th song and
thinking, ‘Wow! that’s an album already’… then I panicked when I realised
there was 355 songs to go- it just seemed like a huge mountain to climb.
There were times it seemed insurmountable and a few times I felt like
throwing in the towel and just admitting defeat, but they were few and far
between and all i needed was to escape the studio for a few hours to reset my
focus and recharge my batteries. The only other thing I’d mention is that it
got very lonely after a while. As much as it was my design for this to be a DIY
project, it just became emotionally lonely to see no other humans for most of
the day, every day, all year. That was tough after a few months and never got
DH: At what point in your life did you begin to take song writing seriously?
DF: There’s a story behind this and I touched upon it a little earlier with you. My
first real proper band was called ‘FutureReal’. I was singing for a school
band for fun when the guys from FutureReal heard me singing at an end-of-year
concert for the entire school. They were planning on replacing their
singer as it turned out and so, I got the job. I was super buzzed at this
opportunity and intent on making the most of it. I was around 15 at the time
and solely just the singer of the band. We’d rehearse often and play live
shows often and I was obsessed with the mechanics of the band. I got bought
an electric guitar for my birthday and was instantly obsessed with it. I took
a different route to other guitarists I knew, in that I taught myself from day
one [pre-having internet at home/YouTube] and that I only ever worked on
my own songs rather than learn the usual classics.
After a year+ of writing these songs, I felt confident enough to take some ideas to the band in the
hopes that we could integrate some of my songs into the set. I felt that a lot of
them had potential. However, I was told on multiple occasions that the band
had a primary songwriter and that was that. This really gave me no other
option but to leave the band because my writing was improving week by
week and i knew it was only a matter of time before I was writing brilliant
songs as opposed to good songs. I’ve been obsessed with the art ever since.
DH: Will music always be your primary focus?
DF: Possibly. Probably not in terms of the ‘artist’ angle, but more likely as a
writer or producer or something of that nature. The problem with the artist
angle is that it’s so damn unsustainable as a ‘career’ that it’s not clever to
put all your eggs in that basket anymore. It’s becoming harder and harder to
monetise music and the marketplace is becoming saturated with so much
noise that although the digital opportunities are 1000x better than they
were ten years ago … there’s also 1000x the amount of bands vying for those
spots and that attention. It’s really cut-throat. To be absolutely honest, the
other angles I mentioned are very exciting to me. I really want to push to get
into that writing circle of names that decorate the back of album booklets
and have already made some solid connections in that field. Likewise, I’ve
totally fallen head over heels with audio production and I’d love to start
producing albums by other bands once I get myself a larger studio space. I’m
confident I’ll forever exist doing something related to music – it’s where my
DH: Was a career in music always your end goal?
DF: Oh, for sure. When I was a kid I had a lot of fleeting passions; wrestling,
football, snooker… but once I really got into music I was obsessed every day.
I remember being introduced to so many great rock records by my sister’s
boyfriend, Kevin. I’d often go down to their house and just sink into their
sofa whilst playing records all day long- there was no distractions other
than the lyric booklet in my paw- it was all about the music. I knew then
that whatever i did in life would have some connection to music.
DH: Overall, how did you find this project? Was it cathartic, frustrating, etc.?
DF: It was a little of everything. I had moments of euphoria listening back to
certain songs after struggling so hard to get them written and recorded. I
had moments where I thought this entire thing was too grandiose and I was
stupid to even try. I pretty much experienced the full range of emotional
colours throughout the year- I was expecting that though, obviously. I’ve
cried in certain moments, laughed hard in certain moments and I’ve thrown
things across the room in certain moments.
DH: Do you think that it has been a valuable process? Has it been as rewarding as you had anticipated/ what aspect of 365 Sparks have you found most
DF: It’s the best thing I have ever done as a human, period. If I died tomorrow,
I’ll be remembered for this project amongst those that knew me. I share
Ricky Gervais’ philosophy about work in that the work itself is the reward.
I’ve known what these songs have sounded like by December 31st 2014 and
that’s when the project was an absolute success to me – the completion.
Everything after that has been a bonus. I have a very small audience of folks
who’ve been listening away daily and I’ve gained hundreds of brand new
faces that’ve supported the project – it’s been amazing. I can only see it as
having been absolutely valuable to me and my creative life – it gives me great
sense of pride to think about it now.
DH: What was the first song that you wrote for 365 Sparks?
DF: I’m sure ‘Even Butterflies Lose’ was the very first song i wrote and recorded
for the project. This song was the inspiration for me to try so much harder. I
remember listening back and thinking ‘Okay, well, it’s not bad, but i need to
do so so much better than this’. I remember trying so hard to get everything
right on day #1 and in the end .. i got everything absolutely wrong and i was
thrown into severe dizziness. I used this first song as a template for weeks. I
spent every night for weeks messing around with compressors, eq’s, panning
etc just trying to teach myself how this song could have been better on a
sonic level – this helped me paint over the rookie mistakes. I’m happy my
first recording wasn’t anything special because it gave me a platform to
better myself from.
DH: How did you find disciplining yourself to write a song every day? Do you
think that it inhibited you in any way, or did the time constraints serve as a
creative catalyst of sorts?
DF: The acknowledgement of limited time is the single best motivator I’ve ever
found in my life – and I’m not just talking about music. The writing itself
wasn’t really a huge ask because i tend to write something every day
anyways, but having to write parts for drums, bass, multiple guitars, pianos
etc… really forced me to up my game. It was no longer a daily exercise of
getting an idea down on one acoustic guitar – it was about composing a fully fleshed
out song. I think the pressure helped me rather than hinder me for
95% of the time. The other 5% were days when I had appointments or had to
be somewhere else and was left with literally a few hours to write and record
something brand new- those times were stressful but in that kind of good
DH: Do you find that there is a difference between what you initially intended to write and what you actually produce? If so, do you find that discouraging or liberating?
DF: Very often I’d assume what I was writing was a simple acoustic song only to
wind up with a full-blown rock track by the end of the day. The simplest
little things can derail that initial idea. Something like ‘Let this Love
Blackout’ was originally pretty fully-fleshed out as a song with lots of sound
layers, that was until I was listening to the vocals and acoustic in isolation to
ensure all the melodies were spot on- I just really dug what I heard and the
final version is devoid of everything except an acoustic and a voice.
Likewise, a song like ‘Now You’re Gone’ was intended to be a simple
acoustic/vocal song but completely grew into a full band song with drums,
bass, piano etc. In both cases, it was all justified around trying to do the best
by the song itself. I’m 50/50 between executing a clear vision and letting the
song tell me where it wants to go.
DH: Is there anything that you wish you had done differently (within 365
DF: Lots of things. I wish I’d pushed more to make a documentary around the
process. I had actually put in a lot of ground work to make it happen and
even gone so far as to do screen tests, but it came down to two issues; time
and narrative. I was cognisant that watching just me in the same small
studio day-in-day-out mightn’t have been appeasing to an audience, but I
wish I’d recorded daily videos every single day simply for my own archives.
I just didn’t have any time spare to even think about it in the end and so i
can’t mourn it too much- it was a ‘nice to have’, not a ‘need to have’. In terms
of process, I wish I’d had a few more months to plan the entire thing, simply
because there were a few other song experiences I was planning in throwing
in but ultimately had to cut due to a lack of planning.
DH: Are you self-taught?
DF: Yes. My mother offered to pay for guitar lessons for me when she witnessed
me stick to the guitar for months and months but even as a 15 year old kid, i
chose not to go down that route. I decided early on that i wanted to be me –
even if that meant that I wasn’t as technically proficient as other guitarists i
knew at the time. Developing my own sound and style was pivotal to me
even when I was a kid and I’m so thankful to the 15 year old me for choosing
this route. I reveled in the challenge of not knowing too much because those
little serendipitous moments were special at the beginning. I didn’t see the
fun in learning theory when i just wanted to annoy the neighbours with buzz
saw riffs late into the night!
DH: What was the first song that you ever learned to play?
DF: Nothing sticks out simply because from the moment I had a guitar at my
disposal, I was writing my own little riffs and songs – even if they were god
awful. My friends at the time used to come over to my house and ask to hear
what I’d written that week in my little [school-stolen] orange workbook
because it was so commonplace for me to have written 5 or more songs
during the week even though I barely knew my instrument. So I guess to
answer, the first song I learned to play would have been one of my own, but I
couldn’t be more specific than that.
DH: At what point did you discover that you could sing (or did you always
DF: I never ever planned to be a ‘singer’ and I still don’t! There’s a funny story
about how I even got into my first school band. I’ll try and keep it as short as
possible. When I was around 15 or so, all my class minus me were being
briefed by our teacher about the school trip they were about to embark on
that day. I was left at school because i was ‘bad’ that week. Whatever. I was
at the back of the class listening to Bon Jovi on my Walkman and apparently
I started to sing along with one of the songs without realising it. Sean Keddy
[whom I’d later form Mascara Story with] heard me sing and then had it in
his head to have me sing for his school band at the time. I agreed when they
eventually asked me and that was that. I was now in a band and ready to
take over the … school! Singing was never a plan of mine and trust me, if you
heard my voice when my started out vs. my semi-good voice now… you’d
assume a miracle had taken place. I initially sounded like a cross between a
siren, Mariah Carey and a washing machine.
DH: How did you get into producing music?
DF: In technical terms, I’ve been producing music since I was probably 15.
Although back then it was direct-to-cassette [remember those?]. When I
started to get into music at school, we had little four-track recorders in our
class that fascinated me. I recorded on those a lot [my school still has those
tapes somewhere I’m sure… Eeek]. Me and Sean both bought cassette
recorders when we were about 16 so we could record musical ideas. I pretty
much wore mine out. I’d get home from school and record from 5-10pm
almost every night. I’m not going to state ANY of it was even good.. but I was
constantly working on my writing and recording every single moment. To
better answer your question though; the start of my ‘producing career’ was
in 2008 when I decided to do the solo thing and wound up releasing five
albums in the first year. I had literally a USB microphone, awful computer,
borrowed keyboard and an acoustic guitar – I made five records solely with
It mightn’t sound sonically beautiful or professional, but those
albums contained songs that got airtime on a tonne of different radio
stations and as products they actually sold quite well. The reason why it took
me until 2014 to really start producing full-blown songs is because I was
using the time to build up my own studio and to actually learn about audio.
In 2013 i really felt like i could now produce songs at a sufficient quality to
release to the general public. I recorded a lot of songs in 2013 and they
sounded better every single time as I’d correct a rookie mistake from the
previous effort. I’d state 2014 as the year I really started getting into
producing. Oh sorry, I went off on a tangent there, to answer your question…
I got into producing for two reasons; 1) I genuinely wanted to learn that side
of the game because it fascinated me so much. 2) I simply couldn’t afford to
pay a studio every time I wanted to make recordings. It’s coming back to
that DIY/not waiting around attitude that I’ve tended to have forever.
DH: Your influences are very diverse. Were there any artists in particular that you found yourself listening to more whilst writing for this project?
DF: None that I overly magnetised to, but I made it a ‘thing’ to listen to a new
album every day I was recording and I still try to keep that up these days. I
was hoping that listening to symphonic music or reggae music would bring
out a whole new side of me… but I realised that my music is always going to
have some core component be strongly me. I’m fine with that though. I can
put my hand on my heart and say I’ve tried more new things in 2014
musically than i have in the preceding decade- that alone is a victory march
for me in terms of growth.
DH: What was the first album that you fell in love with?
DF: Silverchair- Neon Ballroom. That album literally defined the trajectory of
my life. I’d always adored music before hearing this record in 2000 or so, but
something about this album completely drew me in and filled me full of
wonder. It’s the album that changed me from a young singer in an upcoming
local band to a songwriter. This is the reason I have a portion of the album
cover tattooed on my body – it means that much. To be specific, ‘Ana’s Song’
from the aforementioned record hit me in a way no other song had ever been
able to. I was floored. I couldn’t believe music could give me shivers,
goosebumps and make me cry my eyes out at the same time. In reading into
the song in question, it only accentuated the tears because of how personal it
was. That album is the reason I am a songwriter. I owe it absolutely
everything. I’m still head over heels with it to this day and have yet to hear
an album i connect more with. It’s just perfect.
DH: Outside of music, what do you draw influence from (films, literature, art, etc.)?
DF: A few years ago I would have answered with films, but I’ve only watched a
handful of films from start to finish in the last few years. I much prefer
documentaries, especially those of the biographical kind because I find I can
use that information to better myself and there is real-world information to
be taken. I just realised how snotty that sounded, but it’s true. I still prefer
to read in the normal paperback way and [would you believe] I read pretty
much nothing but biographies. I really liked Steven Tyler’s book and Butch
Walker’s book, both of which I read again recently. Art [as in painting]
doesn’t really get me and never really has. I appreciate it for what it is, but
I’m not one of those that can go to an art gallery and feel floored – trust me,
I’ve tried on many occasions but always left a little wine-heavy but
inspiration-light. People are my biggest inspiration. I love just walking
around and people watching. We’re all just little ants meandering around
with our little different lives. People endlessly fascinate me.
DH: It is fair to say that 365 Sparks is a project of epic proportions. Do you think that you will ever undertake a project of a similar scale/nature again?
DF: I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, I do have grand visions for a future
project that would be on this level and that I think would be very unique and
interesting and on the other hand, I’m wary of a nervous breakdown and
losing even more hair! I don’t think I’d commit to releasing something-a-day-for-
a-year ever again because life is so unpredictable, as I’m finding out in the
latter half of this year. Problems come up, situations arise and people who
are expecting a song-a-day are left wondering, ‘Where’s the song?’. I can see
the finish line though and i haven’t messed up too badly yet…
DH: Do you have any plans (musical or otherwise) upon finishing 365 Sparks?
DF: Heartfuse is going to be my next large focus. It’s a company I’ve been toying
with for a long, long time. I’ve wanted to start a company since I was quite
young. Not a company only by name, but a fully-fledged operating and hiring
company for creatives to work within. It’s taken a long time for me to figure
out what I’d like to do and how I can make this possible but those ideas are
nearly at the fruition stage now and I couldn’t be any more excited and
scared at the same time. Hopefully it won’t be too long into 2016 before it’s
all up and running. Obviously I also intend on getting my 365 music out
there onto stages and that’s incredibly exciting. Other things I’m hoping to
accomplish: my first novel finally being released, perhaps another poetry
book and maybe even a short film.
DH: Have you found social media to be a useful platform, or more of a hindrance than a help?
DF: I have a love/hate relationship with social media and always have had. If
used by a musician/band as a measure of quality… then it’s going to be a
nightmare. It can be difficult to post a song you feel so proud of on social
media and see it inspire no interaction, and then post a funny meme and see
50 of your fans enjoying it and sharing it- you know? I never use it as a
measure of quality because it would kill me, and I’m sensitive enough as it
is! It’s great on the level that I can tweet a link to my music to the owner of a
major label and there’s a small chance he might click it and respond. So my
feet are firmly in the 50/50 column.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
DF: A lot of the Beach Boys / Daniel Johns / Green Day / Ryan Adams / My
Vitriol / Weezer and Fall Out Boy. I’ve been on such a nostalgia buzz these
last few weeks [I have one more month left before I hit 30 years old] that I’m
stuck on what I used to listen to over a decade ago. I’m looking forward to
getting 365 Sparks completed so I can start to treasure hunt for absolutely
brand new musicians and bands- it’s been a while since I’ve blindly done
DH: If you could transcend space and time, what artist would you see live?
DF: Silverchair- especially now that they’ve effectively gone into a permanent
state of hibernation. Their performances around 1999/2000 on the Neon
Ballroom tour are still some of the best I’ve ever seen [on video]. Although
the subsequent tour for ‘Diorama’ was absolutely amazing too. I watch those
videos on YouTube all the time, so to have been present for one would have
been unbelievable. Honourable mentions would go to Nirvana on the
Nevermind junket, Green Day on the Dookie Junket and Bon Jovi on the
These Days Junket.
And So I Watch You From Afar, with support from Skymas Saturday 20th June, 2015- The Mandela Hall, Belfast
The almighty And So I Watch You From Afar have just finished the first leg of their “Heirs” tour. Consisting of Niall Kennedy and Rory Friers (guitar), Johnny Adger (bass) and Chris Wee (drums), the instrumental four-piece are well on their way to world domination, and recently concluded their extensive string of European dates with a celebratory show at the Mandela Hall, which was their only Northern Irish show of 2015, marking June 20th as a date to be observed by anyone with even a fleeting interest in music.
Skymas, who took to the stage shortly after the arrival of the bus of ASIWYFA’s hometown supporters, seemed to be an anomalous choice of support, but as their set wore on, it became apparent that this was a decision influenced by their ability to work a crowd as opposed to genre constraints. Like a fusion of The Prodigy and Japanese Popstars, their energetic EDM-influenced stylings served to suitably enthuse the already dangerously swaying masses. Their furious basslines battled against simultaneously saturnine and searing synth sounds, which were in turn accompanied by disconcerting, constantly transmuting animations played on screens either side of the stage and enthusiastic vocal (and kinetic) delivery.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly the issue was (that being said, the thundering bass and the plethora of effects that were in use probably went some way towards muffling Corrigan’s acerbic vocals), the sound quality did not do what would otherwise have been a perfectly decent performance any favours; during “Hey Porter”, I heard “Paula”, whilst a girl behind me heard “Harry Potter” in a Cornish accent.
The interlude that follows means that by the time ASIWYFA, already looking triumphant (and justifiably so- the Mandela is close to capacity), decide to grace the stage, the crowd has reached fever pitch.
Opening with the first track of Heirs, “Run Home”, the intricacies and relentless energy of which elicited the most powerful reaction from the audience imaginable, it is evident that this show is going to be remembered as a highlight for the band and their fans alike. Without breaking for breath, they dive headlong into the unceasingly intense “Wasps”, with tumultuous guitars and gang vocals overlaying the rumblings and ruminations of the rhythm section.
The focus of the evening remained, for the most part, (and for fairly obvious reasons) on their incredible new album, “Heirs”, but interspersed throughout the set were some of their earlier songs, which were received appreciatively by their captive audience as they are now commonly regarded by most: as classics. “BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION” (I challenge you to type that without feeling a certain surge of adrenaline), “7 Billion People All Alive At Once”, and “Search:Party:Animal” in particular serve to cement the atmosphere as electric, and at more point than one, I am fairly certain that the barrier has become a permanent installation in my abdomen, such is the crushing and moshing going on behind me.
In between songs, it is touching to see that the band is visibly moved by the crowd’s fervent response, whilst Rory Friers takes the time out to pay collective and individual thanks to members of their team and fan base. This is a band that continues to be all about their fantastically loyal fan base, and it’s an indefatigable, almost familial relationship in which both sides just keep on giving; not counting those onstage, a surprising number of tattooed ASIWYFA logos were proudly displayed throughout the venue.
Just when it didn’t look like the emotions being experienced couldn’t be heightened any further, ASIWYFA had to go and make it even more poignant by inviting Ewen Friers (brother of Rory, and vocals/bass of Axis Of) to join them for a stirring rendition of “These Secret Kings I Know”. Followed by “A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way”, all of the band’s astounding technical capabilities are fully utilised, with Niall Kennedy and Rory Friers’ joint excavation of octaves building on Johnny Adger’s blaring, pounding basslines and Chris Wee’s rolling demolition of the drum kit.
“A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor” and “Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate” melded into one another, expansive in nature and spirited in delivery, the closing notes continuing to reverberate long after the band left the stage. There was disbelief amongst the crowd, who were astoundingly confident in an encore taking place; much to everyone’s relief, after a short break, ASIWYFA returned. Had they not, sweat-soaked riots en masse would surely have ensued.
“Eunoia” and “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” from “All Hail Bright Futures” were performed with astounding precision and even greater vigour. “Set Guitars To Kill” sounded truly monumental (I later overheard some say that during it, they “felt like I could punch through mountains.”, which is an apt description of the general feeling that ran through the entirety of the evening), and final song, “The Voiceless”, was verging on transcendent.
Despite the fact that a number of fans probably went home with an impressive assortment of neck injuries, there was a real sense of catharsis underpinning proceedings. ASIWYFA’s only Northern Irish show of 2015 was superlative, and it’s not difficult to see why a band as supremely talented and hard-working as they are has been greeted with such acclaim. As relevant as they ever were, if not more so, these innovative musical stalwarts have already made the transition from local band to legends- the rest of the world is just getting up to speed.
Deadheading got to interview Chris Wee (drums) of the instrumental stalwarts “And So I Watch You From Afar” about their latest album “Heirs”, playing 32 shows in 35 days and setting up in front of Dave Grohl.
DH: What made you first realise that you wanted to start a band?
CW: Myself and Rory (Friers) were friends from a very early age, and by the time we were in our early teens we started getting into a lot of the same music and started our first band with my brother. We did the typical teenage thing, playing Nirvana and Green Day covers but also had our first stab at writing our own songs as well.
DH:What have you enjoyed most about the first leg of the ‘Heirs’ tour?
CW: Aside from the obvious enjoyment of getting to play to the fans every night, this particular tour has been easily the best run tour we have done. We have a great team around us now and this tour was really well routed and planned, so even though it was a fairly relentless tour of 32 shows in 35 days it didn’t feel intense because of the great planning.
DH: How does it feel to be headlining your own tour?
CW: It feels great, it’s rewarding to know that we can put together an extensive tour of cities all over the place and have lots of people come out and see us. Playing support tours is really good in terms gathering new fans without the stresses of pulling our own crowd particularly but headlines are the true test of popularity.
DH: How did you feel about your homecoming show?
CW: We just played them last weekend, and we were totally blown away by the crowds. Both the Belfast and Dublin shows were amazing and we felt really comfortable playing having had 5 weeks of touring under our belts before them. Playing Irish shows are always a treat for us since the crowds are always so animated and appreciative.
DH: Who has been your favourite band to tour with so far?
CW: That’s a tough one as we have got to play with so many amazing bands over the years, but a stand out band would have to be Them Crooked Vultures, we toured with them a few years ago and it was an incredible experience, especially setting my drums up in front of Dave Grohl every night. They were by far the most famous yet down to earth guys we’ve ever played so it was an unforgettable time for us.
DH: If you could tour with anyone, who would it be?
CW: I think touring with Nine Inch Nails would be an amazing experience, we supported them at their big Belfast show a couple of summers ago and they had the most staggering production, it was great to be a part of it.
DH: What is the worst tour you’ve ever been on?
CW: Some of the early UK tours we did when we were first starting out were pretty tough on us. We would maybe do a month at a time and many of the shows would be to around 5 people so it was it was hard to see past the bleakness of it as well as struggling a lot with money back then. However, tours like that were invaluable to us in the long run as they really hardened us to difficult times and have made us all the more thankful that things are going well now.
DH: Which album have you found the most difficult to write?
CW: Writing has always been a really rewarding process for us but the most difficult was maybe writing ‘Gangs’. Being our second album we were suddenly faced with a level expectation from people that we hadn’t had before. With our first album we were just putting together our best stuff since we had started the band and it was the first proper port of call for listeners so we didn’t have any pressure.
DH: Is song writing something that occurs relatively naturally, or do you have to actively search for inspiration?
CW: Ideas are always coming out of nowhere at the strangest times and places. A lot of the time there might be a guitar line that one of the guys comes up with backstage in a venue at 1 in the morning and it stays as a small idea until we get back from tour and start working on it. Then other times some of the best ideas spring out of many hours of fruitless writing right at the end of the day.
DH: You have a very distinctive sound. How much experimenting did it take to achieve/hone that sound?
CW: With our early music we were putting a different edge to a lot of instrumental music we had been listening to at the time, but as time has gone on we have been constantly trying to reinvent and push ourselves creatively. We’re always striving to be more competent musicians as well, so developing more technicality also feeds into the progression of the music.
DH: Outside of music, what do you like to draw inspiration from?
CW: Traveling has to be one of the biggest inspirations for us I would say. You are always product of where you come from as well as the environment that you are in, so as people that travel a lot because of touring, we get to meet people from all different walks of life and experience countries and cities so vastly different from our own so that gives us a lot of inspiration in what we end up creating.
DH: Is it difficult to decide when to stop working on a song?
CW: This was actually quite a notable aspect of our most recent album HEIRS. We came up with a technique called ‘Wasping’ that came about from the song Wasps, where we had an arrangement much longer than the final version, and we decided that we had to drastically cut it down otherwise we couldn’t see it going on the album. So wasping was our ruthless method of cutting deadwood from ideas and we used it on quite a few ideas throughout the writing process and it was a really liberating feeling.
DH: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
CW: Crush With Eyeliner by REM, my Dad showed me how to play it on guitar. However I quickly got bored and frustrated at learning guitar and when I discovered drums it was no going back from there.
DH: Was creating music that is mostly instrumental a conscious decision?
CW: Myself, Rory and Tony (past guitarist) had been in a more conventional rock band up until we started ASIWYFA so when we started jamming and finding our feet it was just easier to not worry about vocals. We had also been listening to a lot of instrumental music around that time so that definitely rubbed off on us.
DH: As your music is primarily instrumental, do you feel a certain pressure to be continuously innovative?
CW: We definitely have a motivation to continue to be innovative but it isn’t out of a sense of pressure but more our own satisfaction as creative people. It’s probably the most important aspect of our band that we continue to be challenged and fulfilled by the music that we make. Starting to churn out records simply to pander to a particular audience would be stifling, and our fanbase would pick up pretty quickly to that type of insincerity.
DH: Is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually end up with? If so, do you find that frustrating?
CW: Any ideas we pursue are always one that we are excited about, so the only time working on ideas becomes frustrating is when we can’t consolidate them all into a finished song. But in those instances, we either ruthlessly adjust them till we’re happy or we shelve the idea. It’s important to be able to make tough decisions like that and identify it in certain songs to prevent yourself getting bogged down with ideas that aren’t going anywhere.
DH: Have you ever written anything and felt that you couldn’t release it? If so, why?
CW: There is always a wealth of material that never makes the final release, and it’s simply part of the writing process. We fire off ideas in all different directions and we capitalise on the ones that stick and make sense. Songs get left off for many reasons, maybe they don’t fit with the mood of how the album is taking shape or maybe they’re too similar and it needs more diversity, or the song is just us stretching ourselves in a totally unrelated direction just to see whether it was worth pursuing.
DH: What has been the most challenging aspect of committing to ASIWYFA full-time?
CW: As many people are aware, being a touring band isn’t particularly profitable on a personal level unless you are playing arenas every night so money can be tight but its something that we have adapted to over the years.
DH: Was a career in music always your end-goal?
CW: In our first band together as teenagers, Rory and me would talk and dream up all these scenarios about being in a band and although there hasn’t been the glitz and glamour that our young brains had dreamt up all those years ago, we have certainly worked our way into a extremely rewarding path. I think we have all had various notions over the years of career ideas but nothing was ever as strong as our love for music and so we have just been following that in a very simplistic way, we love creating and playing music so that is our drive.
DH: If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would you have done?
CW: During my university years and while ASIWYFA was in its’ infancy, I was working in night clubs and worked my way into management but by the time I was graduating the band had been discussing becoming a more serious operation and it didn’t take me long to come to a decision about it.
DH: Do you think that music will always be your primary focus?
CW: Absolutely, it has been the one constant in my life in terms of a pursuit that I love and believe in so I’ll continue music for as long as I’m fit and able!
DH:What are your plans for the next year?
CW: We’re hoping to do another release in some form or another but we still need to work out if it’s feasible or not. Release or not, we’ll definitely be touring in 2016, hopefully with ones in Asia, the US and further afield with any luck.
DH: Has the reception that the band has received been anything like you had anticipated?
CW: We have always been a band that has built up and progressed slowly yet steadily. So most of the time we have been able to roughly predict how the reception to new albums and shows will go. Every so often though we get nice surprises when a certain show ends up being crazy good and that’s a lot of added fun for us. We have always worked off the ethos of having low expectations of things but remaining highly ambitious regardless.
DH: Have you found any experience surreal so far?
CW:A number of years ago when touring in Sweden during the winter, we had to pull over and sleep at a truck stop in our van and when we woke in the morning there was about half an inch of solid ice frozen on the inside on our windows. That was a strange moment!
DH: What, if anything, would you do differently?
CW: I’m really happy with how everything has turned out with our band. We have been together for just about 10 years now, have a wonderfully loyal and passionate fanbase and continue to be writing music together, so I wouldn’t change a thing.
DH: How does being cited as an influence on so many emerging bands feel?
CW: That is always humbling. Occasionally we will meet bands that say they started their band because they were all fans of our band and that’s incredibly rewarding to know that our music could have such an impact on people. I guess it is just as important to be influencing others around you as it is to be making the music.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
CW: I’ve been listening to Mirrored by Battles while I’ve been writing this interview, such an incredible and unrelenting album. Recently I have also been listening to Com Truise, Shipping News and Run the Jewels quite a lot as well.
If you could transcend space and time, what artist would you see live?
CW: Queen. Some of my earliest music memories were of seeing Queen concerts on TV, Freddie Mercury was mesmerising and no one will ever come close to him as a performer.
Deadheading got to have a chat with Axis Of about their love of traveling, touring with Frank Iero, and celebrating their 400th show in their hometown of Portrush, amongst other things.
DH: Why did you choose “Wetsuit” as a single?
NL: It was probably one of the earlier songs in the writing process, and it was quite unique. From the first album, it was a really big departure, so it felt really good to be writing something that was so different than what we usually do, so that made it a bit special in our minds. Then we brought the finished version to Smalltown (America), our label, and they were loving it, they had a really good vibe on it. I think it has a really good chorus, and I always like the idea of dropping something from a new album that will get people’s attention, in a positive or negative way, so when people heard it they were like “That doesn’t sound like Axis Of!”. A lot of people said they listened to it, and didn’t actually like it at first, and then it grew on them, so it was like shock value, almost.
EF: It was actually Andrew, I remember Andrew, the head of the record label, we had like three singles that we were talking about, and we were like, “Oh, well we could do this one, because it’s a bit like ‘Finding St. Kilda’, the other album, and it could kind of bridge the gap, or ease people into a new album.”, and he was like “Nah, don’t.”, as Niall said, shock value, get the most different song out there first and grab people’s attention, so it definitely did, you’re right, people were like, “This doesn’t sound like what we know.”, but people did come around to it, I think.
DH: How exactly do you think the North Coast has shaped your sensibilities, musical or otherwise?
EF: I mean, I think the defining thing is our love of travel and we’re shaped by that, our wider view of the world, but it does always come back to this idea of home, and there’s a lot of that on the album, the idea of returning home. I think it’s impossible to escape around here- you know it yourself, walking around Portrush, or just generally, you’re so immersed in it, and the distinction between nature and civilisation is much more blurred than it would be in a city, like you’re walking on the cliff when you’re even in the town. I think the raw power of the coast is so inescapable, and that’s probably why we’ve maybe absorbed it the way we have.
DH: How did the tour with Frank Iero come about?
EF: We have a friend who was helping him on his European tour, helping with some of the logistics and personnel, in terms of the crew he might have when he came to Europe, and that guy got our record and he said, “Oh, here, check out Axis Of if you’re looking for a support band.”, and Frank listened to it, and he liked the band, simple as that. He needed a band to open the tour, and he trusted this guy’s word on it, that we were a nice bunch of chaps, so we got the tour.
DH: What kind of an experience was touring with him?
EF: It was brilliant, I mean, he has such a dedicated fan base and they were there from seven in the morning, or sometimes the night before the show, so there was never any question of “Will we get to play to people?”, and that’s something that’s always asked everyday on our own headlining tours, or even some of the support tours that we’ve done, it’s always “Do you think there’ll be anyone here?”, “Will we play to anyone?”, but that was never an issue, so having that being sorted off the bat was amazing. We could focus on how we sing, we could focus on how we play, and various technical things, because we didn’t have to worry about drumming up a crowd, which was cool. And then, we got to travel in their sleeper bus, which was amazing, because it was the most luxurious, comfortable way to travel, and surprisingly, say there was three of us, and then there was a tour manager and then there was his crew, and none of the three parties had met each other before, but everyone got on so well. We were effectively living and working together for a month; I don’t think there was one argument, there were no disagreements. Everyone just got on, everyone got on with their work, I remember telling my mum about it, and she was like, “That’s so lucky.”. I mean, you’ve got people from Ireland, someone from Italy, and then a whole crew from America, and it was so surprising that everyone got on as well as they did.
DH: How do you feel about tonight being your 400th show?
NL: Good. It’s mad, isn’t it? It’s just like, that’s insane. That’s our growing up, that’s all of our adult life we’ve been in this band. We were 17 when we started this band.
EF: It’s amazing, we’ve seen so much over those 400 shows, done so much, changed so much- I’m really proud. Pride is the overwhelming thing, and then, I think our band is very obsessed with documenting our own history, as it were. I nerd out on bands anyway, so I’ve got a list of all those gigs, and I’ve got little bits written about all of them, so just having that, it’ll be incredible for us to be able to look back on in years, and think, “What amazing memories.”.
NL: It was funny, we were talking earlier about the widest scope between the styles of gig we’ve played. We were trying to work it out, and I think we said, Mandela Hall, with Twin Atlantic, maybe Vicker Street, with Therapy?, or the Ulster Hall, and then going from that into this squat we played in Amsterdam, and there were more dogs than people there. It was behind this big barricade, so it was like a squatted school, and it was one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to, it could not be more different, but it’s cool, because I think not all bands could really get that, we’re lucky in the sense that that gig wasn’t good for us in a financial or a business sense, but in terms of us getting to do interesting things that we wouldn’t get to do outside of music, it was the best gig we’ve ever done, you know? Just an utterly bizarre, otherworldly kind of place.
EF: It’s like, I think primarily we view our band as a vehicle to see and experience the world, and we just happen to do it within the eyes of the band, and that’s the way we do it. Not only that, but we’ve met people that there would be no iota of possibility of us ever meeting these people had it not been for being on tour. Like we’ve played in Germany, we’ve played in Italy, but you could go there as a tourist and you wouldn’t see a single thing that you would see if you were a band touring that place or meeting people in that way, so it’s a really unique way to view the world, and all 400 shows have been a part of that story, so yeah that’s amazing.
DH: What, if anything, do you miss most whilst you are touring?
NL: Someone there in Europe asked me this, and I said seven-a-side football. In a more general sense, it’s because I really like jogging and I really like swimming and I love playing football; I can jog while I’m on tour, and I can swim the odd time, but I can’t play football, so it’d probably be that.
EF: I’m into nature and hill-walking and that, so I would miss the North Coast a bit, but then by the same token, I don’t think we really pine for things. Like the odd time, we’d say “Oh, I wish I could do that.”, but generally you’re just so wrapped up in it you don’t have the chance to miss anything. Unless the tour is really bad, then you probably do miss things.
DH: What’s the worst tour that you’ve ever been on?
NL: I think it’s better looking at it through gigs.
EF: We’ve done really bad gigs. Like sometimes, a bad tour can be saved by one great gig. We’ve done some really, shockingly bad gigs over the years, it happens. I mean, in our first year of being a band, we played in this venue on winter nights all the time to no one. We used to do it all the time, like, “Aw yeah, do you guys want to play here again?”, and we were like, “Yeah, we’ll go play.”, so some of those were bad.
NL: Well actually, last week we played in Manchester, at a festival, and it was a really weird atmosphere, because it was in this bar and half of it was a bar and the rest of it was stage, and then a standing area. So there were a load of people in the bar, so we thought, “They’re all here for the bands.”, but no-one was there for the bands. Everyone was just sitting there, having their pints and ten metres away, a band was playing. But it was like that for all the bands, so it wasn’t a one-off for us, all the bands were playing to a full bar where no-one was listening. Whilst we were playing, a guy brought up a note onstage, and it said, “You guys are shit. Love, Ronan”.
EF: It was a strange thing to do, but there you go.
DH: Whenever you’re writing songs, do you think about what would work live?
EF: Yeah, there’s a bit of, “I think this would be good for crowd participation”. We were thinking more about how the songs would sound live when we wrote and recorded our first record; on the next one we tried to think more methodically, like, “Let’s write the best album we can, and worry about playing it after.”, but I think you’re always conscious of that. Some people would say that we write catchy choruses, at least, the odd time, but you always have to think about how that’ll be live, and even about riffs and stuff as well.
DH: Which record did you find the most challenging to write?
EF: The next one. But out of the two, I would probably say-
NL: Probably St. Kilda. I don’t know, I can’t really remember any struggle. There was one stage when we were writing the Mid Brae Inn, and I was a little bit anxious at the idea of moving away from the super-heavy vibes we were going for, but then it was only like fifteen minutes, so I can’t even say it was an issue. The writing process for Finding St. Kilda spanned quite a long time, so there was always, “Will this fit with this song?”, “Will this work?” or “Is this new style too difficult?”. A lot of that was going on.
DH: Was striking a balance between heavier music and pop elements a conscious decision, or did it occur naturally?
NL: Yeah, I think it came naturally.
EF: A bit of both. As much that it’s conscious in that you listen to a band that you like that’s really poppy, and you go, “Oh, we should do something like that.”, nothing more than that. We didn’t say, if we do this, then this many people will like us, it’s just, you get really hyped on a style, or even a device in a piece of music, and you go, we should put that in one of our songs, but then you interpret it through the eyes of what Axis Of is, and then it sounds different anyway.
NL: In quite simplistic terms, I like a lot of metal, and I like a lot of pop music, so it’s going to happen.
DH: Who has been your favourite band to tour with so far, and if you could tour with anyone, who would it be?
NL: This is a tough one, because I think The Bronx are the best band we’ve toured with. They’re an amazing band, we got on really well with them, but we were touring in our own vehicle, and they were in their van, but it was a great tour with Frank and the guys. They were lovely, and really helpful, supportive, but different bands bring different things. I mean, we loved touring with And So I Watch You From Afar, the few times we’ve done that.
EF: Yeah, that’s always good, just like there’s banter and that going on.
NL: Yeah, they’re our friends and our relatives, so that’s always good. I’m trying to think, any band that we could tour with… Queen.
EF: Any band, ever? Yeah, Queen.
NL: Would you like The Clash more?
EF: Ah, yeah, The Clash. Or like, because you’re going into the territory of do we go on tour with any band because of their crowd size, or because we love the band?
NL: In an all-round sense, I think Queen would be a great tour. Like massive, humongous shows, hanging out with the lads.
DH: What made you want to form a band in the first place?
EF: Basically, what happened was, we were both in teenage, kind of punk bands, two different ones, and we were doing pretty much the same sort of size gigs and the same sort of things, and Niall seemed like the guy from his band that, whenever that band would die away, that he’d keep continuing to do music and keep pursuing that, in a more serious way. And then I was the guy in my band that wanted to do that: I wanted to go on tour; I wanted to release records, so we kind of spotted each other. Then we had similar taste in music, and similar ideas about what our new band would be, so we just formed a band together, and that was it.
DH: Was a career in music always your end-goal?
NL: Pretty much when we started the band. We were in, say, upper-sixth at school when the band started, and we were making decisions like that anyway. I was going to study music technology in Belfast, so it was like, maybe we’ll move the band to Belfast and see what happens there. Those decisions kind of came to the fore anyway.
DH: If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would you be doing?
EF: If I hadn’t ended up in music… I thought for a time that I really wanted to do some kind of environmental studies, like renewable energy or something like that, I think there’s an interest there.
NL: When it came to deciding what things to do, I’m always very non-committal, I just don’t like taking things seriously, so when I was asked what in Career Studies, and everyone else was writing teacher or social worker, or something like that; I think my first one was musician, and my second one was football pundit, and I literally meant football pundit, like I’m going to be on Match of the Day. I was joking to a certain extent, but maybe something down that road. I like the idea of how simple it was; I’m either going to be on TV, or I’m going to be a rock star.
DH: What has been the most difficult aspect of committing to Axis Of full-time?
EF: Ask any band that does what we do. We don’t pay our rent with what Axis Of make, we don’t buy our food with what Axis Of make. This music, particularly at this time in the music industry, it’s not financially secure, so you’ve got to busy yourself with other bits and pieces, so that struggle between part time jobs and that kind of thing, that’s the hardest thing about it. Some people just can’t live the way we do.
NL: I think it would be impossible for some people. It’s manageable for us because we don’t have expensive lifestyles. It’s not like, “God, the band isn’t selling enough records, we can’t go to the Caribbean again!”.
EF: That’s the most challenging thing about the band and where we’re at, because we’re not quite in the place where we can just quit our jobs, so we do other bits and pieces, which is all kind of linked in with music or in the media world, it keeps us going, but we’re not a big enough band to be making money off just Axis Of-
NL: But we’re not small enough to just do the odd gig every six months.
EF: I don’t think we could have had three people in Axis Of doing nine to five jobs, who meet every once a week to have a practice; it’s a bigger commitment than that. It’s walking that line between, we’re not making that much money, but we still want to go on tour a few times a year and spend some time in the studio, so it’s a big commitment.
DH: Do you always think that music will be your primary focus?
EF: I don’t think you should ever think like that. Like you know what your end game is, and you know what lies ahead of you. Right now, who knows? I think that for me, personally, I always think that something creative will be my primary focus; whether or not that’s music, who knows?
NL: One thing I’ve noticed through playing music is if I do end up in another career, I’ll want it to be a career that helps me travel, or that at least doesn’t prohibit me from traveling. I like the idea of being able to go different places via something I’m working on.
DH: What comes first: the lyrics or the music?
NL: We write independently of each other, so obviously we’d play the music first, but the lyrical ideas might already be there, so I’d write a song or Ewen would write a song, and then we’d bring it to the full band and then we’d put the lyrics on top, but the lyrics might already be there.
EF: There’s ideas for lyrics, maybe, in the beginning, then comes the music and then the fully-formed lyric, and so on.
DH: Is song writing something that you approach spontaneously, or do you actively seek out subject matter?
EF: We don’t sit down and think, “Today I’m going to write a song”. As long as you play a lot of guitar, just sit and play it, that’s how it happens.
DH: Outside of music, what do you tend to draw influence from?
EF: A huge pool of things. I mean, if I had the lyrics now, I could sit down and pick out all the little bits that come from it, but I think a lot of it comes from our travels.
NL: It covers a wide range of topics, like the idea of traveling. So you’d be somewhere, and you’re not just traveling, you’re witnessing the political situation of a new country, you’re witnessing the nightlife of a new country, or you’re witnessing the environment of a new country, so with that landscape it gives you the freedom to go into other areas.
EF: If you’re someone who is interested in travel, what does that mean? It means you’re interested in the science, or the architecture, the art, the culture, or whatever it is. Traveling is like experiencing the world and all of its facets, so that’s why our songs are so crammed, so abstract and reference-heavy, in regard to music and politics and everything. We’re basically an encyclopaedia of knowledge: an encyclopaedic band.
DH: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
EF: I learned to play the bass for Teenage Kicks. It’s so clichéd, like the first thing you ever learned.
NL: I think it was Barney the Dinosaur on piano. On guitar, it was probably Seven Nation Army, but I remember getting into secondary school and being in music class, everyone was like, “Does anyone know any songs?”, and they were like, “No, no-one.”, and I was just like, rocking out Barney! I can still play it to this day. If someone gets me a keytar, I will play it.
DH: When you write songs, is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually end up with?
EF: That’s a great question. You think there is?
NL: Yeah. Between what I write and what I attempt to write?
EF: That’s deep. I think, one thing close to that, particularly when I’m writing something on my own at home, I’ll write it on an acoustic guitar, so I don’t even know what it sounds like on an electric guitar, and then I’ll work out a bassline or something and I’ll imagine what the drums are, and I’ll have that in my head. Then you take it to the band, and it always sounds different, but occasionally, good. I don’t think I ever know what a song is going to sound like in the end.
NL: It’s like, in my head, I’ve got all the drums, and I’ve added all the bass and stuff, and then you bring it to the band and you’re like, “Wow, that sounds awful, that’s insane.”. Not all the time, but definitely on occasion.
EF: I think when I first wrote songs for my old band, you did just write a song, write the structure, tell the drummer what to play, tell the other guy what to play, and that was it done, whereas that’s never what’s happened in Axis Of. We’ve never had an idea and it’s just been done, it always needs tweaked, and I think that’s important as a much more mature band. It doesn’t frustrate me when it changes. For example, “All My Bones”, the first song on the album, it was a lot different once we actually finished it, and it took six months, and it’s such a simple song, but we changed the structure every practice, so that kind of gets frustrating, but generally speaking, it’s great that it changes, that’s the whole point.
DH: Is creative control something that’s very important to you?
EF: I think we’ve learned to compromise, and I wouldn’t be in a band with Niall if I didn’t think he had great ideas, so obviously, if he suggested them, you’ve got to speak to each other. Occasionally, there are things where we just wouldn’t budge on a thing, like, “We’re going to do it that way, or we’re not going to do it at all.”, that happens to, but I think we’re better at talking about it than we used to be.
DH: You’ve gained quite a following, especially in recent months. Has the reception been anything like you had anticipated?
NL: No, I guess I didn’t really anticipate the reception we got. I thought that it would be quite divisive, and it has been, to a certain extent. There’s a lot of people in Belfast that follow more indie, or pop-rock stuff, and those people like us as their punk band, so when we get a bit lighter, it’s like, “Oh, but I like it when they’re heavy.”, but then there’s people who are really into heavy music who might not like us too much, so it’s kind of weird. It’s been cool, especially going on that tour and playing to so many new people, so to them we’re a new band, there’s been no history, there’s no preconceived ideas about what we do or what kind of sound we have, and they all loved it. So it does make you think that yeah, we are writing really good music. I totally respect that some people like a certain style of music and they wouldn’t be into it, but we’re still going to write whatever we want.
DH: Do you resent being a token kind of heavy band for some people?
NL: No, definitely not. It’s cool, I guess, that’s what gave us the leg up in Belfast, we played with loads of indie and post-rock bands, and we came out with really heavy guitars and were screaming, and people were a bit shocked then. If we play with a load of other bands who are screaming with heavy guitars, then we’re just going to be seen as another run of the mill band. So no, I don’t resent that at all, actually, I think it’s kind of cool. If a band lasts long enough, Biffy Clyro being the perfect example, there are people who will swear blind to the first three albums and then say everything after that is god-awful, and then there are people who don’t know those first three albums, who got into them later, but that’s just the way of it.
DH: Have you found any experience surreal so far?
NL: Probably the Frank tour. Frank wore our t-shirt at a gig in Bristol, and that’s just really odd. It’s really cool, but it is odd, because I was never a massive My Chemical Romance fan. I wasn’t mad into them, but they were like one of the biggest bands in the world. When I was sixteen and I was into my punk, I used to really hate emo kids, and it’s funny- if you told my sixteen year old, naïve self that I would be on tour with a guy from My Chemical Romance and that he wore our shirt on stage, I probably would have been like, “No, I won’t!”.
EF: There was a surreal moment on that tour, speaking to Frank’s guitar tech, and he was like, “Yeah, there was that time we went over to Brian’s house, because we had to rehearse for Reading and Leeds.”, and I was like, “Brian?”, and he was like, “Yeah, you know, Brian May.”, and I was just like no, I don’t know him, but I do know who you’re talking about. He was like, “Brian May made me a cup of coffee.”, and I was like, that’s so insane.
DH: How did the Prospect Roads podcast come about?
NL: For me, it was, because I always wanted to do a football podcast, but I felt like I couldn’t really offer anything new or unique, and I remember thinking if bands ever do tour podcasts, because surely there’s something to be said for that, and I said to Ewen about it, and we were like happy days, let’s do it. I think people are interested in the touring side of things, and we get to speak to so many ridiculously interesting people, so why not try and showcase that, and use touring as a vehicle. There are people who might run a podcast, and they’re like right, I want to interview this person in Berlin, but I’ll have to get a flight over, but we’re in Berlin anyway, so we might as well. It’s very convenient, if nothing else.
EF: I’m starting to have this idea, that Axis Of could be bigger than something that’s just a band. I like the idea of, if you went to the website, it’s something that’s quite down the line, and here’s where Ewen and Niall have a lot of things to offer: here’s the podcast that they do, this is their band, here’s their records. It’s a collective and a collection, and if you have those things to offer- I’m really proud of our podcast- and we love doing it. It’s a great outlet, so we’re very proud of it, and if anyone wants to subscribe, then please do.
DH: What, if anything would you do differently?
NL: Nothing. I don’t think we’d change anything, really.
EF: Yeah, I suppose we wouldn’t do anything differently. I mean, I could get out that list of the 400 gigs and write all the ones that we shouldn’t have played, but at the end of the day, it’s all led up to where we are today.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
EF: I’m currently listening to a band called Why? I was in America, writing some music, and I was hanging out with a guy called Henry Cohen, he plays in a band called Mylets, and he was driving me around in his car, and he was playing Why? all the time, and I was just like, I love this, so that’s totally my jam right now.
NL: Kendrick Lamar. I really like To Pimp A Butterfly.
DH: You obviously enjoy working with Smalltown America, but as a local band that’s become quite successful, do you ever feel any pressure to refute the attention of bigger labels?
EF: Well, we’ve never had any choice.
NL: I think if the right opportunity arose, I wouldn’t feel any pressure not to do it. I’d weigh it up, I wouldn’t run out and say that I’d definitely do it, but I wouldn’t let anything other than personal preference decide that.
EF: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.
DH: If you could transcend space and time, what artist would you see live?
EF: The Clash, definitely.
NL: A tour between Nickelback and GG Allin, but they’d have to be on the same bill.
EF: No, GG Allin fronting Nickelback, because he’d hopefully ridicule the rest of the band.
DH: Have you ever actually visited the Mid Brae Inn?
EF: Yeah, we’ve played there. We’ve played two gigs in Shetland, and one of them was in the Mid Brae Inn; it was this tiny bar, with a handful of people here. It was less about the venue, because it’s similar to somewhere like here, but it’s more about the trip itself, we wanted to take something with a Shetland theme. It was a great trip for us, it encapsulates the whole ethos of the band, going to those weird and wonderful places, seeing different things, meeting cool people and interpreting our landscape that way, but it had to be about Shetland, and the Mid Brae Inn was one of those names that just popped out.
DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
NL: “Would you like this big bag of money?”
Deadheading had the pleasure of picking Stevie Martin’s brain about his current project, “Rainy Boy Sleep” (amongst other matters, such as Dostoevsky, why Marilyn Manson might be the last rock star, and his debut album with Universal, of course).
DH: Why did you pick “Manchester Post” as a single?
SM: I think it connects immediately, it’s pretty hard-hitting, and it’s the most ferocious one. In terms of pace, we did Ambulance first, and it’s almost like a curveball, as it’s so different in direction to Ambulance. So there’s a lot of bases to cover with the whole album, you know, you need to make a big impact early on as well, so to get that out there is good. It’s great live as well, so if people know it, it’s going to be even greater when they turn up to see the show.
DH: Was the censoring your idea?
SM: No, definitely not. It’s just (uncensored), it’s definitely not going to get played on the radio, but that’s cool, it works. Everybody knows what’s going on there, you know, before the blank.
DH: When are you planning to release Waiting Games?
SM: I think it’s around May, it might be coming out. We have been, kind of, in discussion about that whole thing, but hopefully it should be May. There’ s a bit of a concept to the album, so I’m looking forward to getting it out and have people listen the whole way through, and kind of getting to go through the whole story of it.
DH: Will there be any other singles in the meantime?
SM: I just have to wait and see, really; what with marketing strategies and all this crazy business, I’m just playing it by ear.
DH: You picked “Rainy Boy Sleep” in order to maintain a distance between your writing and your personal life. Is it difficult to maintain that distance?
SM: I wouldn’t really say it’s a pseudonym; it’s more like a project name. It’s like, if you’re playing like a huge tour where you’re out there constantly, it’s easier to get into character, so with the shows being kind of intermittent, it’s a bit more difficult to get back into that character, that groove. But yeah, I like the fact that the whole project name, and (because) it’s not going under my name, there’s more room for just having a bit of fun really. I know some of the songs are really, really personal, but there’s a bit of ambiguity with the whole project.
DH: That kind of leads into my next question: do you ever feel like you’re playing up to a construct, or a character? Like there are two separate entities: Stevie and Rainy Boy?
SM: I try to be me, you know, when I’m onstage, but at the same time, like a cooler version of me. Yeah, so I try to be me, but the whole thing is, I just don’t want to go out and depress people for whole evenings. I’m generally a bit eccentric; I don’t want to water that down too much by putting on too much of a character. I mean being onstage; you’re not always going to be a hundred percent you. Like Morrissey says he does, but something changes, you know, it has to.
DH: Do you try to strike a balance between personal experience and fictitious accounts, for the sake of lyricism?
SM: I think a song is always going to be based on some element of personal experience, but the ambiguity, you know setting up a block. It’s like another barrier, kind of. Like I remember the first song I ever wrote, it was the most personal song that I’ve ever wrote, and it was just like, saying all this stuff, and I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. It was called “Never Think Again”, but it was just crazy personal, and you know, you need some form of protection.
DH: Have you ever actively offended anyone (with your lyrics)?
SM: I don’t think so? No, um, maybe people could be touchy about if they’ve ever been in an ambulance or something.
DH: It would seem like you’re prone to spontaneity in terms of writing, for instance, you wrote the song “Your Face” in something like ten minutes at Glastonbury festival one year. Do you actively decide to hone in on something, or is subject matter something that is decided relatively naturally?
SM: As you say, it’s kind of spontaneous; you have to take it as it comes. There are times the spark comes immediately, and you just have to sit down and get it done. A couple of weeks ago, this idea, just, out it came, but then again, a song like “Bottom of the Sea” that’s going to be on the album, it kind of, it was there for a couple of years. I remember the first time I thought of it, I was driving down to a gig in Dublin, just a nice, sunny day and all the rest, but the concept kind of came then, but it was two years until the thing was done. Just have to kind of, go with the flow really, and if the opportunity presents itself, get it done straight away.
DH: Is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually come up with?
SM: The whole process is, it would start off, and normally what I start off with isn’t what I end up with. One line would set off another thing, and then singing melody, trying to get melodies and that, you do a lot of scat, so I would record just scatting on my phone and that. The scat is good, because when you listen back you can hear phrasing and it sounds like, “Oh wow, that’s a good word there!”, or you hear what fits in. It’s usually the case that it ends up being something different from what I started with.
DH: Do you ever find the difference between what you’ve envisaged and what you end up with frustrating?
SM: That’s usually the case, but I’m getting better at writing songs, so it’s easier to command directions through the song now. Like I was saying, the song I wrote two weeks ago, I knew exactly what that would be used for: it’s not a song for me, but it’s just going to be kind of published out, so I knew exactly what that song had to be. I guess that’s the whole getting better thing, being able to command it a lot better, whereas I feel looking back, like I know the songs are good, but I realise how I could have went about them differently; I’m a bit pedantic.
DH: You have a fairly distinctive voice: at what point did you discover that you could sing, or was it always something that you knew you could do?
SM: I’ve always been singing- in the shower. Yeah, just from mucking about in school, and getting a band going- “Aw, I wonder who can sing?”, “I’ll give it a go.”- so yeah, I think alright, if you want to go for a certain style like, aye, get trained and all the rest, but for my style it (training) would completely take away from that.
DH: Did it take a while to achieve that style of singing?
SM: I’m pretty sure I’ve got it now. I remember listening to earlier demos and, like, using an American accent where I should’ve been using my own. I think (Americana) sounds a bit false, especially with the stuff I’m doing. Hearing “Frightened Rabbit” sing their whole album through in a Scottish accent, it’s just like, that comes from the heart; if they’d sung that album in an American accent, it would have been crap, like. So I’d be selective, but there are times when a chorus needs a more general accent, but the verse, I mean, I sing the verses of Ambulance in my own accent, but then I adopt a more general accent in the chorus, make it a bit more universal.
DH: At what point did you seriously begin to consider a career in music, or was that always the end goal?
SM:I never even really thought about it, I just knew that going out and playing gigs was the only thing that really made me happy, so I never really thought about it, career-wise. I always dreamed about being able to do it and that, but I just took it as it came really.
DH: Are you self-taught?
I got about two months’ help, this guy Alan Wilders from Strabane, so the first song I learnt was Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”- it’s not too complicated though! So a couple of months, and I was just off to learn on my own, like Josh Ritter covers and Glen Hansard and all them ones.
DH: How old were you when you started playing music?
SM: I got a bass for Christmas when I was sixteen, and I dabbled in that. It wasn’t until I was like seventeen, which is pretty late like, that I got stuck into it.
DH: What made you progress onto (and stick with) guitar?
SM: It was just a technical thing. I’m more like a songwriter, I guess, so that kind of isn’t the most important thing for me to focus on, I need to be able to mix the melody with the rhythm more, so it’s just that the guitar fitted a lot better.
DH: You play a bit of everything. How much, if any, involvement did you have with recording the instruments of the album?
SM: I worked with Niall Dalton, so me and him are of the old guard. He was like the engineer on the album, so we were trying to get that round the campfire vibe; we’re both of the opinion that it’s essential to get the sound (right) before pre-production, and get the most natural sound, and he’s so good at doing that. The recording process was very experimental, in terms of microphone placement and all the rest, trying to get the most natural sound, so we spent a good bit of time at it, but we did work hard on that. For one of the tracks, I plugged the microphone into a guitar amp, put it through weird effects and that, it kind of created this big soundscape-y thing.
DH: How did the collaboration between you and Reuben come about?
SM: Initially, we met like three years before we started working together on the album, so it was a case of I was off on the tour with James Morrison, and was starting work on the album, and I was looking for all these crazy producers- I’ll not name names or anything- but I was going to the ends of the earth, basically, to find a producer for the album, and it’s so weird that, you know, Reuben was the one, and he was there all along, right on my doorstep. So yeah, it was one day, somebody said something, and it just dawned on me, like “Oh my God, Reuben Keeney!”, so that’s pretty cool.
DH: I’ve always maintained that your voice would work perfectly on an electronic track (as is supported by the recent slew of remixes of your songs). Would a standalone electronic/dance track ever be anything you’d consider?
SM: I would love to do something like that. I kind of have a vision, well, I know what the second album’s going to sound like, so it’s kind of time to think about the third. I know what direction it’s going to be, although I’ve only got bits and pieces of songs and that, but I can envisage that it’s going to be a bit different alright. Maybe SOHN-y, Crystal Castles-y direction-y, so yeah.
DH: Reuben has joined you onstage more often than not in the past few months: will he continue to be a part of the live set up?
SM: I’m continually striving to get to a full band set up on stage. I love the dynamic of what we’re doing right now, but I think definitely, that’s what I mean, for us to get three four musicians on stage at once. It’s very, very handy to have a laptop, because I am still poor, but for the gigs that we’re playing right now, it’s very handy. Like being a support act, that’s what they (promoters) want; no fuss, which is what gets us onto these bills, you’re set up in three minutes flat like, but when I’ve got my own headline shows, that’s when it’s going to be time to start thinking of a whole band.
DH: When the band does form, will it be associated with Rainy Boy Sleep, or will it be a separate entity?
SM: I think it’s always going to be, like I’m always going to be me, so this is just a project name, this is maybe my chance to be a bit weird, and you know, I can always use my own name for stuff. I always have that freedom to go on and have another project as well, a collaboration or something, there’s always that opportunity, so it’s just holding onto that freedom.
DH: Will you maintain creative control if you expand this project into a band?
SM: Well, you’ve got the general thing like, you’re playing to the sound of the record, but I mean, every musician is going to put in their own wee touch. It depends, like if you get a rock drummer, it’s going to be a lot more visceral than a jazz drummer, but then a jazz drummer is going to be more stylised, so I guess a happy medium (would be good). I wouldn’t want to be like, I need to stick with the vision, not get too far off it, like there’s room for flourishes and fitting in their own wee touches, but you know, (you have to) stick to the vision at the same time.
DH: You’ve only embraced the idea of being a pop artist relatively recently. Were you somewhat reluctant, for fear of others’ perception of current pop music being applied to your music?
SM: I wouldn’t really say pop. Well, I know the stuff’s pop, but I’m kind of anti-famous, anti-being famous, it’s just within the music, but that’s completely not what I’m about. I’m not after getting my face in the newspapers and that there, which is kind of the idea why the project is called “Rainy Boy Sleep”, you have to make your mind up about that, you need to sit back and go, “Right, OK, let’s figure this out.”, that’s why that’s always the first question asked, “That name, what does that mean?”, you immediately have to think into it, and I think that’s the reason why. But pop, I’ve always listened to pop, and, they’re the songs that I wanted to listen to, like growing up listening to Blondie in the car. Pop means pop you know, at the end of the day. If you can write a poppier song, let’s go.
DH: Your influences are something of a surprise. You’ve previously listed Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, and System of a Down as artists that you like, as well as the more obvious ones like The Cure and Damien Rice. Are you still into that kind of thing?
SM: As I was saying like, it kind of dawns on you, “Here, I’m not listening to heavy or loud enough stuff: cue Deftones.”, and it was such an important part of my life, and it’s definitely going to come through more down the line in the songs.
DH: Yeah, currently, you don’t seem to incorporate too many of the heavier elements into your music: you have dark lyrics, but rather uplifting music. Do you think that contrast works well?
SM: Well, Manchester Post is like the closest so far, so I’ve got bits and pieces and riffs that I know I want to use in the future.
DH: Do you think your current style of music lends itself better than say, metal, to exploring darker lyrical themes?
SM: The juxtaposition of that happy sound, I don’t know, I know it’s a dirty word, but emo, it’s real uplifting music that’s really dark thematically, which is pretty much as dark as you can go. What’s that Fall Out Boy lyric, that first song, “When you wrap your car around the tree, your makeup looks so great next to the sea.”? It’s not an influence, but yeah, that all comes from The Smiths. I had a bit of an emo phase, but all emo comes from The Smiths, Joy Division and that stuff.
DH: I remember that you covered Joy Division one year at Stendhal, but you made it sound so upbeat.
SM: I thought it was funny anyway, it was almost a celebration, you know, “Love’s going to tear us apart, yay!” That’s my idea of humour.
DH: You obviously take a lot of influence from literature. What writers have had the most impact on you?
SM: A few years back, I was into a lot of early American writers, like Kerouac, Fitzgerald. I think life throws signs at you as well, as to what the next book that you should read should be. I don’t know how, but Dostoevsky as well, and Sartre, I started reading Age of Reason, but whatever happened anyway, I kind of put it down again, and Dostoevsky was the next thing. Actually, I put up a picture of “The Count of Monte Cristo” on Facebook, and said “It’s still the best book I’ve ever read.” and it’s a bit more slapstick, but I kind of want to laugh hilariously at it as well, and you don’t really get that with Fyodor, but it sparked a debate in the comment section underneath it, and someone said “Karamazov Brothers”, so I thought OK, that’s the next one. I love that, and I want to keep doing that, because somebody who is interested in getting into reading, and would pass them (books) otherwise, that’s how it happens, word of mouth, and that’s how I got into this book.
DH: It’s very evident that you have a real respect for storytelling. Have you ever directly taken musical influence from a book?
SM: I absorb stuff from books and that, but I love just hanging out with older people and hearing stories. Like sitting on long journeys, my soundman at the minute, Vinny, he’s got so many class stories, and it’s just a pleasure to sit in the car and just listen to these stories, like he’s got a story for everything, and I think that’s more of the stuff that goes into the songs, because it’s all broken down, it’s been filtered, it’s been thought out, and you have to be able to tell it in a way that’s going to make it good. You could tell the best story in the world, and some boring fucker telling it, it’s, “Aye, good one mate.”, so I think that makes its way into the songs. But you know, reading and keeping your mind open is so important, just being more aware.
DH: What else, outside of literature and music, do you take influence from?
SM: I have my favourite film, I like stuff by Danny Boyle, but The Graduate is my favourite film. Like, that’s obviously going to make its way in there as well. Traveling, nature and that as well, I love. As much as I don’t do it enough, going out and being in the fresh air, but I think whenever you’re hidden away in a dark room for so long, it’s all the more wonderful once you do go for a walk.
DH: Can you see music as always being your primary focus?
SM: I started off doing painting and photography and that, although it’s like something that you can’t just jump back into straight away, and go do that. It took me a year and a half to draw a decent portrait, and because I haven’t been drawing and doing that, it would have to be a conscious decision to say, “OK, I’m not going to focus on music as much right now.” when I do get back into that again, but it’s always something that I can do later on. Like music at the minute, I can’t take my hands off the guitar, it’s just immediate and there, you’ve got your catharsis right there.
DH: What’s been the toughest thing for you as a musician so far?
SM: Every musician I think has to go through the soul destroying gigs. I don’t think any musician can be a musician without doing them. I’d just go to this place, and there’s just nothing, no reaction, they’re the toughest, but I was thinking not so long ago; it was a particularly difficult gig I was playing, and halfway through the gig, I just started smiling, thinking “Snow Patrol had to do this shit!”, so aye, that’d be the hardest thing.
DH: How have you found working with Universal? Have there been any compromises?
SM: No, the album was finished and we presented the album and nothing had to be changed, so that was perfect. DH: Have you written anything and felt that you couldn’t release it?
SM: Aye. Well it’s frustrating, I know, but I understand that the timing is very sensitive as well, but I’ve got songs, I’ve got a great song- well, what I think is a great song- but to release them now would be sheer folly. Two years down the line, aye, there has to be a bit more structure, get people’s idea of the whole thing first of all, before releasing.
DH: What does the next year hold for you?
SM: We’ve got some festivals to do in the summer, then, well the album release and that, so I’m working away, working with what I’ve got. Kind of what I would hope would be about 75 percent of the way through album number two, writing wise. I’m kind of writing on the side as well, songs that I won’t use myself. It keeps the whole artistic flow going as well, you don’t have the pressure of “Oh, I’m going to be singing this song, so it’s ok, I’ll just get this done in any way that I want.”. I’ve been writing with that (other artists) in mind, so there’s my own, there’s that stuff, but aye, just kind of keeping my head into the next album and that, because this one’s done, it’s been done for quite some time.
DH: Are you sick of playing the first album yet?
SM: Um, no.
DH: Are you allowed to say that?
SM: No, there are times I think, “Ah, that song’s grand like.”, and then you know, it’s on my phone or whatever and it would come on shuffle while I’m driving, and I’m like, “That’s pretty good!”, so no, I’m not sick of it, definitely not, but I can’t wait to get stuck into the new stuff as well.
DH: Is control over what you produce something that’s really important to you? Are you willing to let some things slide, or do you meticulously monitor what goes on in mixing?
SM: I am a bit of a control freak like. My bookcase is fucking, I don’t know if I do it on purpose, but it’s kind of intimidatingly neat. It comes and goes in waves, I think the artistic process is messy, it has to be messy, but then there’s this sort of element of control freakishness that takes over when you’re kind of closer to the end product, because you start freaking out. Rihanna has a good thing on Instagram about the creative process “Oh, this is great. Oh, this is maybe not so great. This is shit. I’m shit, and then hold on, maybe this is a wee bit good”, so that’s the way it goes like, the start it’s like “Whoa!” and then you slow down and think, “People are going to have to hear this, it’s not just in my own head,”. But control-wise, with Reuben producing the album, I think if there’d been too much (of my) control, then it would have been a lot different to what he came up with, because that vision that Reuben had, producing what were essentially singer-songwriter songs, and turning them into what they are now, I was overwhelmed at the start.
DH: You’ve been pretty successful in establishing your own style, which has obviously been intentional, but how much experimenting did that take?
SM: As I was saying about the accent and that, it took a while to evolve, and with Frightened Rabbit being such a big influence, it sort of opened my eyes to, “That is so honest.”, hearing these songs being sung in their own voice, and I mean there’s give or take with that as well, some songs don’t need that, if you need to change something and sing it in a more general accent, but stylistically, that’s been important. And then again, with the loop pedal, like I thought that I was just tied into having to be able to play songs that way live and not being able to put anything different on the record, but since working with Reuben, I know that that’s not the case. The most important thing is having a very energetic live show, and being very dynamic as well, so there has been a lot of experimentation. Where I was kind of a wee bit close-minded about the whole thing, working with other people as well really helped.
DH: You’ve gained quite the following in the last few months (as has been reflected in social media). Has the response been anything like you had anticipated?
SM: It’s always surprising me what gets the most likes, what kind of posts get the most likes, but I think I’m kind of getting to grips with that now a lot better, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Like the other night, I was sitting in the house, and just the phone beeped, “BBC Radio 1 are now following you on Twitter.”, I was like, “Oh fuck, that’s kind of a shock.”. It came up on the lock screen, so I took a screenshot, and put it up on Facebook, and three hundred odd likes, which (is mad) compared to not so long ago. It’s very simple things that everyone can kind of relate to, honest things work a lot better, not trying to be too out there, like “Hey, yeah, I’m just a tortured artist man”. I think the rock star is almost dead and gone.
I think Marilyn Manson could be like the last rock star ever, because everything’s changed now. Everybody wants to, everybody’s a celebrity now, because you’ve got your Twitter thing, you’ve got your followers, everybody is a celebrity and everybody’s got that celebrity ego thing in their head, if you have a Twitter, if you have a Facebook, then you’ve got that. There’s no such thing, because everybody’s a rock star now, and because of that like, who would I be to say that I’m any better than anyone at all? People want to know the person, people don’t want to know, because people think that, like I’m running around at the minute with people calling me “Rainy Boy Sleep” or whatever, but it’s not (my name), it’s a title for a project. At the minute, songwriters are such a big thing, because people are tapping into wanting to know the person, and because of that I think that the rock star is dead. I never wanted to be like that, but that’s the whole thing nowadays, I mean, music goes with the times, doesn’t it?
I’m never going to be completely on top of it, because you just don’t have to time to be a musician as well as an expert on how to fucking like, get fire tweets or whatever; there’s never enough time. I mean it’s fascinating, and obviously it’s very important, but it’s not the most important thing.
DH: Have you found anything surreal so far?
SM: I nearly met Alice Glass. We were playing Picnic, my mate was there along with me and we were just walking along backstage, and we seen Alice Glass walking towards her tour bus, and she was just looking round her, and then she kind of did a double take thinking, “Oh, those guys look famous!”, and then she realised, “Aw no, they’re not famous!” and went on the bus, but that was surreal.
DH: Have you been recognised yet?
SM: Aye, going in just to do support slots, and then coming out the back door after the show and thinking, “Nobody even knows my act, let alone my name.” and then they’re all, “Stevie, Stevie, give us an autograph!”, and all this here. Aye, it’s weird, but it’s all part of the fun like. That whole thing, what I’m saying about everbody’s a celebrity, it means so much to fans that they take a selfie with you, and they you know, tag you on Twitter, I think it’s great to be able to retweet that and it’s really special. I try to interact with every single one you know, because that’s what it’s all about these days. It’s so cool that they’re all excited, and then they tweet that on to the world, that’s cool.
DH: What are you currently listening to?
SM: I’m not really listening to anything at the minute. It comes and goes, because I’d kind of discover three or four bands at one time and then be obsessed- ah well, Neutral Milk Hotel, I was obsessed with their album for a while, and I learned a good few of them. I was obsessed with that album there, with King of the Carrot Flowers, Two Headed Boy, all throughout January and February, so that was the last thing I was really hardcore into. Do you ever get that you listen to an album way back, and then, “OK.”, and then it disappears for about a year, and it comes back, something just brings it back to you, and then that’s when you’re obsessed. So yeah I was obsessed like that, I suppose my neighbours were as well, for that matter.
But yeah, locally, Reuben is constantly working on the next thing; he’s a really, really focused artist. I was in Cork there, and just yeah, Reuben’s going to be big. He’s got a lot of things that he’s working with, and he’s always got his head fixed in it, so yeah, he’s going to take off.
DH: If you could transcend time, what artist would you see live?
SM: I really wish that I was old enough to see Slowdive, back then. They’re not the same any more. I know it’s not that long ago, but being around in London to see that kind of shoegaze. And Radiohead’s OK Computer gig in the Mandela- was that 97 or 98?- but that’s not even that long ago. But yeah, shoegaze, like Spiritualized, fuck, you know, I’d have loved to have been there, because I think that (the nineties) has been the most inspiring thing for bands at the minute, because the shoegaze thing is so, so good. Like, bands are taking the eighties as an influence and that, and you think, “OK, is it far enough away now that the nineties is a thing?”. I mean, the eighties thing has already been done a lot, hasn’t it?
DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
SM: *fixes fringe* Um, “how do you get your hair like that?”
Check out the video for Rainy Boy Sleep’s latest single, “Manchester Post”, below (now available on iTunes).
“Deadheading Digs” is a new feature, intended to publicise any recent releases that have proved themselves to be ear worms and deserve to be heard by you, the clamouring, music-hungry masses.
“Red” – More than Conquerors
Belfast-based quartet, the almighty More Than Conquerors, are back. The rhythm-driven, yet almost elegiac “Red” is their first release of 2015, and is evocative of Fugazi, but with greater lyricism and slicker production. They are currently touring the UK, and I strongly advise that you check them out before they take off (they are due to appear at SXSW in Texas later this year).
“Manchester Post” – Rainy Boy Sleep
Flying the flag for folktronica is Rainy Boy Sleep. “Manchester Post” is the first single from his forthcoming album, “Waiting Games” (which is his debut, and will be released with Universal Music, no less), and it is nothing short of smashing. Pleasantly melodic, but with biting, acerbic shreds of wit interspersed throughout, his flawless writing and delivery is matched only by Reuben Keeney’s sharp production.
“Sirens” – Silent Noise Parade
Stalwarts of consistently innovative, alternative electronic, Silent Noise Parade have just released the brilliant “Sirens”. Minimalist, emotive, and something of a slow-burner, this is an incredibly rewarding track (think Brian Eno by way of Irish post-punk) that is bound to keep you hitting the replay button.
“Peanut Butter” – Krill
Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, Krill are a trio that create exceedingly great, pseudo-psych, guitar-based rock, and are leaving a slew of equally eccentric sounds and URLs in their wake (for instance, see their Bandcamp and Twitter links). “Peanut Butter” is catchy, diverse, tinged with dark, garage-rock undertones, and is further evidence, if any were needed, of their being destined for big things. They’re are about to release their third album, the much anticipated “A Distant Fist Unclenching”, and are currently touring Europe.
(I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologise to frontman/bassist Jonah Furman, in case any offence was caused by a tweet of mine. Your vocals on this track are, to me, evocative of Kim Gordon, and that is intended as a compliment.)