Interview: East India Youth

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.

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Interview: Axis Of

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?”

You can order Axis Of’s new album, “The Mid Brae Inn”, here: http://www.independentmusic.com/products/546075-axis-of-the-mid-brae-inn

You can also subscribe to their podcast, “The Prospect Roads”, on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/the-prospect-roads

Live Review: Portrush Brawl, 29th December 2014

The Portrush Brawl, featuring Good Friend, A Bad Cavalier, Two Glass Eyes, Sons of Burlap and Pocket Billiards

Monday 29th December 2014- the Atlantic Bar, Portrush

2014 marked the 8th annual Portrush Brawl, which, in the spirit of tradition, was hosted by Team Fresh at the Atlantic Bar, and this year, was in aid of the Welcome Organisation (a Belfast-based charity that reaches out to the homeless and vulnerable, and is a cause which is definitely worth checking out and supporting: follow the link below for more information on how you can help).

http://www.homelessbelfast.org/

The North Coast/Newcastle Upon Tyne based Good Friend kick off proceedings, with an energetic fusion of old-school post-hardcore and regional punk(think Black Flag meets Dropkick Murphys, but with sharper guitar effects, and no pipes). Playing a series of hearty, hardcore tracks, and providing a preview of their (then unreleased) single, the riff-fuelled “Irish Goodbyes”, Good Friend are a solid choice of starter.

Newcomers to the live circuit, brainchild of ASIWYFA’s Niall Kennedy (and super group, of sorts) A Bad Cavalier produce a slick, joyous, almost glam-influenced set. Every song is a highlight, so for fear of gushing, my personal favourites include: “I Miss My Mind”, which is wonderful, with cheerfully syncopated, yet contagious, driving rhythms; “Olive Tree”, filled with crafty lyrics and infectious electro overtones; and finally, the hook-filled “Coast On”, which boasts expertly constructed layers, full of crashing vocals and waves of harmonious synth and guitar effects. Not a bad start at all for A Bad Cavalier; with their brilliant, meticulously rehearsed repertoire, this performance is even more impressive upon taking into account the fact that this is only their second live outing as a band.

Acclaimed for their visceral, cerebral alt-rock stylings, the superlative Two Glass Eyes are next to take to the stage. Their set blends old fan-favourites, such as the soaring “Mend” and the heart-rending, gnarled “So Old”, with explosive new tracks (which are as yet unreleased, but likely to be featured on their upcoming album) that are full of rumbling bass, pounding, no-holds-barred breakdowns and vocals that veer between hardened and explosive. Evocative of early Deftones, Two Glass Eyes are an intense, brilliant unit that certainly know how to pummel a crowd into (deserved) awe, and are well worth keeping an eye (be it glass or otherwise) on in the year to come.

Having heard only positive things about the rather elusive Sons of Burlap, and given the nature of the other acts, I, for some bizarre reason, anticipated some variation of local, possibly heavily bearded, rock outfit. Despite my expectations being proved wrong in almost every respect, I was not, by any means, disappointed. Having honed a truly unique style, with firm roots in traditional Irish music, but with folk-tinged, Eastern European sensibilities, you’d imagine that such an ambitious musical venture would serve only to divide an audience (a word to the wise: you’d be wrong. I’ve scarcely seen a more tightly concentrated mosh pit assemble).
Upon the band breaking into “Caravan”, I recount it being the first time in my life that I’ve overheard a flute solo being referred to as “killer”, “insane” and “f***ing amazing” non-ironically, while narrowly avoiding being kicked in the head by a passing crowd-surfer. Even if (not just figuratively) killer flute pieces, acerbic fiddle and percussion that’s frenetic enough to fuel a week’s worth of Armenian weddings aren’t your thing, I strongly advise that you never pass up the opportunity to see Sons of Burlap play live. They might not necessarily be synonymous with traditional, but they certainly are with raw, compelling, musical energy.

Heading the bill are Belfast-based ska-punk outfit, Pocket Billiards. They are possibly the ultimate feel-good outfit; the 9-piece waste no time in breaking into their unique strain of energetic ska, with an inclination towards riff-heavy sensibilities that are normally more typical of rock. “Belfast Town” epitomises this, bursting with clever lyrics that have the potential to cut close to home, blaring trumpets and a veritable crescendo of punchy guitar tones harmonising beautifully with the brass section. Their sense of dynamics is second to none, working the audience further into a fervent, heaving mass with songs such as the driving musical force that is “Dirty Money” and the aptly named “Last Chance to Dance”. As members of the crowd are passed overhead at random, writhing, mere inches from inflicting a multitude of fractures, I’m sure that it occurs to everyone that this is a musical initiative that is truly deserving of its name. However, thankfully, no significant injuries are obtained by any party, and as the pit gradually dissolves, it marks another fantastically successful year for the Portrush Brawl; long may it continue.