Live Review: And So I Watch You From Afar, 20th June

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.

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Interview: And So I Watch You From Afar

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.

You can stream and buy And So I Watch You From Afar’s incredible new album, “Heirs”, here: http://asiwyfa.com/heirs