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: Daveit Ferris

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
any easier.

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
heart sleeps.

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
rewarding?

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
way.

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
Sparks)?

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
know)?

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
this gear.

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
that.

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.

DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked?

DF: ‘How has the Nervous Breakdown been?’

You can stream and buy all of the songs from 365 Sparks at http://365sparks.com/ and you can check out more of Daveit’s music at http://daveitferris.com/music/

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