Exclusive: The Autocratic’s debut single, “Beluga”

The Autocratic’s debut single, “Beluga”, is a highly promising release, with a seismic whopper of a riff and a pounding pace that will have you air drumming for days.

Consisting of Connall Ennis (bass and lead vocals), Odhran Bryson (guitar and backing vocals), and Conor O’Kane (drums and backing vocals, the alt-rock trio have spent the last few months making waves and playing gigs in and around their native North Coast.

Evocative of old school Arctic Monkeys by way of ‘80s surf-punk, “Beluga” is an undoubtedly killer tune, practically spilling over with meandering basslines, mean vocals and some superlative shredding. Going on this incredible initial track, The Autocratic will definitely be worth watching in the coming months, so if unconventional takes on traditional rock structures and contagious choruses sound like your kind of thing, you’d better get on board.

Beluga is now available to stream exclusively on Deadheading.

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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.

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

Interview: Axis Of

Deadheading got to have a chat with Axis Of about their love of traveling, touring with Frank Iero, and celebrating their 400th show in their hometown of Portrush, amongst other things.

DH: Why did you choose “Wetsuit” as a single?
NL: It was probably one of the earlier songs in the writing process, and it was quite unique. From the first album, it was a really big departure, so it felt really good to be writing something that was so different than what we usually do, so that made it a bit special in our minds. Then we brought the finished version to Smalltown (America), our label, and they were loving it, they had a really good vibe on it. I think it has a really good chorus, and I always like the idea of dropping something from a new album that will get people’s attention, in a positive or negative way, so when people heard it they were like “That doesn’t sound like Axis Of!”. A lot of people said they listened to it, and didn’t actually like it at first, and then it grew on them, so it was like shock value, almost.
EF: It was actually Andrew, I remember Andrew, the head of the record label, we had like three singles that we were talking about, and we were like, “Oh, well we could do this one, because it’s a bit like ‘Finding St. Kilda’, the other album, and it could kind of bridge the gap, or ease people into a new album.”, and he was like “Nah, don’t.”, as Niall said, shock value, get the most different song out there first and grab people’s attention, so it definitely did, you’re right, people were like, “This doesn’t sound like what we know.”, but people did come around to it, I think.

DH: How exactly do you think the North Coast has shaped your sensibilities, musical or otherwise?
EF: I mean, I think the defining thing is our love of travel and we’re shaped by that, our wider view of the world, but it does always come back to this idea of home, and there’s a lot of that on the album, the idea of returning home. I think it’s impossible to escape around here- you know it yourself, walking around Portrush, or just generally, you’re so immersed in it, and the distinction between nature and civilisation is much more blurred than it would be in a city, like you’re walking on the cliff when you’re even in the town. I think the raw power of the coast is so inescapable, and that’s probably why we’ve maybe absorbed it the way we have.

DH: How did the tour with Frank Iero come about?
EF: We have a friend who was helping him on his European tour, helping with some of the logistics and personnel, in terms of the crew he might have when he came to Europe, and that guy got our record and he said, “Oh, here, check out Axis Of if you’re looking for a support band.”, and Frank listened to it, and he liked the band, simple as that. He needed a band to open the tour, and he trusted this guy’s word on it, that we were a nice bunch of chaps, so we got the tour.

DH: What kind of an experience was touring with him?
EF: It was brilliant, I mean, he has such a dedicated fan base and they were there from seven in the morning, or sometimes the night before the show, so there was never any question of “Will we get to play to people?”, and that’s something that’s always asked everyday on our own headlining tours, or even some of the support tours that we’ve done, it’s always “Do you think there’ll be anyone here?”, “Will we play to anyone?”, but that was never an issue, so having that being sorted off the bat was amazing. We could focus on how we sing, we could focus on how we play, and various technical things, because we didn’t have to worry about drumming up a crowd, which was cool. And then, we got to travel in their sleeper bus, which was amazing, because it was the most luxurious, comfortable way to travel, and surprisingly, say there was three of us, and then there was a tour manager and then there was his crew, and none of the three parties had met each other before, but everyone got on so well. We were effectively living and working together for a month; I don’t think there was one argument, there were no disagreements. Everyone just got on, everyone got on with their work, I remember telling my mum about it, and she was like, “That’s so lucky.”. I mean, you’ve got people from Ireland, someone from Italy, and then a whole crew from America, and it was so surprising that everyone got on as well as they did.

DH: How do you feel about tonight being your 400th show?
NL: Good. It’s mad, isn’t it? It’s just like, that’s insane. That’s our growing up, that’s all of our adult life we’ve been in this band. We were 17 when we started this band.
EF: It’s amazing, we’ve seen so much over those 400 shows, done so much, changed so much- I’m really proud. Pride is the overwhelming thing, and then, I think our band is very obsessed with documenting our own history, as it were. I nerd out on bands anyway, so I’ve got a list of all those gigs, and I’ve got little bits written about all of them, so just having that, it’ll be incredible for us to be able to look back on in years, and think, “What amazing memories.”.
NL: It was funny, we were talking earlier about the widest scope between the styles of gig we’ve played. We were trying to work it out, and I think we said, Mandela Hall, with Twin Atlantic, maybe Vicker Street, with Therapy?, or the Ulster Hall, and then going from that into this squat we played in Amsterdam, and there were more dogs than people there. It was behind this big barricade, so it was like a squatted school, and it was one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to, it could not be more different, but it’s cool, because I think not all bands could really get that, we’re lucky in the sense that that gig wasn’t good for us in a financial or a business sense, but in terms of us getting to do interesting things that we wouldn’t get to do outside of music, it was the best gig we’ve ever done, you know? Just an utterly bizarre, otherworldly kind of place.
EF: It’s like, I think primarily we view our band as a vehicle to see and experience the world, and we just happen to do it within the eyes of the band, and that’s the way we do it. Not only that, but we’ve met people that there would be no iota of possibility of us ever meeting these people had it not been for being on tour. Like we’ve played in Germany, we’ve played in Italy, but you could go there as a tourist and you wouldn’t see a single thing that you would see if you were a band touring that place or meeting people in that way, so it’s a really unique way to view the world, and all 400 shows have been a part of that story, so yeah that’s amazing.

DH: What, if anything, do you miss most whilst you are touring?
NL: Someone there in Europe asked me this, and I said seven-a-side football. In a more general sense, it’s because I really like jogging and I really like swimming and I love playing football; I can jog while I’m on tour, and I can swim the odd time, but I can’t play football, so it’d probably be that.
EF: I’m into nature and hill-walking and that, so I would miss the North Coast a bit, but then by the same token, I don’t think we really pine for things. Like the odd time, we’d say “Oh, I wish I could do that.”, but generally you’re just so wrapped up in it you don’t have the chance to miss anything. Unless the tour is really bad, then you probably do miss things.

DH: What’s the worst tour that you’ve ever been on?
NL: I think it’s better looking at it through gigs.
EF: We’ve done really bad gigs. Like sometimes, a bad tour can be saved by one great gig. We’ve done some really, shockingly bad gigs over the years, it happens. I mean, in our first year of being a band, we played in this venue on winter nights all the time to no one. We used to do it all the time, like, “Aw yeah, do you guys want to play here again?”, and we were like, “Yeah, we’ll go play.”, so some of those were bad.
NL: Well actually, last week we played in Manchester, at a festival, and it was a really weird atmosphere, because it was in this bar and half of it was a bar and the rest of it was stage, and then a standing area. So there were a load of people in the bar, so we thought, “They’re all here for the bands.”, but no-one was there for the bands. Everyone was just sitting there, having their pints and ten metres away, a band was playing. But it was like that for all the bands, so it wasn’t a one-off for us, all the bands were playing to a full bar where no-one was listening. Whilst we were playing, a guy brought up a note onstage, and it said, “You guys are shit. Love, Ronan”.
EF: It was a strange thing to do, but there you go.

DH: Whenever you’re writing songs, do you think about what would work live?
EF: Yeah, there’s a bit of, “I think this would be good for crowd participation”. We were thinking more about how the songs would sound live when we wrote and recorded our first record; on the next one we tried to think more methodically, like, “Let’s write the best album we can, and worry about playing it after.”, but I think you’re always conscious of that. Some people would say that we write catchy choruses, at least, the odd time, but you always have to think about how that’ll be live, and even about riffs and stuff as well.

DH: Which record did you find the most challenging to write?
EF: The next one. But out of the two, I would probably say-
NL: Probably St. Kilda. I don’t know, I can’t really remember any struggle. There was one stage when we were writing the Mid Brae Inn, and I was a little bit anxious at the idea of moving away from the super-heavy vibes we were going for, but then it was only like fifteen minutes, so I can’t even say it was an issue. The writing process for Finding St. Kilda spanned quite a long time, so there was always, “Will this fit with this song?”, “Will this work?” or “Is this new style too difficult?”. A lot of that was going on.

DH: Was striking a balance between heavier music and pop elements a conscious decision, or did it occur naturally?
NL: Yeah, I think it came naturally.
EF: A bit of both. As much that it’s conscious in that you listen to a band that you like that’s really poppy, and you go, “Oh, we should do something like that.”, nothing more than that. We didn’t say, if we do this, then this many people will like us, it’s just, you get really hyped on a style, or even a device in a piece of music, and you go, we should put that in one of our songs, but then you interpret it through the eyes of what Axis Of is, and then it sounds different anyway.
NL: In quite simplistic terms, I like a lot of metal, and I like a lot of pop music, so it’s going to happen.

DH: Who has been your favourite band to tour with so far, and if you could tour with anyone, who would it be?
NL: This is a tough one, because I think The Bronx are the best band we’ve toured with. They’re an amazing band, we got on really well with them, but we were touring in our own vehicle, and they were in their van, but it was a great tour with Frank and the guys. They were lovely, and really helpful, supportive, but different bands bring different things. I mean, we loved touring with And So I Watch You From Afar, the few times we’ve done that.
EF: Yeah, that’s always good, just like there’s banter and that going on.
NL: Yeah, they’re our friends and our relatives, so that’s always good. I’m trying to think, any band that we could tour with… Queen.
EF: Any band, ever? Yeah, Queen.
NL: Would you like The Clash more?
EF: Ah, yeah, The Clash. Or like, because you’re going into the territory of do we go on tour with any band because of their crowd size, or because we love the band?
NL: In an all-round sense, I think Queen would be a great tour. Like massive, humongous shows, hanging out with the lads.

DH: What made you want to form a band in the first place?
EF: Basically, what happened was, we were both in teenage, kind of punk bands, two different ones, and we were doing pretty much the same sort of size gigs and the same sort of things, and Niall seemed like the guy from his band that, whenever that band would die away, that he’d keep continuing to do music and keep pursuing that, in a more serious way. And then I was the guy in my band that wanted to do that: I wanted to go on tour; I wanted to release records, so we kind of spotted each other. Then we had similar taste in music, and similar ideas about what our new band would be, so we just formed a band together, and that was it.

DH: Was a career in music always your end-goal?
NL: Pretty much when we started the band. We were in, say, upper-sixth at school when the band started, and we were making decisions like that anyway. I was going to study music technology in Belfast, so it was like, maybe we’ll move the band to Belfast and see what happens there. Those decisions kind of came to the fore anyway.

DH: If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would you be doing?
EF: If I hadn’t ended up in music… I thought for a time that I really wanted to do some kind of environmental studies, like renewable energy or something like that, I think there’s an interest there.
NL: When it came to deciding what things to do, I’m always very non-committal, I just don’t like taking things seriously, so when I was asked what in Career Studies, and everyone else was writing teacher or social worker, or something like that; I think my first one was musician, and my second one was football pundit, and I literally meant football pundit, like I’m going to be on Match of the Day. I was joking to a certain extent, but maybe something down that road. I like the idea of how simple it was; I’m either going to be on TV, or I’m going to be a rock star.

DH: What has been the most difficult aspect of committing to Axis Of full-time?
EF: Ask any band that does what we do. We don’t pay our rent with what Axis Of make, we don’t buy our food with what Axis Of make. This music, particularly at this time in the music industry, it’s not financially secure, so you’ve got to busy yourself with other bits and pieces, so that struggle between part time jobs and that kind of thing, that’s the hardest thing about it. Some people just can’t live the way we do.
NL: I think it would be impossible for some people. It’s manageable for us because we don’t have expensive lifestyles. It’s not like, “God, the band isn’t selling enough records, we can’t go to the Caribbean again!”.
EF: That’s the most challenging thing about the band and where we’re at, because we’re not quite in the place where we can just quit our jobs, so we do other bits and pieces, which is all kind of linked in with music or in the media world, it keeps us going, but we’re not a big enough band to be making money off just Axis Of-
NL: But we’re not small enough to just do the odd gig every six months.
EF: I don’t think we could have had three people in Axis Of doing nine to five jobs, who meet every once a week to have a practice; it’s a bigger commitment than that. It’s walking that line between, we’re not making that much money, but we still want to go on tour a few times a year and spend some time in the studio, so it’s a big commitment.

DH: Do you always think that music will be your primary focus?
EF: I don’t think you should ever think like that. Like you know what your end game is, and you know what lies ahead of you. Right now, who knows? I think that for me, personally, I always think that something creative will be my primary focus; whether or not that’s music, who knows?
NL: One thing I’ve noticed through playing music is if I do end up in another career, I’ll want it to be a career that helps me travel, or that at least doesn’t prohibit me from traveling. I like the idea of being able to go different places via something I’m working on.

DH: What comes first: the lyrics or the music?
NL: We write independently of each other, so obviously we’d play the music first, but the lyrical ideas might already be there, so I’d write a song or Ewen would write a song, and then we’d bring it to the full band and then we’d put the lyrics on top, but the lyrics might already be there.
EF: There’s ideas for lyrics, maybe, in the beginning, then comes the music and then the fully-formed lyric, and so on.

DH: Is song writing something that you approach spontaneously, or do you actively seek out subject matter?
EF: We don’t sit down and think, “Today I’m going to write a song”. As long as you play a lot of guitar, just sit and play it, that’s how it happens.

DH: Outside of music, what do you tend to draw influence from?
EF: A huge pool of things. I mean, if I had the lyrics now, I could sit down and pick out all the little bits that come from it, but I think a lot of it comes from our travels.
NL: It covers a wide range of topics, like the idea of traveling. So you’d be somewhere, and you’re not just traveling, you’re witnessing the political situation of a new country, you’re witnessing the nightlife of a new country, or you’re witnessing the environment of a new country, so with that landscape it gives you the freedom to go into other areas.
EF: If you’re someone who is interested in travel, what does that mean? It means you’re interested in the science, or the architecture, the art, the culture, or whatever it is. Traveling is like experiencing the world and all of its facets, so that’s why our songs are so crammed, so abstract and reference-heavy, in regard to music and politics and everything. We’re basically an encyclopaedia of knowledge: an encyclopaedic band.

DH: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
EF: I learned to play the bass for Teenage Kicks. It’s so clichéd, like the first thing you ever learned.
NL: I think it was Barney the Dinosaur on piano. On guitar, it was probably Seven Nation Army, but I remember getting into secondary school and being in music class, everyone was like, “Does anyone know any songs?”, and they were like, “No, no-one.”, and I was just like, rocking out Barney! I can still play it to this day. If someone gets me a keytar, I will play it.

DH: When you write songs, is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually end up with?
EF: That’s a great question. You think there is?
NL: Yeah. Between what I write and what I attempt to write?
EF: That’s deep. I think, one thing close to that, particularly when I’m writing something on my own at home, I’ll write it on an acoustic guitar, so I don’t even know what it sounds like on an electric guitar, and then I’ll work out a bassline or something and I’ll imagine what the drums are, and I’ll have that in my head. Then you take it to the band, and it always sounds different, but occasionally, good. I don’t think I ever know what a song is going to sound like in the end.
NL: It’s like, in my head, I’ve got all the drums, and I’ve added all the bass and stuff, and then you bring it to the band and you’re like, “Wow, that sounds awful, that’s insane.”. Not all the time, but definitely on occasion.
EF: I think when I first wrote songs for my old band, you did just write a song, write the structure, tell the drummer what to play, tell the other guy what to play, and that was it done, whereas that’s never what’s happened in Axis Of. We’ve never had an idea and it’s just been done, it always needs tweaked, and I think that’s important as a much more mature band. It doesn’t frustrate me when it changes. For example, “All My Bones”, the first song on the album, it was a lot different once we actually finished it, and it took six months, and it’s such a simple song, but we changed the structure every practice, so that kind of gets frustrating, but generally speaking, it’s great that it changes, that’s the whole point.

DH: Is creative control something that’s very important to you?
EF: I think we’ve learned to compromise, and I wouldn’t be in a band with Niall if I didn’t think he had great ideas, so obviously, if he suggested them, you’ve got to speak to each other. Occasionally, there are things where we just wouldn’t budge on a thing, like, “We’re going to do it that way, or we’re not going to do it at all.”, that happens to, but I think we’re better at talking about it than we used to be.

DH: You’ve gained quite a following, especially in recent months. Has the reception been anything like you had anticipated?
NL: No, I guess I didn’t really anticipate the reception we got. I thought that it would be quite divisive, and it has been, to a certain extent. There’s a lot of people in Belfast that follow more indie, or pop-rock stuff, and those people like us as their punk band, so when we get a bit lighter, it’s like, “Oh, but I like it when they’re heavy.”, but then there’s people who are really into heavy music who might not like us too much, so it’s kind of weird. It’s been cool, especially going on that tour and playing to so many new people, so to them we’re a new band, there’s been no history, there’s no preconceived ideas about what we do or what kind of sound we have, and they all loved it. So it does make you think that yeah, we are writing really good music. I totally respect that some people like a certain style of music and they wouldn’t be into it, but we’re still going to write whatever we want.

DH: Do you resent being a token kind of heavy band for some people?
NL: No, definitely not. It’s cool, I guess, that’s what gave us the leg up in Belfast, we played with loads of indie and post-rock bands, and we came out with really heavy guitars and were screaming, and people were a bit shocked then. If we play with a load of other bands who are screaming with heavy guitars, then we’re just going to be seen as another run of the mill band. So no, I don’t resent that at all, actually, I think it’s kind of cool. If a band lasts long enough, Biffy Clyro being the perfect example, there are people who will swear blind to the first three albums and then say everything after that is god-awful, and then there are people who don’t know those first three albums, who got into them later, but that’s just the way of it.

DH: Have you found any experience surreal so far?
NL: Probably the Frank tour. Frank wore our t-shirt at a gig in Bristol, and that’s just really odd. It’s really cool, but it is odd, because I was never a massive My Chemical Romance fan. I wasn’t mad into them, but they were like one of the biggest bands in the world. When I was sixteen and I was into my punk, I used to really hate emo kids, and it’s funny- if you told my sixteen year old, naïve self that I would be on tour with a guy from My Chemical Romance and that he wore our shirt on stage, I probably would have been like, “No, I won’t!”.
EF: There was a surreal moment on that tour, speaking to Frank’s guitar tech, and he was like, “Yeah, there was that time we went over to Brian’s house, because we had to rehearse for Reading and Leeds.”, and I was like, “Brian?”, and he was like, “Yeah, you know, Brian May.”, and I was just like no, I don’t know him, but I do know who you’re talking about. He was like, “Brian May made me a cup of coffee.”, and I was like, that’s so insane.

DH: How did the Prospect Roads podcast come about?
NL: For me, it was, because I always wanted to do a football podcast, but I felt like I couldn’t really offer anything new or unique, and I remember thinking if bands ever do tour podcasts, because surely there’s something to be said for that, and I said to Ewen about it, and we were like happy days, let’s do it. I think people are interested in the touring side of things, and we get to speak to so many ridiculously interesting people, so why not try and showcase that, and use touring as a vehicle. There are people who might run a podcast, and they’re like right, I want to interview this person in Berlin, but I’ll have to get a flight over, but we’re in Berlin anyway, so we might as well. It’s very convenient, if nothing else.
EF: I’m starting to have this idea, that Axis Of could be bigger than something that’s just a band. I like the idea of, if you went to the website, it’s something that’s quite down the line, and here’s where Ewen and Niall have a lot of things to offer: here’s the podcast that they do, this is their band, here’s their records. It’s a collective and a collection, and if you have those things to offer- I’m really proud of our podcast- and we love doing it. It’s a great outlet, so we’re very proud of it, and if anyone wants to subscribe, then please do.

DH: What, if anything would you do differently?
NL: Nothing. I don’t think we’d change anything, really.
EF: Yeah, I suppose we wouldn’t do anything differently. I mean, I could get out that list of the 400 gigs and write all the ones that we shouldn’t have played, but at the end of the day, it’s all led up to where we are today.

DH: What are you currently listening to?
EF: I’m currently listening to a band called Why? I was in America, writing some music, and I was hanging out with a guy called Henry Cohen, he plays in a band called Mylets, and he was driving me around in his car, and he was playing Why? all the time, and I was just like, I love this, so that’s totally my jam right now.
NL: Kendrick Lamar. I really like To Pimp A Butterfly.

DH: You obviously enjoy working with Smalltown America, but as a local band that’s become quite successful, do you ever feel any pressure to refute the attention of bigger labels?
EF: Well, we’ve never had any choice.
NL: I think if the right opportunity arose, I wouldn’t feel any pressure not to do it. I’d weigh it up, I wouldn’t run out and say that I’d definitely do it, but I wouldn’t let anything other than personal preference decide that.
EF: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.

DH: If you could transcend space and time, what artist would you see live?
EF: The Clash, definitely.
NL: A tour between Nickelback and GG Allin, but they’d have to be on the same bill.
EF: No, GG Allin fronting Nickelback, because he’d hopefully ridicule the rest of the band.

DH: Have you ever actually visited the Mid Brae Inn?
EF: Yeah, we’ve played there. We’ve played two gigs in Shetland, and one of them was in the Mid Brae Inn; it was this tiny bar, with a handful of people here. It was less about the venue, because it’s similar to somewhere like here, but it’s more about the trip itself, we wanted to take something with a Shetland theme. It was a great trip for us, it encapsulates the whole ethos of the band, going to those weird and wonderful places, seeing different things, meeting cool people and interpreting our landscape that way, but it had to be about Shetland, and the Mid Brae Inn was one of those names that just popped out.

DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
NL: “Would you like this big bag of money?”

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

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

Live Review: Portrush Brawl, 29th December 2014

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

Monday 29th December 2014- the Atlantic Bar, Portrush

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

http://www.homelessbelfast.org/

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

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

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

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

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