Well, here was something different. And by different I mean mind blowingly fucking ridonculous. Cumbersomely silly band-name notwithstanding (starting with a coordinating conjunction worked better for … And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, and they even threw in an ellipsis at the beginning), And So I Watch You From Afar (henceforth to be abbreviated ASIWYFA, which is still kind of a pain in the ass to type), the instrumental quartet from Belfast, tore the roof off of Santos Party House while playing in New York (09/30) on their first full scale US tour after making a name for themselves gigging and recording in the UK.
It’s somewhat difficult to classify their music into a neat genre. Is it metal? Yeah, I guess. But metal filtered through the psychedelia of 90s electronica outfits would be a somewhat more appropriate description, if that makes any sense. ASIWYFA’s songs hit you with an impact similar to that of the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” or “Block Rockin’ Beats” by the Chemical Brothers. It’s a heavy sound, but you can dance to it. Oh yeah, did I mention they’re fucking LOUD? I didn’t? Well, they’re fucking LOUD!
I spent a few hours one day watching clips of modern metal bands (not Nü Metal, please…) like Dragonforce and Children of Bodom, and, honestly, I was left feeling rather underwhelmed. They were all great players, no doubt, and I don’t mean to take anything away from the musicianship of these bands. Nevertheless, there was something cold and mechanical about them, and it seemed that musicality played second fiddle to virtuosic displays of technical prowess. It also seems to me that among modern metal bands there’s a certain insularity present in their sounds. It all seems very self-referential with few forays into uncharted stylistic territories. That’s not the case with ASIWYFA. Indeed, if anything, it’s the unexpected stylistic shifts and great use of dynamics that make ASIWYFA’s music stand out.
Just to throw out an example, take the closing number of the set “Eat The City, Eat It Whole” which starts off with a quieter passage reminiscent of “The Tourist” from Radiohead’s OK Computer (I could have sworn I heard Thom Yorke faintly singing somewhere in the midst of Santos Party House… then again, the sheer volume of ASIWYFA may have simple been causing me to experience auditory hallucinations…) before turning into a lushly arranged, epic riff fest. There’s a lot of great use of effects you normally don’t hear in a metal context: shoe gazing dreamy delays, sustaining ebows, and whammy pedal wackiness more commonly associated with indie bands or bands like Television and Sonic Youth (I even think I spied an ElectroHarmonix MicroSynth on stage). Like the latter two, ASIWYFA also feature great interplay between guitarists Rory Friers and Tony Wright, who complement each other nicely and seamlessly slip in and out of the lead and rhythm roles.
As far as the show went: I’m writing this a little over 24 hours after the show and my ears are still ringing. What’s that, son? Speak up, boy, I can’t hear you. They were so loud and heavy that immediately following their performance I had to run to the bathroom just to make sure that they hadn’t played the elusive and mystical brown note. I’m happy to say no boxer briefs were soiled during the gig. But it was a close call. The abrasiveness of the band’s music at times assaults the audience, but always in a very compelling and musical way. Credit here has to be given to drummer Chris Wee, who is clearly a very accomplished chops monster on the instrument. Unlike most metalish drummers, though, his approach is less fixated on how many notes he can coax out of his double kick drum pedal and more on playing what’s appropriate for the song. Adeptly handling the occasional odd time and meter shifts within the band’s material and by playing with a high degree of musicality, Wee manages to mesh the more aggressive and quieter material into a seamless whole. I love to knock on Lars Ulrich (the most overrated drummer ever. EVER!), but his limitations would be exposed in a band like ASIWYFA. Has anyone listened him try to swing and groove in 6/8 time on Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”? Does anyone think it actually sounds any good? Pipe down, you in the back. Wee combines with bass player Johnny Adger to lay down one seriously heavy and funky groove, and yet they’re able to handle the radical dynamic shifts of the band’s material with ease.
Second, everybody in the place was paying attention. Even though the crowd was still filtering in as ASIWYFA was hitting the stage, all eyes and ears were fixed upon the stage. This is no mean feat for an instrumental band. It usually falls to the singer and his or her lack of charisma to enthrall an audience. Aside from an occasional shout into the microphone by Wright, however, there are no vocals in ASIWYFA’s music, and so the band does not have the luxury of relying on a pretty face as a crutch to support interest in the band. Nevertheless, thanks to their bludgeoning riffs and massive volume, ASIWYFA had no problem focusing the audiences ears upon them. But from a visual standpoint, the amount of energy the band displayed by jumping up and down and running across the stage was infectious and served to have every eye trained on them as well. Seriously, this has to be seen to be believed. I managed to talk briefly with Friers and Wright about a half hour after the set and they were still so drenched in sweat that they looked like they had just come back from a fully-clothed swim in the Hudson River.
These guys know how to play and are making some interesting music that deserves to be heard by a broad audience. However, I wonder what the market for an instrumental indie metal band is these days. Once you hear them, I think you’ll like them, and if you see them in concert, I think you’ll be suitably impressed by their live set. The material is musical enough to support a singer of talent commensurate with the rest of the band, and I wonder if it adding a vocalist might not be an avenue the band should explore down the road.
I have one final note about Santos Party House, and unfortunately what I have to say is a bit of a mixed bag. As I mentioned earlier the crowd was still trickling in as ASIWYFA took the stage, and this is not because there was no one who wanted to go to the show. Actually there was a line stretching down the block and around the corner of Lafayette Street. The crew working the door at the venue didn’t start letting people in until just before 7, the scheduled start time for ASIWYFA, the first of four bands on the bill. This caused a total bottleneck jam at the entrance. The explanation given was that because of noise restrictions upon the venue the bands cannot begin soundchecking until 6 pm. Why start the show at 7 then and not start letting people in until just before show time? It doesn’t make much sense to me. Still I have to give credit to the security crew for not being dicks (this is New York City, after all, and bouncers tend to be of the unapologetic take-no-shit-from-anybody variety). Since there was only one line for all audience members, whether you were on a band’s list or not, the crew from Live4Ever got caught up in the logjam trying to get in. We managed to get in after explaining why we were there and who we were there to see, and although we missed the first song of the set (and it was a short half hour set) the bouncer did give us complimentary drink tickets, and if there’s one thing the Live4Ever crew loves as much as rock n’ roll, it’s drinking.
Set Guitars to Kill, Santos Partyhouse, NYC
We got invited to join the band in their converted school bus which is taking them around North America on their tour and have a chat about what’s been going on since we last saw them at SXSW festival in March.
L4E: How’s it goin’ lads?
Rory: It’s goin’ great thanks! Just lovely!
L4E: We just witnessed your incredible live sound at Santos Party House. Great set lads!
Rory: Thank you.
L4E: We’d like to introduce And So I Watch You From Afar to our readers, so tell us a little about the band. Where are you guys actually from?
Rory: We’re from the very north coast of Northern Ireland.
Tony: Portstewart baby!
L4E: Do you know each other from school?
Tony: We know each other from the very small music scene that was there years ago. Me and Johnny were in a band. Me, Rory and Chris were in a band as well up there and we just kind of amalgamated over the years.
L4E: Where does the name of the band come from?
Rory: Well, Chris’ first boyfriend…!!
Tony: There’s no great mystic about it. We needed a name and Johnny stepped up and were like, yep that’s it and it was actually a line that was adapted from a song lyric. It’s a Team Sleep song. Team Sleep was a side project of Chino Moreno from Deftones and Johnny had misheard a line from one of their songs and we all laughed at him for his daft ears!!
Rory: And ever since, he’s been called daft ears!!
L4E: It’s also become somewhat of a cool acronym?
Rory: Yeah! You know, when we first started we didn’t think we’d be touring America in five years time so, it did what it needed to do. But since I think it has become, for all of us, more than just a few words and it had always conjured up cool imagery that everybody in the band has been into at some point – the surveillance thing and big brother is watching you and the whole Orwellian world – stuff Joe Strummer would have sang about and that. So, I guess we’ve been trying to come up with a cool reason ever since!
Tony: I think what’s cool about it is that other people come up to us and ask does it mean… this…? And we’re like, Yeah! So, that’s much cooler, for them to create their own identity for it but to us it’s just a collection of words.
Rory: But it’s cool. It embodies the band. The name is just a collection of words and doesn’t mean anything until the band becomes a band and then suddenly it’s the band you know?, like Oasis!
L4E: Or The Minutes, from Dublin. The name is completely ambiguous; it means nothing on its own!
Yeah! They’re fuckin’ great. I thought they were awesome. They were on before us in Austin and that was the first time I saw them. They were really good.
L4E: How would classify your sound? Is it Instrumental music?
Rory: It’s instrumental because we don’t have a singer and it sounds stupid but we wouldn’t necessarily classify ourselves as an instrumental band. We’ve always just said, ‘we’re a band’ and at the minute we’re trying to write music that we love and if at any point there’s someone singing over it that will make us love it more, then we will [have somebody sing]. But we like the way it is. There’s no front man, no narrative and, I’d sad to say there’s no image to us!
Tony: …because we’ve all got extreme right wing political views! That’s not true. We do not have extreme right wing political views. But the truth of the matter is, if we wrote lyrics, nobody would want to hear them! And apart from that, none of us have particularly good singing voices, other than Rory!
Rory: Apart from Chris!
Chris: Celine Dion!
Tony: Chris’ voice would melt a dictator’s heart!
L4E: So, you’re not closed to the idea of having a singer?
Rory: Yeah, we’re not closed to anything. We would just classify ourselves as a punk band because that’s what it feels like to be in this band and that’s what it feels like day to day for us. I guess it’s an ethos thing and punk was, or is an interesting thing and we’re trying to make sounds that people haven’t necessarily done before and that’s what we’re always striving to do – write something that we enjoy listenin’ to and enjoy playin’ and pushes us creatively.
Tony: I think any band that we listen to, would probably say the same – that music for them comes first and lyrics would be second, but we just kind of cut that out.
L4E: What bands influenced you growing up?
Chris: Smashing Pumpkins for me – Big influence for my drumming and general musical taste.
Tony: I think Nirvana and Fugazi would be two of mine.
Rory: I think we all remember when ‘Relationship of Command’ by At the Drive-In (went on to form The Mars Volta) arrived on our side of the Atlantic. I think that record introduced a lot of people to the puck thing that wasn’t what everyone perceived punk to be.
L4E: Cool. Need to get that then! Something pretty cool happened earlier this year. You toured with Them Crooked Vultures – One of the highlights of your career so far?
Rory: It was definitely one of the highlights of their career! We stuck them on after us every night!
Tony: I think if those guys keep their heads down and keep on doin’ what they’re doin’, they’ll do alright! But no, it was great. It was fuckin’ awesome! It was really, really cool. We got to play to a lot of new people and people that probably wouldn’t have heard us otherwise, so it was fuckin’ cool.
L4E: It seems they were really into your sound.
Johnny: I think so. They invited us back! So, they must have liked us a bit. After the European shows, they were doing a show in the Brixton Academy in London and they got in touch and asked us if we’d play that with them. That was a couple of weeks after the European shows. So, that was really great!
L4E: Earlier this year, you guys did SXSW. How was that experience for you guys?
Rory: Yeah! It was another one of those things that we’d heard of growing up. I remember Zane Lowe presenting from SXSW and I was going, ‘Wow! We’re going to Texas’! And it was brilliant and overwhelming but I think when we go back next year we’ll know how to use it. But it was a brilliant experience. There was just too much goin’ on to see. We were getting stressed out that we were missing something! You just know everybody there is all about, music.
L4E: You mentioned using this year’s experience to your advantage next year. How so?
Tony: Well, it was a big culture shock to us. Next year we can be more centered in that we know what to expect now and we’ll probably administer our time a little bit more sensibly.
L4E: It seems that you’ve been touring non-stop since last March. Do you like touring?
Tony: Yeah! We live for it. Although, we kind of had the summer off in one respect, at least from touring, in that we were recording our second album where during the week we were focused in the studio and on the weekends we’d head off to Germany, England or Latvia! And we’d come back and hit the studio again. So, it was a break from the normal touring schedule. In that time, we did something like twenty-two festivals over the course of eight weekends in the summer, which was pretty cool.
But I remember saying to the lads at the last one, Electric Picnic I think it was, that I couldn’t wait to go back on tour. Festivals are great and they’re lots of fun but it’s great to be on tour and be focused in doing so. Don’t get me wrong, touring can get mundane but at a festival we play during the day and then there’s a lot of sitting around, whereas on tour the show is the end of the night, it’s what we’ve been waiting to do.
L4E: You mentioned the recording the second album this summer. Is it finished?
Tony: Yeah, the album has is done. It just has to be mixed. Hopefully, it’s going to come out in March, early March possibly.
Rory: Probably by the time South by comes around again. We’re all quietly confident. It was a strange process to this album. With the first record, all we did was rehearse everyday and then obviously we toured, probably too much last year and then suddenly we realized, shit we had to put out another record. So, there was probably a small point where we felt a little bit of pressure, like ‘Holy shit, it’s the clichéd tough second album, Oh my god! Not us!’
Then, about six weeks before we were due to go in to record the album, we decided to scrap all twenty-five tracks we had written and we had a nervous phone call to our record label and our producer to tell them that everything we had demoed and were workin’ on for the year was in the bin and we were writin’ a new album.
We wrote that new album in those six weeks and went in and recorded it, and in fact one of the tunes we finished about a week and a half into the recording process and laid it down the next day after having finished writing it!
But, that was cool. It was a liberating experience. I mean, the twenty-five songs were good but they reminded us of the stress of writing an album so, we said fuck those and now these new songs remind us of just us writin’ an album.
Tony: I think the songs we have for this album coming out are much more of a representation of who we are as a band now, rather than the band that we became through such relentless touring. And one of the things we said when we decided to scrap the twenty-five songs is, let’s write an album that’s going to be fucking amazing to play live and something that we’re really going to enjoy and hopefully everybody else does as a result too. I think it’s something that is more us, rather than sitting and deliberating over little bits and lots of pre-production for the songs than before and we just went ‘fuck it, let’s just write some real fun, hooky fuckin’ kick ass album’.
L4E: I’ve often had that thought; why bands don’t seem to create their music with the idea that they’re going to be playing these songs live and that that’s the most important thing.
Rory: That was a big realization for us. I remember it was just said in the studio one day that we’re goin’ to be touring again and we’re probably goin’ to do another two-hundred shows next year, so we don’t want to be touring something that is great on record but can’t recreate live.
L4E: One of our Live4ever crew made an observation; When you play music or listen to music it brings out a lot of emotion and you guys really show that physically on stage and that it might be really effective to see you guys, almost stand still and play that powerful music. What do you think about that?
Tony: For me personally, I really enjoy seeing a band as well as hearing them. I enjoy seeing them and feeling what they’re going through.
Rory: The thing is, I know what you mean. There are bands that do that and you can feel their presence very much. But the problem is, as soon as we make that switch in our head where we’re going to try and do that, then instantaneously there’s some kind of planning and pretense to it and what we do there’s not thought process to it. It’s 100% sincerity. There’s al most no other way it can be for us, because it’s just something natural.
L4E: Ok lads, cool. Thanks a lot.
ASIWYFA: Thank you!
Be sure to catch the band in a city near you:
Oct 4 2010 7:30P Mohawk Place Buffalo, NY
Oct 5 2010 10:30P Rex Theatre Pittsburgh, PA
Oct 6 2010 7:30P Grog Shop Cleveland, OH
Oct 7 2010 7:30P Magic Stick Detroit, MI
Oct 8 2010 7:30P Reggie’s Rock Club Chicago, IL
Oct 9 2010 7:30P Triple Rock Minneapolis, MN
Oct 10 2010 7:30P Jackpot Music Hall Lawrence, Kansas
Oct 12 2010 7:00P Bluebird Theatre Denver, CO
Oct 13 2010 6:30P The Basement Ogden, UT
Oct 15 2010 8:00P El Corazon Seattle, wa
Oct 16 2010 8:00P Hawthorne Theatre Portland, OR
Oct 18 2010 7:00P Cafe Du Nord San Francisco, CA
Oct 19 2010 7:30P Chain Reaction Anaheim, CA
Oct 20 2010 7:30P Troubadour West Hollywood, CA
Oct 22 2010 8:30P The Casbah San Diego, CA.
Oct 23 2010 7:00P The Underground Mesa, Arizona
Oct 25 2010 8:00P Rubber Gloves Denton, TX
Oct 26 2010 8:00P Emo’s Alternative Lounge Austin, TX
Nov 22 2010 7:30P Dingwalls London, UNITED KINGDOM
Nov 23 2010 7:30P Hare & Hounds BIRMINGHAM, UNITED KINGDOM
Nov 24 2010 7:30P Clwb Ifor Bach CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM
Nov 25 2010 7:30P Kazimier LIVERPOOL, West, IRELAND
Nov 26 2010 7:30P King Tuts GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM