During their touring adventure, we sat down with Johnny Adger, Niall Kennedy and Chris Wee for a backstage interview. Our friends from the Flemish music blog indiestyle.be joined us in quizzing the Belfast-based band right before their Brussels gig.
Good evening, gentlemen. How are you doing?
Johnny Adger: Very good, thank you very much.
Are you enjoying your tour so far?
Johnny: It has been unreal already. There has been a moment of realisation that we’re heading back out, because we had so long off with the recording of our new album and other things that were happening in our lives. We were asking ourselves if we could still go out there and survive, but everybody is feeling super fresh and excited and no one has killed anyone yet, so that’s good [laughs].
Right now, you guys are on quite a big tour across Europe and the United Kingdom. What are you excited about the most?
Johnny: This might sound a bit cliché, but for me personally it’s having the privilege of playing the songs that we spent almost a year on putting together on stage, and the time we get to interact with the crowd. There isn’t one show or country in particular that I’m looking forward to.
Chris Wee: The last five years we toured so extensively, that this last year was the longest time we’ve had off of the road, except for a handful of festivals and a couple of small tours. From August last year until the end of April, we had no shows at all, so we were just itching to get back to it.
Niall Kennedy: We get to do the thing that we love for a living and we don’t have to work a shitty job that we hate. That’s really nice. And like Johnny said, playing our songs to people and seeing that the thing you do and love makes other people feel happy, it makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. To make another human being happy is great, and to make lots of people happy every single night is probably the best thing for me.
You guys have some very devoted fans and it’s remarkable to see a number of them get your triangular logo tattooed on their body. Does it still surprise you when you see a tattoo like that?
Johnny: It’s very flattering. We come from a very small town in a very small part of the world and then we go to these faraway places and somebody comes up to you and shows you their tattoo. It’s mind-blowing to see that people there care at all about what you do, and for them to care so much that they essentially get scarred for life with the band logo is unbelievable. It’s still weird thinking that there are a lot of people out there that have our logo or a song title tattooed on them for life. It’s amazing and really cool, but it’s also slightly scary I think [laughs].
You have already done some tours in the United States. We were wondering if there are any major differences between playing shows in the US as compared to Europe.
Chris: I wouldn’t say there is one particular type of American crowd and one particular type of European crowd. You can go somewhere in America and the whole crowd will just stand there and clap at the end of each song, while the next night you’ll have a bunch of kids kicking each other’s shins. And the same goes for Europe. I suppose the big difference would be the level of hospitality. In Europe, it’s crazy good. Here you get amazing in-house food, whereas in the US, it’s a bit more basic. Over there you have to be a bit more hardened to it.
When you tour the summer festivals, do you ever still have the time to go and see other bands? Can you still be overwhelmed by their performance?
Johnny: Whenever we get into the festival season, it usually involves a weekend of travelling, playing, and travelling back. But if time permits, we always try to go and see someone that’s playing that we know or want to see. It’s hard not to get caught up in the whole customer side of festivals, as well. Just because you’re playing yourself doesn’t mean you’re not excited to go and see other bands you look up to, even if that’s right before or after you were on the stage. Also, the beauty of festivals is that you may by accident hear someone play and find another band to get into.
I’ve read in another interview with (fellow member) Rory Friers that you spent “almost every waking moment” of the first half of 2014 in your rehearsal room writing the new album. Now you’re on this tour across Europe and the UK, how do you combine your busy band life with your personal life?
Johnny: If you’re the right type of person and you know you want something to happen, you just have to make it work. I can only speak for myself, but in my personal life I have been really fortunate to make a lot of things work by accident; for example that family life coincided with time we set aside to be writing. So there were days I got to go hang out and spend the maximum amount of hours writing music with the guys in the rehearsal room, then go home to be a husband and father.
Niall: You have to have people in your life that understand. Your friends and people you have relationships with have to be very understanding that you’re just going to be away a lot of the time.
Chris: That did take a bit of time when we first started touring. We had never really done a lot of time away, and then suddenly we were gone for months and months at a time, and that did have an impact on relationships and families. But it’s good to look back on that now after almost seven years, with all the experience we have. With the amount of touring we’ve done we have been able to work out how to manage all that, so when we go away, we’re well equipped to deal with issues like being homesick and keeping in contact with our families.
You guys have just released your fourth studio album Heirs. When you compare the work in the studio for this fourth album to the work you did to record your first, has your approach changed?
Chris: Well, we certainly have got a lot better ourselves, both with our instruments and at performing well in a recording environment. On the topic of putting together a record, on the self-titled we just threw an album’s worth of songs together. In the past years, we went from doing that to writing almost the entire third album in the recording space, to writing this fourth way before any of the tracking happened. So by the time we got to the proper recording, we had a very clear vision of what the album had to become.
We also noticed that there seem to be more vocals on every consecutive album. Is that something that happens naturally?
Johnny: Initially it was just four friends playing music together. At that time, there was no desire to make it more than what it was. It was never deliberate to not have vocals, or to add more each record. However, if we felt a song would work better with another part, even if it happened to be vocals, we would do it. Then it got to the point where we just weren’t as scared of using our voices as another instrument.
Chris: That goes for other instruments as well. There’s an especially big jump on the last album, All Hail Bright Futures, where a lot of music that was written on the guitar ended up as a bass line. I think the same thing goes for the vocals. If they’re the best instrument to do a specific melody, we’ll end up doing it that way.
We’ve got a question for Niall. You’ve been in the band for nearly three years now, but Heirs was in fact the first record you fully participated on. Do you think that your input changed the end result?
Niall: I hope so [laughs]. I played a little bit on the last album, but when I joined the band they already recorded most of it. This time however, Rory and I wrote it together from the ground up. It’s fun to listen through the album and remember where and when I wrote some part. I hope I contributed – I feel like I did. It probably wouldn’t have been the same record if I hadn’t been there.
Chris: I would say there’s definitely a lot of Niall’s personality as a songwriter in the record. While writing the last album, it was Johnny, Rory and myself in a studio together saying we needed to make an album. It was fun, but it was also a struggle at times to write all the songs. This time around we had Niall on board, who is a very gifted songwriter, and we had all this time in the rehearsal room without pressure and we got to work on ideas all day, every day. I think all that reflects very clearly in the album.
A while ago, over at the Arctic Drones mansion, we were looking for films, games, television series, etcetera, that had post-rock music in their soundtrack. If you could pick a movie to do the soundtrack for, what kind of movie or which specific movie would that be?
Niall: Interstellar or Gravity. Something huge and space-themed.
Chris: We were kind of on that sort of vibe in the writing process of Heirs. We had this idea of making a very grand, very large-scale-sounding album.
Johnny: Or maybe the next Jurassic Park? Something like that – a small indie film [laughs].
Niall: In fact, that’s a big ambition of mine. I would really love us to do a soundtrack. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. You set it up, we’ll do it [laughs].
After four records, your popularity seems to be largely untainted. Where do you see And So I Watch You From Afar in a couple of years? What’s the big dream? Apart from soundtracks, that is.
Chris: We’re quite proud that the band has been going for 10 years and that we’re still edging up. We’re happy with that noticeable progression we get every tour. Some bands get their big break and they’re gone in 18 months after that, but we’re still chipping away. If it continues like that for the next couple of years, we’ll be really happy. Anything extra is a bonus.
Johnny: Just to be still doing it in two years would be good as well, even if it doesn’t get much bigger. I’d be happy if we were still able to say we’re a full-time touring band in two years’ time.
Niall: We’re gonna be huge. Huge [laughs].
Johnny: Playing football stadiums. That’s basically what we’re trying to say in a nice way.
Well, you do have the sing-along chants for it. Thanks a lot for the interview and good luck with the show. We’re looking forward to it.