And So I Watch You From Afar are not a band that enjoys convention. Since their self-titled debut album demonstrated to the rest of Ireland what the Belfast scene already knew – namely that they had an outstandingly raw and inventive band on their hands – things have been nothing but one long, wild ride.
The past year has seen the band support Them Crooked Vultures for part of their massive European arena tour, and swiftly follow their ‘super gig’ debut with a sweatbox performance in Dylan Haskin’s back yard at Hideaway House. They’ve toured Russia and the Ukraine for no other reason than they felt like it, and been greeted as heroes, returning with some magnificent band-themed artwork produced by local fans, and plenty of war wounds. Now, with debut album Gangs, Northern Ireland’s finest heavy export of recent years looks all set to launch on a still more international scale, with positive reviews seemingly two a penny. There’s an overwhelming sense that things are about to go very, very big. State took the chance to catch up with guitarist Tony Wright before things get too crazy…
How does Gangs compare to the debut album and The Letters EP, style wise?
I think it’s more confident and pieced together. We’ve become less afraid to take a chance – before we might have thought ‘well that’s a bit stupid’ but that seems a good reason to do it. It might appear both stupider and more intelligent at the same time. You might also find us to be slightly older looking with a greater tolerance for lack of sleep!
Though the releases have all done well, you’ve built your reputations as a live band rather than a studio band. Does going into the studio suit you?
There’s a lot of hours put into translating the energy of the live show onto ‘wax’ as they used to say, or MP3 as it is now. With this album we’ve worked a lot more to try and recreate – naturally and unnaturally – our live performance, and bring it through to make the album more like a live show. It’s never going to be that, but it’s closer than it’s been before.
Are there any particular techniques you’ve used on Gangs to make it more like the live show, feedback for example?
Well on ‘Search:Party:Animal’ I don’t actually play any musical notes for at least forty seconds, just feedback from the guitar off a riff. Rocky [O’Reilly], our engineer, has co-written a few songs, he had lots of stuff that he wanted to try out, but didn’t really have the band for in the past. We’re always up for trying new stuff. So yeah, it was really interesting. We think we’ve made a really live-sounding album. It’s every bit as idiosyncratic as we are.
Have you ever been tempted to release a full live album?
We’ve got the past two years worth of shows pretty much fully recorded, since we’ve had our own soundman. He just records every show. At Christmas when we had those three shows in a day in Belfast, we gave the people who came a Christmas card with a CD in it, and the CD had various recordings from the last few years. We’ve got a healthy back catalogue. We’d love to do it sometime, maybe as an EP, though we probably wouldn’t do a full live new material album. But who’s to say.
You scrapped the best part of an album as part of the process of producing Gangs. Have you got a lot of new material beyond the new album, apart from the scrapped material?
As I speak to you, we have five new songs written. It would be nice to have the next album written before the second one comes out. We’re getting there, we’re just constantly writing. Rehearsals are basically constant songwriting. We won’t go too much into the new stuff just yet, though, the second album isn’t out yet! But yeah, we’re really looking forward to going out and playing a lot of new songs. We’ve played ‘Set Guitars To Kill’ and that a million times.
“I quite enjoy going out and singing my sad little pop songs.”
How does your solo project VerseChorusVerse fit into all of this?
The time between the tour of Russia and recording Gangs was the longest we’ve had not on the road since 2007. I always enjoy playing my acoustic guitar, and it was really something to keep me going. I also wanted to produce something as far removed from And So I Watch You From Afar as possible. I figured me sitting down with an acoustic guitar singing sad little pop songs would be the kind of antithesis of the band. VerseChorusVerse is much more of a standard song writing formula, compared to a band that doesn’t really follow that structure. Also, I have a really common name. There’s an American football player called Tony Wright, the lead singer of Terrorvision is called Tony Wright, and my favorite one, the world record holder for insomnia is called Tony Wright. Google image that guy, he’s on haggard looking motherfucker. Poor guy. So I couldn’t call myself Tony Wright. And it’s a Nirvana reference as well, of course.
Is it a different experience going out and singing?
Yeah, well I sang in bands before And So I Watch You From Afar. When I first met Rory, I was singing and playing guitar in a band, so it’s not new. I quite enjoy going out and singing my sad little pop songs. I just hope people like them.