AU Catch Up With Axis Of To Talk About 'Finding St Kilda' And Their Upcoming Tour
Nipping into The Elms bar to escape the snowy streets outside, Aaron Hamilton sits down for a drink and a chat with Ewan, Niall and Ethan, the three minds behind Portstewart-derived, Belfast-based three-piece Axis Of. After a short but heated debate about varying quality of cola brands and burrito outlets, the band chat about their upcoming debut album, Finding St Kilda.
Your debut album Finding St Kilda comes out in around two months. How excited are you to let it out into the world?
Ewen (bass): “I think for me I had the initial excitement when we first recorded it and was like “cool, its going to come out,” and its not that its taken too long or anything but we kind of had that period of getting used to the album being done and then we did tours and different things. And then recently things are happening for the album and I’m like, jeez, we have an album, I forgot about that, and loads of people haven’t heard it yet, and we have songs to show people and art to show people. So its just like a whole now wave, it feels like the very start again, feels like the early days of it. So just, massive excitement, it will be the biggest thing and the most expensive thing we have done up to this point. So I cant express how excited I am about unleashing it into the world.”
Niall (guitar): “That’s exactly how I feel, its been a long process and really uncertain at times and there have been various obstacles that we’ve overcome in the process of getting to this point, but now that we’re here it doesn’t really feel like any of those things really happened. This is kind of all that’s on our mind now, getting it out there.”
On that note, how was the process of writing, recording, and now promoting and gigging the album?
Ewen: “Writing comes really naturally to the three of us together. I guess it’s a cliché but someone brings an idea to the room and then that idea is completely changed by everyone else working on it together. We had real fun demoing it, we had different friends helping us demo it, and we loved working with Rocky and Barrett and everyone at Start Together, so it was enjoyable. We spent a lot of time on it, we spent a stretch recording, went away for a while on tour and added bits and pieces to it here and there, so we took our time on it. We enjoy studio time a lot and trying to inject the energy that we have live onto a studio recording.
Niall: “The writing process is quite stretched out, I mean we wrote two of the songs on it in like 2008. They were the first songs we wrote straight after the first batch of songs when we started the band. And then that went right up to two songs that we wrote in the studio, so it was quite a long process. We think they still fit together on the album, but they evolved over such a long timescale.”
Ewen: “Yeah, I think it would be really interesting to do an album in future that isn’t, you know… this first album is in a way is our band during the last four years, it would be cool to do an album that will just be like, yeah, we wrote these songs in eight months and then recorded them. And I think they both work.”
Was your single that just came out, ‘Lifehammer’, one of those songs? Is it representative of the whole album in terms of tone?
Ewen: “’Lifehammer’ would have been somewhere in the middle of the whole process, and we wrote it quite slowly. I think it’s a really good representation of the album, what we say the album sounds like as a whole to people is something that’s quite heavy but quite its poppy at the same time and I think that song kind of sums it up.:
Niall: “After a few songs into the writing process we kind of started experimenting with lower tunings and ‘Lifehammer’ is evidently a song that came out after that.”
Despite being a heavier song, ‘Lifehammer’ has a kind of positivity in its lyrics that is pretty prevalent in all of your music. Is that another thing that follows into the album?
Ethan (drums): “Yeah totally. I mean the thing is, all the songs on the album that are based on personal experiences are all quite positive. Any that could be seen as heavier songs with a lower mood are actually about historic things, or about other people. Anytime we have a song that’s about us, Ewen tends to write lyrics that are more forward thinking and positive, and they’re very ambiguous which is great, because people can take what they want from it you know? Somebody asked me the other day what a section of Lifehammer meant, but I was really interested to hear what they thought it meant, and what it actually meant was completely different, but just the fact that it got somebody thinking was really nice. But yeah, that’s definitely a consistent kind of feeling throughout the album, there are lyrics and vibes that are recurring in terms of that positivity as you say, as well as that general ambiguity.”
You’re touring the album in about a month, first in the UK and then Europe right?
Ewen: “Emm, two weeks? We will be touring for over a month yeah.”
Ethan: “It was something we were talking about the other day, because it’s in February were like, hey it’s a month away were only in January! But yeah, it’s going to be good to be touring with the album officially out.”
Niall: “I always forget how long we’ve been playing gigs for with barely any recorded material for the audience to listen to, I mean we released those two singles around the start of 2010, and we’ve barely played either of them live. So people have been really patient, you know, when you go to watch a band you know and you like to hear a song you know and you relate to, and we haven’t had that for anyone! And everyone has still come out and seen us and been really cool and positive at the shows, so its going to be nice to say, here is seven songs and they’re all on our album and you’ve heard them and now this is what they sound like live.”
When you gig you do tend to have pretty great crowd participation – I remember at Benefit in November when you headlined the Bar Sub stage, and the crowd were insane, crowd surfing and hitting the ceiling! How was that show for you guys?
Ewen: “That was a really, really good one. On a side note from that, it was really cool to be playing in Belfast in a venue we’ve never played before, so there was excitement about that. And as you said, it was chaos! But it was all in such good spirits, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the night, they raised so much money, and so many bands, everyone was feeling that. And then our little crowd that we have, they came and just went for it like!”
Niall: “For the start of the show I couldn’t see a thing, the lights were mad, and because the stage was lower down you could only see the front row of people, so it felt like there were a lot of people there, but I didn’t really know. But then towards the end I could hear And So I Watch You From Afar starting and I was like, I really hope it doesn’t get totally empty but to be fair there was still a really strong crowd, and that was our first Belfast gig in over a year. It was just kind of nice to see people still staying on to watch us.”
Ethan: “To me it was a great show, I know it might sound a bit cliché but was a tough week for Belfast as a whole, with the riots kicking off and stuff, and just negative vibes about the city and everyone was kind of on edge, so for everybody just to come down and have a good time and think about the right thing, it gives you positivity that, you know, not everybody is an idiot and wants to throw a brick or start a fire. Its nice that you can look to your friends and look to the people you play with and, again its cliché, but hope, you know? That maybe some day people will catch on. But yeah, it was cool for us because we love that kind of small, intense show, but we also love big shows, and to have both within a matter of months is a really cool thing.”
Going back to your upcoming tour, you’re playing with The Bronx for your UK shows. You have played with them before, how is it gigging with those guys?
Ewen: “Well, whenever anyone asks me about doing stuff with the Bronx, the phrase I always use is that they are intimidatingly cool! They’re like actors in films when they are the most badass person ever, that’s who they are. They’re just the nicest people. I’d rather just tour with a band that’s nice than a huge band. On top of that they are one of our favourites and they pull a crowd that are actually really receptive to us, they are a really good crowd for us to play for, music lovers and really open. I think they appreciate what we do as something different from The Bronx and they have been quite receptive to it.”
One last thing I want to ask you is, Axis Of is obviously a punk band, though maybe not in an overtly political or preachy way, and you have mentioned bands like Propagandhi and Converge as influences in the past – how do you relate to those kind of bands, and do you relate to the punk lifestyle as well as the genre?
Ewen: “That’s a really good one. I think where we came from when we started the band was wee punk shows and all that stuff and I think that had an influence, and the positive sides of the punk scene had an influence on us in terms of our DIY attitude and our ethics as well, a lot of positive things that we have found through punk rock we still carry with us today. One thing I’ve noticed about real true punk is its about people doing something different with music rather than the same thing all the time, which isn’t happening in a lot of punk scenes, whereas there are bands that broke out and kept on doing something different. So we were encouraged to take on good messages but still do something original with our music. So I think that punk has influenced us in a really good way. Its had a negative effect on us at the same time, but its part of the fabric of our band since we started and we’ve carried it with us.”
Niall: “I mean when we started it was a lot different, in terms of the music we were playing and the way that we were, because we started when we were all still at school. All we had to worry about when we were writing music was writing songs and that was it, we weren’t touring loads or anything, but we have so much more to focus on now. We’re in a band that’s touring, we’re organising everything. So it was easier back then because we had less responsibility, we’re all adults now, we aren’t all teenagers in our first band anymore!”
Ethan: “Whenever you’re younger and you think of punk, especially when we were in our first bands, you had to dress this way and you have to play these albums, but then you kind of grow up and mature. Its like the idea of punk is more like an attitude and a mindset, it’s more about giving a shit about the right things and not the other things, you know? It’s not about giving a shit about what that guys wearing, it’s more focusing on negative things and trying to change that.”
Ewen: “I think that when we started playing in what could be considered the punk scene in Northern Ireland, I realised that my definition of punk or what I understood of it, was different from that, like the punk scene that we came to in Belfast was, people who had really bad attitudes who didn’t focus on much other than partying. What’s more punk to me is bands like And So I Watch You From Afar or when we started, Panama Kings, they were trying to do something with music that was interesting, and they were doing it all by themselves and with a really good spirit. So that was kind of the second scene we saw, and we were encouraged by that. But, also we could just sit and talk about Propagandhi and Converge all day because they’re brilliant!
Niall: “On what Ethan was saying on the image-based side of it, this made me laugh, someone posted our ‘Lifehammer’ video on Facebook and they were saying, oh my god, I remember these guys from back in The Warehouse, it was a really old venue in Newtownards, but he was like I remember these guys, good times, but what’s with the punks turning hipster?”
Ethan: “It’s worse that we don’t have an answer for that guy!
Do you have an answer for him, in case he reads this?
Ewen: “We make stacks more money now that we’re hipsters!”
Finding St Kilda will be released via Smalltown America Records in March.
Words by Aaron Hamilton
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