Axis Of Talk To AU About Their Debut Album, Van Crashes And Katy Perry

"I was in the top-bunk watching 'Toy Story' on an iPod..."

Of all the many spirited three-pieces kicking Belfast’s ass at the minute, Axis Of seem to occupy a unique domain combining riffs, optimism and a uniquely celebratory sound that’s not afraid to let loose. AU catches up with the triad’s rhythm section to discuss debut albums, the van crash that brought their European tour to a sudden halt last month and — judge ye not — the musical credibility of Katy Perry.

It’s over a month now since you had to cancel shows following a van crash on tour in Germany. Can you remember exactly what happened — was it like a Cliff Burton moment?
Ethan Harman (drums): It happened really fast. Most of us were asleep in the van — everyone except our driver and Niall (Lawler, vocals/guitar). We’d just overtaken somebody and a vehicle just clipped our back and that was it.
Ewen Friers (bass/vocals): I was in the top-bunk watching 'Toy Story' on an iPod, just sitting there being like, ‘Well, this tour is going well’ and then, all of a sudden, I just felt everything shake. The thing is I could have been in a dangerous position being up there in the top bunk but, luckily, there was a spare mattress and at this stage I couldn’t really be arsed getting a sleeping bag out, so I ended up just wedged between two mattresses and probably the safest person in the van!

What was the initial reaction? Did you decide to stop the tour there and then or were you just concerned about the present moment?
Ethan: At the forefront of all of our minds wasn’t even the fact that we had to stop the tour, it was the fact it wasn’t our van — it was Gascan Ruckus’s. That was a big issue for us. The door was jammed shut because we were tight against a wall, so I had to climb out through the window and pretty much get out and look at the damage and just shake my head in a comedic fashion. We didn’t want to stop but we hadn’t even thought that far ahead. It was like, ‘What are we going to do in five minutes, let alone two days?’.
Ewen: I hate to say it because it was Germany or whatever but it was a good example of people living up to their stereotypes, of how organised Germans are – the police were there, like, literally 15 seconds after it happened. Ethan looked out and then there was just this dude that was like, ‘Right, what happened?’. The recovery dudes had us off the motorway in 10 minutes; maybe they saw this van a few hours beforehand and thought, let’s follow them because they look like trouble!

How was the tour in Europe up to the point just before the accident?
Ewen: Brilliant. That was our second trip to Europe on tour and it’s getting to a point now where that’s what we want to be doing — that’s where we want to be at. Of course we’ll always tour Ireland and the UK but mainland Europe is like the promised land for a band like us on tour. For a band that’s still relatively small and unknown, it’s unbelievable. So that tour was great: the shows were really good and the hospitality was just excellent. Until the crash it was like, ‘Yeah, this is where it’s at’. Then we journeyed out through the Swiss Alps into Germany and then back into reality with the crash.

As you’ve mentioned, Gascan Ruckus lent you guys the van for the tour. How did they react to the news?
Ewen: I can’t really praise Gascan enough. One for how sick a band they are and two — not to mention most importantly — for being such good guys for letting us take the van in the first place and then being so sound about the whole thing when it happened. They were just like, ‘Is everyone okay?’. From that point, we had eight shows left: two in Germany and UK shows. We were kind of bummed because we finished the two German shows but it just wasn’t feasible to do the rest of the UK and we had to pull out of those six shows. At the minute we’re just trying to re-organise those, get back there and maybe even add some more, hopefully. We’re not really the type of band that pulls out of shows without a decent reason. It’s sad when you have to do with it but it wasn’t possible.
Ethan: The first one of the shows in Germany after the crash, the morale was down, but we had to keep going. ASIWYFA helped us out loads for getting our gear and stuff and picking us up. We were late for the show so we kind of felt that we’d annoyed people before we started playing. For the second gig, Niall and Rory (Friers, ASIWYFA) had to drive something like 200-300 miles to get a hire car from France. So basically, me and Ewen set everything up, had a soundcheck with [merch guy] Kev from Empty Lungs, which was great, but were pretty much sitting by the door looking at our watches. He literally walked from the front door on the stage at the very last minute and it was a fucking great show.

Since you’ve been back you said you’re rescheduling shows and all the rest. What about the album? Is it finished and what did you set out with in mind?
Ewen: It’s all tracked and we’re just in the mixing and mastering process now. We’re getting close to having our album finished and it’s real exciting. Sometimes, when drama like that happens you forget that you’ve just recorded an album and it’s potentially good so there’s something going for us, we’ve still got that!
Ethan: There was no kind of concept considered beforehand. We’d just written all these songs and decided to record them. But the way it came out, they all seem to fit together really well and it did sound like an album in the end, which is a nice feeling. We recorded with Rocky and Barrett up at Start Together (in Belfast’s Oh Yeah Centre) which was a great experience. They pushed us a lot and we pushed each other and it was tense at times but only to get the best results and I think it’s paid off.
Ewen: Before we went in to record the album, we knew we had the songs and we were thinking, maybe we should go to England or the States; we had all these ideas of people go to record with. But one day we were out and about touring in England and I got a phone call from Rocky. I hadn’t even said anything about it and he was like, ‘We heard you want to do an album. We want you to do it with us’.
At that point, it was like, ‘Wow, someone’s just phoned me saying they want to do our album’. That speaks far more volumes than us phoning someone in the States; to have two people who are already really psyched on the project, that’s just so much more important, so we straight away went with them. But, of course, it will talk for itself when we put it out there.
Ethan: As a release date, we haven’t really thought about that yet. Whenever it’s finished we’ll look at things, but until that point it seems quite a bit away. We’ve had so many gigs and supports and little things have happened that have been such late notice that that the only things we ever really plan are our tours. Everything else is as it happens, as it comes.

You’re from the Portstewart and Coleraine area in the North. What do you make of the so-called ‘North Coast scene’?
Ethan: Personally I think it’s an all-encompassing thing. There’s not as many gigs up north as there used to be but it doesn’t take long for a band to come out and become part of the Belfast scene, so I see it more as a northern scene rather than a city or, in this case, a North Coast scene.
Ewen: Yeah, it’s not like there aren’t good musicians in other parts of Northern Ireland. In saying that, there sort of is a scene thing about the North Coast these days. It’s cool though; it doesn’t have a cliquish element about it or anything and I think there’s a lot of encouragement, the main one being that young bands starting up these days see bands like ASIWYFA and Team Fresh and find themselves going like ‘Wow, so-and-so is doing this. Maybe we should start a band?’. That’s what it’s all about.
That said, moving to Belfast was a good thing for us — that was the beginning. Some cities are known for bands that do well in a certain genre or scene or whatever but here, in every genre there’s someone pushing it or doing something really good. From Gama Bomb straight through to Two Door Cinema Club, there’s something for everyone.

Your EPs and live shows have been receiving some really good reviews, with many drawing attention to your energy and idiosyncratic sound. What music and musicians do you take influence from?
Ethan: We’ve obviously have our individual ones, but I don’t think there are many bands that all three of us agree on, but there’s a lot that when Niall and I agree, Ewen and Niall agree, etc., so it’s like a triangle of ‘likes’ and sometimes it just meets in the middle.
Ewen: Yeah, whenever we started it would have been likes of Propogandhi and Strike Anywhere. Ever since, we started listening to the likes of Converge, Mastodon and everything in between. With the album we’ve just recorded, though, there’s going to be a whole new thing brought to the table, with happier stuff like Fang Island coming through, and I think another big part of it is we’re really influenced by local musicians and bands like LaFaro, ASIWYFA and Adebisi Shank.
Ethan: Yeah, and I’m not afraid to admit it: I downloaded — I should have bought it, actually — Katy Perry’s album the other day because there’s some great pop tunes on it, you know? I’d be surprised if I played its 12 songs to someone and they couldn’t find something they like on it. We literally don’t have any reservations about being honest about we listen to. I certainly don’t.

So, you wouldn’t have any objections to be called pop-rock yourselves?
Ewen: Not at all. With the new album, certain things have got a lot heavier but at the same time, a lot happier. This guy came up to me when we played Milan — and he kind of nailed what we’ve said before — he said we basically sound like Mastodon and Weezer at the same time. It’s essentially pop music but it’s also essentially metal at the same time. We want to be anthemic but we want to be absolutely devastatingly crushing as well.
Ethan: I agree. Whenever we write a song there aren’t any limitations of whether it sounds like us. I’m always of the opinion — I was saying this earlier today — that if Ewen was to come up with something that that sounds like a pop song, I don’t give a fuck, because he wrote it and it’s automatically an Axis Of song. I think we’re in a good place right now, that’s why the album sounds positive — it’s not intentional, either. It’s just the way it came out.
Ewen: After the van crash, I’ll probably never write another happy song again! Actually, it’s really weird, we’ve this song that we put online called "Stan Winston’s Rough Seas" and one of the lines at the end of it is “There was a car crash up ahead” and it’s almost like we tempted something there. We were just sitting at the side of the road all in our own thoughts and Niall just turned around to us and was like ‘There was a car crash… it was us.’ Creepy stuff, eh?

4th January 2012