Letters Review By Iain Moffat.
You might recall that way back in April, when The Quietus was first enjoying the self-titled debut by monolithically noisy, consistently complex and thunderously thrilling Belfast boys And So I Watch You From Afar, we described it as "quite some distance ahead of the rest of '09's guitar albums so far". Given the embarrassment of riches in the year just gone, that was high praise then, so the fact that it holds true even now is nothing short of astonishing. And it's a fact that we're only too happy to celebrate in the speaker-straddling company of the band's Tony Wright. Cheers for catching up with us, Tony. We must admit that initially we only went to see you because the name looked great in the listings, but you clearly did something right, as we've kept on coming back.
Tony Wright: Very nice of you to say so, thanks! We do get quite a lot of venues getting it wrong, And So I Watched or some other misnomer, but other people have had people come to see us on the strength of the name too. It doesn't always get the response we're after, though, we do find that some people look at it and think it's a bit stalkerish and we're going to be bedwetter types, but I like to think of it as more Orwellian, a surveillance-type thing. And of course we've kind of turned into a whole new word... We get ASIWYFA all the time, which I actually really like, if we can get that into the dictionary, then we've definitely succeeded! A couple of things really seem to have caught everyone's attention whenever we've come across you: firstly, you seem to have turned up pretty much fully-formed, and, even more notably, you're making the sort of noises that nobody else appears to be tackling right now. Was that deliberate?
TW: Well, we didn't really set out with any particular sound in mind, and I certainly don't think we're the finished article yet, as a band, we're only 3 years old, so we've still got a long way to go and a lot of different stuff to explore yet. And although we quite often get classed as post-rock I think there's a bit more to us that that. To me we've always been more punk rock than post-rock, even though we don't have a singer, but then I've always seen punk as freeing yourself from restrictions more than a particular sound anyway, so even if we've not deliberately tried to sound like nobody else we've certainly never aimed to just be sheep. We've always hoped we'd be the first ones trying out new things. Indeed, that comes through fairly noticeably on the forthcoming 'The Letter' EP, which veers off into horizons that were untouched on the album. Would you say that's been something of a reaction to the risk of being pigeonholed?
TW: We're writing new material all the time, and we play a lot, I think we've done something like 160 gigs this year.
So, of course, we've played the album tracks a lot too, and we do get bored very quickly! In fact, we're always throwing new stuff in at gigs, and we got into a bit of trouble with Andrew [Ferris, head of the Smalltown America label and top punkoid artist in his own right as one of Jetplane Landing] at our last Camden gig for starting with something nobody had heard before... But we've got so much at the minute, enough for at least another album and a half, and if we're going through this good a creative patch, why not make the most of it? Indeed, there seems to be no sign of that schedule slowing up any time soon, which, given that the sophomore set's now expected in September, means gigs galore first. So, should anyone not yet have had the pleasure, what do you think the curious punter can get with ASIWYFA that they wouldn't anywhere else?
TW: There's plenty of good music that you can enjoy in all sorts of situations, at home, on your iPod, wherever, but I think what we give is that we're a very real band. What we'll give you is energetic, it's passionate. It's Irish country bumpkins throwing themselves around 'til it hurts. It's interesting, too, that you've hooked up with Andrew Ferris, since he always made a point of encouraging new bands even as his own was trying to take off, and that's something you appear to have taken on yourselves...
TW: That really all started a couple of years ago, we put a night together with some other local bands like LaFaro and Fighting With Wire where we'd get them to sing on our stuff, put it out as an EP at the one big gig, and basically create a new equivalent of The Last Waltz. I think you can still see it online somewhere, but it's pretty awful so I wouldn't bother! But then we did more of a festival last year, called 'A Little Solidarity' after the album track, and again that was Belfast bands, but that was a three-day thing ending with us launching the album in the Mandela Hall, well, we were going to finish it, but then Fighting got their deal with Atlantic, so we let them on after... It's a scene that does appear to be in unusually fine fettle at the moment. Why do you think that is?
TW: I think there's always been a good scene in Belfast, and I think there's always been a real sense there of everyone pulling together, in a couple of weeks, for instance, we'll be playing the Ulster Hall, and we've got LaFaro, Cashier No. 9, and Adebisi Shank, who are brilliant, with us. It helps that we're a bit removed as a city, we're not the mainland and we're not the Republic, and it also helps that there are now bands that are actually going out and playing all the time. It'd be easy to get caught up in backslapping, but how are you ever going to get anywhere if you won't let anybody hear you? Tour-write-record, that's our mantra. We should get it tattooed on our eyelids.
- Iain Moffat, The Quietus
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