Sitting in The Last Drop on Edinburgh’s Grass Market with Darren and Swanny, two hours ahead of their set at Edinburgh’s Liquid Rooms with The Sherlocks, we dive straight into their latest release ‘Strange Hymns’ – chatting about the bands writing processes, including a tune inspired by windscreen wipers. Their likes of touring being “touring” and gigs in towns near the sea and what’s next for the John O’Groats six piece.
Having a full length album out can mean a whole host of different things for bands, speaking on finally having ‘Strange Hymns’ out – “It means everything to us, it took a long time to get it right so to finally have something out – it’s good to be at that point” Swanny “It’s good to finally have something that will exist forever and I only kinda realised that when it came out and we’re more than happy with it. To be honest it means more than you could ever imagine but it also means that, that time is over and it’s an ending point so that we can move onto something else” Darren. Looking to the future Swanny explains that “It’s good to have a point to start mapping outwards from”
‘Strange Hymns’ received praise from fans and critics alike, speaking about how they felt about the response to the album Darren explains, “I mean I don’t want to jinx it but I didn’t read a bad review of it”. “Yeah someone wrote that we were all destined to be school teachers, generally though the reaction has been really good, we’ve been really happy with it” Swanny. The response to new releases can always be nerve wracking for bands but, “Fans responded to it in the way that we had hoped for and you can’t really ask for much more than that really” Darren
Delving into the writing process and creative inspirations for the album Darren explains that “pretty much the whole way through writing ‘Strange Hymns’ we had the same process for each song where one of us would have an idea and then we’d send it to each other and then we’d all come together in a room and just make a fucking racket for ages, we’d play the same one bit for an hour sometimes. We’d record it on voice memos and then go away and pick out our own bits to work on, once we came back together the track would have much more shape. If it was missing something then any one of us would go away and write like a bridge or something. Something that starts as one person’s idea always turns into a full band thing, you forget whose idea it was by the time we’re done. Do you want to add anything to that long winded answer Swanny?” “What was the question again, I’ve forgot after how long it took Darren to answer” – Laughing “I got right excited about it then didn’t I” Darren. Speaking on inspirations Swanny says that “You draw a lot of inspiration from where you come from, so being from such a remote place we used an old croft house that we’ve done up to do a lot of writing so just being there I feel influenced the sound a bit”
Coming from John O’Groats Darren explains that “I don’t like to say that there isn’t much of a music scene but we’re not part of a scene in the same way people are in Glasgow, there are other bands but we’re not in a scene cause we all sound different and have different ideas, I think that’s a major influencing factor too cause we’re not out there trying to compete with someone who sounds like us”. Adding a sense of freedom to the bands writing process, they go on to explain that inspiration can come from a lot of random different places “it could be something small that triggers a song, you might hear something while you’re out. Me and Jordan were driving home once, we live like forty-five minutes away from the practice room and the windscreen wipers were going at a certain speed and the two of us started singing along to it, it didn’t end up turning into a song on the album but you might get something like that, something that can trigger an idea” Darren.
Speaking of home, aesthetically the album artwork portrays that point too “we wanted it to have a lot of space and we wanted to be in it too, we were trying to aesthetically capture the idea of home and the sort of feeling of isolation that comes with that too, we wanted to put to scale how few people there are where we come from and I feel the album artwork captures that well”
With the Edinburgh date falling in the middle of the tour with The Sherlocks we asked for their memorable moments so far, talking of fan response “we played Norwich and the fan response there was great, we got speaking to people after and it gave us a feeling of this is why we do what we do, it was really good” Swanny. Going on to talk about a Sofar Sounds session that they took part in at the start of the tour “we played an acoustic session in a flat and it was completely out of our comfort zone, all of the people were sitting on this living room just listening to our tunes, it was nice really different for us. Speaking of the gigs themselves though, all the crowds have been really nice to us it’s been good so far”
Heading out on their own headline tour, we chat about dates they are looking forward to. One of particular interest is Kilmarnock “there’s loads of Scottish bands on the one bill, we’ve got LUCIA, The Dunts and Crash Club all playing so it’s definitely going to be a celebratory return and a good way to end the tour but all the places that we’ve been playing are busier and better every time we go back so it’s always good when we go back and we can see the difference and get a gage on how we’re doing” Darren
Sticking with touring, we talk personal likes and dislikes of life constantly on the road. Starting off Darren explains how he “hates being in a city that isn’t near the sea, when you get to a city that isn’t by the sea you realise how much you didn’t like the last one – laughing – so my answer to the other one is how I love being in a city that’s by the sea. Your bearings kick back in when you’re by the sea and it feels less claustrophobic”. Following on from this Swanny explains how he doesn’t “dislike anything about touring at all and what do I like about touring the most ‘touring’”
Chatting about favourite venues it’s discovered the band were already talking about this the night before, “we were talking about the Adelphi in Hull, it’s an older venue and a bit run down but it’s got something about it, we were in Sneaky Pete’s last night as well catching Redfaces and that’s a really cool venue too. There’s a load of really cool venues just now” Swanny. Darren goes on to say how the band will be hitting a few new venues on their headline tour too, “we’ve always really liked The Louisiana in Bristol and we’ll be playing the Omeara in London too which is ran by Mumford & Sons, they really look after bands there, not that other venues are bad for it or anything, but its tailor made for bands like your gear gets loaded straight onto the stage through a door that opens up at the back of the stage, it’s just kinda little things like that really and you’ll have a dressing room that’s away from the stage too. They’ve thought of everything there, it’s a really cool place” Darren.
Getting to know the guys, we chat about personal interests. Heading onto the topic of favourite artists we hear about how they have influenced the band themselves and why the artists became the personal favourites they are – “The Band because there’s nothing else like them, nothing even comes close to them. It’s just one of those things where everything lines up, the five musicians that were in the band all could’ve been front men, they play in other bands and you can still tell and pick out that it’s them but it still comes together and blends well. Their songs are fucking magic as well” Darren. “Young Fathers are my favourite band – I think collectively as a band though we all appreciate The Band it’s one of those things that’s common ground between us” Swanny
Neon Waltz are a band that have racked up some impressive accolades and achievements throughout their time as a band, chatting about up and coming bands we threw them a question on what they felt was more important for emerging acts: a strong live presence or a back catalogue of material. “It’s both I feel, you have to work your back catalogue up and be able to put it across well live” Swanny. “It takes so long as well, even for us we’re still trying to get people to hear ten songs on ‘Strange Hymns’ which is pretty old to us now and the only way we can do that is to keep playing live and building it up but we also do have a tonne of songs that we can’t do anything with cause I do feel that you have to be a bit more focused with what and when you’re releasing so I would definitely say a bit of both too” Darren
Rounding things off we spoke about what the rest of 2018 holds for Neon Waltz and what we can look forward to from them soon – “we’ve just finished off the EP which is going to be released the 23rd of February” Swanny “Yeah it’s kind of the end of the ‘Strange Hymns’ era, there’s one single which is the title track and three brand new tracks on it” Darren. “All the tracks on it were written during the ‘Strange Hymns’ process, although they never made the album they are still part of that whole process” Swanny. “It’s not that they weren’t good enough for the album, we just wanted a ten track album and there wasn’t room for them, plus releasing them now makes more sense and it’s a less intense listen when compared to ‘Strange Hymns’ it’s got a different vibe. After the release of the EP we’ll hopefully be getting back into the studio and pushing on with writing. More touring as well, only in coastal towns though – Laughs –” Darren.
@ New Wave Testament 2018
All photos by: Ronan Park