Rock Sound once described them as “The most exciting band to come out of Northern Ireland, possibly ever” and Kerrang! declared that “cult status looks assured.” Their debut album ‘Finding St. Kilda’ was greeted with top praise from both, as well as radio support from BBC Radio 1 and XFM. Following on from extensive touring around the UK and Europe with the likes of The Bronx, Northern Ireland three-piece Axis Of are back with a new album.
‘The Mid Brae Inn’ was released last week through Derry based label Smalltown America Records, and is packed out with tremendously uplifting hooks and jovial sing along choruses. Right from the get go, opening track ‘All My Bones’ has you clenching your fist and raising it high with its jagged riff and almost strained vocal. This is followed by the wonderful ‘Wetsuit’, one of the singles put out leading up to the album’s release, the video of which encapsulates one of the themes that runs through the album. With titles like ‘Beachcombing’, ‘The Harsh winds of Rathlin’ and ‘Quarrel Reef’, the band embrace their surroundings on the North Coast of Antrim where the album was recorded. The scenic location really helped shape this new record and impact on its sound. Writing on their Facebook page on the day of its release, Axis Of revealed the title is inspired by their trip to the Islands of Shetland, ‘This title honours how we use journeys across the ocean to help us continue doing what we set out to do all those years ago when we sat on a snowy cliff, eating chips and forming this band’
The band will be heading out on an extensive UK tour this spring, with some European dates thrown in for good measure. To see a full list of dates and buy tickets, head to the Axis Of Facebook page for further details.
Leading up to the release of The Mid Brae Inn last week, I spoke with bass player and vocalist Ewen Friers to discuss that bitter Irish winter, the band’s reading material and what went into the making of their sophomore album.
BCFB: Your new album ‘The Mid Brae Inn’ is officially released this week. How does it feel to have it out there for people to hear?
Ewen: When putting together an album, the music becomes your world, the songs become the backdrop to your entire life over that period. So by this stage, with the record just about to drop it’s so familiar and engrained in us, so much so that we almost forget that the majority of our fans haven’t even heard it yet. We found that with the last album too. There is an initial wave of excitement creating it, then months later there’s this new breath of life in the album when it’s officially out and people start listening to it.
The new album was recorded in the grip of a particularly heavy Irish winter. I’ve read that just getting to the studio became quite the expedition?
During the tracking of the album we based ourselves on the North Coast of Antrim, where the band is from, and travelled back and forth to Smalltown America in Derry every day. The calm and smooth process within the studio was contrasted by the brutal weather we encountered on our commute. The two roads from Ethan’s house were equally perilous – The snowy mountain road we almost got stuck on and had to spend the night and the Atlantic coast road where we had our van exhaust ripped off on a flooded stretch! But I honestly believe that if the weather and landscape were any different the album wouldn’t have sounded the same.
How was the production process overall?
Recording was great fun; we recorded a lot of it live and tracked simultaneously, together in the main studio room. For this record we used solely drums, guitar, bass and vocal. We stuck to classic sounds and tried to marry that with Axis Of song writing. The mixing process in Belfast was totally organic and pretty much stress free, I think Rocky O’Reilly enjoyed working on it and saw the progression from the last album.
It’s a few years on since your debut album. Going into this new record, did you have any game plan in mind?
With “Finding St Kilda” we found a sound on a few songs that was truly our own and it was clear that it would be the Axis Of of the future, so our goal was to expand and explore that sound. We finished up the heavy touring of the last album and had a year where we were very quiet from a touring perspective and we just concentrated on being the band we wanted to hear.
Leading up to its release, from the album you’ve already put out a few singles. How was the response to these, and initial impressions of the album?
People are so supportive and have been saying some truly humbling things. The new songs seem to be encouraging more in-depth praise; people seem to be digging even deeper into the lyrics or musicality. Our followers seem to be really at ease with any change style, I hope people recognise Axis Of as a band that will continue to evolve sonically.
You’ve been cited as quite the bookworm. What stuff were you reading around the time of this new album, and how much of an impact did it have on the album’s lyrics?
The reading list for the album is vast and all the books we read on tour between us shape the records. But some specific books that directly effected this album would be “The Old Ways” – Robert MacFarlane, “What is the what” – Dave Eggers, “Night” – Elie Wiesel, “The Stolen Village” – Des Ekin “On Timeless Shores” – CC Vyvyan and “Born to Run” – Christopher McDougall
You’re off on tour up and down the UK this spring, where are you looking forward to heading to?
For us, the romance of being in a band is that it allows us to see and experience, be places. Every time we tour we look forward to new towns. So on this next European and UK tour we get check out – Sheffield, Chester, Hamburg, Marbehan and Zurich for the first time.