Practising the art of psychic belly-rubs: An interview with Waking Aida

Southampton's Waking Aida

Southampton’s Waking Aida

I recently sent along one of my Birthday Cake For Breakfast drones to review a show in that there London. The incentive for this review came in the form of one of his favourite bands, the incredible Birmingham trio &U&I. Headlining a pretty terrific bill, &U&I were joined that evening at The Good Ship in Kilburn by Freddy Lobos, Dialects and Waking Aida – The latter having untold effects on his psyche, as evidenced in his wonderful live review:

“..the type of music that makes me consider the state of my own existence. And as I stood there, I can distinctly remember thinking ‘yeah, not everything is perfect; but fuck it, you’re a fortunate man, and life is fucking brilliant’. For a small collective of people to communicate a feeling like that without speaking a single word is powerful.

The review later went on to comment “If people from the street had the curiosity to poke their head in, it probably would have changed their lives.” Such is the effect of Waking Aida, it would seem. Whilst perhaps not as shell shocked as my reviewer, I remember being swept away in the intricate beauty of their songs when I first caught the four-piece, as part of Manchester’s Fragment Festival.

The quartet from Southampton recently released their sophomore album ‘Full Heal’, a delicate, tremendously uplifting record. Produced by Maybeshewill bassist Jamie Ward at Seamus Wong and Park Farm Studios, it follows on from last year’s ‘Eschaton’, and is released under the Robot Needs Home Collective.

Their recent show with &U&I came during a UK tour with the brilliant Scottish quartet Dialects. The October tour saw them hit up spots in Glasgow, Blackburn, Leicester, Newport and Bristol, and they will be looking to finish out the year with shows at The Unicorn in Camden and at Leicester’s White Noise Festival.

With all eyes set firmly on Waking Aida following a mammoth few months, bassist Josh was happy enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for Birthday Cake For Breakfast.

BCFB: You’ve recently released your new record ‘Full Heal’ and it seems to be getting praise from every turn. Are you pretty chuffed with the response?
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. We’re all humans with egos; reading positive reviews of the album does nurture some ugly, needy part of ourselves as individuals. I think it’s genuinely difficult for us to gauge how some of the tracks will be received, and the album as a whole is something we really wanted to work as a cohesive experience. There’s a pretty profound pressure in wanting people to relate/react to the tracks in the same capacity that we do, and while we fully expect that it’s just not going to resonate with some folks, it’s beautiful and validating when people reach out with kind words. So as much as it serves as a kind of psychic belly-rub for each of us, the good feedback is gratifying in a more wholesome way too.

The new record is out through Robot Needs Home. How has it been working with the great folks there?
John Helps is our brother. It feels like it’s becoming more and more apparent that John believes in our band and our music, which I hope is true and not a major-league misinterpretation. That would be awkward.
Robot Needs Home have really lifted us as a band, expanding our reach, and placing our music in the ears of reviewers and in the hands of our fans. John has a lot of experience, and we call on him regularly for advice and direction. I think I might start calling him “Coach”. Natalie Beech was also on board for the release of Full Heal, and worked really hard to give our new and altricial album the best chance in life. Thank you Robot Needs Home.

Is it right that this is your first vinyl release? How did it feel receiving the finished product on vinyl?
Yeah, it is. A handful of people had been asking us about a vinyl release at shows, but it was hard to really get a feel for what sort of appetite there was for it. Ultimately, it was more of a personal indulgence for us as band, and that’s what made it a fairly straight-forward decision, financial risk not-withstanding. For us, having the album on vinyl is just a nice way to capture a body of music with as much material import as is possible to pour into something that is basically data. Vinyl is big, substantial, collectable, and is terrifically awkward and delicate in way that means it demands your care and attention. It’s a dribbling toddler that is totally greedy and ungrateful and will brain itself on the coffee table if you look away, but it’s ours and we will show you the pictures we have in our wallet.

In terms of influences, James has cited Vessels as one in terms of your use of electronic elements throughout the album. What else acted as inspiration during the production process?
We all listen to a fair amount of electronic stuff. Vessels for sure, plus stuff like Baths, Com Truise, Slow Magic, Throwing Snow, Tycho, Fuck Buttons, Blanck Mass, etc. It’s a learning curve as we start to introduce more electronic sounds into our music, but bolstering our tool-kit is helping us to root out new ways to develop a track, and add interesting elements for listeners to latch their ears onto. Another factor that influences us is hearing stuff from the more quintessential troves of math- and post-rock that we don’t enjoy. A measured dose of jaded cynicism I think helps us avoid resting on the weary laurels established within these genres; expecting people to dig something just ‘cause it’s a riff with POG and distortion, or a big washed-out build. We’re not exactly doing anything remarkably different, but just being aware of where the hackery can germinate in music encourages us to strive for uncharted waters, and even falling short of that at least arrives us somewhere that’s due for a top pick in Lonely Planet, we hope.

Speaking of the production process, those duties were once again handled by Jamie Ward. How was it to get back in the studio with Jamie for the second album?
We feel really secure with Jamie. While we’re in the studio with him, he becomes as invested in our music and in making a great album as we do. He will critique sections where he has a vision for improvement, and push us to get the best out of the tracks we’ve written. There are a lot of extra layers and flourishes of sound that only Jamie has the instinct and clarity to implement, and it’s truly transformative. With Full Heal, as with Eschaton, Jamie has kneaded and sculpted the brown clay we dumped onto his mixer into something remarkable, something we’re proud of.

The new album comes a year on from the release of your debut album ‘Eschaton.’ How much has changed in those 12 months?
I think mainly we’re all just hungrier to progress as a band. It is getting tougher however, as we all work full time jobs and it’s getting tricky to find time when we’re all free for shows or a tour, and even rehearsals. The challenge for us going forward is to keep as much momentum as we can, and be as busy as we can, without impinging on our own relationships and careers etc. We don’t want to slow down. We each love and believe in our band, and there’s so much more we can do.

How do you feel the new record stands up against your debut?
I guess we discovered that it’s tricky to land on that sweet spot with any new record; progression without being too much of a departure, keeping your stamp on it without it being more of the same. We’re really delighted with Full Heal, but I’d be hard-pressed to say definitively if I thought it was better or worse than Eschaton. Some people are going to prefer one over the other, but I think generating that sort of split opinion is a good place to be. I mean, it would seem like a good thing to be putting out a record that is objectively better than your previous stuff, but for me, I like that our old material isn’t all washed-up in the wake of new blood.

To coincide with the release of Full Heal, you’ve been out on tour around the UK with Dialects. How did these shows go? What particular highlights did you have along the way?
The shows have all been incredible this tour. The highlight has simply been sharing the whole experience with the Dialects guys. They are amazing people, and it’s heartening, albeit corny, to know that one of the best things about being in a band and playing music is meeting fantastic people. All we need now are some cereal-box prize friendship rings to make the Waking Aida-Dialects partnership official.

Full Heal is out now through Robot Needs Home. Pick yourself up a copy this Thursday, when Waking Aida will be sharing the stage with Let’s Talk Daggers, Atlas Wynd and Ley Lines at The Unicorn in Camden. Click the image below for event information.

Full Heal – Out now on Robot Needs Home

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