“All the weird and wonderful different types of music under one roof.”
When Chris Wee, drummer in And So I Watch You From Afar, is not hammering away at his kit, he’s hitting nails on the head. Sat backstage at ArcTanGent Festival a few months back with Chris and Rory Friers, guitarist in ASIWYFA, the festival itself is a topic they’re eager to talk about, the annual long weekend now being a notable date in their performance calendar.
“We got asked to do a bunch of stuff this summer and the guys who do this and 2000trees, they’re the only people who we felt like – we’ve got to do this.” Says Rory. The festival now being a must-do for the band sort of happened over night. But up until that point, it looked like it had the potential to just be any other festival.
“It was kind of in our diary and we’d never heard of it before. We had no idea what it was gonna be like or what it was really about. It didn’t really stand out.” He continues. “We were doing loads of festivals that summer; there was all the big European ones that we were really excited about and then there was this little one in Bristol. We were just like – we’ll do it on the way home.”
Arriving at the ‘little festival in Bristol’, a tired group of men pottered about backstage, setting up gear for the day. Unbeknownst to them, a swarm of riff-hungry, besotted math-heads were already bouncing off the walls in anticipation for their arrival.
“We pushed our gear out and from two minutes into the set it was like – holy fuck.” Beams Rory. “The sun started going down, the lights came on, and by the time that show finished it was like – this is probably one of the best shows. I remember all the crowd sat down at one point in one of the songs, ‘The Voiceless’, just on their own accord. It was so good. Really took us by surprise.”
There was a shared feeling amongst attendees of that first ArcTanGent Festival. From food vendors to merch sellers, punters to bands, drug sellers to those blokes who sell watermelon slices out of their van – It was obvious that the organisers of ArcTanGent were onto something. Lightning in a bottle.
“It was after that that we realised ArcTanGent really represents this little corner of the musical universe that all the bands here – and all the people here – reside in.” Says Rory. “We all go and play the little shows throughout the years, all over the world, and this is the place where everybody can congregate over the summer and have the big party together. You could probably ask anyone here, but everyone feels like this is our tribe. This is sort of where everybody gets together. You don’t need to explain what you’re into or what you’re about, everybody knows and everybody knows all the bands. It’s sort of beautiful to be able to have these bands playing in front of everybody on the big stages here with the great sound. A proper festival everyone can call their own.”
Prior to this year’s ArcTanGent Festival, the quartet had a bit of a warm-up session, playing a secret show to a host of energetic punters in Belfast.
“It was one of the coolest fucking things we’ve done for a while.” Says Rory of the underground basement show. “I guess we’ve been at home writing a record and hadn’t been doing any shows. We’ve been wanting to put on little secret basement party type vibes in Belfast, and we thought we’d put one on and play it ourselves.”
Whilst perhaps not the best kept secret, the event itself was advertised through Twitter, with the original venue having fallen through at the last minute.
“It was like the least secret secret party that’s ever happened – like 600 people turned up.” Smiles Rory. “It kicked off, it was brilliant. PA’s all knocked over… It was free in and bring your own booze, but we kinda just wanted to recreate… the shows we went to as kids that made us wanna be in bands.”
Before all this, there was also the small matter of the 2000trees tenth anniversary. Sharing the stage with the likes of Black Peaks and coming on just before The Bronx certainly seemed to bring something out in ASIWYFA, with the band putting in a memorably chaotic performance.
“’Cus we’d had a bit of time off, proper straight in at the deep end…” Comments Rory.
“Knowing The Bronx were on after us as well…You’ve gotta bring the noise.” Adds Chris with a smile.
Rory himself seemed to spend more time in the crowd than on stage, getting pure stuck into it with the revellers in the pit. Though as he soon realised, choosing the correct festival attire is key if you’re going to temporarily lose yourself in the moment.
“The crowd almost ended my life. I wrecked a good pair of jeans, actually. They were not my cheap jeans – they were my medium, going out on the town jeans.” He says with a laugh. “But it was amazing. We made sure we got a good set together. It’s mental to have such a nice slot at festivals like that, but then to be going on stage and there to be a full tent of people… We didn’t start this band with any expectation of those sorts of things happening. The festivals we looked at growing up, we never thought we’d have got to feature in them at all. That was one of my favourites that 2000trees set.”
“There’s something about the two festivals, Trees and this, I think it’s because they’ve deliberately kept them to this sort of size. They’ve cultivated such a strong identity.” Adds Chris. “You go to Reading and it’s just so fleeting; bills change and the crowds are all so different. Whereas here there’s a personality to the festival, it has its own life. When you go back, you know what you’re walking into. It’s like a really lovely way to go into a festival. It’s not like ‘I wonder what type of people are gonna show up this year?’
“Never take your best jeans to a festival. That’s basics.” Nods Rory.
Another highlight from ArcTanGent over the years for ASIWYFA has come from watching a good friend blossom on the big stage. Henry Kohen, a.k.a. Mylets. The youngster of the Sargent House family played one of his earliest UK shows at ArcTanGent, taking his jaunt to Blighty right in at the deep end. Like proud fathers, discussing Henry and his triumphant appearance at the festival has the pair beaming, Chris commenting. “From a sort of awkward kid to-“
“…An awkward man” Adds Rory with a laugh. “It’s hard not to feel complete pride, just in like how much of a boss he is. It’s been amazing to get to know him. When we first met him, he was probably about 3 or something… He was like 18, younger, but he had the brain of a 45 year old and the musical brain that surpassed the four of ours together. It’s been amazing just to see him take all his new songs all around the world. It’s class being here and seeing people with Mylets t-shirts on and I’m just excited for what he’s inevitably gonna go on and do over the next fifteen or twenty years with all his tunes.”
Mylets was a welcome addition to the lengthy ASIWYFA tour around the release of ‘Heirs’, opening up for them across their run of European dates. Reminiscing over the year of release, the pair laugh about a “big tyre blow out” and a cracked windscreen on the way to a show in Manchester (thank Christ they made it!), with the city being notable for some of the worst shows they’ve played (their words!)
“That whole touring cycle was crazy – Crazy quick.” Says Chris. “Russia then Europe, then festivals then the States. Then it was Christmas.”
Russia might seem an odd place for a band to tour, given what one hears in the news and following the whole Pussy Riot fiasco. Discussing the idea of four Northern Irish lads visiting Russia, Chris certainly had a few worrying thoughts prior to the trip.
“We’re quite lucky as a band. No matter where you go, you tend to encounter really like-minded people, whether you’re in the UK, Asia or wherever.” He says. “So all these worries about going to Russia and being scared of people chasing you down the street or something, you go there and meet the loveliest people. It tends to happen with music, especially that umbrella of music we’re involved with – that touring circuit of bands. Those people that come to the shows, if you could transport those Russian fans they’d probably love ArcTanGent. So we’re lucky, we go to far flung places and we’re like – fucking hell, we’re gonna be kidnapped – but we meet the loveliest people.“
The quartet also got to take themselves to the States and Japan with their fourth album’s release, with Rory citing the latter as one of their definite highlights.
“We’ve been wanting to get to Japan for years.” He says. “I always have this image of us going through that big tunnel for ages and ages and ages, then June was like ‘Look out the front when we come out here’ We came out this tunnel and it was like Mount Fuji, the whole thing, right in front of us. You’d recognise it like a famous person, I was like – Fuck, we’re in Japan, it’s happened.”
“The shows there were amazing. That whole UK run was amazing.” Continues Rory. “There was just so many people coming to the shows. Chris was joking there about Manchester and the dark days, but UK is where we have played – consistently over so many years – shows with no one there. We just kept going back, over and over and over, playing to no one for years. On that run, four out of five of those shows were sold out and they were all in big venues.”
“All the hard work paying off finally.” Agrees Chris.
Whilst their mammoth run of shows over the past two years has been mostly in conjunction with the release of Heirs, Rory comments that there are a good number of songs from the record that have only had airings in a live format once or twice. Though their lack of inclusion is hardly down to a lack of enjoyment when putting the record together.
“I never listen back to any of our records ever… I dunno, what’s it go like again?” He laughs. “The whole process was so much fun; every record just informs what we’re doing now. Like all our records, we learnt so much from it, it taught us a lot, and how we’re approaching writing songs now is based off how we did then. It’s kinda mad. Where does the time go?” He chuckles.
Speaking with Rory last year ahead of the release of the album, he considered his analogies in the form of chocolate bars. ‘All Hail Bright Futures’ was quite rightly deemed to be covered in popping candy and muli-coloured sprinkles, whilst Heirs was more fitting of an 85% bar of Green and Blacks. To continue with such an analogy, and with news of the quartet back in the studio and ready for album number five, I was interested to find out what we can expect from the latest album. A little chocolate truffle perhaps? A Reese’s peanut butter cup? After some deliberation, the pair began to consider their options.
“It’s difficult, it depends what bunch of songs we choose. There’s a Snickers in there for me.” Laughs Rory. “That’s a good question… I feel like at the minute we have all the ingredients all set about and we’re yet to form the final confectionery. We’ve written some pretty heavy stuff, we’ve written some pretty cinematic stuff, we’ve written two songs which will be the two longest songs we’ve ever written. We’ve also written some super short, little bangers.”
“So maybe it’s a box of fine truffles?” Chris asks. More deliberation.
“Maybe it’s a fuckin’ assortment.” Counters Rory. “Christmas box. Curly Wurly…”
“It’s a bit more upmarket than that. Bit higher than Milk Tray…” Adds Chris.
“Thorntons? Jesus. Sounds like we’ve got a box of Thorntons on our hands.” Laughs Rory.
Whilst they’re not in any shape to start printing labels for whichever type of chocolate they’ll be shifting with this completed album, it’s clear that a lot of thought is going into the follow up to Heirs.
“We did a lot before Christmas and we felt like we had sort of made the bones of the record.” Comments Rory.
The band decided to take a break during the holidays before coming together again following Japan, subsequently altering nearly everything that had been written up to that point.
“We tend to do that.” He adds. “We’ll write a bunch of tunes and that’ll be good, then slowly for every new tune that comes along one of them goes from the bunch until everything’s been replaced with all these new ones. We’ve written loads and loads of songs, but I think we’ve got to a place, like the last few that we’ve written-“
“Shaped the album.” Jumps in Chris. “Given us a good idea of what direction it’ll be.”
The aforementioned chocolate analogy potentially crumbles with news of the band putting together a real odyssey, with a track under the working title of ‘Prospector’. Mere mention of the track creates excitement between the pair, as Rory explains further.
“It took weeks to put together, but it feels like a fucking opus at the minute. We always joke about our CPU in our own heads when we’re doing a song. The 9 minutes of that song when we’re playing, it’s like all of our brains are in overload – CPU spike. RAM full, Cache full.”
“Sixteen Internet Explorer tabs open, your Task Manager is just maxed out.” Laughs Chris.
“I think we wanna make something that’s just like super accomplished. I would say we’re 75-80% done on a record at the minute, we’ll just see whenever we’re ready to record it and we’ll do that.” Sums up Rory. “Whenever the vinyl plants can press it, we’ll put it out and go tour again. We’ve kind of tried this time round to approach it a bit more like that. We just wanna make good records. We’d previously try and squeeze everything all the time – we’d tour and write and write and tour. This time, we were just like we should just make the record and when it’s done, then go do that. So we’re nearly at that point of just doing that.”
The euphoric feeling felt within the crowd during a live show is reciprocated on stage, with each member of And So I Watch You From Afar not only looking like they’re having a great time performing, but feeling entirely connected with each other. There’s a continuation of this outside of the band, with the four-piece still hanging out on a regular basis. Rory and guitarist Niall Kennedy even get together to entertain in a different sense, occasionally cooking for folks in exclusive supper clubs.
“Everything is just so chilled ‘cus we’re all at home.” Says Rory. “We’re probably hanging out with each other just as much, but it’s not in a van so you don’t piss each other off ever. But it’s good; you’re kind of having that collective experience of creating music, which is fundamentally such a unifying feeling. To have that excitement with three of your best buds is amazing. ‘Cus we’re in Belfast as well, we get to go to the pub every weekend together, hang out and go see Battles. Hang out with our friends and family. It’s just a nice time. As much as we love being on tour, I think we are really loving this session of writing at the minute. Closer than ever. Trying not to big them up too much ‘cus they’re sitting right here…”
The arrival of Niall marks the end of the interview, as the band head off to get in preparation mode – mere hours away from yet another enthralling ArcTanGent performance. Later that evening, And So I Watch You From Afar would go on to have one of the weekend’s most memorable performances, treating the crowd to a showing they’ll likely never forget. Well, as Rory says, we are all part of the same Tribe.