Irish post-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar have come a long way since their early days in late 2005, with their distinctive sound earning critical acclaim for their second album Gangs.
Nine years and countless countries later, they have earned a reputation for transforming their massive soundscapes into electrifying live performances, and have gained a following around the world.
Indeed, it takes a lot for a band to stick together for so long. Despite the departure of guitarist Tony Wright in 2011, the band continues to stay strong, grow, and mature, producing music that pushes boundaries and redefine the genre. What is their secret? Exposure from the far-flung countries that they have toured, such as India and Russia?
The band finally arrives on the shores of Singapore next Friday for their first live show here. We catch up with founding member Rory Friers to find out more about his inspirations, idols, and his most memorable travel experiences.
You have a brilliant band name. Did anything in particular inspire you to call yourself that?
Thanks very much. It was I who came up with it actually. There’s kind of a dual meaning behind the name. I’m not religious but I guess I can be pretty spiritual at times. I like the idea that “something” is steering or guiding us along a path. It’s also what I thought was a Team Sleep lyric but upon listening to the track again realized it wasn’t so I decided to use it for a band name.
And your logo, the isosceles triangle, features heavily in your album art too. What’s the significance?
Our designer friend Tim Farrell came up with it. We wanted a symbol that would eventually be synonymous with the band. It’s like the small triangle at the top is being hit by a light source and the rest of the logo is the shadow; A play on the phrase “from afar” in our name. It also resembles the A in ASIWYFA.
Each one of your albums seems to have a different sound. Do you sit down and discuss the direction that you want to go on an album before you start, or do you let the album grow organically?
Sometimes we sit down and chat about tunes before we start jamming in the room. It’s usually a while into the writing when we realise our favourite ideas are kind of similar and then we decide to take the album in that direction. It doesn’t always work that way and we have so many ideas that didn’t fit at the time of recording. We’ll release all of it someday, I’m sure.
“We have always tried to push ourselves and push the boundaries of our music, so we decided to go all or nothing.”
It’s always interesting hearing how bands work together – especially so for a band like ASIWYFA with such free-flowing song structures. Could you share with us a little more about your song-writing process?
The band starts from talking about ideas, and then jamming to get some idea of where we were musically. It’s a natural process and has pretty much stayed the same since 2005. One of us generally has an idea that we jam out for a bit first, though. We also share ideas on Logic (author’s note: for those who don’t know, that’s an audio recording and processing software) so that when we get together we have at least some idea of what our parts could be.
Over the years we’ve grown to become pretty brutally honest with each other as far as musical ideas go. We feel it’s the only way to grow as a band and know not to take it personally. If you can’t take a little constructive criticism from your best friends, you are in the wrong business.
Would you say that this is the band’s secret to staying together for almost ten years?
Well, it is pretty difficult at times. You start bands with your friends but at some point you’re going to clash over ideas or whatever. You just have to be honest and thick skinned. You also have to really love each other and believe in it. Some people can’t deal with life on the road. ASIWYFA are a functioning, dysfunctional, family!
A family that has seen a couple of big changes recently! Was that a difficult adjustment?
When Tony left, we had a chat about whether we should stick to the recording schedule; we agreed to at least try it. This was our first time writing as a three piece, so initially it was a bit daunting. We have always tried to push ourselves and push the boundaries of our music, so we decided to go all or nothing.
We never intended to be purely instrumental and a lot more of these new ideas had space for vocals so that’s what we did. Four part harmonies or rhythmical chanting, whatever we felt was required, we tried out on this record.
Are there any artists who have had a particular influence on your music?
We’ve had the pleasure of meeting and playing with some incredible artists over the years. Some of the stand outs for me would be, Them Crooked Vultures, Nine Inch Nails, Mike Watt, Pelican, Russian Circles, Clutch, I could go on.
I’ve met quite a lot of them and you realise very quickly that they are human beings too and are very approachable. We supported Them Crooked Vultures in Europe, which was unbelievable hanging out with Josh, Dave, John and Alan. They started chatting to us and invited us to their dressing room for drinks, I’ll never forget that. Those guys are rock royalty!
“You start bands with your friends but at some point you’re going to clash over ideas or whatever. You have to be honest and thick skinned.”
You have a Tumblr that documents all of these tour experiences and there are some amazing photographs on it. Can you tell us a little about more about it?
We all take quite a lot of pictures on the road and share them through social media with our family and fans. Graham Smith, our tour manager, takes a lot of photos of what life is really like out there.
People like to see what you get up to and see what you see whilst on tour. It’s a great visual record of where you’ve been and what you’ve seen. In years to come I can look back and re-live these memories and show them to my kids or grandkids.
And speaking of your tour experiences, you seem to venture off the beaten path a lot. What are some of your most memorable moments?
Our first time on Russian roads was pretty scary. Our driver was used to the conditions but for us driving at 70 plus mph in snow, on ice, was terrifying. China was an unforgettable experience for architectural, cuisine, and people reasons. I can’t wait to see more of Asia.
Most recently, in India we all had an eye-opening trip. The level of poverty some people live in is frightening. I watched as a woman washed her kids in a small bowl of water at the side of a really busy street in a city centre. Then we were driven to our 5-star hotel. It was all very surreal. These experiences remind me of how fortunate I am to be me and make me really appreciative of where I’m from.
By Joel Teo
And So I Watch You From Afar will be performing at Zouk at 8pm on 28 February 2014.