The guys in Irish “post-math” band And So I Watch You From Afar are the kind of people who never choose the simple route. Blending metal, psychedelia, post rock and prog rock, their music is like a kaleidoscope of fragmented sounds and sections frantically chasing each other. Their focus on originality and experimental guitar tones makes them an ideal candidate for an interview about the creative process. Guitarist/vocalist Rory Friers answered a few questions in this regard.
What was your initial motivation to form a rock band?
Initially it was just so we could play shows, it was always about live in the beginning, hoping we would maybe get to tour one day like the bands we would go see play in venues in Belfast. But it was always about the scene and playing music to our friends.
Have your sources of inspiration changed throughout the years?
I suppose they have and haven’t, I’m still inspired primarily by music I like though some of that music has changed over time, and by places I’ve been and spent time in, which again has changed and broadened as I’ve gotten older. Playing live and the experience of being on a stage in front of people who care about your music has a huge impact on how you write your next songs I think, imagining playing them in that environment can’t help but shape your songs I think.
Also, we’ve traveled a lot, seen lots of new places. We’ve also all become uncles since the last record and our bassist Johnny has become a dad so there’s a lot of new lives around us which has been very inspiring, we actually named the new album in honor of them all.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
I’ve tried in the past to “get inspired” by locking myself away or putting myself in an isolated environment or trying to read a bunch or listen to a lot of music, and although sometimes something clicks it’s generally you just have to keep writing and creating and outputting and – before you realize it – you’ll suddenly be in a good place and making good stuff. You just hope you stay there for as long as possible.
Your music seems mostly focused on forging new sounds – rather than, say, on lyrics or emotions. Do you ever feel limited by this approach?
It can be hard, and I sometimes feel we’re always chasing after this perfect record which is just one step ahead of us all the time. I just want to always feel like I’m not scared to do something that’s new or out of my comfort zone. But I guess it has the potential to make you a bit dismissive of ideas that aren’t totally fresh feeling even if they are good, in that respect it has the potential to be limiting, but I want to try and let myself just be open to everything moving forward, I think we’ve been brave and made sure we didn’t get stuck in a genre.
Is there a rational conceptualization behind the band’s sound (i.e. are you purposefully trying to achieve something musically?) or are you just following your musical instincts?
We just follow our instincts really, in the past we might have tried to come up with a sound we want to go for or the type of record we want to make but what we end up doing is never what we talked about.
BEING A BAND
Are you guys DIY or professionally trained musicians?
DIY. None of us have had any lessons really, I was at college studying recording for a year when I was 20, and Niall did the same, but musically everything has come from trial and error and forcing ourselves to play better so the songs can be better.
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
The initial ideas come from me and now Niall as well, we bring those into the rehearsal room and start to try and arrange and piece together the parts and figure out what has to happen to make it a song we love.
Are bands ever true democracies? What about yours?
I don’t know, we try and make it that way, in the past we’ve probably been too democratic and so decisions always took forever and we would talk and discuss everything for days, it was like no one wanted to offend anyone else but then it actually ended up making things quite tense because we all would have an opinion but nothing was getting decided. I think now though we all trust each other’s strengths a bit more and we’re able to follow each other’s lead a bit more without feeling discounted.
What do you guys do when you are stuck in one of those “negative” sessions, or one of those periods all bands seem to experience at some point, when nothing productive seems to happen?
We’ve been there many times, and the best way to get out of it is to keep working until you’re there. It can be scary, because you can end up being stuck in this horrible rut where nothing’s coming together and you wonder if maybe you’ve reached the end of any sort of good output. You’ve no idea how long it will last, but as our guitarist Niall always says you have to write your way out of it.
MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Are there any instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
I’m still in love with effects pedals, we’re always getting new ones and spend all day making noises in our rehearsal room. My favorite new one is a [dual delay with reverb and modulation] Disaster Transporter Sr by Earthquaker Devices, it’s amazing.
Has a piece of gear alone ever inspired a song? If so which?
Yeah lots, ‘Set Guitars to Kill’ happened because I discovered using an Ebow and a pitch shifter pedal together thanks to my good friend Dermot. ‘Animal Ghosts’ off the new record was thanks to a technique I made up shifting the sound in 5ths and arpeggiating the strings. There’s a song we still are yet to release which which was entirely made around a pedal called Arpanoid by Earthquaker Devices which I used with an Ebow. A good pedal almost always inspires a new idea straight away.
How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
Before the last record it was almost all recorded in the studio, but over the past few years we’ve become way better at recording and collected some gear so we were able to make a lot of music in our rehearsal room, some of which made it onto the record.
If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?
We record at Start Together Studios with Rocky O’Reilly, we go there because we work so well with Rocky and he is very very talented. The studio is also full of incredible sounding equipment so we can make things that sound really amazing there. We record the first drafts and demos of everything ourselves, but we are limited to what gear we have and how well we can produce.
What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly inspiring when recording at home?
First an foremost my guitars which is how I start all my music. I use two Fender Telecasters, one ’73 Thinline and one US Deluxe. I have loads of effects I use, reverbs and delays are always not far from hand, as I mentioned before the Disaster Transporter is my favorite delay at the moment. Other than guitar and pedals I use Logic to make songs in and I use some gorgeous synths in there to create texture at times.
Tell me about other pedals you love.
I create my drive using an Orange Thunderverb, I still haven’t found anything better than my gain channel on that.
I love the Line6 Verbzilla, I get a really nice reverb sound from it, and I like that is very detailed in terms of changing and tweaking your sound.
Everything Earthquaker Devices does is always amazing, we’ve been really lucky to have gotten a lot of support from those guys.
Line 6 M9, I like this pedal because I can make patches of effects for specific songs so I don’t have to try and switch 3 pedals all on at once, it’s helpful at times and although I prefer using my own delays, verbs and distortions, it works great for all the other sound combinations I might need.
Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
Personally I never try and polish things too much when I’m producing stuff myself but the main objective it always to make it impactful.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
The most challenging is the endless options, I have to try hard to not get stuck in the paralysis of that. Sometimes that can really slow things down or halt it completely… I like to limit my options and select my arsenal of sounds at the start and stick to it. The most rewarding is always the moment you manage to create the thing you had in your head and make it a real song that people can hear, that’s always very special.