Hopped up on post-hardcore records, King Crimson and youthful energy, And So I Watch You From Afar formed in 2005. Their name was chosen in haste before a show. “It was a song lyric that he [Johnny Adger, bass] loved… [but] it turned out he’d misheard it!” laughs guitarist and vocalist Rory Friers.
Ten years on and with album number four recently released, it looks like that accident was a happy one. But their journey wasn’t without its bumpy road – in 2011, following the release of their frenetic, mathy-riff masterpiece and second album Gangs, they lost a founding member.
“We were stuck in a bad place for like a year or more,” explains Friers, remembering when guitarist Tony Wright left the band in August 2011. “It was a load of things that hit at once. A lot of things that showed the band as being this vulnerable thing and not indestructible.”
But by working the band ridiculously hard, touring non-stop and “living off bread”, they soldiered on. “Looking back at it, we were almost bankrupt,” Friers reflects.
Thankfully, guitarist Niall Kennedy came to the rescue. “He would have been the first person I would have brought demos or songs to, so he’s always been a bit of a confidant, and a guy that’s been on that journey in some respects with us,” explains Friers.
With Kennedy on board, they began a new journey. The band that emerged was a much-changed beast, with major-key guitar acrobatics, playful, sunny synth and vocal melodies, yet still possessing the same intense live show as before. The album that ushered in this new era for the band, 2013’s All Hail Bright Futures, proved to be their most popular release so far. Its successor, Heirs, has just dropped, and it looks set to propel them even further into the alternative consciousness.
We were stuck in a bad place for like a year or more – it was a load of things that hit at once.
It’s a record of firsts for the band in some respects. One is a song with not only vocals, but actual lyrics: These Secret Kings I Know. As you might imagine, a band known as an experimental instrumental act might have a complicated relationship with vocals, and this is certainly true for ASIWYFA, whose use of them on All Hail Bright Futures has polarised their fans.
“We don’t purposefully try and piss anyone off, but at the end of the day we always need to satisfy whatever it is in us that creates this constant push to do something that is a bit scary or is new for us,” explains Friers. “When me and Johnny set up the band’s Myspace at the very start and we were picking our genre, it was ‘experimental’ and ‘rock’. I suppose we’ve always been like, ‘Well, we’ve got to stay true to that.’ If you’re a complete diehard post-rocker only into instrumental crescendos and loads of delay, at some point along the line, And So I Watch You From Afar will have really offended you.”
Friers can remember when the idea of using vocals first surfaced. They were on a gruelling, DIY US tour… “We were all in a really tough place,” he says. “I remember having a conversation with Chris [Wee, drums] in a car park outside a venue in Anaheim, California. Everything was getting on top of us – we’d been mixing Gangs for a long time and I was really fed up with the songs, so we said: ‘Right. Next record, let’s just sing on it.’”
The main thing about having vocals, according to the band, is that they’re best viewed as a foil against complacency; against, Friers explains, “backing yourself into this corner you can never get out of” as a result of others’ expectations. Indeed, there was initially no plan to add vocals to Heirs, despite the positive effects from their inclusion on All Hail Bright Futures. “It was completely instrumental until maybe the last two weeks of recording,” says Friers. “We knew in a way that it was going to cause a bit of havoc.”
Perhaps, though, this flexibility is simply a part of their philosophical outlook, with Friers musing: “I remember the first time we got any royalty cheques for radio play. Plenty of bands would be thinking, ‘If we wrote a few more songs like this, we’d make a bit more money,’ but my first thought was, ‘I can’t ever write a song like that again,’ because if I write a song because it’s going to get me money for being played on the radio then that’s like the worst reason for being in a band.”
Friers’ musical background is prog-heavy, as he namechecks King Crimson, Cream, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and Yes, but it was punk that defined his formative years. “Playing guitar well was not cool when I was younger – you had to play it badly, throw it about and not tune.”
ASIWYFA’s technical approach was shaped by later developments, namely the post-hardcore of bands like At the Drive-In and Refused. “Suddenly you could retain that punk thing I was in love with, with an intense live show, but it was also okay to be good on the guitar as well!”
As if reaching out to his past self, Friers is enthusiastic about the two axioms on Heirs: the short, sharp opening tracks and the sparse, atmospheric second half.
“The riff-driven fans, the shredders who love Run Home and want to play fast arpeggios on the guitar, will be introduced to this other style. That’s kinda cool.”
With the benefit of distance, he’s also reconsidering the impact of fan favourite Gangs: the rock, along with their self-titled debut, upon which their cult fan base was built. “Me and Chris locked ourselves in the outhouse with a drum kit and an amp. We wrote Gangs in about two weeks, I think.”
Yet Friers isn’t completely happy with the album. “It’s the sort of music I can quite easily write,” he says. “I feel like we didn’t push it too far, so it’s interesting to hear how that really resonated with people and they love it. It’s interesting to think, going back and writing an album in that style, in that short period of time, what would happen?”
Given their motivation and drive, it’s no surprise that Friers has a quick answer when asked what he loves about music.
“There’s something just – and this isn’t just music, but creation in general – inherently incredible about the feeling of taking something that is just an idea and turning it into this real, tangible thing that can then affect another person, make someone feel a certain way. Then it’s there, it’s there forever and you’ll fucking die and that’s fine, but you’ve left this thing that transcends time and people and that’s amazing.”
Heirs is out now on Sargent House Records. For more information, see http://www.asiwyfa.com.