BELFAST MUSICIAN Tony Wright is a real enigma of the Irish music scene. Once at the absolute heart of breathtaking instrumental act And So I Watch You From Afar – a swirling tornado of rock so successful they toured arenas alongside Dave Grohl’s Foo Fighters – he quit, picked up his acoustic guitar instead, and currently lives the life of a troubadour, hopping homelessly between friend’s couches, and strumming for a living.
Not that he has any regrets at all: what Tony’s become sits better with him. It’s closer to who he is now, and allows him to step away from the commercial side of music and explore at his own place.
“For all the And So I Watch You From Afar albums, we really had a deadline from the labels to produce the record,” he recalls. “It was very much a product; a commercial process. That didn’t sit well with me. Now I’m making music when I want to make music. It feels so much more natural.”
What Wright sounds like now is hard to define. He hops between gloriously emotional guitar-pop songs – performed under the moniker VerseChorusVerse (a nod to Nirvana, though largely a sarcastic one) – and fiery collaborations where he seems to absorb a part of the soul of his musical partners. He spits out delicate and heart wrenching interpretations that wildly differ in style depending on who he’s working with.
Naturally, doing this homeless, and with mental health difficulties he pointedly speaks about publically in an attempt to end stigma, is not the easiest. “I’m lucky enough to have a lot of friends who’ll put me up, so I’m not literally on the street,” he says of his situation. “It’s partly circumstance and partly Tory government that have me here. But mentally I’m doing well now. Some days it’s like walking a tightrope, and you have to keep your eyes on the horizon to be sure you don’t fall off, but I’m doing okay, I’m allowing myself space.”
I’ve got an unbelievable amount of time for Tony Wright, because he always seems so genuine. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch stunned when he walked out on Northern Irish legends ASIWYFA a few years back – I’d always seen him as a kind of de facto frontman – but what followed convinced me of two things: that Tony was doing nothing but following his heart, and that the little bit of his heart that was clearly invested in angsty, edgy rock is nothing compared to the soulful outpourings and poetic edge that were lost out on because his old act were instrumental.
Wright’s gone on to form ‘VerseChorusVerse‘, which is both the obvious Nirvana reference and an ironic nod to the fact that despite becoming a songwriter, Wright’s tracks are rarely delivered in that format. Perhaps it’s apt, then, that he’s formed a partnership with a man sat in a genre that pointedly rejects conventional musical patterns.
David Lyttle is one of our island’s finest jazz artists, an imaginative drummer who’s also Northern Ireland’s first ever MOBO nominee (vote here). They pair are producing a collaborative work that will focus on “percussion heavy, guitar-driven soulful songs.” They’re beautiful, and as usual, Tony has a whole lot to say about what’s going down. I love this man’s profound ability to express himself, both musically and in his words, so I’ve decided to leave this interview in its rawest form, and let him do just that:
Obviously it takes a while to adapt from being in a heavy rock band to standing on stage and bearing your soul acoustically. Do you feel like you’ve made that transition your own now? How long did it take to get there?
Yeah it feels like a whole lifetime ago I was thrashing about with the lads, there’s certain smells that never leave you though…(check me out. Metaphors already!). I do feel like I’ve made the transition, I’m always learning now, I felt like I’d creatively plateaued before I opened my mouth to sing/yell, & it was quite literally killing me. Though it may read as that, I assure you, that’s not hyperbole. I was on a road that was running out of miles ahead of me, I was in the darkest of places and treating myself in a fashion that no human should inflict upon themselves or any living thing for that matter. Sorry to go all dramatic on your good self, but it’s the truth. Now? Now, it’s all good and life is sweet. If I smoked cigars now would be the perfect time for a hamlet. Bask in smokey smugness.