From their early days hammering aggressive but melodic punk into sweatbox venues, to going big, supporting Foo Fighters and extensively touring Russia, Belfast rockers And So I Watch You From Afar have always centred their lives on touring, and on-stage performance. That’s not to say their records aren’t things of beauty: fully instrumental, and lead with jagged guitar and swirling, hypnotic instrumental flirtation, they’ve always been works of art. But the lockdown called for something different.
New album Jettison, due out in February, is certainly something different. “The music here was a byproduct of creating the Jettison show,” guitarist Rory Friers tells us. “It was a collaborative piece with Sam Wiehl, a multimedia artist from Liverpool. It was always designed to be just this thing you came and saw live, but we fell in love with the music and decided it deserved a release of its own.”
“It’s very different,” Friers continues. “It’s one continuous piece of music, written with a string ensemble, so it’s different territory for us. Outside of the band, I’d be scoring music for films and working with other instrumentalists, so it was like amalgamating that world and the band.”
“We’re still going to be the band that people know, going out and playing our regular shows. For the Jettison show, though, we’re behind this huge screen. At times it’s completely transparent, and at others it’s completely covered in this visual piece created by Sam. It’s quite an overwhelming sensory show, and it’s an absolute blast. We play with these amazing performers, and this whole world, from a games engine called Unreal, unfolds in front of you as you play. Sam manipulates the show through these worlds.” The result is swirling, nuanced, and often – almost unheard of previously for ASIWYFA – quiet and stripped back.
“We’ve been a band now for 12 or 13 years, so it’s cool to be doing something that’s really completely new. We’re even sat down, which those who’ve been to our shows will know is not at all normal.”
When I call Friers, he’s already working on more music, and has, entertainingly, just blown up the studio microwave. He speaks with passion about a project that is, he admits “impractical to tour like a regular record,” but will be produced instead as stand alone projects.
“There’s something amazing in the alchemy between music and other elements, like words, or lyrics, or something to look at, it’s magic that takes it elsewhere. I find that very addictive,” he explains. “The four of us are kind of like well practised punk rockers, none of us have any formal training. So it’s a real buzz to play with top of the range musicians, orchestras and so on.”
“We wanted to make something that’s engaging but not pompous, something that’s huge in an immersive and escapist kind of a way, in a period of time when we were sensing that it might be important. It’s not just entertainment all the time, sometimes it’s about mental health, and so it was quite fitting that it could come out now.”
“On one level I’ve missed touring so much,” he concludes. “It’s prompted a lot of existential questions, thinking about how you spend a year now that’s no longer there. I’ve had to ask what fulfils me when I’m not touring, but the forced break… we’ve been touring hard for a long time. A forced sabbatical allowed us to reevaluate all the stuff at home that’s important to us. We won’t just be back to the exact same space in our lives. I think it’s probably changed things for everyone.”