ASIWYFA: “there’s something amazing in the alchemy between music and other elements”

Photo by Ciara Brennan

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.”

The Road Less Traveled: a Chat with Belfast Musician Tony Wright

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.”