We catch up with And So I Watch You From Afar (or ASIWYFA) at a particularly fitting time. The instrumental heavyweights’ fifth album, ‘The Endless Shimmering’, is easily their most tempestuous release, packed with anthemic guitar hooks and unpredictable detours.
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But when I ring guitarist Rory Friers, they’re facing a more literal storm as they prepare to kick off their latest tour by catching a ferry while Hurricane Ophelia rages.
The Northern Irish four piece have grown accustomed to extreme weather in recent months, though, after their Rhode Island recording studio essentially became a bunker in March due to a major snow storm that brought America’s north-east coast to a halt. The band made the most of it, recording the album in five days and mixing it over the next four.
“It was our Arctic laboratory,” Friers says. “That experience certainly seeped into the record somehow. When we arrived, we were told to pick up supplies in the store for a week and a half or so because six-foot snow was apparently on its way. We laughed about it, but lo and behold, the next morning the snow came and went and went.
“We lived and slept in the studio and just got it done. We already had a vision of what we wanted to do so I don’t know if the situation changed the songs structurally in any way, but sonically it changed the vibe. Oddly, it made for an immersive, enjoyable and intense experience.”
Intense isn’t necessarily the first word that comes to mind with ASIWYFA. Although their sound is intricate and often heavy, the band have been quite open about their inclination towards making positive and life-affirming music.
Sure enough, there are plenty of bouncy moments on ‘The Endless Shimmering’ to satisfy fans of their established style, but Friers admits the record is darker and more expansive than anything they’ve previously written.
“I guess it’s not instantly coming from a super upbeat place,” he says. “On first listen, it’ll sound heavier and more tense to some people, but that’s what was exciting us.
“It was just natural – we didn’t fall into a deep depression or anything. But things change. It’s not exactly all happy stories in the news at the minute and I think everyone is feeling the pinch. So, it was quite cathartic for us. There’s an element of defiance, really.”
Evoking the band’s self-titled debut, the album is mostly dominated by dramatic riffs and punishing breakdowns. Gone are the vocal melodies that began creeping into recent projects.
In Friers’ words: “They were always the last element we added anyway.” To say the band have gone back to basics would be disingenuous considering their technical gifts, but their enthusiasm for writing this time around suggests their creative mojo is back.
“I guess the past couple of albums we’ve gone into the studio with a bunch of ideas and the producer has helped inform the direction it’s gone in,” Friers says. “This time we had every nook and cranny and nuance sorted beforehand.
“We explored every corridor and rehearsed to death. We didn’t need help moulding them – just a sympathetic ear to press record. In that sense, it was a lot of like the first bunch of songs we ever wrote.”
In a way, that will be something of a relief for fans. Many bands of ASIWYFA’s ilk might easily have become burned out by the 700+ gigs they’ve performed across 35 countries over the past decade. Their juggernaut show isn’t just an aspect of what they do but a unifying experience they’ve immortalised in everything from their song titles to their tattoos.
“Our shows have influenced our progression massively,” Friers says. “It’s hard to quantify which songs were written because of a knock-on effect of a show or whatever, but throwing ourselves into situations and getting out into the world has seeped into the makeup of the band.
“They’ve also solidified a love for variety and cramming everything we love into our songs, as opposed to trying to keep up with what’s cool or popular. We’ve always wanted our music to represent who we are as people and the experiences we’ve had. So, my own connection to the songs we’ve done will usually be something that’s happened on tour or a particular show or moment.”
Friers ticked off another location from his bucket list when the band toured Japan for the first time last year. Following their current six-week stint in Europe, they’re off to Asia again before heading down under to Australia.
It’s a landmark moment for the Belfast band, who, according to Friers, felt like a “freak show” when they first started recording back in 2007. Nevertheless, though the band deliberately avoided jumping on the post-rock wave, their international following suggests they’ve still been swept away by it to some extent.
“We’ve never had a rise to stardom or anything,” Friers says. “We’ve always kept our hands to the wheel and kept on grinding. Being from Northern Ireland, we always felt apart from a lot of those instrumental bands who all seemed to know each other. Whereas, in Ireland we had friends who made different styles that we felt a connection with.
“We felt an upswing most profoundly on our last tour. The dots aligned, I guess, and we’re finally filling out shows. You can’t ask for more. Every show we’ve played has been special for different reasons and we really felt like we came of age with ‘Heirs’ [the band’s last record].
“There’s been this amazing sort of rise. Festivals like ArcTanGent, for example, have hammered home that we’re very lucky to be part of a real scene and a real collective of bands who, yes, are very different but have a certain creative connective tissue. There are people out there who are really open to weird, loud, messy, beautiful music.”