It’s taken three albums for And So I Watch You From Afar to turn that frown upside-down. On the buoyantly-titled All Hail Bright Futures, joie de vivre is in abundance and doesn’t sound like a sonic trick. In person, Belfast’s premier guitar outfit seem carefree and content. You can’t help wonder when the sunshine arrived. Glowering masterpiece Gangs worked its dark magic in 2011 – the ensuing plaudits only added to the pressure the ensemble was under. Compounding that, founding member Tony Wright departed for his own project that September. Then there were more recent cash-flow problems, followed by the closure of their beloved former label The Richter Collective.
Instead of feeling swamped, it has been a freeing time. They’ve dreamt it all up again.
“Whenever anything significant happens in any walk of life,” ventures guitarist Rory Friers, “it gives you great moments of clarity where you can really evaluate yourself and lose any bad habits. Restart. It’s like fucking New Year’s Eve! Tony leaving was a huge moment of significance. Very suddenly we were in the studio as three ‘musicians’ rather than a guitarist, a drummer and a bass-player.”
Drummer Chris Wee nods.
“It was less about being really precious about the part you’d written and more about whether it was right for the song. It was a totally open forum.”
That ushered in a new positivity. When they chant the title of fourth track ‘Ambulance’, for example, even that word of warning spills out on a sea of good vibrations.
“We knew pretty early on that we wanted to make something that was really a joy to listen to,” says Friers. “Everybody’s having it pretty shitty at the moment. I think if we were still 18, we’d write a pessimistic, ‘middle finger up to the bad times’ thing. We thought we should maybe react to it in a different way.”
It means that All Hail Bright Futures is the least snotty ‘reactionary record’ you’re likely to hear. Still, they’re pushing against the past.
“We needed to prove that we could be absolutely fearless. A lot of things had gone on with the band, we’d gone through a lot of shit. It was really great to know that we could absolutely push ourselves. Not wussing out at the last minute and making another ‘math rock’ album”.
A brave new world, then. Guitarist Niall Kennedy is joining them on the journey. Though the band have yet to “brand” him (they warn that a tattoo of the Gangs symbol might be coming his way), he’s not any old blow-in.
“Niall’s always been involved in pretty much everything we’ve done from day one,” reflects bassist Johnny Adger. “He was always a port of call if something was written. It was a very easy transition to make musically.”
He’s not the only addition. While they haven’t quite got the dance moves down pat, the chiefly instrumental act are most certainly the ‘All Singing ASIWYFA’ these days. You’d like to think it happened spontaneously with the four finding themselves huddled around a mic and harmonising barbershop-style.
“Not far from it!” laughs Friers. “We decided it was a really good time to restructure things during our first tour with Niall. Right, there’s some songs that have vocals on them... instead of waiting for the crowd to do it, let’s put in four microphones! That became just so enjoyable, y’know? Singing at microphone and having people singing back at you. Even if it’s just phonetic syllables essentially, it was like ‘wow’. So we thought we’d do it a bit more: let’s give those words actual meaning. Worry about learning to do it afterwards.
The old ‘play guitary singy’ thing? That’s a new one!”
One change wasn’t quite so welcome. The band were crestfallen when the Richter Collective ended last year.
”We try to be staunchly and completely sans nostalgia at all times.” Friers notes. “It’s your enemy when it comes to being progressive in creativity. But it was hard not to be like ‘ahh!’ (lets out an agonised moan), y’know? I remember the Richter Collective starting. That’s when Dublin and Belfast felt a world away. It was this mythical label that was putting out gnarly bands from Dublin. We were like, ‘Fuck! We want a piece of this.’
They duly got one when Gangs came out on the imprint. Adger makes the point that the label’s legacy will live on, that those bands are still operational. Friers nods.
“The Richter Collective as a label that’s actively putting out music has ceased to be a business,” Friers concludes, “but ‘Richter Collective’ as a thought and an idea still feels very alive and powerful.”
Another positive spin on the ever-turning wheel. Onwards and upwards, let’s watch them go far.
All Hail Bright Futures is out now. ASIWYFA play Whelan’s, Dublin on May 15 & 16
(via Hot Press)