By Jess Goulart
Photo courtesy of Smalltown America
Punk rock can be a hard-to-love genre. It often tosses you haphazardly into cacophonous chaos that can easily lose its own purpose. Axis Of, an emerging trio from Northern Ireland, is not that kind of punk rock. Their arrangements are impressively complex, especially considering there’s only three of them, without becoming overly self-aware, and losing that raw power that is so delicious to discerning ears.
Their debut album, Finding St. Kilda, dropped in July after they ended a massive European tour. Conscious, thought-provoking lyrics pair with a kaleidoscope of classic thrashing and up-beat, dare we say folk-influenced, “melodies.” After listening to the album in full, there’s really only one thing you’ll be left wanting from Niall, Ewen, and Ethan–tickets to what is surely a fucking awesome live show.
BTR caught up with Ewen for a more in-depth look at Finding St. Kilda.
So how did you all meet?
We were all in different bands when we were at school, playing in little punk bands on the north coast of Ireland, and we all knew each other from playing gigs in the local scene. And from there, it became clear the people who were gonna form a band later, so we all moved to the city of Belfast together and started touring from there. Just a natural thing, I ‘spose it happens with a lot of bands.
What are your major influences?
We are always sayin’ in every interview we’ve ever done is one of the starting points for our band is Propaghandi, from Canada. They were like huge for us and really helped influence our politics when we started. Also I think when we first started–like way, way back in the day–we were pretty much just trying to rip them off. So that’s a big one! And then later when we started to develop a bit more we really started digging into Torche as well. It was awesome, we actually got to play with them last year which was a dream for us.
And then for this new album, I find, like probably every band, you’ve got so much and so many influences that you have to say, “We just listen to everything.” At the minute it seems like, particularly for the lyrics, we’ve been influenced a lot by like folk singers and lots of Irish folk music I’ve been listening to a lot lately. And then Niall, who writes a lot of the lyrics, has a real thing for Frightened Rabbit and Manchester Orchestra.
You guys are just coming off of some major touring, can you give me a couple great stories from the road?
We’re just like a DIY band and have booked like hundreds and hundreds of shows just for ourselves and it’s just a total adventure and completely unpredictable. With that I guess comes some serious ups and downs. We’ve had some mad experiences, like we had a crash when we were in Germany on the Autobahn, a lorry crashed into our van. It was crazy, and financially crippling for like two years, but it teaches you a lot. You learn things the hard way, but it’s of course not all bad. For us, it’s such a unique way to actually see the world. We started a band to use our music as a vehicle to travel and see the world and see things that are completely off the tourist trail. You know, you meet unique people and you’re in their lives for just a few hours, like when you go and stay with promoters. You’re in their houses and seeing how other people live and the whole thing generally is just amazing.
One summer we tried every single country in Ireland, so we’ve traveled more extensively in our own country than you could even imagine. And then being able to travel around Europe to all these amazing cities like Rome and Prague–we’re just so fortunate to be able to see the world in such a unique way.
Album artwork for Finding St. Kilda.
What was the recording process like for Finding St. Kilda?
We recorded at Start Together Studios in Belfast, and we did it in possibly ten days. It was the first time we’d ever tried to tackle something like that in a professional studio. Also, we went into the studio the day after we came back from our first European tour so it was really an exciting time for us. It was amazing, there were times when we tracked a whole song in a single day, and then there were other times where we lost an entire day trying to record thirty seconds of guitar. At that time it was a really good indication for all of us what we wanted to do with our next few years.
We thought, OK we’re gonna record our debut album and maybe we can go to some crazy studio in Germany or the States, but it was really nice because in the end our producer met us when we were on tour and said, “I hear you guys are gonna do an album, I want to produce it.” And for us, it was really important to have someone that was excited.
And Start Together Studio… I can’t say enough about how awesome that place is, so all bands go there!
Any especially inspired moments in the process?
What I’ll remember from the sessions of this album is it was sort of extreme weather on the north coast of Ireland and we would go to past these crazy coastal seas coming up over the sand and there were these crazy glen paths and we’d have to get like stuck on there a few times because of the snow. It was pretty turbulent weather sessions, but then we would get into the studio and it would be one of the most easy-going experiences ever. It just seemed so natural and we didn’t come against any real problems. The most fun recording we’ve had, I think!
And how about the writing process for your music?
Generally the writing process is Niall will bring sort of the bare bones of a song structure, mostly the guitar parts, and that comes into our practice space, and then between all of us, then we sort of talk about the arrangement and finish it off musically. Then I’ll take it away and start trying to write the lyrics and do the singing. And through the years we’ve really tried to come up with lyrics that are a little bit different and interesting. Our lyrics are at times ambiguous or obscure, but I think that really affords people an opportunity to really think about the content and make up their own minds about what it is. It could be anything from history to wildlife to people’s relationships with the world. So the music is really heavy and hard hitting, but with an upbeat kind of atmosphere as well.
What exactly is a “Mendelssohnstrasse”?
It’s basically a street in Frankfurt in Germany, and the story behind that song title is the idea of people trying to free themselves from anything that’s holding them back and to really sit down and just do what they want with their life and do what they want with their time, as long as their not hurting anybody else. And I was walking down Mendelssohnstrasse when I decided I’m gonna try and be in a band and try and go on tour. So yeah, I was walking down the street and thought, ‘This is what I wanna do with my time now.’ And I checked the street name, so when we wrote this I thought the song was a nice tribute to that. And also, Mendelson was a classical composer of music, so it all ties together.
There’s a lot of emotion going on in “The World’s Oldest Computer”…
I think our last album had a lot of aggressive heavy songs, and “The World’s Oldest Computer” is a good representation of that punk rock hardcore spirit coming out in the band. I think this song is one of those where you’re trying to break down negative thought processes in terms of how all of us critique music, and also taking apart our own ideas a bit and trying to let all the negativity out and sing it really heavy and aggressively and then come out more positive on the other side. It’s like therapy.
There seems to be some German influence here, is that right?
Yeah, I think that the album is heavily influenced by our touring and that’s where most of the lyrics come from. And Germany is a country where every time we’ve gone there we always have such a a good time and really enjoy the country and make a lot of friends there. And there’s a few friends in Germany that we can go and stay with instead of a hostel or hotel, and it just again shows you we would never have come in contact with these people if it hadn’t been for the music and it’s such an honor to be able to do that and meet them.
I love “Lifehammer”–tell me about it.
“Lifehammer” was the first single and it’s a really a memorable song from the album. We always talk about it like it’s a real heavy metal drum beat but with like a real uplifting everyone get together positive vibe. It’s usually good fun live, everyone nodding their head furiously and smiles all around. Yeah, it’s a banger!