WHEN Neon Waltz stepped into TTV HQ back in 2015 to deliver sparkling renditions of ‘Bare Wood Aisles’, ‘Perfect Frame’ and ‘Between Them All’, it was very clear they were a band on the cusp of something special. Effortlessly seizing hearts and minds from the get-go with their euphoric indie-rock, disarming melodies and seductive charm, it took a couple of testing years before the band finally fulfilled the wishes of their ever-growing fanbase and unveiled their long-awaited debut album Strange Hymns last month; a record defined by fearless ambition, dogged determination and indisputable talent.
A band destined to fulfil their massive potential, it has given us great pleasure to welcome the six-piece back to Tenement Trail this year as one of the festival’s star attractions. Now sitting proudly at the top of the bill alongside some of the UK’s finest musical talent such as The Big Moon, Louis Berry, Clean Cut Kid and Catholic Action, we caught up with lead singer Jordan Shearer ahead of their big performance at The Garage this Saturday to talk all things Tenement Trail, Glasgow and Strange Hymns.
“I’ve always really enjoyed it it when we’ve played it before. Its brilliant and the line-up is always really good. There needs to be something that bridges the gap between TRNSMT and the really big artists aswell… There needs to be something cool that young people can go to and find new bands and Tenement Trail offers that”
Already a member of the inner-city festival’s fast-growing alumni, it shows just how far the band have come over the past year when you see their name so high up on the bill this time around: “It’s really good. It’s weird seeing our names really high up on a festival bill but it’s nice. We’re next to The Big Moon and they were on Radio 1 today. It shows how much TTV believe in us aswell”
Highlighting the likes of Catholic Action, Rascalton and Spinning Coin as artists he’d like to see on the day, this year’s line-up is a clear demonstration of the breadth of talent currently emerging from Glasgow’s thriving music scene. And while it is well documented that Neon Waltz are from Caithness, one of the most northerly points of the UK, Glasgow has become a home from home for the outfit over the years.
“Everyone helps each other out, it seems like everyone’s friends. Edinburgh doesn’t really have that, nowhere else in Scotland does I don’t think. It’s cool because we’ve got to know bands from Glasgow so it’s a home from home for us now. There’s not really any bands up here ..but there’s Baby Strange, White, Roxy Agogo, Van T’s Ninth Wave in Glasgow.. we’ve become really good friends with all of them and they’ve accepted us. We really look forward to playing there because everyone’s friends and you know you’re going to have a magic night out.”
Where Neon Waltz come from, it’s safe to say there isn’t the same sense of community or camaraderie amongst musicians. According to Shearer though, it’s something that’s worked in their favour: “It would be weird if there was loads of bands because there’s not even loads of people. There’s a new band called Pure Grief, they’re not really the same kind of music that we play but they are good. It’s good for us that we don’t have a scene as it has given us free reign to sound like we want”
When you listen to the debut album, it’s clear that the band’s sound is rooted in Caithness. Swelling with atmosphere, each track evokes a powerful sense of place; as if to transport us to the romantic wastes of the north with every euphoric splash of percussion, swirling melody and delicate harmony. The expansive and spacious nature of the songs is offset by a rousing desire to leave the confines of a small environment though
“A lot of people say they can hear where we’re from in our music. We never set out to sound like anything.. it’s an unconscious thing, and it just filters through the music if that doesn’t sound too stupid. We just let it happen, it comes through somehow but I don’t know how it does”
In the long run though, are there any plans to move? “To be realistic, for the band to keep growing we’ll have to move at some point. I mean….we’re six hours from Glasgow…”
The arrival of the band’s debut album definitely signals the beginning of a new era for the group. And while it has been a long-time coming for their passionate fanbase, it has most definitely been worth the wait. Brimming with passion, ambition, grin-inducing charm and hooks aplenty, the six-piece deliver ten sublime tracks that delve into your subconscious and steal your heart and mind with seductive charm and understated beauty.
Of course, some tracks will be familiar to listeners who, like TTV, have followed the band’s journey from the very formative stages of their career. It has been well-documented that the group’s early promise was picked up by Atlantic Records who signed them to a lucrative deal after only a few gigs. However, it quickly became aware that it was a working relationship that was not in their best interests. As Shearer says: “You only get one chance at a first album. We wanted to make the album that we wanted to make”. Determined to do things their own way, they opted to go back to a number of old recordings in order to re-capture the original magic.
“It’s been a really really long process. The actual recording is from two or three years ago, songs like Sombre Fayre and Veiled Clock come from then. When we signed with Atlantic we went to loads of studios with big producers and it didn’t really work. It got the stage where we were trying to re-record songs that we thought sounded amazing anyway.”
“We were trying to re-record them for the album and it just didn’t have that bit of magic about them so we ended up just using original demos and getting them remixed, and then we finished the album in a studio in Eastbourne just outside Brighton with Mikey Rowe and Andy Britton. They’ve done stuff with Baby Strange aswell. We did the last four with them and the others ones are a mash up of about three or four different studio sessions. It flows perfectly for us though and it’s all been mixed by those two guys aswell”
Having learned the hard way, the group have some cautionary advice for those just starting out. “When we fell out with Atlantic and agreed to leave, it was the best thing we could have ever done. It’s nice signing to a label and getting loads of money but my advice would be that if you’re in a position where you can do it yourself and let it build as much as you can, do that instead of signing to a record label right at the start. With us we’d only played about ten gigs and we were signed to Atlantic. I think they thought they could mould us into whatever they wanted and they didn’t realise we weren’t gonna do that. I think just be careful.”
Their dogged determination and desire to do things their own way has been nothing but commendable in the run up to their album. And despite years of recording sessions and meeting a number of obstacles along the way, the result is a seamless record that is as warmly familiar as it is refreshingly distinctive.
Shearer adds: “The reaction has been really positive. We thought it would be as we know how good it is. The weird thing is… collectively our favourite on the album is Veiled Clock and then most of the reviews we’ve read have said the album is good but shouldn’t have put Veiled Clock on the end!”
Sure to attract a massive crowd to their set at The Garage on Saturday, Tenement Trail will be a brilliant opportunity to catch Neon Waltz before they inevitably hit bigger stages all over the UK. With album number one done and dusted, the six-piece are already looking to the future: “We’re still writing. We’ve been sitting on this one for a year. We’re writing today and any chance we get we meet up and write tunes so we’re already in a good position for the second album. We just need to fine tune a few things”