Nanobot Rock Reviews: Pardon the pun, but I think it is safe to say that the ashes have settled from Cathedral For Your Ashes. I would venture to call over 5,000 SoundCloud listens, over 5,000 YouTube views and over 5,000 streams a massive success. On top of that, you’ve sold over 10,000 copies of the album. How are you feeling?
Lee A Wylding: We are feeling quite good at the moment, it’s a very positive time for us right now and we feel as though we are on the precipice of bigger and better things, almost as though a seismic shift is to take place in our favor. The support shown for Cathedral has been overwhelming and allowed us to create a far bigger soundscape for the next album.
Things definitely look like they’re shifting in your favor, but it took The Fireflys some time to get their feet under them. In light of the response, as you just mentioned, you got from Cathedral For Your Ashes by, if I may say, some of the greatest fans I’ve ever encountered, it appears you’re well under way. Looking back, what have you learned from your music and fans?
Never to second guess our music, their reaction or what we mean to our fans. it’s easy to be down on yourself when you’re in the studio or rehearsing and footage from “Glastonbury” comes on the TV and it shows an artist who formed four months ago, got signed to Sony due to knowing someone, then playing to 100,000 people and then splitting up in six months due to them hating each other. I always feel envious of these “get recognition quick” bands, but when our fans stick up for us, spreading the word and generally believing in us with such unshakeable faith, it’s hard not to see that we are doing something right and meaningful, no matter how small a fanbase. We’re really lucky to have such dedicated, loving, caring fans.
Yeah, your fans are unlike any I’ve experienced and I mean it, they’re great.
You have officially added Stephen Roberts on bass. How did we get Stephen? What does he bring to the band?
It was through a friend of a friend really, and boy are we glad we got him! He a “thinkers” bass player, where he will strategically plan his bass parts for the songs on the new album, working them out methodically through trial and error, seeing what sounds great, what works and what doesn’t. As with me, I just use the hit and hope solo style, in the studio; Ste will have his blueprints laid down well before me. His backing vocals are superb too, something we’ve never had before in this band, and he always goes for the perfect harmonies too, add to that his amazing set-up; a 1970s Fender Mustang Bass coupled with an amazing Line 6 half-stack bass amp, brilliant!
So he’s bringing a balance to your sound like you’ve never had?
He really is. We were kind of stuck in a rut after recording Cathedral. I wasn’t really feeling inspired, and had no ideas for album 3, let alone wanting to go in and record another album, so we kind of started to just plod on with it, with an almost workman like zeal. But when bassist 1 left, and Ste came in was like “who this hell IS this guy?” He was driven, smart and full of ideas. So album 3 is an altogether different beast compared to how it was sounding say, four or five months ago. he’s flipped it on its head and said, “hey, why don’t we try THIS” and we’ve kind of gone along with it, and turns out, turning the overdrive down a bit and chilling put has worked like we never thought it could; totally rejuvenated us.
Let’s talk about that “Album 3.” Nanobot had the honor, and we’re grateful for the opportunity, to be the first to hear and review “Autumn Soul.” The track has all the makings of being the “Jenny, Play Your Guitar” on Embers of the Autumn. It does, however take on a more American-Southern Rock vibe. Can we expect this to carry over into the rest of the album?
Indeed you did, and we are very happy about that! To be honest we’ve had the version you heard re-mixed at another studio, so it does sound a bit more “earthy, warm and natural”, but note for note it’s the same song.
Yes the album is a more paired down affair, like I said, turning the amps from 11 to around 4, it kind of exposes you as a musician. Not having a wall of distortion to hide behind, I think seems scary at first but ultimately makes you a better player. Once you’re free of the shackles of the overdrive you can really get down to brass tacks and open up a song as an actual song, and not a four minute show boating exercise of three people competition with each other, who’s the loudest/fastest/best like on our first album Better To Burn Out; which is a different drummer and bassist to what we have now. And I’ll be honest, I find our debut rather embarrassing to listen to, and I’m much more at home with the feel and sound of Embers because it’s the real Fireflys, big widescreen songs with a real depth and purpose to them. It’s taken three albums to get here, but it is better, and Cathedral had to happen to get here. There’s no “rock” on this upcoming album and I fear it might alienate a few of our fans, but then again, may gain us new ones due to the angle we have experimented with. To never make the same album twice I think is very important.
You just mentioned something interesting. As Burn Out is now almost “embarrassing” and Cathedral “had to happen,” are you afraid of the musical blacklisting that is “selling out” being thrown on The Fireflys?
I’m well aware that we’re steadily growing a bigger fan base and have bigger companies reaching out to us; however, it’s taken us six years of an uphill struggle to get to the point we are at now. I don’t think even our most ardent fan would blame us for allowing companies to help us and give us a leg up, and even so, I own the record label we are on, so it’s not like we’re going to Warner Brothers any day soon; but you know…I probably would, and who could blame me?
For the sake of the distribution and benefits, I’ll just say I hope you can one day get to that level. You certainly have what it takes!
Now with Embers, you told me a while back: “We were going for Neil Young meets Allman Brothers meets Creedence with [Autumn Soul].” What do all of these bands mean to you? What influence did they have?
The fearlessness of Neil Young plays a big part in who I am today as a writer. The production techniques he used, the way he approached albums, sonically and technically is unrivaled to this very day. He just did what HE wanted to do, nobody else, just him and that spurs me on, drives me to never compromise our artistic integrity. And although it’s taken a long time, it’s certainly working in our favor. The Allman Brothers and Creedence, although sounding quite “Southern Rock” oriented, their musical palate is far more outstretched and deserves, no, demands a certain level of respect too. These bands came out in ‘68, ‘69 and Creedence dates back to ‘59 in an early version. And those bands didn’t use the template that was popular at the time, like say, the Beatles, Hendrix and The Who; they took influence from southern iconography, and turned it into popular song. Not at all the blues in which they loved; no they coined very much the southern rock movement, leading to Lynyrd (Skynard) and so on. And for them to play such free sounding music, with so much soul and feel; well, it inspires me. And I’m sure people are just turning on to them even now and hearing music in a fresh way, even though it goes back to the ‘60s.
Creedence was from California but played like they grew up on the Bayou. Are you possibly implying a trio from the UK are crafting a new branch on the “Southern Rock” tree or are you simply taking the fundamentals of “do what we want” from these legendary groups?
Well they certainly help shift the focus of geography away from California, Liverpool, New York and London with their southern styling. But ultimately it’s not where you’re from its where you’re at. We like to think of ourselves as “genre-less” and do not agree with typical stereotyping. These days in the digital era, people may ask “what kind of music do you play” and bang, there it is an iPhone, mp3 player, iPod, so they can make up their own minds; but I do think people can’t enjoy your music as much if they can’t label you. “Guitar Band” simply isn’t good enough; seriously, we’ve had many reviewers and interviewers say, “well it’s not rock, funk, punk, or country, so what the hell ARE you?” We just say, here, listen for yourself. But yes indeed, the “do what we like” ethic is certainly what we adhere to, and our fans get that and they like it too. They know there’s never going to be a dreadful Prog Metal album, or Rap, or a Pop album, so “Guitar Band” guidelines, we kind of gravitate towards.
So in this modern “digital age” what bands influence you or helped give direction to Embers?
Top of my “Inspiration Hit-List” has been City and Colour. Dallas Green is at the very top of his game with his latest album Little Hell and if I write just one song nearly half as good as his best, well my work will be done here. Such songwriting is just beyond me how the heck he does it, when I first heard him, almost five years ago, I thought his voice, his writing and his performance is just ethereal, otherworldly. To write such fresh, captivating songs in 2008 and now, he is just untouchable. I’ll always have my classics like The Smiths and Joy Division, but City and Colour is bang up to date. And it’s nice to hear a group who are still active and current, every time I listen to The Smiths I think “I wish they hadn’t split up 25 years ago,” but City and Colour are here now. I saw them in Manchester last year. It was fantastic and has certainly inspired me to raise my songwriting.
Did they help give any specific direction to Embers, either as a whole or in the songs we’ll hear?
Overall I’d say a more acoustic approach. A slower, more rounded pace musically. This feels like an album now. Whereas the first two albums can tend to feel like ten singles stitched together with no coherence to what the next song is. On Embers, the whole thing flows, as only an album should. Lyrically it’s typically us: broken homes, toxic relationships, hope through loneliness, despair, the whole kaleidoscope of tragedies really; but set to uplifting music. That’s my trick you see, depressing lyrics, married to happy chord changes, so the lyrical content seems full of hope and love, due to the music making you feel that way. I think I’ve perfected it too!
I’d say you have. But just a moment ago you said you didn’t feel like you’re up to par as a songwriter. Are you just staying humble or do you see even greater things after Embers?
I’m really not on par with my influences; well in my mind I’m not. However we have fans who will tell you differently. It’s all subject to debate I suppose. I’d like to really branch out on album four. And I’ve pretty much written the bulk of it already. Eight minute Pink Floyd inspired landscapes, with big soundscapes, maybe ditching the verse chorus verse template for an album. I mean, it will definitely sound like us, but us stretching ourselves, nothing too “out there;” still staying faithful to our music but really ripping the engine out, overhauling it and having a real full. Kind of a no boundaries experience. I say that now, but depending on how well Embers does I’ll chicken out and stick in the safe zone; or not. It’s terribly exciting is it not?
It is very exciting! Your enthusiasm for your art is infectious. It is no wonder your fans love you so much.
For those who may not know, as you mentioned earlier, you own Canadia Records. What role does that play for The Fireflys and does it include any other bands?
The role it imposes for The Fireflys is the aforementioned “Do What We Want” template. We never get to hear “no” very often when we are making our music because we believe in what we are doing and feel as if only us three can dictate the sound of the music. So it’s an incredibly strong position to be in as we get to play the “Creative Control” card as we so wish. Other bands on the label is something we hadn’t thought about until recently. Until we signed a local band called The Spase (pronounced ‘Space’), they seem to be on the same page as us and are incredibly grateful for the time and effort that I actually do put into their band. I am very proud of Canadia Records and this year it will have been active for ten years.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down and chat, we can’t wait to hear Embers of the Autumn!