When you think of a good concert, you never expect the police, ambulance and fire service to be hauling a hundred sweaty kids out of an attic. But that’s because you just haven’t been to a good gig.
“We do attic shows in Ballymoney up north when we’re home. Some of them have been sick! – squeezing in a hundred kids mayhem. The last one had the police, ambulance and fire service down. It was like a black flag show,” said Ewen Friers, singer and bass player from the alternative punk band Axis Of.
The northern Irish lads might be angry and energetic, but most importantly they’re definitely unforgettable. Their music sits somewhere between At The Drive In and Black Flag: an uncompromising sound mixing masses of experimentation with brilliantly chaotic live performances. And everyone in the band sings.
The band can tour for a solid month, play music every night, but pop off to an art gallery between sound checks. It’s this dual nature that suggests there’s a sensitive soul at work deep inside the caged beast. Ewen spoke about what inspires him to write songs.
“I suppose lyrically right now it’s lots of stories,” said Ewen, “history, nature, critiques on activism, people I’ve met, old friends, new friends, environmental abuse, music I’m stoked on, ancient mythology and some skateboarding.”
There’s a distinct sense when the band’s on stage there’s no other place they could ever want to be, that there is no alternative: it’s play music or die.
“I think I can honestly say it’s us writing the type of music we want to hear at each specific moment,” said Ewen. “What we want to hear is constantly changing, which I guess explains the different evolutions in music.
“Niall and I write the songs. Sometimes we’ll come to practice with a riff or a tiny snippet and we try to work out ideas after. Sometimes we’ll bring the finished music straight to the table. I write the lyrics and after that we work together on exactly how they’re delivered.”
The band has developed a frantic sound that seems like they’re playing on the knife’s edge, but in the beginning it was much rawer.
“At first the music was very much a super fast punk thing,” said Ewen. “It still had an experimental vibe to it, but was based more on the fast beat. I think now it’s far slower in parts but faster in ways too. I think it’s less predictable. And to me less boring and dull – far more exciting. I think we’ve gone much more poppier in places and a lot more heavy in ways too. I’m really happy with how it’s coming on.”
Ewen talked about the influence Axis Of has had on his life.
“I think this stems from making an effort to look at the band as having a more prominent place in our lives,” said Ewen. “I feel so lucky all the time to be able to commit so much and concentrate hard on something I love.”
Being in a band is a dream come true for Ewen, but it understandably takes its toll too.
“Truthfully it’s great,” said Ewen. “I love to tour, I enjoy being able to play music every night. I love to meet new people and find out about their lives. I also love that the band can take you somewhere you would never think to go.
“But the hardest part of touring is being broke and losing money, which happens in the beginning for sure. You end up eating junk, feeling crap, sleeping bad, arguing and so on. With a bit of organization this can be avoided.”
Ewen thought to make it in the music business meant taking everything in your stride.
“When we started we decided we’d play the music we love and try to get out there for a few shows; so far we’ve reached that goal,” said Ewen. “If we can keep hitting each little target we set that’s fine, if we can’t it’s not a big deal.”
But it’s the unforeseen ‘disasters’ that make or break a new band.
“The van getting clamped, sickness, paying some fine, instrument breakdown,” reamed Ewen. “When this stuff happens when you least expect it – that’s a real test. But part of the thrill of being in the band for me is overcoming these obstacles.”
Success is hard to define but Ewen had some ideas: “I’d create an X factor style show dedicated to obscenely heavy grotesque metal bands. But it would be filmed in front of the same judges and audience as the normal show.”
The spirit of GG Allin nods approvingly.