Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Interview with Afterbliss

After releasing three singles to a very positive response over the past year, the Irish five-piece Afterbliss have taken those three songs and added two more for their outstanding new debut EP Unknown Machine.  I emailed with the band about the new EP, recording it in the legendary Windmill Lane Recordings Studio, their plans for supporting the EP and more.  

Can you give me a brief band history?

The origins of the band can be traced back to 2018 when lead guitarist Alex and drummer Ally were playing together in another band. They found that they had a creative spark when they worked together and decided to start their own project. They spent time writing and recording demos while also auditioning band members. The Afterbliss line up was completed when Evan Cassidy (vocals), James O’ Gorman (rhythm guitar) and Shane Waldron (bass) joined in the summer of 2019. 

Alot of big names have recorded at Windmill Lane Recordings Studio, where you recorded the EP, and you worked with producer Alan Kelly, who has worked with an impressive list of musicians.  How was it recording there and working with him?

Alan was a delight to work with. He was able to listen to our home demos and figure out the essence of our sound. He knew exactly what each song needed and how to get the best out of the material that we have written. Then being able to record those songs in Windmill Lane was a dream come true. As you mentioned, a lot of very famous bands have recorded their previously. On our first session, the masking tape on the desk marking out all of Hozier’s channels was still there! It was a little intimidating at first, but once you start playing and get back to the music, we relaxed and had a very productive time there!

Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?

The songwriting process varies from song to song. In general we work remotely a lot so Covid 19 lockdowns didn’t slow down our writing process too much. Usually songs are introduced with a musical idea by Alex, who records a home demo of his idea. Next, Ally or Evan usually add lyrics to this and every band member chips in, adding parts for their own instrument. Then we re-record all of these ideas together as a “final” demo. Finally our producer Alan takes a listen and tells us to play it in a different key!

While I can definitely hear the influence of Muse and The Killers, at times there is a glimmer of an eighties synth pop vibe that comes through.  Are there any bands from that era that you would also consider an influence on the band?

Yeah there's definitely an 80’s synth pop vibe to our music. As you mentioned The Killers would be a band that we get compared to sonically a lot and some of their influences would include the likes of New Order, Depeche Mode and The Cure so the eighties vibe could be coming through that way.

I read you went into the studio with a lot of songs.  Can we expect to hear more of those sooner than later?

Yes, definitely! We went into the studio with close to thirty finished songs. We whittled this down and have recorded thirteen, which are in various stages of completion. Some are fully mixed and ready to be unleashed into the world and others are just instrumental tracks. Unknown Machine, our current EP will be the final official release in 2021, but we have loads of music we are eager to share next year!

What kind of impact has the pandemic had on the band and the EP?

It has been such a strange time for the music industry as a whole! We are all still trying to find our feet at the moment as some semblance of normality is returning. In terms of the EP, as I mentioned before, we do a lot of writing remotely so we were able to keep working on new material during the pandemic and we were able to record in the studio during more relaxed phases of lockdown, so musically we were able to keep going. In terms of the band, it had a huge effect. We were unable to meet up and rehearse or play gigs. The stage is where most bands feel at home, connect to audiences and find new fans and we have been denied that opportunity until now. 

With the band being relatively new and the pandemic going on, have you had the chance to play any live shows, either before the pandemic or now that things have loosened up a little?

We did not play any live shows before the pandemic. We could have, but we didn’t want to rush onto the stage as soon as we had 30 - 40 minutes of material. We wanted to develop our sound fully, record some music and have something to pitch to the audience. That delay pushed us to the other side of the pandemic, but ultimately I think it is for the best. We were tempted to play a live stream gig during the pandemic but in the end we decided against it as we didn’t want it to be our first gig. Our first gig is going to take place in Whelan’s (Dublin) on October 29th and we are super excited for it, we have an amazing evening planned for our audience. I would plug the gig but it’s sold out!

I really enjoyed the three videos you have released.  How involved has the band been in the concepts and production of those?

We were very involved in the music videos, so much so that we did the first two videos entirely in house! Alex, our lead guitarist, is also a tech wizard and he recorded, edited and polished the first two videos. For the second one we needed to record during lockdown so all parts were recorded separately in isolation and Alex edited all of our separate ideas together. For the third video, "Remnants", the idea, script and concept was ours but we also hired cinematographer, Kim Farrelly, to shoot it for us. We wanted a more professional touch for that video and I think the results speak for themselves. 

Ireland has been known to produce some pretty iconic bands over the years.  How is the music scene there these days?

It’s very hard to know at the moment, we are all still bouncing back from 18+ months of lockdown. Every band is very eager to get back on stage, so there are a lot of small, local bands playing at the moment. The larger, international bands are only starting to book dates again.

Now that the EP is out, what kind of plans do you have to promote it?

We have our debut headline gig coming up at the end of the month in support of the EP. We are delighted that this has sold out. We are plugging it to radio stations, both locally and internationally and it is being very well received. We are currently planning an Irish tour for next year, taking in more cities than just Dublin!

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

If you enjoy our music, please find and follow us on social media! We are on all the usual platforms, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook etc. Leave a comment and let us know you are enjoying our music, it means a lot. If you really like our music, share it with your friends and family! Then hopefully we will see you on the Afterbliss World Tour 2024!



Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Vinegar Joe - The Island Recordings 1972-1973

Before his days as a solo artist, Robert Palmer, along with Elkie Brooks (a successful solo jazz/rock/blues vocalist in her own right in the UK, but lesser known in the US) and guitarist Peter Gage, were the core of the British rhythm and blues based rock band Vinegar Joe.  Formed from the ashes of Dada, a twelve-piece band that counted the three of them amongst their members, although Palmer joined the band after their one album was released, Vinegar Joe released three really great albums that along with four bonus cuts can be found on Finer Things: The Island Recordings 1972-1973.

On their self-titled debut the band starts things off showcasing alot of their bluesier influences.  After opening the disc with Palmer's lead vocals on “Rusty Red Armour”, a catchy tune with a bit of a Stones-y R&B swagger, Brooks takes the mic for a couple songs with “Early Morning Monday”, a rocking blues tune that showcases her powerful vocal chops that remind me a bit of Janis, and the laid-back “Ride Me Easy Rider”, a cut that also spotlights some excellent slide guitar from Gage.  Next up the band shows a bit of a early 70‘s Southern California vibe with the beautiful ballad “Circles” and with “Leg Up” you can hear alot of where Palmer would go a few years later with his solo career.  The most interesting track is the keyboard driven “See The World”, which finds the band delving into a very prog sounding direction and definitely sets it apart from everything else here.  “Never Met A Dog (That Took To Me)” is a great, straight-ahead rocker with more stellar slide guitar work from Gage and “Gettin’ Out” is a jaunty, piano driven soul tune that really let both vocalists shine and is another standout.  The last two songs give Brooks the opportunity to show her softer side with the bluesy ballad “Avinu Malkenu” and the slow, jazz of “Live A Little Get Somewhere”.  Closing out the first disc is the bonus track ”Speed Queen of Ventura”, a soulful, psychedelic acid rocker  that was originally the flip side to the “Never Met A Dog” single and is definitely unlike anything found on the album.

With album number two, Rock And Roll Gypsies, blues are still a big part of their sound, but the band does start shifting a little away from that in favor of a more rock direction. This is evident from the opening tracks “So Long”, an all out rocker that is full of swagger and finds Palmer and Brooks trading off vocals, something that really didn’t happen much on their debut, and the infectious southern rock-tinged “Charley’s Horse”.  They slow things down a bit on the next couple songs, the title track, a laid-back, bluesy tune with a bit of a country vibe as well as “Falling” with it’s laid-back funk groove.  Other highlights on this disc are “Buddy Can You Spare Me A Line?”, a blues song with a bit of a shuffling beat, harmonica and piano, “Forgive Us”, a really nice ballad with Palmer and Brooks trading off vocals again along with their strong harmonies in the chorus, and a really strong cover of Hendrix’s “Angel”.  The single version of the title track is added on to the end of disc two as a bonus cut.  

For their final record, Six Star General, the band once again moved in an even more rock direction as evidenced right out the gate with the straight ahead rocker “Proud To Be (A Honky Woman”) highlighted once again with Brooks’ bluesy vocals and Gage’s slide guitar work along with some rollicking piano work.  The band also got a little experimental at times on a couple tracks like “Food For Thought”, with it’s funk groove and strong vocal interplay between the two vocalists, but with some squiggly keys that give it a bit of an early prog sound and can be a little distracting, and also with Gage’s use of the talk box on “Talkin’ Bout My Baby”, a slinky blues tune with some raw, gritty vocals from Palmer.  Some of the other standout tracks include the country flavored rocker “Dream My Own Dreams” with it's great honky tonk piano, “Stay True To Yourself”, a funky rock tune with a touch of a reggae bass and some synths, “Let Me Down Easy”, a blistering rocker with Brooks Joplin-esque wail and Gage tearing it up on guitar, and “Fine Thing”, another really good bluesy rocker that once again shows a glimmer of Palmer’s future solo work.  Lastly is “Black Smoke Rising From The Calumet”, a track that I think is probably the best song of the band’s career - a beautifully arranged tune shifting throughout from jazz to blues, showcasing the band’s musicianship as well as Brooks diversity as a vocalist.  Closing out disc three are a couple more bonus cuts, one is just the single version of “Black Smoke...”, but the other is “Long Way Round”, a funky rocker with a bit of a Joe Cocker vibe that really would have been a welcome addition to the album.  

All the tracks have been remastered for the first time from the original Island Records master tapes and sound great.  Rounding out this outstanding box set is a booklet full of pictures and memorabilia along with exclusive interviews from both Gage and Brooks.  

(Esoteric Recordings)