Shelley Marsden speaks to singer Tony Wright about band break-ups and his heart-on-your-sleeve solo work
THE musical meanderings of Tony Wright, former front-man of Belfast-based post-rock four-piece And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWYFA), have taken him in a dramatically different direction to his old band.
His raw, deeply literary solo work is more in the vein of Americana with shades of Springsteen and Neil Young. Few had previously heard the mouthy guitarist with the shock of red hair sing before, or play a guitar that wasn’t electric.
He left ASIWYFA in September 2011 to have fun exploring new music, he tells us, adding – almost a little irked at having to explain it – that there was no way he was going to try and repeat himself stylistically. Elsewhere, he has admitted that tensions within the band got too much, and something had to give.
“It’s impossible; it’s a different band now. There’d be no fun or point in me going down that path that, for a brief, shining moment, we perfected”, he says. “It’s way more fun and satisfying to grow and try something new, keep people on their toes, especially me! The next album from me could be gabba bat cave techno… or not.”
Tony’s mother taught him how to play guitar, through the songs of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and John Denver, and he cites people like Joe Strummer, Peter Gabriel and Bjork as his heroes.
Some might say Tony left ASIWYFA at the height of their success and popularity, but clearly there were troubles under the surface that he felt weren’t worth negotiating anymore. Tight-lipped, he’ll say only that “it had run its course, for one reason, and many others.”
Fair enough. But it must have taken a while to bounce back from that; does it feel a little vulnerable to be going solo when you’ve always known the comfort and support of a band?
He rushed an EP out, he says, because he panicked people may have thought that he was abandoning music altogether. “I was in a very dark place, not helped or aided by circumstance. The well-being of our image was more important than the well-being of individuals it seemed.
“That’s bullshit of course. People are infinitely more important than a band, no matter how good the band. Without the people, you have nothing. Look after one another, folks.”
The suggestion that Tony’s solo offering, VerseChorusVerse, produced by Iain Archer (Jake Bugg, Fionn Regan) is a ‘break-up album’ is greeted by nervous laughter, before he concedes that you could look at it that way, and opens up further about an experience which clearly had a big effect on him.
“It’s an album about moving forward and trying to stay alive. The harsh reality is that sometimes, life is a real struggle, and you’ve got to hold onto hope to keep your head above water. It’s not always as pretty and easy as certain bands, films and general pop culture would lead us to believe.
“Just keep moving. Sometimes you’ll run, sometimes you’ll crawl, sometimes it’ll be easy and sometimes it’ll be tough, but the truth is people are there to help you – if you want to be helped, and I can’t speak for everyone but sometimes I need a helping hand to get through. This album helps me. I really, really hope it helps some other people too.”
Some of the songs on the rather brilliant VerseChorusVerse are pretty raw, such as the track Three, which includes the line: ‘Three against one ain’t no fun / Unless you’re the three and that ain’t me.’
No More Years, for example, features the line ‘I won’t wait no more years so I won’t waste no more tears’, and ends with a defiant refrain of ‘No going back to year zero’.
VerseChorusVerse (Third Bar) is out now. Tony Wright is on tour. See www.facebook.com/versechorusversevcv.