Combining Old and New: An Interview with Neon Waltz

Neon Waltz have been named as one of the UK’s most exciting up-and-coming bands by NME, Q, and Shortlist, among others. Hailing from the far north of Scotland, they caught the attention of former Oasis manager Marcus Russell, and are currently undertaking a UK tour, including a visit to Cellar in Oxford on 22 February, with a debut album to follow later this year. Emma Brown caught up with them.

How did the band start out? Has your upbringing in the far north of Scotland influenced your music?

We don’t really remember the band starting as such. We all went to the same High School and were friends for years. Each of us played music from a young age and had various bands, and we were all songwriters. It’s a small place, so naturally we all ended up in the same room making music at some point and it just very gradually progressed to where we are now. But yeah, our location has done its bit shaping the sound… There aren’t many bands or a scene up here so there was no pressure to follow any trends. We did it for fun and, more than anything else, for something to do. It just started to grow wings and take off a little.

Where does the name of the band come from?

Neon Waltz just felt right. It hits upon the new and the old perfectly which seems to represent the music. But don’t be fooled, it wasn’t easy getting to that point!

How do you combine new and old in your music?

I don’t think it’s obvious or intentional but our songwriting is quite traditional. We work on the songs pretty hard to make them as strong as possible before we arrange them with the band. Some of the subjects in the songs are drawn from history. The new aspect comes from living in an era where we want explore everything that is new to us. It’s hard to avoid having that impact on the sound and style of your music.

Who are your biggest musical influences?

The Band, The National, and The Walkmen. All incredible bands that worked incredibly hard.

What is it that you like about their music?

Literally everything. But it’s about more than just the sound of the music — it’s about the consistency. We could talk for hours about what we love about the music each of those bands make — from the melodies, energy, and rawness of The Walkmen to the soundscapes, lyrics, and the relentless drive of The National or the authenticity and uniqueness of The Band — but they all share a few things that resonate with all six of us… First and foremost, the songs. Just great songs. And right behind that, the total honesty of it all, true to what it started out as and remaining unaffected by anyone other than those directly involved in making it. You can hear with these bands that their music isn’t influenced by other powers.

What is your approach to song writing?

All six of us write songs and have our own approach to that, but once we take those songs to the band that’s where it really happens. They arrive as one thing and almost always leave as another. Anything goes once we get to that stage — songs merge together, some disappear in a hour long jams and re-emerge as something totally different, and others even end up back like the original demo if we can’t make it better as a band. It’s a very fulfilling process to hear your bare song transformed. But you can’t be too precious — sometimes it doesn’t work and we have to tell each other. Fortunately, we all seem to have landed on the same page and trust each other’s judgement.

What would you say is the key to good song?

I think the key to a great song is about a connection. A song is great to someone if it connects with them: even if it only connects with that one person, then it’s a great song. And if you can broaden that to connect with more people, you might have some success I suppose. I certainly don’t believe that a song is only great if it is a hit though.

Do you ever have conflicts within the group? How do you resolve them?

Never anything serious. We’ve been friends for a long time now; I think we’ve learned how to avoid pissing each other off. Although, that means it’s equally as easy to wind someone up for the hell of it. We’re essentially a van full of siblings.

When will your next album be released? What can you tell us about it?

We don’t know exactly what we can say, but definitely this year. It’s actually our first album. We took our time to get it right, we just didn’t see the point in rushing it. It sounds amazing now and it’s got us excited for the future.

You’re also currently undergoing a UK tour — do you prefer performing live or recording? Do they require a different approach?

We record everything live so I suppose in a way it can be similar. But, even though we’re rarely happier than when we’re in the studio, nothing beats that rush of playing your music to a room full of people that connect with it. That’s actually a really tough question though — to avoid saying ‘we love both equally’ I’d say we prefer playing live… We spend time in the studio to create something that we can give to people we then all meet up in a big room and celebrate it together. That’s probably what it’s all about.

Why do you choose to record everything live?

It’s the process we currently use, but that could always change in the future. But at this point, we’re writing everything as a live band so it makes sense to record it as a band to get it across in the way most truthful to how we intended people to hear it. Recording live adds a certain magic, all the little mistakes and shifts in tempo or whatever…that all adds the character to an album.

How would you describe your videos? What do you aim to bring to your music with them?

At this point the videos have a consistent Lo-fi/DIY feel. With the exception of ‘Dreamers’, we’ve made them all ourselves with Jordan directing. We take it one video at a time but generally we try to film what we can at home in the hope that it gives people that have never been this far north a better idea of what it’s like for us and why the music is the way it is.

As we saw at the Grammys recently, musicians often take political stances. Do you (or would you ever want to) make political statements in your performances, or do you prefer to stay out of all that?

We’re not intentionally political, but it’s hard not to be with the way things are in the world now. We have an International Brigades flag draped over the keys — take from that what you will! We had family over there in the Spanish Civil War and it connects with a lot of people. Anti-fascist stances can never be wrong.

What are your hopes for the future?

We’ll take this as far as we can. But short-term, get the album out, tour a lot the rest of the year and hopefully start work on a second album as soon as possible.

Find more information on the remaining shows in Neon Waltz’s UK tour click here. Their latest single ‘Perfect Frame’ is available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

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