Scotland definitely doesn’t have a shortage of great new rock bands, especially Glasgow, which has its own established music scene and a close-knit group of bands that all look out for each other.
But as for Scottish bands from way up north, I think most would find it difficult to think of any other fantastic, up-and-coming band with big ambitions besides these guys.
Neon Waltz are a six-piece band, hailing from a small Scottish town on the very tip of northern Scotland called John o’ Groats (see map below because I’m clearly not exaggerating how close it is to the coast and how far it is from Glasgow).
I wrote a feature piece about this band once before, but it was written in April last year and they’ve been pretty busy with new music and tour dates since then. Now that I’m studying in the UK, I had the great pleasure of seeing the band live a couple of times, which I’ve wanted to do from the moment I heard the band’s music for the first time about a year or two ago back in the US.
I saw them play at The Horn in St. Albans and then at London’s Omeara two days later and they’re such a tight live band that I wouldn’t mind seeing them play every other day. They effortlessly contrast the louder and softer aspects of their sound when they play live, making for a set that’s so dynamic, infectious, and mesmerizing that you won’t want it to end.
Despite the fact that they’re from a small Scottish town, I think this band are quite possibly the most underrated band on the planet right now and I’m confident that it’s only a matter of time before they make it big. I would tell you what genre of music the band tends to gravitate towards, but they don’t seem to fit into any one or two categories like a lot of bands do. They’ve released a six-track demo EP called First Light, which featured their first two tracks “Sombre Fayre” and “Bare Wood Aisles” and since then, they’ve released a trio of singles: “Dreamers”, “I Fall Asleep”, and “Perfect Frame.”
I was able to interview the band’s lead singer, Jordan Shearer, after their headline show at London’s Omeara and he agreed and seemed pleased that the band’s sound doesn’t really fit into any particular boxes. Though when asked about which section of record stores he would want the band’s music to be categorized in, he jokingly told me “70’s prog”, which drew a big laugh from the band’s drummer, Darren Coghill, as they’re just about the farthest thing from prog rock (thank god).
The six-piece band consists of Jordan Shearer (lead vocals), Darren Coghill (drums), Jamie Swanson (guitar), Kevin Swanson (guitar), Liam Whittles (keys), and Calvin Wilson (bass, vocals).
Shearer is quiet, articulate, and baby-faced (though he looks notably older now than he did in the band’s first music video, “Sombre Fayre”) and he’s one of the few lucky people who can pull off a mushroom haircut and still look really cool. It’s evident how confident he is in the band’s songs and how much he cares about their music and this was especially obvious when he expressed relief after I told him that I couldn’t hear the entrance music that was accidentally playing in the background during the first song of their Omeara gig.
We started off talking about the band’s origins, then we moved to other things like their songwriting process, their distinctive sound, their forthcoming debut album, other great Scottish bands (particularly ones from Glasgow), their experience with the music industry so far, and their hopes for the future. In between, there’s a bit of goofing off: We spent time gushing over The Lemon Twigs and Jordan talked about passing out at the thought of meeting Lou Reed, their fanatical Japanese fans, and letting The Beatles support them at a festival.
Read my full interview with Jordan below:
At what age did you start playing music?
Jordan Shearer: “Probably the age of 10. My dad plays a little bit of guitar and accordion. So, he always had a guitar lying about. Out of boredom, one day I just picked up the guitar and got OK at it and it all kind of started from there basically. The rest of the boys have all probably the same story. From age 14 or so, we’ve all played in different bands together. The band that started writing our own music and started to get really into it was the six of us that we are now. We’ve pretty much been playing together in some form for years now.”
Did you all come from musical families or backgrounds?
Jordan: “My family’s quite musical but just in the fact that they could play instruments, but nobody made a career out of music. Darren’s [the drummer] dad made a career out of music. He was in a band in the 80’s and they got pretty big, so that’s probably how he got started. But I think it’s the generation that we grew up in as well. A few really good bands came about at the same time that we were all into. It made you want to play in a band. If we grew up in a different time, we maybe wouldn’t have had the same enthusiasm for playing in a band. Bands like The Coral and The Libertines came out when we were like 11 years old or whatever. It was really exciting. It made you want to do it. Obviously, it [our music] sounds nothing like that now. I was a wee bit young for Oasis and stuff. The early 00’s were really good. You had The Coral, The Libertines, The White Stripes, The Strokes.”
You guys played with Bill Ryder-Jones [of The Coral] a few times haven’t you?
Jordan: “Yeah. We found out that he was a fan of the band, which was so cool because we were just new as Neon Waltz. We’d only been a band for 6 months or so and we’re all really into his solo stuff as well. He’s so good on the guitar as well.”
Did you guys ever support The Coral?
Jordan: “Yeah. We’ve done like four gigs or something. Obviously Bill wasn’t in it, but it’s really cool that people we looked up to when we were so young liked us and wanted to play with us because Bill supported us on our first ever gig in Liverpool. It was like, ‘why does Bill Ryder-Jones want to support us in Liverpool?’ Do you know what I mean? Nobody had even heard of us. He just really wanted to be part of it. He just played acoustic songs and at that point as well, there must have been only about 30 people in the room. It just showed how big a fan he was that he wanted to just do it and be a part of it. He’s come onstage with us a couple times and played a couple tunes and stuff, which was good.”
How did all of the members from Neon Waltz meet? You’re all from the same town, but did you go to school together?
Jordan: “Yeah. The two guitarists are brothers, but we all went to the same high school. There’s not a lot of people where we’re from. The biggest towns are like 6,000 or 7,000 people. Everyone kind of knows everyone. I guess we all just sort of fell into a group of mates because we were the ones that played music. Yeah, it was just mates from school really.”
Are you guys all around the same age?
Jordan: “We’re all kind of two years between the youngest and oldest.”
Did you guys all finish school before you committed to the band full time? Do you guys all have degrees?
Jordan: “I think most of us do. A few of us studied in Edinburgh after school and we weren’t really a band at the time at all. We were just writing songs together. Then, I think we put one or two songs on YouTube and just after I got my degree, I did film at uni. Just after I got my degree, there was quite a lot of interest in the band and I had a choice of going for a film sort of career or the band. We always sort of rolled with it. We just cared about music.”
Do you think the small town that you guys grew up in informed your sound? Do you think if you grew up somewhere else, it would’ve sounded different?
Jordan: “Probably yeah. There’s people who say that they can hear where we’re from by listening to the music. I just don’t get it. But if people hear it, it’s obviously true in some way. We’re the only band pretty much up north that do our own stuff, so we’ve never had a music scene.”
So, where did you guys see shows when you were growing up?
Jordan: “On the odd occasion someone comes up to Caithness to play, but most of the time I’d either have to go to Inverness or Glasgow, most of the time, which is like six hours, but it’s worth it.”
When did you actually start playing shows? Was it 2014?
Jordan: “Yeah. It was either 2014 or 2015. I’m trying to remember. I think our first ever tour was May 2014. We did the whole UK. We went on tour with a band called Augustines. We played five shows with them or something. It was really good because we’d only played a handful of gigs as Neon Waltz and all of a sudden we were playing these songs to massive crowds. We did the Great Escape Festival in Brighton as well. It was in the same tour. It was a lot of fun. Since then we’ve just kind of kept gigging.”
How long did it take to develop your sound as a band or was it just natural? Did you ever consciously think about it?
Jordan: “We never did that. We all have bands that we like, but we never set out to sound like any of them. Someone would write a song and send it to the rest of the boys. We just sort of come together I suppose. We never actually thought ‘that needs to sound more like this band.’ It just kind of happened. I think it’s more unique and organic. For us anyway, for other bands, it might work differently.”
I read that you guys got your name from The Last Waltz by The Band. What do you love about The Band?
Jordan: “We all love The Band. The film kind of turned us on to them. The film is the first time we all encountered The Band. I think they’ve just got a legacy that we’d love to have. We sound nothing like The Band, but we absolutely love their tunes. For the name, we had loads of names written down and there’s one that was neon something and another that was something waltz. We just tied them together and it seemed to fit.”
You talked a little bit about the songwriting process. Do you guys all come up with ideas? Is it music first, then the lyrics?
Jordan: “We all write songs by ourselves. It could even just be a verse-chorus kind of idea. If we think it’s good, we send it to the rest of the band. You get to know it a wee bit and then we come together in the rehearsal room. A lot of the time it sounds a lot different…say if I wrote a song, I’ll have an idea in my head what I think it’ll end up sounding like and it always sounds completely different when everyone else adds their parts. Most of the time it sounds really good.”
Do you guys all write lyrics too?
Jordan: “I think pretty much all of us do. I write all the lyrics to my songs. Liam, the keys player, he’s really good at writing lyrics. He’s got a real talent for it.”
You can kind of tell that a lot of the songs sound like they’re built around the keyboards. So, that’s interesting that you say he writes a lot of songs.
Jordan: “I’d say we all write an equal amount of songs, but if someone else can’t really think of lyrics, a lot of the time we’ll go to him because he’s very articulate and knowledgeable…a lot more knowledgeable than me [laughs].”
I find it difficult to describe what you guys sound like. It’s not really folk, rock, pop, psychedelic, or country. It’s sort of dreamy, kind of shimmery, almost campfire-like.
Jordan: “We’ve pretty much been described as all of those words you just used.” [Darren, the drummer, interjects], “Big, ballsy, and beautiful.”
Yeah. Beautiful music you can still headbang to and go crazy for.
Jordan: “Yeah. We’ve got aspects of pretty much everything you said. We’re not a psychedelic band. We’re not a folk band. Do you know what I mean?”
So, what genre would you want your music to go in record stores?
Jordan: [Jordan and Darren looked at each other and one of them joked, “70’s prog.” Then, Jordan said,] “70’s prog? Yeah. 70’s prog.”
Jordan: [We all laughed and then Darren yelled “C’mon serious answer! Don’t write 70’s prog!” Then, Jordan answered,] “The general thing would be rock and roll. [Jordan and a few of the other guys briefly talk about what the word “indie” means nowadays.] Indie is an easy answer to give someone. If they ask what you do, ‘I play in a band.’ ‘What kind of band?’ ‘Indie.’ Other than that, rock I guess.”
What’s the timeline for the debut album?
Jordan: “The album’s recorded. It’ll definitely be out this year, but we can’t give you a date yet. Definitely this year. It sounds really good.”
Do you already have a title in mind or album artwork yet?
Jordan: “A few ideas. We just need to all agree on it.”
Will the album have a lot of previously released songs on it or is it mostly new stuff?
Jordan: “There will be stuff that you’ve heard before. The ones you’ve heard before have all been remixed as well, so it all sounds coherent as an album. You will have heard a few.”
Who produced it?
Jordan: “There’s too many names. It’s kind of been split over one and a half or two years. Being in different studios and stuff.”
So you were in and out of the studio in between tours?
Jordan: “Yeah. It just all works perfectly for us. That’s the way it works for us. For other bands, it might work better to be in the studio for two or three weeks.”
Do you already have the track listing?
Jordan: “We do, yeah, but it might change.”
Did you try to think of how it will be on vinyl, as side one and side two?
Jordan: “Yeah. It definitely came into consideration of thinking how it would be on vinyl…trying to think of what would sound best as the opener of side B. We’re living with the track listing we’ve got just now, but it might change. Right now, it seems right.”
That first song that you guys played tonight, “Strung Up”, which hasn’t been released yet, sounds like one of the most aggressive and energetic songs you have.
Jordan: “Could you hear the entrance music over it? We have entrance music and when we finished playing the song, because it’s quite short, the entrance music was still on.”
I heard you tell someone to turn it off, but I couldn’t really hear it.
Jordan: [relieved] “Alright. That’s good.”
It’s a great opener. I get why you picked it.
Jordan: “Yeah. It’s pretty banging. That song’s actually about a time when I had to move back in with my mom and dad after I graduated. I had my own independence and then I had to move back and adapt. I absolutely love my mom and dad by the way, but it’s just about losing that independence.”
Do you have any favorite new bands at the moment?
Jordan: “There’s a band called The Lemon Twigs.”
[I excitedly interrupt] Yes! I’ve actually seen them in Cleveland. They’re so good. They do a lot of crazy jump kicks and they’re insane. The drummer who’s also co-frontman, when he comes to the front, he’s insane.
Jordan: “He’s an amazing drummer too.”
Yeah. He reminds me of Keith Moon!
The faces that he makes…
Jordan: “It’s almost too obvious how much he looks like Keith Moon, but it’s still great to watch.”
I’m going to see them in London again when they come here. Not that many people really know about them in the states. When they came over to the UK for the first time, they were so well received because the UK music press picked up on them pretty early. I talked about it with them and they said they love their British fans and how much everybody in the UK has taken to them.
Jordan: “We went down to Glasgow to see them. We were actually playing in Glasgow the night before and we had a day off. They were playing at Nice ‘n’ Sleazy. It was insane. They’re really good. We heard the album before that. There’s smaller bands as well. There’s a band up in Scotland called Domiciles.”
[I excitedly interrupt once again] Yeah. I’ve interviewed them before. They’re so good!
Jordan: “They’re excellent. They’ve supported us a few times. They came up and supported us for a hometown show in Wick as well. They’re class. There’s loads of other bands as well.”
It seems like there’s so many good Scottish bands around at the minute, especially from Glasgow.
Jordan: “Glasgow’s got a proper scene…way more so than Edinburgh. It’s always been that way.”
The best music city in Scotland?
Jordan: “Yeah. And for playing gigs probably too. They’ve got a proper good scene going and we know quite a lot of them as well, but obviously we’ve got our own little scene…that’s just us! [laughs]”
Yeah. About a week or two ago, I saw Catholic Action [from Glasgow] who are really fantastic.
Jordan: “Yeah they’re excellent. We know them as well. They’re a great band.”
Jordan: “I think bands in Glasgow properly look out for each other as well, which is really cool. They’re all great. WHITE and Baby Strange are really good bands.”
Do you have any favorite classic albums that you always go back to?
Jordan: “Probably The Velvet Underground & Nico. And [Lou Reed’s] Transformer. I’ll go a while without listening to it and then just listen to it non-stop for two weeks.”
That’s interesting because you guys don’t sound like The Velvet Underground at all.
Jordan: “No not at all. They’re probably my favorite band.”
Do you have a favorite record that you own? Do you own a lot of physical albums?
Jordan: “I’ve got a decent collection. I don’t actually own The Velvet Underground & Nico on vinyl, which is shocking.”
Do you have anything really old?
Jordan: “I’ve got a really old Abbey Road, you can just tell it’s really old, but I don’t know what my favorite one would be…I’ve got Loaded by The Velvet Underground. That would probably be my favorite in my collection.”
Do you or the rest of the guys have a favorite Neon Waltz song?
Jordan: “It would be different for everyone. It depends on what situation as well. There’s songs that I like to play live more than any other song, but it’s not my favorite Neon Waltz song. There’s certain songs that you get a buzz from playing, but you know that it’s maybe not as good as another song. It kind of depends on the situation.”
Did you have any band posters on your wall when you were growing up?
Jordan: “I had The Libertines, The Coral, and The Strokes pretty much. The Beatles and Ian Curtis [of Joy Division] as well.”
What were some of the best gigs you saw growing up?
Jordan: “Because we live so far away, we didn’t go to many gigs because you had to travel 200 miles for it. I’ve only started going to gigs from the age of 18. It’s hard to think. I can’t really think of any.”
Jordan: “No.” [laughs]
Well, they couldn’t have been that good then!
Jordan: [We both laugh and he jokes,] “They’ve all been bad.”
What about the best gigs you guys have played so far?
Jordan: “Supporting Noel Gallagher was really good.”
That was with Johnny Marr too wasn’t it? How was that?
Jordan: “Yeah. It was a bit surreal. We turned up and Johnny Marr was soundchecking with “How Soon Is Now”, which was mad. The night before we played in front of six people. This show was 2,000 or 3,000 people. We’ve probably played better gigs. Everyone’s there to see Noel Gallagher, standing like that [with their arms crossed]. Just playing in front of a massive crowd on a big stage just felt right for us, you know what I mean? It’s probably the most natural I felt.”
You guys weren’t nervous at all?
Jordan: “Not really…No. I wouldn’t say so. I get more nervous about gigs when you don’t know if anyone is gonna turn up. There’s more pressures for a headline band. Luckily, most of the gigs have been pretty busy. This tour every gig has been rammed apart from Oxford.”
If you could put together your dream festival lineup who would you choose? You can bring people back from the dead if you want.
Jordan: “I’d have The Doors, The Velvet Underground, and…The Beatles would be good. Maybe Rubber Soul [era]…and us! They all have to play before us.”
Are there any bands that you think are really overrated? Anybody that you want to slag off?
Jordan: “There’s definitely a few. A band who I really, really don’t like are The 1975. It seems to me like a lot of bands are sounding like them.”
[In agreement] Yeah. I saw a tweet the other day where somebody said how badly their music is going to age.
Jordan: “I really hate slagging people off, but…[laughs]”
They’re not going to care anyway.
Jordan: [laughs] “No they’re not gonna care! Neon who? I’m sure they’re lovely though.”
Yeah. They seem like nice guys. I was at the NME Awards this year and they won “Best Live Band.” A couple years ago, they won the NME Award for “Worst Band” and now…
Jordan: “It just shows that NME awards mean nothing.”
Did you guys find it easy to get backing from management and record labels when you were starting out?
Jordan: “I guess so. We didn’t have a plan for the band at all. We just put music online and people started getting in touch with us and it all happened from there. So, we were kind of lucky in the fact that someone just picked up on it.”
That’s nice. That doesn’t always happen for every band.
Jordan: “We never planned how we would get people interested. It’s just what we did as a band. No one in John o’ Groats gets anywhere normally in show business. We sort of realized how good we were when we had people in London following us. Then, we thought maybe we could do this as a job, which was weird.”
What do you think about the music industry’s shift towards streaming and away from owning music. Do you just wish people hear your music however they can?
Jordan: “I’m just happy for people to hear it. When we’re writing songs, we want to as many people to hear it as they can, whether that comes through Spotify, iTunes or whatever.”
Do you think there are any issues within the music industry that don’t get talked about?
Jordan: “We’ve had some experiences. When we signed with Atlantic, pretty early in, we had a lot of disagreements. They wanted to turn us into…well we felt that they wanted to turn us into another 1975. We kind of felt like they promised stuff…to just let us do exactly what we do and we had loads of other labels wanting to sign us as well and we picked them for what they said to us. But it became clear after a while that they were trying to change us. We could have changed I’m sure and be bigger than we are now, but…”
It sounds like everything went right for you guys. You put music online and it just took off from there.
Jordan: “Obviously, we worked to get songs that sounded that good. It was years from us playing in bands as kids, so in that way, it all took its time. Pretty much as soon as we put music out, it got to the right places or wrong places. Yeah. It just didn’t fit us at Atlantic and we’re happy we’re not with them anymore. We wish them well [laughs].”
Do you think you guys improved a lot as a live band since you’ve been playing for a few years now?
Jordan: “Definitely. That just comes with playing gigs. You just get more comfortable. I used to hate speaking to crowds. I was never nervous about singing in front of people, but then the song ended and I’d just be like…but now, I actually enjoy it. I like having fun with it. So, yeah it gets a lot easier. You just have to push yourself further to make it better.”
Have you felt starstruck by anyone that you’ve met along the way?
Jordan: “I met Noel [Gallagher]. I didn’t actually see him at his gig. He came to see us play in London about a year or so ago and I thought I would be starstruck, but not really.”
How about anyone else that you’ve met?
Jordan: “No I don’t think I get starstruck.”
I guess that’s a good thing. They might want you to leave if you get too crazy.
Jordan: [laughs] “Just because they’re on telly, they’re still human beings…but if I saw Lou Reed, I’d probably pass out.”
What other countries are you guys excited to play since you’ve mostly done UK shows?
Jordan: “We really want to go to Japan. The interview I did before yours…”
Yeah I met her! [referring to a fan I met that night who came all the way from Tokyo to see Neon Waltz play in the UK]
Jordan: “She’s coming to the next two gigs as well. She gives me a present every time. She gave us a bottle of something [he shows me the bottle]. I really want to drink it now because we’ve ran out of booze.”
That’s crazy! Does that blow your mind?
Jordan: “Totally. I’ve searched on Instagram once and just put in “Neon Waltz” to see what was posted about us and there was a girl who had a picture…the post was a picture of her and her friends in Japan and her and her friend’s screensaver on their phones were both pictures of me!”
What are you ambitions, hopes, and ideas of success for the band in the future?
Jordan: “That’s a difficult one. I guess just for us to get as big as we possibly can without having to change…without being asked to sound like someone else. And I think we could get a lot of people into our music if they heard it. I think it could go big, but I wouldn’t want to be forced to change.”
So, the goal wasn’t always to play in arenas, it was just to play to people who enjoy your music?
Jordan: “I think when people started getting interested in us, we knew the potential that the band have and what the songs have. When we played that gig with Noel Gallagher, it felt natural. Ideally, we’d be playing massive venues. Time will tell.”
After the interview, we tried some of the Japanese booze and I must admit, it tasted a bit like jet fuel. However, unlike the Japanese booze, this band have the serious potential to not only be great, but to achieve something really special and on their own terms too. Although they definitely don’t need my help, I’m really rooting for this band. They deserve every bit of past and future success, not only because of the exceptional strength and uniqueness of their songs, but also because Neon Waltz couldn’t be a nicer, cooler, more genuine group of guys.
For more on Neon Waltz, check out their links below: