Exclusive Interview: Neon Waltz on the Music Industry and Their Debut Album

Amid all the excitement and anticipation for Neon Waltz’s debut album, I got another unexpected opportunity to catch up with the up-and-coming Scottish rock band, this time at the launch event for Salute, a new music competition, which I wrote about here. The band played a short set, but they still managed to put on a mesmerizing performance that included their fantastic singles, “Dreamers” and “I Fall Asleep.”

Back in Februrary, I interviewed the band’s lead singer, Jordan Shearer, after their headline show at London’s Omeara and we talked about pretty much everything from the band’s origins to the point they’re at now, eager to release their first album. This time, I talked three of the band members and the focus of the interview shifted to the current state of the music industry since I caught up with them after the Salute event, which was all about shaking up the industry and supporting independent music in the UK.

Although, the interview was meant to be centered on the music industry, I tried to sneak in a few questions about their forthcoming debut album and get as many additional tidbits of new information as I could, but I didn’t get much besides Jordan’s reassurance that it’ll be “fucking brilliant”, but at least it reinforces the idea that the band are very confident in their songs and songwriting abilities and that’s something that not every band is willing to openly admit.

The band’s debut release was a vinyl EP called First Light, which featured their first two tracks “Sombre Fayre” and “Bare Wood Aisles” and since then, they’ve also released a trio of critically-acclaimed singles: “Dreamers”“I Fall Asleep”, and “Perfect Frame.”

Neon Waltz are a six-piece band from a small town in Scotland called John O’Groats and the band consists of Jordan Shearer (lead vocals), Darren Coghill (drums), Jamie Swanson (guitar), Kevin Swanson (guitar), Liam Whittles (keys), and Calvin Wilson (bass, vocals).

Read my full interview with Jordan, Kevin, and Calvin below:

How did you guys get on the bill to perform for this event?

Jordan: We were basically just emailed. They just said “do you want to do this thing” and we said “yeah.”

Did you hear about the project before that?

Jordan: We got a very brief inside into what it is and it sounded quite cool so we just though we’d do it.

What do you think about the current state of independent music in the UK? Do you think it’s still quite tough for bands?

Jordan: I think that independent music right now is as good as it’s ever been, but whether those bands are actually making any money and are able to pursue that as a career, I don’t think that happens. I think even 10 or 20 years ago you could get an independent band who were selling out shows across the UK and you could actually live off it, but I don’t think that happens. I think the actual state of independent music is pretty healthy.

Do you think it’s hard for DIY-minded artists and people who make music that’s a bit leftfield?

Jordan: Probably. I would say so. It’s definitely quite difficult because people always try to meddle in what you do.

Calvin: There seems to be a blueprint that they want you to follow and they want you to follow this blueprint because that’s what works. We never strived to do something that’s completely original. It just came out like that. I think a lot of the reason they do that is because it’s what they know makes money. There is a pressure to slot into what’s there.

Jordan: It’s easy to fall into a trap. If an independent band came out with something that’s really original, someone might latch onto it that works for a major record label and people’s heads get turned by the size of a record label. If they start telling them they should be doing it this way and they should be doing that way to get bigger, a lot of people would just do it. I think that’s a danger as well because then they just follow a train rather than do their own thing.

Calvin: It dilutes their originality as well.

A lot of older, veteran artists say they don’t know whether they would’ve been able to make it in the current music scene. Possibly in part because of the fact that the last few decades people in the music industry are now, almost exclusively, made up of business people rather music people that have been in the business forever. 

Jordan: I think you just have to choose the right people to work with.

Kevin: I don’t think there’s ever been a stage in the music industry where there hasn’t been people in it for the money. You always have your few mavericks that would have a different idea. Artists back in the day, I don’t think they could get away with that stuff now. Everything has to be slid under the carpet. People like Johnny Cash. If you did that now, it would be all over every media outlet, so it’s a lot of tip-toeing around now. You can go all guns blazing and people like Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse just self-destruct, but you’ve always got people now who are trying to get you away from being crazy. It’s definitely not as crazy as it was. Everything’s a bit diluted.

Yeah. I was just reading something about The Jesus And Mary Chain and how crazy they were. It kind of makes you wonder if they could have survived now if they were just starting out.

Jordan: It’s kind of unanswerable. We’ll never know.

Do you think the diversity of artists and genres are fairly promoted by the music press or mainstream media and radio?

Jordan: People see BBC Radio 1 and the NME and stuff like that as the pinnacle, for musicians in Britain anyway, but there’s plenty of other outlets. Because fucking Radio 1 and the NME are just bullshit. Really terrible.

Kevin: It just depends what you want to achieve. If you want to stay quite true to your roots, then avenues will probably open to you. If you want to aim for getting the top spot at Radio 1, you can probably do that too.

Jordan: They bend over for people.

Kevin: There is a formula that they stick to. You only have to speak to people who know what they’re actually looking for and if they see something that they want, ask if they work with you to get to that stage where they want you to be.

There’s a lot of talk about festival lineups not being as diverse as they should be. What are your thoughts on festival lineups these days?

Jordan: T in the Park, for example, we used to go as kids. It was the best. The lineup was just perfect for us as kids listening to music, but as we grew older, it turned into this…

Kevin: You could pick the lineup before the festival was announced.

Jordan: You knew exactly who was playing. You knew that Calvin Harris would be on it.

Every festival now has a dance, DJ or EDM stage now.

Jordan: I think it’s good to have that and have a stage dedicated to it, but from what was a really cool indie rock festival has turned into a festival of 17-year-olds off their heads.

It sounds like what happened to V Festival. Their lineups for the last few years now have been full of nothing but pop music and traditionally, it was always a rock festival.

Jordan: It’s partly because it’s what the masses listen to now. That’s just a way to sell more tickets. You can’t really have a go at them for doing it because they obviously need to make money and that’s a way they’re going to make money, but it just fucking highlights how the whole thing is fucked.

Calvin: I think that’s what ultimately led to its demise as well. T in the Park. They’re talking about how they’re going to have this new T in the Park. They’re gonna go back to less dance music and more bands and be more like what it used to be. They’ve obviously seen the light a bit and thought this has taken the wrong turn and are trying to fix it.

Jordan: Public perception of T in the Park has changed too. It was a cool festival for bands and then people knew it as the festival that underagers were going to, to get completely fucked and people were dying and stuff and taking way too much drugs.

Calvin: They did that by attracting the masses. By taking it over with pop acts and the whole thing…thinking “right how can we sell extra tickets?”

Jordan: It’s a chicken and egg situation isn’t it? I’ve been waiting to use that line in an interview for a few years now.

Do you think new artists find it hard to stand out now because the Internet is so saturated with music?

Jordan: It’s definitely harder.

Kevin: There’s a lot of luck involved. It’s a lot of who you know. Even, not in a business sense, but if you know a current band that might be doing well. You can try to catch their attention. Then, you might end up playing with them and things like that. It seems like there’s a lot of luck involved and there’s probably good bands that do just fizzle out, but it only takes one crazy tweet or one mention. It seems like it can be really hard or it could be just as simple as one…

Jordan: I do think it’s harder to stand out, but if you’re good enough…the best will always be heard, whether that’s fucking now or 20 years time and end up being a cult band.

Do you find it surprising that there hasn’t been something like Salute before? I guess there are other things like battle of the band competitions, but nothing quite on this scale.

Jordan: There was this thing before when I was at school…Orange Unsigned or something and it was on Channel 4. That was quite good with Alex James from Blur. But even that was a bit fucking contrived.

Calvin: I don’t know. Maybe people have shied away from it because the competitions that we’ve got now…talent shows like X Factor or whatever it is.

Jordan: There’s definitely a gap in the market for it. I think it’s cool that they’re doing something.

Would you encourage bands to enter?

Jordan: Well, songwriters yeah.

Kevin: If you think if you’ve got a talent. It’s definitely worth doing if it’s original. £50,000 whether it’s for touring, for recording, for living expenses. It’s going to make a difference. It means you can have more time to hone your craft. We’re all for that because we’ve had to do it all. Working five days a week and then practicing the other two days and driving hundreds of miles. To get the opportunity to have a little bit of cash, not to be unbelievably rich and famous, but to work on your craft and turn it into a full time job.

So, you think the best advice for up-and-coming artists is to devote all their time and energy to their craft?

Calvin: I think if you can.

Jordan: Everyone has a life, but if you’re an artist, it’s all you want to do any way.

Calvin: Don’t give up. Keep pushing. Keep plugging.

Kevin: Don’t give up if people think…for every interview or review that says you’re shit, it’s usually only one person writing a review.

Jordan: I would advise to not read reviews any way.

Kevin: As long as you can take everything with a pinch of salt and know that it’s just someone else’s opinion. It’s good to take a bit of criticism…unless you’re Jordan.

A big thing that a lot of bands struggle with is that they don’t necessarily know when to make the jump to leave their day job and commit to music full time. They have to get enough money together and then take a leap into the unknown.

Jordan: It must be harder in London too because everything’s so fucking expensive. We’re quite lucky where we’re from. We’ve got our own private space. We can just go there whenever we want and practice at whatever time. Down here, someone has to hire some shitty practice room for loads of money.

Calvin: The creativity aspect of it as well. We feel really lucky that we’ve got a space that we can just use and if you’ve got an enthusiasm for songs, you just keep working at it.

Jordan: We wouldn’t trade that for anything.

It’s also a struggle for bands to get money together to record their songs.

Calvin: We made a bit of money together and then got three days in the studio in Glasgow when we were starting out.

Kevin: You just need to make sure that when you’ve got time in the studio, you need to rehearse before, especially if you’ve only got 24 hours in the studio. Make sure you’re ready to do it and get everything out of it that you want.

Jordan: In the early days with “Sombre Fayre” and “Veiled Clock.” Both were recorded on a budget in three days and luckily, after those tunes came out, we got attention and we were in the position that we were in. Someone else was footing the bill and we didn’t need to worry about that problem. The bands starting out have to make sure they’re properly ready for it as well.

Now, a lot of times bands just record stuff in their bedroom because they can use stuff like Garage Band.

Calvin: It’s so easy for people to use.

Jordan: Same thing with Spotify. Anyone can get their music on Spotify. There’s so much shit you have to wade through before you find something good. It’s the same thing with Garage Band because anybody can record something and they can put it online, but it’s a good thing because there’s people who might think they can’t do music or whatever and then they get this app on their phone and they can record music and they think “I’m actually quite good at this.” We all use Garage Band to record when we’re writing songs. We even use Voice memo. It’s handy for us.

Calvin: It’s modern technology. That’s how easy it is to make a recording. Before nowadays, you’d have to go in the studio and have all the gear.

I heard Catholic Action on the radio the other day and their lead singer, Chris said that they recorded the singles for their album in their bedroom and they asked their record label if they wanted the band to re-record the songs and the record company said no.

Jordan: Years ago when we didn’t have a record label, we used our own money and went in the studio. “Sombre Fayre” for example. It was three years ago or something and since then, we’ve been in a few studios and we’ve tried to re-record that song and it’s just not got the same feel to it.

Calvin: It was something about that time as well. The music was exciting and fresh.

Jordan: We couldn’t recapture it. We spent a lot of money in a big studio and it just wasn’t as good.

You guys recorded a demo version of the song “Perfect Frame” for your debut EP, First Light. Did you re-record it when you decided you were going to release it as a single?

Jordan: It’s the same recording, but it’s been remixed.

Did any of the original demos from that EP get re-recorded?

Jordan: “Sundial” was a live recording from a castle that we played in at a gig. It was never going to be on the album any way.

So, that’s not on the album?

Jordan: “Sundial” is, but it’s a new recording.

So, “Bare Wood Aisles” and “Sombre Fayre” are both on the album, but they’ve not been re-recorded?

Jordan: Remixed.

You like how it was initially?

Jordan: Pretty much all the songs on the album that were on First Light, we had a go at recording them again, but it just never sounded as good to us as the original.

Kevin: Probably all it took was actually getting the remix back. Rather than re-record it, it’s what we should’ve just done in the first place.

Jordan: It would’ve saved us about 20 grand! (laughs)

Anything else you can reveal about the album?

Calvin: It’ll be really, really good. There’s probably three or four songs that people haven’t heard. We’re excited to get some fresh music out.

Kevin: It’s going to be good to have a complete set of works.

Jordan: I think it’s fucking brilliant and I’ve got really good taste in music!

People say you have your entire life to make your debut album and once you release it, there’s already pressure to make another album.

Jordan: We’re totally ready for it. It’s been so long making this album.

Do the songs feel old now?

Kevin: It does when we’re rehearsing them. It feels old, but when you play them to a new audience, it rejuvenates them when you realize that probably 50 or 60% of the audience hasn’t heard these tunes. You play them like the first time ever. Every time you go on stage, it doesn’t feel like “fuck this, not ‘Sundial’ again.”

Jordan: It’s only when it’s the six of us and we play it. We’re like “fuck me, this song again?”

Kevin: The first rehearsal before we started the tour and give it two weeks and we’re like “oh god, not this again.” And then as the tour gets closer and you’re playing more and more tunes and just jamming, it starts to take shape and then you really get into it.

Calvin: I’m not glad it took the time it took, but if I had to choose, I would choose that it took the time that it took and we’re 100% happy with what we’ve got. It represents us.

Jordan: Bands that have maybe been luckier than us have got their album out straight away, hot off the press. And then it goes quite well and then their label’s like “right, we need a new album in the next two months.” Whereas, we’ve properly honed in on what we wanted to sound like. We made some decisions that we want to sound like we want to sound rather than like someone else. We’ve got an album that we’re really proud of that’s going to be out in the summer. We’ve got something like 30 songs that are pretty much done, so if anyone else goes “right we need a second album”, we’ve got a pick of so many songs, whereas other bands who get an album out so quick…there are so many examples of bands whose second albums have just failed because they’ve not been ready to write. They’ve got such a short space of time. We’ve been writing our second and maybe even third album for the last three years and no one’s even heard the first album. We’re in a privileged position really. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Any more shows planned before festival season?

Calvin: Hopefully there’ll be a London show before summer festivals.

Jordan: I think our booking agent is booking another tour.

Calvin: It’ll be festivals all summer and then the album some time in between all that and then we’ll take the world by storm.

Jordan: Mars!


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