Interview: Row of Ashes
We went on tour with Hundred Year Old Man in 2018 and we were still playing the old songs off of the last record for that tour, but I feel something happened on that tour where musically it started moving in the direction of the new album.
Fresh from releasing the ferocious Bleaching Heat and completely smashing a support slot with Will Haven, Gary Davidson sat down with drummer Dan Arrowsmith and bassist/vocalist Chris Wilson of Row of Ashes to discuss the changes in the band’s size and sound as well as traverse the history of releases, formats and future plans.
E&D: How did Row of Ashes come together in its original four piece line up?
Dan: I wasn’t doing anything at the time in terms of being in a band, Will the guitarist was in Sonance and Eliza (original vocalist) was doing some really interesting stuff. They knew some friends of mine and asked if I would be interested in starting a sort of doomy experimental kind of project and I was like “fuck yeah”. Then we were looking for a bass player, was it someone in Palehorse who contacted you Chris?
Chris: Yeah, so the running joke is they couldn’t get either of the bass players from Palehorse so they had to settle with me. I always said to the guys in Palehorse if anything comes up let me know and then one day I was in the supermarket looking for cider, which was quite appropriate given the band’s fondness for it, and I just got a call. They had the album near done and needed someone to do bass for the album. So I did it and then ended up sticking around.
E&D: First release Let The Long Night Fade in 2017 has hints of your current sound but also some avant-garde aspects. What was the main catalyst for the change to an essentially heavier focus for the subsequent two albums?
Chris: Basically our singer at the time ended up having to move back up north and the three of us ended up writing without her, and I discovered that Will likes Slayer. Then bit by bit little things crept in and I was writing with the band for the first time as well which I think changed the dynamic too because I didn’t have anything to do with the writing of the first album, and I think it was just the fact that essentially it became a different band.
Dan: I think when we first started we were writing whole songs, whereas when we started being the three piece and adding vocals afterwards, things just got faster and busier and more raw sounding and the structures were more interesting with stranger time signatures.
Chris: With Unbeliever the vocals were put on pretty much as an afterthought really and the music was done for a long while until me and Will eventually put the vocals on. The songs weren’t written with what we were going to do in mind, or what anybody was going to do as our singer was up north. When we did Bleaching Heat it was written with the vocals in mind.
E&D: With Eliza not returning, what made you decide to just stick with three members instead of recruiting any others?
Chris: It wasn’t considered with Unbeliever and I don’t think another guitarist would work with Will because he’s such a force of nature, he’s just he’s a bit of a one-off. I think with the three of us all being quite busy and living in different areas and all the rest of it it’s just another person to have to rely on to turn up for practice, to do their parts, to make sure that we meld with. We did consider trying a couple of people for vocals for the new ones but at the end of it we just thought it better to stick with the three of us.
E&D: Unbeliever came out in 2020 and was followed up with Bleaching Heat two years later. When did the writing for Bleaching Heat start and how are songs generally created in the band?
Dan: I guess we started writing them straight after Unbeliever came out really. We went on tour with Hundred Year Old Man in 2018 and we were still playing the old songs off of the last record for that tour, but I feel something happened on that tour where musically it started moving in the direction of the new album, we then started writing stuff in the way that would become Bleaching Heat, so yeah it’s a couple of years. I think it was really tricky because a lot of that time was during lockdown so there’s the frustration of starting but getting it to a point we’re kind of happy with and then just having to send bits and pieces backwards and forwards and have chats on zoom and stuff like that.
Chris: At first we’d kind of just get together once every couple of months, now we go to Bristol and then Will comes here every other week where there’s time to do that. It was worth it, we did demo four songs like for Christmas before lockdown and then the idea was we were going to record in April but I think if we had done I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as good. Lockdown was a setback but it ended up being much better actually in the long run.
E&D: Lockdown almost allowed you to improve the record rather than going to a point of overthinking it?
Chris: It definitely did. I mean we demoed most of it twice, we did four of them originally and then around about this time last year. We did them just because we’d written some new stuff and it’s almost like once that stuff’s demoed it kind of solidifies it. From there you just end up improving on it, with Unbeliever after we’d recorded it without demoing when we went and did the songs on tour they were just so much better. It was the same with this one as well and again since we’ve recorded it we went out we did a few dates we played a gig the other night and it just sounded so much better again, there’s something about getting it down that just makes it improve. Demoing it you can hear what works and what doesn’t work, who’s getting in each other’s way, where I need to sing less, sing more, you can sort of see everything in front of you instead of just concentrating on what you’re doing and trying to get out with the times of things.
E&D: What musical influences do you feel have an impact on your sound?
Dan: I don’t listen to as much heavy stuff as Chris and Will do but when I was first getting into music some of the first heavy bands I listened to would be stuff like Will Haven, Converge, Botch and These Arms Are Snakes but I listened to a whole massive different range of things. I listen to a lot of hip-hop and dance music as well and I think quite a lot of that different stuff comes out in my drumming because I’ve played in quite a few different types of bands. One of my favourite bands is Low so I’m quite into kind of slowcore type stuff and it can’t all just be out and out heavy all the time because when we play live I can’t fucking play that stuff, I need a few minutes, so it just calms down a little bit.
Chris: It’s good to have the bits where it calms down. We put ‘Contraband’ third in the set to give ourselves a bit of a break and I always think of that as not being that heavy a song and then actually by the end of it I’m like “oh actually this is taking out on me quite a lot”. I grew up pretty much a pure metalhead when I was much much younger and as I got older I was becoming a lot less angry I guess. I played in grindcore bands and tech bands and stuff like that but I’ve also been really into stuff like MogwaI and post-rock. I wouldn’t say that we’re necessarily that kind of a band but when I joined it kind of allowed me to explore an area of stuff that I’m also into that I’ve not really done in other bands. We do all have that common ground of stuff like Will Haven and Converge and I guess I got a bit more into doom over the years. Will is into just pretty much everything in the entire world ever.
E&D: The three releases have all been on different labels, is there a particular reason why or is it just the general operation of an underground band?
Chris: It’s just what happens really. Truthseeker happened to be in the position to do Unbeliever. With this one we sent it about because we just wanted to get it out, we just sat on it for so long we just wanted the bloody thing up online and to get some gigs and just see what happens. Then Surviving Sounds got back to us, probably not all that long before we were just planning on putting it up, and offered a limited release of cassettes and a digital thing and they’ve got Underdark, Wallowing, Hidden Mother’s and Tharn on there so of course it was a bit of a no-brainer you know. So it was more just circumstance really.
E&D: On a similar note you’ve had one release on each of CD, vinyl and cassette. Is that driven by the label for which format you go for?
Dan: It’s probably more about how much money we’ve got to spend [Laughter]. I think cassette just seemed the way to go with this one especially with vinyl costs and delays.
Chris: Yeah exactly, it was just what the label what the label was offering and we thought it would be a quite cool thing, people seem to like those sort of things so we just went with it. I think with Unbeliever, without going into too much detail, the vinyl would have been out much sooner if it wasn’t for the fact that we had to have quite a few different people involved with it and I think it took about 18 months and we just can’t have it happening again, and then when the Surviving Sounds said yeah we can do it within two months or three months we were like “well yeah”.
E&D: Would you ever consider re-releasing any of the previous albums on different formats?
Chris: I don’t think it has much of a relevance to what the band does now to be honest, I don’t think there’d be any real reason to unless there’s somehow some massive cult following that’s begging for it.
Dan: Yeah I think we’re probably more excited about what we do next so we are focusing on that.
E&D: Is there more demand for physical releases from the band or higher traffic in streams and do you think the physical format has any correlation with the number of sales?
Chris: Well no one buys our stuff anyways [Laughter].
Dan: Yeah I mean it hasn’t for us, we haven’t sold much of anything we’ve done.
Chris: Streaming for sure definitely. Without that availability with our stuff being online free, without things like Spotify people wouldn’t have the access to it at all. It’s one of those things where for me, if I see something on Spotify I can just add that and give it a listen later. If someone has to go and buy it, where’s the incentive to go and buy if they’ve not necessarily heard it? They might make that decision once they’ve listened to Spotify but it just gives people that immediacy to listen and create an opinion.
Dan: We did a video as well which we put up on youtube and that got quite a decent chunk of views to start off with so I think that was quite good for getting the message out there as well.
E&D: There is a video from Rob Hobson with a before and the after mix of Worcester Man from the new album. As someone who has never recorded music before it was quite impressive to hear the difference. As the recording musician how did you feel with that difference between the recording and the post mix?
Dan: I think what I really like about where we recorded this album with Joe Garcia in Bristol is the setup he’s got there. When you’re actually playing it sounds really nice and raw, it kind of sounds like what you’re used to in a rehearsal. I feel like I can get really into it and so you get a really good performance out of it. I think when we listen back in the studio what I’m listening to more is did we have the energy in the performance, did we play it well enough and then you listen a little bit to how it sounds as well and Joe does a good job with that stuff but then, yeah I mean Rob has taken that and done a really amazing job of it to be honest so we were really really happy when it came out.
Chris: It’s like when you read about the producer being the additional member and I’ve never really kind of understood what a producer does. I mean I’ve known Rob a long long time, we were in a band together, I knew that he was good but what he managed to do within a month, maybe even less I think he got it all and he he managed to get inside the sound and what he did was make it sound like it would do if you were in our room. When I listened back to that video I was like “oh man are we just conning people now? Is it just all production that’s making us sound good?” but actually when something gets recorded then of course it’s taking away from what is actually going on in the room at the time. What Rob did was really bring that out and I think what he did was represent what it would be like live. He did an amazing job and we couldn’t recommend him enough, we’ll definitely be going back as well so for sure.
E&D: Will has done some recording and mixing as well, is it a conscious decision to use other people for the albums?
Chris: Rob offered out of the blue he just messaged me asking if we were going to be recording soon as he would be interested in giving one of your songs a mix to see what we think of it. I think the idea was that Will was going to do it originally and then when it came back from Rob it was massive and Will was saying the other day he thinks it was just so so worth doing. I mean it cost us a little bit to do but he said the end result was just amazing and Rob has access to a lot more technology than Will, by Will’s own admission. Sometimes you need that separate pair of ears to be able to do it justice and Will obviously knows a lot about all that kind of thing and he loved it so the decision spoke for itself.
E&D: What are the plans for future releases, have you been writing more tracks?
Chris: Yes but it’s going slowly. It’s just one of those things, we’re all over the place with where we live and all the rest of it. Because we can only do Sundays you get around to summer and people are off on holiday or whatever. We are working on stuff but it’ll be a while and also we’ve got gigs coming in as well so whenever we do a gig on a weekend that’s what would be a practice but that’s fine because we want to play live. The whole point of doing this was that we could get out and we could play live so we’re really happy to be doing that but it means writing will be going along in the background gradually but there’s no plans for anything at the moment.