Albums, that’s the thing.
Bands thrive on firsts – the first rehearsal, the first show, the first single – but that debut album, pressed on sweet black vinyl, is what most bands yearn towards.
Scotland’s Neon Waltz have long harboured that ambition, and only a matter of days ago it was finally realised. Speaking on the phone to Clash, singer Jordan Shearer’s voice still contains flecks of sheer excitement.
“I think that’s what makes you want to start a band – you fall in love with albums, and always wonder if you could make something that would stand the test of time. It’s been a few years in the making now – it felt like, man, we’re never going to have an album done! And now we do and we’re delighted with it.”
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It’s been a long road, for sure – but then a band based in John O’Groats is always going to have to contend with that. Perhaps the longest travelled outfit in the country, the story of Neon Waltz is one of sheer passion pushing them across those roads and miles.
“I mean we’ve always been close anyway,” he insists. “But definitely we’re so much better a band now than we were two years ago, I’d say. And bands need to go through that, I think. I mean, if we’d have broke two years ago I don’t know if we really would have been ready for it… I don’t think it would have done us justice.”
So they played the waiting game. Utilising a croft in the Scottish countryside as a base, they stockpiled song after song, honing their approach – a fusion of weighty indie songwriting, glistening psychedelia, and effortless pop melodies.
“I think it all stems down to what bands we’re into,” he says. “Our album basically is pop music, but it’s the kind of pop music that we like and it isn’t obvious. That’s the thing – we wanted to make something that we like and we’re proud of.”
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I think that paved the way for the way we write songs, and the way we sound.
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A driven, independent force, Neon Waltz took some time before clicking into place, before finding their own unique sound. Reflecting on this process, Jordan names live favourite ‘Sundial’ as the moment when the group surged forward.
“I think it was the first song we wrote where we started to take the band a lot more seriously,” he says. “We had something that was unique. We tried a few things before and it was always quite good but then we wrote ‘Sundial’ and we were like: right, this is the path we need to go down. Nothing else is really sounding like this, this is us. I think that paved the way for the way we write songs, and the way we sound.”
The songs poured forth, sculpted in a tiny derelict croft and energised by countless hours on the road. It’s a creative process, for sure, but also an incredibly personal one, a group of friends opening up as only friends can.
“We all write separately,” the singer reveals. “I don’t think I could ever write the basics of a song with someone else. It’s all quite personal. And then it all comes together at the croft, we all put our own slant on it. It works the same for everyone else, as well.”
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We had something that was unique.
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“I only really write about stuff personal to me, really. Maybe I’m just a bit shy but I’m more comfortable sitting by myself writing lyrics. Just lock yourself in a room with nothing else apart from a guitar and something to record it with – and a pad of paper.”
Amassing a trunk full of psych-pop wonders, debut album ‘Strange Hymns’ utilises only 10 songs – a succinct, devastatingly intense collection, and one whittled down over hours and hours of debates, arguments, and counter-arguments.
“I mean, normally if just one person has a problem with something and five others really love it then they get out-voted. But we’re all quite open to it, as well. Nobody is scared to say anything. If it’s someone else’s song then they can say they don’t like it. Nobody is treading on eggshells or anything, because we are so close and we spend so much time together that it’s just natural.”
“It’s quite a long drawn out process. Weirdly, it makes us better. It makes the songs better.”
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We’ve always been close...
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Working almost continuously, Neon Waltz’ lung-bursting schedule means that their debut was recorded in a largely piecemeal fashion. A track here, a few songs there, it built up over time into something warm, lucid, and remarkably concise.
“It’s been all over Britain, this album,” laughs the frontman. “It’s been recorded in loads of places. It’s between Chem19 in Hamilton, one song recorded in Dublin, our last recording session to finish the album was in Eastbourne. Which, funnily enough, is the complete opposite end of the country!”
It was a freewheeling process, one informed by the pure, unbridled excitement of young kids being able to seek out the open road and let their music connect with fans. “We were so excited by what was happening at the time,” he says. “Things were starting to heat up and you can hear a bit of that in the recording. It was a really exciting time. Our earlier recordings were a bit too polished and clean… you need a little bit of dirt, don’t you?”
True. The croft must have plenty of that, I offer.
He can't help but laugh. “It’s got a lot of dirt. A lot of dirt and rats.”
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There was obviously this bubbling inside me to write music...
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East, West… Hame’s best. Stretching themselves further and further, Neon Waltz still know that their van ultimate points only one way: back home. Continually returning to the croft and to Caithness, the band were granted the unusual honour of being the final group to play their local High School, just before it was demolished.
“I was just really looking forward to walking about,” he laughs. “The place was a bit of a state, to be honest. I was walking about and it reminded me of Chernobyl – everything was very Soviet… just dead. So they definitely did need to move. It was brilliant, we had a lot of friends along and the place was rammed. It was a really, really fun gig.”
It was a homecoming in more ways than one. “English was probably the subject I was best at – the only subject I was half-decent at,” he recalls. “I made films with a mate of mine. We made a few films.”
“I was playing in cover bands with my mates when I was 15 but we never really wrote anything. But then when we started up – Neon Waltz – I don’t know… There was obviously this bubbling inside me to write music, and it just worked well.”
Ultimately, Neon Waltz is all about songwriting, about creating these small, three minute worlds to lose themselves in. ‘Strange Hymns’ has only just reached the shelves of record shops both physical and digital, but the band are already focussed on where their next steps could take them.
“We’re always writing, anyway,” he insists. “I think it’s important for bands as well to not rest on their laurels, and just keep going. You hear a lot of bands as well who have a really successful first album, there’s a lot of buzz about it, and then their second album just goes nowhere. I’m pretty confident that we’ll never be one of those bands.”
Filling up their tour van and trekking from John O’Groats to Land’s End countless times over, Neon Waltz are in it for the long haul in every sense.
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'Strange Hymns' is out now. Catch Neon Waltz live at London's Moth Club on August 30th.
For tickets to the latest Neon Waltz shows click HERE.
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