Interview and EP Review: Fort Hope’s Jon Gaskin talks Armure

The great Kate Bush once said “music is special because it makes you feel something and hits an emotive space.” Albeit slightly paraphrased, this quote is extremely apt given Jon Gaskin, the self-confessed Kate Bush-obsessed lead singer of Fort Hope, creates music that it’s impossible not to become emotionally attached to.

The Hertfordshire-based trio is one of the most exciting UK rock bands out there, and has solidified this reputation on upcoming EP Armure. These are exciting times for the trio of Gaskin (vocals and guitar), Simon Rowlands (bass) and Jamie Nicholls (drums). Fresh from headlining a tour alongside Ashestoangels, Tigress and the awesome Lightscape, next month sees Fort Hope go on tour with Area 11 following the release of Armure on December 2nd.

I spoke with lead singer Jon this week to get the lowdown on the band’s approach and what we can expect from their new music. I first asked him about the recent tour – which we caught them on in Camden a couple of weeks ago. During this show we saw Ashestoangels’ reaction to the crowd singing along to their songs, so I asked Jon about the feeling of playing live to fans.

Jon said: “It’s really surreal because you know that’s what you want when you write a song. You want it to get into peoples’ lives and hope it will get into their heads. When you write a song it’s about a very specific thing, but what you hope is that it can relate to other people and they can use the song in the same way we do.

“To see other people singing it means that there’s other people like us out there that hear the music and words and get that same feeling from it. It makes you feel like you’re not alone in the world, which is awesome because when you’re in a band you spend a lot of time just the three of you concentrating on trying to make the music as good as you can for the people that are going to come and watch – so you can create a lot of pressure for yourself.

“But when you see people singing it kind of releases that pressure and you realise no-one’s here to have a go at us or critique us, they’re just here to share that feeling that we all get from the song, which is just incredible.

“The reason we write our songs is as a release from stuff in our lives that you need to fix or to get a bit of determination or courage. We like to see it as a plate to your armour, adding another piece to put in your massive suit of armour that you wear as you walk around.”

This brings us very nicely on to Fort Hope’s upcoming new EP Armure – which of course means ‘Armour’ in French – which, based on the description above, suggests this is the latest step towards the band’s ultimate goal.

Jon explained: “We were trying to think ‘what is it that the songs mean and how can we wrap them up under one thing?’ We love to work with concepts for our releases. It’s more ‘I’m done feeling bad and I want to get on with things.’

“This EP is all about looking to the future and finding that strength in yourself to move forwards and we feel the name Armure gives you that kind of swag. It’s like if you had an aftershave that gave you invincibility, that’s exactly how these songs feel to us. It’s funny because I forget how amazing the songs make me feel as a person and I forget to listen to them sometimes. It sounds dramatic but you feel yourself getting weaker and weaker, but you put the song on and it gives you confidence and you think ‘this is who I am and what I’m about.’

Armure, which is out on December 2nd, may well be the best work that Fort Hope have come out with yet. The general feel of the music is certainly heavier than we’ve seen before from the trio and it sounds bigger and more intense than ever.

You may have already heard lead single from the EP, Say No. We reviewed it a few weeks ago and it’s a perfect realisation of the Fort Hope sound – combining Gaskin’s contrasting vocal styles, from soft and tender to screamed and powerful, with huge guitar riffs and booming drums. I defy anyone to not sing along to it, especially the ‘I don’t wanna be like them, and I don’t wanna see like them, and I don’t wanna feel like them, cos I just wanna dream again’ interlude and bursts of ‘Say No’ throughout the track whenever and wherever you listen to it. You can get a taste for what’s to come with the video below:

Give Me That opens up with a little guitar chord intro that sounds distinctly similar to George Michael’s Faith, but thankfully jumps into something a million times better. It’s a beautiful, feel good, singalong track which isn’t quite as heavy as the rest of the EP but really highlights the impressive range in Gaskin’s vocals and imposes the positive mind-set that he described above.

The heaviness is ramped up again with Run Fast, which starts out with some huge guitar chords then dives into a great call and answer between heavy vocals and drop tuned bursts of guitar before diving into the chorus. The blasting, heavily distorted guitars are brutally effective in comparison to the intense chorus, before a funky little interlude is followed by a huge blast of guitar noise as the song comes to an explosive conclusion.

The final track on the EP is Start Again, which opens up with Gaskin’s vocals and a heavily distorted guitar riff accompaniment. This song may well be my overall favourite on the EP, the choppy guitar riffs are superb in support of driving vocals that you can’t help but nod your head and sing along with. There’s the customary mid-song chillout before bursting into a blitz of ‘Start again, start again, start again’ supported by some huge guitar accompaniment.

I cannot stop listening to this EP, and I think you’re going to love the great mix of vocals and big guitar and drum sounds. Tracks like Plans and Skies certainly hinted that the band was heading in a heavier direction, but Armure confirms this path. So I asked Jon whether this was an intentional shift in sound on their behalf.

He said: “I started playing the guitar live in the band at the start of this year, as before that I was just singing. Previously I wrote on a piano then arranged it with the rest of the band, but now the guitar is involved from the start in the band format, so there’s going to be that rockier edge. I’d forgotten about that power and beef you get from a guitar, so when we started jamming out new music it was always going to be more guitar-driven than some of the other stuff.

“That sound kind of relates to how as a band we are growing and pushing our way through to the next phase of our lives. I think that heaviness relates to the sort of attitude we’re taking to our own lives, which is to try and smash our way through everything and get to where we want to be instead of sitting there alone, which is more suited to the music before.”

I heard that Fort Hope recorded some of their previous music in the Welsh border town of Monmouth, which intrigued me personally as I grew up in that area of the world.

Jon told me: “None of the songs we recorded in Monmouth are on this EP, but that’s where we discovered how we could record as a three and kind of stretched our legs a little bit. We got signed to Virgin and got sent there for a couple of weeks to write – whereas before we’d been writing little bits where we could because life had been much more difficult to fit everything in. That helped us on our path we’re on now.

“When we sat down to make this EP we just thought ‘let’s make everything really fat.’ I don’t know what was wrong with us at the time, but we just obsessed with making everything really heavy. We went to a studio with a guy called Dave Draper and he’s got an incredible room in his studio that captures this amazing power of drums, so that was something that we definitely wanted to emphasise. James the drummer is such a beast in real life that we just wanted it to sound exactly like that.”

This sound has certainly come across in Armure and that means the future is certainly very exciting for this awesome band, who are going to be very busy looking ahead to 2017.

Jon said: “We just want to get out on the road as much as we can, we’d play 365 gigs next year if we could. We’re writing new material and we’re planning for a new album that we’ve been working on for the last three years, holding stuff back and refining it, and then we’re going to go away and write the final bits of that – which is the most exciting thing we could ever do. And there’ll also be more music videos as well, which is something we’ve been working on.”

Massive thanks to Jon for speaking to me, he’s a really nice guy in an awesome band and I can’t wait for next month’s tour and EP launch and to see what comes from Fort Hope in 2017. If you haven’t already listened to Fort Hope then I encourage you to get involved, buy their music and go and see them live.

Fort Hope will be touring the UK next month with Area 11, and Armure is released on December 2nd. You can pre-order Armure here, and follow Fort Hope on Facebook and Twitter.

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