2016 has been quite a year for Brighton rockers City of Ashes. Not only have they released impressive second album Rise and completed five full tours, including supporting the mighty Yashin, they’ve also raised thousands of pounds for charity with a highly moving campaign to raise awareness of depression.
We caught up with the quartet of Orion Powell (guitar), James MacDonald (guitar), Daniel Frederick (bass) and Dan Russell (drums) at their final gig of the year alongside 48Hours and Hyla earlier this month. We first asked them about playing alongside Yashin.
Orion said: “So sick. We got this email from their booking agent via their manager via the band, who had asked for us to play with them, which was so nice. Nobody particularly wants us on tour because we’re unsigned so they don’t stand to make any money off us, so it was nice to get a random email that they wanted us.”
The release of Rise followed the band’s debut All We Left Behind back in 2013, so I asked them about the reception of the latest album and how they had developed as a band over the last few years.
Orion said: “It’s been really good. For me I feel far more confident in what I can do with my voice, and we’ve all learnt more. You look back at the first record and some of the thought processes and think ‘I was such an idiot.’ But we’ve added ideas like choral vocals to enter territory we’ve never gone into before.”
Dan added: “It’s been things like pre-empting where other people in the band are wanting to take a certain song and the structure falling into place, then someone else saying ‘how about we try this?’ and giving it a go. It’s been a massive learning curve since doing All We Left Behind and we’ve bonded so much easier as musicians together.”
James added:”I feel like the whole record has more of a story to it in a musical and lyrical sense: starting with an introduction piece, going through ups and downs, and then ends in an outro track. I feel it’s got much more of a flow to it rather than just a list of songs, one cohesive piece of music.”
They’re right that Rise is a superb demonstration of City of Ashes maturing as a band over the last few years. A perfect example of this is second track Vipers Nest, with its superb singalong repetitions of ‘down’ and ‘drown’ and the superb flowing guitar licks behind Orion’s charismatic, engaging vocals. That’s followed in similar style by the big choruses of Battles of my Youth, with almost storytelling vocals taking centre stage in the verse then bursting into rocky life in the big choruses.
The band’s fusion of a big rock sound with Orion’s delicate voice takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, such as big singalong tracks like Save Me and Walk Away. While final song We Own The Night is a beautiful ending to a superb second album.
On the album is a song called Sometimes, which was originally inspired by a fan’s incredible battle with depression. This eventually inspired the band to take it upon themselves to setup ‘The Sometimes Project’ to help more fans deal with their battles with the disease. The project has raised money for charity, helped and supported hundreds if not thousands of people battling with depression, and gained funding and support from The National Lottery, Barclays Bank, the London Eye and The Samaritans.
The band then released a hugely moving short film for Sometimes on World Mental Health Day (10 October). The support the campaign has gained has been incredible, Barclays provided a venue and doubled all the money made at a show in Brighton, while the London Eye provided a pod for the band to shoot a video and then perform an acoustic set for the people that contributed to the video – which they believe is a first.
Orion told me: “The interview part was just myself and a camera guy and we sat in a room for ten hours one day, with these people coming through for 20 to 40 minute interviews. By the end we were just a mess. Everybody that came along was very, very open and it’s been nice to see a lot of other people online have different things that they feel reciprocated with someone else. The big thing of the project was people going through what feels like a very lonely condition and we wanted to try and generate something that would help them feel less lonely.”
Dan added: “I get a few messages on Facebook from people saying ‘hey, can I chat?’ and I say if you need someone to talk to about what you’re going through my door’s open. I’ve been through it myself and I know how difficult it is to feel isolated, so it’s a case of we’re all in it together and if we can help each other out then that’s better than suffering on your own in silence. It’s amazing how many friendships have been born out of this.”
The full Sometimes film is below or available here.
Speaking of impressive venues, one of City of Ashes’ main focuses is on doing great videos for their songs, fueled by producer Orion having studied film at university.
Orion explained: “We shot on the London Eye for the last one, in a massive Victorian theatre for Battles of my Youth, which was cool, a military base for Masks, Eastbourne seafront. I produce it all myself so I’m sending all these people emails saying ‘hey, can I come and film on your site?’ We haven’t shot in Scotland yet, or maybe we should consider somewhere warm like south of Spain or France.”
You can rest assured that City of Ashes will be busy again in 2017, as Orion said: “I’d love to talk about next year but we can’t yet, and we’ve got some exciting stuff planned.” So we’ll keep an eye out for any updates and keep you in the loop.