They’ve been together for less than a year; their first gig saw them play to hundreds in Academy 3 and they’ve recently been named best unsigned band in Britain by Play Music / Pickup magazine. The latest hyped-up emo kids? No, meet Juno Ashes. They like good tunes, effects pedals and the food in Font Bar. Which is convenient, because so does Cath Aubergine…
Do you want to start with the usual how you came together sort of thing?
Neil McDonald (guitar): I started writing some bits of songs, was looking around for people to put a band together with; found Andy the singer and wrote a lot of songs with him then basically just went after other people. I knew Adam and Paul, and Paul knew Rob. I think we had one rehearsal in Stockport, did a couple of songs me an Andy had written and just knew straight away it would work… so it’s quite good, after my three year gap of not doing anything really!
Yes, you’ve all got a bit of a history in other band, how’s things different in this one?
It’s nice to sort of start again with a clean slate, everyone gets on and everyone’s pretty open minded, there’s no boundaries.
Adam Masters (bass): Its different for me and Paul (Dean, drums) cos we were in a band together before; I was frontman and guitarist, he was still on drums, it’s really different for me going on to bass, it’s a bit more chilled out and I enjoy watching the rest of them play. Never picked up a bass before until this
Rob Steadman (keyboards): I was actually playing drums in my last band and I just thought I’d never be in a band again…
So I’ve got four of the band here today, one missing, Andy Gardner, the rather enigmatic singer is on holiday in Budapest. It has to be said that one of the things people always notice about Juno Ashes live is Andy’s powerful voice and intense stage presence… where did you find him?
Adam: Who knows? We ask ourselves that every rehearsal!
Neil: I met him in the Thirsty Scholar, we had a few drinks and he gave me a CD and I’d say for the past 12 months every CD singers had given me had been… not great, so I got in and was just about to go to bed so I put it on, thinking bet it’s shit, and it wasn’t – so I called him up the next day and we started writing straight away.
There’s a few bands getting quite big doing sort of big expansive indie rock with effects, but when you look at a band like Editors it’s not a great voice that is it? Is Andy your secret weapon?
Adam: Neil was writing with Andy for about 12 months before we got the band together, and they used to come in (to Sound Control) and play the stuff they’d recorded, I was saying he’s got a really great voice but it’s the sort of voice that needs a band behind it.
Neil: These songs have now turned into what I had in my head
Adam: This Editors thing keeps coming up and obviously they are quite a new band, and all the comparisons are with the guitar sounds – obviously to us guys and yourself, you know he (Neil)’s been doing it quite a long time!
Yeah, it’s a very Manchester sound, a very North Manchester sound even, you can trace it back to the likes of The Chameleons, what is it about North Manchester and these amazing guitar sounds?
Neil: Access to cheap effects pedals!
Adam: The Chameleons thing’s come up a few times too and it’s good, we’re all fans of that band, well me and him (Neil) are anyway…
of course Neil did a good few years in Puressence, you left, what, four
years ago now?
Neil: Three or four, something like that… I wanted to start another band but I didn’t want it to be my band. I don’t think anyone calls the shots here
Coming from a band who are so well known and so well loved, do you ever feel it’s something hanging over you?
Neil: I think if it was 12 months ago then maybe, but it’s been a few years… I don’t really think about it that much.
Adam: I think it would have been easier – when we first came out the attention was because of Neil and it would have been easy for people to come and see us and say it was just an extension of what Neil’s been doing for years, but I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve overcome that, that nobody’s ever said that we sound just like them because we don’t – and that’s not taking anything away from us or them.
What are you listening to yourselves these days then?
Neil: I’m going back in time more and more, discovering stuff everyone else has been into for years, Led Zeppelin, John Lennon, Neil Young… (to Rob) You like current bands don’t you ?
Rob: Neil turned me onto Deus, but I’m from Dundee and gigged round Edinburgh quite a lot, I like bands like AC Acoustics – and being a keyboard player I’m listening to a lot more electronic stuff, Ulrich Schnauss, and that’s what I’m trying to bring to it. And I’ve been listening to a lot of Devin Townsend (eccentric and extremely prolific Canadian prog-metal multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with Front Line Assembly, The Wildhearts and GWAR among many others - mm.co.uk) – he uses a lot of synth, soundscapes and stuff, he just crams every channel with a lot of noise.
Adam: I don’t think we could have a band with more different tastes; what I’m listening to at the moment is Tom Waits, all the time – Deus; Pink Floyd are my favourite band, but then go over there and you’ve got Mr Heavy Metal…
Paul: I’m completely the other way; when I was 17-18 I was in a thrash metal band. I like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, all that kind of stuff.
Neil: I’ve got a bit of a metal past too, but it’s not often talked about…
Adam: You see where you’re coming from Neil’s the one they’ve all heard of, but if you talk to the metal kids around town they’ve all heard of his (Paul’s) old band…
So congratulations anyway, you’ve just been voted Best Unsigned band in PlayMusic / Pickup magazine… was that a bit of a surprise to you?
Neil: Totally, I didn’t even know anyone had sent them a CD…
Adam: We knew they did reviews of unsigned bands, I think Paul had been in touch with them, we sent a CD down to them and we’d not heard anything for weeks really, just forgot about it and then I got a voicemail one night saying you’ve won this thing…
Neil: I just got a call off Adam and I was like, right, er, what is it? The only problem is we were getting a three page spread this week, but the magazine’s gone bump…the free one’s carrying on but the one you buy in the shops has gone out of business…
So have you been getting a lot of attention since then?
Adam: It’s been absolutely mad, we’ve done five or six interviews, the local press have got onto it, people that had heard the name have just got in touch with us through the website.
Rob: It’s quite a strange title to win but it’s spurred us on a little…
Neil: To be signed rather than unsigned!
Adam: We had one Mickey Mouse offer last week which after reading through the contract we, er, decided to put in the bin – it sounded amazing until the bottom line which said they wanted money off us!
But it must easier for bands to do it themselves these days than it was when, say, Puressence were starting out.
Neil: It’s easier to gauge how things are going, really quickly…the amount of hits you get, messages you get, whereas back in the day you didn’t really know until you put a record out. A few years ago if you didn’t have a deal you didn’t have a record out, simple as that. Stuff’s out there straight away.
Yeah, and bands are getting younger aren’t they? I’ve seen bands that are 14, 15 years old, promoters that are 16 or 17, and, well, you’re not exactly teenagers are you?
Adam: We’re definitely not the best looking band around at the moment… we talked about this a lot when we started out, we don’t know yet if it’s going to be an uphill battle or what, but we’re absolutely not “now” anyway, sound wise.
Rob: We’ve all got backgrounds working in music shops and that, I think we’ve sold a lot of those kids the gear they’re playing on, and you go out and see some of them and the quality of the songwriting and the performance is excellent. They’re writing good tunes, and we’re writing good tunes, and they’re good tunes regardless of age, ours or theirs.
There seem to be more bands in Manchester right now than at any point I remember… what’s it like trying to break into the local live scene?
Neil: Gigs are coming quite easily, I mean when was the first gig? November was it? (30th November actually, and we reviewed it – MM.co.uk) We’ve got some good ones coming, the Cardinals support, the co-headliner with the Tides, this thing at the Ritz – the best venue in Manchester!
Adam: And we just got invited to In The City today as well
Neil: Have we?
Adam: Yeah, I forgot to mention that!
So what’s this thing you’re doing at the Ritz then?
Adam: To be honest I don’t really know. I just got talking to this guy…
Neil: “Talent Trek” (laughs)
Adam: And I was like I’m not doing a fuckin’ Battle Of the Bands, no way, then I sort of thought it’s not every day you get a chance to do the Ritz this early on, apparently there’s gonna be A&R there, a decent cash prize which we’d put straight into the next single. It’s free as well, and we’ve sent out over a hundred tickets, so there’s a bit of pressure on us to do well really!
You’ve been getting plenty of local exposure on Channel M, The Revolution FM…
Rob: Channel M was just the weirdest thing ever. Five minutes’ set-up and then you just do it all live… I think we did a tune we’d finished the night before.
Neil: That’s something I’ve not really done before. Like the last gig we had 2 or 3 new songs and it’s like, we’re not going to play them are we? Written them on Tuesday, played them on the Saturday.
Adam: We weren’t going to, but we went to pick him (Neil) up and the three of us said no, we can’t do that one and he’s like ‘We’re doing it’…
Rob: Gerry (Channel M presenter) was like ‘Tell us a bit about that song’ and we were like ‘oh we wrote it last night, that’s it.’
Neil. I don’t know, maybe things do move quicker nowadays. We’ve been together two minutes!
Rob: I’m pretty surprised at the speed we’ve been writing. It’s been prolific.
Adam: We’d been rehearsing for about three months and we found ourselves headlining Academy 3. I got talking to a local promoter and it was the one and only time we’d used Neil’s history to get a bit of a head start – to get his ears pricked up really. And then we sold loads of tickets and on the night it was a full house, and it was like how have we done this for the first gig?
Was that a bit intimidating?
Adam: Yeah, I threw up.
Neil: I think everyone threw up.
Paul: I didn’t!
Adam: It was like, hang on, have we reached the pinnacle already? The real test was when we played the Witchwood a few weeks back and we didn’t really promote it cos we just wanted to see what happened, and we got there and it was absolutely rammed. They were shouting for encores. And after we played we went back in 20 minutes later and it was empty. So yeah, we can do it just through word of mouth.
Rob: It was just plug in and play, no checks, nothing, and we all came off just buzzing.
Neil: I’d not done gigs like that for years, everything had been more organised, we (Puressence) would have been headlining, so you know there’s that many people coming; this was like unknown.
So things are going really well in Manchester then, what about touring?
Rob: Well with the Myspace there are people getting interested in our music in France, in America…
Adam: We’ve had offers to go to Greece, France…we’re getting played on the radio in Denmark, but we’re just looking for the right opportunity. Financially I suppose. At this stage we’re not really in a position where we can just drop everything and put a load of money into it.
Rob: If we could get something together with a band like The Tides, maybe head off up north, down south, that’d be ideal really. It does sometimes feel though with Myspace it’s like a competition, to get as much stuff recorded as quickly as you can.
Adam: the next goal’s got to be getting outside Manchester. There’s only so many times you can do these big gigs on your doorstep. We just need to plan it – then get out to France where we’ve been offered a tour. And some of Neil’s old haunts in Greece (where Puressence were, and are, inexplicably massive) have been on to us…
Neil: At the minute it’s got to finance itself though cos everyone’s working, we’ve not got the luxury of just upping sticks.
What about recording then, anything new in the pipeline?
Neil: We’re working with the guy who did the first promos, we’ve all worked really well together, but we want to make the next one a proper single release, package it and that. We’ve got a load of new songs ready to go, we’ve done four and got another dozen, at least.
And with that we’re interrupted by the arrival of chilli burritos, but vow to all go “out on the lash” together sometime. Juno Ashes play the Academy 3 on 14th July and 24th August.
WORDS : Cath Aubergine - June 2007
Pics - courtesy Juno Ashes
(c) (p) manchestermusic / musicdash / mybigmouth 2007