After seven years of relative silence AS IF. . . are back. Gareth Duffield reports.
In the 1990s Buckinghamshire-based As If. . . were one of Cross Rhythms' favourites. They played some of the CR festivals where their humour-laced performances went down a storm while their albums 'Strange Blue Thing' and 'Forget Me Not' both earned the group 10 square reviews in one Cross Rhythms, Tony Cummings burbling how 'Strange Blue Thing' "sparkles with enough stylistic originality to stretch the vocabulary". In recent years though the group seemed to be in semi-retirement. Then, earlier this year, came the release of 'Aurora Noise' to considerable interest at Cross Rhythms Towers. On a visit to Stoke-on-Trent to appear on the Rimmerama programme As If. . . spoke about why their albums have been so thin on the ground in recent times. "We've been searching for the lost chord," Steve the bassist joked. "We found it near Basildon a few weeks ago, that's why we're back together."
Prior to 'Aurora Noise' the last time we heard anything from As If. . . was in 2004 when they quietly put out an acoustic album, 'In Full Bloom'. The band have gone through considerable changes since then, not least the addition of keyboard player Samuel Hearle. He joins Phil Goss (vocals, guitars, keys), Steve Rothwell (bass) and Phil Heard (drums) to create a punchily organic rock sound. Said Phil Heard about the band's new addition, "Samuel has gradually become part of the band, having been playing live with us for the last three or four years and played keyboards on 'Aurora Noise'. He also works as a pastor in Broadstairs and has been a real encouragement to the band."
In many ways 'In Full Bloom' was the bridge which led to 'Aurora Noise', allowing the band to play real drums and real bass rather than the synthesised variety used on their electro-tinged albums of old. At the turn of the millennium things changed for the band as Steve and Phil became parents and lead singer Phil became increasingly busy running the Appletree Studios in Ludgershall. Said Phil Goss, "I've been so busy with the studio, working for other bands. That's one of the reasons why As If. . . went on the back burner." In 2009, with popularity growing again for organic rock music, now seemed like a good time for As If. . . to return to recording and gigging. Commented Phil, "I think people are going to see live bands a bit more now, it's come around again from the rave music scene of old. The live rock scene is really popular at the moment."
When asked how they thought the industry had changed from the 20th to the 21st century they said, "I guess we've done our own thing now, we've always been a bit leftfield. But with this album we've had no commercial remit to do this or that. On this album we've got a 13 minute song which is very unfriendly for radio. But we've also got some songs that are very radio friendly. In the past we've had record deals that have swayed us. On this we've just done our own thing."
Phil spoke about the 'Aurora Noise' album title. "It's a bit clever and not the sort of thing we usually do. We wanted to get away from the computers a bit. As you know, in the past we used to use a lot of dance sounds. But this is more organic, rawer rock music. So it's called a-raw-er noise." Despite their shift in style their progressive tendencies haven't disappeared. You could almost label today's As If. . . a prog rock band, which they don't seem to mind. What you couldn't say about As If. . . is that they're slavish trend followers. Steve tried to tie down As If. . .'s current sound: "We've spent most of our career trying to avoid '80s keyboard sounds and now they're very much in, in a lot of modern stuff like Metro Station. We were doing that years ago." 'Aurora Noise' brings together a collection of many influences. Despite it primarily being a rock album there are Celtic influences in there from when Phil visited Scotland, and the industrial samples still run in the background of many of the songs, causing a stand off between the two Phils of what is more important, drums or loops and samples? They both agree though that the drums are irreplaceable.
Although the band admitted creative genius wasn't the key to such a long break, it seems their "coming of age" has impacted their songwriting. Steve said, "I think it's quite funny actually because we had five or six songs even though it was six or seven years since we did the last (non-acoustic) album. We thought we were going to have to rush five or six songs really quickly which is quite good really because it makes you focus on things. But most of the songs were written in the last year or two."
Steve talked about how the band have been through a lot in the last few years and that's where the inspiration for a lot of the songs came from. "Sadly my mum died a couple of years ago and that obviously inspired a song on the album called 'So Long' which is quite an important song to us. It's a much more real album. Before we'd be singing about fairies and things like that. This is based a lot more on real experiences."
The great thing about a band making a re-appearance after so many years underground is that their fan base increases from their '90s following to a new audience discovering them at live events. Earlier this year As If. . . showcased their new album to a packed audience and they claim it was the best atmosphere they've ever had at a gig. Enthused Phil, "We felt there was more of a connection in what we were doing because we were being more real, and the humour is still there."
The much loved humour at their gigs takes on many forms including a
drum duo between the two Phil's to see who the true professional is
and lead singer Phil playing percussion on various songs whilst
running on a drum machine, an art that has taken a while to perfect.
Laughed Phil, "Rehearsals were funny, you should have seen us in the
studio. We had everything on top of itself, the first attempt at going
on the drum machine I nearly went straight off through the keyboard
and into the drum kit."
Other live delights include Phil Goss's obsession with using metal detectors during songs which he said came in useful for a different reason at one gig they did in Wales. "Before we went on stage someone had lost an important ring and put out an announcement asking if anyone had a metal detector. We said, 'Yes.' I don't think they ever found the ring though."
Phil told a story of how 'Aurora Noise' has impacted non-Christians even in the short time since its released. "One of our backing singers, her sister is an atheist and she loves the album. She put it on her iPod. That's encouraging, that Christian music is getting across to somebody. It's much more rewarding doing it like that rather than being in a band and doing it for all the wrong reasons - it means more. I think we've gone through those stages of wanting to become famous and realising it doesn't mean anything. We've done the big gigs but connecting with people is more important."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.