Enemies' first LP, We've Been Talking
Enemies are a post-rock (if you want to call them that) quartet from Wicklow, Ireland. They are made up of all the things that make highly technical rock like theirs interesting, without all the things that make it unlistenable. In short, they're super groovy. Lewis Jackson plays guitar for Enemies, and was very kind to answer some questions, including one that's been on my mind since I discovered them: what's the story behind We've Been Talking's cover art? So grab a pint (get it...cause they're Irish), and enjoy the Townhouse interview with Lewis Jackson!
Evan Jones So what in the world is going on in Ireland? Some kind of great rock awakening that I haven't heard about? All kinds of talent coming out of there these days.
Lewis Jackson Ha, Ireland is a strange and wonderful place for music. For such a small country we have always had such a great musical history. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but Ireland is quite an inspiring place to make music.
EJ It must be! So I discovered you guys with We've Been Talking. At the time I heard it, I was listening to a good bit of math-rock. I think you guys were the first band I can remember hearing that was all of the good parts of math rock, minus some of the extreme complexity (which can get tedious), plus lots of groove. It's a very distinct sound. How would you guys characterize your sound?
LJ This is a tough one. Without sounding too pretentious, I truly believe characterizing your music can be a death sentence. I spent a lot of time trying to do this at the start of Enemies, I find it can crush your creativity and narrow your vision.
We obviously get the usual titles: mathrock, postrock, instrumental rock etc. I have never been too fond of these names. I like some of the music that comes from those genres but we have never felt it’s an honest depiction of our music.
EJ Do you tend enjoy writing music that's more jam oriented, rather than more technical? Or maybe it all depends?
LJ I think for us we try and find a harmony between the two. We aren't really interested in making music that is purely based on “crazy” time signatures. In doing that you lose any feel or flow to your music.
The technical side to our music has always been there quite naturally, we tend not to put too much focus on a song's complexity. The groove is most certainly our main focus, once it flows well we know we’re on the right track.
EJ So I've often wondered about this. The album cover for We've Been Talking, for some reason, has always stood out in my mind. The picture is pretty somber, but the album title suggests a budding relationship. Sort of reminds me of high school. What was the idea behind that title and album cover? Before I ever listened to it I thought maybe you guys were a melancholy acoustic band or something (I mean that with all due respect to melancholy acoustic bands, and to you guys). Thankfully, you weren't!
LJ The title was something that started as a joke. If someone had messed up in rehearsals or was simply late, we would say something like “We’ve Been Talking and you’re out!”. It took on a whole other meaning when we actually began writing and recording the album. It was a tough enough time for the band, we all had full time jobs and finding time to write and be enthusiastic about it was getting more and more difficult. Basically, there was a lot of petty arguments and a general low atmosphere in the camp. I think this happens to a lot of bands, and we were young, so small things can feel a lot more important to you then. “We’ve Been Talking” is a quite literal reference to us trying to talk through those difficulties.
When we finally finished recording and got time to sit back and listened to what we had made, it felt like it was worth the struggle. I still like returning to that album, those songs hold a lot of memories within them for us.
The cover is a far less complicated story. We had hired an artist to create some artwork for the record. After a few drafts and many conversations it was obvious that it just wasn’t a good fit, this wasn’t anybody’s fault really. These things happen.
After already spending so much time on the artwork we only had a few days until the pressing plant needed the final artwork. In a panic we called our good friend and photographer Alex Sinclair. He told us he had over 10,000 photos that we could choose from, so we jumped in a car and began pillaging his collection. That front cover stood out to all of us, I remember being instantly drawn to it.
EJ That's really interesting. I think all of those things are evident in the aura of the album. It has a mystique about it that's very intriguing. So what led to your sound, and in particular the decision to be a primarily instrumental band?
LJ Well the whole idea of this band came from a bedroom project Eoin was working on called New Man Eoin. It was this kind of chilled guitar music with some electronic elements to it. We were all drawn to this kind of music at the time and at the beginning there was never a sense of this being a real band.
We would have started by listening to bands like Tortoise, Tristeza, Don Cabellero etc. At the time it felt like very few people in Ireland were making this kind of music and that was exciting to us.
EJ Are there distinct challenges to writing instrumental music that's interesting and engaging enough to remain fresh for both you guys and an audience? For musicians, I'm sure being an instrumental band is like a never ending jam session, and I think that comes through in your sound. For the audience though, I wonder if sometimes they can get left behind by the music when there's no lyrics there to hold on to. But maybe I'm wrong?
LJ I don’t really see it as more of a challenge than any other artist keeping their music fresh for themselves. It can be a tough process but it almost needs to be to get what you want from it.
In regards to instrumental music being hard to hold on to, there will always be people who find it hard to understand and that’s okay. It also has an amazing way of connecting people. We have been lucky to play all over Europe & Asia in the last few years, and in doing this we have had so many different types of people engage with us. We can play every night to people who don’t speak our language and yet they can connect and enjoy what we do, there is something very beautiful about that.
EJ Beautiful indeed. Now your latest LP, Embark, Embrace, is a bit of a departure from your previous stuff. In my opinion, it's a great progression. Most notably there's the introduction of lyrics. I think it added an exciting element to an already strong sound. What was the inspiration for the incorporation of lyrics?
LJ At first we really just wanted to use vocals as another instrument, to be able to add another colour or texture to our music. When we were writing the album there was no thought to leaving room in a specific place for vocals, we only knew we wanted to incorporate them but we didn't know how much or where they would go. This set us the big task of finding room for vocals and not making it all sound patched together. It was a fun challenge but I can’t see us following that path again.
EJ Are there any themes on Embark lyrically or musically that you guys had in mind when writing the album?
LJ Yes, absolutely. This record was heavily themed around escape. We decided to put all our careers and jobs on hold and tour the album around the world for a year or so. I think the record as a whole is a more joyous one because musically it represented a time were we could focus on just being a band and not having other responsibilities disrupt our creativity.
EJ It's a sad thing when life gets in the way of being creative. Any special significance to the lyrics?
LJ I think there’s a personal significance to them for the band. The album title Embark, Embrace was our whole ideology at the time rolled into two words. So a big chunk of the vocals are centred around that idea.
EJ Is there a healthy bit of attention paid to the two bands that I think it's fair to say you guys would be most closely associated with: And So I Watch You From Afar, and Adebisi Shank? There's definitely similarities there, and I think a maybe a little healthy rivalry can be a good thing.
LJ We have been close with both of those bands since the beginning of Enemies and there is no doubt they have been influential to us, maybe not directly in a musical sense but in what they have created in Ireland and the scene that grew around them.
I remember going to see Adebisi for the first time in a town nearby to me. They played this tiny room in a community centre, I had never experienced a band with so much energy and musicianship all rolled into one. They had crazy guitar riffs and pounding drums and yet there was still a great melody and rhythm to it all. You could nod your head to their entire set whilst having your jaw on the floor watching Vinny & Lar play things you never thought imaginable on a guitar or bass.
I think Adebisi & ASIWYFA somehow made this kind of music accessible to a wider audience, than just simply music for musicians. They were able to get people’s attention from their intense & powerful live performances and that definitely influenced us to pay closer attention to our live show.
EJ Right on. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you guys. Anything you can say about what's coming up for Enemies?
LJ Last weekend we started working on our third full length album. It’s early days yet but we are very excited to be making new music again. Working with our new drummer Micheál has naturally changed the writing process, it feels really good to be approaching the whole process differently and he is a great addition to our band.
EJ Awesome! I'll be on the lookout for it for sure! Thanks for stopping by the Townhouse.
LJ Thanks for having me!
Enemies' music can be purchased on iTunes and here on their bandcamp page. Go check them out, and keep an eye on these guys!