And So I Watch You From Afar: Niall Kennedy Interview

And So I Watch You From Afar: Niall Kennedy Interview

Niall Kennedy plays guitar with Northern Irish prog rock outfit  “And So I Watch You From Afar” and he’s pretty good at it, in fact, he was voted #6 progressive rock guitarist in the world by Total Guitar Magazine. He has also turned his hand to composing and co-scoring the 2017 movie “The Cured” along with bandmate Rory Friers. We caught up with him after he reached out to Strymon for help powering his pedalboard.

[MPS]
Can you describe your journey to joining So I Watch You From Afar?

[NK]
I had been friends with the band for many years before joining, sometimes I would even come out on tour and tune guitars for them when I wasn’t busy with my own band, “Panama Kings”. Rory, Chris and myself had been living together in Belfast for a couple of years when  my band broke up in 2010 and then in late 2011 a slot opened up in ASIWYFA and for me it was a no brainer, an awesome band full of my best mates, couldn’t have been an easier decision. The only problem was that the band already had a tour booked and we would be leaving in 11 days, so that was 11 days of frantically trying to learn an entire set on guitar! By the end of the week my fingers were bleeding, I thought they had calloused over from years of playing guitar but clearly not enough for the amount of practice I needed to put in! The tour went great and here we are approaching 7 years and 3 albums together. I’m actually sitting in a café in Osaka writing this, we’re waiting for a flight to Sydney to continue an Asia/Australia tour. 

[MPS]
How does it differ to other musical projects you’ve been part of over the years?

[NK]  
Previously I was a lead singer and guitarist in bands, my priority was mostly songwriting, playing guitar was a bit more of a means to an end for me. I was never that fussed about what guitars amps or pedals I was using, it was always more about the performance and whether or not my voice was going to let me down! ASIWYFA has made me really focus on my sound and my ability on guitar, we still get to sing a little bit and I also have a side project too when I’m really missing it! 

[MPS]
How does songwriting in the band work? Is it a collective process or is the songwriting more focused on you and Rory?

[NK]  
It’s definitely a collaborative experience but that is usually the second stage of songwriting. The first stage is 9 times out of ten, Rory and I demo-ing material at home and then bringing those demos to the band. We’ll usually work up a whole bunch of fairly well thought out demos and then listen to them as a band and decide which ones we are all vibing on, then we take them to the room and work on them as a band. 

[MPS]
Do you prefer gigging or do you find song-writing and studio work more satisfying?

[NK]  
They both have their own pros and cons, I could never commit to just doing one for too long a period of time. Usually when we have finished recording an album, the following week we will start getting the itch to start writing again and we’ll get demoing and then continue that process while we tour the album. Playing live is the bit where we get to connect with the people that share as much of a passion about our music as we do though and that will always be a very special thing.

[MPS]
Can you pick out a favourite gig / event and why?

[NK]  
There’ve been gigs where the sound and stage have been amazing and the crowd has been massive; but it’s usually the gigs where everything has gone wrong that stick out in my head. One in particular was in 2012, playing some dingy place in the Ukraine and between the support bands set and us setting up the PA broke, only the subs were now working and they couldn’t fix it. We ended up sticking just the kick drum in the subs, dragging all our gear onto the floor and played in a circle facing each other with the whole crowd standing around us, it was a fucking riot and one of the most fun gigs ever! 

[MPS]
Can you tell us a little bit about your experience working on “The Cured” soundtrack?

[NK]  
Yeah it was a trip, we got asked to do it completely out of the blue and couldn’t have been happier. We would probably have said yes no matter what the project was as we had both been dying to try our hand at that sort of work! It was a relief though when we got the script and it was amazing! We originally thought it would be full band songs, but after talking with the director about his vision we realized it would be a much more minimal ambient, electronic feel. There are still a bunch of guitars, live instruments and field recordings on it but it’s miles away from the sound of the band. We absolutely loved the challenge though and can’t wait to do some more soundtrack work. 

[MPS]
Who do you count among your musical influences?

[NK]  
My dad has a fairly eclectic taste in music. Growing up, we would have listened to music every single car journey and it would have been stuff like the Beach Boys, The Drifters, Rory Gallagher, Dire Straits, The Kinks and a lot Dylan. I’m really glad to have had a decent education from him, I’m sure it informed my writing and appreciation for music later. He had always wanted a guitar when he was a kid and could never afford one, so he was ecstatic when I took an interest and asked for a drumkit for Xmas when I was 11. He couldn’t have been more supportive over the years. Guitarists who I could listen to endlessly would be John Frusciante, Dave Davies, Elliot Smith, Jack White, St Vincent. 

[MPS]
If you could go back to any musical era what would it be?

[NK]  
Maybe the late 60’s to early 70’s when the Beatles were really hitting the their stride and had stopped touring and were entering the studio years, so much experimentation and freedom to create. They were taking inspiration from all over the world; making some truly unique sounds and creating recording techniques that would change popular music forever. 

[MPS]
What was your first guitar?

[NK]  
A super cheap Epiphone; a Firebird I think it was called. It never stayed in tune, it was bright red and I covered it in health and safety warning stickers from my mums café!

[MPS]
What guitars are you playing at the moment?

[NK]  
We toured with a band in America a couple of years ago and the guitarist had this Reverend guitar, I had never heard of them but I fell more and more in love with it every time I saw and heard it on that tour! I got in touch with them when we got home and they were kind enough to endorse us, I am now playing a Reverend Double Agent OG and a Charger and I couldn’t be happier with them. Rory also fell for them and got a Double Agent too! If I break the strings on those guys mid set, I also have a Fender Jaguar that I love. 

[MPS]
You’re using a Strymon Ojai for power management, what else do you have on your pedalboard?

[NK]  
It’s got a bit mental, we both have the biggest pedal train boards that they make, it’s a nightmare for flying with as they are always overweight but we both have a bit of an addiction to pedals! Some new stuff that I’m loving right now is the Drolo Stammen, it is just a phenomenal tool kit of glitchy freezey madness and it is doing 20 things that no other pedal can. Also my newest reverb is the Digitech Polara and it sounds gorgeous. A pedal that will never leave mine or Rory’s boards, is the Earthquaker Disaster Transport Sr. it’s just ridiculously beautiful and functional, I can’t imagine life without it. 

[MPS]
Is there anything you have parted with that you really miss?

[NK]  
Yeah I really miss my Line 6 Verbzilla! I had two that broke over the years, of course they’re out of production now and I think they were great, extremely functional and you really got lot of bang for your buck compared to a lot of reverbs on the market these days. Rory still has one on his board but it’s been toured to death and is on it’s last legs! Bring them back Line 6!

[MPS]
Can you think of anything that really changed things for you?

[NK]  
Yeah definitely, not to harp on about Line 6 but honestly the DL4 was an absolute gamechanger, it was literally the first thing I bought with my student loan the day it came through when I was 18. I then used the looper on it to write every single song that I produced for the next 10+ years! Like literally everything, I used it incessantly and then for live use it had like 10 delays that sounded like nothing I’d heard before! It was off my board for a few years there but I recently rediscovered it and it’s back on there just for the awesome loop function. I love having the speed and reverse effects at the press of a foot, no one else really does anything like that as well. 

[MPS]
Is there any advice you can offer to people starting out on their musical journeys?

[NK]  
Yeah, the clichés are clichés for a reason, just play what excites you and feels most natural and don’t be afraid to really go down that rabbit hole, you will only find happiness!

 

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