Seventy-five percent of sadly-departed experimental pop foursome Eatenbybears, Affleck are a Belfast-based three-piece that have covered quite a bit of ground in the four months since the former outfit’s untimely dissolution back in March.
Comprised of Aidan Kelly, Clark Phillips and James Pollock, the electronic pop outfit – dusting themselves down and arguably finding their sound – have been occupied writing and recording their all-too-brief self-titled debut EP, a sublime five-track slab of phantasmal harmonies, shuffling somnambulist rhythms and subtly cascading, wonderfully woven electronic noise.
As it so happens, for this week’s special installment of Inbound, we have an exclusive stream of the EP ahead of its official release and a first-ever interview with the band in its current form. Remember the name (not that you haven’t heard it before elsewhere, of course).
Hi guys. You are, of course, three quarters of the disbanded Eatenbybears. Firstly, what factors led to the dissolution of the band? (that which can be divulged etc.)
Aidan: Honestly, it seemed to be a culmination of lots of different factors. Three quarters of us were finishing up degrees, which cut the time we were able to invest in writing new material or even practise and I think that lead to a bit of a breakdown in communication in regards what we all wanted the band to be. I think Olan very much wanted to go entirely electronic with his music and Eatenbybears wasn’t really going to afford an opportunity to do that. On the other hand, the three of us had essentially the same desire, to infuse our music with as much electronic influence as we could, considering it’s what we get excited about most but by the time we talked it all out, I think we’d already made our plans for the future.
It really felt that Eatenbybears were on the cusp of something brilliant. If you may be so bold, is Affleck it?
Aidan: For us, I think that it’s safe to say that it is. Although I’m really proud of the Teeth EP and love all the songs on it, it isn’t really representative of the sort of music that I want to write or even the sort of music that I listen to. In hindsight, I think that we all felt like we didn’t really know how to write the next Eatenbybears song. We’d spent a lot of time apart and it was difficult to try and reignite that spark. Writing with Affleck has afforded us the opportunity to indulge any musical deviations that strike us without any fear of losing any followers. The Affleck material is no doubt pretty different from most of Eatenbybears stuff but I think in our last single, Your Pet Is Dead, you can hear some hints as to the direction that we ended up heading in.
It’s safe to say that you’ve come together and recorded your EP in a relatively short period of time. Did everything start from the moment EBB decided to disband or was plans and sounds in the making before then?
Clark: We had some ideas and synth sounds we liked stored away in a couple of ableton projects while Eatenbybears was still deciding it’s fate. As soon as that was all sorted out though we got straight into writing songs because we knew we weren’t going to play any Eatenbybears songs anymore. About four or 5 months later we had five solid songs that we loved and wanted to record. It was great because one we had the songwriting process down we were flying.
Aidan: There were an awful lot of external factors that were stopping us from doing anything productive as a band but Clark, James and myself had grown tired of the stasis but were still in the band. I had begun working on some song ideas for Uni that I would’ve been suggesting as new Eatenbybears songs. Olan announced that he was going to be moving away to study this year, so we started working on the new material and writing together, probably a month before we officially announced the split. The three of us had been itching to write new stuff for quite a while so we just dove in at the start of the year.
Musically, stylistically, conceptually: in what ways are Affleck different from EBB? By the same token, apart from being 75% of the original set-up, in what ways are you “the same”?
Aidan: Musically I think we share more similarities with the last two Eatenbybears singles, weird pop filtered through whatever we’re listening to at the time but I don’t think that you’d necessarily associate the two bands if you didn’t know the connection. With only 3 members it’s oddly freed us up somewhat when it comes to writing and performance. Between laptops and samplers, each of us can have input for any section of a song, not limited by whatever “instrument” you’ve assigned yourself to. This was pretty liberating as we began to write new material, as we could trade sessions that we were working on and develop each other’s ideas. To tick the cliché answer box, it was a much more organic process.
In terms of what has stayed the same, I think James’ drumming was always a special feature of Eatenbybears and contrasted with electronic beats in Affleck’s material, I think that’ll become even more apparant. I think the violin might make a connection for some people between the two bands purely because it’s not a feature of every band but I’m looking to do stranger things with it in the future. Get weird with it.
How was both the recording and songwriting process for the EP? Did you notice any specific changes in how you went about both as a result of being a three-piece?
Clark: For me it was completely different. A lot of the songs I played in Eatenbybears where already written before I joined the band so it was much better having a bigger part in the song writing process. Aidan and I worked on the synth tracks and arrangement together and also bounced lyrical and melodic ideas of each other which was a lot of fun. James then stepped in and and brought our terrible midi drum sounds to life and gave a live feel to the songs as well as making some crazy drum sample sounds. It felt a lot more concise and efficient than before to be honest. I always liked the idea of a three piece.
Aidan: It just made everything easier, most songs being 80% completed in one night sessions. To me it just seemed like without the pressure of having to write new music for an existing band as well as finally having the chance to write again led to a pretty efficient and more importantly, fun writing process. Our recording process didn’t really change that much, with Clark still recording everything and then absolutely nailing the production but the 3 piece has brought more freedom to the live aspect, allowing us to play different instruments for different songs.
Your “video game music” sound is fairly distinctive, especially insofar as Belfast and the surrounding areas is concerned. Was it a conscious decision to make it a focal point of your sound or did it naturally come to the fore?
Aidan: ‘Anor Londo’, the EP opener, was the first song that I had written (in it’s most basic form) and when it came to write lyrics I was playing an awful lot of Minecraft with Clark on our mate Jason’s server (Also Jason is releasing a Linebacker Dirge record really soon that I got to play violin and sing on and it’s awesome!) so the lyrics just sort of took the form of one side of a conversation between two players. The name is a bit of a mislead as it’s a Dark Souls reference but it was the name of our server. It wasn’t really a conscious decision to centre the material around games but they are a genuine passion of ours and at their best, they can be a perfect culmination of music, sound design, visual art and writing. I think that it just seeped into our influence pool as a result of just how much time we as a band were exposed to them. T
hey are shared experiences but they can differ so much for each player, they give everyone the same information, even ground to understand and discuss them. When we then started writing new melodic ideas and were trying to think of words, we just starting thinking of the things we personally experienced in other games we played. We were lucky too that there were some incredible games in the last year or so to write about, especially some really interesting indie titles like Faster Than Light, Hotline Miami and Door Kickers. Also, I had no real desire to “bare my soul” with overtly personal lyrics so writing about other stories afforded me the opportunity to hide some more personal things in the bigger picture.
From a more general perspective, what influenced you as songwriters when writing the material as a whole? Any specific albums, artists, experiences, art or travel?
Aidan: There’s a pretty big list of influences as we tend to each freak out about a synth or a sub or vocal line and then pester the rest of the group with it until they love it too. Nine Inch Nails (particularly the production and instrumentation on their later, digital stuff), Lapalux, Disclosure, Everything Everything, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke, Peter Gabriel, Justin Timberlake, Joni Mitchell, Beyonce and Frank Ocean. Most of the inspiration we seem to mine from those acts tend to be textures and sounds that they managed to get, geeking out over their production. Lots of us doing impressions of synth sounds with our mouths and then trying to make them. Lyrics were never a main drawing factor for me for most music, with the exception of Tom Waits, not that I think my lyrics are anything like his but his sense of narrative and the use of characters in his stuff is something that always appealed to me and elements of that have made their way into songs, trying to set scenes and tell stories.
To what extent do you feel you are starting “from scratch” now that your debut EP is out there? And do you feel that EBB’s dissolution was, in hindsight, “meant to be”?
James: In some ways it does, in others, it doesn’t. Having come out of three years of Eatenbybears we have learnt so much about what being in a band means and how to maintain it. We are more prepared and this time around we know exactly what we want from Affleck. It has felt quite liberating though, being able to hide away with no one knowing what we were doing or if we were even writing music, having no pressure to come up with a new release. If we look back on it now it seems the split was meant to be, it feels right as the two groups have gotten what we wanted out of it. From the demise of EBB has come two good new projects.
Aidan: Looking back, it was definitely for the best that Eatenbybears split as it wasn’t giving any of us what we wanted to get out of writing and performing. Starting with a new name gave us pretty much complete freedom in terms of writing. Although Eatenbybears always very much had the ethos of “whatever we write is what we sound like” we were still much more of a traditional band in terms of arrangement. I think this probably enforced a certain level of anticipation of what sort of music we would play, both for us and for listeners. For Affleck on the other hand, we just sat together and tried to make big shiny polished songs, tried to write things that were really different or that would would make each other laugh, that we couldn’t have gotten away with before. So I hope that from a listening perspective, it will be viewed as a start from scratch, to remove any preconceived ideas of what we’re going to sound like but I definitely think that there are certain themes present in both bands so if you liked Eatenbybears, I think there will be things in Affleck for you.
Your sound isn’t necessarily indicative of any explicit trend or scene in the country at the minute. What are your thoughts on Northern Irish music right now? Is there anything particularly exciting you?
James: It has been tough being out of the music scene and not performing in the country. Especially going to gigs and just wanting to be on the stage. It can be pretty easy to slip out of the loop of new bands and material that is coming through so I suppose once we have a few gigs under our belt then we will have a reassessed look on the scene.
Aidan: As always, the scene here is pretty mindblowing and it was totally a driving force to keep playing and start again, to support and to have the support of loads of other class bands. We’ve always had really strong band scenes and electronic scenes but in the last few years we’re getting more and more crossover which is fantastic and I think that’s sort of where we would hope to fit in. Keyboards are back!
Our tour mates, housemates and best mates Kasper Rosa are still one of our favourite things about the local scene. In terms of newer bands Vanilla Gloom are pretty spot on! Also Rachael Boyd and Joshua Burnside are both doing amazing stuff that I’m really grateful to get a chance to play in occasionally. Our good friend Kit’s band Team Rocket are absolutely lethal too. James and I have got to hear all a lot of Olan’s new stuff as The Bedroom too and it’s really interesting, diverse as all flip and really Olan.
Your name is assumingly named after U.S. actor Ben Affleck – a collector of old Ms. Pac-Man arcade games (who knew?) Any particular reason you went for Affleck?
Aidan: We’re clearly named after the coward who shot Jesse James, Casey Affleck but the reasons are simply we like the name and the pair of Afflecks are pretty lethal. We were just watching Argo and thought “Ben Affleck just seems like a nice guy”. That’s awesome about the Ms. Pac-Man machines! He was the bomb in Phantoms, yo!
Looking towards the next year or so, how would you quantify success as a unit? Recognition, fame, awesome-unforgettable shows?
Aidan: I’d love to get a UK tour at some stage in the next year or so as we never really got the chance with Eatenbybears. Aside from that, I just want to play a video game convention! Do a show and then freak the bag over new tech.
Clark: If we could all make a living from writing/producing music I would call that a success. I’m aware that it’s very difficult to do in this day and age but we would love to work on many projects in the future like writing for other people, video games and films as well. Casting your net wide is the only way to make a living from music these days.
Finally, what are the plans for the next two to three months?
Aidan: Write more songs! I think the main thing for us is to just keep producing music and honing the sort of sound that we want to have, as wildly deviating as that sound might end up. I’d also love to see some remixes of our stuff in the future as we had some absolute belters made from Eatenbybears tracks by a host of really talented DJs from around the country. I think our live show will be a big focus for us, reworking our arrangements and trying to allow for as much variation and expression as possible from the electronic side of things. Brian Coney