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Interview: Astralnaut


Laying claim to being one the downright heaviest bands in the country right now, Keady sludge-doom band Astralnaut breed groove, weight and haze to produce a sound that that is ever-increasingly all their own. Masterfully veering between pummeling downtuned riffs to stoner-rock mini-odysseys, we cannot recommend catching the Thomas Mallon-fronted act highly enough. We talk to Thomas and Pearse from the band about the past, present and future of Astralnaut,”an unspoken bond of sheer riffage and groove”.

Early stirrings: Stoned Messiah, Third Harvest and onwards:

Pearse (Donnelly, rhythm guitar): Astralnaut formed as many bands do, from the ashes of previously formed groupings. Thomas and Gaz (Treanor, lead guitar) had drafted in Stephen Todd on drums a few weeks before I had offered my services behind the kit alongside Damo (ex-bass player, honorary member) on bass. The decision was made to form Astralnaut November 1 2011 after our first rattle. Recently we’ve welcomed the addition of ex-frontman with southern metal trio, Double Wide Jon Joe Harrison to our ranks on bass and backing vocals.

Thomas (Mallon, vocals): Aside from Stephen Todd, the rest of us were Keady locals. We played in local bands so we all knew each other well and would have drank and partied together a lot. We shared the stage numerous times. Pearse and Damo were playing in Third Harvest. Gaz and myself had formed Stoned Messiah. Eventually Stoned Messiah fizzled out and latterly Third Harvest decided to call it a day too but I think the foundations of Astralnaut had been laid a good few months before our respective bands had ended.

Our drummer (Dan Walsh, now of Two Tales of Woe fame) couldn’t play a gig we’d arranged in Stan’s, Keady New Year’s Eve 2010, I believe it was. Pearse graciously obliged us and filled in. We had a few jams together in the Third Harvest practice space to prep. Damo joined in on a few of these occasions just for a bit of craic so subconsciously I believe the seed was planted even then, though none of us knew it. I think there’s a tape hidden somewhere with some of those early impromptu stoner jams; the precursor to Astralnaut – it may surface someday! Enter Stephen Todd a few months later, Pearse switching to rhythm guitar and the rest is history.


Musical influences: not just Sabbath and Kyuss:

Pearse: All things stoner and all things metal. From the lyrics to the riffs and round to the drumming style, it’s all very heavy. We all have our own individual influences but I’d be confident in saying that metal would be a staple in all of our musical diets.

Thomas: There are varying eclectic tastes in the band when it comes to music but I think as Pearse says each of us started with a love of metal. We’ve been compared to lots of different bands, some that I don’t even listen to! It’s moot point to mention Sabbath or Kyuss but obviously they’re in the mix somewhere. For me, The Angry Host were a local doom band on the scene that was a great inspiration starting out.

Songwriting and progressing as a unit:

Pearse: We have a habit of making each song sound considerably different from the last so our output from song to song varies. All the while staying within the Astralnaut vein. We’ve always (unintentionally) wrote a mixture of long and short songs, the first two EP’s list 4-5 songs each and they either stretch to the half hour mark or just teeter over it. However, our latest bout of writing has brought us to getting more into longer songs, 6-10mins and ranging in between. The biggest improvement and our main strength, I believe, is our stamina as a band, both on and off stage.

Thomas: It started out being all about the groove and that’s still there but I think it has developed since the inception of the band. I actually think we’re heavier now, the way our songs have been released wasn’t the order they were written, so I think over the last while we’ve got a bit heavier (never a bad thing in my eyes) with each new song. Our main strengths are versatility with conviction. Not limiting ourselves. We wouldn’t play something and think that’s too light or that’s too trash, we play it how we like it. First we have to like the music before anyone else.


Gigs, money and the idea of “making it big”:

Pearse: Of course, we’d all be happy to make a wage off what we do but just being known and appreciated is good for now! Another reason for us to be present in music is to use this platform to convey some messages that we feel need to be reiterated. If you check out the lyrics on our Bandcamp page you’ll see what I mean. If the lyrics are too cryptic don’t be afraid to ask.

Thomas: I always say that if we want to make a million we’re playing the wrong type of music. Of course you want recognition for your craft, your abilities and songs but number one in my book is enjoying it yourself. It takes work and dedication being in a band. A true labour of love, so if you’re in it for recognition but aren’t digging it yourself then your lack of passion transposes to your audience. Maybe our mission statement could be ‘I’m pleasing myself, would you like to watch?’

Singularity and setting themselves apart:

Pearse: What sets us apart from most heavy bands is that we’re not your typical metal or sludge or… anything, really. We pride ourselves on fusing our love for stoner rock with our metal and blues roots all the while getting away with the ‘Astral’ aspects, the tripped out, chilled out, not-so-metal metal breakdowns. If it’s not a long song with a few breakdowns and changes in the flow, it’s a shorter song that focuses more on the punch packed within 4/5mins. Variety is our distinction.

Thomas: We’re versatile. We’ve shared the stage with so many different types of bands hardcore bands, trash bands, doom bands, stoner bands etc. etc. but we hold our own, we’re heavy yes but through our versatility comes a bit of something for everyone and when you blend it all together out comes Astralnaut. I feel that in that respect we stand alone. Then there’s the live show. Some bands understand it more than others: you need to put on a good show, rocking out is your bread and butter, enjoy it and your audience will too!

Highlights sixteen months into their journey:

Pearse: We have played just under 60 gigs since we started performing live together in May 2012 and we find it an absolute necessity. Also very enjoyable and in the words of Gaz, “it’s what we signed up for!”  There are too many bands out there that think if they play a gig in a big city they’ve made it. It just doesn’t work that way. Yes, it is hard work and does take a lot of time but it’s incomparably worth it and it’s largely about the people you meet along the way. A highlight of mine would be when Steve broke his collarbone and I got the chance to jump in on drum. I hated the thought of it at the time but in retrospect it’s nice we’re able to do that as a band.

Thomas: A recent highlight of mine was getting to play with American riff lords Red Fang. To be given that honour was fantastic – many thanks to Phil for that! One of the funniest moments from that night has got to be Jon Joe on stage with Red Fang wearing his own homemade beer armour. The crowd went nuts and you could see the guys from Red Fang laughing their asses off. They were sound guys.

Favourite fellow riff-making peers:

Pearse: Slomatics, Nomadic Rituals, War Iron, Gacys Threads, Bad Boat, FiveWillDie, Kashis, Tusks, LibidoSwitch, Two Tales of Woe, Comply or Die, Dying Breed, Kasper Rosa, Vanilla Gloom, Anti Depresants, Pocket Billiards, Uncle Social, DBM and 7.5 Tonnes of Beard. The stand outs for me would be FiveWillDie and Bad Boat, the former being a seriously atmospheric progressive doom trance and the latter being a cacophony of hard rocking doom. Looking forward to playing with both bands very soon.

Thomas: One of my favourite bands in Ireland rocking the stoner vibe at the minute is Harvester. I’d really like to get playing with them! Their EP is free from Bandcamp and it is sheer brilliance – full of riffs and hooks. Brains from Cork are excellent but I haven’t heard much about them this last while. Hopefully they’ve got something in the woodwork. Kashis from Lurgan are a band we frequently play with, their new EP I Welcome You was released a couple of weeks ago and it’s awesome, rocking progressive grunge. Some of the best bands I’ve heard recently are unsigned Irish bands – for such a small area there is a great wealth of talent!

The next few months: gigs, recorded and immintent unearthings:

Pearse: With a half dozen dates throughout September we plan to showcase and test some new material, alongside popping out some ou’ familiars. Come October we’ll be eager to make a start with some demoing and recording for our next instalment. There have been talks of a single to whet the appetite before the end of the year, we know some hallions probably have the munchies by now!

Thomas: The new tunes have received a great response so far. We’re blasting them out to see how it goes down and then we’re all set back to recording for the end of the year. In the meantime we’ve got some new t-shirt designs coming out. The feedback has been fantastic so far. Keep up to date on our website to see their imminent unearthing!

Check out upcoming dates from Astralnaut below.

Friday, September 6: Voodoo, Belfast (w/ Bad Boat, Crafty Fuzz and Altus)
Friday, September 13: Masons Bar, Derry
Saturday, September 14: Arthurs Bar, Keady
Friday, September 20: The Premier, Lurgan
Friday, September 27: Bradleys Bar, Cork

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.