The prospect of interviewing 24-year-old Neon Waltz frontman Jordan Shearer was exciting. Not only because of the enormous talent him and the other five members of Scotland’s most promising band since Chvrches possess, but also because of the potentially life-changing year he has ahead of him.
Being from Caithness, Scotland’s most northern county, with a population of only 20,000 people, I assumed I would have to hire the help of a translator to aid me during the interview. However, I had no trouble understanding Jordan’s accent, something he himself was surprised about.
Last year must have been exciting for the band. What were the highlights of 2015?
“The gigs started really picking up this year. We’ve started selling out shows. 2014 was just us breaking in, y’know? We are a lot better as a band now. Thinking about particular highlights… there were a few festivals that were amazing, like T in the Park, we headlined the BBC Introducing tent and that was insane. Playing with Noel Gallagher was also pretty mental. It was a weird one because it was by far the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in front of… it’s a bit unnerving playing in front of 4000 people, and only 1% have probably heard of your band. But it was still brilliant.”
What are your hopes for this year?
“Well, we need to release something, because we still haven’t officially released any music yet, it’s just been ‘First Light’ – which is essentially demos and stuff. So we will have a few releases, and an album at the back end of the year. We will be recording the album in the next month or two, in fact we’ve already got half of it recorded, so we will be finishing it off in the next few months. Then… just whatever comes with it will be ace and hopefully we’ll just tour like fucking mad.”
In 2014 when Neon Waltz formed, it was a slow and steady start. But in 2015, you had a lot of coverage from the likes of the NME, Clash, and The Skinny. Do you ever feel a pressure to achieve as a result of the media spotlight?
“I don’t really feel any of that pressure, it’s weird because being up here you are so far away from civilisation. We live in basically a foreign land, we are the most northern point of Britain, in an area the size of London there’s only 20,000 people. So that makes it a bit surreal that everyone up here knows who we are, whenever we go out, people are like ‘oh fucking Neon Waltz its Neon Waltz’ and its strange because people assume that whenever we go to London, or wherever we go, it’s like that but its only where we are from it happens. I don’t feel any pressure to live up to, we know how good the music is, and we’ve basically got two or three albums worth of material already. The fact that we all write as well, there’s no pressure like ‘fuck we need more songs’ cause we have six people writing songs constantly, we have an endless supply, so no, we don’t feel any pressure.”
Talking about the songwriting, you’ve said before the band works as a democracy, everybody contributes to the creative process. Has that ever changed at all?
“No not really, we all write pretty much constantly but we never write together, I would never write with anyone else. It would never be a collaboration, the fundamental bones of a song is always just one person, and that’s the way it’s always been and the way it works best for us. Everyone sort of has peaks and troughs, someone will be on a roll and write five songs in one week, whilst one of us won’t write anything.”
You’re joining The Coral on tour in March, you must be buzzing for that?
“Yeah I mean, Coral were sort of my band when I was a kid. I was too young for Oasis when that was kicking off, so when I was around eleven years old Coral were the first band who made me appreciate good music. I heard ‘Dreaming of You’ when I was watching a Scottish football program, and I was like, ‘what the fuck is that song it’s so catchy!?’ I remember going down to Woolworths in Wick and buying the album and just loving it.”
This could potentially be a very big year for you guys. Is the NW headquarters still set to remain at the Croft in Caithness? Are you guys planning to move to somewhere more central, or are you happy where you are?
“We are happy here for now, and it’s still working. But you never know what the future holds, I’m sure there will be a day when I’m sick of living up here, and it will make more sense to move, to make it logistically easier for us, but right now we are all happy. You never know though… ask me again in a year and we will see.”
How long does it take to get out of Scotland?
“Well to Glasgow in our van it’s about seven hours…”
Wow, that’s an early start! I can imagine you all huddled up in the van with the synths, the guitars and the drums playing I Spy.
“Well we are pretty used to it now so it’s okay, but I’m the only one who doesn’t drive, so I always get the shit seat in the van. It’s a pain in the arse, especially when you have got a seven hour drive, and you’re constantly getting hit by the gear stick.”
Do you think your success is helped by a solid Scottish fanbase? Like you’ve said everyone in Caithness knows who you are…
“Yeah definitely, but even the Glasgow scene… it’s kind of foreign to us. We are all on our own up here, we are the only band left in Caithness, so yeah it’s cool having so many people on board from where we are from.”
It must be a real confidence booster that helps you guys play better, I presume?
“Yeah definitely, and in Glasgow recently, well since last year, we have started to get more popular there, which is good ’cause we are clearly spreading a bit. There’s a decent amount of people in London and Liverpool who know about us and are fans of us as well.”
Are the stereotypes true? Does everyone from Scotland love Irn Bru and Buckfast?
“More people do in Scotland than anywhere else, but not everyone does. I love Irn Bru, and I did go through a phase of loving Buckfast, but I ended up in the hospital in intensive care once when I was 18. I was in hospital for four days ’cause I got so fucked up, and Buckfast was part of the problem, so I can’t really enjoy it anymore.”
Jesus, how much did you drink!?
“Well, a whole bottle during the day, and then other stuff as well. It’s really smooth and sweet, it’s weird.”
So it was a Blackout night… do anything stupid?
“Probably, aye. But I made it out the other end so I’m happy.”
I know you’ve said you’re going to be releasing an album at some point this year, but have you got an exact date for the release or are you just playing it by ear?
“No not yet, we still need to make a plan for releases before it, EP’s and singles need to be released first, we can’t just go through on an album with nothing else. I’m sure it will all be talked about with the record label soon.”
If you could collaborate with one artist, alive or dead, who would it be?
“Seems an obvious one ’cause he recently died, but David Bowie. If he hadn’t died so recently, I would have had to think a lot harder, but I’ve been listening to him so much the last few weeks so right now I would say him, he was a genius. Also I would like to collaborate with David Lynch, the filmmaker. He has music out and it’s awesome, I would love to do stuff with him.”
Are there other bands Neon Waltz are backing to be successful this year?
“There’s a few Scottish bands who we’re friends with, who we really like. Baby Strange from Glasgow are class… they’ve already done really well, and they will have an album out this year. There’s also a band from Dunfermline called Domiciles, they’ve only played about four gigs but they’re great, they’re gonna go far.”
Do you think it’s becoming more difficult for bands to break through? I mean in terms of how much control they have over their songs and record deal, also with regards to Spotify and music streaming services. Obviously things have changed, but has that made it more difficult for artists to earn a living?
“Music is in a weird place right now. Anyone can class themselves as a musician and anyone can get a Garage Band app on their phone, record songs and put them up online. It’s a bit mad, but I mean with regards to Spotify, it’s good for new bands because the related artists section lets people discover a lot of new music they wouldn’t have otherwise heard. But I’ve read stuff online. Portishead tweeted, their album had been streamed a couple of million times in one year, and they only made a thousand pound off it, or something like that. Music streaming has got its good points and its bad points. In regards to record labels trying to take control, I can only talk from our band’s experience… I think it’s a major label issue rather than an indie.”
Do you wish you had signed with a smaller label?
“I don’t know, I’m just happy to see what happens. We stood our ground about our own music, and it’s a good thing. I’ve heard bands that have obviously let their label dictate things and write their music for them, and then they try talking about artistic integrity. I’m not gonna say any names, but yeah.”
No, I understand, I could think of a few examples myself.
“Well that’s not us pal, we are well on the way to something good and everything is in place.”
Jordan’s confidence in his band’s success has rubbed off on me, and with promises of a debut album released sometime this year, and the knowledge that the lads have three albums worth of material at their beck and call, it’s hard not to believe this year is going to be a big one for the Scottish indie-rockers.
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