With sky-high choruses and soaring guitars balled up in a anthemic rock shell, Brighton quartet City of Ashes have a lot of potential as they return with their second album – ‘Rise’. Songs such as ‘Battles of My Youth’, ‘Save Me’, and ‘Sometimes’ carry themselves with a “bigger is better” aura with vocalist Orion Powell consistantly showing his ability to take center stage. Whereas ‘Bloodlust’ and ‘Confessions’ allows the four-piece make things a little bit more intense and darker.
The blend of uplifting and fierce songs makes ‘Rise’ an intriguing listen. So much so we wanted to find out what the whole record is about and how it came together. Cue vocalist Orion Powell who gave Already Heard this track-by-track guide to ‘Rise’.
How do you begin again? How do you start a new journey and redefine who you are as an artist and who you are as a band? I figure everyone ever who has had to approach a second album must have approached this question and, of course, the first track is so crucial to that. We decided we wanted to turn our world upside down and go dramatically the other direction from what we’d done with our first album which had huge chords and a statement that we had arrived. This was slower, more sinister and deliberate.
The process of this album took us to some dark places and this track, in many ways, was a statement of reemergence from those places.
Probably the most aggressive and unforgiving track on this record. Certain people in or connected with the band had been receiving threatening messages through the mail and over the phone. Messages that suggest they sever contact and association with the band or suffer the consequences etc. I was incensed. I’m personally not one who deals well with cowards like this hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard or phone dial pad and believing this gives them some kind of license to bully and threaten people. Essentially this track is a loud and rather pronounced “F**K YOU” to those individuals.
Battles of My Youth
James walked in to our rehearsal room one day and had a sound. It wasn’t fully developed but we were all immediately excited about it. I spent around two or three weeks writing and rewriting parts of it in almost feverous anticipation of what this song could be.
It’s an honest statement of what it feels like to work on something like this record and this band for as long as we have (this record is two years in the making). But I wanted more than that. For me this was a song for everyone. All the most amazing people I have had the pleasure of meeting have had their own struggles and this was also a song for them too. My dream since it’s inception has been to see and hear this song sung together by hundreds or thousands of people together.
The first song that was written for this whole album. Mainly I was writing about the one thing that panicked me the most about commencing a second record: “How the hell do I move on whilst remaining true to who I am?”. The first line, “I’m still holding to the things I couldn’t leave behind”, is actually a reference to our first album and trying to let go of that in order to free us up creatively. Vocally I got to try some new things on this and I really like some of the poetry in it. I know there’s at least one person who already has lyrics from it tattooed on them!
The very last track written for the record! We had a bunch of great songs but I was going crazy because I knew it was missing one track. One morning I woke up and knew it. Every part of the song was in my head exactly as it needed to be. We only had two rehearsal room sessions before we recorded it if I remember rightly. It put a lot of pressure on all of us to get it ready in time. Again it gave us the opportunity to try something new in the layered vocals which was incredibly gratifying and brought something different to the record.
Through the process of writing and recording this record, myself and James (Macdonald) struggling so hard to pay for it and the four of us still touring the last album, we have missed a lot in our own lives. It’s been a particularly tough mental struggle for me. I found myself thinking about the people I love and miss the most and remembering a simpler time; hanging out by the river back in Ireland with my cousin and a couple of friends. It’s funny, I suppose, how the simple memories are often the ones that stay with you so vividly and so fondly. In a way it’s a track that laments the time we miss with the people most important to us.
It’s an emotional track for me (as much of this record is) but I think you can particularly hear it in some parts of this song.
If you’re a history nerd like me then you’ll get the reference. ‘Iliad’ was one of the most fun songs on this record to do. We changed up our own process again and recorded the whole thing with an electronic drum pad and some bizarre guitar/bass pedal effects. It was nice to get out of writing in a standard verse/chorus/verse type mentality and tell a more linear story.
Again subject wise it studies the process of writing a record and trying to get it out, the struggles within personal lives that often suffer as a consequence and also again my struggles against my demons… There are plenty.
‘Bloodlust’ is a song about the nature of ambition. How ruthless you’re willing to be to get what you want. Everyone draws that line in a different place but for me I’ve never been able to sit back and let my aspirations give way to comfort etc. It’s seems instinctive.
We had a fan, who has since become a friend, and wrote to me some while back about her own mental health issues. She was going through a really tough time and (although I don’t think she knew it at first) I have enough of experience dealing with that myself. This song is basically based on the conversation I had with her, my perspective of my own life and what advice I felt able to offer. For those who listen passively I suppose it’ll be seen as “depressing” and by nature it is… That’s exactly what we’re talking about after all. However, for those that choose to listen a little deeper and for me, it’s more a song about what you can achieve in spite of that. The song itself is something that was achieved whilst there were no bright colours in the world for me, just shades of dark and grey.
I grew up in a lot of places (Saudi, Canada, the US, Ireland, England) and have made friends of just about every religion I’ve ever heard of. It’s an experience I’m incredibly pleased to have had because it’s basically made me immune to the religious bigotry I hear so damn often. The only thing I’ve found as stupid as the people who state “religions are the reason we have wars” are the people who try and force their religion down your throat in a “you must follow my doctrine or you’re wrong” kind of way. Essentially I was writing in this song about the second group I mentioned here. It’s essentially my reaction to those individuals.
To clarify though I’m not anti religious at all. I just believe all the intelligent people I’ve met agree that generally speaking religions come down to two points: 1) Be nice to people 2) Don’t believe you’re the most important thing in creation. If you can do those two things you can call it whatever the heck you want and the chances are you’ll live as a pretty decent person.
We Own the Night
Another one of these unusual little tracks that I’m so glad we managed to find a home for on this record. In a way, these unusual dark tracks really provide the undercurrent and theme of the album. Which is actually a pretty good metaphor for the record, and our experience working on it. I guess lyrically it’s my way of taking ownership or responsibility for my work on the record. My way of saying “it may be darkness but it’s my darkness and this is what I’ve done with it.”
My brother, James, once described one of our favourite records to me as best listened to lying on the floor in a dark room through headphones. If I wanted people to do anything with this record this would be it. Take the time. There’s more in there than you’d think.
‘Rise’ by City of Ashes is released on March 25th.