Fresh off their recent tour with Have Mercy, A Will Away spoke to our writer, Harriet Stanley to discuss the anniversary of EP Bliss, as well as the brutally honest truths of being a band on tour and the difficulties of making a living out of music.
How were your shows with Have Mercy / So What Music fest?
AWA – Our shows with Have Mercy were a blast! The shows were great, everyone on the tour got along really well, and our audiences were very engaging for the most part. Definitely one of the better tours we’ve done. The fest was a good time! I don’t know that I’d call it overwhelming, but the process of playing a fest is distinctly different from playing at a venue. Festival shows can be stressful if you aren’t prepared but our team does a solid job of making sure we’re as well informed as we can be going into a show like that.
If you had to pinpoint just one favorite moment from both the festival and the tour, what would it be and why?
AWA – Not so much a favorite moment, but a favorite night. Chicago was without a doubt the best stop on our tour. Good food, good hangs with the Have Mercy dudes, and an incredible audience to boot. Sub-T had an energy to it that night that I really can’t describe. The locals who played were excellent and the tour package really got a chance to shine.
Whilst on tour, what happens in the typical day of A Will Away?
AWA – It all starts a few days before the tour. Does all the gear work? (Probably not— one of your pedals makes this funny noise when you step on it or your guitar’s input has been cutting in and out at practice). Do we own a van right now? Does it presently function? Is it legal to drive? Have we inventoried all the merch? Once those questions are answered affirmatively and the van is packed up you step into the van for the first day of tour and you effectively enter another dimension. For the next few weeks you aren’t a member of civilized society no matter how polite, friendly, or cordial you try to be. People will give you strange looks, you will start to smell, and your van IS a police target whether or not you want it to be. You have a six hour drive to get to your first venue. Whoever got the most sleep last night drives first. Gear mishaps WILL happen the first night of tour for someone on the package. It’s okay though, asking your tour mates to borrow gear is a fantastic ice-breaker during sound checks on the first night. You won’t be happy with your set the first night out. The band hasn’t been on the road in a little while and everything’s a bit rusty. No matter how much you practice, adjusting back to venues from your practice space will always throw you for a loop for a night or two. Regardless, the audience the first night of tour usually has a great energy and everyone feeds off of that energy. After your set you socialize with friends and fans alike (often times one becomes the other) and you help to keep the merch moving. After the last band plays and the final merch rush is over you load all of the gear and merch out of the venue and typically whoever opted out of their drink tickets/the beer in the greenroom drives next. You have a nine-hour overnight drive to the next venue— naps and coffee breaks are customary. After a while things start to click. The tour becomes profitable if you put on great shows, interact with the people who came out, and generally stay responsible with your spending. Occasionally a hotel is a great option but most nights you’ll either sleep in the van or at a friends house (or a friend of a friend’s house) along the way. Eating right is a challenge and at first but eventually you find a balance. Make no mistake though— it really is a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. Food will be scarcer than you’d like it to be. Bathrooms are much harder to come by in the less-populated portions of the country and often times if your van breaks down there may be sixty miles between you and the nearest AAA towing station. Creature-comforts are very real things for someone on the road. Sometimes those little indulgences are the only thing that keep you sane. For the most part though, touring is incredible. For a lot of people the Great American RoadTrip is a romanticized concept and often times is something they only get to experience once or twice in their lives. We get to enjoy that little piece of the “American Dream” more often and it comes with the added bonuses of connecting with some really unbelievable people and seeing the world first hand. I know for some bands the issue of being stuck in a van with a handful of greasy guys can become contentious; but over time we’ve really come to love and understand each other like family. I think that helps us keep a positive outlook and it benefits us all both on and off stage to know that we truly have each other’s backs.
On March 20th, Bliss marked its one year anniversary which is pretty exciting! The record seemed to be a big turning point for you guys as you’d scrapped previous material before writing it, but at what point did you realize that you wanted to change course with your material?
AWA – To put it simply the record that we were writing before Bliss materialized just wasn’t a good representation of who we were. I think our band went through a bit of an identity crisis around the same time that we began writing that set of songs. We’d lost a couple of members in the years previous. We were in the middle of our third year of DIY touring and there really didn’t seem to be a clear path for our band to succeed. We’d always written music to cater to audiences that were constantly outgrowing their own preferences much in the same way that we were. When we found out for sure that we weren’t going to have the money to produce a full-length record we opted to scrap the music we’d been working on and hit the ground running with a new perspective. Instead of attempting to cater our music or our sound for anyone; we wrote a floaty, guitar driven, rock-centric EP that was the essence of who we are as people. We put our heart and soul and the absolute fiber of our being into Bliss and we finally got the response we’d been working for our entire lives. It was a huge lesson for us as both people and songwriters. With Bliss people have been responding on one hand because they consider it to be good music but even more importantly; on the other hand they’ve responded because it’s genuine. For the first time we allowed the world to see us for who we are and frankly, we’ll never make the mistake of hiding behind sub-culture conventions ever again.
A new LP is currently in the works; what has the recording process been like?
AWA – If I said we’d fallen into any sort of a routine I’d be lying. This new record is a continuation of the themes we started to tackle on Bliss but it’s also an homage to the last sixty or so years of rock and roll music. As songwriters we’ve always taken massive influence from both classic and modern rock bands of all different genre stylings— I think on this LP we’ve finally found a way to blend the entirety of those influences into our sound. With Bliss we got the chance to experiment a bit but the run-time didn’t allow for us to fully flesh out each idea as much as we’ d have liked. With our LP we’ve taken the time to sharply hone the sounds on the record into something that is both cohesive all the way through as well as completely unique from moment-to-moment. We’re excited to share this record to say the least. We’ve always tried to top ourselves with every release. We just wrapped up this LP and I’m already reeling on how to top it next time.
How did the opportunity come about to play with Real Friends on their Long Island date of the $5 Tour? Do you think that more bands should follow in Real Friends’ footsteps to provide more affordable shows for fans, or is it simply not that easy?
AWA – Shortly before Real Friends announced the $5 tour we were at lunch with Fred from Triple Crown and Jason, our booking agent. Jason asked us if we were interested in playing the Long Island date and it happened to fall right in line with the tour we were doing with Have Mercy so it made sense for us. Not to mention we got to play in a wrestling ring which was definitely one of our cooler venue experiences. We definitely back Real Friends making this tour a more affordable and intimate experience for their fans; but to answer your question— no it really isn’t always that easy for most bands. The truth is that rock bands of all shapes and sizes are struggling to make a living in their markets especially when compared to modern pop acts. Bands make the bulk of their living on the road, from venue payouts and merch sales. Streaming services like Spotify have done a lot to bring money back to smaller musicians but the honest fact is that most bands these days are more reminiscent of event/clothing brands than they are of the rock bands of the 70’s/80’s/90’s. Real Friends making the decision that they made and being in a position to do so certainly speaks volumes about the quality of their character and the way they treat their fans. It also (I hope) speaks volumes about the positive direction that the industry is headed in for smaller rock bands.
You’ve recently announced a slot on an upcoming show called, “Jersey for Bernie”, can you tell us a little more about the festival and why you got involved?
AWA – “Jersey for Bernie”, is a fundraising event on April 10th for the Sanders campaign in NJ that we’ve chosen to get involved in during some of our downtime. We aren’t a politically motivated band by any stretch of the imagination but I think that we can all agree that this presidential election cycle has become abnormally important. It’s imperative that individuals who aren’t typically involved in the political process choose to get involved this time around and I’d like to think that this fundraiser (as well as casting our votes) constitutes us doing our part. As people we often choose to take a more apathetic and nihilistic world-view (see Bliss) and we aren’t normally the type to voice a strong political opinion; but it’s become impossible to ignore the unique challenges that our generation faces with the current political and social establishments. We feel that Sanders more accurately voices and fights for our views than any other candidate currently running in the primary. Regardless of your opinion though— please vote. It matters to all of us.
What else can we expect from A Will Away in the rest of 2016?
AWA – More music, more shows, and generally more good times! Although we don’t have any specifics to share at the moment, we’re extremely excited to get back out onto the road and we’re even more excited to share this new LP with the world. 2016 is gonna be a good year— I can feel it.