interview: r51 ~ jonny woods

Appearances at Reading and Leeds Festival, a critically acclaimed debut EP and an ever increasing list of admirers has done little to inflate the ego of R51’s principle songwriter and co front-person Jonny Woods. The last few years may have been a whirlwind for his band, but as Encore NI would soon find out this is no reason to slow down and admire their achievements to date. Instead they find themselves on the brink of ‘No Chill’, a six track explosion of noise pirouetting dangerously close to ‘mini-album’ territory and due for release September 12th; we caught up with the guitarist on a rare day off…

Hi Jonny, firstly thanks for chatting to us! How you guys been?

Pretty good, pretty nervous, pretty excited, pretty relieved. All the emotional stages of releasing a new record...

It’s been a crazy year for the band so far, how did you find the writing process for ‘No Chill’ with so much happening?

Well, Most of these songs have been kicking about since just after/during “Pillow
Talk.” I think we released Pillow Talk in March 2015, and we started writing NO
CHILL around September/October 2015. We have a pretty regular routine of always
being together so yeah, it was written in between the hard gigging we did from
Pillow Talk onwards. How did we find the writing process? Really uplifting, then
really tough, depending on what point of 2016 we talk about. I suffered from pretty
heavy duty writers block in January 2016 that lasted a solid 6 months. Most songs
were actually recorded, scrapped, redone live, and lyrics were constantly being
trashed as we went along. 

It wasn’t really until Feb or March we decided “fuck this” and just felt like something
needed to be released. So when we put out the track Elephant earlier this year, the
reaction we had to it was a pretty uplifting experience. My “block” lifted, (with the
help of some important records that came into my life) I reduced my sad-boy level
(marginally), rewrote stuff, and came to terms with the rest of the songs again after.
Elephant was the last song written and the first one released. It’s most epitomising
where we are as a band right now.

You’ve also recently been announced on the bill for ATL’s 30th Birthday celebrations in The Ulster Hall – how do you feel about playing such an iconic venue?

Its a huge huge huge thing for us, it feels like probably the most important thing we
will have done to date. We have all seen so many of our heroes play that stage, and
to share it with modern-day heroes of ours is a serious trip. We are freaking out a
fair bit, and Mel is mainly worried in case she accidentally drops a swear word live
on air!

You’ve gigged an awful lot this Summer, it’s been almost a tour! Have you had a favourite gig or moment over the last few months?

By far a highlight for us was Stendhal Festival. We had a terrible time getting there
with our van breaking down, as well as a whole problem with the stage we were to
play originally and being moved last minute. We’ve been told there were even
Chinese whispers of when/where R51 would actually play among some of the
festival goers. When we actually let rip, we couldn’t believe the crowd that turned
out. Being not able to see the back of the sea of people was a serious thing for us,
but most importantly when we were done some friends of our heard people say to
each other “they were amazing!” and that was the most overwhelming feeling
because its a big deal to say those words in private between friends.

We’ve been lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the EP and it feels like it’s going to be a very special release indeed. Do you find you’re writing about the same subjects on this record your last one? Is there much correlation between ‘No Chill’ and ‘Pillow Talk’?

“Pillow Talk” was always a transitional record. It always had these really brave big
motifs and goals, but some songs were written a million years ago and with
different band members. We like to think NO CHILL is more connected and
grounded and although its a little prettier in some places and a little more lo-fi in
others, no matter what they are really still just songs about love and apathy, with a
pinch of humour and lots of self-deprecation.

I have the (probably old school) belief that no matter how short a release, be it an EP or an album, that it should be a rollercoaster and no two sounds should be identical. NO CHILL and Pillow Talk have that in common for sure!

You’re of course not just a musician and have produced a lot of music over the years, including the band! How important is it for R51 to keep that recording process a tight-knit experience between the five of you?

I’ve said publicly once before that I don’t want to produce the next record, but we
haven’t right now found the producer that we think could knock us up into the next
level and really believe in it, and any names in the hat are either too far away or our
bank account hasn’t hit that level yet. I think I am too close to the songs, and I want
to have someone I can have an argument with and who can tell me when to stop.
Because I am so close to the songs all the way through, when I suffer, the record
suffers. The band are amazing though, they push through my shite.

Do you have a favourite track off the new record?

Personally my favourite is “Surrender”. I’m really proud of Elephant and “A Perfect
Life” is a great example of us playing live, but Surrender really makes me smile. Mel
is really on form with it and the lyrics mean a lot to me.

Finally Jonny, ‘Pillow Talk’ was a massive release for your band last year, breaking a lot of ground both at home and across the water. What are your hopes for this one?

We want to keep evolving and hope that lots of people get something cool out of it.
Making records is tough, and we can only hope that not only some new people sort
of get the joke while we go on this journey together, but that it helps us grow and
keep pushing ourselves into new water. We absolutely love playing in a band
together and hopefully this and all our future records show that. 

Thanks Jonny!

'No Chill' is released on 12th September.

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