Some musicians claim to have been “catapulted” to stardom. But for the Scottish band Bwani Junction, the road to success has been a slow-maturing and a moderate unfolding. It took a few years for the four members, Rory Fairweather, Jack Fotheringham, Dan Muir, and Fergus Robson, to create and publish their debut album that they recorded at the legendary Glasgow studio Chem 19 with the award-winning producer Paul Savage, who is known for his work with Franz Ferdinand, Brakes, Mogwai, and Teenage Fanclub.
The boys started playing together at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh in their early teens. They gigged around the city and gradually built up a loyal audience. Last July the band made history by becoming the first group to play on the iconic Forth Rail Bridge over the Firth of Forth in the East of Scotland. This famous bridge has one of the longest single spans in the world. The musicians were hoisted up 300 feet to a specially built platform where they played and shot video footage.
Bwani Junction released its new single “Civil War” in April 2013, a song that gives the first peek off their highly anticipated forthcoming album. The band was invited to play the track at the historic Abbey Road studios in London last November as part of a series of acoustic sessions hosted by Absolute Radio and the famous studios.
Recently during a rare moment of spring sunshine in Central London, THE BOMBER JACKET met the band on a rooftop terrace at the Gibson Guitar studio, talking about the state of British music today. The conversation covered the music scene in the U.K.–how the industry sometimes seems to have become a suffocating atmosphere for some fledgling bands. The guys were quick to agree:
“It’s a bit mad at the moment–so many bands–it’s much more difficult than it has ever been to break through, in the way that you can make a living out of it anyway. It is full of every kind of genre and sub-genre that you can possibly think of,” the band said. “It’s over-saturated out there. And there has never been a period that has been so bad for bands, budget-wise. It’s so hard to get a foothold.”
Read the interview below to learn about how the band has been progressing in the competitive industry abroad and what they’re doing to prepare for their career in music.
THE BOMBER JACKET: So, musically, how does Bwani Junction fit in, especially in this over-saturated market?
Bwani Junction: Maybe we just do not fit in. Maybe that’s part of it. We have seen that there is a slow rebirth of the guitar band–especially in Scotland–even though there are a lot of bands coming out of the woodwork. For us, we stick at just being a guitar band. We know who we are and what we are. And we’re trying to stick to the formula. We have a good team behind us, and we want to work–work hard if we need to–to get to the next level.
There’s a strong Celtic sound to your album–that must have attributed to your loyal following?
Certainly, the first album has a Celtic sound to it. There are a couple of “diddly-diddly dee” jiggy riffs in it.
Your 2011 album Fully Cocked had a lot of fiddly, downwards spiraling guitars reeling through it. It sounded very Scottish to me.
The sound of the new album is quite a bit heavier. We use distortion. We did not use distortion on the first record at all. The songs and the vibes of each new track are more thrashy…they are a bit more in-your-face.
We probably could not have used distortion on our first outing. We sort of semi-regarded it as cheating. You play a chord. Blurred. And it sounds amazing. And you might think, “Wow, that was good.” But you are not gonna to write a beautiful song that way. If you take that one chord and play it in an acoustic set, it is going to sit a bit awkwardly.
The Afro-beat in the first record is quite prominent. And there are elements of it in our second record too–but it’s more of a subtle influence. It will always be something for us. But, at the same time, we want to develop our sound on this new album. We want to do it in a little more funky way. We do not want it to be a copy of the previous album.
With all of that groove, I was wondering if the public should be dancing to Bwani Junction?
Yes, we’d like people to dance to our music. Actually, we were playing in a friend’s garage in Clapham (South London) last night. It was getting late and some shady characters started coming out of the woodwork. And this random guy came in, took off his jacket, grabbed a beer, and began to dance to our stuff. It was great.
We had our single “Civil War” remixed by Lyer from Manchester and also by Discopolis from Edinburgh so we have two different dance mixes already available for that song. They are two completely different styles–Discopolis is a “summertime” version and the Lyer mix is a bit more unhinged. It’s a thoroughly modern take on it.
[I noticed that lead guitarist Dan Muir (the self-confessed geek of the band) was wearing what looked like a faded and much loved Bhundu Boys T-shirt.]
Has Zimbabwe’s Bhundu Boys been an influence for you?
Technique wise, definitely yes. They were a big influence. I grew up with them and even lived with them for a while. [Dan Muir’s father, Gordon, once managed the Bhundu Boys and Muir himself received some guitar lessons from BBs band member, Rise Kagona.]
I played with Rise when I was in a very early stage of the game–maybe I copied a bit of his technique. I think I was copying his guitar technique rather than “trying to be African” though.
I heard that Bwani Junction are playing a gig at The Arches in Glasgow on May 30 with Kagona?
Yes, it will be as a prelude to us going to Malawi. We hope to get together enough money to be able to go out [to the City of Stars Lilongwe]. That should be very interesting.
What other influences does the band have? What about Little Comets, for example?
Yes, we did a tour with the Little Comets. They definitely have that kind of East African vibe about them as well. The combination [with us] was a great success. We came away from those shows with the largest amount of fans. A lot of people followed us on Facebook and Twitter after those shows. Little Comets was the first great band that we played with (when we were about 16). And we actually thought, “They are amazing. Wouldn’t it be great if we could play like them?”
We liked their stubborn decision making and their attitude toward music. We could see that they were a close group of friends and this was reflected in their music.
We liked the stance of the Little Comets (when it comes to the music business) and we admired their decision-making attitude. They have an independent streak, and we respect it. They know what they want and what path they want to take. We admire that.
How did the band connect to producer Paul Savage (former drummer with The Delgados) when working on the recordings? Was he a hard task master?
Paul is a very nice man. He’s so gentle, but always gets his way. He is always right. And we always come around to his way of thinking in the end. (Even though we do not always agree with him at the beginning.)
We always say that he has a really gentle way of telling you that something is shit. He once said that something we did was “Brilliant. It is actually incredible …” But then he went on to say, “But don’t put it in.”
We’re a strange project. We know that we are not easy to work with. We can be very intense at times. That’s why Paul Savage suits us down to the ground. He is a delicate influencing factor. We do not think that it would work for us if there were too many other strong opinions flying around.
In your first songs, you tended to describe a lot of colorful characters from your neighborhood. Was that intentional?
It’s one thing that a lot of bands do in their first few songs. You write about the city that you know. You have not yet toured any place else. Literally, no one knows another place to be to be able to describe it. But we also wanted to create images in people’s minds. And we wanted to do some name-dropping. We wanted to make it a recognizable world that people could relate to.
When we were writing “Roots Too Deep” [from the album Fully Cocked ] we were actually looking out the window, and it was really bizarre. We saw a lot of people we knew. And this is what the song is all about: Being part of where you are and the people you know. We had seen “Platypus Man” with the hair, we saw the faces of friends and a lot of characters that we knew. We also saw Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit. While we were just looking out the window. It was really weird.
And it is very important for us to cry out and say that we are from Edinburgh, Scotland. We see new bands all the time and they are often a bit nervous and embarrassed about where they come from. Sometimes they whisper their home town. But we are proud of our origins.
When I heard you play “Civil War” acoustically at Abbey Road, it struck me that it was quite a sad song.
Yes, it’s a song about being jealous and how jealousy ruins your relationship. It is accessible. It relates to any experiences that you might have had. The song is open to a few different interpretations. Yet you know what the song is about, without it being too cryptic. That’s how we like to write material. So that it can mean different things to different people. But, yes–we think you are right to feel sad.
Did the band enjoy playing it acoustically?
No, we prefer to play it as a full band–definitely. Abbey Road was still fun, though. We used to detest playing acoustically. We never did it. We only practiced playing acoustic songs from time to time. But we have now learned that it’s really a good way to write new material, and to flesh out a song. It helps when you are working out harmonies. So, now we do a lot of practice acoustically. But we express much more on stage when we play full electric. It is our bread and butter really. We go really wild on stage.
Finally, what will the band bring to the American public when they go on tour to the United States?
If we ever get to America, we will bring our Scottish drinking games, some rare animals and a bit of mischief. We think that the scene needs to be shaken up a little. It all seems a bit safe there now.
And what do you mean by “mischief”?
Well, the last time we played with [English rock band] The Vaccines, it was at the Hard Rock Cafe. Everyone was hanging around, and we were with Freddie (Freddie Cowan). After the show, he began tearing down those guitars from the wall…you know, those special display guitars. He ripped down Jeff Beck’s display guitar from the wall and he started playing it. People were coming over and saying “You cannot do that.” And he was growling “I’ll do what I want.” Finally, he got kicked out [of the restaurant] for his behavior.
Where do you think you will be next year?
We hope that by next year we will be signed. We would like to be making a living from our music. We will continue to write stuff. We have a large body of work already.
We will go out and tour, then we will book time [at a studio] and work on some more songs. We will probably give some more gems to Paul Savage and then write loads and loads more…
But we need a bit of stuff to happen before then so that we can write about it. Scottish Independence. Now that’s a thing … Maybe that will be our next major project to write about.
Whether they were joking or not remains to be seen.
“Civil War” and bonus tracks are out now.