Alex Forrest speaks to the latest BBC Introducing band to take off, AIRWAYS, about their adjustment to their newfound success.
Though you’ve probably not heard of them yet, AIRWAYS have come a long way in a short time. Their successes so far include appearances at Reading & Leeds, a BBC Introducing Track of the Week on Radio 1 and support slots with The Hunna and Nothing But Thieves.
They’re halfway through their first headline tour; though the venues are smaller than some, they’re played on support duties, it’s a big deal: ‘I think this tour’s its own kind of peak, because now people are paying to see us’, drummer, Brian tells me.
I talk to Jake, Alex, Jamie and Brian in their dressing room at The Camden Assembly.
AIRWAYS are a perfect example of the BBC Introducing effect. Having uploaded their track ‘Ghost Town’ in late 2015, they were picked up by their local Cambridgeshire show; exposure which led to an invitation to play the Introducing stage at R&L.
‘It was funny, because, for some reason when we got the email, it wasn’t in my inbox’, Brian tells me. ‘I randomly saw it in ‘Archive’ and I was like, ‘wait a minute, that can’t be real’.’
But what role has the BBC scheme which supplied the rocket boosters for artists such as Slaves, Blossoms and The 1975 played for AIRWAYS so far?
Jake takes this one: ‘It’s been super important for us. I mean BBC Introducing is amazing. If you think that they just sweep all the music across the UK, listen to everything and try to find the stuff that’s good’.
Brian agrees, ‘It’s the fact that they can take a song and take it from ‘OK someone made this in their bedroom’ and be like ‘OK this is good’ and put it on Radio 1 to like 10 million listeners.’
There’s little surprise AIRWAYS were picked out as some of that ‘good stuff’. Standing among the 4000 watching them open for Essex alt-rockers Nothing But Thieves at the Brixton O2 Academy in early December, there’s none of the nervous over-performance that so often plagues support bands, just a refreshing reliance on good songwriting, powerful riffs and raw energy.
That Brixton show, the boys tell me, is their highlight so far. Smashing through an assured, feisty set in front of 4000 at a legendary London venue after 12 months as a band certainly isn’t bad. Their rapid plunge into the support slot deep-end hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing, however: ‘Brixton was just mad. I don’t know how we got through that evening without throwing up’, Jake tells me. ‘I mean his [Brian’s] laptop broke 10 minutes before we went on’.
Brian weighs in. ‘I’m sitting there with 4000 people looking at me, swearing at my laptop – it worked about 30 seconds before we went on.’
Any similar worries about tonight’s show at The Camden Assembly? ‘We’re a lot better organized for this tour’, Brian assures me. Jake agrees: ‘Well people are buying tickets to see us, so it’s got to be good’.
No worries on that front either. AIRWAYS rock their way through a set packed with new material, to which a capacity crowd listens intently, picking up the choruses instantaneously and adding to the volume. Early on, the catchy ‘Ghost Town’ – their first release – draws a crescendo of noise from the merch-wearing, predominantly female front quarter of the room. ‘One Foot’, a stomping, guitar-driven romp with a veritable punch-in-the-face of a chorus riff and intelligent, autobiographical lyrics is their parting blow. The chorus, sung back at the stage, the realisation of over 850,000 Spotify listens.
The preeminent streaming service, integral to our listening culture today, if not universally popular, has been central to the band’s recent success. ‘We kinda got lucky’, Brian explains. ‘We got connected with the head of rock Alison Haggendorf and she really liked the song, so she just threw it on a load of playlists. Out of nowhere we started seeing loads of plays.’
That’s no surprise – AIRWAYS currently reside alongside veritable legends of rock on four Spotify-curated rock playlists. They’re still buzzing from it. ‘We were on this one called Walking like a Badass and it was just like the most outrageous bands, and then us’, Jake tells me.
‘Foo Fighters, Nivarna,’ Brian adds.
‘Every big band, and then us,’ says Alex, equally proud and perplexed.
Spotify is a big player. As music fans, we all love being able to listen to what we want, when we want, but, somewhat less reported, streaming services also supercharge things on the artists’ side. No longer do bands need to knock down the doors of every label in the land and prise CDs into the hands of agents and promoters. Now, a simple drag-and-drop into a Spotify playlist might just be your break. But AIRWAYS aren’t naive:
‘In this day and age, like as soon as iTunes came about, it was kinda the beginning of the end. It was like, ‘OK, no more album sales – get in the streaming game’.’ Brian has a steely look in his eye. He knows that whilst playing a headline tour less than 18 months into the life of your band is good news, this industry is no easy ride.
I ask the Chicago-born drummer if he thinks AIRWAYS could still have been in this position 10 years ago, in the pre-streaming world. ’I think it would be totally different. I think we would be just focused on different things at that point. Focussed less on digital, more on albums, physical sales’.
‘I guess you just have to do what it takes, don’t you,’ Jake adds.
There’s certainly no lack of work ethic here. These boys aren’t just going to blindly ride the Spotify wave.
‘For a lot of bands, it’s easy to get distracted and spend time with your friends, blah, blah, blah, etcetera,’ Brian muses.
’But we don’t have any friends,’ Jamie clarifies. Difficult to believe, but the band’s unusual make-up surely contributes to their drive. After their chance meeting in L.A in 2015, drummer Brian upped sticks and moved across the pond to live with lead singer and guitarist Jake and AIRWAYS took flight.
‘I mean I moved here from Chicago, so we’re kind of forced not to get distracted’, Brian explains. ‘I told Jake, ‘I’m moving to England, so long as everyone is 100% committed’.’
‘Yeah,’ jake agrees. ’We all just decided very early on that we’re all going to be 100% committed to this.’
The band’s supercharged rise continues next month with a trip to Austin for the eclectic, gig-a-minute festival of the new, SXSW. After that it’s a US tour through New York, Chicago (a home show for Brian), San Fransisco, and L.A. So how much does having a yank in the band help?
Jamie’s got no doubts: ‘We wouldn’t be able to do this without Brian’, he tells me.
‘It’s good because I’m pulling all my favours out. Like, we need a van here, we need a van there,’ Brian notes. ‘We don’t have to pay for hotels everywhere because I’ve got friends we can stay with’.
As for the rest of 2017? ‘Hopefully some more headline dates’, Brian tells me. ‘A few festivals booked, but we can’t say which yet’. They’ve learned the craft already these boys.
‘The EP [due out in April] will hopefully get us some more support tours’, Jake comments. They might be nearing a million listens – or 28 million mentions of the words ‘One Foot’ (Jamie’s done the maths) – but there’s no chance AIRWAYS are waiting for success to come to them.
Jake has the last word. ‘We just need to play some more gigs!’
Featured image: Gregor Forrest