I had the pleasure of speaking with Orion Powell, lead vocalist for Sussex rock band City of Ashes. I spoke with him about the band's most recent album, "All We Left Behind", his songwriting process, and more. Check it out!
You guys have been around since 2009. What’s something important that you’ve learned after being in this band for so long?
There’s a lot of stuff. I guess, with anything that you do, the more that you do, the more shows and recording you do, you just look back and go “Ah man! I can’t believe we used to do things that way!” I think like the first few years of it were almost not really band. We didn’t really, really consider it as a serious thing until about two years ago, when we started working on our EP.
November of last year saw the release of your full-length album “All We Left Behind.” How would you say that the material on this album differs in comparison to the “Then There Was a Hand in the Darkness” EP?
Well two of the songs that were on the EP also appeared on the album. They were actually the last ones that we wrote. I think we wrote them two or three weeks before we went into the studio and we threw away some old stuff. I think if you listen to the EP, on the three tracks that didn’t make it, you can hear that they have this kind of post-hardcore feel, from bands that we love like Thursday, Funeral For A Friend, all those guys. Whereas when we wrote “Falling Star”, that became the start of us really becoming our own band, and not doing what everyone else does, which is try to emulate their heroes in some way when they start.
“All We Left Behind” is definitely a story. It’s a really self contained, sort of, eighteen months in my life that I was writing about. It was a huge step for us.
What was the writing process like for the album?
Hard. (laughs). Really hard. Essentially, at the start of it, we were having… it was one stupid cataclysmic tragedy after another. My father came down with a very rare autoimmune sickness in Arizona. It was attacking his central nervous system, so he was under threat of paralysis. My roommate came down with a stupidly rare autoimmune sickness that was attacking his lungs and kidneys. Myself and my brother, James, had a close bereavement in the family. I ended a four year relationship. It was just this mess of stuff, and every time you went, “Well it can’t any worse!” And then the next week, something stupidly awful would happen.
So really, it’s about how I felt that I was so completely fucked by the start of the album. It starts with “Highest Point of Living” and “Falling Star”. It really doesn’t get any lower. It’s really sort of about building back up and saving your own ass, if you like. That’s kind of what happened with that.
As the lyricist, where do you draw inspiration from? Do you tend to write about one specific subject, or is it all over the board?
It was focused, in the sense, that it was about what was really going on for me at the time. In that sense, it was quite a linear sort of record. I guess some of them are more sort of really, really depressing songs. But some of them, like “Masks”, which is the next single coming out, are much more sort of societal based. Songs like that were about me as I was starting to feel better and sort of looking at the world or society that I was trying to fit back into, and the issues I was finding with that. I guess it’s kind of fairly wide spread. They were all, certainly on this record, very much looking out, as opposed to coming back.
What’s your lyric writing process like?
It’s really different, I think. I try to be as honest as I can with it, which means that because you’re in a different place every time, you have to go back to where you were at that time. I try to find sort of a sense of quiet for myself. I’ll quite often take long bus rides somewhere, take a train trip, walk, or just sit by myself in a room. I’ll try to dim the lights and get into my headspace a bit more that way. Very few of the songs on this record were written when we were all in the room together. I think maybe three were written that way when we all got into that zone, and it just sort of flowed out.
What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Man…I guess, in some sense, I still write songs for a teenage me, from when I was growing up. The things that I loved and took from music. That sense of awe and inspiration, whether I’m down and out, or excited as hell, someone on the other end of that gets my thing. I guess I want it to be a positive thing. Some sense of inspiration and belonging, because I know I needed that when I was growing up. I guess I think the human condition is not that different. If you can write something honestly, people can tap into that very same joy, pain or fear that we all have. I’d like them to feel a sense of belonging, and a sense of not being so alone.
What does music mean to you?
That is a monumental question. I think that the most distinct way that I can put it would be communication. It’s the best way that I know to communicate. I love that. I love being able to go out and play to big audiences and feel that you’re all part of something because of these sounds that have brought you together. Or to know that someone somewhere is listening to a record we made because of that. That’s kind of cool to me.
Any future plans that you want to let fans know about?
There’s loads of stuff going on! After I get done talking to you, I’m heading down to our rehearsal space. The boys are setting up there now, and this is our last rehearsal of a couple of new songs before we start demoing them on Friday for about four or five days, which we’re really excited about. We think it’s some of the best stuff that we’ve ever written. We’ve got a music video coming out. We shot it on a Welsh military base. That was fun! It was the first one that I’ve completely produced as well, so it’s a lot of fun too.
We’re heading out on tour at the end of this month, which takes us through to mid-October. Then we’ll go a bit quieter, and do a bit of writing through the end of the year, so yeah there’s so much stuff going on! It’s a really nice place to be at, starting the process now which will become another record, which is so much more positive and so much more enjoyable then when we started the last record.
City of Ashes' "All We Left Behind" is available now!
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