Brighton, UK rockers City of Ashes have blended the line between post-hardcore and pop-rock. With a hope-filled sophomore record under their belt, Rise became an album that was two years in the making. The band self-funded the record and put everything they had into it, emerging victorious on the other side of the recording process with a record they are more than proud to stand behind. I spoke with vocalist Orion Powell over Skype. We talked about the making of Rise, their incredible new endeavor 'The Something Project', how they ended up "accidentally" opening up on Trapt's European tour, and much more.
How are you, man? It's great to finally talk to you.
I'm good, thanks man! I just got out of rehearsal. It's been a fairly long day, but things are pretty long always, at this period.
How long do rehearsals usually run for just a general band practice?
It's so hard to tell; it really just depends on what's going on, whether it's the pressure of a new tour, or getting ready for a new recording session. We've been in there, sometimes starting at 7 PM, and going until maybe four in the morning. Usually, we like to try and wrap it up by ten or eleven o'clock without going too crazy.
For sure. You start to get stir-crazy if you're in there too long.
We just to a new rehearsal room, which is really nice. We were in the old rehearsal room we had for about four or five years, so we needed a change of scenery before we all went nuts.
I really liked 'Rise'. When I listened to it, it had a post-hardcore element to it, but the vocals were very reminiscent of bands like Thirty Seconds to Mars or The Academy Is.... It felt like pop-rock mixed with post-hardcore. When you went into write and record this, how did you pool all of your influences together?
Well, thank you so much for saying that. It means a lot to hear that you loved listening to it. Usually it starts with us in the rehearsal room. We'll sit there in the room, playing around, and my brother James (usually) will have some sort of sound on the guitar that I'll attach to. I'll go, 'that sound, right now, at the moment we're in, is the one I know how to build a song around'. We'll start from there. It sort of changes as the record progresses through the writing.
The first couple of songs we wrote for the album were "Walk Away" and "Battles of My Youth". When you come up with those first couple of tracks, you go, 'okay, now we've got a couple of tracks that are not just filler.' It adds meats to the bones. It gives you a personality. You can start to mold the record around that personality.
With the song "Sometimes", you guys did a music video/short film. I think what you guys did with that song was really inspiring because it brought The Sometimes Project to life. You guys made a safe space for people online to come and talk about their problems, and you guys have helped a lot of people. How do you even come up with an idea like that?
It's kind of a bizarre thing. We were writing the record, and this girl who found our band started talking to us and telling us what was going on with her. We didn't know her as well at the time, but we've gotten to know her a lot better since. She was so ill, and very emotional to think about. She was bulimic, got ill, and was hospitalized. She starting writing to us and going "Thank you so much for this song" that was on our first record. That was nuts to me, to think that me writing about some of the darkest periods of life that I had experienced and my own struggles with depression had resonated with someone else going through difficult things. It's almost mathematical: two negatives become a positive. There was always something to that.
The story of the song is really me just talking to her, and about my own experiences. But you can't just say to someone with depression, "oh, I know how you feel". It sounds so contrived and kind of bullshit. Going through that, I just talked to her. I thought that if this was happening to two people, maybe it was happening on a much larger scale. I think the online community now has about 1700 members, and we were hoping that with the concerts, we could maybe create an annual thing. We raised over £2200. If you do the exchange rate with dollars, that's gotta be coming onto about $5,000. That was huge that we could do something that was so significant. We are really pleased that we can do someone.
We're not selling out stadiums or anything like that, but where we are, and whatever small standing we have, I think that we have a responsibility to do what we can and try to make the world a better place.
On the topic of battling depression and finding a way to express it, when you're writing these songs and expressing what you're going through, what goes through your head when you have that moment of, "Okay, I have to try and explain what I'm going through, through lyrics." Is it an intense process, or does it feel more natural?
It really varies song to song. I guess it's like any project you work on. With "Sometimes", we spent about a month writing the song. With some of the others, some of it will just fall out within a couple of hours. It's really hard to say song to song. I guess it's like any project where some days, it just falls out, and then other days you really need to think about the subject matter, sit and reflect.
With this particular album, about how long did the process last for you guys in terms of doing pre-production, all the way to the finalized version that we hear today.
Oh man, so long. (laughs) I'd love to say that we just walked into the studio and we made it. It was about two years, because we're completely independent. We don't have a label or anything like that. Myself and my brother James funded the whole record entirely. We just doing shitty bar jobs and things like that. It took a long time to scrape together [the money] and get it done. We're fortunate to have a good friend of ours, Matt (who produced the record) who was incredibly patient with us.
I'm glad that it's finally out now so everyone can hear it. On the topic of the album, what does the title Rise represent for the theme of the record?
The first record that we did has kind of a poppy sound to it. But when you really sit there and go through it lyrically...it's interesting to go back and look at it, because I can go, 'wow, I was really not well.' I was not in a good place. I'd had a pretty significant end of a long term relationship at the time. I had found out that my father in Arizona was very, very ill. All of these ridiculous things just kept happening, one after the other. My good friend that I had lived with got some ridiculously rare disease that shredded his kidneys. Every single time [something bad] happened, I thought, 'at least it can't get any worse.' And then this crazy left-wing thing would come in. Like, they said the chances of [my friend] getting this illness was one in a million. That's how many people get affected by it. About every time you could go, "this is as bad as it's going to get", something worse would happen.
While I'm proud of that record, it was in some ways a painful process to go through. When we were going to the second record, we were trying to prove ourselves in a way as this completely unsigned band. We actually did things on the record where we could go, "you know what? We achieved something." We went out accidentally on tour with, you know the California band Trapt? We accidentally ended up on tour with them, which was the most bizarre thing in the world.
How did you 'accidentally' end up on tour with Trapt? (laughs)
Basically, we'd been out to Wales and played there so many times, and all over this country. A friend of mine who ran a venue [in Wales] had booked Trapt. I sent him a message and send, "look, I'm more than sure that you have this sorted, but if it comes up, if there's an opening slot, we'd love to be there." I didn't think any more of it. A few weeks later, he wrote me back, basically saying, "hey! So, I can't afford to pay an opening band, it's too expensive right now. But if you want the slot, it's yours." I was like, "we'll take it. We'll do it for free." So it was Trapt and another California band called Death Valley High (based in San Francisco). They had a sound sort of like Deftones, almost Marilyn Manson-esque.
We go to do this show, and it was meant to be our last show of the year. We thought, 'screw it. We'll have a big blow out.' We were in this town called Swansea, a generic Welsh town. We ended up in the last bar that was open, drunk off our faces, early in the morning. This was like a dive bar, the one you'd go to in a small town that's open until 3 AM. We were all a mess, and [the guys in Trapt] were like, "Man, this is so fun! Isn't this so fun?! We should do this again tomorrow! We have a sold out show in London tomorrow, do you guys want to come play?" We were like, "yeah, sure!" It was one of those bar room conversations you have where you're like, "nothing will come of this!"
We get a call at 10 AM the next day from their tour manager, asking, "Hey are you guys driving yet? You guys are opening the show tonight. You've gotta get your asses on the road and over to London." This happened again and again and again, through half of the tour with them. It was a really cool experience! We actually saw Death Valley High in Finland, and they said, "why don't you guys come out with us on a European tour with Orgy?" We're doing that tour through Germany and Europe next year.
It's crazy to see the sort of curveballs that like throws at you. To go back to what you were asking earlier about the album title, 'Rise' was exactly that. We had been through some things, and then we went, "here's the record that we can now stand behind". We're really proud of it. It came from that place of us proving to ourselves, as much as anybody else, that we could do it.
What does music mean to you?
You know, someone asked me this about a year ago. Honestly, to me, it's...the best word I can think of is communication. We're all storytellers, right? We're not that far removed from the medieval-wandering minstrels that were storytelling, wandering from town to town telling stories, a lot of which we still have today. To me, the human experience is not that different. We all have the same joys, sadnesses, hopes, and fears and a million other emotions. Whatever we do musically, or what anyone does,, whether as poets, or filmmakers, or whatever it is, we're sharing a story that has happened to us. For me, that's what I'd say.