UTG INTERVIEW: A Will Away Talk ‘Bliss,’ Rock And Roll At Skate And Surf Festival

a will away

A Will Away are riding high on the release of Bliss, their latest EP which dropped in March via Quiet Fire Media. The band delivered one of the biggest performances of the weekend at New Jersey’s Skate and Surf Festival in May, and hit the road last week with Light Years, Head North, and Casey Bolles for a full U.S. Summer run.

We had the chance to catch up with lead singer/guitarist Matt Carlson and guitarist Collin Waldron at Skate and Surf Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey to talk about their new music, influences, touring, and the shape of rock to come.

UTG: You guys put out an EP earlier this year called Bliss — how was the experience recording it?

Matt Carlson: It’s been really cool, man. We’re really excited about the EP. We’re really excited to be playing it, the response to it has been enthusiastic. We kinda just gave it our all and we’re really happy with what we got out of it.

Collin Waldron: I think playing Bliss at Skate and Surf today was my favorite part about it so far. We got to see all the homies and shit, and rock and roll. It was great.

I think Gary Cioffi was a good producer choice for you guys. What’s working with him like?

CW: I think he really helped us find our sound, our tone. We had an idea of where we wanted to go with these songs, and we had structures, but he really helped us piece them together and make them as strong as they could be.

MC: He really did it so gracefully, you know? It wasn’t forced at all.

CW: Yeah, he wasn’t like, “You’re gonna play it this way.” We just sat there until it sounded right. Didn’t matter if it was ten seconds, thirty seconds, or the whole song. We would just figure it out.

You guys have a great live sound, and I think you’re kind of known for that. I think the struggle would be finding a producer that could just capture that. It’s easy live when you have a good sound guy but recording that is a different atmosphere.

CW: And that was the coolest part about working with Gary. The first few days we were there, he just watched us play. He said, “Bring what you use on stage, come into the studio, and I’m gonna listen to you guys play. Bring the songs you want to record, I’ll listen to them, and we’re gonna keep going over it until we get somewhere that we can call it a song.”

This is something I’ve heard, and I’m not sure if it’s entirely true or not, but you had a bunch of songs written and scrapped them, right?

MC: We had an entire full-length, or like, two thirds of an entire full-length, and we scrapped it.

CW: Yeah he had a lot of song ideas.

MC: Yeah, a lot [laughs]. But we scrapped them all three weeks before we went into the studio, and we wrote Bliss in those three weeks, and we brought it to Gary’s, and it became what it is now in the studio.

CW: Some of the songs on Bliss– there are riff ideas that might have been there or melodies that might have been there, but we’ll have pokey sections where we go from song to song. If we write a song, we might say, “We don’t like this whole part, but we like this one section,” and I feel like those start to pop up when we just play naturally.

Is there any reason you guys decided to get rid of all of those songs, or were you just not feeling them?

MC: It sucked [laughs].

CW: It just wasn’t our best work and we knew it wasn’t our best work.

MC: We were about to go into the studio with something under our belt that we knew wasn’t the best we could do, so we decided that instead of just morphing it into something better, just start from scratch and hit the drawing board.

I think that was a good idea because Bliss is kind of a turning point for you guys in terms of recognition. You’d want to have your best on paper there.

MC: Absolutely.

A Will Away Skate and Surf

You guys have some really incredible gear I’ve noticed. Matt, you built your guitar right?

MC: Yeah, it’s a Parts-caster. It’s a bunch of different pieces of things I like the most about electric guitars, so I put them all together in one guitar. I really enjoy it; it’s just comfortable for me. It’s cool to go play songs you wrote with gear you worked on yourself.

I can’t remember the name of the band for the life of me, but this band put out a record recently where they like cut down trees and built guitars to record this one album [ed: The Ongoing Concept’s new record, Handmade].

MC: It’s like a religious experience [laughs]. You have to start from scratch.

CW: I bet they were like, “Okay, we’re making an album. What do we need first? Wood.”

MC: “We need to grow trees!”

CW: “Let’s grow trees with our urine and then build guitars out of them.” [laughs]

MC: Make sure that ends up in the interview. [laughs]

Collin, you play a Squier right?

CW: Yeah, it’s an ’89 Indonesian. I thought it was older, but some guy just told me. It’s an ’89 from Indonesia. My dad got it for like $90.

MC: It’s one of the best sounding guitars.

CW: I’ve got a few guitars that were over $500 bucks or close to a thousand, and that thing rips all of them to shreds. Best guitar I’ve ever had.

You guys just announced that you’re on that Summer tour with Light Years, Head North, and Casey Bolles, right? That’s a bit of a departure for you sonically. Light Years is basically blink-182-type pop-punk, Head North I guess treads the line, and you guys are Dad rock. How do you feel when you get put on a show like that? You’ve played lots of shows with pop-punk bands, but do you have any hesitation or worries that people won’t “get it” going into a tour like that?

MC: We don’t really have any hesitation. We did a tour with Head North last year; we actually started it a week ago today. It’s crazy because in a few weeks we’re going out for another Summer tour with them and so much has changed since last year. It’s crazy to look at where we’re all at and reconvene as a group of friends. We notice that when we play with bands that we are really close with, who are very talented themselves, they bring out better sets in us, and we bring out better sets in them. You have this healthy, jovial competition that goes on, where you just try to have the best set of the night. You want to put on the best show of the night. We’ve always been of the philosophy that if you get along with all the bands, it doesn’t really matter what genre you’re playing because everyone there is having a good time. Like, people listen to more than one genre of music. As a music fan, I listen to a lot of different genres of music, so I think it’s foolish to assume that fans wouldn’t want to listen to four different genres in the same night, so we’re excited.

CW: And if they don’t want to listen, I guess that’s their own problem.

They can go outside and smoke a cigarette during your set and talk about how much better Cold Weather was.

CW: Exactly, I can only hope.

Let’s go down that road a bit and talk about what you listen to. I’d say the general sound of Bliss is a lot different than the old stuff. Especially songs like “My Sitter” and “Cheap Wine” are a bit more mid-tempo. Did you guys have any outside influences that you have now that you didn’t have back then when you were recording the old stuff?

MC: We listen to a lot of different stuff, man – we listen to everything. I mean everything. Between the four of us, I think we listen to every single genre of music that exists in the world besides country.

CW: Johnny [McSweeney, bassist] loves metal, Sean [Dibble, drummer] loves pop music and post-hardcore. Matt and I listen to a lot of math rock.

MC: And indie music, and we also like pop and classic rock. Honest to God, our influences on Bliss, and the stuff we’re writing going forward, is far more taken from late ’80s and early ’90s pop and alternative rock than by any modern bands. I think that’s just our comfort zone – it’s what we grew up listening to and we kind of just fall back on a sound spectrum that we’re comfortable conveying ideas through.

CW: It has to feel good.

MC: Yeah, it has to feel good before it sounds good.

CW: You can write your parts and come up with all these crazy things and try to arrange something but if a song doesn’t feel right and doesn’t groove the right way, it doesn’t carry the right way.

MC: You’re not conveying what you want to convey. Our philosophy has always been that we’re gonna write whatever the hell we enjoy writing, whatever feels the best. Other than that, we lost a guitarist last year and became a four piece. That drastically changed our sound because I have a very different guitar playing style than him and the way that Collin and I play together is very different than the way the two of them play together. It’s gonna be inherently different, but we think it’s for the better.

You’ve done a lot with Head North in the past year. They say when you tour you should mix up doing headlining tours and support tours, and always be out with different bands to get in front of different people. What’s it been like to be so closely knit with a different group of people like that?

MC: It’s been really well received.

CW: We really push each other.

MC: We push each other and get the best work out of each other. It’s like I said before, when we convene with different groups of people, we’re influenced by everything. We’re influenced by every single band we’ve ever played with because chances are, one of those bands had a part that was really, really cool, and it sits in the back of your head, and influences your writing later on, subconsciously. So playing with a band like Head North so much, I think it has really driven us to take the things we learn from them and apply it to our music. Being able to spend so much time with such a talented group of people has allowed us to extract a lot of positive stuff from the relationship – and again, we like to think that they’re extracting something positive, too. We feed off each other.

CW: Hungry people migrate toward each other.

I always like to end interviews with a recommendation. Have you been listening to anything new that you want to share with everyone?

Both: Microwave.

MC: Listen to Microwave, listen to Turnover, listen to Somos.

CW: I hope rock and roll comes back. I hope it does.

MC: Just don’t sleep on those bands, they’re the best ones doing it.

Interview conducted by John Bazley (follow him on Twitter)
Photos courtesy of Emily Tantuccio Photography
A Will Away is on Twitter, Facebook, and Spotify.
‘Bliss’ is now available via Quiet Fire Media.

John Bazley

John Bazley was raised in central New Jersey by the romantic aura of the Asbury Park beachfront, punk rock, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. He is still trying to figure all of this stuff out.

In addition to UTG, John has contributed to Alternative Press and Full Frequency Media. Follow him on Twitter for pictures of his dog.
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