[INTERVIEW]... with Asylums

Asylums - L-R Michael Webster, Jazz Miell, Henry Tyler and Luke Branch  Photo: Kana Waiwaiku

"We are quite free in terms of when we can release music, it is what we always wanted right from the beginning, the fluidity of being able to release when we want to and feel the time is right to do so, as in when the songs are rolling out. It is almost like a big fire that you have to throw logs on to when the last one has burnt out.”

These words come from Luke Branch of Asylums. The alt rock Essex quartet could not be further from the category of an ‘average guitar band’ as it is possible to be. Highly creative with a natural ability to multi-task, smart and project focused, this guitar band from Southend-On-Sea are making the most of the freedom they have just now. 

Not only are they very driven as musicians, it also helps to have an outlet for releasing their music, Cool Thing Records is the name of their own label, which they are totally involved in and there is a lot of passion there. 

Frontman, guitarist and vocalist Luke Branch, guitarist Jazz Miell, drummer Henry Tyler and bassist Michael Webster are having a hectic year so far. Record shop in-stores and several festival appearances are just some of the excitement they have lined up this summer.

Alien Human Emotion, is the follow up to their debut album Killer Brain Waves. Set for an early July release, it is a ground-breaking second album and it seems as far removed from the so-called ‘difficult’ second album as it is possible to imagine.

There is a slight risk to describing the resourcefulness of Asylums as it may sound similar to what you sometimes see in the desirable section of a job advert. But truth be told, describing the band in such terms actually happens to be appropriate.

If Killer Brain Waves was a collection of singles, Alien Human Emotion represents the band’s efforts to push themselves even further and experiment more than before. 

Luke: We fancied pushing ourselves more musically, widening the edges of what we do. We are into all sorts of different records, some more experimental records as well as pop music and so we kind of pulled some of that further into this album. 

Luke: We were looking to other artists for inspiration and Bowie was definitely one. We were interested in the transition from Hunky Dory to Ziggy Stardust. We came up with this idea that we would write a record from space in our heads and we would try to look at the world in a macro kind of way so that is why it is called Alien Human Emotion.

Jazz: Following the release of our debut our main focus was to put out records on our label for other people, we did that while balancing the record release work with our own urge to make music. It became very strong that we just had to get on with it and did what we really wanted to do, start working on the follow up to our debut album. 

For artists to be managing and running a label makes a lot of sense as it increases the level of creative flexibility and control. Cool Thing Records also release other acts including Suspects, Indian Queens, Bait and Beckie Margaret.  

Luke: We grew up idolising factory Records, Sup Pop and Creation Records and also that whole thing Mute had of not dropping anyone. Artists make records that are well received and may have some that are less well received, then they get some form again but that is life and not everyone is at their best every single day. Everything has an intrinsic value artistically but whether it connects or not is different. We experience that, other bands have experienced that and other labels will have experienced that but we continue to back them regardless because love them as people.

 Luke: I also think fixed ideas of the future can be quite limiting because if you feel like you need to do something in the moment you should be able to do it. I think ultimately it stands to control and I know that has got negative connotations, as in like control freak, but it is never like that. It is just freedom and that is fine. 

              It seems to be in contrast to the type of situation a lot of bands find themselves in.

Luke: I really feel for those bands that cannot get to release records and I only can imagine how frustrating it must be to be told it is not possible. It is not about being impatient. The situation we are in is one where if say someone has had a bad month, then we can allow them some recovery time, there is that to consider as well because we want to stay healthy, stay healthy for our bands as well.

Jazz: Staring the label at around the same time as we started the band meant that our experience of putting records out were not at an indie level. I completely understand that it can be a financial burden for any third part involved, so it makes sense for us to take that out of our equation, it allows us to be creative, otherwise you end up having to justify every decision, it is difficult to justify things you do when it comes to art, you just feel you need to do it really.

As artists they can easily relate to what their signed artists are going through, they understand the journey. Support and guidance is everything, it can make or break a band and influence the outcome. 

Asylums have been getting a healthy amount of radio airplay from the likes of long-term supporter Steve Lamacq, Huw Stephens and John Kennedy.
Luke: We got our music on BBC 6 Music and I consider Lamacq being instrumental in making that happen. There is a sense that he really likes us as a band, he has come to see us quite a few times, we get to talk to him. We also did a live session with him. He used to run a label too, so there is probably a connection in that as well.

The Essex link might also have a part to play. 
 Photo: Kana Waiwaiku

Luke: Yes almost definitely, getting all the support for the label as well as us as a band is just brilliant. John Kennedy and Huw Stephens too and we also have all the journalists. They are almost like families to us, knowing that they respect us and what we do is just really great. It feels good when someone shows they believe in you and there is a kindness. You get a lot of positive energy from people like that.

Asylums have an are part of a strong team. Having an outstanding manager like Danny Watson means everything. There is an incredible amount of trust and a strong working relationship in place.

Luke: When I say the term manager it is just loosely, Danny is like an overarching parent, friend etc. and there must be lots of times when he probably has to take a hard look at things in order to make them work. Not only does he have five kids but there must be times when he is thinking ‘Can I keep doing this?’,  it is not going to make him a millionaire.

Danny Watson is more than well-established in the music industry, with experience in underground music culture. As a former record label manager he also did marketing at Rough Trade and was involved with early KLF releases while he worked with Dexy’s Midnight Runners and following that he found himself in music business management.

Luke: Most artists tend to conceive their art in a free-dimensional sense, visually and musically and whole intrinsic element of it seems to have ideas for it and being involved in the label you can see the full thing. Danny Watson is our manager and is also an absolute friend and beyond friend, 
I knew him long before.

There is no doubt that being surrounded by great people and feeling close to the labels that inspired you is an effective driver to producing and releasing some very good music.  

Luke: The ‘psychology’ of pop music is interesting. We listen to loads of really uncool records, the likes of Cher and Tina Turner and KLF . We don’t always listen to it to get into it, we listen to it to it to check it out.

Luke: You are what you eat to an extent. We do not  want to be a dull copy of something else and the real art exists in the crossover between opposing influences when like something happens which is like a third energy based on two separate energies which you might even be opposing.
The future is definitely looking really bright for Asylums, there is a lot of talk about them in music and there is curiosity and interest. They have their own entirely unique sound, listening to lots of different kinds of music probably helped them develop their sound. As a band they also have an incredible energy and chemistry when they play, record and perform live.

Alien Human Emotions is out on 06/07/18 on Cool Thing Records