WORDS : BECTON SIMPSON
Making the best of a bad situation as one of the latest bands to drop a new (and pretty sick) record during lockdown, Southend’s eternally optimistic Asylums having faced some unique problems in the run up to releasing and promoting their third album ‘Genetic Cabaret’ including working out “how you can make a music video without meeting up” and of course, not being able to play shows, but the four-piece epic rockers have been taking COVID-related setbacks in their stride. “That’s the only option really,” lead singer and guitarist Luke Branch told us. “It’s not all doom and gloom though. We’ve had a really productive few months, we’ve just had to do a lot of lateral thinking and do things differently, but in terms of creativity we’ve written about a dozen albums now!”
I’m so proud of this one and it’s almost like a miracle really that we got to do it the way we did, so it’ll always be an important record for me
Passionate about his art, music and lyrics, Luke is the kinda guy who writes every day and is always coming up with fresh, interesting ideas for where to take Asylums next which is why every project from the band has been slightly different. “I’m definitely keen to do something kinda widescreen for the next one,” said Luke, already thinking ahead. “But I’m so proud of this one and it’s almost like a miracle really that we got to do it the way we did, so it’ll always be an important record for me I think, this one.”
And ‘the way they did’ was by flying out to America to record with the legendary Steve Albini, an opportunity that just couldn’t be missed and probably one on a lot of bands’ bucket lists. “I did an application to the PRS Momentum fund and we got it, and I got a publishing deal as well, so for the first time since we’d been a band we had a bit of money to spend,” explained Luke. And it was money well spent on funding the trip and “fortuitous” recording sessions with Albini who no doubt gets booked up a hell of a lot but luckily was available on the dates they requested, and everything just slotted into place. “I just sent an email to the studio, inquired about the timeframe and what our options were, all those kind of things, ironed it out…It just took my breath away really…never thought in a million years I’d get to do that.”
Luke was due to become a father within the next few months so it was an album they wanted to get done swiftly without “laboriously recording for months on end.” They were also keen to “strip back the sound a bit and evoke some of those cool twisted punk rock records we like but with a lot of heart and soul in it as well” and known for his no-nonsense hands-off recording-as-live approach, they knew Albini would be the right fit for this particular record.
There’s humour in there, there’s a lot of observation but there’s a lot of good fun and rock n roll. There’s diversity. I think the whole thing’s got a strong spirit to it…it consolidates the best bits of what we’ve previously done but adds something new to it
Stylistically, the album leans towards the political which Luke reflected has “been there in our DNA from the word go” although they wouldn’t consider themselves a political band as such. “I don’t think what we’re saying is necessarily important. I think what artists to do is just distill the purest creative intention they have inside them…as cheesy as it sounds.” They’re not trying to make some big statement, they’re just putting across what’s in their heart, writing about what they see, think and feel.
Their last record was very conceptual and this time around they wanted to go for “a more angular, more city orientated, harder edge record that was very much routed in the politics of what was going on now. [But] I didn’t want to make a preachy record. We just tried to make an observational record with a lot of empathy and really try to understand things a little bit deeper and bring it into the words and the songwriting…It’s up to the listener how they interpret it…There’s humour in there, there’s a lot of observation but there’s a lot of good fun and rock n roll. There’s diversity. I think the whole thing’s got a strong spirit to it…it consolidates the best bits of what we’ve previously done but adds something new to it.”
But this isn’t the final, set Asylums sound. The band would prefer that to be a constantly evolving process where each album has a distinctive sound and vision.“I think this is the right Asylums record for 2020, it probably won’t be the right Asylums record for 2022…that’s the kinda band we wanna be. We want to make lots of records.”
And they’ll probably continue to do it through their own DIY label Cool Thing Records too, which Luke described as their “passion. It never really feels like work.” They really do live and breathe it, and enjoy the element of answering to no one. “We don’t see it as a career, more just a creative outlet that we enjoy doing so it’s better for us to be in charge of the situation so we can choose to do things how we wanted to do them.” And that said, their hope for the future is pretty simple – just to keep going for as long as possible, keep the band together, keep putting out records and “keep that childish love of creating…Just carry on making music and hopefully people will enjoy it. You can’t really control anything but the making of it.”
Genetic Cabaret is out now.