INTERVIEW with Paul Connolly, The Wood Burning Savages – “We don’t have throwaway songs.”

THE WOOD BURNING SAVAGES Announce New Single 'Purple Heart' - Listen Now!

The Wood Burning Savages, a fast-paced punk rock band from Derry City, Northern Ireland are proud to announce they’ll be celebrating the release of their debut album ‘STABILITY’ in Limelight 2, Belfast on Bank Holiday Weekend (Sunday 27th May).

Proudly wearing the rebel spirit of their hometown on their sleeves, with pulsating riffs and a sharp political edge, the band is often compared to Manic Street Preachers, Future of The Left and Queens of the Stone Age. Last month they released their single ‘Purple Heart’, a song that tackles the difficult subject of PTSD. The track is taken from their forthcoming album ‘Stability’, released on April 27th. Produced by Rocky O’Reilly (Touts, Cassels, ex-magician) in Start Together Studios, Belfast, and mastered by Robin Schmidt (Wolf Alice, The 1975, Jake Bugg).

Mark Millar recently caught up with frontman and singer Paul Connolly for a chat.


INTERVIEW with Paul Connolly, The Wood Burning Savages - “We don’t have throwaway songs.”

So how did The Wood Burning Savages get together?

The band got together in Derry, Northern Ireland quite quickly after Id finished with another group who I had been playing with through school and Uni. When that ended me and another guy who was playing the drums with us at the time thought it was a shame that we had a lot of songs left and it would be terrible to waste them. So we took a couple of weeks to look for a guitar and bass player. Then one day Daniel Acheson walked into a bar and said ” I’m looking to play in a band.” and he joined as our bass player.

We shared a lot of the same interests, and we like a lot of the same artists, books, and music, and we had the same outlook on a lot of things, so that was important. So we took it from there. We had our first gig booked about a month after we started playing, we only had about four or five songs, but it was a test to see if we could get together and hack it. Over the last couple of years, we have been doing UK tours including Glastonbury a few years ago, and since then we have been on a cycle of recording, releasing and gigging, so it’s been terrific we have been keeping as busy as possible.

What bands did all you gravitate to musically?

I would like a lot of older sixties folky psychedelic stuff which has no bearing at all on the music that we make. We found that we all loved bands like Pearl Jam and Manic Street Preachers a lot of those big nineties anthemic sort of groups.

It’s funny you mention the Manics I noticed their influence on your track Purple Heart.

Some people have said that, but we never intended to sound like them. It was all accidental. You never want to rip anybody off, but there’s only so much that you can do songwriting and formula wise. The Manic Street Preachers are a big band we keep coming back to just because they are one of the few bands who has stood the test of time who are writing songs that we can pin an issue on. Our band would be quite similar. Our song Purple Heart is about post-traumatic stress disorder, not in the forces but by people who are affected by upheaval, severe trauma, and war. That’s what we took from the Manics – that every song has to mean something. We don’t have throwaway songs; all our songs have to be an attack on something or an observation.

The band will be releasing your debut album Stability soon. Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it sounds and what you wanted to write about?

Yes, we did. It’s not supposed to be a concept album by any stretch. Each of the band read a lot, and we like things to have a bit of a tangent and an arc story wise. The album is called Stability, and in Nothern Ireland, we have been going thirteen months without a government. The title came from the conservative party tagline which was “Security, Stability, Opportunity.” And none of those things has been given to our generation – we have had ten lost years. Stability is a bit of a Ken Loach film as a musical album. We decided we wanted to write an album about people who have been trampled over and who find it tough to make ends meet. In a more extreme sense, we wanted to write an album about people who are fleeing persecution and conditions that are entirely unlivable.

There is a track on the album called Freedom of Movement which deals with things on a more global scale. We had got people like Donald Trump who had just arrived in office when we started writing the album. that song is basically about him pontificating and saying “I’m going to build a wall it’s going to be great, and I’m going to keep immigrants out.” The album is about the haves and have-nots, humanity and then the people who have and place upon the people who don’t have the means ever to have stability and security. It’s about that journey of trying to get somewhere that isn’t all that amazing but what you leave behind is entirely unlivable and a grievously savage environment to try and forge any life in. That thematically what the album is about. Soundwise we tried to capture that. The album is very raw and quite a bombastic sounding record. Its got a lot of sounds that hopefully reflect the thematic content of the lyrics as well.

Does the album feature any of the tracks from your previously released EPs?

A couple of the tunes are ones that have been out before – just home demos and stuff like that. All the older songs on the album have been re-recorded, but the vast bulk of the new collection is all new music so it will be stuff that people haven’t heard before.

You said the album deals with some dark subject matter but overall was it an enjoyable experience recording the new album?

It was fantastic. We tested the waters with Rocky O’Reilly, the guy that we recorded with. We did some preliminary recording with him and got on really well, and the studio was great.

What is your songwriting process? Does songwriting come easily to you?

The majority of the time me and Dan would get together and talk through a few ideas. I would always keep riffs, and musical ideas on my notes or voice recordings on my phone and Dan would do the same. I would still keep pens and paper on me in case I came up with a lyrical idea. I’m always writing down current affairs stuff. At work, I might overhear someone saying something and think “that’s a great turn of phrase, I’m going to use that.” By and large its always about what people are going through. There’s always an emotional depth to our music, current affairs and some historical stuff thrown in as well.

The album is getting a vinyl release. Is that important to the band?

Yes, it is because we covet music and things like that. With the vinyl revival, people weren’t sure it would stick around, but it seems to have so it’s vital for us to release the record on vinyl so that we can get it into the few remaining independent record shops. We have been supported a lot by our local record shop Cool Discs in Derry. We were going on tour, and the guys from the shop handed us an envelope and said: “that’s money for diesel for the van.” So putting a record out on vinyl is the least we can do for them. It’s going to be quite exciting getting the album out of the envelope and holding it.

How does it feel being a band in the current music climate?

It’s definitely difficult because of everybody has to pay the rent. It’s hard to get people out to gigs these days. People can go to the off-license and buy wine or beer and watch Netflix on the weekends for the rest of their lives. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when it starts to affect people coming out to gigs, you know you are up against it. There’s a bit of a trend for songwriters playing backing tracks with electronic elements, so guitar bands are taking a hit at the minute, but everything comes and goes in cycles, so we are toughing it out. We have had great audiences in the last run of shows. We have been quite lucky this past year. It’s a tougher climate now for bands financially than it was maybe ten years ago but we make it work – we are quite frugal, and we try to be pretty sensible.

Do you think there is a healthy music scene in Northern Ireland at the moment?

Definitely! There always has been it’s just a cultural thing. I think music in Northern Ireland is highly prized. For the number of people we have here – the amount of musicians is crazy. The number of musicians we have getting out there and giving it a shot is a higher ratio than the rest of the UK, and I think the rest of Europe as well. We have a great scene.

Any live shows coming up?

Yeah, the next big show we have is supporting Death From Above on the 14th March in the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin.

Do you have a record that you always return to?

I listen to so much rock music sometimes I need to step out of it a bit, and the record that I always go back to is Bob DylanBlonde on Blonde. It still has guitars in it, but it has the weirdest lyrics, and it’s got the nicest arrangements that I’ve ever heard. It’s always something that I love listening to.

What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?

I like the Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice album. Its good stuff to have on in the van when we are driving to gigs.

The full album track-listing is:

1. Stability
2. We Love You
3. Rat Race
4. I Don’t Know Why I Do It to Myself
5. Purple Heart
6. Lusitania
7. Living Hell
8. Sisters of Mercy
9. Lather, Rinse, Repeat
10. Thoughts of You
11. Freedom of Movement

Catch The Wood Burning Savages live:

Wednesday 14th March – Tivoli Theatre, Dublin *Supporting Death From Above
Saturday 21st April – Nerve Centre, Derry *Hometown show in support of the release of ‘Stability’ Sunday 27th May – Limelight 2, Belfast

The Wood Burning Savages are: Paul Connolly (Vox & Guitar), Dan Acheson (Bass), Michael Woods (Guitar) & Elliot Finlay (Drums)

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as conducting interviews for the XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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