A World Away w/ 48 Hours, Forever Never & Acoda- The Craufurd Arms, 30th July 2016

It’s probably fair to say there are not many “great” bands that call Milton Keynes home. In fact, Wikipedia lists only 5. And 2 of them have split up! So, when a band like A World Away come along, you have to sit up and take notice. Formed just over a year ago, and 7 months on from their first-ever gig, these guys have a maturity on-stage that is seriously at odds with their seeming lack of experience – they’ve only had a handful of support slots (although granted, they were for Mallory Knox & Young Guns) and tonight is the release show for their debut EP, Wake Me Up but they take to stage like seasoned professionals. There’s a swagger and a confidence rarely seen in a band that are taking their first steps, lead singer Ollie has the crowd hanging onto every lyric, there’s some great riffs played by Jim, Tim & Rob and Pete keeps everything together with some great, tight drumming

If the pressure wasn’t on A World Away at the start of the night, it certainly was by the time they took to the stage. Each of the support acts raised the bar from the act before and openers 48 Hours set that pretty high, crossing the spectrum from metal/hard rock and pop-punk with a short but energetic set. Their use of guitar effects is exemplary, making songs like ‘Giving Up’ & ‘Liars’ extra layers without overpowering the vocals, shared between bassist Gary & guitarist Adam. At times, there was so much going on, it seemed impossible to believe there are only 3 people in the band. Highlight of the set was surely the final song, ‘Nothing Left’ which featured a mid-song bass solo which must rank as one of the best I’ve ever heard!

Next up were Essex’s Forever Never and I genuinely have no idea what these guys listen to just before heading into the studio! These guys literally cross genres that don’t even belong together. Somehow, they’ve managed to mix  elements of electropop with Limp Bizkit/Linkin Park nu-metal with annoyingly catchy hooks and melodies. It seriously shouldn’t work but somehow it does and bloody hell, it’s good. And talking of things that shouldn’t work, mid-set is quite possibly the best, but at the same time, weirdest cover version I’ve ever heard. Whichever band member said to the others that John Farnham’s 80’s classic ‘You’re The Voice’ needs a metal vibe is a certifiable genius. And it sounds absolutely immense in a dark and sweaty live venue…

Taking the music back to a more traditional alt-metal feel were final support ACODA. They’ve toured extensively, including most of the major festivals, and it shows. Their set is energetic, atmospheric and riff-heavy, although they’re just as adept with the “slower” side of metal, as proved with ‘Won’t Go Running’ from the ‘Truth Seeker’ album. Being a relatively local band, they were bound to have some fans in the audience, but they managed to also engage those who were unaware of them before tonight and if the venue wasn’t sweaty enough before their set, it sure as hell was by the time they finished!

And so, with 3 formidable sets preceding them, A World Away had to try and somehow match and exceed with their own. And exceed it they certainly did! Understandably, with such a short career their back catalogue is dependent on their EP, with 5 of those 7 tracks being played tonight. But already, the guys have seemingly cracked the age-old problem of making a song which sounds great on a CD sound even better in a live environment. Set-opener ‘Puppet’ grabs everyone’s attention straight away, which doesn’t waver through ‘Unaligned’ with it’s pop-punk style and ‘Stride By Stride’, which was apparently the first song they ever wrote. Not a bad beginning! Not to be outdone by Forever Never’s ‘You’re The Voice’ re-working, A World Away managed to somehow turn The Weekend’s ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ from a distinctly average song into a borderline acceptable one. Don’t get me wrong, turning it into a guitar-based song is a good move, it’s just that it’s an awful song to begin with and for me, was the only low-point of the set. There was a tribute to local musician Alex Todd-Weller who passed away a couple of years ago and is honoured at the venue, before the pace picked up with ‘The Choice’, a brilliant slice of alt-rock which got the crowd bouncing before set-closer and latest single ‘Wake Me Up’. An excellent set, complementing but also standing out from the support bands and a very assured debut headline gig. Big things definitely await A World Away….

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We Are Carnivores – ‘Theodor’s A Don, Bro’ EP Review

Theodor's A Don, Bro ArtworkI’ll be brutally honest, some music reviews are easier to write than others. And some are just downright impossible. This one falls firmly into the latter. It’s not that the EP is bad – quite the opposite, in fact it’s bordering on brilliant. The band have masses of personality, which comes across in their music, and are clearly very good at what they do. It’s just that, I can’t really describe what it is they actually do! To say they’ve taken the mathcore genre and evolved it by going backwards is about the best I can do. And that just doesn’t explain it at all! By its very nature, mathcore/math-rock doesn’t make sense. And, to that end, this EP follows that trend. Starting with the title, ‘Theodor’s A Don, Bro’ – totally unexplainable. Then there’s the closing track ‘I’m Not An Alcoholic, I just Collect Bottles’ which features quite possibly the strangest track title ever and a mid-song Customer Service skit which borders on the bizarre. And across the 4 tracks, more electronic/synth/reverb/distortion wizardry than previously thought possible. It’s like the mutant offspring of the 1980’s New Romantic era and the Indie/Britpop of the late 90’s/early-2000’s walked into a studio moments after taking an overdose-inducing amount of psychotropic drugs and started making music. There’s elements of rock, metalcore, post-hardcore, punk, funk and goodness knows what else. This is the sort of music that your parents would say is “just noise”. Which, to be fair, on first listen is probably true. But stick with it and what emerges is pretty darn good. Yes, it’s disjointed (both individually and as a whole), most of the lyrics are indiscernible (and the ones that aren’t won’t win any Ivor Novello awards “Walk to the shop/For a leccy top-up” for example) and there’s more musical layers than you would think possible from a trio. But that’s exactly the point. It’s melodic with barely any melodies, the vocals are often all over the place yet fit perfectly, and the range of musical styles on ‘You Can’t Argue With Sharks’ (from pop-punk through to metalcore) really shouldn’t work but it does, and is quite possibly the best song on a seriously good EP. If math rock isn’t making a resurgence yet, it surely will after this EP hits the masses. Whatever you do, don’t just listen to it once. Just stick it on loop and revel in the (dis)organised chaos that’ll pump out of your speakers, knowing that whilst everyone else is listening to the mainstream, you’re listening to the future….

Theodor’s A Don, Bro is available now on iTunes, Spotify & Amazon

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SaraBeth – ‘Full Speed Ahead’ EP review & Q&A

SaraBeth - Full Speed Ahead

Many artists have laid claim to the title “Hardest Worker in Music” but to be honest, it’d be hard to find anyone who compares to country music’s SaraBeth. If she’s not crisscrossing the US performing shows (over 50 already this year alone!) or the US National Anthem in baseball stadiums, she can be found crossing the Atlantic to the UK for festival dates, intimate acoustic sets or, in the next month, a full tour. On top of which, she hosts regular Stage It! streaming shows, and somehow, in between all of that, she manages to write or co-write some brilliantly original music, with heartfelt, uplifting lyrics which will resonate with her ever-increasing audience. 4 of those songs are featured on SaraBeth’s latest EP, “Full Speed Ahead”, which, along with an inspired cover-version to close the album, must surely elevate the Texas-born SaraBeth from the ‘one to watch’ category to the standard-bearer of modern country music

Whilst there are hints of the modern trend towards a country-pop crossover, the vocals, guitars and lyrics are most definitely in the mould of the great country singers. There’s a theme to each song which draws the listener in – hopes and struggles, following your dreams, the breakdown of a relationship – which, whilst not original within the country genre, are certainly well-written, with annoyingly-catchy choruses. And above it all, that   unmistakeable, delectable Texas drawl shines through

Opener ‘Someone Who Is’ is the ubiquitous nearly-at-the-end-of-a-relationship song. The instrumentals on this track are excellent, the lyrics are ‘sassy’ and empowering – “You know where you can put your goodbye kiss” – and despite it’s theme, is an upbeat and uptempo track. Much like the next song, ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’, which is definitely the most “country” song on the EP – all twanging guitars and sections of a cappella singing. It could so easily have been a cliche of a song but it’s been produced so well, that it actually sounds like an update of classic female country. Like a  Crystal Gayle for the iPhone generation. Next up is ‘Song About You’, a fun track and one to have a singalong to. I’ll be honest, it probably won’t win any awards for it’s lyrics (trying to write a song about a seemingly perfect guy) but what it does do is show SaraBeth’s versatility. It’s much more downtempo, and the vocals border on perfection! Which leads very neatly onto the last original song on the EP, ‘Windshield/Rearview’. Everything about this is genuine perfection – the lyrics (which seem to pretty much be her life getting to this point – “Where I serve up a steak and my demo tape/For all the people that are running the labels”) are excellent, the genre-cross between country, pop and rock, the overall upbeat feel to the song. Brilliant! This is the sort of song that sounds great on an album, but absolutely immense in a live venue. Final song is a cover of the Backstreet Boys classic ‘I Want It That Way’. I can’t deny, I’m a massive fan of this song and had some doubts how it would sound when tweaked to a country vibe. But, impossible as it should be, this version is actually an improvement on the original. Stripped back to almost acoustic and making the chorus a duet with Glen Mitchell is genius

Overall, this is a brilliant EP and will no doubt open SaraBeth up to a larger audience – evidenced already by the pre-sales taking ‘Full Speed Ahead’ to No.1 in the UK iTunes country charts and No.11 in the USA. She has definitely matured in her musicality since her previous releases and I for one am very much looking forward to the next stage of her career

Somehow, in between all the travel, shows and songwriting, SaraBeth managed to find the time to answer a few questions…

Congratulations on your new EP, which seems to come as an extension to your previous releases with “sassy” lyrics and themes of empowerment. Is this a conscious theme when you write a new song, or do the lyrics just come naturally? Where do you start when writing a song?

Songwriting is a really interesting process.  When I first moved to town, I was worried there was a right and wrong way.  The best thing about the creative process is there is no right way.  It’s like brainstorming to music.  Depending on who you’re writing with, what you (or your co-writers) are going through, and even how much sleep you’ve had you never know exactly where the song will go.  I enjoy writing “sassy” songs because they’re so much fun to perform in a live setting.  I try to look for the best in every situation, and I hope that comes through in my songwriting.   My new EP, Full Speed Ahead, is full of songs written about exaggerated truth. 

And talking of writing songs, you wrote “Girl Scout Cookie Monster” in under an hour in between a radio station interview. Is that the quickest song you’ve ever wrote and could you believe the reaction you got from the wider audience?

Girl Scout Cookie Monster is now officially the fastest song I’ve ever written.  Before that the record went to “I’m Sick of It”.  I absolutely love Girl Scout Cookies, so even though we had a time crunch, the song came fairly quickly on its own!  I was overwhelmed by the reaction the Facebook Live video received.  It’s had 400,000 views which is insane!  The best thing about this song has been all the amazing people I’ve met within the Girl Scouts Organization.  They’ve also been really kind and given me some Girl Scout Cookies!  Best form of payment I’ve ever received! 🙂

The final song on the EP is a great re-working of a Backstreet Boys classic. What made you choose this track? And will you be featuring it in your live performances?

On St. Patrick’s Day I was with some friends watching a friend’s cover bandseriously the best cover band I’ve ever heard!  They had some amazing versions of songs from all genres!  We were still searching for a 5th song for Full Speed Ahead, and they covered a few boy band songs.  When I left that night it hit me and Glen Mitchellare we crazy?  Let’s cover “I Want It That Way”. We’ve been working on a version to do out at our live shows.  Not sure when it’ll hit the set.  

You’re in the middle of shuttling back and forth to the UK, performing a variety of shows – acoustic, a festival appearance, and a tour to come next month, featuring your full band. Which is your favourite type of show to play and are UK audiences different to American ones?

Different venues/settings call for different styles of performance, and I enjoy all of them.  Any show where people leave and have been moved – whether thats to sing along, dance, or even cry – and enjoyed themselves, that’s my favorite kind of show! I’m incredibly excited to bring the band to the UK.  This will be their first time to the UK, and I can’t wait to experience the trip with them!  It’s always exciting to share your favorite things about different cities and countries with your friends.

And on a tour theme, you’ve already performed a large number of shows this year, in addition to your regular Stage It streams and National Anthem performances. How do you ever find the time to write new music!? 

Well, I work 7 days a week.  Sometimes in the middle of the night.  If inspiration strikes, that’s when I write songs.  My notebooks (both physical and virtual) are filled with random thoughts. If I hear someone say something interesting in a movie or sitting behind me on a plane, I write it down.  As a songwriter, you’re always listening and looking for things that would be great in a song.  

Since the EP has been available for pre-order, you’ve consistently been in the Top 5 of the Pre-order charts on iTunes – Are you hopeful of a high charting position next week EP is fully released? And do you check the charts to see the calibre of artist you’re outselling!?

July 12 was a crazy day for me!  We hit the #1 Country Album spot in the UK and debuted at #11 in on the US County Chart.  As an independent artist, this means more than you know.  I say it all the time, but we’re a team!  I can write songs all day long, but it’s the fans that allow me to do what I do.  Thank you doesn’t begin to express my gratitude.  

Finally, you’ve partnered with the charity Food For The Hungry through the Live Music Cares network. Can you tell us a little about this and how people can get involved, or check out the amazing work they do?

Food for the Hungry is an amazing organization that helps to build sustainable communities in impoverished areas throughout the world.  I sponsor a child named Jonathan from Nicaragua.  In January I was able to travel to Nicaragua and meet Jonathan and his family/community.  That’s one thing that sets Food for the Hungry apart from other organizations – you can actually set up a trip to visit the child you sponsor! If anyone has it on their heart to get involved, you can go to my website SaraBethMusic.com and click on the FH (Food for the Hungry) button.  I also have child sponsorship packets at all my shows.  I will have packets at the UK shows as well!  

SaraBeth is touring the UK throughout August, details can be found on her website, Facebook & Twitter. ‘Full Speed Ahead’ is released onto iTunes on July 12th