I suffer from foot in mouth disease from time to time. I once interviewed an artist and then, as we were walking to the car park to find our respective rides home, chit chatting and getting on with what eventually became a firm friendship, I said to them, “I don’t usually like your sort of music, but…”. The frost in the air was enough to make me wish I’d worn warmer clothes that evening. Then there was the time I sat down for a meeting with someone who plays guitar in a prominent Aussie band. In my defence, the meeting was about matters only slightly related to music and they were in a different professional role. When they mentioned they were in a band, I nearly blurted out, “Oh, what are they called?” Luckily, I kept my mouth shut, because I was mighty embarrassed when I did some Googling in the street outside after our meeting. Then there was the time a friend introduced me to one of their bandmates. Again, in my defence, it was in a dark, noisy venue and my hearing isn’t too good. Also, my mate plays in multiple bands, as is the case with a lot of musos. This time, shaking hands with my new acquaintance, I asked, “Oh, what are they called?” to which the swift reply was, “(Insert name of mega Aussie band here), you may have heard of us,” delivered with a withering look and a quick drop of my hand. Yes, that time I really did open my mouth.
…‘Super Nova’ is a thrill ride of a song that lodges in your head almost instantly.
There’s more, but you get the drift. However, I’ve never called a muso boring to their face before. Until now, that is.
That’s not quite how it went down, but close enough. Read on and you can be the judge of how hard I need to have my backside kicked…
Ashes Of Autumn are one of those bands that you hear about before you’ve heard their music. There’s a certain buzz around them in the Perth hard rock scene that makes them immediately interesting. But I’ve been caught out like that before only to have my hopes dashed on the rocks of some pretty ropy performances from one or two bands that should probably just stick to their day jobs.
Not so with Ashes Of Autumn. When I managed to get to see them live, they more than lived up to the hype. They gave a performance that was tight, nuanced, hard, and soft in all the right places. They rocked!
New single, ‘Supernova’, due to be launched at The Rosemount on 8 January, is set to give Ashes Of Autumn’s career a quantum leap. First recording, ‘Let Go’, released in March 2020, was a stereotypical rock song — coruscating guitars, an up-front football terrace chorus and some tasty vocals. For a first outing it shows some promise, if you’re willing to stick around and listen long enough. Problem is, it sounds a lot like a bunch of other stuff that sits in the same pocket. It’s a good rock song, but it’s the sound of a band that hasn’t yet found its distinctive edge.
‘Supernova’ is a different beast all together. From the urge-surfing opening guitar — restrained, perseverative and ready to do violence to your soul — to the opening drums that push it along and then that little skipped beat just before you’re taken head first over the edge of a cliff, ‘Super Nova’ is a thrill ride of a song that lodges in your head almost instantly.
Asked for her take on ‘Supernova’, Melanie Flynn, vocalist and lyricist with Ashes Of Autumn, said, “For me, the way I wrote the song, lyrically, it was about being on stage. It’s about my connectivity with the audience and me giving to them and me taking from them. Then, there’s also that double edged sword where people might not like you, but I’ve got the microphone and I don’t care about that, I’m going to explode in your face.” This would explain the chorus, written in all caps on the lyric sheet: TURN IT UP / GET ME OFF / TAKE YOUR SHOT / I’M A SUPERNOVA.
Flynn never shouts, her vocal delivery is powerful and has subtlety and range that means she’s never going to need to strain her instrument to get her point across, but by the time she reaches this point in the song there’s a frenetic energy in her voice that needs to be expressed with caps lock on. There’s so much packed into those 12 words, nothing and everything all at once. Supernova indeed!
“Don’t confuse it with ego, because it’s not about that,” Flynn continued, “it’s more about how I feel at the time, it’s that energy. At times when you’re playing in a band and you’re performing, even in the rehearsal room, if you’re gelling with your bandmates, you do feel like you want to explode. Well, I do. There’s that huge surge of energy and that’s where that song came from.”
It’s probably OK now to roll out the cliché about Ashes Of Autumn going off, because they certainly do, and it was them that started in with the explosion metaphor. But Flynn’s slight change of gear when talking about the song points to another side of this band and their music that is left to the last actual line of ‘Supernova’s’ lyric: Catch your breath / Make it fast / ’cause you know that this won’t last. A supernova is, of course, a dying star. That explosion is le grand mort, the last ragingly orgasmic gasp before expiration. Flynn knows that, all too well, as does her song writing partner, guitarist Mat (“with one ‘t’”) Kenworthy. ‘Supernova’ isn’t just a song, it’s a parable on life and it’s coming from a band that lives on planet Earth but is tuned into galaxies far beyond the ken of us mere mortals. Beware the ending.
‘Supernova’ is the first of four releases Ashes Of Autumn have scheduled for 2021. For a band that already has significant stature on the Perth live music circuit, you could be forgiven for thinking that they’ve underperformed so far with their recorded output. It’s been a long time between drinks and ‘Let Go’ was really just a demo that happened to get some traction on Triple J Unearthed. No one was more surprised than the band’s members themselves. There is good reason for their sloth, though, as Kenworthy explained.
“As well as COVID, we all went through a phase of injuring ourselves. I broke my pinkie on my fretting hand, I had to have a pin in it. I had a wire sticking out of the end of my finger, so that put me out of action. Mel (Flynn) did her back and that put her out of action for about two months. Then, Bryn (Haythornthwaite), our other guitarist, was doing the dishes and cut his hand open on a smashed plate. He had to have surgery, not just stitches but surgery, so that put him out of action for a couple of months.
“We’ve been together about 18 months. Duration 18 months, actual time doing stuff a bit less.”
The first observation to make about the band’s woes is that Ashes Of Autumn would have to be the least rock and roll band in the history of rock and roll. Breaking a pinkie indeed! And, as for injuring yourself doing the washing up? C’mon, where are the palm trees, the guns, the drugs? This is a band crying out for a publicist. See, boring!
Not that I don’t feel their pain, and what they may lack in interesting ways to join the 27 Club is more than made up for by what they bring to the stage and, now, the run of releases they have planned for the world. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I’ve heard any of the other three singles Ashes Of Autumn have in the can, but if I had heard them, I’d agree without demur that this is music that defines a band on a steep trajectory to the top — all things being equal and all stars aligning, of course. Keep your ears pinned back and ready to receive, you won’t be disappointed.
Potential greatness isn’t something that just happens while you’re doing the washing up, and speaking to Flynn and Kenworthy, it’s evident that they’re well aware of this. Asked about the origins of the Band, Kenworthy said, “From meeting a lot of people trying to form bands, a lot of people out there think they can sing and they can’t. A lot of people think they can play guitar, but they’re just very basic and no one’s had the honesty to tell them. But I heard Mel and I was excited.
“The sound is definitely evolving. I knew the band had a bit of potential, but I wasn’t sold on it at first. Mel did a little recording on her phone over the top of one of the early recordings. Ferret (drummer) called me and said, ‘Have you just heard what Mel sent through?’ and I said, ‘Nah.’ Then I went and listened and I said, ‘Holy shit!’ because Mel’s got a big voice.”
What Kenworthy is describing is the early stages of a working relationship that is at the nucleus of Ashes Of Autumn. From Flynn’s perspective, it’s clear she wasn’t sold on what was the early iteration of the current line up, either.
“I got in touch with Ferret first,” Flynn said. “He sent me some demos and said just learn them and come down. I listened to them and thought they were a bit punk for me, I’m more of a rock singer and Ferret told me I could do whatever I liked with [the songs] so I kind of just changed them a little bit. A lot (laughs) and then I went down and had an audition and it sort of stuck.”
The ‘audition’ was actually a foregone conclusion. The other members of what would become Ashes Of Autumn had already made up their minds before Flynn came along to show them her wares, but they still made her sing through each of their songs twice and then said, “We’ll let you know.”
Cheeky, but that’s part of what it is to be in Ashes Of Autumn. Reflecting on band life now, Flynn said, “We’re just a bit brutal, I think,” smiling all the time, while Kenworthy, ever the serious one — until you listen to what he’s actually saying, including the spaces between the words — followed up with, “When someone comes up with an idea, a more diplomatic band might go, ‘Oh, yeah, I really like that, that’s good.’ Whereas we just go…”
And that was the point at which Flynn and Kenworthy began finishing each other’s sentences.
“…that’s shit, I’m not doing it,” continued Flynn. “Or, I write a whole song and Mat will be like, ‘Hey, just send me those lyrics,’ and I’ll send them through and then he’ll rewrite them for me. And I’m like, ‘Dude! What the hell, no! That’s my story.’ So we butt heads a lot.”
Flynn finished up with, “I kind of like working with Mat. He thinks I don’t, but I do,” and they looked at each other for a moment, sharing a deeper more private joke that only someone on the inside of their partnership could ever fathom. Throughout the ages the very best song writing partnerships have been built on a kind of telepathic bond between the dipoles, a sort of magnetic pull/push that, almost inevitably, implodes one way or another. Think Lennon and McCartney, Goffin and King, Strummer and Jones. That’s the sort of closeness the Flynn and Kenworthy song writing partnership is built on. What echelon they take it to before they part is entirely up to them. Their work is simply that good.
Flynn and Kenworthy are well aware of the potential of what they have with Ashes Of Autumn and are willing to do the hard work to nurture and fan their flame. Speaking further about their song writing craft, Flynn said, “We never ever write in the jam room. Ever. Because it’s just shit. We don’t just jam to see what we come up with, because it’s a fucking pain in the arse. We’ll have writing sessions at his house and my house and then get it to a point where we have a skeleton of a song and we’ll send it out [to the other band members] or play it at rehearsal. Then we’ll start dissecting parts more that way.”
To which Kenworthy added, “We’re still learning how to write together. We haven’t worked that out yet, but we’ve sort of worked it out as a writing duo, or a writing trio. Some bands fall into the trap of first idea is good enough.”
Neither Flynn nor Kenworthy is lacking in awareness that Ashes Of Autumn is a band. That’s why Kenworthy steered away from the notion that the band’s songs spring only from the pair of them, acknowledging that the song writing is a role share by all of the band’s members. Reflecting on her development as a song writer, Flynn said, “[In the early days] I’d just sit in my room and write on piano and guitar, but I never felt confident enough to take my original music to anybody, I would never show it to anybody. I just didn’t feel like people would get it. It was always very private in a sense. If you were reading my songs it would be like reading my diary.
“It’s different now, because I’ve grown up as a songwriter. It’s not just all about my perspective anymore. I feel way more confident having a band. I’ve never felt confident enough to be a solo artist. I’ve always wanted a band.”
And a band they now have.
“We’ve got two very laid-back members of the band on bass (Jeremy Thomson) and guitar (Haythornthwaite),” said Kenworthy. “Our drummer’s (Ferret) got a strong opinion on the music, along with Mel and myself.
“We did have a revolving door of bass players a bit to start with, but now we’re good. Jez is really good and he sings harmonies. I want harmonies in the band and I can’t…”
Ashes of Autumn are one of those outfits where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Eighteen months in and they’re only really just starting out, but what a start. If 2021 is going to be anyone’s year in the music biz, Ashes Of Autumn are as deserving as any band or artist. They have the music, they have the performance and, as people, they have the serious intent that is really what underlies the x-factor.
“The key word is performance,” said Kenworthy, expanding further on what makes Ashes Of Autumn better than most other bands currently going around. “We talk about this. It’s a visual thing for me. We’re conscious of performance. We accept that we might not be fashionable in Perth, so we target other markets. We target rock markets, the US, Europe, Asia.”
“That’s what I like about this band,” said Flynn, picking up the thread. “I couldn’t possibly put as much time and effort into a band that just wasn’t serious about doing what we’re doing. Why sit there and put all this effort and time and money and love…why do that if you’re not going to do anything with it?”
In the room with them, talking with them about their band and their music, that seriousness had the potential to my cloth ears to make them feel as dull as dishwater, boring even. That’s why, towards the end of our conversation, wanting to give the best representation I could of a band that is still mostly unknown to the world, I stupidly said, “How do we make sure you don’t come across as boring?”
Flynn and Kenworthy were exceedingly polite, furrowing their brows and doing their best to help me out, before leaving me to solve my own problem. In hindsight, their lack of assistance was due to their well-placed confidence that their work and their words are more than up to the task of making them interesting, and how right they were. I’ll just add this to my ever-growing list of foot in mouth moments and slink off into the backroom shadows where I belong.
As for Ashes Of Autumn, the spotlight is theirs to do with as they wish.
Ashes of Autumn launch ‘Supernova’ on Friday 8 January at the Rosemount Hotel with support from Hailmary, Zorah and High Altitude Hebrews. Tickets available here.
For more live dates, updates and interesting repartee, check out Ashes Of Autumn’s Facebook page.