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It’s not all sunshine and roses being a young musician in this day and age, juggling work, education and music all at once…it ain’t easy. Because of this, it was important for Firestone to make funding for recording a part of the prize for last year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands winners, Fire Fences. Based in Bridgend, Wales, Fire Fences decided on Northstone Studios, beautifully located within the Court Colman Manor, and conveniently ten minutes down the road from their homes.

The studio, which is a modern-vintage residential studio, was built by Welsh musician and producer Jayce Lewis, who, funnily enough used to be managed by David Prowse, the original DARTH VADER, so let’s just leave it with that – he had us at Darth Vader.

This is a such a beautiful studio, how did you find it?
We randomly came across it while looking for places to record and couldn’t believe how close it was to home, which is about ten minutes down the road, and it just had the most incredible sound! As we had a bit of money to play around with at the time, we decided to splurge out and give it a go. The first time we recorded here we got quite close with Jayce, who’s almost become some sort of mentor for us. He’s helped us a lot, and now that he knows the band and the music he’s really stepped up as an important figure for the band. It really means a lot to get that help and input from someone like him with where he’s at in his career. He’s done it all before, and wants to support us to be the best we can be, which is great! Finding a place like this and a guy like Jayce so close to home…we’ve been incredibly lucky.


As I sit back to observe the recording and producing process, I discover the love between Jayce and the band – no sugar coatin’ anything here, in the best possible way. He pushes them to be their best selves, and it’s clear that they’ve already built up a strong relationship. Meanwhile, the band all have different approaches to recording, communicating and playing, with James taking his time to think things through, explain things and do everything to perfection, while the other three will boil the kettle, drink tea, have naps and go for long walks on the beach while James will go into detail to answer all my questions. For example, why did the back of his drumsticks look like they had been chewed to pieces?

I haven’t chewed them, I played them the other way around. Ironically these are Buddy Rich sticks, and they got like that from playing a technique I learnt from watching Buddy Rich play. As a jazz drummer he would play using a traditional jazz grip, but when watching videos of him playing I noticed that when he went onto the floor tom, he’d quickly flip his sticks around for more power and force, which is a technique I ended up picking up on myself.

“Ya could have just given her the short answer ya know? “I play ‘em backwards for more power”…”

Luckily, writers love a long answer, as short ones make making journalistic pieces pretty hard.

How long have you got here to record?
We’re here for a full week, Monday to Friday, which is the longest we’ve ever been able to be in the studio for, so it’s allowed us a lot more time to experiment with drums and all that. We recorded our last EP here as well, but had to get it all done in three days strictly due to financial reasons. Luckily Firestone’s helped out a lot this time around, so we get to take our time to actually enjoy the recording process and experience, and not just rush right through it. We’re able to take our shoes off, put our feet up, and rip into each other. We got some tinnies for the day as well, a couple of Red Stripes to keep us hydrated. We’re all firm believers that hydration is key.

What can you tell us about the upcoming release and the foreseeable future?
We’re doing four songs this time around, two are already done and we’ve got two to go, and honestly, the two we’ve got down so far are too good to be ours. We’re so unbelievably excited for the release and to see what the future brings. Firestone’s helping out with the artwork as well which is great, and we’ve got some very exciting things coming up over the next couple of months. For example, Noel Gallagher’s playing Birmingham Arena May 1st, and we get to play in the foyer before the show on the Firestone Unsigned Stage, where everyone will be passing through to get inside the main venue – that’s 20,000 people, to most of which we’ll be completely unknown, such an amazing way of getting out there and reaching a new audience. The added media presence of this and playing on the same night as an act like Noel Gallagher is an honour, and will probably make a lot of people take us more seriously. Having Firestone and also Orange on our side really helps a lot as well, and we reckon we’re gonna get to do some great things with their help and support!

In a day and age where most things are becoming digitalised, it is pure joy and excitement we feel about the growing return of the vinyl after it’s downfall in the early 90s when CDs emerged. Record stores are booming, and it’s actually financially viable to open a record store, and survive! What a time to be alive, hey?

While in London recently, we met up with three quarters of last year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands winners, Welsh band Fire Fences, in Soho’s Berwick Street, where you find Reckless Records and Sister Ray records only seconds apart. Why? To find out more about their appreciation of music, and their love for vinyl. As we let the guys loose in the shops, they are overwhelmed with options.

«We don’t have places like this in Bridgend! There’s an HMV, but nothing with the amount of options like Sister Ray, or high quality second hand vinyls at bargain prices like Reckless Records!”

We ask them to roam around, and pick out a few albums that have shaped their taste in music, and maybe inspired them as musicians.

James:

Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’ – Released: 1959
There was no one in my family that showed me jazz which was quite nice, that I was able to venture on my own journey and explore jazz for myself without my opinions being tainted by anyone else’s. Miles Davis for me was the gateway into a whole new world of music, so unbelievably expressive, without saying any words. That for me, that someone can express themselves so well simply by just playing their instrument, that said a lot. This album, ‘Kind of Blue’ which has also got John Coltrane on it, is incredible. I can put it on anytime, sit back, relax and just enjoy it for exactly what it is.


Freewhelin’ Bob Dylan – Released: 1963
Growing up my dad would play guitar, and he’d always play music such as Stones and Dylan around the house and the one that stood out to me was this record, ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. It’s an absolutely amazing record and totally reflective of the time when it was released. Dylan himself is just magical, I always liked him as a kid but I appreciate him a lot more now I’m older. This record also has this nostalgic feeling of growing up and my dad playing it. I think this is the record Dylan really made a mark for himself with, and made people understand what he was about. Personally, I think this is by far his best record and a good representation of the culture at the time. Take ‘Masters of War’, it’s so angry but at the same time just absolutely amazing songwriting, just another level.

Aaron:
The Strokes ‘Is This It’ – Released: 2001
The Strokes didn’t reinvent the wheel when they released this album, but they just did it really well; the album’s got incredible songs, and carries itself really well. Especially for a first album ‘Is This It’ really is quite something – all the singles on there are huge, hit after hit. Their songs are easy listening but at the same time incredibly well constructed. I just love the fact that despite not doing anything new, it was groundbreaking because they did it so well. The album could have been released yesterday and it would still have been as big as it was.

U2 ‘The Joshua Tree’ – Released: 1987
I went to see these guys last year in their hometown for their ‘Joshua Tree Tour’, and it was absolutely mental. I think this album was just ahead of its time, using guitar effects that hadn’t really been used much before. My least favourite track on here is ‘With or Without you’, which tends to often be the only song anyone knows, but then the rest of the songs on there are just amazing. Another timeless album, as these songs are all pretty relevant today.

Will:
Mac DeMarco ‘Another One’ – Released: 2015
I feel like a lot of music today is very over produced, and often a product of people wanting to get stuff out there as quick as they can without taking too much consideration into the end result. Then there’s records like this, where you can tell so much time’s gone into it, especially with the songwriting behind it, which you don’t really find that much today in newly released music. To find that sort of deep meaning in music you often have to go back all the way to the 70s. My favourite track on there is ‘Without me’, a song that just really chills you out after a long and busy day.

Black Sabbath ‘Masters of Reality’ – Released: 1971
This record seems pretty obvious, because it’s Black Sabbath. I was torn between Vol. 4 and ‘Masters of Reality’ but ended up going with ‘Masters of Reality’ due to the variation in the songs – you start out slow but heavy with Sweet Leaf, and then just a few songs later you’ve somehow got ‘Children of the Grave’ which is just mental and completely takes off. I actually ended up buying this record as well as it was lacking in my Sabbath collection; between my brother and myself we’ve got them all now except for Vol. 4, I guess that’s next on the list.

I did actually buy another record today as well, an EP from Inspiral Carpets, a band Noel Gallagher used to roadie for. Noel Gallagher and Oasis have always been a big influence for myself and my music, so it’s interesting to get some more background there and hear some of the stuff Noel Gallagher was around and listening to before his Oasis days.


“Digital music just doesn’t feel the same, or as real, as a vinyl does. There’s something about putting a record on your turntable and carefully dropping the needle and waiting for it to play, holding the artwork in your hands, and admiring all the time, work and love that’s gone into it.”
– James Lee, Fire Fences drummer

 

To recap and remind those of you who might not be completely in the loop with all the different pies we stick our fingers in – last year we were proud sponsors of Firestone’s Battle of the Bands, a competition that encourages artists of all genres, ages and genders to be heard – haven’t played outside your own basement before? No problem, if you’ve got what it takes – drive, talent, charisma and that little extra, you’re good to go! With hundreds of bands and artists applying last year, judges and a public vote managed to get the acts down to a top three consisting of Welsh band Fire Fences, London-based rapper EL-Emcee and Malvern’s Nuns of the Tundra. The final, which was held at BIMM Birmingham, was live streamed on Firestone’s Facebook for anyone to watch, and saw four piece Fire Fences snatch the prize which included fame, glory, Orange gear and precious studio time to record their upcoming EP thanks to Firestone’s backing of the event. Recap done and dusted, bringing us back to where we are today. Three months have passed since Fire Fences’ victory and they recently made their way to London for two very different shows; one late night gig at Hard Rock Café showcasing young music, followed by a stripped back set at Sofar Sounds the next day.

With Hard Rock Café being just a tube journey away, I made my way there and met up with the guys post-sound check, where I found them looking pretty pleased and content, having just indulged in some £7 pizza. Stomachs were full and spirits were high before a sudden abrupt announcement from the band;

“They wouldn’t let us use our Orange amps, they’ve had noise complaints before and the council won’t allow it.”

Bittersweet, bitter as the amps had been brought all the way to London from Wales for their chance to shine, sweet because the Orange amps might just be ‘too loud’ – is there even such a thing? Surely not, just ask Matt Pike.

How have you spent your time since you won the competition?
“We’re heading into the studio next week, which we’re able to do with Firestone’s support, so we’ve been working on material and getting ready for that. We’ve also been practicing for these two very different London shows – the one tonight is prime time at 10pm with a full band, kind of doing our regular thing and what we’re used to. As soon as we finish our set our bassist Dylan has to shoot off and get a midnight bus back to Wales as he’s got an exam tomorrow, leaving us one man down at the Sofar Sounds show. Luckily, we’re stripping it quite far back doing an acoustic show, so if we ever were to play a show as a three piece, this is a good one to do so.”

As Fire Fences take the stage at 10pm it’s busier than they expected, ‘Especially for a Wednesday night!’, and they get a great response from the crowd with people dancing and really getting into it. They finish their set and send Dylan off on his way back to Wales before they prepare themselves for another night in London and the big smoke. However, I also caught up with Aaron, Will and James the next morning – more on that coming soon – and reflecting on the night before, Aaron added:

“The Hard Rock Café show was epic and we really had a lot of fun. It’s a completely different vibe in London than what we’re used to from back home in Wales, almost like a different way of listening to music and more appreciation for it than there is in a lot of other places. People were getting really into it which is great. The show tonight will be pretty different though, the setting will be the kind where if you drop a pin the entire room can hear it. It’s fun for us though as the two shows are so diverse and it’s good practice for us playing our songs in such different ways and styles.”

After the two London shows, Fire Fences head back to Wales where they’re due in the studio the following week, leaving them with three more days to prepare before they record at the Northstone Studios within the Court Colman Manor – which is a pretty sweet place to record an album. We’ll be stopping by to get some insight on how they work in the studio, so watch this space to see what’s going on behind closed doors.

With over 300 aspiring acts hoping to be the lucky winners of this year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands, it was narrowed down to the top three who made it to the finals at newly built BIMM Birmingham. A quick recap to remind us all about the finalists; we had Welsh pop-rock band Fire Fences who despite their age had already played a sold out show at LA’s legendary The Viper Room and have one of their tracks picked for the new NASCAR Heat II video game, rapper EL-Emcee who’s been making countless tracks from his bedroom back in Ipswich and the heaviest band of the lot, Bristol’s Nuns of the Tundra. 

As we arrive to the freshly painted BIMM, all the acts are patiently waiting for sound check, dress rehearsals and their time to shine – streamed live for the world to watch. I mingle around and chat to the bands to see how they’re feeling, and how they’ve been preparing for the finals.  

Nuns of the Tundra:  

We’ve been working on ways to make the songs more interesting, and changed one of them around to give it a massive and dramatic ending. We also played a gig last night, almost like a rehearsal gig where we asked everyone for feedback on what they liked, but also what needed to be improved and could be done better. We’ll be playing two quite different songs as well to show versatility. We’ve been working towards the final, but we’re also in the process of writing new material and speaking to different producers, so whether we win or not we’ll still venture back into the studio. 

 

EL-Emcee:  

I’m very excited to play, really looking forward to it. I was expecting it to be a lot more nerve wrecking, and had it been last year I know it would have been, but I’m feeling quite relaxed. When I first entered the competition I didn’t really think that much of it. I gave it a go not expecting to hear back as it’s ‘Battle of the Bands’, and I’m not a band, so it did catch me by surprise when I all of a sudden got an email saying I’d made it through! It’s pretty mad to be honest. Obviously with me being a rapper competing against two guitar-based bands, I’ll be bringing a different vibe to the competition, and I hope that will work to my advantage. I’ve just been doing my regular thing leading up to the finals – I’ve been making music seriously for about four years now, and I’d say another eight before that just doing bits of pieces of lyrics and poetry, and I’ve got a tight group I work with who produces beats for me, although I’m looking at trying to do that myself. 

 

Fire Fences:  

We’re feeling excited about tonight, and even if we don’t make it to the top this is just another exciting thing to add onto the list of amazing stuff we’ve had happen to us. A few years back, we were lucky enough to record over in the States and play a sold out show at The Viper Room in LA. At the time we were under 21 and not old enough to drink or even be inside the venue, so we were literally stood outside on the sidewalk with our instruments until someone came and told us it was time to play. We set up, and when the curtains opened it was absolutely packed. It was incredible, and we feel like we’ve learnt a lot from that experience. We really love playing live, and we feel like that is our strength. We will try to treat tonight just as any other gig; go on, play, and have fun. It’s nice to be part of a final where all the bands are so different and great in their own way. The feedback we got after entering the competition was so great as well. You could tell that they had really taken their time to actually listen to and almost analyse our music, which made us feel even better about making it through as we were recognised for exactly what we were. 

 


Eventually it’s time for dress rehearsals and a quick run through of everything that’s about to happen. Abbie McCarthy from BBC Radio 1 is the host for the evening and starts out interviewing the judges which includes Orange’s European A&R rep Daniel Darby. A video of each band that was used during the public votes is showed before their performance, and they all get two songs each before they’re over in the hot seat with Abbie to share their thoughts on their performance and the competition. Shortly after, family and friends start to arrive adding some extra tension and excitement to it all, and the countdown till we go live begins. 

6pm sharp it all kicks off, and first out is Nuns of the Tundra, the heaviest act of the night. They start out with the bass-based ‘Dead in the Desert’, followed by ‘Minds’s Eye’ which they’ve re-worked for the evening and given a dramatic ending. Second man out is EL-Emcee who appears to be the natural entertainer, interacting with the camera and audience while showing off his incredible songwriting skills. Last but not least, is Welsh Fire Fences, who by the looks of it are probably the youngest of the lot. They start off loud and proud then mellows it down for the second song, both described as ‘anthems’ by Abbie McCarthy.

With all acts being so good at what they do, they judges are left with a tough decision to make. Minutes which must feel like months for the contestants pass by, and they can finally announce that this year’s winner of Firestone Battle of the Bands is Fire Fences!

While basking in the new found glory of their victory, we had a brief chat with the 2 runners up, Nuns of the Tundra who still were high in spirits and ready to take on some new recording, and EL-Emcee, who said he’ll keep writing and get producing, and perform wherever and whenever he can. When we finally managed to get a little piece of Fire Fences who were the centre of everyone’s attention, they couldn’t be happier about the outcome and head to the studio to record new music. We’ll be staying in touch with the winners, so watch this space for updates to see where they venture off to next. 

This upcoming Thursday, 14th December, sees the final of 2017’s Firestone Battle of the Bands. The public votes have closed, and the top three that made it to the final are Welsh four-piece Fire Fences, London-based rapper EL-Emcee and Malvern’s Nuns of the Tundra. One of the things we’re very excited about this year is that we’ve managed to cover a lot of ground and sound with this year’s bands and artist, from indie and rock ’n’ roll to hip hop and rap.

Fire Fences:

Fire Fences, who can be compared to the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy have had some incredible things happen to them during their four years as a band, from being invited out to LA in 2015 to record and play a sold out show at the legendary Viper Room, to being picked as one of the top ten UK unsigned bands in 2017 by Rising Sounds. This allowed them to record their single ‘Weather’ which has been chosen to be featured in the new NASCAR Heat II Video Game. The guys have made it clear that they’re in the music game for the thrill of it, and that the successes the band have seen so far have only been an added bonus. If they don’t make it in the end? Well, they’ll still be going at it at 60, as long as they’re still enjoying it.

EL-Emcee:

EL-Emcee is the only solo artist that’s made it to this year’s final, and also the only hip hop act in the top three. The Ipswich and London-based rapper, who’s real name is Lloyd Millwood, has been making tracks and beats under the alias EL-Emcee for years now, and records everything at home in his bedroom. For EL-Emcee, hip hop has become a way to express feelings, opinions and thoughts, and he’s already got hundreds of tracks under his belt. He is always still striving to learn, and adapt better to his soul, and will always find a way to stand out among the competition.

“Spreading Mind, Heart, Soul, to the world. Let our voices serve our purpose. Whether we become Pacs or Killer Mikes.”
-EL-Emcee

Nuns of the Tundra:

“Dirty desert rock from the unlikely tranquil town of Malvern. Nuns will make it their holy mission to get you moving.”
– From Nuns of the Tundra’s Soundcloud

Nuns of the Tundra will be the heaviest band on the bill for this year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands final, floating somewhere between Royal Blood and Queens of the Stone Age with their alternative indie psychedelic rock. Nuns of the Tundra have used their social media and SoundCloud to build up a following and reach new audiences, and love seeing people’s faces light up in excitement at gigs and shows.


As you can see, this diversity’s key, and it’ll be extra hard to pick a winner this year as all of the finalists are so good in their own field. The Birmingham final will be live streamed on Firestone’s Facebook, so tune in there from just before 6pm Thursday night to cheer your favourite to the top!

We’re approaching the half way mark in this year’s Firestone ‘Battle of the Bands’, a competition where grassroots musicians are given the opportunity to be seen and heard – bands that may not have ever played outside their own garage, basement, or rehearsal studio. We are giving bands of all genres, ages and gender an opportunity to play in front of industry people and musicians who have been where you are now, trying to make it out there. For now though, we want to give some airtime to women in music.

As much as we wish we could just ignore the whole gender divide in the music industry -and every other industry, for that matter, statistics prove time after time that the music industry is very much a ‘man’s world’, both on and off stage, and no matter how much we want that to change, it won’t – unless more females stand up and make it happen.

Let’s take a look back at females that have played important roles in music over the last couple of decades:

Brody Dalle Homme



Australian born artist Brody Dalle moved to Los Angeles at 18 where she started punk band The Distillers, a band that gained huge commercial success and encouraged girls all over the world to pick up the guitar and scream their hearts out. After three albums, the band dismantled and Dalle went on to pursue her solo career. In 2017 she’s happily married to Queens of the Stone Age Frontman Josh Homme whom she’s got three children with, and she keeps making music under her own name.

Rosalie Cunningham



After the disbanding of her former band Ipso Facto, Rosalie Cunningham went on to form 70’s influenced psychedelic band Purson, who’s debut album ‘The Circle and the Blue door’ gained critical acclaim and ended was ranked number 15 on Metal Hammer’s list of the 50 best albums in 2013. Armed with a Gibson Les Paul, Cunningham and the band toured relentlessly, supporting bands such as Kiss, Electric Wizard and Pentagram. The band announced their split earlier this year, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that Rosalie will yet again come back with a vengeance.

Zel Baterista


Vodun drummer Zel is an absolute powerhouse of a drummer and technical as few. Her band Vodun is African tribal inspired stoner psychedelic rock, and consists of a soul singer and guitarist, as well as Zel on drums. Known for the bands energetic and somewhat different live shows including face paint, costumes and flaming cymbals, Zel really is a breath of fresh air, and can knock you out of your boots any day of the week.

Alison Mosshart


Alison Mosshart first gained fame with garage rock two piece The Kills alongside guitarist and singer Jamie Hince. Sharing vocals, the band toured excessively using just a drum machine for beats, and gained international fame. While touring with The Raconteurs, Jack White lost his voice and Alison ended up filling in on vocals for some shows, igniting some musical spark between Jack and Alison. The two ended up jamming alongside Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and QOTSA guitarist Dean Fertita, and not long after a supergroup was born in the form of The Dead Weather. Alison’s raspy voice and energetic live performances, makes her the epitome of rock ’n’ roll, and she might just be one of the biggest females we’ve got in rock today.



Paz Lenchantin


Multi instrumentalist Paz Lenchantin has had her fingers in all the pies – from playing bass in her own band The Entrance Band, playing violin on QOTSA’s ‘Songs for the Deaf’ album, playing with A Perfect Circle, and becoming a permanent member of the Pixies in 2016 after being their touring bassist since 2014. Paz performances are spellbinding and her musical craftsmanship really is astonishing. She is a world class bassist, and while playing with The Entrance Band she almost functions as a second lead guitarist with her melodic way of playing.

Joan Jett


From forming her first band at the tender age at 16, Joan Jett gained international fame with he band The Runaways from an early age. The band recorded five albums and toured and opened up for bands such as The Ramones, Cheap Trick and Van Halen. After the Runaways ended, she felt lost as ‘her baby had died’ and eventually ended up forming Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, and band that’s still together this day today. Joan Jett is pretty much a living legend.

Liz Buckingham



Since joining Electric Wizard on guitar more than a decade ago, Liz Buckingham has proven herself to be one of the queens of doom, a genre that’s more males than any other. Buckingham’s riffs are heavier than hell, and her presence is so refreshing in a sea of bearded blokes.

Heather McKay

Photo: Marty Moffatt / Planet Rockstock

The Amorettes is an all female rock n roll three piece from Scotland, and they have been making a name for themselves over the last couple of years touring with bands such as Europe, Danko Jones and Black Stone Cherry. Bassist Heather McKay is the youngest one in the bunch, and also happens to be an Orange endorsee! The band’s sound has been described as “Airbourne fronted by Joan Jett, and a “Female Motorhead” – do we need to say more…?

 

Nita Strauss


Californian based guitarist Nita Strauss descends from Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, and her claim to fame was as the guitarist in the all female Iron Maiden tribute band the Iron Maidens. As of 2014, Strauss took over as Alice Cooper’s touring guitarist, and she’s been touring excessively ever since.

Despite all of the artists above being from different genres and generations, they share their passion for their profession, and the mutual understanding that music speaks for itself, no matter gender, sex, or race. Help us make this year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands one of the best ever – let’s celebrate diversity and come together for music.

 

 

We are a partner in this year’s Firestone Battle of the Bands, a competition that gives unsigned acts the chance to showcase their musical talents and be in with a chance of winning a great set of prizes. Entries are now closed but 6 spotlighted artists have been chosen by us and campaign partner PMT and a public vote to choose the 3 finalists opens on Monday 13th November.

Keep an eye on our social media and Firestone’s Facebook, vote, share and #BeHeard