Bristol goth punks Ashestoangels have had quite a year. They’ve released their fourth LP, torn up the UK both in support of Aiden and headlining their own tour, and are gearing up to bring their unique brand of mayhem to Camden Rocks and Download this summer.
Ashestoangels are still a fairly young band, and aren’t afraid to stand apart from the pack and play their own music their own way. So we sent Ryan down to their most recent Glasgow show to chat to band leader and frontman Crilly about the band’s journey to date…
We’re sitting chatting to Crilly in a fire escape somewhere in Glasgow’s Garage. Sitting in his hoodie, but with full stage makeup and hair, it’s clear that as he gets amped up for a show, he exists somewhere between Crilly the intelligent, articulate music businessman, and Crilly the wild, unfettered frontman of Ashestoangels. We joke that as we sit in this dingy stairwell, talking about Batman vs Superman, it feels like we’re a couple of kids skiving class for a fag. “Nah, everybody knows you smoke in the toilets so you can flush it away.”, says Crilly with a knowing smile, giving an insight into the mischievous past of the leader of one of England’s most exciting new rock bands.
It’s a side of himself which Crilly certainly hasn’t forgotten, as shown by his absolute dedication to his rapidly expanding fanbase. “When I was growing up and getting into music the idea that I could meet my favourite bands [was amazing]. I really liked Slipknot: I met Corey Taylor once and it blew my fucking mind. But I don’t think it has to be like that anymore.
“The way the music industry works these days is the power can be back in the hands of the artist, but what that really means is the power is in the hands of the audience. Without them you are absolutely screwed, so it makes sense to involve them as much as possible. And that’s not just hitting them up like a bank: I really hate that shit, I hate the idea of the audience being a commodity. We do these [events], people call them VIP, Meet & Greet, but I don’t like using those phrases. So tickets are a little bit more expensive but they get in early and I play an acoustic show and they get a backpatch that I made for them and it’s only gonna be for them. It allows people to be as involved as possible.
“If we’re going to be out and performing then it’s really important that we mean something to these people. I don’t think we’re the kind of band to attract casual fans, and it’s nice to see somebody who is like me when I was younger but is having a much easier time than me ’cause we’ve got this cool thing which we can all do together.”
But as much as Crilly is unwilling to forget his goth-kid roots, today he’s also a shrewd businessman, albeit in his own distinctive way. We ask him about his thoughts on young bands seeking sponsorships, and he tells us about his band’s relationship with Orange amplifiers.
“Well, I did get drunk and email Orange and was like, ‘Hey! We’re playing Download and our amps are shit, can we use yours?!’ And fifteen minutes after their office opened I got a reply saying yes! We love Orange, it’s what we always use on our records but we can never afford it.
“But as for big companies [in general], I think until you’re big enough and you can prove your worth you’re always going to be their pawn which they can do whatever the fuck they want with, if you’re flavour of the week. But if you work at it and become something on your own, then big companies can do something for you. And you don’t have to suck up and have to compromise on what you want to do: you can make it a more level playing field.
“This is the first tour that I haven’t booked the whole thing myself. We’re with X-Ray now and that took years to set up and that was always my goal, to build ourselves to a point where we could get a proper agent, someone who was passionate about the idea and wanted to work with us and I’ve gotta say it was definitely worth all the hard work. And because of how I came at it’s more like a partnership that a dictatorship.
“I hate it when I see bands who’ve got themselves into a bad situation, when they thought getting signed was the right move.”
While this business savvy is certainly a key ingredient in the band’s early success, it stems from absolute necessity. Since their inception, Ashestoangels have stood apart from the Bristol heavy music scene, and have been forced to carve their own niche in the English rock landscape. When we ask about the band’s early days in their hometown, Crilly tells us, “Well we have BCHC: Bristol City Hardcore, which is fucking great, and they hate us. There’s a lot of good hardcore, a lot of good metal, but they don’t really wanna hang out with us. So we had to start our own thing.”
And how exactly did the band go about that?
“Sheer bloody-minded determination. Just constant touring. We did it the old school way, like you would in a film. Playing to nobody. One man and his dog, when he left the dog at home that day. But just the experience of driving up and down the country, getting that word of mouth thing rolling.
“Also being hands-on and really trying to utilise the internet back before Facebook really started restricting what you could do with it. It’s a lot harder now, but we’re kind of finding ways around it. That really helps – if we’d started this band ten years ago maybe it would have been a little easier because there was still such a thing as ‘getting discovered’ and blowing up but we wouldn’t have been able to do the same war of attrition, grinding out, just finding like-minded people.
“You have to work a lot harder and a lot more consistently but I think the work to reward ratio is at least kinda doable now. If your songs are alright and you’re not a dickhead you can probably become a musician. Also print your own merchandise, that’ll help.”
So if printing your own merch is one piece of advice for new bands wanting to follow Ashestoangels tried-and-tested path, Crilly also recommends:
“Gotta have thick skin. Gotta learn to drive. If you wanna do it the way we’re doing it… Don’t worry about promoters, they’ll come later.
“Book the shows yourselves. Get chatting to local bands in the cities you play in. You’ll make some of the best friends you’re ever gonna meet, you’ll always have a place to stay, you’ve always got someone to play with when you come to town. If you’ve got some mates and you get four bands on a bill and you all bring ten people, that’s only forty, it’s not a big crowd, but you’ve got to remember that when you played to nobody at your first show how happy you would have been with forty people.
“Print your own merchandise. It gives you a lot of control. It means that you don’t have to get a hundred printed, just as many as you need. I think, really, if you want something, work out how you’re gonna do it and just work at it!
“This whole band thing, it takes a lot, it takes pretty much everything that you have. Just work it out, and if it doesn’t work out the way you started, then just try it a different way. Start again, it doesn’t matter. Imagine you’re a band playing their first ever show every time.”
This is where Crilly definitely eats his words. High-profile tours and acclaimed albums are one thing, but if you can’t deliver every single time you play live you won’t last long in this game. But if tonight’s anything to go by then Ashestoangels fans have nothing to worry about. It’s a relentless show, and in every lyric, every leap across the stage, every thrusting of the mic into the crowd, and every shout out to the audience Crilly’s absolute mastery and passion for his craft radiates through. Ashestoangels may have grafted to be where they are today, but rest assured this is just the beginning of their story.
Ashestoangels play Camden Rocks on Saturday 4th June and Download Festival on Sunday 12th June.