“We lived a dream for a few months, but I’ve said it before, playing Download Festival was the best-worst thing that ever happened to us.”
There aren’t many unsigned bands who are given the opportunity to play one of the UK’s biggest music festivals, but for Greenock four-piece Banshee, formerly known as Life on Standby, it was a turning point in the group’s life cycle.
In 2015, the quartet blazed a trail through the Red Bull Live at Download competition to rub shoulders with some of the world’s biggest artists, an invaluable experience for any young band, but also one that left them at a crossroads.
“It’s the best memory we have, but we felt we had to get away from just being that band who played Download Festival,” says singer Erin Donnachie, as she reflects on the collective decision to overhaul their identity. “We wanted to be a ‘new’ band.”
“It was crazy, this wee band from Greenock alongside all these big names,” guitarist Gavin Williams recalls fondly. “But it was hard to maintain that kind of momentum,” he admits. Tired of being associated with one festival appearance, the band decided it was time for a change. And so, Banshee was born in March 2016, giving them a renewed sense of purpose, and a clean slate from which to work.
I’ve met Donnachie and Williams at a coffee shop just outside of their native Greenock, to discuss the name-change, their newly released single ‘Starts with One’, and their plans for the year ahead. Settling in, the pair are quick to break down the various elements of the band’s sound.
“Our sound is alternative pop-rock, but also quite synth-y and electronic,” Donnachie explains. “Everyone brings their own influences, but we’re all pretty much on the same page when it comes to the kind of sound we want to achieve.” Bassist Liam Walker and drummer Gianluca Demelas, who create a thundering platform upon which the band layer over-driven guitars and subtle electronic flourishes, complete the line-up. Donnachie’s vocals, however, provide the group’s most striking characteristic, wielding a powerful voice that seamlessly transitions from gritty and raw to softer, more melodic moments.
“Our sound was an on-going thing, until Banshee,” Williams asserts, suggesting that the transition from their old incarnation has allowed them to achieve a musical style that they can claim as their own. They are also testament to the notion that there is no set formula for creating a band that is a cohesive unit, as they all cite influences that would not traditionally be compatible.
“In terms of writing and sound, my influences are bands like PVRIS and Enter Shikari, stuff like that,” Donnachie says, before leaning towards her compatriot and revealing his affinity for Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist, Slash. “On top of that, Liam is really into John Mayer, and Gianluca loves Led Zeppelin,” She continues, completing a whistle-stop tour of their eclectic inspirations. “But we’re not trying to write a John Mayer chord progression over electronic-rock, that’d just be bizarre.”
A listen to ‘Starts with One’ confirms that they are not the type to shoehorn various influences into their music for the sake of it. The three-minute track is an assured, energetic slice of pop rock that substantiates the group’s claim regarding their more streamlined sound. Singer Donnachie says that although it encapsulates the sonic style they will continue to pursue in the future, the song itself has origins very much rooted in the past.
“This time last year, we took a week and just wrote and wrote, ending up with about five demos,” She and Williams piece together the timeline of ‘Starts with One’ between them for a minute or so, before delving deeper into its roots. “We always start with the music, then I’ll write the lyrics on top of it, and with this song it just reminded me so much of being 16 and going out, listening to stuff like Paramore and getting steaming with my pals,” Donnachie laughs. “So that’s what I wrote about.” In almost every sense, it’s a release that has been a long time in the making, and one that the band are more than satisfied with.
“The new single took forever,” Williams reflects, polishing off his espresso. “In that week where Erin said we recorded five demos; before we went into the studio it was more like four and a quarter, and that quarter was ‘Starts with One’. It’s probably the most basic structure of a song we’ve taken in to record – it was totally stripped back – but it came together nicely. It’s the first time we’ve done that, usually we don’t take a song into the studio until we’re sure it’s completed, but we’re really happy with it.”
I ask if this will change Banshee’s approach to recording new material in the future, but Williams is unsure, citing the issue that plagues almost every young band. “Yeah, if we have the time and money,” He admits. “Well, time not so much. We can make the time, every one of us is committed to this band, but the big thing is money. Studio time is expensive, and the more mistakes you make in the studio, the more it costs you.”
It is a fair assessment, but nonetheless, Banshee’s studio gamble was successful; the song’s official video has amassed over 10,000 views since its release last week. “We booked out a photography studio, brought lots of props, and did individual shots with each of the band members,” Donnachie outlines the video’s conception, as directed by long-time collaborator Andy Mills. “It’s different to anything we’ve ever done before, we wanted to do something that wasn’t just performance, but didn’t have a full story running through it either, those are tricky to pull off.”
“There’s no way I could do that kind of thing anyway,” Williams laughs as he confesses his aversion to acting in music videos. “Erin’s good at that sort of stuff, but me and the rest of the boys? Absolutely no chance.” He points out that he feels much more at home on stage with a guitar in his hands, and that is where the band are looking forward to returning. The group have lined up a support slot with English band Empire on 17 March, at popular Glasgow venue Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s.
“Sleazy’s is a small venue with a great sound, even if you put only like 50 people in it, it’s still going to be mental. We’re just looking forward to playing, it’s been a while,” Donnachie explains, revealing that the band plan much of their year around the summer festival circuit, of which they were a prominent part last year.
“We played about six or seven festivals last summer, and we like to be prepared for that time of year,” Williams recalls playing Brew at the Bog in Inverness last year, as well as a sold-out show at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, with the wonderfully named Fearless Vampire Killers. “Hopefully it’ll be as successful as last year.”
Paramount to 2016’s success, the band believes, was overhauling their collective identity and making a clean break from past endeavours. “There was a buzz around us, a lot of PR, and we really pulled out all the stops to make the change work.” Donnachie says with confidence. “Ideally we’d like to get more music out this year, maybe another single and definitely a tour to build some momentum. It’s all about being three steps ahead of yourself, and always having the next thing ready.”
There is a palpable optimism and focus from both Donnachie and Williams, and the band have responded strongly to their post-Download disappointment. Judging by the freshness and energy in their new single, Banshee are well set to make their mark in 2017.
Banshee will play @ Nice ‘n’ Sleazy, Glasgow on Friday 17th March.
Watch the video for their latest single ‘Starts with One’ below.