Formed at the tail end of last year, Belfast’s The Irontown Diehards quickly made an impression on local rock audiences, with their hard-hitting live shows and their distinctive image.
The band are currently in the studio recording their debut album, but guitarist Andrew Baxter (pictured right) recently took time out to bring PlanetMosh up to speed on the Diehards story. We started by talking about the name of the band: with the four musicians hailing from Belfast, a city with a rich but now largely dead industrial heritage, it struck me that the name is a homage, if you will, to the city’s past glories and reputation and the men who turned into the powerhouse it once was…
The ‘Irontown’ is indeed Belfast and it does hark back to a time that, for the most part, no longer exists. But the foundation is still there. This place is built on hard graft and determination; a bloody-minded refusal to take no for an answer and to take a hit and get straight back up again. So here we are, the men from Belfast that respect our past but haven’t given up on our dreams. The Irontown Diehards.
So, how did the line up come about?
Phil [Dixon – vocals] dropped me a message on Facebook saying he’d like to work with me if the opportunity arose – simple as that,” explain Baxter. “I had some ideas so I thought, why not? It turned out not only is he a fantastic singer and songwriter but a very inspiring person to work with. Gordy [Gray – drums] had dropped me a similar message, but by the time I got back to him he was involved in another project. Thankfully for us that fell through, so we had our drummer. Mark [McCallion – bass] was recommended to me and was the first guy to audition. We didn’t audition anyone else.
The reason we’re talking, is because, as mentioned at the top of this piece, the band are working on their debut album – but we’ll come to that in a minute. We got a little taster of it earlier this year, in the form of the video ‘Step Inside’: what struck me about the video was, that although all of the band members appear in it, it’s not a performance video (in fact, you only see Gordy actually playing in it) but is more story-led. How important was it for you to adopt that slightly different approach to that taken by many other Northern Ireland bands in their video shoots?
The important thing to remember is that the video is a promotional vehicle for the band, it’s name and it’s image, not a video single.
Phil and I were kicking around some ideas with Jim Crone – our director and friend – and we were a long way down the road to making a very different video when something he’d shown us made me ask “Can we make a Versace ad? For a rock band?” Jim’s experience in fashion photography is unparalleled and thankfully he ran with the idea.
As to our approach; it’s not important for us to be different, I think we just are.
[Interview continues after the video]
The other thing that the video shows is the band’s unique image and sense of style: shirts, ties, waistcoats and trilbies… how did the image come about and, again, how important is it for the Diehards to look different from the more familiar t-shirt and jeans look?
This is show business, right? A T shirt and jeans is what you wear to the shops. I wanted something different. The Irontown Diehards name and look came together at the same time and luckily for me Phil, Gordy and Mark were on exactly the same page.
They all take the image very seriously – dressing in their stage clothes when they go to other bands’ gigs, etc. I assume it is important not to let the personas drop?
I take everything about this band very seriously. The truth is all I own now are shirts, ties, waistcoats and brogues so I’ve no choice in the way I dress… oh, and trousers, I own trousers too [laughs].
So, how is the album coming along?
I could not be happier. Everyone has performed out of their skins. The tones, the sound is even better than I had hoped for. Phil has kicked it right out of the park…
They are recording it with Frankie McClay, who is something of a legend in this part of the world, at his appropriately-named Einstein Studios: what does Frankie bring to the table as far as the band is concerned and how important is it to them to be working with such an acclaimed producer?
Here’s the thing: everyone in this band is a great musician but that’s not the reason I’m playing with them. I’m playing with them because they are all, without exception, beautiful people and my friends. Steve Moore, from Stormzone is my friend. He recorded ‘Step Inside’ for our promo video and did an exceptional job. Frankie is my friend and I’ve wanted to do a serious project with him for a long time and luckily for us he’s agreed to do this.
Frankie, Steve, Jim and the guys are all brilliant people, but what is important is we are doing this with our friends. That’s the Diehard way.
What Frankie has given me are the tones to make self-expression possible and the patience to allow it to happen.
Andrew is better known as more of a heavy metal guitarist, but the Diehards have a more traditional hard rock sound to them: what challenges has this presented to him as a musician, adapting hisstyle of playing to the overall style of the rest of the band?
It hasn’t represented any challenge at all. I love heavy metal but it was only ever one facet of my playing. Gordy is most associated with heavy music but his groove is unbelievable. Mark is known for groove and funk but his ability with and knowledge of rock and metal is unparalleled. Phil? Well he can do anything [laughs].
Finally, it’s time for the grand reveal: what is the album called and when can we expect to hear it?
I have a personal working title only and that’s… ‘Blood and Jealousy’. Hopefully coming your way this autumn.