Interview: Driven and Inspired, There's No Stopping Boy Azooga

Wednesday, September 11, 2019
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There’s no doubt that Cardiff’s Boy Azooga is fast becoming one of the most talked-about acts of the year. Led by multi-instrumentalist Davey Newington, and featuring his friends and fellow musicians Daf Davies, Dylan Morgan and Sam Barnes, the quartet are set for huge things. Since releasing his genre-bending debut album 1, 2, Kung Fu! mid last year, the attention on Boy Azooga has risen rapidly. The added attention on Newington and his bandmates has resulted in them spending more time travelling and on the road. During their visit to Australia, we sat down to chat with Newington about Boy Azooga’s rise, Cardiff’s vibrant music scene and new music.

His debut album 1, 2, Kung Fu!, released over a year ago via Heavenly Recordings, channelled his vast and expansive musical upbringing, and also saw him play each of the instruments on the record’s eleven tracks. Newington’s parents played in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and his grandfather played the drums for the Royal Marines  — mixing his upbringing with other musical influences and his own experimentation was inevitably going to result in a record as diverse and dynamic as his debut release.

Also influencing Newington is the rich and collaborative nature of Cardiff’s music community. It’s a scene that has been attracting a lot of attention lately, especially with the rise of bands such as Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard — who he used to play with and still collaborates regularly with Tom Rees from the band. “There’s always been good stuff coming out of Wales,” he said, “There is an amazing scene in Cardiff, and I think it’s always been there. There’s more attention on the bands coming out of there at the moment, which is incredible.”

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Newington cites that Cardiff’s venue closures and the Save Womanby Street campaign spurred a lot of the musicians in the area to band together and fight back. “There’s constantly venues getting closed down, which seems like quite a universal thing, but the Save Womanby Street campaign just gave everyone that kick up the arse to do something about it.”

The result of the venue closures and the damage it was causing to Cardiff’s vibrant music scene led to bands and musicians hosting their own grassroot shows in protest of the closures as an effort to keep the scene in the city alive. “Tom from Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard was in a band called Tibet and they would put on gigs in the basement of Jacobs Market, which is an antique market. Seeing stuff like that inspired us to put on our own gigs. Everyone would think on their feet a bit and just take matters into their own hands and make stuff happen.”

Even within Boy Azooga, Newington’s bandmates also work on their own projects in Cardiff, including Sam who plays in Shoebox Orchestra, Dylan works on DD Darillo and Dav plays in Men On The Chessboard. “We all play and work with each other’s bands, and it’s something that even stretches way beyond our band. Even in Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Tom plays in his guitarist’s band.”

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Though he talks about the closeness of Cardiff’s emerging scene, he notes that it wouldn’t be possible without the artists who paved the way before them, including bands like The Keys. “In Cardiff, everyone pitches in and it’s the coolest thing to be able to work on lots of things. It keeps things fresh and inspires other projects you’re working on as well.”

In-between his busy touring schedule, Newington has been working on their sophomore album, which is set to be just as experimental as his debut. He’s currently aiming to share his first preview of new music in October.

He continually works on new music, even amidst recording material. “The way I like to do it is to write a song and then jam in the studio. For me, the demos often become the final thing anyway. I’ll take a song home and just chip away at it, rather than being like, ‘Okay, I’ve written a song and now we’ll go to the studio and then it’s done’.”

Whereas the first record featured only himself, Eddie Al-Shakarchi and his dad on strings, the second record will be more collaborative and will include the rest of the band. “I want the next record to be more collaborative and take that direction instead — I want different voices on the project so there’s a progression from the first.” He’s also currently looking at including a kid’s choir on one of the tracks, as well as experimenting with sampling — something which might be up in the air as he’s waiting for a sample to clear.

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He’s eager for the world to hear what he’s been working on, but he doesn’t want to rush it if he feels like the music is undercooked and not yet ready for public consumption. “I don’t want to wait too long to release another record, but then I also don’t want to rush it. If it’s not ready next year than it’s just not ready. I’d rather look back and be proud of all the stuff we do than just force it and put music out that isn’t ready just to keep up the momentum. It wouldn’t feel right to do that.”

Album cycles might be becoming shorter, but for Newington, he thinks it’s a good thing. “Bands like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are so inspiring as they just consistently have good output. They release a lot of records, but they’re all so incredible. It’s good because it gives you that push to keep making music.” Initially, he wanted to work on records quickly, but that was before he realised that it can be immensely challenging putting out records regularly whilst maintaining quality and not putting too much pressure on yourself. “Before I started the first album, I was kind of like, ‘We are going to keep making records and get them out,’ but then you actually realise how hard it is to make a record.”

His travel plans are only going to become busier, with an appearance at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavík coming up, as well as plans to travel to Asia, including Malaysia and possibly Hong Kong (if it’s safe to do so). “I’m definitely happier when I’m busy. I mean, it’s good to have a break too. But I think playing music, touring and meeting people is amazing and I feel so lucky to do what I do.”

He’s also feeling as inspired as ever and excited about the direction Boy Azooga is heading in. “I’m just feeling really inspired right now, whether it’s my own stuff or other projects I’m working on, I’m just excited to keep making music and play as often as I can.”

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

Listen to 1, 2, Kung Fu! below:

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