Boy Azooga interview by Kevin McGrath
Anyone who has been around the Cardiff music scene for the past 5 years or so will have come across Davey Newington who has played with numerous acts such as Keys, Houdini Dax and Charlotte Church. Davey’s band Boy Azooga first came to our attention back in 2016 when we made them one of our must see acts for the year ahead. Since then they have signed to Heavenly, been playlisted on 6Music and their debut album 1,2, Kung Fu is out in June. Kevin McGrath caught up with Davey Newington the creative driving force behind the band to find out more about Boy Azooga.
Who plays what in Boy Azooga? Can you give us a potted musical history of each band member?
The Boy Azooga live band is myself on guitar and vocals, Daf Davies on the drums and backing vocals, he also plays in the amazing Afro Cluster and Men On The Chessboard, amongst others, Sam Barnes plays bass, guitar and sings and has a project called Shoebox Orchestra, his songs are brilliant, Dylan Morgan plays keys and guitar, he used to be in a great band called Homes and has a class new project called Dd.D Darillo which is coming out soon.
Why was it the right moment for you to make the switch from drums to guitar?
I’m still getting used to being up front with a guitar to be honest, it still doesn’t feel quite right but I’m really enjoying it all the same. Daf is an incredible drummer so I know that part is being nailed when we play live, so I can relax a little! When David Bowie passed away I got obsessed with the Blackstar album and ended up watching a lot of past interviews with him. It sounds a bit pretentious when I say it but he said something about creativity being most exciting when you’re at the edge of your comfort zone and it definitely inspired me to try something that was new to me.
What’s more important in a band, mateship or musicianship?
I think both things are really important but overall mateship more so. If you can’t be in a van together then you’re not gonna get anywhere!
What is the division of labour within the group, as regards song writing? Does it break down to one individual being responsible for the lyrics and another the music? Or is there a much more collaborative process at work?
I’ve been working on these songs for a few years with an amazing producer called Eddie Al-Shakarchi who I owe a lot to. It only really became a band at the end of 2016. I had written and recorded an album’s worth of material and decided I wanted to play it live, so I got the other boys involved. I still write and perform all the material on my own but would love to get the boys playing on future releases. I’d also like to collaborate with more people, get some female voices on tracks and experiment with different musicians.
The band’s been together for just over a year now, but so far you’ve only put a couple of songs – the exquisite “Face behind Her Cigarette” and just recently “Loner Boogie”. How typical are those tracks, which might be labelled psych-funk, of the material which you have stored away in the vaults?
I’d say that’s a fair description yeah. I’ve got a few songs that are in more of a traditional songwriter style though, more melancholy. I’m obsessed with lots of different music and this project is basically my way of celebrating what I’m into. I’m open to experimentation and trying lots of different styles.
Do you mind people attaching labels to your music? Do you want to put them straight once and for all by giving us a nice, neat definition yourself?
Ha ha ha, no I don’t mind that at all. Owen from Monico Blonde/Houdini Dax did describe Azooga as ‘Slacker Glam’ though and I’m happy with that!
You’re on record as saying that “Face behind the Cigarette” is a “celebration/rip off of the late great William Onyeabor”. What makes the Nigerian funk icon’s music so inspirational?
I just love his songwriting and fearlessness. I’d never heard anything like it when I discovered it. So many amazing sounds and rhythms, and he wasn’t bound by traditional pop song structures. I love the production as well, his recordings have an amazing raw energy.
The track was produced by musical guru Dr Ed Boogie (Eddie Al-Shakarchi). How did you two get together?
We were introduced by a friend and began casually making music together. We hit it off straight away because we are both obsessed with a lot of the same music and massive fans of Spinal Tap! I played drums on an amazing album he’s making with Linford Hydes. Their music is so good!
You’ve picked up some airplay from the likes of BBC Radio 6, while Huw Stephens is a big fan of the group too. How important is that kind of support to a band just starting out?
We’re so grateful for all of the support and airplay we’ve had. Being able to leave Cardiff, drive somewhere else in the country and there be people there who know the songs is such a strange and amazing feeling. It makes such a difference.
Heavenly Recordings, who you signed with last November, seems to hold a special place in your heart. Why is the label particularly important to you?
I discovered Heavenly through one of my all time favourite bands King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard from Australia. They are signed to Heavenly over here, I love that Heavenly are so passionate about music and work so hard on every release they put out. They have some more experimental artists on the label too and projects that might not make a huge amount of money, they just put it out because they love it. The more time I spend with them the more I realise how much music they love and have a deep knowledge of. They are such a friendly, supportive team who always turn us on to amazing music.
How did you come to the label’s attention?
I owe a lot to Mark Daman Thomas (Farm Hand, Islet) from Shape Records. He is a lovely guy and a great artist. He sent “Loner Boogie” to Jeff from Heavenly and Jeff got in touch with me. There’s a song called “Hangover Square” on the album that has a lyric “On the train to Brighton”. Jeff rang me really excited one day and was like “Davey I’m on a train to Brighton to watch King Gizzard play, I’m listening to ‘Hangover Square’ and you just sang ‘On the Train to Brighton’. I wanna put this record out if you’re up for it”. It was a great moment and I was welling up on the phone trying not to cry ha ha. I still can’t believe the album is actually coming out after waiting such a long time.
You have an eclectic taste in music, but if you could time travel to any point in the history of popular music, whether it be the Jazz Age or the sixties folk-boom, for example, which period would you set the Boy Azooga time machine coordinates for?
That’s a really hard one because I love so many different eras of music. Also because I love being able to use technology nowadays to make music. Going back to 1966 around the time of The Beatles’ Revolver would be amazing though. Can’t imagine what it must’ve sounded like to people at the time!?
You give the impression of being a 24/7 music obsessive, but is your songwriting influenced by any other art form, literature or film perhaps?
Yeah I’m inspired by other art forms all the time. Everything from Calvin & Hobbes to Jean Michel Basquiat to Taxi Driver! The song “Hangover Square” that I mentioned earlier is about a book my old man gave me when I left home. It’s a really dark but amazing black comedy about a lonely troubled guy in London around World War Two. I don’t want to give too much away, highly recommend it if you haven’t read it.
(Davey – Record Store Day in Spillers Records 2018)
You were an integral part of power pop trio Houdini Dax, releasing two albums You Belong to Dax Darling (2011) and the lost classic Naughty Nation (2015), together with a batch of superior singles including “Our Boy Billy”, “Apple Tree” and “Good Old Fashioned Maniac”. Yet, despite the excellence of the material, the Dax was never able to break out of the local circuit. Why didn’t it happen for the band?
I really don’t know, we got to do some amazing things though and had really good times. A highlight in particular was recording Naughty Nation. We’re all really proud of the Dax and still meet people all the time who were really into it.
Houdini Dax added a fourth member, Theo Frangoulis , then morphed into Monico Blonde. The combo seemed to hit the ground running, landing some big support slots, including with the legendary Morrissey. You‘d been in a band with Jack Butler and Owen Richards since your schooldays, so what made you decide to up sticks and leave?
I’d wanted to do this project for a long time but felt terrible about leaving and didn’t want to let my friends down. It got to a point though where I realised I wasn’t really being fair on myself and I wasn’t being fair on them because I wanted to give my own stuff a proper go and dedicate everything I have to it and they deserved someone who was going to do the same for them. It was a really hard thing to do but we’re like brothers so everything was cool.
You’ve just posted the news that Boy Azooga’s debut album will be released in the spring. Where and when was the album recorded?
The album was recorded over a few years at Eddie’s house. He has a home studio in his living room on the farm he lives on. It’s amazing and so relaxed. Most of my favourite records by people like Ty Segall, Caribou and Pond were all recorded at home so I thought ‘fuck it’ let’s just do everything here. It was so relaxed. It makes a big difference to me not having the pressure of studio time or wasting money on your mind when you’re trying to get something right.
Was it a completely different experience in the studio this time around, given that you were personally calling all the shots?
Yeah, but I’ve been recording and multi tracking things on my own since I was 14, I was always just quite shy about it. I had a really clear idea of how I wanted everything to sound and had countless notebooks filled with drum ideas and production ideas so by the time I get to Eddie’s I’m bursting to just get it all down.
Rumour has it that you already have another album’s worth of material ripe for recording?
I’ve written most of the second LP and have started recording bits. It’s weird knowing that there might be a few people listening the next time around, whereas before it was just my girlfriend, my Mum and my girlfriend’s dog who heard the songs! It’s exciting though and I can’t wait to share more music with everyone.
Now that Lin-Manuel Miranda has pulled the plug on his musical collaboration with Larry David, would Boy Azooga be prepared to drop everything and salvage “Fatwa!”? This show must go on! And the world would owe you a great debt!
Ha ha ha ha ha. Best question ever. Sure, let’s do it!
You’ve landed the support slot on Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s upcoming U.K. tour. Where can fans catch you playing?
We’re doing Glasgow, London, Nottingham and Manchester with them, can’t wait, they’re a great band. We’ve got a bunch of other dates too that you can see on our website www.boyazooga.co.uk
What’s the best and worst thing about life on the road?
The worst thing is being away from home, but the best thing is doing exactly what you want to be doing every night in a row.
You’ve been playing Cardiff for a number of years now, is the live music scene in the capital in a healthy state?
Absolutely! I’m not gonna do a list because I’ll just leave someone great out but there’s so much amazing music, we feel really lucky to be a part of the Cardiff scene.
Which band/artist are you most proud of having played live with?
We played a Heavenly weekender in Hebden Bridge that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard played and that was incredible. Got to meet the band and they were lovely. We’re playing with my heroes Deerhunter soon, too, and I really can’t believe it!
What would success look like for Boy Azooga?
Being able to put records out, have some people that cared about it and be able to eat is success to me!
’1,2, Kung Fu!’ by Boy Azooga is released 8th June on Heavenly Records.