This first cut is their deepest
After bounding onto the scene in 2017 with their infectious pop grooves, best mates Ash Wallace & Gabe Everett - known as Foley - have been biding their time since 2021's 'Vacation' EP. It turns out the path to an LP is a long and creative road (apologies Paul McCartney). We love nothing more than reuniting with old friends, so on the eve of the release of part one of their debut album 'Crowd Pleaser' we got the duo back into the studio for a chat about digging deep, Gabe's voice, and a bunch of other firsts.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I'm talking to Ash & Gabe before they rush off to keep preparing for a video shoot that has become a last minute rush. Something to do with travel issues and an international director that can’t make it. Or something. With all the dramas around international travel at the moment it's not really a surprise.
It’s inevitable that things go back to pre-covid, but the last time that I talked to Foley was on the day their EP ‘On My Conscience’ was released – March 20, 2020. This was the day before NZ’s first Covid lockdown was announced and in retrospect, the writing was all over the walls.
There was another EP release in 2021, then they fell headfirst into writing mode which has turned into Crowd Pleaser Part 1. Ash explains, “It's probably been about like 18 months to two years of working on this body of work. We wrapped up ‘Vacation’, the last EP. And then I think we'd always had in our head that we did want to move from there into a bigger body of work.”
AW: “We both have quite a romantic perspective on albums. So, we really wanted to take that on as like a kind of the next challenge. We've probably been writing for this project for about two years, working on lots and lots and lots of songs and experimenting with different sounds.”
This experimentation took them through some wild places. According to Ash, “We wrote for a long time just to test the waters and work out what we wanted to do.” None of this made it to the LP, and it wasn’t until they penned ‘Coffee’ that they found their sound. It became their “guiding light”, and from then, it was heads down - writing, refining, and more experimentation.
This new sound is an evolution for Foley, one that’s from devoting more time to their craft. Full time work, meant they didn’t previously have the luxury of time, says Gabe.
GE: “We used to be doing sessions late at night and would sort of go in with the intention of ‘OK, we're going to get a pop song’. We didn't really have the time or energy to experiment and explore what the ideas we're leading to.”
Obviously they’ve grown as songwriters since then too. Ash says, “the process has changed - everything has been so much more joyous and free.”
AW: “Letting ourselves go down that rabbit hole has been so much more in tune with why we want to make music and why we enjoy making music. So, I think like we've gone deeper on everything.”
AW: “We've gone deeper on the song writing. We've gone deeper on the production. We've gone deeper on the conversations that we have in a session, what we're actually trying to articulate, and the stories that we're telling. And, we've gone deeper within ourselves in terms of what we're willing to give to the project. Everything has just become so much more expansive.”
The freedom to be free, along with the pressure of writing and album also led to some extra challenges. “It's very different from EP's or singles. It's (the album) a body of work in terms of a creative output, so it was a nice challenge,” says Gabe.
AW: “I think it was harder to know when to stop as well because we did just keep writing and writing and writing and writing. And our too much gene kicked in.”
AW: “To me that was the hardest challenge. Knowing when enough was enough, at least to capture the feeling of this project.”
You can hear Part 1 of Crowd Pleaser – the first five songs are online now. With ‘Coffee’ as the catalyst for the album, Ash says, “we really wanted to have these five together because they felt like they really fit.”
Which begs the question, what of Part 2? They reveal that it’s definitely on the way, and it may include another five tracks, or so. The gap between the two parts gives them a chance to be greedy. According to Ash, “It means we get two moments. We get to celebrate once with the first half and then celebrate again with the whole album. So it should be good.”
AW “I also like the idea that depending on which hemisphere you're in – say you're in our hemisphere at the moment – of these first five being consumed kind of in a summer context, and then the rest of the album being consumed in a winter context and rediscovering.”
AW: “Most people naturally feel slightly more melancholic in winter. I think a lot of our music has that kind of pairing. Like dark or more emotional lyrics in a more palatable pop positive package.”
Foley has always been DIY. They’re still self-managed but have recently signed with a US label called Nettwerk. Ash says, “We waited a long time to find the right people and we definitely have found them. So yeah, the team is growing, but only for people that we love.”
Which to be fair, is pretty much how Ash & Gabe started off, as good friends who wanted to make music together. “And if you can find more friends along the way, that's the whole reason we do it,” Gabe continues.
After time off stage, Foley have been back with a vengeance lately. They’ve shared the stage with Still Woozy, Tove Lo and Remi Wolf. And with the album out you’ll likely see them back for their own tour too.
With a glut of artists coming to town now everything is open again, they’re focusing on what they can do to deliver the goods, conscious that everyone only has so many dollars.
GE: “Our goal is to play shows with as much energy, context, and passion as we can. We're going to really contextualise the album and do some cool performance things.”
AW: “There was that time where local music was having this beautiful moment of everyone going and seeing lots of local shows, and there was no internationals here and that was inspiring in a really different way. And now seeing some of the level of production and skill, that is really inspiring to be around and to soak up and get more ideas for the kinds of things we can do.”
While sometimes there’s a ‘work’ focus at live shows, when you love it as much as these two do, it never seems like a chore.
AW “I remember when we went to Jungle at the (Auckland) Town Hall. Usually if something's really good, we'll be we'll be clocking how they've done it cause I'm interested in it and I want to see how they made something happen. And at Jungle, I just was so, so lost in the energy of the show and the performance and the lights and visuals and the space. It was so impressive, and I didn't even try and work out how they were doing it because I was so lost.”
Even NZ music royalty (hi Lorde!) have been talking about how financially difficult it is to tour now. For 95% of musicians in Aotearoa this is the new reality, something which hasn’t passed by Foley either.
AW “You're taking a lot more risk to do the same shows that you would have done pre COVID. It's challenging. But it was always challenging really. You've just gotta buckle up and take a bit more risk. We just have to take it and go for it. We're not gonna not play. So we gotta suck it up. You gotta work out how to do it.
Something new that keen Foley-spotters will have noticed in the track ‘Nothing’, is Gabe’s voice. Well, more specifically, Gabe’s voice being front and centre. I was caught up listening, and then all of a sudden, I thought, ‘Hang on. What’s going on here? This isn’t Ash anymore.’
GE “We've tried a lot of times to write for my voice and to write different songs and a lot of it hasn't worked for whatever reason. I think there was a little bit of mental block for me as well.
AW “We did write a lot of songs that Gabe sounded great on, but they felt too professional. They weren't superficial, but they didn't feel momentous enough. Because we've been working for ages to find the right thing, we didn't want to throw that moment away. I'm so glad that we waited because Gabe articulated it perfectly. That first time he enters the song gives me this chill because it's so vulnerable. It's like almost a cappella.”
GE “This is the first time that I've done lead vocals on a track. It's really isolated as well. We went pretty hard out for the first time to sing lead on. That one is a very emotional and soul bearing track.
AW “Yeah, we threw you in the deep end.”
Now that that door has been thrown open, I get the feeling that we’ll start to hear more of Gabe’s dulcet tones.
Another first for Foley is a feature on the album. “We've featured on other people's tracks, but we haven't had somebody feature on ours,” says Ash. That track is Coffee, the latest single, which features Tim Atlas.
AW: “We've been a fan of Tim Atlas for a long time and he was really excited to come on board, which was lovely first and foremost. He just got the song really quickly and didn't fall into what we'd written as an example for him and stuff. He really brought his own spin, but in a way that still completely encapsulates the song and the energy. We were already so stoked with the song, he just levelled it up even more.”
So with all the firsts ticked off, all we can do is jump back on to Spotify, listen to Part 1 again, and look forward to the second verse.
Foley's debut album Crowd Pleaser (well the first half!) is out now on all good streaming platforms via Nettwerk Music Group. Keep an eye on things so you know when Foley ends up back on stage.