Ahead of the release of Astles’ debut studio effort, Planet Slop talk to the hotly tipped artist and have an exclusive listen to his first EP.
Astles is on the rise.
As the winner of last year’s Merseyrail Sound Station and LIMF Academy alumni, the Southport born singer-songwriter has benefitted from a year of industry mentoring and will release his debut EP, Full of Wonder, tomorrow (17th November).
This writer was present when he took the Sound Station crown. In fact, I was on the judging panel. What struck me most was how he was able to silence Moorfields station on a Saturday afternoon. Each and every person on the concourse, whether they were there for Sound Station or were simply catching a train, was transfixed.
It is astonishing to think that he is just 19 years old.
Full of Wonder is an appropriate title. The EP meshes the ambience of Pink Floyd, Brian Eno or Moby with the kind of songwriting one might expect to hear from John Martyn or Elliot Smith. He brings the two worlds together as well as Steven Wilson, the cult neo-prog figure who bafflingly hit the top of the charts this year.
Wilson springs to mind immediately with opener I Was Just Getting There. It is at once accessible and inviting, and dark and unsettling. There are layers to Astles’ songwriting, and it takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate his vision, and a maturity beyond his years.
“The concept behind the EP is the loss of innocence from growing older,” Astles explains. “Losing faith in the possibilities of youth, embracing the realities of what is in front of you.”
Astles has clearly chosen to use his first EP to introduce himself to his audience. This is, after all, his first statement as an artist. In that sense, Full of Wonder almost chronicles his experiences since winning Sound Station 12 months ago. In that time he has dropped a well-received Live EP, used as an almost clearing space to allow him to work on the new release, and had the chance to play with the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Despite his station-silencing performance last year, these events have seen him grow as both an artist and a person, and this has easily impacted his work.
“I tried to make it almost like a sound track to the last year or so of my life,” he says. “Writing the songs helped me learn about who I am as a person, about my flaws and faults. I picture the faces, the streets and the places every time I hear these songs. They’ll always be very personal to me.”
Though he has been playing since he was 13, this being his first real release means that he was still very much finding his way in the studio. “It was an interesting process; taking the very idea of what was inside my head and fully realising these songs, lyrically and sonically, was hard. It took time, a lot of arranging and collaboration with musicians. I thought a lot about the type of record I wanted to make and how I could achieve that. There was no compromise on this EP.”
The EP is nothing if not ambitious. There are major nods to his influences. For example, Pink Floyd shine through heavily on Death Is Love. A definite highlight, the opening guitar solo could easily have been played by David Gilmour on Meddle.
Behind it all though is an honest songwriter in the Jeff Buckley vain, with closer Don’t Turn The Light On best evoking this heart breaking simplicity. The song is almost a lullaby, beginning with just piano, acoustic guitar and Astles’ subdued voice.
It could have been left this way and it would have been a nice way to end the experience. But two minutes in, we’re introduced to a gorgeous saxophone solo, and all of a sudden the simple lullaby becomes the emotional high point of the EP.
“Sonically I think it has achieved what I intended and hoped for when I first started thinking about the project,” he says. “I am conscious that it is my first project as an artist, but I am hopeful that it can take me forward and allow me to reach a bigger audience”.
With Full of Wonder being so full of wonder, Astles is sure to reach the larger audience he deserves.
Full of Wonder is released Friday 17th November. Astles plays a special EP launch at District on 22nd November, with support from SPXKEN and Joseph Mott.