A brilliant mash of influences led to the creation of Boy Azooga’s forthcoming debut album. The Cardiff band – who’ve recently enjoyed airplay on BBC Radio 1 with synthy funk earworm ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ – is fronted by Davey Newington, who’s a vocal fan of Black Sabbath, Run DMC, Caribou, William Onyeabor, and everything in between.
Writing and recording the album over a period of years spent drumming with Houdini Dax and Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon, Davey later recruited friends and members of Shoebox Orchestra and Afro Cluster to help him play it live, and now they’re on the cusp of something big, with today’s announcement of the ace ‘1,2 Kung Fu!’ – due in June – and a string of UK festival dates lined up for summer. As the band share new single ‘Loner Boogie’, NME caught up with Davey for a progress report.
So Davey, tell us about the video for ‘Loner Boogie’
“It was filmed in The Transport Club in Cardiff – a working men’s club where all the bus drivers go. I put our first headline gig on there. For the video we performed the song a load of times and Kliph Scurlock, who used to be The Flaming Lips‘ drummer, he plays in Gryff Rhys’ band now – he was in town at the time and I’d met him a couple of times before. I just sent him a message on Facebook because he lives quite nearby, and at the end of the video we just got him to do a load of takes of him heckling us, so the camera pans round and he shouts ‘You suck!'”
What about the song itself?
“I wrote the song while living in… not the roughest place in Cardiff, but you get some dodgy characters. Me and my girlfriend lived in the top room of this flat and I’d always see something going on late at night if I was getting back from gigs. From that, combined with some pretty terrifying news stories, I wrote this song that was inspired by feeling quite anxious, but I didn’t want it to be too depressing. So it’s this loner character having a little boogie. Or if you’re at a party and you don’t really know anyone and you just feel kind of on the outside. Musically, I wanted to do something quite fast and intense like Oh Sees. Everything’s pretty distorted.”
You’ve got karaoke subtitles in both your videos so far – how come?
I remember just wanting to have the lyrics be visible in the videos, and I noticed that Vulfpeck had done it in their videos and I thought it was just a really cool idea.
‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ has been all over the radio – how does it feel to have such success with your debut single?
“It’s hard to gauge. I’m flattered that people are listening to it, it’s been really great – none of the songs were written with the intention of being a big band. I was drumming in other bands and making these songs on the side, so I never really thought of it as a single. But it’s been amazing – I’ve noticed at a few of our gigs, when we start, a few people seem to know it and start dancing to it, so I’m excited to get the rest of the songs out. Hopefully once they’re more familiar then people will be getting into that as well.”
You’ve said ‘FBHC’ was inspired by the late funk pioneer William Onyeabor – what do you love about him?
“I completely love his music. Dylan, who plays in Azooga – he came over to my flat once and showed me this documentary by Noisey. Caribou, Damon Albarn and others were all raving about William Onyeabor’s music – they go to Nigeria and loads of the local record shops in it. I think ‘Atomic Bomb‘ was the first thing I heard and I just fell in love with the production. Everything just felt really live and the atmosphere just feels like you’re in the room – you can hear the tape and his drums sound just amazing. And some of the lyrics are just hilarious.
“I loved that it was totally free – he’ll have like a 10-minute song but it’s still really poppy and danceable. I haven’t been brave enough yet to do a 10-minute song, but maybe in future I’ll indulge. I’ve noticed as well that, I’ll have it on in my flat and if people are over they’re like: ‘Oh who’s this?’ It’s music that takes you by surprise.”
What other influences can we expect on ‘1,2 Kung Fu’?
“The Beach Boys is a massive one, because I grew up listening to them in my mum and dad’s car on holidays. They’re an overall influence because, especially from some of the ’70s albums and ‘Pet Sounds’ – the songwriting’s incredible and the melodies are so strong, but they’re really adventurous in terms of arrangement and stuff. It’s not exactly traditional pop song structures.
“The Avalanches are another really big influence for me. Not being afraid to blend loads of different styles together. And Ty Segall is another massive one, just more on an inspirational level as an artist. He seems to constantly churn out great songs and records and the ideas are communicated really well – you know exactly what he’s going for and everything’s got a real amazing energy to it.”
From the sounds of the album, you must be a big fan of basslines, right?
“I’ve never classified myself as a bass player but I love coming up with basslines. They’re not always prominent, they don’t have to be a riff, but they’re something you come back to with repeated listens. Paul McCartney’s a massive inspiration as a bass player.”
Boy Azooga’s become a band since you recorded the album – is it still your brainchild?
“It started off with just me doing everything and I was lucky enough to record with a producer who lives just outside Cardiff, Ed Al-Shakarchi. He’s got more of a hip-hop background. I was writing songs at home and taking them to his studio and crafting them over a few years.
“But now it’s a band it’s more like I’ll bring a song to the rehearsal room and we all chip in. The other boys in the band are amazing songwriters and musicians in their own right as well so in the future I’d love to start getting the other boys singing on the record. I want to make sure each release is different enough from the last hopefully, so there’s some kind of progression. It’s refreshing to have people to bounce ideas off.”
But the debut is all you?
“Yeah I wrote it and played it. There’s a couple of tracks that my dad – cos he’s a string player, he plays violin – he multitracked his violin into a little string section. He’s on ‘Jerry’, ‘Hangover Square’ and ‘Breakfast Epiphany II’. Other than that it was just me.”
Where exactly did the band’s name come from?
“Some people think it’s a bit daft and so do I, but it’s got a personal thing to it. My cousin Chris Bainbridge plays in Man of Moon – he lives in Scotland and our gran lived in Scotland as well, she’s sadly passed away now. Whenever we used to go to see her as kids, we’d always watch The Little Rascals, and in that film they go: ‘Azooga azooga azooga’ – this chant.
“We’re both pretty grown-up now but we still text each other this ‘azooga’ thing. When I was coming up with a band name I just thought it’d be nice to have something kind of personal. I was going to call it Bo Azooga because I love Bo Diddley, but my girlfriend was like: ‘Bo’s not a very good word’. So we went with Boy Azooga instead.
“It’s a bit lame but I googled it and nothing else came up so I thought that’d be good if people are trying to find us…”
How are you feeling about festival season this year?
“I’m really excited. We did Green Man last year and I just had a wicked time. You tend to jam a bit more and sometimes we pull out maracas and stuff at gigs, but we do a bit more of that at festivals because some of the songs aren’t that accessible, so we try and make it as fun as possible.
“I can’t wait. We’ve been confirmed for Green Man, we’re doing the Paradiso in Amsterdam which I can’t believe. The Great Escape, Live At Leeds – I’m really really excited. It’s all pretty new to us but we’re loving it at the moment.”
What should people expect from your live show?
“Expect some instrument swapping, some moments of melody, moments of really heavy riffs, really great drums from Daf. I want to make it seamless from start to finish, so you have a little bit of talking but I want to run – not like a DJ set – but one continuous bit of music.”
See Boy Azooga’s 2018 tour dates and the ‘1,2 Kung Fu!’ tracklist below:
Trades Club, Hebden Bridge (February 23)
Crofters Rights, Bristol (April 24)
Waiting Room, London (26)
Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff (28)
Café Totum, Sheffield (May 4)
Live At Leeds Festival (5)
Sounds from the Other City, Manchester (6)
Focus Wales @ Central Station, Wrexham (11)
The Great Escape Festival, Brighton (17)
Paradiso, Amsterdam (25)
Green Man Festival, Glanusk Park, Wales (August 16-19)
Sea Change Festival, Totnes (25)
With The Magic Gang:
Institute, Birmingham (March 22)
Academy, Manchester (23)
Church, Leeds (24)
King Tut’s, Glasgow (25)
Thekla, Bristol (27)
Electric Ballroom, London (28)
With Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever:
Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (May 18)
CAA, Glasgow (20)
Gorilla, Manchester (21)
Electric Ballroom, London (22)
‘1,2 Kung Fu!’ tracklist:
- ‘Breakfast Epiphany’
- ‘Loner Boogie’
- ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’
- ‘Walking Thompson’s Park’
- ‘Breakfast Epiphany II’
- ‘Taxi To Your Head’
- ‘Losers In The Tomb’
- ‘Hangover Square’
- ‘Sitting On The First Rock From The Sun’