I just thought, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’” Neon Waltz’s manager, Howie, is at full pelt in the enthusiasm stakes, telling me about the first time he ever laid eyes on the band. “I’d travelled on the plane up to Inverness, then driven all this way to the absolute middle of nowhere. At one point there were deer on the road, stood there looking at me! I’d heard the songs, but never seen them, and I suddenly thought, what if they’re a bunch of horrendous, fat old blokes?Anyway, the first thing I see when I meet them is this huge mop of hair getting out of the van. I went, ‘He is cool as fuck.’ I knew I liked them!”
“He” is Jordan Shearer, singer in Neon Waltz and owner of indie’s finest fringe this side of Bobby Gillespie circa 1990. And we – Howie and I – are entering our fourth hour of driving along the toppermost tip of the north-eastern Scottish coast, on our way to the town of Thurso (population 7,933) to meet the band.
To put the area into perspective, we pass more castles than Spar shops on our way there. We see just one football pitch, no shopping centres, and endless fields. It would technically be easier for Neon Waltz to play a gig in Norway rather than London, and this is something they’ve actually given serious thought to – kicking off future tours somewhere only shipping forecast enthusiasts know about, before circling their way back to civilisation. “Coming from where we do,” Jordan tells me that afternoon, “we have to think about things differently to everybody else.”
It’s this total sense of detachment from ‘cool’ London (or ‘cool’ anywhere, in fact) that makes Neon Waltz so special. It’s impressive that the six-piece have managed to stay together long enough to bond into the gang they are today. All in their early 20s, they embody that ‘thing’ all the best bands have by being effortlessly in tune with each other’s tastes, from clothes to records to guitars to their preferred type of Adidas. That they’ve ended up making music that’s thrilling enough for the rest of the world to come calling almost defies belief.
“It is lucky, I suppose,” drummer Darren Coghill says. “There’s only two schools here – Wick and Thurso. And afterwards everybody goes off to Glasgow. But all of us, we did that and then stopped and came back home again.”
“This,” Jordan adds, pointing to the North Sea behind him, “is what we’re used to.”
Jordan and Darren are sat in a back room at Freswick Castle, which is owned by a local playwright who’s taken a shine to the band and lets them party and play there. Down the stone spiral staircase there’s an actual dungeon, they excitedly tell me. But less about that – tonight, along with bassist/co-vocalist Calvin Wilson, guitarists Jamie and Kevin Swanson and organist Liam Whittles, they’re recording a video for new song ‘Sundial’. Like all of Neon Waltz’s tunes, it’s a woozy classic; pitched somewhere between Scouse legends like Shack and The Coral, and the lilting, lo-fi period of indie heaven that came about just after The Smiths imploded and before The Stone Roses really took off. ‘Perfect Frame’, for instance, is all powerhouse vocals, Jordan as a super-angelic Tim Burgess, while the demo of ‘Veiled Clock’ could be a distant cousin of The Field Mice’s ‘Emma’s House’.
Even better, I get the impression the band don’t really realise what they’re sitting on. Every song in their live set could be an album opener, and everything they’ve done so far – from online demos to video promos – has been near perfect. It’s not bad for a band who only really started focussing properly a year and a bit ago, and who had zero ties with the music industry until even more recently.
Both Jordan and Darren say the reason the band work so well together is because it’s a complete democracy. “In most bands, it’s someone’s band,” says Jordan. “We don’t have a songwriter though – literally everybody in our band does it. We’re all equal.”
They wear their influences proudly on their shoulders too, from The National to The Band, The Beatles, The Walkmen and Grizzly Bear. “What is it about all those bands that ties them all together?” Darren wonders. “It’s the songs. They all just write magic, magic songs.”
And magic songs are precisely what Neon Waltz are all about. Oodles of them. When we first put them in Radar way back in April, barely anybody knew about them. The second time, with a few radio plays and gigs under their collective belt, Thurso completely sold out of NMEs. With the way things are going, it’s not too difficult to see the rest of the UK catching on in a similar way.
Neon Waltz are one of NME’s artists to watch in 2015. Read this week’s magazine and NME.com throughout the week for more interviews with the most exciting new acts this year.