At The Sun: Interview
Formed in 2016, rising London rockers AT THE SUN have just completed their biggest headline tour to date in support of their recently released debut album, ‘Leave Before The Light’. We caught up with them at their first ever Manchester show for an illuminating, in-depth conversation with lead guitarist Chet Jogia and bassist Alex Matthews
Words: Anne Estella
Kieron Heavens was the band’s founding member - how did he go about finding the right musicians to join him? Was it a long process?
[Alex] I joined the band quite quickly after Kieron. He’d left another band and had a good idea of what he wanted to create. He got a guy on guitar who I think he found online through the amazing world of Gumtree and he started putting the band together from there. I got a message from one of my friends saying, “There’s a guy at work who’s trying to put a band together and they need a bass player”, so I went along and joined! I think Kieron already had a singer in mind at the time but the sound just wasn’t working out, so it was just Kieron and a guy called Alex on guitar, a drummer and myself. The drummer changed a few times but we weren’t going to rush finding the right people. We found Craig and then Harry but then Alex left to go to Germany so Chet was the final piece of the puzzle. Together we created the whole sound - we all had different backgrounds but it seemed to work and click. So we all found the band either through word of mouth or through social media and the Internet.
[Chet] It was kind of a coincidence because I was working in the financial industry for four years after doing a Maths Degree, but I didn’t want to do that anymore - I wanted to play music because I’ve always played the guitar, so I quit. After that I found the advert on Gumtree and went to the audition and found out that the other Alex, who was my predecessor, was leaving, so it worked out perfectly!
[Alex] Some bands have come through from High School together and we’ve all done that – we’ve all played in other groups with friends – but this happened when we were all disbanded from what we were previously doing. We were all ‘single’ at the same time and we all just met and made a relationship. So it’s not the most orthodox coming together, but because we were patient and everyone wanted a similar thing, it worked out really well.
How did you come up with the band’s name?
[Alex] That happened on my birthday! There were a few different amalgamations that we were looking at but we definitely wanted something bright as we didn’t want to be another dark-named band. We wanted something that had a bit of positivity about it. We played around with words to do with light and we kept that theme with the album.
[Chet] I wasn’t there when they named the band but Kieron was saying that he wanted the name to reflect something powerful and originally it was going to be called Atlas Sun, combining two really powerful images.
[Alex] It was Son as in child, but then we flipped it to Sun, as in the huge burning star!
[Chet] Eventually it just blended into At The Sun, because no one could say Atlas Sun properly. So AT THE SUN is where we ended up!
[Alex] And in capitals, so it’s really, really obvious!
You’ve been described as being “Head and shoulders above other bands in the contemporary rock scene”. What makes you stand out from the rest?
[Alex] Well not my height, that’s for sure! I think it’s the fact that when people ask us who we sound like, we can’t answer because we have such a different mix of influences and backgrounds.
[Chet] Kieron’s massively into Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge and that kind of vibe and Alex is into AC/DC and a bit more of the classic stuff and I’m into Blues and even Hip Hop and R&B. Our drummer Craig is into everything – he’s a technician and has done a lot of session drumming so he’s gathered a lot of different genres under his belt. Harry’s vocals are obviously really soulful and he loves all of the bands we like including Rival Sons and stuff like that. When we write together we don’t say “We want it to sound like this”, we just jam and blend our music together and because of that approach to songwriting we don’t necessarily stick to one genre.
[Alex] That’s a risk as well because some bands have a niche market, but we’ve never written a song by saying it has to have a certain structure, we just say “Okay, this sounds good, we’ll go with that!”
[Chet] And we really focus on our hooks – one thing we like doing is writing catchy songs and I think that really comes through in some of our riffs and vocal lines.
And Alex smells great! If you haven’t smelt him yet, that’s another reason we stand out – he smells amazing, always! After a gig he somehow still smells amazing, it’s ridiculous!
[Alex] Thank you, I appreciate it!
Last year you came third in the Hard Rock Hell Highway To Hell competition – what was that experience like?
[Chet] It was cool! We’d never played that far north before and we came third by something like two votes, and we forgot to vote for ourselves, so that would have made it a little bit higher! It was cool meeting people there and meeting the other bands, it was a lot of fun.
[Alex] It was a bit on an eye opener as well. We got a strong vote in the early stages and we got through to the last twenty. We got radio airplay and we didn’t realise just how much of a reach we had – we were getting messages of support not just from people we knew but from people we didn’t know as well on Twitter.
[Chet] When we were on stage playing a song people were singing along and we thought “Wow, we must be doing something right!”
Can you tell us about your debut album, ‘Leave Before The Light’?
[Alex] We feel that this shows a bit of an evolution in our music. We already had our original EP ‘Breathe’ with four tracks on and we actually recorded this album in three instalments, four tracks at a time, to make sure that we didn’t have twelve tracks of the same ilk. With that approach we got a really hard-hitting album.
[Chet] It’s more mature. My Dad had a listen to it and said he could tell the difference in songwriting between say Lifetime verses a song that was on ‘Breathe’. The ‘Breathe’ EP was a very raw kind of sound and the way that was written was primarily by Kieron coming in with bare bones tracks and we came on top of that and just started writing our own parts to go with it, whereas on Lifetime for example, we all worked together at the same time to write it and I think you can tell the maturity there.
[Alex] It’s full-on and quite an energetic album – it’s one for people to get up and move to. We’ve not just written something that’s going to be difficult to play – I know Muse have done that before – they’ve written albums and gone, “How on earth are we going to be able to recreate that live?!” They do, with a hell of a lot of gear, but we wanted to create something that we’d listen to and be able to play live.
[Chet] The live focus is massive for us – we’re definitely predominantly a live band and I think the songs reflect that as well.
What does it mean to you to be playing at Planet Rockstock this December? Will that be your biggest show of the year?
[Alex] I don’t know if we can say biggest show of the year because they’ve all been amazing, but that one is huge!
[Chet] In terms of exposure Planet Rockstock is great for us and Jon Norman has been such a great help. In terms of people who don’t know us seeing us, it is probably going to be the biggest. We’re doing Breaking Bands, which is sold out as well. There are a couple of other shows that we’re really looking forward to just because of the bands that we’re playing with.
[Alex] You can’t take your eye off the ones you’re doing. I know we’ve sold out our London show on Friday but we want to make every night huge.
[Chet] Tonight’s a big night for us and we want to give everyone that sees us a fantastic show.
[Alex] I’ve grown up listening to Planet Rock – I was even part of their road crew, so I’ve worked for them! I listened to Planet Rock as it was being established, when they didn’t have the exposure they have now - they would send out bumper stickers and window stickers for people to disperse to spread the word and I was doing that! And now we’re playing on the bill, it’s quite a huge thing!
[Chet] Planet Rockstock’s on my birthday as well!
[Alex] And it’s Kieron’s birthday today!
You’ve just been announced for Crazy Cowboy Festival 4 – can you tell us a bit about that?
[Chet] The best thing about that one is the lineup. It’s bands that we have either played with before, or really want to play with. Each band has got such an amazingly dedicated fan group, that gig is just going to be super energetic and you know that the reception once you get on stage is going to be amazing.
[Alex] Also, there’s absolutely no rivalry between bands at festivals like that, it’s almost like a family where everyone’s helping each other. If you want to make the scene you’ve got to do it together.
[Chet] I think everyone’s realising that now – labels aren’t as interested until you’re already big, so to get to that kind of level you need to all work together, which is what’s happening. And that’s why Crazy Cowboy’s going to be great!
What other festival appearances have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
[Chet] Breaking Bands, Planet Rockstock and Loverocks so far – that’s going to be another cool one, with a very similar vibe to Crazy Cowboy.
[Alex] Also The Patriot Festival in Wales – the Welsh crowd are always amazing. Dementia Aware Fest as well - we’ve got a big connection with that one because we’ve previously played it at the New Cross Inn in London and now we’re playing down in Kent for this one, which is obviously quite close to home for us. With charity gigs it’s not about trying to get your name attached to a charity, we do them because people approach us and we want to help and also because we’ve got personal attachments to a lot of them. The Dementia Aware Fest events are run on a budget and they do fantastically well. They have brilliant sound engineers who are really passionate.
What’s ‘The dream’?
[Alex] We were once asked, “What would you do if you became famous?” and for us it’s about being able to spend time writing and making music rather than buying flash cars. We were also asked “What would you spend your money on?” but money’s never been something that’s bothered us.
[Chet] I quit my banking job, I was a trader but I didn’t really care about that.
What one thing would people be surprised to know about each of you?
[Alex] Craig is an exceptional cook. He’s also the nicest human you could ever meet. If there was a puddle he’d lay his coat over it for you!
[Chet] He is that dude! Craig couldn’t make Alex’s birthday, he felt bad and so he ordered pizza to be delivered to the house!
[Alex] He rang me and I said “What time are you coming over?” He said, “I can’t make it but I’ve got food nearby”. And outside was a Domino’s van! It came just as everyone was moaning for food - it’s as if he knew! I think he’s super human.
[Chet] What about Harry?
[Alex] Harry? I think he wears his Missus’ clothes too much…
[Chet] He has dressed up as Princess Leia before…
[Alex] Kieron… I actually thought his surname wasn’t real! But it is actually real. He is probably the most energetic and dedicated man, but you can never put anything valuable within a five-metre or even ten-metre radius of him – we’re all scared on stage because he’ll just break stuff. Not intentionally, he’s just blind as a bat – no peripheral vision.
[Chet] I’ve been in a car with him and it was scary!
[Alex] Chet loves dancing and comic books!
[Chet] Oh yeah, I’m a massive comic book fan – my whole wedding was comic book themed, so that was really cool.
[Alex] I’m a PE teacher - that surprises some people! I’m actually head of a PE department. Most people look at me and go, “What?!” I try not to take it too personally…
Huge thanks to AT THE SUN’s Alex and Chet for shedding so much light on the band!
AT THE SUN are:
Harry Dale – Vocals
Kieron Heavens – Rhythm Guitar
Chet Jogia – Lead Guitar
Alex Matthews – Bass
Craig Steen - Drums
See them here:
3rd May – The Patriots MC 22nd Anniversary Weekender, Wales
18th May – Dementia Aware Fest, Kent
1st June – Camden Rocks Festival, London
7th June – Loverocks 2019, Bournemouth
13th July – MASSIVE with support from SKAM and AT THE SUN, London
21st Sept – Crazy Cowboy Festival 4, The Facebar, Reading
97th Nov – Hard Rock Hell Chapter XIII, Great Yarmouth
7th Dec – Planet Rockstock, Trecco Bay