Sometimes you go to a show and see a band and they’ll completely take you by surprise and walk out loving them. One band that did that to me lately was the wonderful NeonFly who I saw open for Dragonforce in Colchester last month. I wanted to know more about this band, so luckily I got the chance to interview one of the nicest frontmen currently touring today, Willy Norton. An interesting, funny and open character who was an absolute pleasure to interview. We discussed the band’s recent tour with Dragonforce, the state of music today, their new releases and touring with the legendary Alice Cooper.
Jack: So Willy, how’s life for you at this moment?
Willy Norton (Vocals): Hey Jack, life is fantastic thank you for asking, busy but fantastic!
Jack: You just finished a tour with Dragonforce, how did you find the tour?
Willy: The tour was an absolute hoot! We rampaged with the mighty Dragonforce across the UK and we enjoyed every single minute of it. No one in camp Neonfly will disagree, we had an absolute blast. The tour was virtually sold out, so to play to full houses every night to receptive fans who had come to hear the sort of music we create and perform was awesome. Also Dragonforce and their crew are really cool people who are just a pleasure to work alongside. They couldn’t have been more welcoming to us – we really appreciated that!
Jack: Have you been friends with the guys before the tour or did you meet them at the start?
Willy: We mix in similar metal circles in London and members of Dragonforce have come to our gigs in the past. So some of us already knew some of the guys. It’s fair to say we’ve sealed our friendship over many a beer on the road though. A thoroughly nice bunch of people and epic musicians.
Jack: It was an extensive tour, how did you stay fresh and energetic for each night?
Willy: Well that depends, each member of Neonfly has a different approach to ‘The Road’ and all of its rigours. Without naming names, some of us drink as much beer as possible and then fall over – that seems to work for some. But some of us like nothing more then a good book and a hot cuppa post-show, like a metallic Monk, some of us just party like it’s going outta fashion. In all seriousness, whatever we get up to off stage, our focus ALWAYS stays on the gig. Every one knows they have to bring their ‘A’ game every night cause we put on a very physical and demanding show. Pacing yourself is the answer and knowing your physical limits.
Jack: The show I saw you at was in Colchester at the Arts Centre, what was it like playing in a former church?
Willy: Well as a very lapsed Catholic I could see the irony, but I don’t come from the upside-down-cross school of metal so it has little resonance for me. For me I’m always stoked to play in a fine venue, which the Colchester Arts Centre is, the rest for me is just interesting architecture and lovely acoustics. My colleagues may give you a different answer on that one!
Jack: At the show you said you performed for a living, is NeonFly the only source of income you actually have?
Willy: I am a singer by profession and so a lot of my work revolves around music, consequently it represents a substantial part of my income. As I work for myself, when I’m not touring, recording or working with Neonfly I’m free to busy myself with my other musical projects and my work in the creative arts. I’ve just re-read that last sentence and realised how arty-farty I sound! I care not a jot, that’s who I am!
Jack: Given the state of Britain’s music industry, do you think musicians who only put their band as their main source of income are putting themselves at risk?
Willy: Great question to which the straight answer is, yes. No one in life should ever put their career, creative aspirations and future in the hands of Rock and Roll. Get an education, get a skill and diversify whatever it is that you do from the outset. Embrace change, don’t fear it, we’re heading into uncertain economic and social times where it’s essential that we aren’t encumbered by what’s gone before. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treasure that past, just don’t rely on old modes to get you through. I really believe that Rock and Roll is NOT a career choice, it is a state of mind and a lifestyle choice whereby you free yourself to tell people your truth via music, if you’re in it for the pay cheque you need to get real or go on a talent show, where other people will (perhaps) make money off you, but be warned, you won’t!
Jack: You recently released a lyric video for ‘Heart of the Sun’. What is the song about?
Willy: The song is a criticism of imperialism in all its forms and a plea for consideration that even the worst people aren’t perhaps all bad. People who go to other peoples countries and wrongfully take by force what isn’t theirs are bad, that’s a no-brainer for me. But often bad people redeem themselves by doing something good in their lives. It’s an uncomfortable contradiction that fascinates me. The song focuses on the historical character of the notorious conquistador Lope De Aguirre who caused his own distinctive form of Imperialistic havoc in Central America in the late 16th Century. I’ll leave it up to your readers to decide whether there was anything good about, the ‘Wrath of God’ indeed.
Willy: Lyric videos are very much an industry standard now. If a band can’t budget for or simply don’t want to do a video for a given track they can still give it an extra visual impetus online for a relatively small investment For us we wanted to give our extremely patient and loyal fans a taster of what’s to come from the album against the backdrop of some cool album related graphics. I’m really happy with it!
Jack: Will you consider doing another music video again in the future?
Willy: For sure, we are just about to embark on the shoot for the video proper for our single ‘Better Angels’. It’s gonna be a cracker and not what people will expect from us. Watch this space!
Jack: The song is part of the new album Strangers in Paradise, released on November 28th in Europe, December 1st in the UK and December 2nd in North America through Inner Wound Recordings. How does the album differ from Outshine The Sun?
Willy: Well firstly the production on this album is immense – courtesy of Mr Dennis Ward, our producer. He’s gifted the music with the sort of scale we’ve always aspired to and embraced our rather varied take on metal and focused it on the songs! Also sonically we’ve pushed the orchestral boundaries within an inch of what it’s possible to do without getting the London Symphony Orchestra involved! But primarily we’ve really taken care over the songs. I didn’t want to write a bunch of songs about the ‘rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle’ – that bores me and I think is an insult to the fans’ intelligence. I wanted to write (alongside Frederick Thunder, the band’s principal songwriter) a bunch of tunes about things I care about, intrigue me and hopefully will pique the interest of our listeners. Consequently we have songs that deal lyrically with themes as diverse as addiction, anti-imperialism, political corruption, anti-fascism and alienation. I’m hugely proud of ‘Outshine The Sun’ and I think it is very underrated, but ‘Strangers In Paradise’ is a huge creative leap forward.
Jack: What was the recording process like for the album?
Willy: We recorded at Hofa studios near Frankfurt and it was intense but enjoyable. I love the process of shaping a new record and hearing it coalesce but that’s not to say it’s not massively stressful. You are always aware that what you commit to tape will be what the public finally get to hear so it’s always a struggle to decide at what point you let go and decide that what you’ve got is ‘the take’. I never want to let go.
Jack: You’re also doing a release show on November 20th, O2 Islington Academy in London. What can we expect from this show?
Willy: A ton of new songs, a ton of old favourites, perhaps a few surprises. Anyone who has seen us live know that they will experience a show that never lets up, never forgets the need to entertain, highly physical and dynamic with some face melting guitars, hooky choruses that will burrow into your brain all wrapped up in a positive life affirming metallic package!! We don’t do standing still or gloom!
Jack: You’re being supported by Night by Night and Night Screamer, what do you like about these bands?
Willy: Night By Night are old friends and I’ve had the pleasure of touring with them as their vocalist on one tour so I hear many of their songs live and remember them as old friends. They are exceptional musicians, songwriters and performers. I love ’em, so will you! Night Screamer I’m less familiar with but what I’ve heard I like. They’ve got an Old School/New School metal vibe that’ll get heads banging!
Jack: Because it was recently Halloween I have to ask this, what was it like touring with the legendary Alice Cooper last year in Germany?
Willy: It was like a dream come true. Walking out on stage in front of several thousand Alice fans in a concert hall is not to be taken lightly, but the buzz is why I got involved in this crazy thing in the first place. In short it rocked like a bastard and I’ll never forget it.
Jack: Did he give you any helpful advice?
Willy: He sure did. But I can’t tell you what he said cause he might put a curse on me! Needless to say it was great advice from one of the all time legends of R’n’R. A real honour.
Jack: Are there any plans to tour Europe in the near future?
Willy: We have some touring news we hope to announce very soon. Again watch this space!
Jack: How is playing in Europe different from the UK aside from the language barrier?
Willy: It all depends on the country you’re performing in. Swedish audiences are very different to Czech audiences for example. However across the board Europe ‘gets’ us. That doesn’t change wherever we’ve performed in Europe. We always get a really warm welcome on the continent!! Europe always rocks for us.
Jack: What does 2015 hold in store for NeonFly? Any festival appearances lined up?
Willy: We plan to hit the festivals hard where possible, we are confirmed for the main stage at Masters Of Rock in the Czech Republic in Summer 2015. As mentioned we have some tours we hope to announce soon, more singles & videos from the album, more festival dates and a whole load of shenanigans in the pipeline which will be revealed as the year unfolds.
Jack: Finally, if you could open for any band past or present, which band would it be?
Willy: That’s a toughie! My head says Iron Maiden circa Somewhere In Time. But my heart says Whitesnake in the 1987 era.
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