Boy Azooga – Interview 2018

Davey Newington is Boy Azooga, who released his debut album this year in the form of 1, 2, Kung Fu! It’s a joyous ride, full of melody and pop nous, songs such as ‘Loner Boogie’, ‘Jerry’ and ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ swinging effortlessly from disco-rock to psychedelia. Already beavering away at the follow-up, he’s out on tour this month. He took some time out to have a chat about The Great Escape, Brian Wilson, Hangover Square, and how he hooked up with the legendary Jeff Barratt and his Heavenly Records label.

Last time you were in Brighton, you did three shows in one day as part of The Great Escape. How was that?
Yeah, the first one was at midday. It was great. We were absolutely shattered. We’d been in Paris the night before, drove from France, and got into our hotel at 4am, and then be up at 10, and had the three gigs. I was just really relieved at how awake we all were. My sister lives in Brighton, she’s a teacher there. I absolutely love visiting. Everyone is sound and relaxed, and it’s a good place to play music. I think people were kind to us because they could see how tired we looked.

Did you manage to hang around after your show, and enjoy it?
Yeah, we did. Our last gig was really, really fun, on the Fender’s stage. We just got really pissed, and stayed in Brighton. I found this vegetarian takeaway. I had never seen one before. That was really cool. I just remember being drunkenly and having this delicious food. It was a good day’s work.

I understand your debut album 1, 2, Kung Fu!, was made over a number of years?
There was never a grand plan or anything. It’s just what happened. I’d been playing the drums in bands for years, but over time I got more and more obsessed with making this album. Whenever I came home from gigging or touring I would go straight to Eddie, who produced the album. I would literally be itching to go up to his studio. I’d finished the album, and it was like ‘what shall I do next?’ I thought it would be fun to play this live, and so I started to plan a lot more then. Eddie was really encouraging. I was going to put it on Soundcloud, and just play it to my mates. He said I should definitely send it to a few people. ‘Who would you dream label be?’ and Heavenly Records came up, because they have King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, who I am obsessed with. Basically, the band thing has happened really quickly, but the actual songs have been a work in progress for quite a long time.

So, you played drums a lot in previous bands, but not your own band?
I played with Charlotte Church Late Night Pop Dungeon. I played in Brighton with them at Concorde 2. And a band called The Keys, a band called Monico Blonde. Drumming is what I feel most at home doing, but it’s loads of fun arsing around being a frontman.

Maybe when we get to bigger stages we’ll have two kits on, but Daf, who is on drums, he’s got it down. Any drumming on my part would be indulgent, it wouldn’t be adding anything.

You could be a Phil Collins!?
That’s what I’m terrified of!

So, the legendary Jeff Barratt really got Boy Azooga?
He’s great. He’s brilliant. He’s an inspiring guy, and hilarious as well. He’s still got the ambition and the love. That’s the thing. He’s got a really good outlook on the whole thing. He’s genuinely obsessed with music. I was really nervous when I went to meet him. His reputation proceeded him. I went up to the Heavenly office, and it was like a film going on in my head. ‘Oh my god, don’t fuck this up’. We got there, and he handed me a beer, and then another beer, and then another beer. The afternoon escalated into him and Danny (Mitchell, who co-runs Heavenly) playing records that they loved, really, really loud in the office. I heard a bunch of music that I am still into now, like Johnathan Richman. It sounds really cheesy, but I had already made my mind up. ‘This feels really good’.

Tell me about the track ‘Hangover Square’, that’s a reference to the Brighton set novel by Patrick Hamilton?
Yes. That’s it.

A lot of people tell me it’s a really good novel.
Yeah, it’s amazing. I’m not much of a reader. I’ve got mates who properly read. There are a bunch of classics I should have read, and all that stuff. I’m a bit useless, my attention just goes. But, my dad had heard of this book, because he’s obsessed with the composer Bernard Hermann, who did a lot Alfred Hitchcock films, and Taxi Driver. He did the music for the film adaptation of Hangover Square. The film isn’t so good, but my dad had discovered the book through that, and he loved it. When I moved out of my parents’ house he gave me that book as a present. I was 18. It’s a pretty depressing book. It’s bleak. I actually saw my dad the other day. ‘I can’t believe I gave you that book’. ‘Off you go into the real world’!

When the whole Heavenly conversation first happened, Jeff rang me and said ‘Davey, I’m on the train to Brighton, and I’m listening to your record, and you just sang ‘on the train to Brighton’, and I’m off to see King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, with H. Hawkline supporting. I was like ‘What!’ It was a weird coincidence. He was like ‘I really want to put your record out. ‘Yes!’

Your parents have been a big part of your musical upbringing…
My dad ended up playing the strings on that track as well. My dad plays the violin, and my mum is a clarinet player.

I was a hyperactive childhood drumming thing, but they were very encouraging and let me make a racket. Yeah, I have a lot to be grateful for. My dad got me into The Beach Boys and Henry Mancini. They’re always encouraging, and I always bounce off my ideas on them. My mum is really good at English, and I often get the stresses wrong in my lyrics. It does her head in, so she is really helpful. ‘Where should that stress go’? I sometimes have to change the words. Hopefully all the stresses are all correct! Not very rock’n’roll!

The song ‘Breakfast Epiphany II’ reminds me of The Beach Boys…
That one was directly influenced by ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’. Have you seen the Brian Wilson biopic, Love & Mercy? It’s a long film but it goes really deep into his life, recreating in detail the recording of Pet Sounds and all that stuff. It’s lovingly done. There’s the scene where Brian takes his first LSD, and he’s lying on the grass, and the instrumental for ‘Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)’ comes in, and all the flowers around him start blooming really quick, and it’s really trippy. I was like ‘I really want to have a little interlude on the album that sounds like that’. It’s directly stolen from that!

How about the name, Boy Azooga?
There’s a film called The Little Rascals, the re-make, a kids film that I grew up watching in the 90s, about a group of young boys in America who have a little clubhouse. My cousin is in a band called Man of Moon from Edinburgh. When we were growing up we used to go to our gran’s house in Edinburgh, and we would watch this film, and have sleepovers and midnight snacks. They have this chant in the film that goes ‘Azooga, Azooga’! We still say it to each other to this day. We’re very close (in fact Man of Moon can often be seen supporting Boy Azooga). I just thought it would be good to have a personal touch in the name. I typed Boy Azooga into Google, and we were the only thing that came up. I was like, ‘Well, if people are trying to find us, they’ll be able to find us easy’. It does divide people when we were first doing it. ‘I like your songs, but I don’t like your name’. I know it’s a bit of a daft name, but I don’t care.

And plans for some new music?
We’re recording the second album at the moment. It’s 80 percent written, but I’m trying not to rush it. I’m just trying to enjoy it, but I’m aiming to get it out next year.

Jeff Hemmings