Listen to the NI band that's freeing itself from the pack
Since their formation in early 2006, Escape Act have been slipping the binds of common expectation. The feats of this fledgling outfit have drawn gasps of admiration from press and punters alike, debut EP, ‘Hot Air’, belying their newcomer status. Unlike so many of their contemporaries the Belfast-based three-piece see music as an end in and of itself. Refusing to be cornered by the industry, Escape Act’s mission statement is simple: ‘it’s about being creative, putting across something that’s real’.
Having served with Desert Hearts and Roque Junior respectively, Chris Heaney (vox/guitar) and Richard Dale (bass) know all about the emotionally bankrupting force of the music business. Dale observes that expectations be tempered by reality.
‘There is a level of maturity with Escape Act which wasn’t there with the previous bands I’d been involved in,' he says. 'The main thing is that we’ve learned to enjoy this solely for the music and for the experience, rather than having any grandiose expectations about record deals or stardom.’
‘For me, it’s about being creative, about putting something across that’s real,’ states Heaney. ‘We’re only really starting to get that now; it takes a bit of time for chemistry to bed in and build. With the last couple of gigs we’ve hit the sort of stride I’d always hoped we’d be operating at.’
Despite Heaney’s assertion that the band are only just hitting their stride, they’ve already struck a chord with the music press, their melodic indie-rock garnering gushing reviews from the likes of HotPress, AU and Across The Line.
‘It’s often about how organised you are,’ observes Dale. ‘If you’re proud of what you’ve done, confident in what you’ve done, then put a copy of your music into people’s hands. However, I must admit we were shocked by just how unequivocally positive and flattering some of the reviews were.
'On the other hand, and without sounding arrogant, it really did validate what we felt. But, it does leave you thinking, wow, maybe the reviews were too much. It’s like, where do you go from here? ‘Hot Air’ was very much a trial run, about us learning how to take control in the recording environment.’
As accomplished as their ‘trial run’ may have been, Escape Act are determined that they can and will better themselves, all too aware that a gaggle of gushing reviews does not a great band make.
‘It saddens me to see bands who feel they’ve achieved something when, in reality, they haven’t even reached the first rung on the ladder,’ says the bassist. ‘It’s about knowing what’s real and what’s not. You’ve got to be true to yourself. If I’m sitting on my arse, not doing anything, when I could be securing us a gig or somehow pushing the band forward, well, then I feel that I’ve short-changed Chris and Alan (Beattie, drums), sold the band and what we’re capable of short.’
Determined to gig and rehearse relentlessly and, above all, to keep learning, it seems that far from selling anyone short, Escape Act will continue to deliver in abundance.
‘We’re gonna play as much as possible,’ confirms Heaney. ‘We’ve got a few gigs lined up, a few more we hope to have nailed down shortly. The Homemade Jam festival is something I’m particularly looking forward to. Those sorts of gigs are part of the learning curve, of walking onstage blind, not quite knowing what to expect and having to win over an audience. We’re always looking to move forward. We want to record an album, we’d love that to be next month, but in reality it’s probably going to be closer to Hallowe'en. We’re actively working towards that.’
Being a member of a fledgling act is a time, money and emotion-consuming affair. For the perfection questing Heaney it can be a frustrating business, but one not without its rewards.
‘It’s about the chemistry between the three of us, when it’s working it’s like nothing else. When it’s not there it’s crap. There are certain rehearsals where I’ll just think it’s not working, this is awful, we’re rubbish. But, then when you do get that release of energy, that feeling, that’s what makes it really worthwhile, really enjoyable. And, being able to play songs that you’ve made, that's your creative outlet.’
As much as they espouse music as a means of channelling creativity and, primarily, of having fun, Escape Act are certainly not a band without ambition.
‘Of course you want your music to be played on the radio, to be available to as wide an audience as possible,’ acknowledges the frontman. ‘But there’s only so much of a lever that you can have with that. Richard will pursue that end of things for us and myself and Alan will back him up as best we can. There’s no point chasing something that is so elusive.
'In this world a lot comes down to chance. The one thing you have control over, is to be a good band. We have ambitions, definitely. But, ambition is not going to distract us from the task at hand. In five years time I want to be able to look back at a body of work and be able to say, ‘that was creative, that was something that was worthwhile doing’.’
If Escape Act are to achieve their ambitions, they will be reliant not only on Heaney’s song writing and musical creativity, but on Dale’s business savvy.
‘The music industry landscape is changing dramatically. Record labels aren’t what they once used to be, indies have a lot more authenticity and reach. We released ‘Hot Air’ on our own label and will continue to work on that basis. It’s a cliché, but the internet has really opened things up for new bands. Making a success of the band is about making those relationships and connections. So as well as trying to develop into a good band, I’m trying to develop the skills that will make me a good manager.’
In both effort expended and emotion invested, it is clear that Heaney and Dale are inextricably bound to Escape Act. Heaney puts it succinctly and sincerely.
‘After all the really important stuff, the people you love, the roof over your head, there is Escape Act.’
Escape Act appear at the Homemade Jam Festival, Derrynoose, Co Armagh, August 18