Formed in 2015, Cardiff four-piece And The Sky Darkened play a muscular brand of music that crosses multiple genres, new EP ‘Between Ghosts’ is a bruising encounter that is worthy of the attention of any self-respecting metal fan. Vocalist/guitarist Ryan Lewis talks us through the origins of the band as well as laying bare the secrets of his Spotify playlists.
DGM: What are the origins of the band, and how long have you been playing together?
RL: The band was formed in 2015 but our current line up has been in place since last summer. Ollie (guitarist) and I had been in a band some years previously but hadn’t played together for a few years up until that point. Our first line-up just played a few grunge and metal covers of bands such as Metallica, Alice in Chains, and The Smashing Pumpkins for fun before we started focusing on originals.
We attended the same school in Cowbridge, which is a small market town outside Cardiff. We all met around 1999 when James (bass) and Ollie moved to the area. I gave Ollie a few guitar lessons to earn some pocket money as our parents were friends. James and I were in the same year in school, and we were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who also played guitar, and we started jamming together on and off throughout our teenage years and beyond. Matt (drums) was in the same year as Ollie and they also jammed together a few times back in the day.
DGM: How did you feel performing your first gig? And how was it?
RL: Our first gig was in Crowley’s Rock Bar in Swansea and naturally we were first on the bill. If I remember correctly I wasn’t particularly nervous about performing the actual tracks, but this was the first band that I had fronted so it was the inter-song chatter I was more concerned about. The set consisted of the only five songs we had at that point, (from our debut EP ‘The Fracture’), so it was about 25 minutes long. The feedback we received was decent, and the headlining band was pleasantly surprised when we told them it was our first gig, so all-in-all a good experience.
DGM: What should people expect when they check the band out? How would you describe yourselves?
RL: I would say we have a powerful but very dynamic sound that incorporates everything from metal to blues to more conventional hard rock and even prog. Our sound is relatively modern, but our songwriting and arranging is more old-school. We don’t just slap riffs and parts together. We actually focus on the flow and movement of the track as a whole so our listeners go on something of a journey, or least that’s what we hope!
Our live show is fairly relaxed in terms of the relationship between the band and the crowd, between the songs at least. I’m not a screaming/shouting type of frontman so I tend to prefer the Mikael Akerfeldt (from Opeth) approach, where the aggressive vocals almost take you by surprise and are juxtaposed with the cleaner styles.
DGM: The new music scene is bursting at the seams with fresh talent. In what ways do you feel a band has to stand out from the others trying to build a name?
RL: I know many people may disagree but for me it always comes back to the songs and the ability to play live. Obviously a solid image and an engaging social media presence are both huge factors in today’s musical climate, but ultimately if the tracks and performances don’t resonate with people you may as well just become a YouTube celebrity (not such a terrible alternative!)
DGM: What are you currently working on that people can check out?
RL: We have just dropped our second EP, ‘Between Ghosts’, on all major streaming and download platforms, and released a few videos on our YouTube channel to support them. We have also opened our online merch store so there’s plenty of ways for people to check us out and support the band at the moment.
DGM: What band out there at the moment do you feel that you would be best suited to open for?
RL: Acts like Trivium or Alter Bridge would be excellent as our sound falls somewhere between the two. We often receive very complimentary comparisons to them. The absolute ultimate would have to be the likes of Metallica, Iron maiden or Judas Priest. As our sound can be quite diverse we could probably get away with supporting quite a variety of established acts.
DGM: Who do you feel will be the next band to break out of the UK?
RL: In South Wales we have a few that have started to gain some real momentum. Those Damn Crows and Florence Black are two that immediately spring to mind (apart from us obviously!). Both bands have a sound rooted in the classic rock territory that is becoming more and more popular. I haven’t had the chance to see Those Damn Crows yet, but Florence Black were phenomenal live when I saw them in Pontypridd a little while back.
DGM: What are your first musical memories? And what was the light bulb moment that made you go “I want to do that!”
RL: My earliest memories would be hearing the radio or my Mum’s favourite cassettes in the car when we would visit family members, so it would have been a mixture of Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers and Meat Loaf! When I was a little older there was a family in Hastings that we would often spend Christmas with, and one year their son, who was a few years older than me, had joined a band and his parents bought him a drum kit. I was quite shy as a kid but everyone encouraged me to have a go and once I did after two minutes I was hooked! The plan then was for me to play drums when I started secondary school, until I pulled a switch on my parents and chose guitar instead! You can move around and you have more freedom when writing and performing.
DGM: What was the last gig that you attended as a fan?
RL: James (bass player) and I went to see The Three Tremors (one of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens current projects) at The Bunkhouse in Swansea during the same time that I believe Storm Dennis hit the UK. The performance itself was excellent (especially their covers of Painkiller and Heaven and Hell), but the bad weather kept a lot of people away that night, so unfortunately they didn’t get the size of crowd they deserved. We got chatting to Sean Peck (co-lead vocalist) and Dave Garcia (guitarist) afterwards, who were both very down-to-earth and appreciative for the few people that did venture out.
DGM: What is the album that you have in your collection or Spotify playlist that would surprise most people?
RL: I’ve got a few Roxette, Michael Jackson and Prince albums but shhh!…
DGM: Apart from family, friends and gigs, what is the one thing from pre-lockdown that you miss?
RL: I’m a bit of a guitar geek so I miss being able to just pop into my local guitar retailers to shoot the breeze and try out any cool gear. Other than that I suppose just being able to go to a restaurant or coffee shop (or for a cheeky pint or three!)
DGM: Because of lockdown there have been loads of all-star as well as amateur Zoom videos of bad cover versions (‘Imagine’ springs to mind). What song or band should never be covered?
RL: I think the world has enough “Stand by Me” covers to tide us over for a few generations to come, but other than that I suppose we don’t really want to hear any more versions of “Stairway to Heaven” or dad-rock covers of “American Idiot”. I’m all for taking an epic or heavy track and stripping it back Johnny Cash-style though. On that note, there’s a musician named Christian Larsson who covered the soundtracks from the “Red Dead” gaming franchise and they are excellent, so I very much approve of that!
DGM: What are your plans for 2020?
RL: We will look at booking some gigs once or if the lockdown is lifted, and start work on our next project later in the year. We have about a dozen tracks written and pretty much ready to go bar one or two details. The reviews for our current EP have been really strong so we want to continue the momentum for the rest of the year.
DGM: How active are you on social media and where can people connect with you?
RL: We are very active on Facebook and Instagram in particular, and have also really started to push our YouTube channel so we are easy to connect with no matter your preference. We also have our official website www.andtheskydarkened.com with links to all of the above, so that’s a good place to start if people want to drop us a message or ask any questions etc.