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“It’s Trying To Expand Our Friendships” – An Interview with Wynona Bleach

Hailing from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Wynona Bleach were one of my favorite new band discoveries of 2022. Their debut album Moonsoake is an awesome mix of alternative rock and shoegaze with catchy tunes and memorable riffs in spades – think the first two Belly albums from the 90s. Wynona Bleach are made up of Melyssa Shannon (Vocals), Jonny Woods (Guitar, Vocals), Aaron Black (Guitar) and Matt Killen (Drums) and Carl Gilmore (Bass).

The band were in New York to play The New Colossus Festival and were kind enough to spend some time with us to talk about music, touring Russia and, of course, pizza over a few pints.

Is this the first time you guys have played The States? 
Jonny – Yeah, indeed. First time ever.

And you’re in New York for a few days for two shows?
Jonny – Yeah. Both New Colossus Festival slots. Heaven Can Wait tonight and Pianos tomorrow, and then we head to Austin on Saturday morning and we’re there until the bitter end of South by Southwest. We’re doing about 7 or 8 shows there.

What classic album cover is your current mood? 
Jonny – Today’s mood? Paul’s Boutique by Beastie Boys because we listened to the radio all the way in, and we were listening to some kind of local rock radio station. There’s these really low budget radio ads, but something’s different about them when they’re from New York. They sound almost worse but they’re brilliant. And someone was calling out a phone number of some clothes shop, and I was just waiting for that line in Paul’s boutique where he goes, “it’s 88195 and it’s Paul’s Boutique.” So Paul’s Boutique, because any street corner looks like Paul’s Boutique. 

Melyssa – We just walked past the Beastie Boys mural on our way here. 

I was reading that, as these are all showcases, you don’t get paid for them? What can you guys get out them and how do you make it all work? 
Jonny – It’s reaching the new audience. SXSW by being such a prolific industry event so it’s trying to expand our friendships there in that world, you know?

Aaron – And we did get some grant money to come across, so it’s not like the whole thing’s coming out of our pockets, which is good.

Photo Credits – Kate Atkinson

So you’re hoping to get a bigger audience in the US. How are the new visa issues going to affect you when you want to come back? 
Jonny – It’s going to scupper it totally. It couldn’t have been worse news to get once we had got booked for South By, the headlines two months later say that they were gonna raise them by 75% or something? It’s going to either impact the end user with ticket sales going up to ridiculous money, which they already are, or they’re gonna stop bands that are not able to make that kind of money from coming over.

And then you’ve got Brexit which is probably stopping you touring in Europe as well? 
Jonny – Well, you see, being from Northern Ireland, we have dual citizenship, so we have Irish passports so Europe is still okay.

Melyssa – We can be either depending on what mood we’re in. Like, I’m Irish today! 

I read that you guys played Russia when you were called R51. How did you manage to play there before the US? 
Jonny – A booking agent reached out to us  and he said “you’d go down great here. If you can budget this much, we think you could break even at least.” We budgeted that and figured it out and then he originally came with 11 shows in a row which covered like six and a half thousand miles to Kazakhstan. And then, while we were on the plane, he sent an email going, “So that one day off we gave you, do you mind doing another show?” We were like, “yeah, okay!” So we ended up playing 12 in a row all the way across Russia just because somebody asked us. 

Did you have a big following in Russia at the time?
Jonny – At quite a few of the shows we played, we had people singing the songs. 

Carl – Show by show there were more people showing up who knew the band and were actually requesting a song, which, of course, was the one I didn’t learn the whole time.

Melyssa – People were waiting for autographs after shows

Jonny  –  And they also brought shots of vodka every time they wanted an autograph so we got hammered.

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be? 
Melyssa – I guess it would be the self-titled Placebo album. I can always listen to that regardless of my mood.

Carl – Mine’s completely not in that world at all. Straight from the Heart by Patrice Rushen which has “Forget Me Nots” on it. It’s like a super 80’s funk land of soul with a lot of that sort of electric keys. Very different than anything we’re doing but every song is so listenable.

Aaron – Mine might actually be Jackson Browne – For Everyman. Every song is just phenomenally well written.

Matt – Probably Aloha from Hawaii by Elvis Presley. 

Carl – That why we sound like we sound. We are so different.

Melyssa – Its probably why we’re all friends actually. 

Jonny – I have two but I can’t decide between them. It’s either Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins or Sunbather by Deafheaven. It’s gotta be Mellon Collie because at least it’s a double album and there’s variety.

Your debut album Moonsoake has been out for just over a year but I was reading that it was recorded three years ago?
Jonny – Yeah, it was Covid. It couldn’t have got more annoying for us because we had done the record at the end of 2019 and started mixing it at the start of 2020 and that’s when Covid hit. But we didn’t have a record deal or anything then. But we were really lucky when our manager smuggled me into an award ceremony and I met two engineers who ended up mixing it for us (Andy Bradfield and Avril Macintosh). And they worked on it as a relief from covid stress. And by the end of that, we had interest from Fierce Panda who signed us at the end of that year and said “we’re not gonna put it out until next year”. So we ended up having three years of just sitting on this record. 

Aaron – The title track of the album was actually recorded in our own houses after the rest of the album had been finished. That was just a last minute kind of idea that Jonny really liked.

Because you had to sit on it for two years, is there anything you would’ve changed in hindsight?
Jonny – I think we’d moved on, we were writing new material.`

Melyssa – If we had have put it out, then all the things that happened wouldn’t have happened. So if we had put it out on our own, we wouldn’t have met Andy and Avril or Fierce Panda.

Jonny – We just wrote new material and we have a new album ready. 

The title track (Moonsoake) sounds different from the rest of the album. Is the new music going to sound like that? 
Jonny – Not necessarily, no, it just happened to be because we did it in isolation from each other. Most of the rest of the record is live in a Portuguese factory that we recorded it in. So the drums sound a certain way. Whereas that one song, being in isolation, the guitars were done plugged into our laptop; there were no amplifiers. So, I think more of a result of Covid that one.

What were your inspirations or influences for the album?
Jonny – It’s a pretty big question! I grew up being a massive alt rock fan. Pumpkins and Placebo and bands with big guitars and big hooks was kind of my thing. So, from a songwriter perspective, anything that I contributed was that world. If it sounds anything like that, it’s my fault! But, I know Carl’s a huge fan of 70s, 80’s funk and stuff. 

Carl – But at the same time, in my eyes, it was a Foo Fighters record like Wasting Light from 2011 and the result would be something similar.

Jonny – I know with Aaron, it’s a lot of Midwest Emo and it’s a lot of structured, nice chord-based songwriting, so a lot of the songs have lovely chord progressions. 

Carl – Yeah, super musicality comes from Aaron!

Aaron – Strike that from the record!

Jonny – Me and Mattie have the closest similarities. So a lot of the drum/guitar talk is me and him and a lot of the drum intros are his thing, you know? 

Melyssa – I don’t know what I bring!

Photo Credit – Kate Atkinson

Your recent release “(Don’t Know Why) I Wish You Merry Christmas” sounded like a really classic British Christmas song because it was kind of melancholy but a little bit optimistic as well. How did that come about? 
Carl – Not last Christmas but the Christmas before that, it was two weeks before Christmas and I was sitting playing these chords on bass and I was like, “Christmas song!” 

Aaron – Then we realized ”shit, it’s Christmas next week.”

Jonny – So we set an alert on our phones for June to record the Christmas single and It was a heat wave when we recorded it live. And it was supposed to be melancholic, like, I think the joke was that we’re not really fans of Christmas. 

Carl – We’re more of a Halloween band. But I think it was a thing for ourselves that felt organic and real to put out.

Jonny – And Andy Bradfield loved it. He was like,” let me mix it” so we know we had even less work to do!

You mentioned you signed with Fierce Panda. How have they been to work with?
Jonny  – Yeah, they’re great. They’re the reason we’re here. 

Aaron – Simon (Williams, Fierce Panda label boss) is genuinely one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And he’s for the musicians. Do you know what I mean? 

Jonny – Our deal with them is the most artist friendly deal imaginable. They’re amazing.

Melyssa – The contract was like two pages long. We thought it was gonna be this big thing where they’re trying catch you out and it was like “here’s the deal.”

Aaron – And we signed in a pub and then he took us right the corner to this gate with a barbecue out the back to see new bands that he was excited about. 

Jonny – The only thing is they’re an indie label so they have an indie label budget, which is minimal. But I think a lot of things have happened for us just by having association with them.

I saw your debut single was in January 2018 but you were originally in a different band (R51). When did you originally meet?
Jonny – Well, depends who you ask. 

Melyssa – We were in the band that we went on tour to Russia. It was all of us, but we had a different name and we just didn’t feel connected to that name anymore. 

Jonny – Wynona Bleach officially started in 2018, but met in very different times. 

Melyssa – Me and him (Jonny) have been in a band together since 2006. We were kids, just children. 

Jonny – Aaron joined that band and we had different drummer and bass player. That drummer ended up going away because Matt and I were in a side project together called Scotland Yard and I was playing with him going “oh, this is what a drummer’s supposed to play like! Okay, do you wanna join my band?” And then we got booked to do the Russian tour and our bass player got a job opportunity in America a month before. So Carl was the fourth or fifth guy audition and we were like so glad when he plugged his bass in and actually just played.

What would be on your signature pizza and what would it be called? 
Melyssa – My friends always call me Melinda Green – they bought me a nail varnish and Melinda Green is the color. So that’s like my fake name now I guess. So it would be some kind of Melinda Green situation and everything on it would have to be green. So give me some spinach and I’ll go for some green peppers, some jalapenos and green pepperoni. Yeah, we’re gonna dye it! Just everything has to be green. 

Carl – I want vegan pepperoni, vegan mozzarella and then mushrooms, olives. And it would be called Bean and Be Gone.

Aaron – The perfect pizza already exists and it’s just a pizza with pepperoni on it. I don’t like any of that fanfare, just give me pepperoni and cheese and I’ll deal with it.

Matt – I’d probably have a margherita but I would sprinkle it with McDonald’s chicken nuggets. The McKillin it

Jonny – I do this thing when I’m at my lowest and I have to just cook something. I go to Tesco and I just get a regular pepperoni pizza. But when I get it home, I always put sweet chili sauce all over it and mayonnaise. So that’s the Johnny Woods.

Melyssa – you should be ashamed of yourself as well.

So what’s next for you guys? What happens for the rest of the year and beyond?
Melyssa – World domination!

Jonny – We have shows back home and a few around the UK and I think we’ve got GazeFest, which is a shoegaze inspired festival which is in Belfast and Dublin. And then we’ve got a couple of hometown gigs. We haven’t got a whole lot else that we can talk about yet. We’ve got two tracks that we really wanna release and one is off to be mixed right now. So there’s a new single on its way. We don’t know when it’ll come out or what the story will be, but that’s coming. 

You can find out more about Wynona Bleach and get merch and tickets for upcoming shows on their website and follow them on Instagram and Twitter for all the latest news.

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