Interview: The Union Ares

The Union Ares are an unusual premise: two bands in one. Linked by guitarist/vocalist Todd Giles, who’s based in The Hague (NL), the first incarnation of the band includes Iain and Huw from Scotland (known for their work in Carson Wells). Their first album Songs From The North was released on April 1st, a literal message from the ‘northern’ band. It’s due a response from the ‘southern’ version of the band, which features Mike and Gabry from The Hague. Confusing, right! We guess they’re making good use of Zoom to keep track of it.

I caught wind of this fascinating new band late last year, and had a chat with Todd Giles to shed some light on it.

Hiya Todd! The Union Ares sound like an absolutely insane collaboration. What got you started?

It’s a long story… After Kolya ended in like 2002 I quit my shitty job and moved in with my grandmother.  There I started to really write songs as a solitary process. From these songs I started The Union Ares in my Nana’s basement. 

We ended up getting a bunch of songs together, played a few shows and recorded a 10 song demo then, when the drummer moved to NYC it stopped, and I started playing the banjo full time.  More than a decade later I’d moved to The Hague with my wife and the songs were still collecting dust. Someone reached out about some old Kolya music and it triggered me to get the project up and running again.  I didn’t know anyone in The Hague that knew what I wanted as a band, but I knew of Carson Wells in Scotland because they mentioned liking Kolya in an interview that I came across once. I asked them if they wanted to start a side project as The Union Ares… they said ‘sure’ and to their dismay I actually showed up in Aberdeen for a weekend of practices. 

It took about three years – Iain moved to Glasgow, Huw to Edinburgh – and in the meanwhile I started writing a lot. We’ve played some shows and recorded a 10 song record and it’s actually done and about ready for pressing called Songs from the North.      

Who else is involved in the band with you?

Iain Dallas played drums and sings some, and Huw Gurden plays bass and sings some.  This is the Union Ares ‘North’.  

How are you managing the international division in the band?

It’s not ideal of course.  We get a few chances to play per year and the long view is that the project moves slow – but really considering the time we have we moved super fast.  When we meet we play all day in a smelly practice space and get a lot done. I’m proud of the record we’ve made under the circumstances.  It’s a testament to how good those guys are. But since it’s so slow going and I’m writing so fast now, I started a Union Ares ‘South’ with some people from The Hague and we are working on the second record that will be called Songs From The South.  The south team is with Mike Bailey on bass and vocals and Gabry de Waaij on drums.   

Do you think it’s gives you more creative unity (having members in different countries), or does it cause a disparity when you’re trying to write?

I think it’s evolved into a cool concept for a band!  With the two Union Ares bands operating separately but with one unifying factor – my songs.  In my head there’s at least a three album cycle. Songs From the North is the opening statement from the Scottish guys.  Album two will be the response from The Hague. The third, I hope to be a mix of the two bands. I hope to be able to not only mix songs strictly recorded by each ‘band’ but also to mix up the line-ups between the four guys that are not me.  They are all supremely talented guys that can play other instruments. I hope to tour with all five of us arranging the songs for a five piece band.   

The Southern side of the band

What approach do you take to songwriting?

I just sit and play until I hear something I like, then stop when I think it’s done.  I have a digital 8 track thing that I make demos of the songs that I can share with the guys, so they can have the songs in their heads before we take them into the practice space.  

Is calling your debut single ‘Untitled’ a subversive mood, or are you just trying to keep things simple?

This song is very much an outlier in the context of the whole record.  The other songs tend to be a bit more involved and longer. It was also the last song that was finished before recording.  It was the one that was the hardest to get the band to assimilate into the sound.  Sonically speaking, I think it’s a nice preview of how the album will come across.

You’ve written a really satisfying, layered composition of guitars and vocals. In ‘Untitled’ there’s a few moments where feedback contrasts with clean, plucked notes.

I like feedback.  There’s a fair bit of it on the record for sure.  I’m glad you noticed! Since the band is not able to play as much as we would like now – I see the recording process and the record as a very different and independent beast compared to playing live. We are a trio but recording I didn’t feel like I needed to keep it clear so there are guitar arrangements that are not possible live.

Do you feel there are any bands that have influenced your style on your album Songs From The North?

I like bands that can create a nice atmosphere on a record and can spark an element of freshness.  There are no new ideas in music but you can tell when a band is alive so to speak… I hope we did that.  When I think of other bands that have made records that sound alive I think of.. Boys Life Departures and Landfalls or Aloha’s That’s Your Fire and Ted Leo Tyranny of Distance to name a few.

You’re collaborating with a UK label, a Norwegian label and creating your own DIY label for the release. Tell us how that came about.

Since I’ve been out of the scene for a while I don’t have as many contacts, and I’m shitty and making new contacts. I’d rather write and make the music, but unfortunately you need to also get the word out… which I’m finding is harder than it sounds.  

Somehow Andy from strictly no capital letters and Kjetil from Lilla Himmel got wind of the music and got in touch with me. I want people involved that like the music and will help push it out a little bit and we’ll see from there.  I recently decided to ‘start my own label’ to add to the record. It’s really only a logo at this point that I guess I’ll use for releasing my music.  

What does ‘The Union Ares’ refer to?

I don’t know anymore.  I liked that if you say the two words they sound as one, like we are all part of a union.  We are unionares. That word may or may not exist. Since Ares is the Greek god of war I thought that was sort of apt to reappropriate that in a peaceful sense. The members of the Union Ares, be they the band mates or people that think the music is worth listening to, can join up and be part of something.  Something artful and progressive, I guess. 

What are your ambitions for The Union Ares future?

I’m now writing songs that will be part of a solo acoustic record. I want to play shows with both the North and the South as much as possible and put out as much music as I can before my hands and my voice stop working.

Check out The Union Ares over on Bandcamp.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

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