Boy Azooga’s Davey Newington is the furthest he’s ever been from home. After a whirlwind 18 months that’s seen his band hit every major festival in Europe and the US, tour with Liam Gallagher and Rolling Blackouts Costal Fever, and receive critical acclaim across the globe for debut record 1, 2, Kung Fu!.
He has found himself in the heart of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley during BIGSOUND 2019 — roughly 16,500 kilometres from his studio and new puppy in Cardiff.
Although tremendously sleep deprived and jet-lagged, he still oozes that Welsh charm and a wide-eyed enthusiasm for the point he’s found himself at.
“It’s madness that we get to come down and play here. Absolute madness,” he says in disbelief.
Whether it’s from the excitement on his face, or the fact that today he’s wearing a POND t-shirt, or the explorative, melting-pot nature of the Boy Azooga sound, you can just tell he is a musician who adores other musicians. A certified, loveable music fanatic.
Families often have careers that are passed on through generations. Farmers. Teachers. Doctors. Davey comes from musical blood. His granddad was a jazzer and played drums in the Welsh Royal Marines. His parents were prolific classical musicians who both played, and met, in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. One day, after his father returned from a tour, he brought Davey a present. It was Queen’s Greatest Flicks.
“I was obsessed,” he says. “I remember that became my routine, watching that video. And then at some point, I just starting tapping on a biscuit tin and playing along. So I started to play drums.”
Like the Father John Misty’s of the world, whose parents bought him a kit so he’d stop the incessant table top tapping, Davey’s parents indulged their son’s inevitable musical obsession and bought him a toy drum kit.
“I played it so much I broke it,” he laughs. “So they bought me a real one. You gotta respect the parents who give their hyperactive kid a drum kit.”
After years of playing in school bands, youth orchestras and cover bands throughout his teens, Davey started to move into the local Cardiff music scene where he met Aimee Hayes, who ran a label called See Monkey Do Monkey.
“Aimee also ran the Miniature Music Press which was a magazine that was solely dedicated to the Cardiff music scene,” he says. “She was kinda trying to unite the music scene a bit, because it can sometimes feel like there’s all these different cliques. But she did it, and it was wicked, and I used to deliver the magazines with my friends.”
Aimee had heard that Davey was writing his own songs, so after the work he did for her she offered him two options. She could pay Davey directly, or she could pay producer Eddie Al Shakarchi (known professionally as Ed Boogie) to record and produce some songs with Davey.
“And I was like ‘Just pay him!’ he says, through a giggle. “Because I will just spend it on booze and onion rings and useless things.”
So she did. Davey went up and met him and started working on the record immediately. He describes that moment as a huge turning point in his life.
“[Eddie’s] an amazing musician and now one of my best mates,” he says. “I play drums on his records and he produces mine. We have a good thing going. We did the whole record in his living room.”
Davey and Eddie is a match made in production heaven. The final product, 2018’s 1, 2, Kung Fu! is a sonic jungle of rhythm, fuzz and bass, strings, synths, harmonies and melody. The infectious sounds are delivered with a neat pop-sensibility bow on top. It takes unexpected twists and turns, but every song leads into the next effortlessly.
“That was the goal. Being a big Beatles fan I always loved that on one album you’d have a musical ditty and then on another you’d have a psychedelic opus and then strings or whatever, having that scope of sound was so cinematic.
“I’ve recorded with a few different people and it’s all sounded great, but I feel the sound of Boy Azooga is me and Eddie working on something together.”
Having finished the record in the final months of 2016, Davey was keen to do it right and get the most out of the release.
“It felt like a really, really long time having finished the record and sitting on it. But people were saying ‘just wait, it’s worth waiting’ and I thought it was too. Because I’d been in bands where we were so eager to release music and then gigging heaps and then nothing happening and we found ourselves saying ‘Why are we even doing this?’ So with Boy Azooga, I wanted to take my time. I felt like my whole life was working towards this.”
When they finally announced themselves to the world in November 2018 with their William Onyearbor inspired single ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’, it quickly became a fixture of 6Music and BBC Radio 1 playlists. Then it caught the attention of Beastie Boys’ Mike D who invited Davey on to his Beats 1 show to be interviewed. Then NME got on board. Then Rolling Stone. Then the major festival bookers across Europe and the US. Then came the tip-of-the-hats from other nobility like Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and Liam Gallagher, and since then Davey and the band have barely stopped.
“I feel lucky because I’d been in other bands for ten years where we fucking slogged it and it never felt like anyone was listening. Now people have kinda taken to it a bit.”
It’s a very familiar story that every musician would identify with. Davey’s played his fair share of empty rooms, working men’s clubs and bingo halls around Wales, but he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I still do a lot of covers gigs for money and fund my bands like that. And I’ve played a fair few times to a completely empty room. There was one gig where we drove for hours to a student town but it was in the middle of summer break, so there were no students. The bar was completely empty the whole night. Not even a single passer by came in. Then the bar manager said that he had literally no cash in the till to even pay us. That stuff’s humiliating. But, you know, I think you have to do that. I would be so much more of a dick if all of this happened when I was seventeen or eighteen. Not saying that we’re not – we can all be dicks sometimes. But it just makes you appreciate it a little bit more when we get to come and play in Australia.”
When asked about new material, Davey is eager but cautious.
“It’s freaking me out a bit because I’d love to get a record out soon, but at the same time I don’t want to rush it.”
Another familiar story; The Curse of the Second Album. To make the first album, you have all the time in the world, but when it comes to the second, you’ve got a year, maybe two?
“It’s a cliche but it’s totally true. And before I thought, ‘yeah, I could do a Car Seat Headrest or a Oh Sees or a King Gizzard and just go record after record…’ but I can’t,” he laughs.
“I get so obsessed with it and then I have to draw a line. Finishing stuff is something I’m trying to get into.”
Davey is starting to sound remarkably like Kevin Parker.
“Well… yeah,” he says, almost defeated, as if someone just lifted his disguise. “He’s such a massive influence on me. So much so that when we started doing interviews I wouldn’t mention Tame Impala at all for fear of people calling us ‘Tame Imposter.’”
“My friend Pixie came up with that. Credit to Pixie!”
“But there’s merit in going album after album and just putting it all out there. It’s more democratic. People can access what they want, when they want it.”
We live in a time where up-and-coming and established artists are going through the painstaking process of writing a specific type of song in order to be played on certain radio stations or get on major Spotify playlists. Hooks and feature artists have to appear in the first thirty seconds to minimise the skip-rate and maximise streaming royalties. After a number of years being in bands that were sucked into that, Davey got fed up.
“To be brutally honest, I always have that voice in my head that’s like ‘It would be good to have an upbeat song as the single’ but then I think, ‘No, fuck that. Don’t give in. Don’t second guess and change to what you think people might like.’
“The reason I started this whole project was because of that whole thing. I just wanted to make something that I was really proud of as an album. But then you put something out, and you immediately go, ‘Shit, I hope people like it…’”
The irony of all of this is, of course, that ‘Face Behind Her Cigarette’ and follow up single ‘Loner Boogie’ are now on nearly every single Alternative Spotify and Apple Music playlist and regularly played on BBC Radio 1 and most major radio stations across the globe. It seems the second you stop caring, is the second it all happens.
He retracts a tiny bit. “I mean, obviously I care. I want it to be accessible. I love pop music.”