Irons discusses debut Self Defence single Chemicals and album plans

“I think the songs are good and I’m honestly dead proud of them - and that’s really not like me,”

By David Jackson
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 11:57 am
Updated Thursday, 7th April 2022, 11:58 am
Self Defence.
Self Defence.

During the last two decades, Lee Irons has played at some of the UK’s best-known festivals, on some of its biggest stages and across Europe and in Japan.

However, following the demise of his last band, he thought his relationship with music could be over.

Fast forward a few years, Irons has returned with his solo project Self Defence and his first single Chemicals.

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Self Defence.

Self Defence sees Irons take centre stage as frontman, singer and guitarist and last month, the Northampton musician played his first Self Defence gig at The Lamplighter.

“Chemicals is one of the first songs I’d written in years,” Irons explains. “It’s a song about drugs, mental health, betrayal and regret. I’m ever so proud of it.”

Irons has been a familiar name within the Northampton music scene for many years.

In his late teens, he played in post-hardcore band Forever Until October and found major label success with The Departure in the early 2000s.

Self Defence at The Lamplighter. Photo by David Jackson.

After playing in Bruises, he played in fuzzed-out slacker pop group OhBoy! and also helped create early material for Ginger Snaps.

“I’ve been playing in bands for the best part of 25 years,” explains Irons, “But with Self Defence it’s just me.

“On the one hand that means there’s nobody else to contribute, or add their input, but on the other it means I don’t have to compromise on my vision.

“Musically, it’s really wherever the song takes me, but I’ve tried very hard to make it as honest and personal as I can.

Self Defence at The Lamplighter. Photo by David Jackson.

“Chemicals is certainly a good example of that sentiment, it’s really just the sound that’s inside my head.”

Chemicals channels alternative Americana influences, reminiscent of acts such as The War On Drugs.

The single was recorded at The Lodge Recording Studio in Northampton with Mark Cann.

Drums were played by Tommy Francis (New Cassettes / Century City) with Dave Crawford (Kinships / Plastic Tree Studios) on keys.

“Mark has allowed me to be very involved with the production side of things,” explains Irons.

“I have a lot of creative ideas, but I might not have all of the technical studio know how.

“Mark is very patient, understanding and enthusiastic.

“It was really important to me that the song was created using real instruments, with actual human beings playing them, as opposed to samples and plugins.”

During the sessions for Chemicals, Mark discovered the logbook for the analogue desk at the studio which listed all of the acts that used it in its original home at Morgan Studios in London in the late 70s.

“Turns out the first three records by The Cure were recorded on that desk,” explains Irons.

“That’s a really big deal to me. I’d like to think that some of that magic found its way onto Chemicals.”

Turning to influences behind Self Defence, Irons cites his mental health as a contributing factor, explaining he chose the name of the project because it encapsulates what the songs are about.

“Coping mechanisms, emotional barriers and being brave enough to try and drop them,” he explains.

He adds: “I often mentally visualise sounds, or a feeling that I’m trying to create when I’m writing songs. Like directing a scene in a movie.

“I’m sure this sounds horrendously pretentious, but it’s just the way my brain works.

“It’s something I’ve sometimes found difficult to communicate to band mates in the past, but with Self Defence I don’t have to. So, visuals have had a big impact on the way it sounds.”

Self Defence is the first major work from Irons since OhBoy!, a band who quickly became favourites of the Northampton alternative scene during their time together, releasing singles such as God Look After The Quiet Kid and Carrot and the Stick.

When the band split, Irons admits it left him feeling “jaded”.

“I honestly thought that was the end for myself and music,” he explains.

“I just felt very jaded by the music industry and being in a band is a lot of hard work.”

Irons admits he’d never taken a proper break from music since he was 15 years old.

Besides singles and EPs, OhBoy! played major festivals including Truck, Handmade, Isle Of Wight and Glastonbury and were working on a debut album.

“We’d worked really hard during that time,” explains Irons. “But then it just got a bit too much and we split.”

It was during the first lockdown in 2020 that Irons started writing songs again, with lyrics he describes as “really personal”.

Like many others, the circumstances brought a period of self-reflection and realisation.

“I think the songs are good and I’m honestly dead proud of them - and that’s really not like me,” he says.

“I’ve always been the first to talk down my own work.”

“I’ve always had a problem with finishing things and am very guilty of not allowing myself to be vulnerable. Self Defence is really just me trying to be better at all of these and more.”

At The Lamplighter in March, Irons’ debut gig as Self Defence was opening for Chris Watson from The Moons.

It was Irons’ first solo gig in about 15 years and first live performance in about five.

In the dimly lit room upstairs at the pub, he played in front of a sold-out audience.

Other than his voice and guitar, you could hear a proverbial pin drop such was the atmosphere.

“I was absolutely petrified. I’m a shy person that really has to try hard to project a sense of confidence. Self Defence you might say,” explains Irons.

“Playing in a band means you can be loud and have your mates backing you up, volume can give you a sense of power and confidence.

“In my past bands I’ve played Wembley Arena, Reading & Leeds, Glastonbury, as well as huge festivals in Japan and across Europe.

“I’m no stranger to big crowds, but I’ve always found it much more difficult to play to only a few people. It’s a much more personal experience.

“Playing a gig, really quietly just me and an electric guitar, to a smaller audience was a challenge I had set myself.

“As a first gig and the first time anyone would have heard these songs, I thought stripping them back to how I initially wrote them would be a good place to start.

“I knew it’d be difficult, but I’m really proud that I did it.

“The response on the night and that I’ve received since has been incredible.

“I’d like to thank everyone that came along, for being so patient and receptive.”

Last year Irons took to social media to talk about his experiences while signed to a major label in the mid-2000s while guitarist in The Departure.

The band released one album Dirty Words in 2005 before Irons left and the band later disbanded.

The posts, which included good and bad memories, resonated with followers keen to hear about his recollection of the era.

“That period of my life is not something I have previously talked about openly as I really don’t feel comfortable about it,” admits Irons.

“I worry it would either come across as showing off, or complaining about an opportunity that so many musicians would kill to have.

“I have good friends that had no idea that any of it happened, some didn’t even know I played music at all.

“I thought if I put a couple of stories up online then it might prove helpful for me and hopefully interesting to a handful of my friends.”

The posts included stories of his time in The Departure, their breakthrough record, touring and leaving the band as well as anecdotes featuring the likes of Peter Doherty, Jimmy Carr, The Kooks and Coldplay.

“I was honestly so overwhelmed, but hugely grateful for all the kind words of support I received,” he explains.

“I apologise to those that didn’t appreciate the way I told the stories though, my only intention when I set out was to tell the truth to a few of my mates that wanted to know more about those days.

“Perhaps I got carried away as it went on and it became more popular.

“That encouragement and validation meant I felt like I should continue to share more personal stories from that time. Unfortunately, they weren’t to everyone’s approval.”

With his debut single out now and his first solo show under his belt, Irons is in the process of recording Self Defence’s debut album.

Admitting the process is taking longer than he had hoped, Irons explains the difficulties of recording a record along side a full time job and trying to maintain a social life.

“It sounds obvious, but I’ve learned that my friends are one thing that is really important for my head,” he explains.

“We tend to lose touch with our friends as we get older. People’s priorities shift and I’ve certainly felt like I’ve been left behind at times.

“I’m not the easiest person to be around sometimes, for a number of reasons.

“So, I’m very grateful and really appreciate those that stand by me.”

The Self Defence album will feature a mixture of old and new friends with Irons also revealing he’s working on a cover of an artist he’s a fan of.

With his music strongly influenced by visuals, he’s also keen to make Self Defence a more visual project and is appealing to film makers, visual artists, painters and photographers who may be interested in working together to get in touch.

He concludes, “Other than releasing music, at this point I haven’t got any definite plans for anything in particular. I’m just going to go the way the project takes me.

“Perhaps it will grow into a big live act, with 10 people on stage.

“Maybe it will just be me and a load of effects pedals. I’m really just finding my way in the dark.”

Chemicals by Self Defence is out now on regular streaming platforms.

For more information, follow @Selfdefencemusic on Facebook and Instagram