Track-By-Track: City Of Ashes – “All We Left Behind”

The Eastbourne quartet wrote their debut full length All We Left Behind about, as vocalist Orion Powell calls it “18 months in my life, which could almost have been funny if they weren’t so tragic.” An assured assembly of mini anthems, All We Left Behind was produced by Matt O’Grady (You Me At Six, Deaf Havana, Your Demise) and boasts the band’s recent single drops: swaggering pop rocker ‘Waves’, and slow-burning dark ballad ‘Masks’. The album is out now and here Orion guides you through it, track by track…


City Of Ashes - All We Left Behind cover

To understand our album you really have know a little about the circumstances it was written under; it was a very traumatic time during which our band really found itself…

Rewind to about 20 months ago: My roommate/good friend had just come down with a very rare auto immune sickness attacking his lungs and kidneys, which saw him hospitalised; a week later my father followed suit with an autoimmune sickness attacking his nervous system half a world away; band member Freddie too had a critical illness in the family; I ended a four year relationship… It seemed every time we said “At least it can’t get any worse,” something was waiting to drag the rug from under us.

Add to it that during this time I was actually squatting in an apartment to try and save enough money to put the first record together and was being told from all angles that it wasn’t worth it, that nobody would care.

In many ways the process of writing this record really created us. Through all of the difficulty of crafting these songs we really learned a lot about ourselves and became the band we are today.

1. “Ode to Innocence”

This song is really about that period at the start of the long process that became this record. It’s essentially about stepping (or being dragged) through the looking glass. I felt very disillusioned with the world at the time and I was really talking about not knowing who I was anymore. I didn’t know how to fit in, as most of those external structures and supports I had used to define myself were no longer there. It seemed like as good a point as any to start with, as back then I really didn’t know what shape this album would take.

2. “Falling Star”

This was actually the first track written for this record and was a massive turning point for our band. As it happened I was so preoccupied with the end of my relationship that the song fell out incredibly quickly and knew exactly what it wanted to be. I think we really learned so much from it, particularly me as a writer, and owe so much of the success of our album to this track.

3. “Recovery”

This was actually one of the final two songs written for the album. We had so nearly finished and had to go back to the studio to record this and one other track. At the time it was a massive strain as we’d been working for so long, that we just wanted to put the songs we already had out. The prospect of waiting to record these new ones, then the artwork, CD pressing, press run and so on, began to feel like too much.

I was so tired that I honestly didn’t know what to write about and that’s really where the song came from. All I knew is that I had been so desperate to reach this point and had wanted to look back and be filled with pride at what we had accomplished, but that was so far removed from how I felt. I just felt as if the treadmill under me wouldn’t slow down.

In many ways if there was an anthem to desperation on ‘All We Left Behind’ this would be it. In the end though, I feel that actually added a lot to the personality of the song and another dimension to the record.

4. “In Retrospect”

Looking back, this record process not only taught us who we were as band and me as an individual but also a lot about the nature of confidence. I never really paid much credence to the idea that (of course) a sense of confidence comes from some sense of security and if you don’t know who you are anymore then that’s in pretty short supply.

At the time I had actually become interested in a girl for the first time in as long as I could remember and had less than no idea how to go about it! I guess from the outside it must’ve looked like the ultimate comedy movie sketch as I clumsily fumbled my way around basic sentences… I occasionally wondered later on if she ever heard that song!

5. “The Highest Point of Living”

This is only song other than ‘Falling Star’ that made it onto our album from the EP recording session. It’s also one that I’m most pleased with as a song artistically despite the difficulties surrounding it emotionally.

It was a really tough song to write and even harder to record. I was actually in the separate vocal room recording with tears rolling down my face at the time. It wasn’t until after that the boys told me our producer had been asking them halfway through if I’d be ok to go on. I think it was a single take in the end which is pretty gratifying as a singer.

Since then it’s proved to be one of the most special songs to perform live and has given us some really incredible moments with hundreds of people at a time singing along in one room!

6. “Brand New World”

This was the very last track written for the album and the biggest sigh of relief to get finished! I think that really comes across in the lyrics. To finally be on the last track after such a long process was such an achievement. At the beginning I didn’t know if we had an album in us! It’s still a song that really represents that pressure being lifted to me.

7. “Decay”

We actually had an early version of this track for a long time before the record and had even laid down drums for it at the beginning of our EP session. However for various reasons we had never been completely happy with it until we eventually ripped it to pieces and reworked it into something that felt right for us. I’m glad we finally managed to give it an outlet as I think it’s good track.

8. “Sententia”

This is actually the only track that I wrote steaming drunk! Haha.

We basically recorded our album in three separate sessions, the largest of which was the middle one during which we recorded about six or seven songs. It got all the way up to our final rehearsal session prior to heading back in to record and I knew we desperately needed another song! Not having one would put enormous strain on our resources to come up with more money and time to record another one later.

It seemed everything we tried wasn’t getting us anywhere and I was more or less set to blow with the pressure from the outside on us having to make this work. On that note I had left the boys to have a jam ideas and gone for a some air to clear my head. As I did so I ran into a friend who bought me a couple of beers which promptly went straight to my head and then returned to our rehearsal space.

As we sat there going over what we should do, James played a single note on the guitar and I got hugely excited. There was a kind of haunting quality to it that really spoke to me. I got him to repeat the note over and over for about 20 minutes whilst I cranked out the lyrics, then we all sat in the room whilst James and I played it through and agreed it just didn’t need anything else.

It’s kind of my middle finger to minority of people that didn’t like us and had been pretty vocal about it and they’re still some of my favourite lyrics on the record.

9. “Dorian Gray”

This one is pretty reflective number. I was lost in self-loathing and far too much drinking for a while whilst we wrote and this is certainly a product of that phase. I really like the lyrical and thematic content. It’s also one of my favourite choruses and the only track on our record that has could be called a solo!

We worked pretty hard on getting an atmospheric tone for this track that really sounded like sitting in a room on your own battling with your thoughts as that seemed to be a lot of my time. I think we got it.

10. “Masks”

‘Masks’ is actually one of our favourite tracks on the record. It was written on an acoustic guitar originally and took a little while to transpose into its full form. We had really wanted to incorporate what we do well atmospherically and as a big rock sound together.

It was written the day after I’d been taken to a nightclub and had a sort of epiphical moment. Both the guys and girls all had the demeanour of shop mannequins brought to life. They were dressed uniformly in Tommy Hilfiger or Ralph Lauren and were so desperate to claim expectance from their peers or a fleeting glance from the opposite sex that not one of them seemed to have any discernible personality of their own.

At this point during the record writing I was just starting to find my feet and a sense of self again and the one thing this confirmed to me is that I didn’t want to be part of this world, renting my soul from a designer shelf.

11. “Waves”

‘Waves’ was actually the first track that we finished all aspects of during the recording process. I remember listening back to it as we all sat in the mixing room together. By the time we got to the chorus we were so thrilled that huge grins were flying around the room between us.

It’s really the moment that we knew we really had something, even though so much of the record was yet to be finished, and is still one of our absolute favourite live songs.

Lyrically the story is the opposing bookend to ‘Ode to Innocence’ – about having found some sense of me. It wasn’t necessarily where I had imagined being at the time, but then none of the journey had been something I had anticipated and certainly hadn’t opted for.

It’s a reflection on where the story had brought me and the writing process had brought us and has left us so very excited for the next chapter of our journey.

Purchase All We Left Behind here:

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