Spekulativ Fiktion: “I Sense a Storm Building”

One of Irish hip-hop’s most authoritative voices is back. Corkman Seán Murphy, aka Spekulativ Fiktion, talks about his new EP, the scene in Cork, and even improvises a short tale for Mike McGrath-Bryan.

2017 has been a year of profound change and development for Seán Murphy, a Cork wordsmith, rapper and beatmaker plying his craft under the pseudonym of Spekulativ Fiktion. Having emerged at the start of the decade with a seemingly ready-made knack for intelligent yet defiantly-accented wordplay, and an equal grasp of matters both social and emotional, Spek followed a quiet few years with a full-blown return to live and recorded activity, gigging intensely around the country. His efforts have borne fruit: his next EP ‘Effigies’, a long-mooted collaboration with Clare beatmaker Mankyy, is about to be released this month via Limerick-based outlet The Unscene. “Mankyy is a workhorse, and would send me beats all the time. If a beat clicked, I’d move forward with an idea that I felt suited. Lyrically, every song was approached differently. I definitely invested the most time into ‘Epilogue’. At points I would have completely filled the front and back of an A4 page only to end up using four lines out of the whole thing. Then I’d move onto another page and repeat. There was lots of drafting and scrapping before completion. I intentionally put the outro section of the song to the wayside until the recording stage, where it came together quickly with a large input from Mankyy. There are flows and schemes in there I wouldn’t have experimented with, had it not been for the collaborative effort.”

But the process isn’t always a matter of carefully-laid building blocks coming together. “Other tracks were written completely on the spot during the final recordings. You can put months of preparation and have material ready to go in advance of studio time, but you can’t replicate that spontaneous energy of banging something out in a few focused moments. My favourite material on there came about that way. It’s good to surprise yourself. I think of it almost like freestyling but you’re giving yourself an extra few minutes to cut away the excess and polish everything. Both the vocals and the beat for ‘G’luck’, the EP’s final track, came out of nowhere when we were just sitting around. State of flow they call it, right?” The dalliance with Mankyy has already borne fruit, with a special live performance of the record at IndieCork’s music programme winning the festival’s music laurels and leading to a premiere for EP leadoff ‘Epilogue’ via tastemaker blog Nialler9. It seems as though the pair have happened across something special. “There are certain aesthetics in art that we both delight in. Things that are dark but goofy, sarcastic but stirring, bleak but tireless. And I think we explore this world quite effectively together. We also don’t hate each other.”

The Unscene is the right place at the right time for Spekulativ Fiktion. The Shannonside not-quite-a-label has positively been on the tear throughout 2017, acting as a documentation post for a wide variety of Irish beats ‘n’ pieces. At its forefront: skratchologist Naive Ted, a lucky charm for the outlet whose last five EPs, a series called ‘The Minute Particulars’, were released in the space of a few months. “Talk about work ethic. The guy is a mad scientist. He once showed me a “draft 47” of a tune that would go on to appear on ‘The Minute Particulars’. I want to know how he keeps his skull from exploding! Mankyy’s ‘Character Development’ set the bar on January first of last year. There’s nothing like it. It’s Blade Runner 2049 if Ted’s ‘Send in the Hounds’ was Ridley Scott’s original. And when you get through that there’s another twenty something fresh EPs and albums in the Unscene catalogue, none of which try to hop on the sound of now… or the sound of any time for that matter. If I’m being honest, I reckon all these tunes came from an alternate reality.”

Ted and the Unscene are at the vanguard of a wider hip-hop uprising in Limerick that springs from an investment in music education in the city. Ted, among others, is involved with MusicGeneration Limerick, and in Spek’s estimation, it’s not long until similar effort pays off Leeside. “All you need is a quick glance at MusicGeneration Limerick’s gurus, disciples, and affiliates to understand huge things are happening there: Naive Ted, Rusangano Family, Same D4ence, Jonen Dekay… However, I sense a storm building in our own neck of the woods in the MusicGeneration department. There is a serious calibre of young talent on the rise, under the guidance of Garry McCarthy who is definitely ‘not’ GMC/Kalabanx. I have a feeling 2018 is Cork rap’s renaissance year.”

It’s been five years now since the release of Spek’s debut full-length, ‘Deathly Words’ – the tone and tenor of which was an uncomprising analysis of Irish society in the depths of deranged, misplaced austerity measures and their social consquences, but also the source of much praise from Irish music press of the time. Beats from Naive Ted and Cork veteran JusMe provided the backdrop for lyrical explorations of both internal and external issues, and Spek outlines where he was mentally when creating a record that would go on to be a portent for the development of Irish hip-hop in the years to follow. “I had a broken heart, was struggling to find direction in life, and saw corruption everywhere. I’m glad I had an outlet to combat the pain, and I worry about those who never find one. That therapeutic thing is one of the biggest reasons I’m still at this. I was completely sincere in everything I put to paper for ‘Deathly Words’, and I’m still proud of it. ‘Effigies’ probably has thematic parallels with it in a lot of ways. Half a decade has passed, and I have accomplished things in my life, but there are always challenges, and the world is just as crazy. I’m just telling my ongoing story and that of the world around me as I see it.”

The following years were spent collaborating with Naive Ted on their ’48’ extended-player, as well as making guest appearances for Sligo troop This Side Up, among others. As if possessed by the spirit of creation in the moment, Murphy treats us to a piece of O’Brienesque narrative, a chronicle-verse of his time in the wilderness. “With Ted, it was plenty of cups of tea, and homemade veggie curries. Not at the same time. But never say never… emerging from the spectral woods I find myself atop a behemoth of hulking rock. The breeze is enlivening. The view is transcendent. How did I get here? I glance to the side. It’s Clerk 5 and Shaool from This Side Up. We played a blinder in Sligo town last night, and are currently struggling through a hip-hop hangover up Benbulben like a pack of sick dogs. What would a glorified mosher such as myself be doing in a place like this, with a scut from Ennis who looks like he robs car radios and a viking/teddy-bear cross sporting a windswept afro? What could we possibly have in common? Oh yeah! We’re all grown men, who rhyme words loudly into other peoples’ faces as a pastime.”

Murphy balances life as a poet, beatmaker and rapper with the grind of a workin’ session musician – functions, corporate gigs, sessioning for theatre, etc. They’re seemingly at odds with the work and message of Spekulativ Fiktion, but Murphy makes it work. “The more I think about this stuff, the less gets done! But from a performance point of view, one is always informing the other. Whether I’m singing that bloody Wham! song again at a Women’s Little Christmas party in a country hotel, or spitting post-apocalyptic raps at tripping art students up in Dolan’s, there’s always a trick I’ll learn in one situation that can be be utilised in the other. The covers and entertainment side of things usually entails giving the people what they want. Environments and circumstances might change a little here and there, but more often than not, I just turn up and do pretty much the same thing I did last time. I like to think I do it well, mind you, and it’s what people like. Job done. Spekulativ Fiktion is a different animal, however. He’s my outlet. It’s more than ‘learn setlist, perform setlist and repeat’. Spek is in a constant state of flux. There is always new material in the works and new plans being made. That can fry my head sometimes. Maybe, what I’m trying to say though, is that these two sides of the coin balance each other out.”

Spek and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ on the 26th, with a whole host of phenomenal Irish rappers on the undercard, including Limerick rappers Jonen Dekay and Aswell, and an open-mic contest on the night. Murphy is amped for the line-up and to see other rappers in action. “A while back I heard Jonen Dekay described as the best rapper you’ve never heard of. These days, he’s a lot closer to being the best rapper you have heard of. Aswell is the rap version of that voice in your head that picks apart your confidence and calls you on your flaws, while doing so with such self-assurance and swagger that you’ll be nodding along believing it’s a good thing! SwitchX provides some Cork representation on the night and between you and me, he is sitting on the best rap song to come out of this city. Ever.”

That open-mic is the latest in a series at Cuttin’ Heads Collective (of whom Murphy is an affliate) events, and a proving ground for the next wave of MCs, poets and orators. For him, this is the highlight of the night. “I am excited for the open mic. There are a lot of hidden gems around these parts. At one of the bigger shows of the summer, I threw the mic to the crowd at the end of the night. The rest of the audience were left in shock. Myself included. Who the hell are these people?! Poets, freestylers and spoken wordsmiths are crawling out of the woodwork, along with your more typical rappers and coming to these events. That’s what’s needed for that Cork rap renaissance I mentioned earlier!”

Spekulativ Fiktion and Mankyy launch ‘Effigies’ with a special gig on the 26th of January at the Poor Relation on Parnell Place. Support from Aswell, Jonen Dekay and SwitchX, as well as a solo set from Mankyy and an open-mic contest. Kickoff at 8.30pm, €7 at the door.

Ilenkus: “All the Work We Got to Do Felt Particularly Rewarding”

Ahead of touring this week with Swedish mathcore outfit God Mother, Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with Ilenkus frontman Josh Guyett.

2017 was a quietly busy year for Galway mathcore/sludge five-piece Ilenkus, one that saw the much-feted physical release of most recent E.P. ‘Hunger’, and consistent live activity across the country in its wake. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Guyett surveys his feelings on the year that was. “It was a good year for us but also a tough one. We did a couple of tours in support of ‘Hunger’, despite the fact that it was a pretty demanding year for us personally, so all the work we got to do with the band felt particularly rewarding.”

‘Hunger’ came in for high praise from genre blogs and listeners alike, while the attendant touring worked out well numbers-wise for the band. Guyett goes into the record’s gestation process, and how it was met. “It was a really smooth process to be honest. We wrote the whole EP as one piece over the course of a couple of months at our rehearsal space in Galway. After figuring out where how we wanted to split the tracks up, we did a bit of pre-production and headed to the studio with our buddy Aidan Cunningham from Murdock. The tracking of the instruments was done quickly and with very few overdubs, which seemed to focus the sound. We were really happy with how it turned out and the response it got from the public.”

The physical release came about via a split with a series of labels around the world: WOOOARGH, Smithsfoodgroup, and others, including the band-affiliated Feast promotion house. How did these come together and how did it work out in the end? “Basically, after pitching ‘Hunger’ to some bigger labels without much luck we decided to try to fund it by getting a bunch of labels to all collaborate together. This works out great for smaller labels because the bulk of the costs are shared. It also benefited us by widening our exposure across their locations and networks. Overall I’d say it turned out well, all the labels are very supportive and the records came out looking and sounding great.”

Some of the labels also helped out with touring internationally to support the record, a process only given pause by the aforementioned break for attendance to personal matters. “To be perfectly honest that was the plan, but with 2017 being such a tumultuous year, we didn’t get to do as much touring as we’d have liked. We got picked up by a new booking agent earlier in the year; a mad bastard called John from a deadly band called Vasa – go check them out – so working with him has been fun!”

It’s been a healthy 2017 for heavy music in Ireland, also, and Guyett is effusive about the metal scene over the past twelve months. “Destriers are great, so are Bailer, who just put out a raging new track. Horse, Unyielding Love, Partholon, Soothsayer, Coscradh, Zh0ra, Ten Ton Slug. Our pals Bitch Falcon have been doing brilliant lately, Jenova impressed me when they played in Galway, and there’s a cool sounding new band called God Alone.”

Guyett has also had a busy year as a promoter with Galway-based gig house Feast, alongside Galwegian culture impresario Shane Malone and Tribal-resident Limrocker Steve Hunt, with some massive names in during the year and their domestic duties with Ilenkus’ release. “It’s been crazy and really cool. The highlight for me was getting to put on Melt Banana and Zu in the same week. Such great bands, and it was a privilege to bring them to Galway. We also have a distro set up at all the shows these days, and have been working away on a website for the label. It’s great to see Feast progressing and I honestly don’t know where we’re going right now, but we’re going!”

The band is on tour with God Mother for the rest of this month, a tie-in with the band that supported influencers Dillinger Escape Plan’s final gig. “I had first heard God Mother a few years ago when they released a split with Artemis, a UK band that we’d toured with, so last year I reached out to them on behalf of Feast. I asked whether they had any interest in coming to Ireland and when they said they did, we figured the best way to do it would be to tour with Ilenkus. We’re really excited for these gigs, it’s their first time in Ireland and a while since we’ve done an Irish run, so we are psyched for some great shows.”

The inevitable “what next” question is met with a holding close to the chest of cards, understandable considering the aforementioned revision of plans mid last-year. “We’ll be working on new material for sure, as well as touring. Beyond that I can’t say too much right now, but keep your eyes peeled.”

Cara Kursh: “I Sit Down and Wait to See What Pops Up”

There are many strings to the bow of Cork-based Galwegian Cara Kursh. Mike McGrath-Bryan sat down with a poet, a singer-songwriter, and a promoter of the arts in the city.

Since opening its doors over two years ago, the Friary pub, situated at the corners of Shandon Street and North Mall, has become something of a hub for Cork culture, hosting gigs, open mics, film screening, exhibitions, DJ nights, and even full-on festivals. A great amount of this eclectic nature and grassroots work is down to the venue’s events collaborators and curators, among them Galwegian singer, poet and creative Cara Kursh. Speaking on the topic of what brought her to the city in the first place, Kursh speaks of an affinity for the city’s civic pride and creative community. “I moved to Cork nearly two years ago. I really like living in the city because it feels very accessible. Everyone is friendly and open and if you have an interest in something, it’s a lot easier to get involved in what you like doing. It’s less cliquey than a lot of places and I feel like people have more of a community spirit here which is so vital to have”, she says.

The venue’s diminutive stature belies the growth it’s taken on in the past few years, mostly down to the openness of landlord Mike d’Arcy to new ideas. Kursh was immediately engrossed. “I was there for a Ska night, and saw that there was a beautiful little space upstairs that would be perfect for an acoustic night. I helped out with (music night) Sofar Sounds, so was on the lookout for lovely spaces to put on gigs. I was talking to Mike about it, and he asked me to come in that Monday. When we chatted, he was really open to all my suggestions on what events could be done in the bar, and I’ve been really lucky to have a creative input in what goes on here.” Kursh’s creative work with the Friary in a full-time events capacity carried on until late last year, at which point a change in pace was undertaken to diversify her own interests. She remains involved, however, and the aforementioned openness of the venue to her ideas continues to be a challenge and a muse. “I really like that all ideas are welcome and considered. It’s great being able to come in with a mad idea and not have it laughed at, but encouraged! It’s a lovely pub, it has no airs and graces and when I come in I always feel as if I’m almost popping around to a friend’s house. When I helped put on The Friary Cork Festival, after all the preparation, it was so rewarding seeing how much people enjoyed themselves at it, I was really proud of our little bar.”

Since changing roles over at the Friary, Kursh is now primarily in charge of matters pertaining to Sling Slang!, a monthly poetry and performance event held in the venue’s upstairs space. Kursh goes into how the spoken word entered her creative processes and how the night came together. “I love words! I’ve written poetry for a long time. I’ve been songwriting for the last few years, so my poetry has been sung as opposed to read, until very recently. I went to O’ Bhéal a few times last year, and recited some poetry for the first time. I loved the atmosphere, the platform it gave people as a creative outlet, and I felt encouraged and inspired to write and perform more. During the Summer I started creating raps. I love the way words can be percussive, and feel so powerful when you speak about things that are important to you through rhyme and rhythm. I have friends who are rappers, but everytime I hear them out at gigs, the lyrics are a lot less decipherable over music. I wanted to create an event that focused on word appreciation and host all different varieties of wordsmiths to come and be their creative selves. I love seeing people go up on stage and perform their own poetry. To be able to create a platform for people to do that in a nurturing environment is a really special thing.”

The effort ploughed into Sling Slang! has cemented the monthly night as another reliable outlet in the city for poets and writers, and helping further establish the Friary as a safe haven for creative endeavour in a city under pressure for those exact spaces. “So far, we’ve had some beautiful nights with a different variety of guests. To name a few: Dave Rock, Spekulativ Fiktion, Cormac Lally, David Jackson, Stanley Notte, Julie Goo, Ben Burns… all magic in their own way. Every Sling Slang there is a new host, two guests, an open mic and a communal poem made by the audience. We have a group on Facebook called ‘Sling Slang!’. I’d encourage anyone who writes or performs spoken word to join and share their mind-mumblings with us!”

Supportive of the wider cultural scene in the city, as many of Cork’s cultural practicioners are, Kursh enthuses further about the state of the spoken word, Leeside. “It’s amazing! There’s so many people who are so passionate about poetry and spoken-word in Cork. They are a beautiful group of people who are so welcoming and open to anyone who wants to become a part of it. O’ Bhéal is on every Monday from 9.30pm in the Hayloft at the Long Valley Pub. The Garden Collective, which you can find on Facebook, will be releasing videos of Cork Spoken Word artists very soon! Spotlight Poetry, ran by Mathew Moynihan, ended recently unfortunately, but it was a beautiful night.”

As mentioned earlier, Kursh has also been performing around Cork the last while as a singer-songwriter, and explains the importance of her art and process to herself personally. “Creating songs and singing them to people is the most important thing in my life. Any time I feel I’m caught up in some feeling or if I feel I’m in a place where I can’t think properly, I sit down with my guitar and wait to see what pops up. Usually something I didn’t realise had been plaguing me just comes out as a song. When the song comes out, I usually then have a lot more clarity of mind. When I sing my songs to people, I feel like I’m giving them a snippet of myself. It’s scary singing in front of a lot of people because my songs are extremely personal, and you’re always afraid that people won’t like them, but doing it is so cathartic.”

This twin experience of catharsis and trepidation fed into the creation of her debut record, an extended-player due to release soon. A mix of her songs and spoken-word pieces, Kursh found a way to involve the wider spoken-word scene in the creation of her first collected body of artistic work. “I decided to make a booklet to go along with the E.P. that will include lyrics to my songs, and it will feature some poetry by some of my friends from around Cork and Galway. I’ve asked if people could write poetry around the themes in my songs, as I would like the E.P. and the booklet to have a story in it that the listeners and readers can come up with the meaning themselves.”

It all points to a busy 2018 for Kursh, between her roles in the creative community via the Friary and her own creative explorations. The Tribeswoman is starting the year as she means to go on, and makes as much apparent when conversation turns to what’s next. “The E.P., and more Sling Slang! I’ll also be organising a fundraiser for DAWG on the 3rd of Febuary in the Friary from 3pm until 7pm. There will be vegan snacks by Cool Beans, some music, and a raffle!”

God Mother: “You’re Making Music for Yourself”

Ahead of their tour of Ireland later this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan sits down with God Mother drummer Michael Dahlström to reflect on a year of milestones for the metal quintet.

Swedish five-piece God Mother are a veritable onslaught of sound and fury, not only in the immediate sonic sense, but in the array of musical reference points that come the listener’s way over the course of new album ‘Vilseledd’, out now via Party Smasher Inc. Math, grind, and hardcore inflections all make themselves blisteringly apparent amid a satisfyingly substantial mix.

Drummer Michael Dahlström gives us some insight into the band’s creative and recording processes for this LP. “Writing songs for ‘Vilseledd’ was a fairly simple process. We all had the same idea of where we were going with the album, and we wrote almost all of the songs together in the rehearsal room, which made things pretty easy arrangement-wise. We did all the recording of the album ourselves with some help of our friends: Staffan Birkedal, who helped record the drums, and Ove Noring who helped with the bass recording at Studio Ovett. Magnus Lindberg from Cult Of Luna later did the mixing and mastering.”

How did the process differ, if at all, this time around, compared to self-released recordings? “Even though we recorded it ourselves, we rented a really nice studio called Soundtrade Studios in Stockholm to record it in. That really made a huge difference to the drum sound. The drums sound huge, and great without any samples or digital reverb thanks to that really big-sounding live room. All the previous releases have been mixed by me as well, but this time we decided to have Magnus mix it, both because he is a great producer, and also to relieve ourselves from some stress.”

‘Vilseledd’ has been in the can for a few months now, and the band are fully satisfied with the result, having taken the time to live with the record over the past while. “We are really happy with how it turned out. We really gave it all we had, and think it came out pretty solid. This is probably the first time I am really 100% happy with something I´ve done creatively. We had a plan for everything from the cover art, to the songwriting, to the sequencing and production.”

The album was released via Party Smasher, Inc., the label run by the now-former members of mathcore pioneers The Dillinger Escape Plan. Dahlström outlines how the opportunity to work with heavy music’s foremost innovators of the last two decades came to them. “Party Smasher actually first came into the picture after the whole album was already recorded and mastered. We didn’t have a record label when we started recording it, so after we finished, we emailed some labels that we liked and would like to work with. PSI was one of the first that replied. They said they really liked the album, but did not have time to release it just then. They were supposed to play in Stockholm a couple of weeks later, and we saw that they did not have a support band booked for the show, so we asked if we could play. To our surprise we got both the Stockholm and Gothenburg show. After the second show, Ben Weinman came to us backstage, said he was really impressed with our live show and that they wanted to sign us to Party Smasher. We were of course a bit surprised, but very happy and our collaboration have led to many amazing things: getting to do a full European tour with The Dillinger Escape Plan, as well as playing on their final show at Terminal 5 in New York together with Mike Patton.

With TDEP disbanding after twenty years, and doing so accompanied onstage by a living legend of leftfield music in Mike Patton, he of Faith No More and many others, the bar had to have been skyhigh for the young band heading into the latter experience. “It was a bit unreal, and totally amazing. I was very jetlagged due to the fact that we just landed the day before from Sweden, and tried to fix that by drinking a great deal of caffeine, which just increased my heartbeat so the whole thing kind of felt like a weird dream, albeit a very sweet one. Getting the opportunity to play our first New York show together with Dillinger and Mike Patton at Terminal 5 in front of 3000 people was pretty great.”

There’s been a lot of positive critical reception for the album since, specifically from specialist press such as MetalInjection and the like – is it hard to shut out those external voices when it comes to the creative or the day-to-day of the band? “Not really, I mean of course you read some of the reviews and it´s nice that people like the album, but in the end you’re making music for yourself and for the band, not for anyone else. But with that said, it also feels great to have your music being heard and appreciated by people, and all those metal blogs of course help with the PR, and making more folks aware of our existence.”

The band is on tour in Ireland this month, and Dahlström collects his thoughts heading into a fairly full-on clutch of dates, with five gigs on the agenda in little over a week. “We are super excited to play in Ireland! I personally have never been to Ireland before, but always hear good things about it, and we love to explore and play at new places. Also, getting to to it with Ilenkus and some other great Irish bands make it even more fun.” The tour serves as a warm-up for what looks to be a banner year for the band. “We are still planning a lot of the year but already have a couple of shows confirmed, we will play at Complexity Fest in Amsterdam in February, and Obscene Extreme Festival in July. We have a lot of other tours planned, but more about that soon, stay tuned to our social media for updates.”

Wallis Bird: Home is Where the Heart Is

Enniscorthy singer-songwriter Wallis Bird has undertaken a great journey along the Continent in recent years. Ahead of her next swing of Irish gigs, including headlining Ballincollig Winter Music Festival, Mike McGrath-Bryan hears about the road, the process and the future.

As the noughties wore on, music was shedding its skin, emerging from an almost unrecognisable place compared to today. The tail end of the CD boom spurred the major labels on to fuel a series of almost completely artificial hype trains on both sides of the pond (as most vividly discussed in Vice’s recent expose on NME Magazine’s editorial workings circa 2002) and over here, the singer-songwriter bubble was aided in part by the might of established music media. Amid all this sat Wallis Bird, a folk singer from Co. Wexford with a most unusual playing style, necessitated by a childhood accident that saw the citóg play a right-handed guitar upside-down. Signing with Island in 2006, Bird rode a wave of success with debut album ‘Spoons’ that saw her traverse the continent in support of such disparate artists as Gabrielle and Billy Bragg, before 2008 follow-up ‘New Boots’ brought along a full touring itinerary including Montreux Jazz and Pukkelpop festivals. From there, Bird struck out on her own as an independent artist, encountering great success both at home and in Germany, where she now resides.

The topic of the comforts of home, whether here or in Berlin, has been at the forefront of her work in recent years. 2016 album ‘Home’, released on digital and vinyl formats, has been the focus of Bird’s touring throughout 2017 after its release the previous year, and already, she has carved a very definite place for the LP in her own headspace as a creator and as a person. “I am getting closer to this record as time is passing. The more I play the songs, the more insight they give me. I know that sounds vain, but I intentionally wrote this album to honour the best time of my life, and to return to it when life is less good, and use it as a springboard to feel better and work better.”

Art is often the product of its surroundings, and in the process of creating a work to fortify her own mental health, Bird constructed a working and living environment conducive to creativity, and the process unfolded almost despite itself before her over the following 24 months. “(I woke up) every day with a smile on my face, knowing that all I (had) to do today is write music! I was given 2 years with very little distraction to write and record this record, so I pumped gratitude and positivity into everything because of that chance. I worked with the environment, the season, weather, resources, lust, spontaneity, and (on a constant basis). I decided there should never be anger or boredom in the making, because there’s too much to learn. For example, I’d work a month in light, then in darkness, then intensely on instrument development, switch to lyrics for when that got samey, then focus on recording technique, then focus on something else, constantly move to the other song, take a week off, spend time with friends, go swimming. Keep instruments all around me, all over the house, have the studio ready to record in minimal effort, play play play, press record, maybe take a walk, daydream, take a day off freshen up, keep going. It was all about discipline and freedom of mind. I treated it like a masters’ thesis.” After that experience, and changing the pace of her life and processes, Bird is happy to confirm she is building on that foundation for her next long-player. “Having a great time so far. I’ll be immersed all this year, thankfully.”

Bird’s touring itinerary, once out and about, could be generously described as unforgiving. She’s been touring ‘Home’ fairly hard over the last year, including dates across Europe, Asia and Australia. But when asked to compare the globe-trotting experience to playing Ireland, there isn’t even a comparison to be made. “Nothing like a home gig. It’s the familiar vibe, the family, the friends, everything about being home. It’s wilder than anywhere, and I imagine a lot of that is because of the excitement I have coming home.”

As touched on earlier, Bird is far more in control of her music compared to the height of the singer-songwriter thing here in Ireland. Her management seems absolutely devoted to her, she’s self-releasing records, etc. Bird is keen to divulge how it all gets along. “It’s about mutual respect within your team. I’m not an island, there is no way I would want to do this on my own. Working independently means thinking long-term, and that means life-changing decisions, and a team you have to put your hand into the fire for. You have to love your environment, and nurture that, as you would your wife. And it’s not work, it’s fucking art and soul and culture – it’s important. Show your backbone. What do you represent? Do the people who represent you make you proud, and can you trust them with your life to hide a body for you, and you do the same for them? You have to be real with each other and be able to talk as openly and as respectfully as possible. In our case we don’t fight, we talk. And have fun! Don’t just make it all about the work. In my case we started out as a team, and I now consider them brothers and sisters, and that’s not a cliché. We love who we work with, we aim to be craft- and longevity-driven, and work with people with a genuine love for the bigger picture of true art for art’s sake, so with that as our base, we can’t go wrong. It’s all about the people. Are they nice? Do you work harmoniously? Now look forward and work together.”

One necessary evil of being an independent musician today are streaming services. Spotify and the like have attracted plenty of derision for anaemic royalty rates and changing the attention span of younger and more casual listeners, but for Bird, the knowledge from who’s listening and where via the platforms is indispensable. “My music and my biography is available at all times all over the world, a dream I didn’t even have in 2000! The stats are important, and certainly help in many decisions like choosing what to play at a TV appearance, who to reach out to on social media to tell them that we’re coming to their town, all of this works hand in hand. Using your knowledge in a positive manner is all in your interest.”

Bird’s January swing back through Ireland takes in a headlining slot on the first night of Winter Music Festival on January 25th, to kick off the festival’s ninth annual event. Supporting will be Canadian folk wunderkind Kaia Kater. She’s done her reccy on the gig and is enthusiastic. “I’m just looking forward to being immersed in what seems like a one of a kind, inspiring, natural and fun vibe. We’re delighted to be invited!” With a new album on the slow boil, and touring winding down in the early part of the year to facilitate same, it seems like business is picking up. “I think this will be a pretty serious year for me. I think there will be big decisions this year. Think it’s gonna be an important year for me, I feel it.”

Wallis Bird plays the White Horse in Ballincollig for the venue’s Winter Music Festival on January 25th. Support from Kaia Kater, kickoff at 8.30pm, tickets €25 from box office and whitehorse.ie.

Rubyhorse: Ready to Shine

Having blazed a trail around the world for Cork’s indie scene in the late nineties and early noughties, Rubyhorse are lined up for a return this January at Ballincollig’s Winter Music Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Joe Philpott.

One of the great hopes of the city’s music scene as the nineties wound their way into the millennium, childhood friends turned alt-rock powerhouses Rubyhorse found success upon taking flight to Boston in search of a wider audience. Having established themselves and dallianced with major labels, the band are set to return after playing a run of shows in 2016, with a new body of work finished and planned for release later this year. Guitarist Joe Philpott delves into the band’s creative process this time around. “It’s been unusual for us. In the past, we used to take Decky’s songs, and shape them on the road, in the rehearsal room and the studio. With these tracks, Decky had them lying, and felt they might suit Rubyhorse so we got together just to see what would happen. They were put together in Deck’s studio, very much in a nuts and bolts fashion, and we figured out how to play them live afterwards. In essence, the opposite of what we used to do!”

With the songs and stories therein under wraps for so long, the conversation inevitably turns to the finality of completing a piece of art. It must be difficult, drawing a line under these songs after a long gestation, and so much work, before letting them go, in a sense. “It’s always hard, because nothing ever feels finished. We actually did about three versions of each track. The challenge is not to forget it’s about the song, and the emotional delivery of that. You can spend an eternity adding ear-candy and production tricks, but there’s a line you need to draw before you start getting self-indulgent, and start thinking that adding more stuff is going to make a difference. It won’t, and that’s just artist insecurity.”

Another sojourn Stateside is also planned for the new material, a market with which the band has long had an affinity, and tangible critical & commercial success. Though the band intends to return to where a core following exists in order to share new music, they’re planning on playing it by ear somewhat. “We have a fanbase in the States, if the new material strikes a chord, and it feels right to play out there we will. We’ve had offers to play, so that is exciting. We’re not going to overthink it. Even though technically we’re still signed out there, we’re probably going to put this out ourselves. Again, it goes back to doing this for ourselves, as opposed to having a big master plan.”

Any self-respecting music hack would be remiss if they didn’t ask about that aforementioned tangible success, in this case, a hit that at one time was frankly inescapable. ‘Sparkle’, acknowledged as the band’s big single and one that follows the band around thanks to years of airplay and ad placement, has generated endless goodwill and set the foundation for the band as a going concern among the wider indie/alternative listenership in Ireland. “I love it. It’s a great song, is still playing on radio today, and it still sounds great. That period for the band was incredible. We were lads from Cork in our twenties, literally living out our dreams, seeing the world, and playing music.”

The sessions for the album from which ‘Sparkle’ came, ‘Rise’, included a guest appearance from now-departed Beatle George Harrison, on slide guitar for album cut ‘Punchdrunk’, also due for a special anniversary release this year. How did that come about? “It goes back to the surreal nature of our lives back then. We were in South Beach, Miami, mixing the record, and we were having an argument on a beach in December as to whether we should ask a Beatle to play on our album! We did, and he said yes.”

Back to the present day: the band has a couple of Cork dates ready to go before heading out further afield with their new stuff, including Ballincollig Winter Music Festival at the White Horse, on the 27th, and Cyprus Avenue the following week on the 3rd. Following the pressure-cooker of the studio, Philpott collects his thoughts on heading back out in front of hometown audiences. “It’s a great feeling to be playing Rubyhorse gigs again. We’ve always enjoyed the live aspect of the band, and home has always topped our expectations.”

Cork’s scene is healthier and more eclectic than it has been in a very long time, as has been well-documented. When asked for his take on recent events, Philpott offers a glowing appraisal of the city’s soundscape. “I think Cork has always been a vibrant city for music. From Rory Gallagher to Fatima Mansions, if you threw a stone where we grew up, it would land on a band room. It’s the diversity of the artists, and the audience that makes it unique. In the past the scene may have relied on a movement, be it blues, folk, punk, trad, new wave, dance, electronic or pop, and then everyone got the same haircut and bought the same shirt. Now you have great stuff happening across the board, and a more open-minded gig-going crowd, which makes for a creative, vibrant scene all round.”

Humans of the Sesh: On Coming Home

From stories of the horrors of student house parties, to closing the show at Electric Picnic, the lads behind social media sensation Humans of the Sesh have come a long way, and on their terms. Co-conspirators Grand Feen and Brown Sauce talk with Mike McGrath-Bryan about Facebook, lad culture, and finally having a homecoming gig this weekend.

It’s become a cultural phenomenon, one of the first major Irish cultural reference points of the social-media generation, and one that speaks to the great leveller that is the debauchery of a terrible house party somewhere in suburban Ireland. And yet, for its distinctly Irish voice and sense of humour online, Humans of the Sesh has proven to have a phenomenal international appeal, beginning as a Cork-based Facebook page recounting a range of amusing and misfortunate stories from house-parties before gaining massive traction across a number of platforms, including approaching 600,000 followers on Facebook. Fuelled by a love of cheap cans and Amber Leaf rollie kits, the duo behind the page, Brown Sauce and Grand Feen, have expanded its reach massively into other media, but for Grand Feen, their ascent initially came as something of a surprise. “Seeing the huge numbers of people who were liking and viewing our content felt really strange at the start. An average of about four million people see our stuff each week, and it’s hard to grasp the thought of that.”

It’s difficult not to broach the topic of social media reach with the pair without talking about how they did it in the first place and what advice they’d have: after all, past all the humour, theirs is a presence most marketeers and PR people would hand their firstborns over for. “It seems to be getting harder and harder to get a good amount of reach. Recently Facebook is pushing people more and more towards paid advertising. They’ve cut the organic reach that pages can get without paying money. For anyone starting out, I’d suggest just making content that’s unique. People are more likely to engage and share posts that aren’t the typical drivel you see on Facebook day in day out”, says Grand Feen. Brown Sauce seems to have an amount of ennui for social media and the direction in which it’s headed, and speaks frankly on the matter. “I’m sick of Facebook to be honest. It’s a load of sh*t. It’s mostly advertisements these days, even then, if it’s not an advertisement, it’s a “tag a mate who” post or something else along those lines. But if you really want to get reach, and I suppose this theory translates to all aspects of doing anything slightly creative, get a concept, something you know, and just run with it. That might sound oversimplified, but because so much stuff is so contrived these days, I’ve been noticing a lot of stuff lacks a strong basic concept.”

More so than its reach and cultural import at home among the “millennial” crowd, now almost fluent in the page’s injokes and idiosyncrasies, the page and the aforementioned Irish sense of humour has fared incredibly well further afield, with examples of homegrown slang being popularised among non-Irish audiences easily found on social media. The lads are still very curious about their crossover appeal. “Yeah, it’s really interesting seeing where the people who like our page are from”, says Grand Feen. “For example, we have about 60,000 from Australia and 20,000 from America. I post our merchandise myself, and I always seem to be sending them to mad places like Luxembourg, or something. I’m not sure to be honest. I think people abroad have a liking for Irish people in general so that helps us a lot.” Media interest was always going to follow, as has usually been the case when a social media presence begins making serious noises in the newsfeeds of its contributors: such organs of record in the world of electronic music as Noisey and Mixmag, among others, have profiled Humans of the Sesh in recent times. Grand Feen has no idea what to make of the increased scrutiny and experiences behind these features. “Yeah, it’s really strange! Like, VICE (Noisey’s parent mag) once flew us out to London to meet them, and that was mad. We’re just two lads who talk bollocks and make memes on the internet, so it’s felt weird to have people like them take such an interest in us.”

The most remarkable aspect of the page’s content in recent times is how egalitarian it all is: in character, the page has advocated for social issues such as sensible drug policy, reproductive healthcare, intersectional feminism, and transgender right. At a time when influence and speech are being ever-democratised, at least on the outside of it, there have of course been contrarians to the page’s message of inclusivity whilst on the lash. “So many people have messaged us to say that they’re un-liking the page because we’ve spoken about trans rights or the Eighth Amendment”, according to Grand Feen. “It’s mostly your typical ‘LADS’ who give us hate for that sort of thing. They just want their memes delivered to them without any, as they put it, ‘social justice warrior feminist crap’. I really don’t mind getting hate for speaking up, because I believe it’s important for us to use our page’s reach to spread a good message every now and then. We often get messages from people thanking us for speaking out about trans rights, repeal, etc. and it makes it feel worthwhile.” Adds Brown Sauce: “Yeah, the internet is full of pricks. The worst kind of pricks, like, even worse than coked-up feens in a nightclub who haven’t gotten the shift. A lot of our humour is satire, so, like, on one hand we have the people who are in on the joke, and then we have the people who are reading the joke at face value, so there’s a load of eejits. But it’s the internet. What’s new there?”

At the heart of the page’s humour and reach is a love of electronic music, including a running gag of taking aim at both elitists and casual music heads attempting to take the reins of the tunes at parties and wrecking each other’s heads. It seemed destined to transition into music, and Messrs. Sauce & Feen, alongside other co-conspirators, have embarked upon live, in-character DJ sets, a live theatrical show, and most recently, a weekly podcast curated by friends of the page, SESH FM. The results have been phenomenal, including sellout shows in London, closing the show at Electric Picnic’s After Dark stage, and reaching thousands of listeners independently of the Humans range of pages. “It’s just like, ‘f*ck it’, we were willing to sell the page to advertisers and click bait etc., etc., so I was like, ‘why don’t we make SESH FM?’ We were all into music already, so it seemed like a natural step. It hasn’t been too hard maintaining the original idea because SESH FM has always been a bit separate. It’s like, ‘what’s the craic, just like us? Just like music? Then check out SESH FM.” “It’s been a bit hard, but as Brown Sauce said, I see it as the natural progression of the page. We love music, we’re friends with a lot of producers/DJs, and we just wanted to use the page’s success to get involved in music. We haven’t seen it affect the original idea of the page too much, from what I’ve seen, the people who have no interest in our live stuff or SESH FM just ignore those posts, so there was never too much hassle really.”

The lads are playing the Amp venue on Hanover Street tomorrow for pre-holiday bash, with support from Humans affiliate, producer/DJ and SESH FM regular Numbertheory. It’s finally an official homecoming for the group after accomplishing international success in between fits of activity at college and on their day jobs, and Grand Feen keeps us appraised of how they’ll mark the occasion. “They’re just a bitta craic, really. We don’t take ourselves so seriously that we’ll spend the whole night playing deep, Berghain residents-only techno. For example, I started my Electric Picnic set with Skepta, the mid-point song was by trap artists TNGHT, and I finished on L’amour Toujours. Loads of bangers.” “Myself and Grand Feen are from Cork”, says Brown Sauce with a pointed Leeside accent, “and we still haven’t played a gig there, which is sad considering we’ve sold out shows in London. It’s partly to do with the fact that Cork has a real lack of dedicated venues that support the kinda stuff that we do, but the lovely lads at Generic People sorted this one out for us in Amp, so we’ll be going all out for our hometown crew.”

Grand Feen is optimistic about what lies ahead of the holiday glut of activity, with the page’s steady progression being complemented by an expanded content offering and more shenanigans on stage and via SoundCloud. “It’s looking good. We want to continue making content, hopefully returning to the UK for another few shows, and we’re looking to get more designs onto our online store. Video content is something we want to start working on for 2018 so look forward to that.” They seem to be edging closer to the dream of becoming full-time pintmen, and Brown Sauce’s priority now is making life on the sesh a sustainable endeavour. “We will hopefully have more time than ever to dedicate to it, hopefully, can put more time into podcast things, doing gigs and just making cool sh*t and having a laugh.”