A Hawk and a Hacksaw: “We Took Our Time With This”

Ex-Neutral Milk Hotel man Jeremy Barnes and violinist Heather Trost come to Cork next Tuesday as part of a small run of Irish dates as A Hawk and a Hacksaw. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Barnes about their new record.

“I just saw that your last name is McGrath. My grandma was a McGrath. Her grandfather came over to California from Ireland in the nineteenth century.  We still have a few connections to family in Ireland… I’m hoping they will come to the show in Cork.” Such ease in connecting traces of family and history around the world, and connecting them to the present, informs the music of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, the solo-project-turned-duo starring Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes and world-travelled violinist Heather Trost. As we chat about how the record has been received, this forthrightness is a constant, as Barnes addresses the road itch that inspires their music time and again. “We haven’t toured in awhile, and it has been wonderful to be out again playing live.”

On their seventh full-length, ‘Forest Bathing’, the band have tapped into a natural interest in the music of Eastern Europe, indulged with visits to the area. Indeed, a greater connection with the world is a theme of the project. “Some of the stories were inspired by a melody, while some of the songs were inspired by a particular scene or meditation we had somewhere in Eastern Europe. When we were in Koprivstisa, Bulgaria, we learned about how the merchants of that area travelled all through the Ottoman Empire selling textiles. It led me to thinking about what it must have been like, for a Bulgarian to go down to Istanbul and into the Middle East, to see all the cultural richness of those areas, and then to head back home. That is really what we are interested in – when so-called borders are crossed and people open themselves up to the world outside.”

While the band has traditionally featured more collaborations than have occurred on this record, the process for the duo hasn’t exactly been isolated either, as musicians from around the world have brought their experience to the table. “We wrote all the songs, and most of the music is played by us. We had a few key musicians play here and there, including Cüneyt Sepetçi, who is a wonderful Roma clarinet virtuoso from Istanbul, and Balazs Unger, a cimbalom musician from Hungary. Our old friend Sam Johnson from Chicago played on one track, and closer to home, a great bass player from New Mexico, Noah Martinez played on a few tracks.”

The attention to detail that comes across when Barnes discusses the album extended to the recording and production processes, with the duo working at their own pace. “We took our time with this, which made it much more enjoyable, and we are introducing new instruments, some of which will be with us when we play in Cork. I’ve been playing the Iranian santur and davul drum, both of which we will bring with us.”

The band has been releasing records via its own label, LM Duplication, and has been for a while. The tectonic plates that have shaken the music industry continue to move, and adjusting for the movement has presented challenges. “The transition from physical copies, to downloads, and to streaming has at every step meant less income for the artist, and more income for places like Spotify. The music industry looks nothing like it did when I began playing professionally twenty-two years ago. I don’t feel like an old man, but in this business, I guess I am. Starting our own label has given us a lot of freedom, and it is wonderful to be in full control. But of course there is a lot more work. We are in involved in every aspect of the release of our records, from mixing and mastering, to album sleeve design, down to filling orders at the post office. With the way the industry has been set up today, I’m not sure that I would want to be a musician if I were nineteen again. In 1995-96, I could see a way for a musician to make a living on a small scale, without having to deal with major labels. I’m not sure that I can see that now. Our music is heard by more and more people, but we receive less and less income.”

The duo is playing Cork next week, on the 14th, upstairs in Cyprus Avenue. Heading into their Irish dates, Barnes is excited about getting in front of Irish folk audiences. “We love playing in Ireland! We’ve found that Irish really listen, and they can handle instrumental music. Few places have as much of an understanding of the violin as Ireland does – Hungary, Romania, certainly, but I think of all the countries we’ve visited they are the only ones.”

Cian Finn: “Making It Work Was Always a Hustle”

Having travelled the world and worked with legends in his field, Cian Finn has slowly been brewing his own reverential brand of reggae. This weekend, he returns to Cork after living here for six years, and talks to Mike McGrath-Bryan about two very different shows.

A well-rounded veteran of his craft, Galwegian singer, musician and songwriter Cian Finn’s body of work is inseparable from the love of his life: reggae music and culture. Not a big shock in any case regarding musicians, especially where an established and easily-executed set of social and cultural tropes exist, but the degree to which his passions inform his work is readily evident, in everything to how his music is presented, in gig posters and album artwork, to the journey he’s taken around the world in pursuit of it. “I started listening to reggae around twelve years of age. A friend of my folks would have been on holidays in Jamaica, and brought back an Island Records compilation of reggae on CD, then left it at our house after a party. There was a lot of Motown & soul music played in our house at that time, so this new music sounded familiar, like tropical soul. Songs like ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ by Jimmy Cliff & ‘Soul Shakedown Party’ by Bob Marley were anthems to me then. In my later teens, I started going to jungle and drum & bass nights in Galway, hearing for the first time remixes of more modern Jamaican music. At sixteen, I got a summer job in Dara Records in New York for three months & started collecting hip-hop records. KRS-One was my favourite, and a lot of the hip-hop records had a reggae influence to them. The next summer, my cousin got married near Nice, in the south of France, so I stayed on and got a job gardening in the area. There, I went to see Burning Spear live, which was an incredible experience, and the friends I made introduced me to modern Jamaican music, which was more high-energy & had a hip-hop influence to it. So at that stage, I was hooked, and started learning Peter Tosh & Bob Marley songs I’d recorded onto a tape at a house I was staying at, and started busking them in Nice, then onto Amsterdam and Barcelona.”

A nomadic early adulthood brought Finn back to Ireland, where chance encounters led to the formation of Finn’s first notable musical endeavour. Reggae is a strange one in Ireland: while it’s never quite obtained mainstream status beyond the usual tropes, casual listeners are more than amiable to some of the genre’s more relaxed aspects, while the genre has a solid core of crate-divers, sound-system operators and musicians that’s sustained it all along. Getting something going against that background took time and effort. “I moved to Cork at nineteen, and formed a band, Intinn, with two childhood friends from Galway and a great guitar/bass player we met in Cork. We played covers of rare reggae and dancehall songs we loved to listen to, and then as time moved on, we began writing original music. Making it work was always a hustle. Haggling fees from venues, getting favours from friends with vans to drive us into the unknown, selling extra tickets from festivals to cover costs… madness, but a brilliant experience.”

Intinn’s debut album saw Finn confront the nitty-gritty of creativity, production and post-production for the first time, and the experience was almost marred by a brush with the musical establishment in Jamaica. “Intinn’s debut album was self-produced by the band, with a lot of help from our good friend Seán Salmon in 2011. The process was mental. Recorded in bedrooms and kitchens of rented houses, with blankets duct-taped to the walls for sound reasons. We were inexperienced, but full of passion & ideas. The album was later sent to a highly-regarded Jamaican producer for proper mixing, to raise the quality of the record, but he took the money and ran. We were broke!”

Debut solo album ‘This Applies’ followed three years later, and saw Finn take matters into his own hands, and in the process, cross paths with modern reggae royalty as subsequent touring criss-crossed the European festival circuit. “The band split around 2013, I think, and a year later, I was on tour with a producer I’d started making tunes with in Cork, called Radikal Guru. Prince Fatty was performing after us at Ostroda Festival in Poland, and I was blown away by the sound of the tunes. He’s captured the sound of the seventies reggae that had originally magnetised me to it. So after the show, we talked, and he invited me to visit his studio in Brighton. A few weeks later I headed over, and we started to produce the “This Applies” album.”

Finn’s most recent Irish festival engagement came at Macroom’s Townlands Carnival festival, happening two weeks ago. While reviews have been positive, Finn holds the festival in particular esteem for its work with electronic and bass music over the last five years. “Yes, Townlands is great. I really like the style of the festival, and their taste in music. It reminds me of Boomtown festival in the UK. A piratish, jungle-steppin’ circus of bass music, with a dash of reggae.” The following week, Finn performed at the Poor Relation in the city centre, as part of the Cork Heritage Pubs’ Ska and Reggae Festival season, now in its second year. For Finn, it’s symbolic of the genre’s modern development in the city. “The scene in Cork has meant a lot to me over the years. I lived there for six years & was a regular attendee of Revelation Sound System parties, (Kinsale dub band) Wiggle gigs & West Cork raves. It’s great to see Cork having an annual reggae and ska fest in the city.”

This Saturday, Finn returns to Connolly’s of Leap, taking another trip under the venue’s famous hammers with a full sound-system. The following day, he heads to the city, and showcases a body of work he’s been working on for a while now. “The acoustic gig in the Yoga Loft on Sunday this week is very different from my regular shows, like the one this Saturday at Connolly’s of Leap, which are generally high-energy, bass-heavy, big-speaker affairs. This gig will be unamplified and unplugged, voice and guitar, with explanatory introductions to where the songs came from. I’ve written around thirty acoustic songs over the years, so this gig will be a showcase of those tunes. An acoustic album is also in the pipeline.” That forward-looking perspective informs Finn’s schedule going forward, as he seeks to expand his touring footprint into the New Year. “Next is to finish the new album, inbetween gigs, before the winter months. Gigs in Waterford, Dublin, and a few more festivals, including Electric Picnic and a trip to the UK. Heading on tour in Kenya around New Year’s, and then off to India for early 2019. I also have recently started to release my own productions on Emerald Isle Records, with a new tune available for download now.”

Cian Finn’s new single ‘Refugee-La’ is available for streaming now on Bandcamp.

Palm Reader: “We’re All Carrying Injuries”

Slightly contrary to the implications of the band’s name, UK hardcore/metal outfit Palm Reader’s new album and extensive touring is the result of years of hard work. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with drummer Dan Olds.

Investing UK hardcore with the jarring precision of technical metal and mathy, melodic asides, Palm Reader emerged from Nottingham in 2011, fertile ground for progressive music thanks to the efforts of bands like Alright the Captain and others, with a place in metal history granted to it by the endeavours of former metal behemoth Earache Records. Catching the attention of specialist labels and hitting the road in short order, the band’s journey to current album ‘Braille’ has taken in both road miles and creative jumps, alongside a similarly-minded community of bands around the United Kingdom. For drummer Dan Olds, the acclaim with which the band’s third full-length has been greeted is part of the wave. “The reaction has been amazing! There has also been a resurgence of talent in the UK scene, so people are starting to pay attention and listen to smaller bands again. The UK scene was awash with cut-and-paste bands when our previous albums came out and people had started to lose interest; but thanks to the likes of bands like Black Peaks, Loathe, Employed to Serve and many others the pendulum is swinging the right way again. I believe ‘Braille’ is our strongest work to date, and a lot more people are connecting with it. We recently played our biggest headline tour, and the shows were far-better attended than they’ve been previously. We saw a better reaction than ever, with people singing the words back to us, and a fair few crowdsurfers. It’s almost like starting again, and it feels like a very exciting time to be in this band.”

‘Braille’ is every inch the modern metal record, marrying uncompromising songs and structures with polished, almost slick production that represents most effectively the aforementioned leap forward for the band. Before the production process, however, the record was assembled in time-tested fashion, according to Olds. “The process for writing an album always starts with Andy (guitar) and I, bouncing ideas off each other and coming up with the bones of a riff, or in some cases a whole song. We then put these ideas to the rest of the guys to put their thoughts, ideas and riffs on it. Sometimes it comes naturally, and sometimes it takes a long old time with much discussion. We have both the former and latter on ‘Braille’. The basic structure for ‘Swarm’ came together within an afternoon with all five of us locked in a room together, jamming. The final version of ‘Like A Wave’ took just over two years to finish. We’ve been to The Ranch in Southampton to record all three albums, and each has been recorded by the musical mastermind Lewis Johns. He knows how we operate, and it’s got to a point where he’s almost the sixth member of the band. It’s always good to have an outside ear on your music, because you live in a bubble when you’re creating a record; it’s refreshing to have someone you trust to feel the same way you do about a song, or be able to critique it properly.”

The band’s previous long-player was released by UK hardcore/punk stable In at the Deep End, infamous for breaking major-label signees and former music media darlings Gallows to the world, while ‘Braille’ has come out via London label Silent Cult. What brought the change about and how has it been to deal with a new label? “In At The Deep End, they were so supportive, put everything they had into the album, and we can’t speak highly enough of the team. We wanted to change it up for album three, with a new team of people behind us. When the offer came in from Silent Cult we were all on board. From the off, Silent Cult has been incredible to work with. They are genuinely passionate about our music and their other bands. We always see them at shows and championing us wherever they can. They have been hands down the best team to work within our three-album deep career.”

This attention to the band’s progress has allowed them to plough further into an already-hectic touring schedule, combining strategic support slots with the build into headlining status at venues across the UK and the continent. In highlighting their live journey, Olds again highlights the collective effort that’s seen it happen, and the experience of hitting the road. “Yeah, we recently finished our tour with The Contortionist in the UK and Europe. We can’t thank them enough for the opportunity they gave us, taking us out on that tour. Although we’ve toured Europe before, we played to more people than we’ve previously had a chance to, and their fans were very accepting of the very different styles between us. We were able to play in places we’d never played before, and revisit cities that we’ve had people ask us to come back to. We love being out in mainland Europe, the scenery and drives are so much more interesting than they are at home. Whereas it takes about three hours from Birmingham to Manchester, and all you see is motorway and grey, on the mainland we took a scenic route through the incredible Austrian mountains to get to Budapest. Plenty of moments where we were glued to the windows, as it was glorious. We’re really looking forward to seeing the Irish scenery and towns we’re playing!”

Palm Reader shows are about as intense as the music is, which begs the further question of the wear-and-tear that a tour already places on bodies and minds throughout extended legs of gigs? The lads have certainly sacrificed for their art, and while adrenaline can take away aches and pains in the moment, it’s certainly a consideration for the band in the van and back home. “We’re all carrying different injuries either sustained from touring or day to day life. For example, Josh, Andy and I all have different stages of sciatica, so sometimes it’s quite a hindrance in day to day life but we don’t let us affect us too much when we play. We always stretch and warm up our limbs and vocal chords before we play as it’s not healthy or wise to go from sitting in a van or venue all day to throwing your body about on stage. There has to be a warm-up period beforehand, or the next morning you will definitely feel it. We’ve been doing this a long enough time to know what our bodies can handle when we go on stage, but one I’m quite interested in is that I’ve recently started to lose my hearing in one ear, so I guess we’ll wait with that one. The joys of being a drummer.”

The bands is heading to Ireland for a run of dates as part of summer touring in August, including Cork’s Poor Relation venue, where they’re supported by some of the cream of Cork’s metal/hardcore crossover, including rising stars Bailer as well as relatively new arrivals Worn Out and Selkies. Olds collects his thoughts heading into the fray. “Honestly cannot wait, it’s been a long time coming. We played in Dublin and Belfast a few years ago, when we supported (Canadian prog-metallers) Protest The Hero, but it somehow felt a bit rushed when we were there, so we didn’t get to experience the country as we usually would when on tour. So we’re excited to explore and take it all in, as well as play some shows with the excellent Bailer as support. We’ve never been to Cork, or know if anyone has heard of our band there, but we’re really looking forward to it.”

The band’s onward march continues apace once the Irish run is done, too, as the band hit the festival circuit before steeling themselves to do it all again. “After Ireland, we’re playing a few one-off shows back on home soil, like Macmillanfest in our adopted hometown of Nottingham, and CASTLEFEST in Luton in September, as well as a UK and European tour with the legends in Will Haven in late October, early November. We’re planning a couple more things that we can’t say about yet, but keep an eye on our socials in the coming weeks. We’ll also be starting a whole new writing process very soon for a new album, so it’s a very busy time in Camp Palm Reader.”

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival: “A Way of Saying Thank You”

Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the Douglas Street venue’s seventh anniversary, and a special programme of gigs. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with co-founder Brian Hassett about the line-up and the future.

Ambiently-lit and covered in posters from gigs over the past seven years, Coughlan’s Live, at the back of the renovated but otherwise unassuming Coughlan’s pub at the Capwell end of Douglas Street stands as one of the unlikely pillars of Cork music. Since opening under the direction of In Bloom agency man Brian Hassett and former Lobby Bar booker Edel Curtin seven years ago, it’s been an important place for intimate gigs of all genres in the city, with a particular eye on the folk and Americana gigs that have cemented its place. Every year, Coughlan’s Live Music Festival marks the venue’s foundation with a special weekend of music, celebrating what the promoters call ‘the little room with the massive heart’.

This year, luminaries like Lisa Hannigan, Mick Flannery, The Lost Brothers and Luka Bloom share stages with the likes of psych-rockers O Emperor, groove experimentalists The Bonk, and psych-pop cadets The Shaker Hymn among others, while the likes of Emma Langford and The Ocelots build on their live momentum. Hassett, known for years to friends and collaborators simply as ‘Hassey’, talks about the fest’s modus operandi. “The first Coughlan’s Live Festival was an opportunity for us to open the doors to the venue, and to be able to celebrate what was then a new space in the city, for musicians and audiences. Since that first weekend, we have been hosting lots of shows every week, taking in local, national and international singer-songwriters, bands, DJs, rap groups, comedians, etc., so it has been a pleasure for us to work with so many people that we admire, and also over time been able to watch so many of them grow much bigger audiences.”

Assembling a festival lineup is the dream for many music fans, so it’s no surprise that for the crew of Coughlan’s, it’s an exciting time to look at availabilities, projects and local happenings, and take them all into consideration. “It always begins with a wishlist, groups or artists that we are fans of. We try to have artists who would be well established, and then have them in a more intimate space where it is a very different experience for both the artists and the audiences. As an example, this year Lisa Hannigan or Mick Flannery, who would both regularly sell out rooms the size of Cork Opera House, will be performing shows to just sixty people in a very up close and personal setting. Having established groups on the lineup also gives us the opportunity to invite some newer bands. This year we’ll be welcoming the likes of Orchid Collective, The Ocelots and Paddy Dennehy for the first time to Coughlan’s, so we are very excited about that.”

In addition to a fine lineup of folk artists, as is the venue’s speciality, bands like O Emperor, The Shaker Hymn and The Bonk are also on the billing, as mentioned. What’s the importance of that kind of variety to assembling an overall lineup? “Variety in the line-up is very important, the different types of shows over the festival also means that we can change the way the shows are presented in the venue, swapping between full-band shows with a standing audience, and more intimate seated gigs, so that people get to have different experiences also within the venue. We’re really excited to be welcoming O Emperor back, having last played here back in 2013, so it’s a long-awaited return.”

Over the course of five days, several gigs and events take place in a very small space. The intimacy of the venue, as well as the demand for space in the back room on the weekend, means production and show-running can often be challenging. “It starts on the Wednesday, September 26th, and runs to Sunday September 30th, and takes in eleven different shows and seventeen artists, over thirty-five musicians and performers. At this stage, we’re able to run it pretty well, having figured out over the years where any potential surprise might be, and we have a great crew in-house. We are lucky also to have really good relationships with so many of these bands and artists, many of whom have previously also played Coughlan’s, as well as with so many of our audiences that come to shows, so as well as making sure that everything runs smoothly we are also able to have the chance to catch up with some great friends.”

The venue has been a home for comedy over the past few years, also, and this has been reflected in the line-up. For Hassey, it’s about nurturing something new as it’s been growing in his backyard. “Comedy has grown massively in Ireland over the last few years. Both on a local and national level, there are some really great new Irish comics coming through. Every week, we host free comedy shows presented by ‘Comedy Cavern’. It can be a mix of local, national or international comedians, there’s also an open-mic night which is a great opportunity for both new comedians or established comedians trying new material. There’s also a series wherein comedians perform their Edinburgh show, which is more longform or story-based comedy. Once every month, ‘The Bold Ensemble’ perform a set of improvised sketches and skits based on audience suggestions, which is brilliantly unpredictable and always hilarious.”

The venue is also home to some of the gigs that are part of the locally-curated Quiet Lights festival in September, just announced this past week and featuring some of the leading lights of a new generation of folk and traditional Irish music. “Jon from Islander Music approached us to be part of this new festival, and we are really looking forward to working with him to establish this as part of the Cork live music calendar. We will be hosting three shows over the weekend with Lisa O’Neill, Ye Vagabonds and Cormac Begley. We have worked shows before with both Lisa O’ Neill and Ye Vagabonds, so are delighted to be welcoming them back and really looking forward to Cormac’s first Coughlan’s show.”

For the short-to-medium term, CLMF will remain in place as the centrepiece of the main venue’s calendar, alongside the crew’s Right Here Right Now festival, happening annually at the Opera House. It’s about maintaining that sense of community, says Hassey. “The festival is a celebration for us every year so we specifically programme a lot of free shows so everyone can have the opportunity to come in and catch some great live music, and also as a way of saying thank you to the all the audiences that have come to gigs and supported both us and the artists throughout the year.”

The real challenges lie ahead, though: amid all the urban renewal and gentrification that’s been happening and looks set to continue apace over the next ten years, the small venue as an urban cultural pillar is under threat, and support for venues like Coughlan’s will become all the more important. “With all the changes that have happened within the music industry over the last ten years or so, and also the changes within the city with urban renewal and gentrification, it can be difficult for a small-capacity venue to keep its doors open, but for us it is very special and rewarding to be able to share in so many great live experiences and we are really grateful for the support from both audiences and bands over the years and we really look forward to creating many more great memories in the coming years.”

Walking on Cars: “There’s Always Pressure”

After a tour of the continent’s biggest festivals, Walking on Cars take on their biggest Irish festival appearance yet – headlining Indiependence 2018. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with singer/guitarist Patrick Sheehy.

It’s the kind of story you seldom get anymore. Coming together in 2010, Walking on Cars began gigging regularly at venues in Dingle, County Kerry, before slowly travelling out further. Renting a house together on the nearby peninsula, the band assembled their initial demos over six months in relative isolation. Airplay followed in 2012 for debut single ‘Catch Me If You Can’, leading to chart placement and the number-one spot on iTunes, while follow-up ‘Two Stones’ reached No.12 in the Irish charts, and currently weighs in at over a million YouTube views. Debut E.P. ‘As We Fly South’, followed in quick succession, with production from Tom McFall, known for his work with R.E.M, Snow Patrol, Bloc Party, and the Editors. In 2016, the band released debut full-length ‘Everything This Way’, and their seemingly-unending tour kicked into gear in earnest: this summer alone has seen them take on appearances at Rock Werchter, Pinkpop, Rock am Ring and TRNSMT festivals in Europe.

It’s in the middle of this flurry of activity that singer/guitarist Patrick Sheehy takes some time to talk, his Kerry accent coming across equally satisfied and fatigued over the phone during a break in proceedings. “Really good, yeah. We’re touring mostly around European festivals this summer, and the response has been huge. We’re really lucky in that (single) ‘Speeding Cars’ has become a radio hit in some areas around the continent, but we didn’t know that, so to come in and hear people singing the songs to us is a great buzz. It’s what we always wanted.” It’s been two years since debut ‘Everything This Way’ released via Virgin EMI, and the intervening time has seen Sheehy gain a bit of distance from the finished product as a listener, providing context and focus for the next chapter. “It’s the strongest album we could have made at that time. It’s brought us to places we never thought we’d be, and now, because of its success, I guess we’re under pressure to make a bigger one, which is what we’re focusing on now, making a batch of songs that is ‘worthy’ of people’s attention. We’ve very excited. We’ve a lot written, a bit recorded. A bit to go yet, but this album is going to be big.”

With new material in mind, Walking on Cars have proceeded as a group upon their own path in terms of the creative process, channeling their hard-won experience and gut feeling into the next step. “Y’know what, when we first started writing, I think we went in with the wrong mentality. We were feeling the pressure of the success of the first album, instead of going in to be creative and put your heart on your sleeve, we went in to make a ‘successful’ album, and that didn’t work out. The wrong headspace, the wrong approach. We took a step back and went ‘this isn’t us, it’s not what we’re about’. We got honest, and we went back to basics. We feel we’re on course now to make a huge record.” The obvious question for any cynical listener follows: how much of this pressure came down from above, be it management or the majors? “The thing about that is, our label says ‘go in and do what you do’. There’s always pressure to go in, write, get a few hits. But going in to write a big hit is not the way to write a hit. Going in there to be honest, that’s where the magic is, and that’s where this record is finally taking shape.”

In the interim, the band has been working extensively with Spotify to push playlists curated by the band, in addition to the extensive work being done by major labels to establish paid streaming as the main channel of consumption. Sheehy has noted the effects on the band’s bottom line. “When we first released the album, iTunes was still a big deal. People are still buying from iTunes, but streaming has almost completely taken over, be it Spotify or Apple Music. Because of Spotify, people on the other side of the world are listening without us knowing until we look at the statistics. There’s people in Japan listening, ‘Stealing Cars’ was a radio hit in New Zealand, and we’re doing well in France, despite only ever playing there twice. So, it’s interesting for us, to see where we’re going to go next. You look at where things are going, and you say hello.”

The band is playing the Friday night of Indiependence Festival as one of its headliners – amid all the noise and activity, Sheehy collects his thoughts heading into the appearance, looking at Cork as something of a home for band milestones. “We’ve had a lot of good nights in Cork, from when we were just starting off, to the last year or two. We did the Marquee last year, and that was huge for us. We started in a small room on Douglas Street called Coughlan’s, holding about fifty or sixty people. The place was packed, a nice intimate setup. We played Indie in the Beer Hall stage a few years back, and it was the first gig where people sang our own songs back to us. Cork has been good to us.”

Jake Bugg: “Through the Worst of It”

Indiependence headliner Jake Bugg is on the road to promote his fourth full-length. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the singer ahead of his Mitchelstown appearance.

Indiependence Festival is no strange ground to pop superstars. Early iterations of the festival provided interesting footnotes to Cork’s pop-cultural history, as chart-botherers like Dannii Minogue and Coolio made appearances in Mitchelstown to provide the nascent event some of that mainstream rub. Meanwhile, this year’s edition of the August Bank Holiday weekender includes pop producer du jour Sigala, fresh off a succession of gold and platinum records for recent singles.

No surprise, then, that straddling the line between pop and the broader, more folkish ‘indie’ aesthetic that’s trickled down to a new generation via osmosis, post-Britpop, is Nottingham man and Indiependence 2018 headliner Jake Bugg. The son of musicians, Bugg picked up the guitar at twelve, and proceeded to follow his influences in the rich seam of mainstream-friendly folk and MOR rock of the seventies, eighties and nineties. Rising through the ranks in short order after dropping out of school, Bugg found his way into a major-label deal in 2011, signing to Universal imprint Mercury after an appearance at BBC’s Introducing stage at Glastonbury. Success followed shortly, with festival bookings and collaborations with producer Rick Rubin and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith among others helping build his profile.

Bugg’s fourth album, ‘Hearts That Strain’, came out last September, followed by top-ten placement and some intense touring, leading to this year’s summer festival circuit. Speaking on the matter, Bugg is happy with the end result of his work, an attempt at emphasising the importance of folk and rock overtones to himself personally. This is especially true, now that he’s had some time to live with it. “It’s the record I’d always wanted to make. Working in a more traditional way, with a band playing in a room, and a great producer capturing wonderful sounds, was a very satisfying way to record. As a result, I’m very proud of it.”

Authenticity is a funny thing to go in search of, especially regarding influential music – many of the bands and artists that have influenced Bugg’s generation were the products of their place and time, and would make for a strange transmutation to the current music scene in 2018, at least outside of the nostalgia bubble. To the end of that pursuit, though, Bugg relocated to Nashville for the duration of the recording of ‘Hearts That Strain’, working with The Black Keys guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach. Much was made of the partnership of the time, though Bugg insists it was a team effort. “Dan was a factor, as was Matt Sweeney. In truth, it was a combination of having top-drawer people in the room. Dave Ferguson is a great producer and engineer, his contacts in Nashville meant I had all the best musicians playing on the record, and that made me raise my game to try and keep up with them.”

In terms of albums – obviously we’re in a time now where streaming has outdone digital sales for the first time, the labels are redistributing money from the Spotify IPO, etc. As a singer-songwriter with an eye on a broader audience, Bugg is cautiously optimistic about the business’ new models, echoing the sentiment of many attached to the majors, as they return to profitability amid debates on royalty distribution. “I think the industry is through the worst of it, as music is being paid for, rather than being pirated, and for music lovers, the access to all kinds of music is incredible.” That access to music has informed managements’ decision on where to go for young artists looking to take the next step via statistics dredged from streaming services and the like. This has meant that since the album’s launch, it’s been busy for Bugg, with acoustic gigs across North America and Australia, as well as full-band shows in the UK. “I love touring, visiting other countries and meeting fans. It blew my mind a bit when we got to Beijing this year, and fans met us at the airport!”

Touring wasn’t the only means of broadening horizons for Bugg, however: last soccer season saw Bugg become the shirt sponsor for hometown team Notts County F.C. for a month as part of a rotating sponsorship the club ran. It was the kind of band-branding largesse that was deemed fanciful back in the nineties, when his influencers Oasis were considering sponsoring Manchester City prior to the changes that club undertook on the way to the top. According to Bugg, his favourite team approached him about seeing name across their kit. “I’ve been a fan of County all my life, so it was incredible to be asked to sponsor them, and to really support the team in that way was nice to do.”

Bugg is among the top tier of acts on the Indiependence billing this August, alongside homegrown folk-rockers Walking on Cars and indie veterans Primal Scream, as well as MOR prospects like Hudson Taylor, cult Britpop heroes Cast and more. He ought to be right in his element, then, and Bugg is enthusiastic heading into the August bank holiday festival, right before sitting down to knock out his next full-length record. “I’ve always enjoyed coming to Ireland, as the crowds are great, and I don’t mind a drop of the black stuff when I’m over, so it’s a win-win!”

D.I.E. Limerick: “It’s All Part of Development”

From a student night in Limerick to taking over Townlands Carnival – it’s been a long road for the D.I.E. crew. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with organiser/DJ Dan Sykes about how it all came together.

Townlands Carnival is a little over two weeks away at this point, and the excitement that’s been steadily building throughout the summer is coming to a head. With international headline artists like Sister Sledge and Leftfield’s Neil Barnes providing an attraction factor for new, lapsed and casual music fans, this year’s Townlands Carnival presents opportunities for Irish and independent artists alike to be seen, discovered and enjoyed by a wider audience, including Choice Prize nominees like Bantum and Katie Kim. The Rising Sons stage is custom-made for new Irish music, up and down the billing, while the Sibín allows festival-goers to hide out in the nearby woods and take in some of the festival’s hidden gems, many of whom are taken from the local scene. Between its location amid a tight-knit rural community, and its support for new Irish music, community development has evidently been at the heart of the festival’s rise in recent years, so it’s appropriate that one of the festival’s sleeper highlights comes in the form of Limerick collective D.I.E..

Beginning amid the turmoil of the late-2000s recession and while their city was emerging from years of stigmatisation on a national level, D.I.E. (short for ‘Dubstep/Indie/Electronica’) came along at a time when the playing field had effectively been levelled, and opportunities, if nothing else, for enterprising young music heads abounded, for those willing to put in the work. Recognising an opportunity to establish a multi-space club night in Dolan’s in Limerick, using its various rooms, the crew responsible worked with local student unions to build a bottom-line crowd for the night with Limerick School of Art and Design, providing a space for local musicians and selectors. Co-founder Dan Sykes looks at the effort they put in, and the path it paved for the city’s current golden age. “It’s like anything really, you come in fresh-faced and put work in, over the time your work gains momentum, and can start to go well and influence other people and so the cycle continues. We meet loads of really driven young people these days, who seem lightyears ahead of their years, and they are doing amazing work in putting on parties, etc. It’s great to see music outlets being there for other types of music. Like Limerick right now has so much creativity and this real rawness in the hip-hop scene. They are all really driven, focused and all together. Knowing these things are happening in your city makes everything feel great. I know the internet has changed lots of things in music, but that old social ground is, and always will be, the club. So we’re happy to have a club where we put on music, people come and listen, they dance, they meet, ideas are created and exchanged. It’s all part of development and having a space to do so. Very happy that we may offer that space in some sense.”

Running a club is tricky business at the best of times, amplified by replicating the feat across a number of rooms and even Dolans’ smoking area. The result, however, isn’t that far removed from festival setups up and down the country – different stages need different specs for a variety of musical genres – making the changeover from venue to festival stage takeover relatively easy. “So, it starts at around 4pm. First port of call is lovely, creamy pints to start off. We have a pint and discuss production, etc. After that we then set up, room-by-room. Programming rooms is one thing, but producing the room so all artists, etc. can do their thing, with their preferred spec, takes a little more in terms of planning. Luckily we have an amazing team who all work really hard. For some of us, the best part is knowing that all rooms have been produced to the highest possible standard.”

D.I.E. manages to do what promoters and venues in other cities, arguably including Cork, either can’t or just don’t anymore – maintain a key relationship with the city’s students and maintain their support as a bottom line. Sykes goes into the necessities and changes of doing so. “Well, having the night on a Thursday really makes us part of that student nightlife. However, things are changing, and Thursdays are not the big nights out that they used to be. More and more stuff is happening from Monday to Thursday these days, so as we get older it’s quite hard to keep ahead of different cultural and social changes, if you’re not experiencing them first hand. However, we did start out by running some parties for SUs, and we have always kept up our relationship with them. We still sell hard tickets from the SUs at the student-friendly price of €5… the legacy of the recession (laughs).” So, how can venues and promoters, in cities like Cork, more effectively court a student audience and properly bring out the best in them, in terms of their participation and weekly involvement, making them aware of the wider music community, etc? “That’s a question where the answer could change from one year to the next. I think once you try to give people, or students especially, a top-quality experience; for example the same show they would have got on a Saturday, and to the same standard; then people will feel like they are being catered for properly, and will support more strongly.”

D.I.E. comes to Townlands Carnival to run a takeover of the Hive Stage as part of the weekend’s proceedings. Sykes, Ali Daly (pictured) and other regulars will be overseeing tunes and bringing that trademark diversity to the stage at Rusheen Farm. The community connection at the centre of Townlands was the spark for this collaboration. “So Shiv (promoter/DJ Siobhán Brosnan) got us involved last year, and we approached her about a takeover for this year’s one. For a festival like TLC to happen on our doorsteps is a very special thing. The programming, etc. is different, it’s not the usual big names and suspects that you see at lots of Irish festivals. TLC has a lot of love in it. We were so impressed with last year, we just wanted to showcase at it for this year.”