Versive: “Why We Keep Doing What We Are Doing”

With exposure on Kerrang! Radio in the UK and contention on the Irish download charts, Dublin alt-rock outfit Versive stand ready to try their luck with America. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist Conor Walsh ahead of their upcoming Leeside excursion.

Since assembling in 2015 from the wreckage of Dublin’s late-2000s pop-punk scene, four-piece Versive (not to be confused with now-defunct Cork electronic-pop trio Versives) have diligently been writing and releasing material, keeping a steady gigging pace and quietly becoming something of a hot proposition for fans of the broad ‘alt-rock’ brushstroke. In that short space of time, something more mature and brooding has emerged, maintained by a collective effort, says guitarist Conor Walsh. “When we recorded our first song ‘Blackout’, in Manor Park studio, the tone of it came out very raw and darker than our previous projects. Thanks to that one song, we all knew what direction to take the band. We are all heavily influenced by loud rock guitar bands, like Foo Fighters and Four Year Strong, hence why we have three guitars. We also all listen to many different genres of music. All that fused together… makes the sound of Versive. For the first E.P., I mainly wrote all the music, and Kelan (O’Reilly, vocals) did vocals but for our newer stuff, everyone is involved with writing, which makes life easier for me (laughs).”

Most recent single ‘Blind’ was released in September via U.S. label King Sound, ahead of more tracks to be released shortly in an as-yet indeterminate format. They’re shaping up to be something special, inspired by the Stateside journey the band took to work with their heroes and  get them done. “So we went over to the States last November, and started demoing tunes for our next release out at Wachusett Recording Studio in Massachusetts. The new songs are produced by Michael Harmon and Alan Day (guitarist/vocals of Four Year Strong). Thanks to these lads, they brought our sound to the next level. We are feeling pretty good about them. Some of the songs are heaviest we have ever written and some have a slightly lighter vibe to them. It’s just a good mix of everything.” Having previously worked with UK label Scylla and Dublin concern NVR MNT, the band’s latest label dalliance finds them at the centre of their own work as musicians, with guidance on hand, according to Walsh. “There is no difference at all, at the end of the day, the label doesn’t do the work, the band does. The labels we have been part of and are currently, with are there for support and to guide us if we have any questions. But for the most part, we are still DIY as f**k. Just the way we like it.”

Single ‘Pretend’ last year charted on the Irish iTunes Music service, brushing off the mainstream sales charts, and placing highly on a rock singles chart dominated by casual fans’ endless consumption of genre standards. What was that like, and is there still merit in charts as a barometer of taste/opinion in the streaming age? “It was amazing to have the single get into the charts, we weren’t expecting it. And the fact it happened for ‘Pretend’ and ‘Blind’ is kinda mind-blowing. It shows that people still listen to rock music, and not just that silly mainstream pop music.  Although it’s not that important to get into the charts, it sure is a nice feeling that people went out of the way to purchase our music. We actually released our first physical CD last month into Tower Records, and we sold out of stock twice in the shop within a few days. That really showed there is a demand for physicals, which meant more to us than the charts. I hope people continue to support music and buy their favourite bands’ releases, it’s the reason why we keep doing what we are doing, ‘cause the fans support us.” The aforementioned single also premiered in the UK via Kerrang! Radio, whose namesake magazine, are now under new management and seem to be taking their duties as gatekeepers for young rockers a bit more seriously, as opposed to simply making a rock-themed yoof lifestyle mag. Despite the premiere treatment over the airwaves, exposure from the enduring weekly has been elusive. “I had no idea they are under new management, and to be honest we have had little dealings with Kerrang!. We are delighted that they played our music, but when it comes to the magazine and the people that run it, we haven’t really been in contact at all.”

The band haven’t been the only ones benefiting from an upswing in Irish music, as well-documented within these pages in recent years. In light of a lack of prime-time exposure on Irish media, independent music of every stripe is reliant on community effort and support from within. This has historically included word of mouth and the thumbs-up from trusted sources for more casual listeners. Walsh briefly name-checks a few going concerns he’s been into as of late. “There are some badass bands around Ireland at the moment, the bands I’ve been really digging lately would have to be Just Mustard, Tanjier, Overhead the Albatross and Screaming Giants.” Versive are playing Fred Zeppelin’s on Friday the 18th, with support from young Leeside alternative bands Skies Behind, dealing in self-proclaimed ‘Irish pop-punk trash’, and Primus-esque messers Red Sun Alert. Ahead of stepping foot in the big red room upstairs again, Walsh recently did a bit of research. “We played in Cork two years ago at the same venue and it was a great show, so we are expecting to have a great time. I checked (the supports) out the day they got announced, they seem cool and look forward to rocking out with them.”

This date acts as prelude to a busy summer for the band, and a rehearsal for a much-busier touring schedule for late in the year, hitting Irish cities and generally keeping the momentum up. “Releasing our new tunes by the end of the year and our next single “The Problem”, which will be (out) over the summer. We also have a full Irish tour in the works for November, so we are looking forward to announcing that in the coming weeks”.

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.”

The Shaker Hymn: “There’s No Redoing Things”

New single ‘Dead Trees’ sees Corkonian poppers The Shaker Hymn in hollering, apocalyptic form. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist Caoilian Sherlock about the process behind the band’s upcoming third album.

It’s one of those odd things, independent music: for a wide umbrella of music that prides itself on creative freedom and cultural autonomy in order to help progress the overall artistic discourse, there’s also no shortage of revivalists of various stripes, putting a new lease of life into previously well-worn sonic tropes. It’s been hard in the past to look at Corkonian psych-poppers The Shaker Hymn and not get some degree of the warm-and-fuzzies: emerging from teenage adventures in the folk and alternative genres, second album ‘Do You Think You’re Clever?’, self-released last year veered wildly into tape-hiss, big sounds and the kind of vocal harmonies the like of Supergrass would have been envious of at the outset of Britpop. It was a mix that intrigued a lot of people, and preceded a furious touring schedule in small towns and small venues all over the country, before the band took a breather to try other things and collect their thoughts before readying another salvo of new material.

In that context, then, the band’s new single, ‘Dead Trees’, is something of a surprise: though the hard-won authenticity of fuzz and hiss is granted permanence via recording directly to analogue tape for the first time, it’s something of a beast of its own. Vocalist/guitarist Caoilian Sherlock, a naturally happy-go-lucky fellow, drops the youthful distrust of the band’s post-Millennial fug in favour of fire-and-brimstone doomsaying, warning of an uncertain future, in direct contrast to his fine fettle as we meet at L’Attitude on Cork’s Union Quay for a natter. Sherlock is relaxed about the response the single has met with at the band’s gigs so far this winter, a return to live activity that foreshadows an upcoming third album. “It’s been good. I forgot what it was like to do gigs. We hadn’t performed in about a year, except for one gig in Belgium where we tested out all our new songs. It’s nice. The songs are different. It seems boring to other people, but they’re longer. I guess we’ve given up the idea of trying to impress anyone else, I think. When you’re a bit younger, you try and write something to get in the charts, or something. We’ve been doing that since we were sixteen. We’re twenty-eight, twenty-nine, now. The point of us being in a band to give us that expression that comes from being together, so there’s less rules and a lot more of a democratic process going on between the four of us. The intention is to make the most exciting thing we can.”

The process of creating music for record is obviously far different now than it would have been in the days of the band’s broader influences, and in trying to put down a document of where they are at present, the outfit have opted to keep recording their third album on tape, in order to instill the same sense of urgency, immediacy, and the finality of limited takes into their tunes. “Music nerds will be like, ‘oh, how exciting!’, but for those that don’t really care about the music recording process: we’ll be recording to tape, like they did up until the late Eighties, early Nineties. It means everything has to be done live. That’s exciting for us, ’cause it’s a different process, there’s no sitting at the computer and redoing things. If you sound good or bad on the day, it doesn’t matter: that’s what happened, and that’s really exciting for us. We recorded two albums in three years and before that tonnes of EPs, so the recording process can get a bit flavourless, so for us, this is a bit of spice,” smiles Sherlock.

‘Dead Trees’ itself touches on some fairly hefty business, shifting creative focus from bon-vivant appraisals of the maladies of twenty-somethings in the binds of austerity and ladder-pulling, like in previous single ‘Trophy Child’, to altogether broader subject matter as mentioned at the outset of this piece. The question is: what prompted this turn for the thematically heavy? “’Trophy Child’ was on our last album, and I couldn’t help but write about things that were going on around me. All my friends were going away to the UK, leaving Cork to go to Dublin, go to Australia and New Zealand, coming back, then going to South East Asia… much of that album was about that lost kind of feeling, not that I was lost staying in Cork, but a lot of people around me were having the conversation of not knowing where to go. So a lot of the songs were about that. This time around I wanted to write from a more thematic point of view, as much as I could, but not so personal, more universal. So, I was doing a lot more travelling, as this album began to be written. I got to go to Iceland and LA, and other places I’d never seen, new landscapes, so I wanted to write something about nature, and the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t not write about the world after Trump, and Brexit. There was a heavy feeling at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, so there’s a lot of that on this new album. There’s also a lot of joy and excitement, and a feeling of ‘ooh, what’s gonna happen next?’”

The band’s recent downtime allowed Sherlock to spread his wings on a solo basis as Saint Caoilian, releasing his debut one-man effort, ‘The Faraway’, earlier in the year. Away from a shared creative process, Sherlock’s tendencies toward lovelorn pop, bearing the hallmark of power-pop pioneers like Big Star, are writ large all over leadoff single ‘I’ll Be a Fool For You’. It led to a massively busy summer of gigs, both in support of his own record and of fellow Corkonian troubadour Marlene Enright, and with the ball rolling on the endeavour, there’s little stopping him from continuing his path inbetween bursts of band activity. “I’m recording another EP this December! It’s funny, the reason Saint Caoilian came about was because I had about fifty demos at home. They weren’t going anywhere, and they weren’t necessarily Shaker Hymn songs. On top of that, I’ve been in this band since I was sixteen, you can’t expect three other people to travel all the time, can’t expect them to drop everything because you’re anxious about your life. I wanted to travel for the summer, so I recorded an EP that gave me an excuse to do just that. The process of the Shaker Hymn will take another year or so, but with Saint Caoilian, I can do everything in a week or two, book some dates.”

Sherlock’s tour of duty over the winter also extends to festival management of one of Cork’s most important festivals, Quarter Block Party, transpiring this year from February 2-4th along the city’s historic spine. Among the first wave of acts announced so far for the Main Street community extravaganza are comedienne Alison Spittle, fresh off her new work with RTÉ, and Waterford post-punks Percolator, returning to the city after launching recent LP ‘Sestra’ on Cork-based label Penske Recordings. Rolling out more announcements, fundraising & organising for the event itself will occupy Sherlock’s entire remaining free time for the winter, and he’ll not be able to raise his head above the parapet much. “Between here and Quarter Block Party, I can’t see much further than that. Keep the head down over the Christmas, then Quarter Block Party on the first weekend of February. After that, maybe sleep for about a hundred years?”

The Shaker Hymn’s new single ‘Dead Trees’ and Saint Caoilian’s extended-player ‘The Faraway’ are both available now across all digital services. Quarter Block Party tickets are onsale now, more info and lineup updates at quarterblockparty.com.

Katie Kim: “Who Knows What I’m Capable Of?”

Ahead of appearing at Cork Jazz this weekend with the Altered Hours, Katie Kim talks reverb, records and the future with Mike McGrath-Bryan.

An elusive sight on gigging bills, Waterford singer-songwriter Katie Kim carries perhaps more of a mystique for being so, weaving stark imagery and toll-taking catharsis around moody arrangements centred on Kim’s moody but quietly strong tones. Last year’s ‘Salt’ album has had time to settle after the usual whirl of activity around a launch, and after a long development period, she’s had time to consider the album. “Well, the record has been finished for a few years now. And some of the tracks, like for example ‘Day Is Coming’, were written a long time ago. Almost eight years ago. So I’ve had a lot of time with ‘Salt’. For me, a record is a body of work I live with for however long it takes me to finish, to the point where I can listen to it without picking and prodding at elements.

Until I’m happy with it. Then it’s released, and really at that point, I prefer to move on. Maybe that plays quite a bit into why I like to keep live shows to a minimum. I can’t imagine playing the same set list, or having to listen to myself night after night, year after year, I just don’t think I’d have it in me. But I suppose I’ve never tried either so… who knows what I’m capable of!”

The creative process behind the record was a sea-change for an experienced solo composer and performer, but the difference is palpable across ‘Salt’ from earlier work, opening Kim’s voice up to much broader sonic vistas. “I recorded ‘Salt’ in Guerrilla Studios, a studio run by John Murphy (Lankum/Jimmy Cake/September Girls/Woven Skull). Sonically, it was a partnership with him, where before I recorded mainly alone or at home. He’s been with Katie Kim since the beginning in some form or another, and he brought it to quite a dark place. I mean, we had to trim a lot off the endings of many songs where he went deeper and deeper into great big guttural soundscapes, because we wouldn’t be able to fit them on the vinyl otherwise. I recorded my vocals at home where I felt most comfortable, and would then take them to him, and we would record and mix everything else there. Sometimes throwing absolutely everything at it, to then strip it all back again in some cases. But recording it with him helped. He’s so easy to work with, and normally my albums aren’t a hugely collaborative process.”

The album was nominated for a Choice Prize, in a year when nine out of ten albums nominated were (nominally) independent releases. And while criticisms can be levied on music awards, incentivisation, etc., there’s no denying it placed Kim and ‘Salt’ on a wider stage, from RTÉ television and radio, to a short-lived push for the album’s CD press via Golden Discs. “Well, there’s a cash prize that I’m sure helps musicians a lot! That’s one element but I can’t get too philosophical about it, because I just think it’s nice for some musicians to have a light shone on them, if only for a moment. I can’t speak on anyone else’s behalf, but the nomination came, for me, at a time when it was nice to get the nod. I was feeling extremely low creatively after the album came out, and it helped alleviate that, secretly.”

Katie plays with the Altered Hours and Spacemen 3‘s Will Carruthers on Sunday at St. Luke’s in Cork, a venue she’s no stranger to. It’s a big night overall, and the buzz heading into it has been significant. “The venue is breathtaking. The sheer amount of reverb has to be heard to be believed, so I’m quite pleased to be back. Reverb is my closest pal, so St. Luke’s will be a highlight for me, and of course, I’m a huge Altered Hours fan, too. I became a bit drained from live shows I had been going to a few years ago, and an Altered Hours show I was at in Mayo just woke me the fuck up.

And ‘Laser Guided Melodies’ is an album I hold very dear to my heart, so meeting Will Carruthers will be something!” A Galway gig in the Roisín Dubh November 12th has also just been announced, via local collective FEAST. What’s the plan after? “Recording again. I don’t know yet what form the new songs will take, but I’m writing and figuring a few things out, so I’ll have to wait and see.”

Hope is Noise: “It’s a Simple Philosophy for Us”

From humble roots as a secondary-school jam band in Ballincollig, Co. Cork to features in UK media and EU/US touring, alt-rock/post-hardcore four-piece Hope is Noise are often slept on when the conversation of veteran Irish acts emerges. Five full-lengths and two decades in, the band maintains somewhat of a godfather status in the city by the Lee, marked by their enduring passion for creating a racket, and their similarly endless support for the local scene. Premiering this Thursday at IndieCork Film Festival, ‘Head in the Clouds: The Hope is Noise Story’ charts their course over the past twenty years, unfolding a story of friendship, patience and loyalty.

According to vocalist/guitarist Dan Breen, the secret to keeping patience with one another for that long is relatively uncomplicated. “Well, it would be a lie to say that we have never got pissed off with each other over the last 20 years but it has never reached the epic levels of hatred you hear about in other bands. In my opinion most bands usually break up because of one, or a combination of three things: money, addiction, egos. We’ve never made enough money or enjoyed worldwide acclaim as a band for any of those to become an issue (laughs). But really it’s a simple philosophy for us, as long as we still love writing and performing the songs we’ve written, Hope is Noise will stay together. The balancing of band and personal lives is also something we’ve been lucky enough to be able to make work too. As long as we can meet up once a week to practice, there will always be Hope is Noise. Y’know, it’s funny that it was being friends that initially brought the band together but it’s been the band that has been so important in keeping us friends.”

‘Head in the Clouds’ sees the band, for the first time, taken through the archives for a look at Hope is Noise to date – ample archive video, photography and posters help illustrate the band’s story alongside new interviews. Breen reflects on having these kinds of milestones to hit in the first place. “It’s hard to believe its been twenty years since we first started jamming in my bedroom. The neighbours were pretty understanding but I think we did put a crack in the ceiling of the kitchen below us with all the noise, and bouncing around going on. To be honest, to have made it this long is really testament to our perseverance. There was plenty of occasions where we should have just thrown in the towel and stopped playing, like after the Sunbeam fire in 2003 (wherein an entire newly-built rehearsal space on the city’s northside burned down). However when Hope is Noise started in 2005, it felt we had finally stumbled onto something good. Since then we’ve been Hope is Noise, for better or worse. Personally, playing music with my best friends for over twenty years has been an amazing privilege so having this documentary is a really cool way to mark this.”

Such a trawl through the years must obviously come with burdens of proof for certain stories, the reopening of old wounds, and so on, with the process and storytelling serving as motivation to gut through it. What was Breen’s favourite aspect, if any, of the production of the documentary? “Firstly, it has to be working with the young lads from Gobstar Film. Over the last two years, they have produced, directed, edited as well as cajole four lazy lads in front of a camera and get us to talk about stuff we had long forgotten. They were big fans of the band and it was this that inspired them to come on-board and make the documentary. It’s amazing what they achieved with no budget and a simple story. We had a great laugh working with them, though they should probably get community service medals for working with OAPs (laughs). Secondly, looking at the old film footage was cool too. Actually, what shocked me the most during the production was how little video footage we had. If I could go back in time, I would have definitely recorded and cataloged way more but you never think about those things as you’re going through it. We were able to locate about 10 hours of old band footage as well as photos, posters etc and combined this many hours of interviews to make a short 35 minute documentary. It’s a credit to Ger and Jim that we got it over the line. To be honest, we were conscious throughout the making of the documentary that we didn’t want it to appear like a vanity project, and we were well aware that we didn’t really have the usual ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ backstory you find in the typical music documentaries, so if the project has just ended up on my computer, serving as nothing more than a nice trip down memory lane then that would have been that. Thankfully, the lads found a story in all our ramblings and meagre digital footprint that they wanted to show to the public. Hopefully, it won’t be our Some Kind of Monster (laughs).”

Last year’s ‘Demons’ album saw the band tackle their personal dramas and thoughts on life in broader terms, including mortality, friendship and politics, and it made for the band’s most relatable record yet. Breen gets into how the record was made, and the driving force behind the next act in the Hope is Noise story. “With everything we’d recorded previously, I always think there’s roughly a million things I would change, but this record only has about one thousand (laughs). This was the first record we produced fully by ourselves, so of course, there are things we would have done differently with hindsight, but overall, we’re very proud of it. The songs on this album fit very well into our live set, and we really enjoy playing them. The album has bittersweet memories for us as it was the last thing we got to record with our long-term engineer, producer and friend, Lawrence White who sadly died about a year ago. I had already discussed the next album with him and plans were afoot about how we could record it better and more efficiently. His death really threw us for six as he was meant to be an important part of the band’s foreseeable future, but his death has also re-affirmed our desire to keep playing music for as long as we can.”

The band will be accompanying the screening of the documentary with a live gig at the Poor Relation in Cork this Thursday. A good time, then, to get Breen’s thoughts on a newly-established centre of off-kilter gigging in town. “This will be our first time playing there, so we’re really excited about that. The Poor Relation has been putting on gigs for a good while now and seem to be willing to put on more alternative and heavier ones which is always a bonus. The place is laid out in a way that reminds me of the Quad when the main bar and stage are in the same room, open-plan style. The stage looks pretty big too compared to other ones we’ve played in the past. We hope the gig goes well and that we will get to play many more there in the future.”

The band is featured prominently on the programme for the IndieCork festival this year, an important outlet for independent culture of all kinds in the city, now heading into its fifth year, co-ordinated by local arts veterans and maintained by a year-round community effort. Breen talks about the importance of Indie to the city. “Over the last six months we were wondering what we would do with the documentary when it was done. Thankfully, IndieCork gave us the chance to launch it and get it out there. I think its important that events like IndieCork continue to be organised and supported because they give a rare opportunity and platform for independent artists to showcase what they do. A similar platform should be done for independent music in the city but you would certainly need the right sponsors and organisers like they have for IndieCork. We are thrilled to be part of the festival this year and looking forward to the night and hopefully future collaborations with the event and other participants.”There is lots of talk at present about the gig/venue situation at present in Cork, which is starting to get a little better with the re-opening of PLUGD as an overall event space and venues like The Poor Relation and the Village Hall, but is still reeling from years of venue closures and retoolings. Breen gets into his feelings on the matter, and the changes that have occurred. “The closure of so many venues in Cork is really just another sign of the times. Over the last decade or so, there has been a slow accumulation of changes in the music industry that had led us to where we are. You just have to look at how, in response to the modern ways of consuming music, record companies, radio stations and promoters now package music and events. They do it to reach the widest audiences, which sadly leaves little room for ‘old-fashioned’ Cork DIY bands like us to play regularly.

”I read a newspaper article a few months back about the demise of guitar bands and the venues that would normally have profited from their popularity. Basically the long-held dominance of guitar-orientated music is in danger of becoming a niche musical genre like Jazz. The closing down of so many once prominent venues in the city is the simply the result of less people going to see local original guitar bands. Most venues and bars gear everything towards the more palpable types of acts like covers band, singer-songwriters, trad, DJs etc. Fewer places want the hassle of putting up with the racket we make. To me, the biggest result of the loss of so many venues is that there is now a distinct lack of international touring bands passing through Cork. Sure, there have been tons of big acts filling the Marquee, and other big venues, but acts that would have played venues like Sir Henry’s, Nancy Spain’s, the Savoy, the Half-Moon and the Pavilion are no longer playing here. Pat and I went to Galway to see Shellac two weeks ago, scratching our heads as to why they hadn’t been brought to Cork. The knock-on effect is that local bands are denied the opportunity to play with these bigger bands, to play to new audiences and improve their stagecraft.

”There is no really infrastructure in place here anymore for touring bands of modest size/success to make coming to Cork worth their time. All the money and effort seems to be going to cater for the bigger more financially secure acts. You can have all the convention centres you want in Cork but the loss of the city’s small and medium sized venues will have a larger impact on the local scene. I know for us it is certainly harder now to get gigs, find support bands and encourage people to attend, so we have to limit the amount of times you play Cork and make every gig counts so people may be more inclined to come back (laughs). What’s happening in Cork is indicative of what’s happening throughout the entire Irish DIY scene in general, connections that were in place over the last 15 years have fallen away as record labels finished, venues closed and promoters/bands gave up. I hope we’re in a period of transition waiting for new blood to re-energise the scene. I would agree that there have been signs of improvement lately. Along with venues like Fredz and the Crane Lane, that still give bands like us an outlet, new venues like the Poor Relation and El Fenix, and the really active metal scene with cool young bands and promoters point to signs of rejuvenation, but sadly I don’t think it will ever get back to the way it was.”

What next for Hope is Noise? “Very simple, keep writing songs and get to the studio in the coming months to record the fifth album and keep playing gigs. We are definitely not going anywhere soon (touch wood)!”

Therapy?: Boys in Black, Here to the End

Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan ahead of the trio’s acoustic Cork date next month, on the band’s past, their present, the future and their Cork connections.

With nearly thirty years on the road, and fourteen full-lengths under their belt, Belfast post-hardcore trio Therapy?’s odyssey has taken them to the stages of the world, through best-selling records and a dedicated following that has stuck with the band through thick and thin. Over the years, however, the band have purposely kept home visits short and sweet, in order to maintain the sense of occasion inherent to their Irish shows, which makes next month’s extensive acoustic sojourn all the more surprising. Guitarist/vocalist Andy Cairns is excited for the Wood and Wire tour. “I’m really looking forward to the gigs, as I don’t feel we play Ireland enough, not through any lack of desire on the band’s part but a lack of offers (laughs). I’m looking forward to Cork, Belfast and Limerick the most. Cork because I love the place, ditto Belfast, and Limerick because it’s been so long since I’ve been there.”

Taking as noisy and varied a back catalogue as Therapy?’s and retooling it for the acoustic idiom presents a series of issues all its own, both in terms of arrangements and in choosing a setlist that reflects their career and expectations of fans. “The first challenge is keeping the intensity of the songs, without huge banks of amps and propulsive, frenzied drumming. Different songs call for different approaches, and some of the tunes just don’t work at all in an acoustic environment. For this Irish tour we’re going to try and pick songs that are definitely shaped by the country itself. Either through lyrical references, or musical influences, and ideas behind the songs themselves. Chatting with the crowd is a good way of making it an engaging experience, and I’m sure the audience won’t hold back either.”

Last year saw the band release their most recent long-player, Disquiet. Rooted in the band’s poppier leanings, the record plays on the paranoia and dissatisfaction first given voice on 1994’s Troublegum album, revisiting the latter record’s conceptual protagonist in middle-age and finding that rage has given way to despair. Cairns gets into the process behind the album’s writing and recording. “Disquiet was one of our melodic forays that started with Skyward on (debut album) Babyteeth, galvanised on Troublegum and continued in High Anxiety (2003 record). It was written in my kitchen on an acoustic guitar over the space of a month and then iPhone recordings were sent to Michael and Neil for their opinions. From such traditional foundations the songs themselves are more of the verse/chorus template than our previous two records, but as lyrically I was exploring the whereabouts of the protagonist of the Troublegum album, it was a conducive medium for the project. It ended up being a popular record with our fans, and charted in some countries, which was a surprise. Songs like Still Hurts and Tides will probably be in the set list for a long time to come.”

As much of a treat it’s been for longtime and lapsed fans to hear the band returning to more immediate material, it doesn’t come without a bittersweet note for the boys in black, having put massive effort into the cerebral and groovy direction of the their records prior. “Much as we enjoyed the creative process involved in making the previous two albums, we found it frustrating that so much of the content was unnoticed or misunderstood. Enjoy the Struggle was influenced lyrically by Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and musically by the riff from Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song, however one critic claimed it sounded like Zakk Wylde. Bad Excuse for Daylight starts off with an appropriation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps before going into a rhythm section that has its timing based on a section from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. One wag claimed it sounded like “cavemen banging sticks” and in the Nabokov-saturated A Brief Crack of Light album the mix of Slint, Beckett, African highlife and dub went unnoticed by people curious to know “where the tunes have gone”. Both these albums were such a great working experience, and a lift for us as a band but we were hugely disappointed that people didn’t get it. The nature of the band however, means that we shall return to these waters in the future.”

Helping the band negotiate the waters of an ever-changing musid industry in recent years have been Amazing Records, the spinoff label from the popular UK digital radio service. Cairns expresses his satisfaction with the label and his preference for the model over crowdfunding and the like. “It’s been okay. Amazing Records have been fantastic. They’re a very young label, staffed by young people, and seem keen on the band.We know that we could always go down the crowdfunding route if we need to, but as I’ve mentioned, some of our musical choices have often left some of our fans bemused, and the crowdfunding always seems to go hand-in-hand with people forking out disproportionate sums of their precious money, in return for extras like ‘a day ice-skating with Michael McKeegan’ or ‘an eating competition with Andy’ etc. They might also enforce a caveat that in return for their contribution, there is to be no mention of high fallutin’ authors or dalliances with jazz, no-sir-ee, just riff, after riff, after discordant riff, with lots of shouting on top.”

Is it not a tad strange, though, after being in such a forward-thinking headspace all these years, to be in the position to be looking back on your body of work and seeing a demand for reissues, anniversary tours, etc.? “Yes, but we are a working band that needs to pay for rehearsals and storage space, new equipment and pay our mortgages. We still get stimulation from new music, literature, cinema etc., so we’ll not be curling up into a pub rockin’ third act at any time in the future, besides it’s a lot of fun to play classic songs to an audience that know every lyric, lick, bass fill and snare hit.”

The band returns to Cyprus Avenue on the 28th of April for their Cork stop of the tour. Having emerged from the Irish scene of the early nineties, Cork is an important locale for the band, as Cairns reminisces on. “I absolutely love Cork, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. First time I visited was on a camping trip when I was nineteen, and I had a great time hanging out in the town and going to different bars with some locals we hooked up with. Nancy Spain’s was a lovely gig and being put up by the lads from Judgement was a fantastic way to spend an evening.We played an odd showcase gig in ’91 at Henry’s with Toasted Heretic and Sultans Of Ping which was good craic, mainly because those bands were fun to hang out with, and had a very memorable show there later on with our friends Babes in Toyland. I remember going to Comet Records with Lori from Babes, and seeing that our albums were number 1 and 2 respectively in the Indie charts. The crowd for the show was full-on, our equipment broke down and I went into full Graham Norton mode and did covers of Jolene and Neil Young while it was sorted.”

Not that their love affair with the town is anything to do with nostalgia, with the band making somewhat of a home in Cyprus Avenue in recent years. “Cyprus Avenue is always such a pleasure to play. We did a gig there once during the Jazz Festival, and opened our set with a few bars of So What by Miles Davis, which completely went over the audience heads. Later on we rampaged around the town and I woke up the next day with one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had in my entire life. Cork is also responsible for Cathal Coughlan, Rory Gallagher and Noel Redding to name but a few. Crosshaven is also where the legendary Bobby Tambling of the mighty Chelsea FC lives, and of course Trish O’Callaghan, a wonderful artist who was responsible for the cover art of our Caucasian Psychosis album release.”

The future lies ahead of the trio, and in short order, at that: a new album is planned, but under tight wraps at present. “We’re currently writing new material and look likely to set foot in the studio in July this year. We’re all pleased with the direction it’s taking, but will be keeping quiet about it until it’s done.”

Therapy? play Cyprus Avenue in a special acoustic tour on Friday April 28th. Tickets available now on cyprusavenue.ie.

Bitch Falcon: Coming In to Land

Alt-rock power trio Bitch Falcon head down to Cork for a double-header in Connolly’s and Cyprus Avenue this weekend. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks to drummer Nigel Kenny and bassist Naomi McLeod.

The growing pains of any new-ish band are numerous, and a tough slog to varying degrees: finding a sound, establishing a live presence and generally trying to rally any kind of support around you tends to hone your instincts fairly sharply. For Bitch Falcon, an almost-complete change of line-up occurred around founder Lizzie Fitzpatrick, which caused a complete reconsideration of the band’s grunge-recalling sound, according to bassist Naomi McLeod. “I think the tone was set by the initial few tunes that Lizzie wrote with the original members, and we sort of just worked from there. Wolfstooth was the first song written with parts from us three current members, followed by Breed and TMJ, so the sound was largely established between those three songs which all made their way into released singles.”

The grunge/alternative label has, by now, become the stock of household collections, as reunions and reissues have seen the influences of a generation begin to fly over the heads of that generation’s kids, and into dad-rock territory. Has that designation helped, in terms of reaching that wider Irish alternative audience, or is it an awkward pigeonholing from a band as young and vital? “That’s a tough question. While I would gladly embrace the grunge and alternative labels being applied to our sound, I don’t feel we quite fit that, nor do I feel we fit certain other likenesses. I guess it’s hard to measure or give a unified name to our sound from as close a perspective as we have on it. Our music should, and I believe does, speak for itself, regardless of labels, and as such I don’t see it restricting us. Our music is bound to be a bit heavy and a bit thrashy for some tastes, and that is absolutely fine.”

New single Clutch, first streamed via music sites last year but only recently receiving the video/promo treatment, has garnered a serious amount of attention since release. Drummer Nigel Kenny explains the atmosphere and pressure that led to the band emerging with a diamond. “We basically went to a bar that was being converted into a residential recording studio on the Limerick/Tipperary border for a weekend, with a rule that we wouldn’t leave until we had a song written. We brought the volume down, I brought an electronic kit and we just went to town on riffs. On the Sunday, when we were packing up, we hadn’t seen the sun for 48 hours but we did have a song from start to finish and that was Clutch. It was really weird. I’ll be honest, it was a difficult weekend that challenged us all and it wasn’t always a nice place to be at times. We put pressure on ourselves, and that can manifest itself uncomfortably after hour 14, when you’re hungry, and there’s no hook in a song yet.”

The aforementioned video has grabbed press and premieres in UK music media, boasting a lo-fi, gritty feel that riffs on the MTV-grunge aesthetic. McLeod, when speaking of the public reception to it, puts this down to coincidence. “It’s funny, I don’t honestly think anyone in the band consciously had the ’90s, MTV vibes in mind when we were planning the video, but it appears to be how it was received, which was unintended but certainly not an unwelcome label, either. We worked closely with (Dublin video producer) Spiceburger, who shot and directed the video, to realise a concept based on Lizzie’s lyrics for the song.”

The band are on an extensive tour of Ireland throughout March and April, a result of working with major promoters Aiken, the names behind the Marquee. Kenny compares the booking-agency model with DIY touring and self-promotion. “Aiken promoted The Workman’s Club show (in Dublin) but the rest of the tour is booked and promoted by each venue separately, through a management company. Aiken were just really, really sound and included the tour schedule in the promo for The Workman’s, which they didn’t have to do but they did it without being asked, and we appreciate that. Working with Aiken on that was really easy, and apart from our own responsibilities with promoting the gig, it was reassuring to know someone had our back in making sure as many people went as possible. They are an absolute bunch of dotes and we’ve been in love with their people ever since we played Vicar Street for the first time and immediately understood that they are just wonderful people. That was our first sell out. DIY is great, been involved in that for a long time but it is definitely very handy to have the help of pros who can do a lot of work for you. We all work full time and all help is appreciated. Also, shout out to CWB who put the whole tour together for us, and Cat, Ciara and Joe have really made it as easy as possible for us. We tour-manage ourselves, so we still do have a lot of personal involvement with the promoter and venue on the lead-up so all DIY elements aren’t totally lost yet.”

The band hit Connolly’s the night of the 10th, a beautiful venue brought back to life by second-generation promoter Sam McNicholl. Kenny is massively enthused by the thoughts of finally going under the venue’s venerated “hammers” banner. “I have been dying to go here for years. A long time ago, it was this bastion of folk music in Ireland, and everyone always went on about Connolly’s in Leap. Now it’s booking great bands from all genres with the likes of Horse playing there with Hope Is Noise two weeks ago. Mini (singer, Horse) told me it’s probably his favourite venue in Ireland, and I cannot wait to get there. Sure, the porter is amazing the further into the country you go (laughs). It will also be great to see the guys from Paradox again.”

From there, it’s on to Cyprus Avenue on March 11th with Horse, a band that has been in ridiculously good form as of late. It’s a prospect Kenny relishes. “We love Cork, absolutely love it, and Horse are f**king amazing! The love for that band in Bitch Falcon is strong, and we’re mega-chuffed they’re on the bill at Cypress Avenue. There probably won’t be much of a stage left by the time we come on after them, so maybe we’ll go on first.”

It’s a busy few months for the band, and they’re giving themselves precious little time to relax after this swing of dates. “London on the 17th and 18th of March. Girl Band in Castlebar on the 7th of April and then off to Canada for CMW for a week. After that we’re going to do a couple of festivals in Ireland, write loads hopefully and might even make it to the US before the end of the year.”

Bitch Falcon play Connolly’s of Leap tomorrow night with Paradox in support, and Cyprus Avenue Saturday with Horse. See their social media for further info. New single ‘Clutch’ available now on all digital platform.