Loah: Staying True to This Heart

Ahead of taking to the stage in Cyprus Avenue next week, Sallay Matu Garnett, aka Loah, speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about her work and her journey.

For some, music is entertainment, a safety blanket amid the mundane or the chaotic. For others, it is catharsis, a means of coming to terms with life experiences and the self. For Sallay Matu Garnett, pseudonymously known as Loah, it’s also been the summary of a lifelong journey along lines of culture, identity and the artistic process. This summer saw the crossing of a major milestone along that path, with the release of debut extended-player ‘This Heart’ via Ensemble Music, after a string of streaming songs and extensive gigging. Garnett discusses the creation of a long-awaited piece of work. “Recording the band was very simple – we all went up to Hellfire Studios, with gorgeous views of the Dublin mountains for a week and the band nailed it. The vocals took a lot longer, they were done over a few months. And there were extra sessions for grand pianos, saxophones, strings, that kind of thing. The creative process was much more complicated, I changed my mind many times about how to do it. It took me a long time to be confident enough to even record, frankly. But once I decided, we got it done fairly simply as I’m lucky to have some great musicians around me.”

With the process of studio creation demystified and a tangible body of work given to her music, time to live with the music has been taken, and Garnett is keen to progress. “I think the songs are really something, and I’m very proud. The performances by the band are stellar. I don’t think there’s much that I would change for how we treated those songs,. However, I’m also very ready to move on from that sound, phase and chapter of writing and open up to a new exploration.”

Genres and pigeonholes are something that artists more often than not simply play around with, or disinterested in overall. For Garnett, however, the idea of the mission statement is not only central, but verging on autobiographical. ‘ArtSoul’ is her self-coined, singular vision for her music, born equally of her roots and the classical training she received, as well as current influences and collaborators. It’s the sum of her journey so far, and an idea of the ambitions she holds. “I suppose it’s being mixed race, Irish/Sierra Leonean, and growing up in both places but predominantly Ireland that has given me a unique sense of self. There are parts of both heritage and both cultures that are so incredible, sometimes in flow together, sometimes in opposition, that give rise to an interesting standpoint from which to create art. Also because of moving around I’ve been exposed to so much amazing music that has seeped into my bone marrow that I struggle to settle on what sound feels most like ‘home’ to me. That’s the ongoing journey – but at its core, I make soul music.”

Hype and anticipation are all part of the cycle surrounding artists, especially in the social-media, breaking-news age. And while Garnett’s momentum emerged and spread like wildfire from blogs, uploads and videos on YouTube, ‘This Heart’ was a long time coming, as the title track infers in a daring opening gambit. Surely, there must have been impatience on her part to kinda capitalise on all the hubbub. “I wasn’t expecting the ‘hype’ at all, and I actually found that at times it flared up my insecurities if I’m totally honest. I felt a sense of impostor syndrome as most people experience starting out in something – so even though it was all very supportive and uber positive, unfortunately I didn’t initially feel a sense of confidence and experience in myself as a writer and performer to match some of the wonderful things being said. It’s sad in a way – I couldn’t always fully embrace it because it left a feeling of pressure to expand and grow really quickly rather than space to figure myself out, which I needed. I took the space and time anyway because I simply didn’t want to record until I was ready, but I felt like by doing so I was somehow disappointing people at times – ‘they’ expected more music, and faster. I also expected more from myself, in an unhealthy way. It’s a funny one.”

A standout from the record is the studio version of ‘Cortege’, finally formally released after its first airing online in 2014, featuring the little bits and flourishes a studio production allows for that a live version can’t. A beautiful, mournful piece of music, the piece is sung in two Sierra Leonean languages: Sherbro and Mende. While the title refers to solemnity and a procession, Garnett explains the emotional impetus behind a moving piece of music. “The song is about death as the title suggest, but the lyrics use the metaphor of the sun rising and setting, and how we all rise and set in kind. I wrote it for a friend whose mother passed very unexpectedly and quickly of cancer. It was my way of sending condolence to someone I care about, and trying to make sense of the great mystery of death with dignity, acceptance and love. And in doing so, infused it with an appreciation for feminine energy, also a very mysterious and subtle force we all benefit from but do not necessarily always appreciate.”

Off the hype train for a wee bit, Garnett recently mucked in with Cork-born producer Bantum’s single ‘Take It’, released last year ahead of his second full-length, ‘Move’. Garnett breaks down the process of collaboration. “Working with Ruairí was effortless. He sent me the track he thought I would vibe with, I did, and I wrote it in three sittings. He’s a very lovely, very laid back and caring person who’s become a real mate – in fact I enjoyed the process so much that we’re back in cahoots on more music! ‘Move’ is a really great album in so many ways – not least because it’s true to him but also his very organic collaborations with so many amazing artists on it is an incredible snapshot of music in Ireland right now, that I think will be looked back on as an important album of its time.”

Loah plays Cyprus Avenue on November 30th as part of the run of dates to promote ‘This Heart’. It’s not her first rodeo with Corkonians, and Garnett looks set to deliver something special. “It’s a pretty slick venue and Cork people, based on all my experiences are a very cultured crew with refined taste so I’m both excited and a bit nervous! I like these nerves though they give me an extra shot of adrenaline that always gives the shows an extra something.” Of course, in keeping with looking to progress, Garnett’s schedule is full for the winter after touring for the extended-player is over with. “Loads and loads and loads of writing! I have some really interesting collaborations on the way, not least the Bantum one. In fact one of those collaborations, a very unexpected one I would imagine, will hit your ears before Christmas. I’m super excited about them all, and I’m actually really looking forward to 2018 unfolding.”

Ye Vagabonds: Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The brothers MacGloinn and their cohorts have finally unveiled their debut long-player. Ahead of Ye Vagabonds’ Live at St. Luke’s excursion this month, Mike McGrath-Bryan talk to Diarmuid MacGloinn about recording, releasing and touring.

Carlow outfit Ye Vagabonds have been something of a hot commodity in recent years, bringing a hint of Americana, specifically Appalachian singing and sixties reverie, to the contemporary Irish folk picture. Having gigged extensively and done the festival circuit around the country, the band went a step further and built a visual body of work for its music in association with This Ain’t No Disco videographer Myles O’Reilly, which has gone the extra mile in building the band’s momentum. With their eponymously-titled debut album finally released digitally and via mail order last month, Diarmuid MacGloinn, one-half of the brothers behind the band, talks about his feelings heading into its launch gigs. “There was a three-month gap right before the album was released when we could do nothing more with the album other than release it, and that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole process. Now though, we’re feeling good about it and letting it slowly make its own way into the world. It’s pretty much impossible to have an objective listener’s ear with it though, we’ve been living with this album for about a year now and have thought about everything that’s gone into it an awful lot.”

The album is a self-release, via your the band’s newly-formed Inglenook Records imprint. With a label formally given to the record-distribution side of the Ye Vagabonds operation, MacGloinn talks about the process of getting set up for digital distribution, handling physical copies in a disparate indie record-shop environment, and plans for other artists on the label. “We’ve wanted to set up a label for a long time to release our own albums as well as our friends’ music, so when the mastering engineer asked us what the label was we came up with Inglenook there and then. Digital distribution is relatively simple these days, it just goes through an online distributor like Record Union or CD Baby, and at the moment we’re posting physical copies worldwide to anyone who orders them through Bandcamp and directly distributing to independent record shops in Ireland. We do actually have plans to release a few more artists on the label too. The first is Alain McFadden, one of our band. Alain and Brían recorded an EP in the summer together with Nick Rayner, the engineer we worked with on the album, and we’re really excited to show it to people. We’d also like to release Anna-Mieke’s music, and maybe a few others.”

The last month or so has brought a raft of critical praise for the band, in addition to well-received launch gigs for the album. MacGloinn is grateful, but chooses to keep external factors out of mind for the sake of the band’s creative and operational headspace. “It’s been great to get a lot of positive feedback on it so far. In general, we don’t read critics’ reviews unless our friends and manager read them and send them to us, but the ones we have read have been really good. It can be really difficult to read critical reviews of our music though, especially when the record has been released already. Even if a review is good, there could be one line or comparison that touches on an insecurity or doubt we might have had before, so we prefer to just not read them. The response from fans has been great, and really encouraging, so we’re delighted with that.”

Friday the 13th last month saw the record launch happen live over two nights in Dublin, and the following night in a special hometown gig in Carlow, where the band first garnered their chops and began assembling their own compositions before heading to Dublin to throw themselves into the business of their craft. For MacGloinn, these live engagements represented different milestones. “The album launches in the Cobblestone (pub) were really special nights for us, with two packed rooms in our community pub around the corner from where we’ve lived for five years or so in Dublin. There were a lot of people there who are very important to us, and those two nights were two of our favourite gigs we’ve played. The Carlow gig was a bit emotional for us. There were a bunch of people there who have watched us take our first steps as musicians, and been there the whole way through our teens until we left Carlow. There was also a very important gap there that night, since a good friend of ours isn’t there anymore, and it was tough to be reminded of that again.”

Folk of many strains is having a field day as of present, with a level of press exposure and live activity not seen since the boom-years explosion in easily-accessible singer-songwriters. MacGloinn, as a fan first and foremost, names some of his favourite contemporaries, and why Irish folk is stronger than ever. “There are so many amazing Irish folk artists around these days. Lankum have been cutting an incredible path for themselves for the past few years which has drawn a lot of attention to the folk scene here. Their music identifies a feeling that a lot of people can relate to in Ireland, but might not have expressed that way before. Lisa O’Neill is a big inspiration to us too. She does something very unique with songs, a shape that I wouldn’t have imagined before, and an honesty I hadn’t heard before either. Branwen Kavanagh of Twin Headed Wolf and Oiseau Oiseau has been writing and performing incredible music and art for a few years now too, and I’d love to see her music released at some stage soon. Then there are people like Anna-Mieke, Rue, Alain Mc Fadden and Sean Fitzgerald who are all making really interesting and transportive music.”

The band hits Live at St. Luke’s on November 24th, a favourite venue of theirs. Indeed, the ex-cathedral’s cavernous interior seems perfectly suited to their ambitions while providing a certain initimacy that behooves any good folk session. “St. Luke’s has the best acoustics of any venue in Ireland that we’ve played in, so for harmony-rich music and this album it’s probably the most suited place to hear us in the country. Our music is more or less made for that room. Out of all the gigs we have lined up for the rest of this year, that’s the one we’re most excited about. It’s also the biggest venue we’ve ever played a headline show in. We’ll be joined by a very talented song writer and singer from Dundalk called David Keenan, who’s been making big waves on his own this past year, and we’re delighted to have him opening for us on the night. We don’t know when we’ll be back in Cork again, so we’re going to give it everything we can on the 24th.”

Ambition is a word that suits the band and their approach to music. It’s no surprise, then, that the band are already on their next steps, creatively. But before any of the high faluting, they’ve got a journey to undergo in pursuit of authenticity for their new music. “It might sound like we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but we’re recording another album. We have a bunch of traditional songs that we want to record in Irish and English, mostly songs of the Ulster song tradition from Arranmore Island in particular, where our mother’s side of the family come from. We’re going to spend a bunch of time in Arranmore preparing the finer details of the songs, and we’ll be recording them all live over a few days just after the St Luke’s gig. It’s likely that we’ll try out a bunch of these songs in St Luke’s on the 24th too. That should be ready to release in the late spring time next year.”

Soulé: What Do You Know?

After a busy debut year, Dublin singer-songwriter Soulé is ready to take on the world, and it starts with a headline slot at the Jazz. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.

It’s been just over a year since the debut show of singer-songwriter Samantha Kay, under the nom-de-plume of Soulé and, propelled forth by a wide range of soul, hip-hop and R&B influences, already HAS quite a number of achievements and milestones under her belt: national radio play, features in national print & online music media, and a nomination for the Choice Music Prize for debut single ‘Love No More’. On the eve of her debut Cork headline show – as a festival headliner for the Jazz, no less – it’s little wonder that Kay’s head is spinning at the minute. “The last twelve months have been crazy and quite overwhelming, in a good way. I haven’t had much time to sit and take it all in, because a lot has happened. But I’m so grateful for the love and support that I’ve received. It honestly means so much and it’s very motivating.”

‘Love No More’ became somewhat of a sleeper hit last year, appealing to both more discerning musical sensibilities and a wider audience on the way to the aforementioned Choice nomination. Its dichotomy of personal lyrical material and big production turned heads, and Kay explains the end result came on a creative whim. “’Love No More’ started off as a ballad that I wrote on my keyboard. That explains why the lyrics of the song are quite emotional. When it was time to record it, we decided to turn it into something fun and uptempo. I thought that it would be cool to turn a sad ballad into a dance track.”

Follow-up single ‘Troublemaker’ passed a million plays on Spotify this past summer, a rare occurrence even in a supposedly-democratised environment of on-demand audio still under scrutiny for the prevalence of playlisting for casual listeners. Kay outlines the importance of the medium to her as a listener, and defends it as a necessity for new artists. “As a listener, digital streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music & SoundCloud help me discover new artists that aren’t as well-known as the big names. It gives new artists like myself a fair chance to get their music heard.”

‘What Do You Know’, her most recent effort, has also gone down a treat, including single-of-the-week laurels from the Irish Times. It’s also shown that Kay’s wave of initial momentum may add up to more than the usual cycle of hype that surrounds some artists’ very early work when breaking down industry doors. “I’m very humbled by all the positive feedback I’ve received for ‘What Do You Know’. I was so excited for the world to finally get to hear it because I was so proud of it. I wrote that song as a conclusion to the ‘Troublemaker’ story, and it came together so well.”

Even at this early stage, Kay’s success has seen her begin to be feted as being at the forefront of the new wave of soul, electronica, hip-hop and R’n’B in independent Irish music, a wide spread of sub-genres that are collectively entering something of a golden age, along Loah, Jafaris and others. Kay has her thoughts on her place in this moment for Irish music. “The Irish music scene has always been booming in terms of rock and indie music. We are just adding to what is already there. It’s a great time for music in Ireland right now, and it’s great to see so many more new artists come out with quality music. We work so hard to be heard, and it’s finally happening. I’m just so grateful to be a part of it.”

The team behind Soulé’s success has been Dublin production trio Diffusion Lab, an active trio of producers and performers based in Dublin, boasting a fingerprint all over Irish hip-hop/R&B via collaborations with Soulé, Jafaris and many others. A far cry from creatively dictatorial studio producers and big-talking Svengalis, DFL function as a collaborative one-stop shop for artists, offering everything from production and co-writing to consultancy and graphic design. “Diffusion Lab has been my family way before I ever considered releasing music. We’ve been family since 2014, ’15. I’ve learned so much working with them, and we have so much fun together. The main motto we have is to always have a positive mindset and to always put in the work in order to succeed. Working with Diffusion lab has been awesome and I can’t wait to see all the great things they achieve.”

Soulé is playing Cyprus Avenue on Thursday October 26th, the eve of the Jazz Festival’s kickoff proper, having being formally announced as a headliner for the event. Collecting her thoughts heading into the event, she says: “I’m very nervous and excited all at the same time. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and I love the energy that a Cork crowd gives. So, I’m excited to sing for them.” She then goes on to play her biggest headliner to date, next month at Dublin’s Button Factory, just over a year after supporting fellow Irish hip-hop breakouts Hare Squead there. Smiling, when asked to sum up how the time inbetween has been, she simply says: “The last year has been: unexpected, fun, crazy and exciting.”

Irish Indie Label: “Just Getting Off Your Arse and Doing Anything is Worthy of Support”

This coming Saturday, October 14th has officially been declared Irish Indie Label Day in Ireland by a coalition of independent and DIY record labels dotted around the country. An initiative kicked off by Cork’s Penske Recordings and Sligo-based Art for Blind label, it entails a day-long record fair in Whelan’s in Dublin, featuring over a dozen indie imprints’ stalls, zines, and a special gig later in the evening to mark the occasion. For Art for Blind man Dany Guest, it’s the realisation of a long-held concept. “The idea has been floating around my head for a while, and is something me and Edel (Doherty, AFB label partner) have discussed at length over the last few years, having seen the success of things like the Indie Label Market in London. We decided to ask Penske to be involved because we know Albert so well and know he is totally on our wavelength and has been a big supporter of what we do since before we even landed in Ireland. To me the big thing that differentiates it from similar initiatives is that to us the community, integration and social aspects of the event are of equal importance to us as the commercial goal of flogging records and merch.”

Contrary to the idea of the death of the traditional record label model, a very wide spread of labels exists around the country in a number of genres, each facilitating and creating the bottom line for the development of their genre/community. Among the other labels listed alone for this event include: Little Gem (Dublin), Touch Sensitive (Belfast), Deserted Village (Galway), Lunar Disko (Dublin), Distro-y (Sligo), Box Emissions (Cork), Fort Evil Fruit (Cork), Sofia (Leitrim), Bluestack (Sligo), Rusted Rail (Galway), and Rudimentary (Belfast). Albert Twomey, founder of Penske Recordings and former hassler at Plugd Records, speaks on the process of outreach. “We contacted labels that we liked to start with & fleshed out the field as we figured everything out. There were some labels that were not interested/ available to attend & we may have missed out on others but this is all part of a learning curve I guess. Other labels/creatives have been in touch once they heard there was an opportunity to represent. There is still an opportunity for folks to get involved by contacting artforblind@gmail.com.”

Whelan’s is obviously an epicentre of music in Ireland and one that famously deals with a lot of bigger names coming through the doors – Twomey is quick to divulge if they have any hand in what went into the event at all, and what their involvement means to the enterprise. “Whelan’s were very open to getting involved from the start. It is great that we have access to the upstairs area from mid afternoon to the early hours. Not many venues would be able to facilitate a market & event for various reasons. Darren & Dave from Whelan’s have been incredibly helpful. It became evident that Dublin would be the best place to host the market/event but we do hope to replicate it in other Irish cities if everything runs smoothly & venues/labels are interested.”

As mentioned, the festival exists to shine a light on independent labels in the country in 2017, as well as highlight the challenges they face. As mentioned, Twomey runs Penske Recordings, home to The Jimmy Cake, Percolator, and Dan Walsh’s Fixity, and one imagines even with the weight of distributors Cargo behind him, that it’s still a tough game without a big PR presence. What challenges does an indie label like Penske face on the daily? “It can be a struggle, even with the support of an international distro like Cargo. They also take care of the Penske digital catalogue, and my sales rep there has been incredibly helpful. Plugd did lots of business with them, and I reckon they have the best reach and labels on their books: Constellation, Rocket Recordings, Hyperdub, etc. I guess the increasing cost of getting a record recorded, pressed & promoted are the principal challenges for Penske. Building up relationships with record store folks and distros is the easy part, even if I have the reputation of being a cranky-pants.”

As well as labels on the ground, there’ll also be zinemakers and booksellers, occupying an important space in-between slabs of wax at the fair. Rusted Rail Records man Keith “Keef” Wallace speaks of his delight at this area of DIY culture being considered specifically. “As someone who used to sweat over a hot photocopier making ‘zines at the turn of the century, I’m delighted to see the resurgence of ‘zine culture, a physical expression of something which could have been lost in the digital drowning pool. It’s all part of DIY culture, an alternative form of transmission, and that can only be a good thing to add to the conversation around underground musical culture.”

The challenges for record sales extend out to retail, also, a situation Twomey is only too familiar with via his stint with Plugd, an erstwhile hangout of musicians and creatives in Cork slated to reopen in the coming days in the city’s Roundy gig venue. The realities of peddling vinyl from this standpoint are no easier than getting records on the shelves to begin with. “Selling music can be a very challenging endeavour overall. In fact, Belfast is losing a really great store in Sick Records over the next few days. The cost of rent and rates in major cities has always been really prohibitive for small businesses. There is also lots of competition for the small pool of disposable income available to your target audience. Plugd is lucky to have a solid customer base & a very supportive arts/gig-going community. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty at the market, to be honest, as I’ve missed the buzz of selling records & engaging face-to-face with customers.”

The post-match gig happens in the venue at 8pm, and boasts a suitably strong line-up. Guest gives us the runthrough on who’s who and their relation to the day’s endeavours. “Well, firstly, Alien She are a three-piece experimental post-punk band from Dublin. Their debut LP, ‘Feeler’ will be out on Art For Blind in November. Gross Net is the weirdo noise solo outlet of Phil Quinn (Girls Names). It’s great to have Gross Net as Art For Blind released a Gross Net cassette a few years back, and his debut LP was released by Touch Sensitive who will be joining us at the market from Belfast. Finally Girlfriend is a fledgling Dublin based garage punk/emo band who we are really looking forward to catching live.”

Shrug Life: “There’s a Small Victory in Articulating Absurdity”

Observers of the mundane, be-moaners of the grind and fond custodians of lo-fi pop propulsion, Dublin trio Shrug Life have been doing the rounds for a few years now, and with 2014 E.P. The Grand Stretch long since committed to the review pages, the long-term project of putting down a full-length has finally come to fruition. Recorded in 2015-2016, the semi-eponymously titled album, sees the band address their mission statement in more detail, marrying a slow seethe at the state of play with some genuinely excellent power-pop. Vocalist/guitarist Danny Carroll provides the context for the band’s complaints regarding modernity.

“Shrug Life is the shared hobby of three man-children from Dublin, and collectively, we started stumbling into song in the summer of 2014. At this time, I was permanently lamenting my spirit-sapping career in the cancellation department of a TV & broadband provider. Keith (bass) was jumping from temp job to temp job and secretly hatching a plan to become a meme-worthy emoji translator, and Josh (drums) was committed to going on the session at every music festival in Ireland. He managed about nine that summer. Thankfully, we’ve been able to tolerate each other since then.”

The band is very obviously influenced by the Irish tradition of power-pop gems, including a love for the Undertones, as well as the lo-fi pop scene in Dublin. Lofi staple Fiachra McCarthy (So Cow, Dott, Squarehead), then, must surely have been the best possible hand at the production tiller. “Fiachra is a good man for reference points. His knowledge of music is encyclopaedic and his love for guitars unending. He’s also a big fan of using a mini-megaphone he bought for a tenner in Tiger, and open to the notion of using a 1watt Fender mini-deluxe for recording guitars. What more could we ask for?”

The band’s focus is heavily set on critiquing the current way of things for young(ish) people and the failings of Irish society, gleaned from their own experiences and the common experiences of our generation in (post-) austerity Ireland. How does one settle on a more, for lack of a better term, light-hearted approach to heavy topics? “There’s a Keith Richards quote I like: “rock n’ roll’s great weapon is humour”. In theory at least, it makes the message easier to listen to. There’s a small victory in articulating the absurdity of Irish society. In the bleak gags and self-deprecation, I’m trying to diminish the power these factors have over my life. Maybe in acknowledging its ridiculousness it becomes that little bit more tolerable.”

A highlight of the record is the joyfully riffy ‘Temp Job’, a koan to the shitty side-jobs that serve as distraction from our own callings and an Elastoplast over the shotgun wound of unemployment. It also showcases the band’s real strength – gentle observations of topics that, while not a tonne of bricks in the short-term, are just as crushing and grinding as the more immediate social concerns. Carroll outlines the creative process and considerations behind the commentary. “Every song tends to demands its own approach. Something consciously political and outwardly focused usually takes a bit more research and reading – it’s less instinctual because you’re trying to distil a bigger, social topic into the confines of a lyric. You start to ask questions of over-simplifying things and the perspectives sacrificed to fit this subject into a song. However, I think with any polticial/social commentary it’s about humanising the impact of the issue. How do macrodecisions affect myself or others on a micro level? “Personal ennui” can also take time to express, but it’s certainly a more navel-gazing process. Those songs have more to do with taking ownership of your own shitty situation or nagging conflicts.”

Pro-choice homily ‘Your Body’ seems more relevant than ever off the back of last week’s March4Choice. Carroll has no issue discussing the obstacles facing the Repeal campaign are now that Leo Varadkar has called for a referendum, including the attempts at tone-setting that official Ireland has already tried to get a start on before the formal date is announced. “If the marriage equality referendum is anything to go by, the next few months could be very difficult – anti-choice campaigning will inevitably rely on scaremongering and distortion of fact. Organisations such as ARC are excellent in helping people consider the facts and myths surrounding this issue. There’s an obvious obstacle in the fence-sitting taken of Varadkar and others, but the March For Choice last week chipped away at my pessimism. It’s funny, we were playing in Galway recently and I was accosted by a 50 something man who waited all gig to tell me my belief was wrong and he’d been about to buy our album but would no longer do so, because of our pro-choice stance. I politely informed him that I would rather express my belief than have his money. That night he messaged us on Facebook to re-iterate “any band that promotes the killing of unborn babies should have been aborted themselves”. Seems like a contradiction in terms there, but that’s just one microcosm of the idiocy we’re up against.”

Considering how irrelevant the idea of the seemingly unending “death” of rock’n’roll is, does even entertaining the argument for it in ‘Japanese Bonus Track’ kind-of validate the kind of tedious rhetoric that the aul’ lads that complain about guitar music being “dead” come out with in lieu of bothering looking for new tunes? Ah, but I love “the aul’ lads”. I’m complicit with and repulsed by the nostalgia surrounding “rock’n’roll”. I make music documentaries for RTE Radio 1, and the first significant one I made was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. I enjoy the notion that rock n’ roll is permanently dying, or now graduated to the stage of niche old man concern like jazz. The song is also a comment on the endless commodification of this once rebellious concept – be it bloated Beatles reissues for granddad or the overpriced summer festival for junior. All that said, you’re quite right, if you think it’s dead, you’re probably disconnected from what’s happening around you locally. Stop moaning, go to a gig!”

The band is working with Little L for the local release, a prodigiously active label for physical releases in Ireland at this stage, and Seattle-based Jigsaw Records is handling the album’s international release. Carroll outlines the plan from here. “Young Callum Browne is the impresario behind Little L Records. A good friend and guitar nerd. I suppose his contribution boils down to caring about what we do – going to gigs and encouraging the endeavour where most others are indifferent. He’s doing a few tape cassettes for anyone who owns a car made before 1995. And for anyone who owns a car made from ’96 onwards, there’s the compact discs of Seattle’s finest, Jigsaw Records. The latter came about at the suggestion of Tuam tunesmith Brian Kelly (So Cow/Half Forward Line). I asked him for advice when the album was complete and he suggested Jigsaw. Yet again, their optimistic assistance surpasses the embarrassed disinterest of the rest of the world. The plan is to muddle through as we always do… then world domination. Maybe beg Aiken or MCD for a support, get ignored by Hard Working Class Heroes, y’know, the usual.”

The Dublin launch of the record happens on the 20th at the Grand Social, with Limerick’s Slow Riot and local boys Handsome Eric supporting. Coming off Galway and Belfast launches, Carroll is happy to finally be playing the home leg of the album’s launch excursion. “It’s actually these scant few gigs that make the thing real and worthwhile to be honest. We’ve gotten to meet so many pleasant people from different parts of Ireland over the last couple of years, and it’s those connections that justify all the other slog. We’ve wanted to play with Slow Riot for a couple of years now. It was actually a mutual friend of ours, Brian Morrissey, who encouraged Josh (drums) and I to play together in the first place. Handsome Eric is the project of the enviably young, talented Steve O’Dowd and features the aforementioned Callum B on drums. His songs remind me of how I felt at age twenty, but had no capacity to articulate. Suffice to say, we’re hyped to have a party with our friends… you’re all invited.”

Le Galaxie: A Galaxie of Stars

Ahead of their upcoming appearance at City Hall, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Le Galaxie frontman Michael Pope about the band’s Cork connections, their last album, and wild saxophone takes.

One of the sleeper success stories of Irish independent music in the past two decades, synthpop outfit Le Galaxie emerged in the late 2000s from the cocoon of their previous incarnation as alt-rockers 66e. Immediately, they set about establishing the retro-futurist dream in which they reside and create: transplanting the tear-jerker power of action-flick end-credit schlock to a live environment. Second album Le Club released last year, charting at number eight in the Irish album charts in the process. Lead vocalist Michael Pope goes into how he feels about the record now. “It’s too long. It’s fourteen songs, we should have put eleven songs on it, that’s my overriding feeling listening to it. Goes on forever! (laughs) It had been so long since our first album, people had been waiting and they deserved to get everything we’d got, y’know? It could have been longer, which is the weird thing, we just decided to abandon a couple of ideas once we got to the finish line. We wanted to give people, not value for money, but, if you’re a Le Galaxie fan, you’re not used to a wealth of recorded output, so we decided to run at fourteen songs, three EPs’ worth, as we called it at the time. We should have kept some of the songs for nice little B-sides, or singles or something, y’know?”

Some tunes on the LP were new, and some of them were familiar for fans of the four-piece, but the overall process of assembling the album fell entirely on the band. “It was kind of a bit different than our record we have coming out later on in the year. Ideas were brought in by band members individually, rather than written together from scratch. It’s funny listening to it where you can the kind of song I brought to the band, the kind of song Dave brought to the band. You’d bring an idea, and it would be developed. The other thing about Le Club was, we’d played most of it live before it was announced. We thought the best way to have our songs ready would be to learn them, get out and play them, so people would know them.”

Corkman Brendan Canty helped put together the second video for leadoff single ‘Love System’, a few years removed from the original release of the anthemic song on 2012 extended-player Fade 2 Forever. Whose call was it to include a previously successful tune on the new album, and who okay’d those saxes at the end of the album version? “Those two are intrinsically linked. We had a friend over who played saxophone over it, and said we should have got him in to play over it (on the original). We were like, ‘Fade 2 Forever’ was a small release, it was on a small label, we felt it had some life left in it audience-wise. It wasn’t about throwing it on the album as we needed filler, it was about getting it to a wider audience. And it actually worked. A lot of people now know it from Le Club, and I love having it on there. It’s got a warmth that still really appeals to me and it’s got a place on that record.”

Was there an uptick in interest in the song from its recent outing for a Virgin Media ad campaign, placing the song amid awkward glances across a house party? “There was! We can play the first few bars, and people will go ‘holy s**t, that was you guys?’ when they hear it, if they’re strangers. It’s become a bit of a signature tune for us, which, I suppose some people resent. It’s a little sonic reminder of what the band is, we’re more than that, but if it gives people something to Google Le Galaxie for, that’s cool, y’know?”

Another Cork connection was vocals on ‘Tell Me Twice’ and ‘AM LA’ from Leeside neo-soul collective Shookrah’s vocalist Senita Appiakorang. Pope discusses getting into studio with a new element to their creative process and the collaboration that resulted. “The vocals we had on the album, where Elaine (Mai) was quite breathy and ambient, and then MayKay is like a truck running down a stairs, were missing that warmth, that bit of soul. We met Senita through Daithí, I think it was. She had a single with him. We brought her up, sent her the ideas and demos of the vocals. ‘Tell Me Twice’, the vocal was written by us and performed by her, but AM LA was very much a collaboration. She kicked ass with the vocal melody and ideas, so she got a co-writing credit on that song. She’s developed so quickly as an artist since then, ‘cause back then, she was kind of a fish out of water. We brought her up, put her up in a hotel, then she came in in the morning to five dudes standing around going ‘(awkward pause) …so! Let’s do this!’ But she was amazing, she nailed it. She had so many ideas, they were a nightmare to edit, they were all so good.”

The album was released in the UK and Ireland by Universal Music, a logical turn considering how radio-friendly some of Le Galaxie’s electrovistas are. It still seemed like a bold move, however, specifically considering the risk-aversion displayed by major labels when dealing with Irish artists. “They bought the album, finished, we made the album on our own back in L.A. We had a good recording setup and a good engineer, we had it all, everything. We came home and lived with it for a week. Pretty soon after, (Universal) heard it and were interested. We discussed what to do and how to promote it, it was very much a collaboration. They didn’t even tell us to shorten it (laughs).”

The band are playing the Great Irish Beer Festival this month, on the Friday, 25th of August, far from the band’s first experience Leeside. “I’ve only crowd surfed twice in my career and the second time was in Cyprus Avenue. Wild night. Lads with tops off, entire crowd singing along to every song, even the ones that have no words, and myself surfing above them like a twig on the shoulders of a mighty stream. In the top five of our gigs ever.”

After the current festival season, which also took in an appearance at their spiritual summer home of Castlepalooza festival, the band have it all ahead of them again. Third long-player Pleasure is in the can, ready for the touring grind, and due to be released again via Universal. “It’s a ten-track dance record, our first working with a producer. We first came across Blende when he remixed our track ‘Humanise’ in 2015. It was so good we actually kind of wished it had been the original! So when time came to make the leap to work with a producer, it kind of just made sense to bring him over and see what he could offer. Turns out he could offer an ear and skillset we really loved and a direction for the tracks that was vibrant and exciting. And over the four sessions with him we got loved the songs more and more.”

Tickets for Le Galaxie’s appearance at the Great Irish Beer Festival at Cork City Hall on August 25th are on sale via ticketmaster.ie and the kiosk in Merchant’s Quay. The Band Anna play support.

Gavin James: No Bitter Pill

On the eve of his return to Cork after the biggest year of his career so far, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Marquee-bound singer-songwriter Gavin James.

Gavin James cuts an excitable figure as your writer greets him at his room in the Clayton Hotel on the quays, ahead of his date at the Marquee. Part nervous energy, part enthusiasm, James’ manner and talkative nature comes across as a man keeping things in the moment and downplaying the hype around him. He might as well: this time last year, the Marquee was the biggest crowd he’d ever played, this year, it’s just one stop on a tour of major venues around the country before pressing more flesh around Europe. Stopping to take stuff in is only a perk of the job. “Yeah, definitely the first one. I was bricking it, obviously, as it was the biggest, and five thousand was the biggest I’d ever done as a headliner, but I went onstage, and I was thinking about it two minutes before I was playing. I was looking at the crowd, they were like “yeah!” and screaming. You’ve all those little moments, the 3Arena was the same. You can’t really say anything to the crowd, you’re just looking at them. It’s mad. Sometimes you have stand up there and go “ah, this is pretty cool””.

Of course, James has done his time around the world, toured the US with pop superstar Sam Smith, and is now about to head out to Europe on his first extensive headline excursion. James is in good spirits about the slog that awaits. “We’re starting in Berlin. I haven’t done much in Germany before, so it’ll be a learning curve, ‘cause I’ve only ever done one tour of Germany before, and my German’s pretty s**t (laughs). The likes of Holland I can’t wait for, ‘cause we’ve done so many gigs there, just did (major Dutch festival) Pinkpop, and same with Belgium, and it’s really nice to go back to those places.” Pinkpop is a firm favourite of James’. “‘Maaaaazing. Mental. I remember watching on TV years ago, like Counting Crows and everybody playing it. I was going on at, like, 2.50 in the afternoon on the main stage. I was like “who’s gonna come?” But I walked out, and it was one of those things where you play the first song and everyone runs down. I looked down for a few seconds, and I looked up, and the whole field was full, like 80,000ish people, I was freaking out.”

While away in the U.S., James also did the chat show circuit, included The Late Late Show with James Corden. Explaining the process and how it differs from a standard live appearance, James starts off with aspects like performing to camera. “I tried that. I’m shite at that (laughs). The stage plan is always kinda nice. James Corden was lovely ‘cause he was so chill. Sometimes they only give you a certain amount of time, sometimes they’ll give you two and a half minutes to finish a song. You have a four-minute song, so you have to cut it and learn it again. It’s strange. Sometimes in Europe, I just say I’ll do it and go out and play. Most of the time they run the credits over your face. Which I’m fine with! But it’s strange in that you’re not giving your full 100%.”

Gavin James is currently signed with Capitol in the United States, and Sony Music in Europe, having previously operated independently. What are the differences between self-releasing material and being signed to a big label, and what are the challenges, creatively, of working within their framework/business model? “It’s different. The likes of Capitol will put everything into it. Even the video and such, it’s a really full-on approach, if they really believe in something, they’ll throw everything at it, to every radio station, and they’ll go at it. There’s a difference there, with grinding away. I’m used to grinding away, from pub gigs, to doing Whelan’s and selling 20 tickets, to doing Whelan’s again and doing 200 tickets, and eventually selling out, and then the same thing in Cork, with Cyprus Avenue. Whereas with Capitol it was a different scene for me, they were interested in getting me on a Sam Smith tour (chuckles), and it was really quick, you’re doing all of this really quick.”

As a relative new arrival in a major-label stable in 2017, James is in that weird spot also, where he is on a major label, but pushed with the new business model, somewhere between kids streaming on mobile, vinyl-revival hype and CD-buying mammies. James holds court on the matter. “Spotify is the main thing now, isn’t it? Spotify is huge. It’s the one thing that’s brought me to so many different audiences. I was worried, I was thinking would be like YouTube, y’know, where you’d have millions of hits and nobody comes to your gigs. Stuff like that has happened to so many people. Spotify, surprising, really brought people to gigs, with the likes of remixes and stuff, all the playlists, with like a hundred million plays or something, that brought people to the album, brought people to the shows. It brought a bit of spark to it in America, where it really wasn’t there. CD? It’s funny, in America, there was a girl (at one of the gigs), sixteen, maybe seventeen, and she asked ‘have you not got any of those vinyls, you only have the old CDs?’ (laughs)”

Cork has played a big part in James’ rise as an artist, with a local following reflective of his story elsewhere: small crowds over time turned into sellouts at Cyprus Avenue, as he developed a rapport with the venue and a loyal following before taking a giant leap for Live at the Marquee. James picks out a few of his highlights from trips to Leeside: “The Crane Lane Theatre. I’ve been there a lot. Tried swing dancing at the classes there, I was terrible at it. The band there was amazing, though. Jack O’Rourke is savage. I’ve seen him on telly, doing that song, Silence. He’s very Tom Waits.”

Friday July 7th sees James return to the Marquee after last year’s sellout show. In the time intervening, of course, much has happened, and James recounts memories of the day, and what’s changed this time around heading into it. “Anything back home here is always a bit nerve-wracking. That show I was brickin’ it, ‘cause it looks a lot bigger inside than it does outside. You go in and it’s like, “f**k it, that’s big”, the biggest one I had done was the Olympia. To go from that to the Marquee… the bleachers make it look massive. People are gonna be sitting up there at the top, and you hope you’re gonna be able to play for them a little bit. All I remember is doing the soundcheck, feeling great, feeling great, feeling great, then two hours before: f**k. Just got really bad nerves, usually I get bad nerves twenty minutes before, get tired, I need to wake myself up a little bit before the adrenaline kicks in. I learned loads. A learning curve to talk to that many people. You can talk to people in the Olympia, but you can only get away with so much there, same with festivals. I tried bantering and got laughter from maybe the first three rows, so the shorter the better, the easier to understand.”

With a hectic year behind him since, and another big tour on the way, James has more to look forward to once the summer festivals cool down, with a follow-up record to debut album Bitter Pill to finish. “Back to the States. I’m writing the album, finishing the album now, the second album. I’ll take the month off in September, just feck off somewhere, and start recording. It’s gonna be very stripped back. I wanted to strip it back so you can hear everything, and do it live. ‘Cause you listen to a Van Morrison record, you can hear everything. All the notes you’re f**king up in, they’re nice, ‘cause it’s human to f**k up. It’s cool to have that on records. I want to make it how it’s not… too many things.”

Gavin James plays Live at the Marquee on Friday July 7th. Doors are at 8pm, tickets available via usual outlets.