Bitch Falcon: “We Lashed It Out”

With international touring and national media attention under their belt, Dublin-based alt-rock three-piece Bitch Falcon are ready for Indiependence Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan chats with the band about their year so far.

Almost a generation removed from the original grunge and alt-rock explosion of the early nineteen-nineties, it’d be very easy to be cynical about the return of those filthy tones and wider DIY/hardcore influences to Irish music. Indeed, listening to certain major-label entrants to the genre in recent years, one would almost think that these outfits were being courted solely to fill a publishing gap. Enter Bitch Falcon, a three-piece that came together to pay homage to frontwoman Lizzie Fitzpatrick’s riot-grrrl inspirations with gut and gumption, immediately cutting a swathe for themselves through Irish music, with early singles setting the tone for a more hard-rock inflected direction in the past two years, influenced by line-up changes and seemingly endless gigging, including most, if not all, of the rapidly-growing Irish summer festival circuit. These changes have been most readily apparent in recent single ‘Of Heart’, a mid-tempo, grinding rocker delivered with a snarl and buried under a tonne of distortion.

But after putting the effort in on the foundations for growth, the real work begins in earnest, with recording on the band’s first full-length finally underway. Drummer Nigel Kenny digs into the production process so far, a far more involved endeavour this time around than on previous single-oriented sessions. “We completed a lot more pre-production, and brought in Stephen Caffrey from Sun Studios to record and work on demos, so we could get a better idea of how we wanted things to sound before we committed it to “tape”. Once we’d recorded those and figured out what we wanted to do, we brought in (producer) James Darkin to have a listen as we played them in the room. He made some great suggestions in the arrangements which we tweaked and then booked four days over a Bank Holiday in Herbert Place to lash out six tracks. A lot of the work was done before this, due to better planning but then as we started to track, more ideas started to come in and these got thrown in the pot. There was no real large outcome decided for these songs, we had to record two singles and when you put a kit in a room, you might as well get as much down as you can, to get as much value out of the session as possible, so we said we’d record everything that was finished. It was when we heard those six tracks, together with some James Darkin magic over them, that we all looked at each other and said, “this is half of a really good album”. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

This past March, the band’s tireless grind in the live sphere paid massive dividends, as they signed to international tour bookers UTA’s roster for UK and international bookings, sitting alongside such names as Biffy Clyro and Muse. With festivals and touring ahead of them for the foreseeable future, Kenny discusses how the deal has changed things for the three-piece. “A very unexpected happening if i’m honest. A good agent was always on our list, to help us get playing in as many places as possible, but we didn’t expect to get someone of Sean Goulding’s level on our first try. He is booking some of the biggest acts in the world right now, so it was a bit of validation that I think our self-confidence as a band might have needed. We’ve been around for a while, we’ve dedicated everything to it. and when perhaps things haven’t moved as quickly as anyone would like, it can start to niggle away at you. Getting on the UTA roster was a little pat on the back, and a confirmation that they think a lot of people will want to see us play live.” Vocalist/guitarist Lizzie Fitzpatrick is quick to note the major festivals for which the band has been confirmed under the deal. “We have a few dates booked already out of Ireland, namely Welcome to the Village festival in the Netherlands, and 2000 Trees in the UK which is really exciting. Hopefully we’ll be touring as much as possible in the next year, to start capturing an audience outside of Ireland.”

Saint Patrick’s Day saw the band head to London for Music from Ireland’s festivities, as part of a joint effort from Culture Ireland and First Music Contact to ready Irish musicians for UK touring and exposure. A rare acoustic session was followed by a full-band performance in a market of all places. “It was loads of fun. FMC put on a few things outside of Ireland, along with their conference showcases, so getting a gig over in London around then is good, great to catch passers by in the markets. It was baltic, though, my fingers have not forgiven them!”, says Fitzpatrick. Adds bassist and Corkman Barry O’Sullivan: “The first one was an acoustic gig in a cafe, which was great craic. I ended up setting up and sitting in a chair next to two customers in a tiny corner. I’m not sure if they loved it, or if I ruined their day.”

The band played It Takes a Village festival this past April, joining a line-up of predominantly Irish artists in the East Cork holiday village of Trabolgan. The nostalgia factor for the local audience was considerable, but the appeal of a big weekend of tunes in a childhood landmark wasn’t lost on Fitzpatrick, either. “Yeah, I think that festival has such a great potential to be one of the best getaways in Ireland. It’s mad being at a little resort filled with adults being on the piss, similar to being in the Gaeltacht or something, only with no bean-an-tí after you for smoking a spliff out the back” This was followed by a clutch of UK dates in May, in support of hardcore outfit Black Peaks, currently experiencing something of a moment amid a wider audience, which has helped Bitch Falcon find their feet across the water. “Really great band and sound lads. The crowds were really receptive, and it’s the reason why touring with an established band in an unknown territory is so valuable for audience capture. Also being on tour is so much fun, meeting new bands, getting an idea of the scene in different areas, and pulling yourself out of your own comfort zone in Ireland.”

The band’s most recent misadventure saw them play with nineties indie lads An Emotional Fish on the Late Late Show, ahead of nostalgiafest Féile Classical, happening this summer in Semple Stadium. Kenny gives us the rundown on stepping out on the country’s light-entertainment showcase. “(laughs) It was gas. I think my mother texted every neighbour and relation in the world. It’s amazing what going on the Late Late does to a mammy! The whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind. I was getting off a bus in Wicklow to go to my niece’s confirmation party when I got the call asking if we’d back up An Emotional Fish. We hadn’t any time to rehearse, and just had to wing it on the day. Unfortunately Barry had to drive to Cork to go home to vote, so he wasn’t there, but myself and Lizzie had a great day hanging out with Jerry, Dave and Foxy in the sunny environs of Donnybrook. Rehearsals were really well-organised and straightforward. We got three runs on the songs, it felt good, and then we just went off lol’ing around the place. We got a tour of the Fair City set, and interrupted filming with some obscene conversations while trying to find a pint somewhere. Then we lashed it out, got to hang out with Barry Murphy and Ryan Tubridy of course, who is a gent, and stayed suckin’ down that free booze til about 2am.”

Amid all of this chaos, and the sight of milestones blowing past the band, they’re coming back to Cork to play Indiependence festival this August, nestled alongside other quality Irish artists as North Shore math-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar and Dublin doomsayer Kojaque. Fitzpatrick is enthusiastic. “We played Indiependence two years ago, and it was great, nice big crowd in a tent, hopefully we’ll blow the top off this year!” Adds Kenny: “Really looking forward to it. We played it a couple years ago, and were genuinely surprised at the reaction we got. It’ll also be a chance to catch up with some of our mates who are playing down there that we don’t get to see that often.” It’s seemingly prelude to an even more insane schedule over the coming months, as Kenny tells us more music, and the band’s debut album, lies over the horizon. “We’ve just announced support to a one-off The Frames show in September, there will be a tour around October, another release and then we’ll keep writing and recording that album!”

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.

This Place is Death: Death Becomes Them

Ahead of the beginning of a run of singles for UK indie-label SoundHub, Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with Eoin Leahy, drummer from This Place is Death, about the band’s past, their creative process, and their recent recording excursion.

It’s been a little over five years since This Place is Death started gigging around Cork, quietly but steadfastly appearing on bills all over the city and plying a craft equally rooted in throwback alt-rock and psychedelic rock’s poppier inclinations. Eoin tells of how the band as it is today came together. “In 2007, we got together to play in Frank’s side-project Suburban Circus. Due to other commitments, it didn’t work. In 2011, the three of us found ourselves looking for a new band to form, we got together, had a few practices, wrote a handful of songs, and This Place Is Death was formed. In 2013, we recorded and released our first E.P., Low Light, and did gigs & promotion for over two years.”

Like any band, there’s likely a diverse range of influences from person to person, and TPID are notably the sum of the aforementioned. Bringing them to the table to create something new is a little more intuitive than it sounds. “Our influences range from Nirvana, to Depeche Mode, to Nine Inch Nails, to The Jesus Lizard. It’s a big mix of all different genres. Writing a song happens very naturally, sometimes songs will come just from playing together in jamming, most of the time it starts off with Frank and myself, then when there’s a structure and flow, Barry comes in, and a song is created.”

The band’s graft began to pay dividends late last year, when UK-based indie label SoundHub found the trio after a call for talent brought the band to their attention. “It all happened through Twitter, where the guys in Soundhub messaged us asking to put songs in for submission. We put in Low Light, the guys got back to us through email, liked our songs, and invited us over to play a showcase. From that we were offered a deal that we currently have. In January of this year, we went to SoundHub studios in Belper, UK and recorded three songs, which were then sent to Metropolis Studios in London to get mastered. Tom and Barrington from SoundHub were amazing to work with, very relaxed, creative environment, they treated us like family and we learned so much from our experience. It was amazing.

This month, the band’s first new material in two years releases, with single ‘Caught Inside’ releasing through their new label. What’s SoundHub’s plan for it? “Caught Inside will get released in 120 countries around the world. The label’s plan is for the song to get as much exposure as it can get. Caught Inside will be distributed through (renowned distro company) The Orchard. If all goes well, the plan is to release the other two singles, Sympathy and Crash.”

To accompany the release, a pair of launch shows on the 19th and 20th of August are in the offing, with the band serving up consecutive sets at metal mainstay Fred Zeppelin’s and the Mardyke complex’s basement venue, UrbanJungle respectively. “The first one is our own, headline, launch show. We’ve got The Magnapinna playing support, a new band which consists of ex-members of (Leeside sludge-metallers) Five Will Die. Show two, we’re playing UrbanJungle, and will be hosted by Pethrophile Promotions. These guys always put on excellent gigs, guaranteed to be a rockin’ night. Our single and video drop on that day.”

The question being asked of any grunge-related outfit near Cork at the moment is that of the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s sole Leeside appearance on the 20th. How have that band left an imprint on the trio as players and as individuals? “Without Nirvana, we wouldn’t be a band, or playing music full stop. These guys opened the door for people everywhere, their music is timeless, and with each generation people find Nirvana, and the cycle goes on. They made it possible that you can form a band, and actually get somewhere with that genre of raw, passionate music.”

With singles ahead, what else is next for the three-piece? “The single is dropping August 20th, with the video too, it’s a little throwback to 80s slasher flicks, shot by the lovely guys at Deep Red Productions. Keep an eye out for that. After that, we will release Sympathy, and early next year, Crash. We’re very excited for people to hear these songs, the production and mastering are something else. And please support the music, local bands deserve every bit of support.”

This Place is Death release Caught Inside on August 20th, with the launch show on the 19th at Fred Zeppelin’s. Available for pre-order now on iTunes Music Store.