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)!”

Hope is Noise: Driven By Demons

Hope is Noise have been a constant in Cork alternative for the better part of the past two decades. Espousing a raw post-hardcore invested with a sense of melody drawn from wider influences, the band could be forgiven for settling into a groove. Instead, the band have chosen to confront middle age with fourth album ‘Demons’, which singer/guitarist Daniel Breen says from internal and interpersonal struggles.

“I think the main theme behind ‘Demons’ is friendship, and the highs and lows that come along with it. I believe that a breakdown in any close/long-term friendship can affect you worse than it would if you’d had a fight with a sibling or family member. There are things and experiences that you share with your friends that you may never do with your family. You choose someone to be your friend and when that friendship falls apart there are feelings of guilt, remorse, anger and in some cases, relief. This is where the title comes from, the ‘demons’ of failing friendships. However the opposite to this trend is the friendship of the four band members of Hope is Noise which we explore in the songs ‘Bitter End’ and ‘Gnarlsburg’. We have been playing in bands together for nearly 20 years and we have stayed close throughout this time. This band will keep going as long as the four of us continue to enjoy hanging out, writing songs and playing gigs together.”

A labour of love in the face of continuing change, the band decided to further emphasise the personal nature of the project by producing it on their own, a process Breen insists on the importance of. “We started writing this album late 2013/early 2014 and slowly worked away on it. We started recording in 2015 and would have loved to have had it done sooner but due to family and work commitments…time was always against us. Thankfully its done now and we can relax a little before getting the next record done. It was all jammed, recorded and mixed at Wood Street Studios on Washington Street. I think the biggest difference was the fact that we produced it ourselves. In the past we have worked with Ciaran O’Shea and Noel Lynch to produce our albums but this time around we really wanted to do it ourselves. There is something quite liberating about self-producing as we had the freedom to create the songs/sounds we wanted rather than how someone else thinks we should sound like. Thankfully we had the great Lawrence White (of Wood Street Studios) engineering the record for us. He also acted as a great sounding board so we could bounce ideas off him. He was very important to this record as his patience, humour and skill proved invaluable to getting the record done.”

The band has been together for the bones of eighteen years under different names, with much the same line-up. How did Arcane and the Terranauts survive to become Hope is Noise, what’s the secret? “Very simple. We are friends. We hang out outside of the band so even if we were not in the band, we would still be friends. All the tensions brought about by being in a band don’t really get to us as we know each other so well. In our twenty years playing together, I can only remember one minor argument which happened about twelve, thirteen years ago. Thankfully, we are all on the same page when it comes to the band. Probably more importantly, we have never stopped writing and as long as this is the case, Hope is Noise will keep going.”

Lodgefest II, happening on October 8th at the Pine Lodge in Myrtleville, is in part a celebration of of that longevity, but also features the return of Kerry post-rockers Ten Past Seven, an appearance from hardcore four-piece Horse, and the debut of new outfit Onkalo. Breen outlines what can be expected for those unfamiliar. “A great night of music, pints and an all round great laugh. I expect all the bands will bring their unique styles and together we can keep the energy high throughout the night. If it is anything like the last Lodgefest in 2012, it will be a memorable night. We really can’t wait.” The last Lodgefest was a similar celebratory affair, reflecting on the Leeside scene of the time. “It was a very hot day/evening in June and I just remember the room becoming a sweatbox… Lamp, Terror Pop and Terriers were all amazing and we weren’t too bad either. There’s a great photo out there in internetland that shows 99% of the crowd topless and dancing which to us is always a sign of a great night.”

Never ones to stay stationary or rest on their laurels, however, Hope is Noise have an eye on the future already. “We’re already planning our next record with at least 3 new songs written. We have a new documentary coming out soon called ‘Let’s Start a Band’ – which we have been working with the ever-hard working Ger and Jim from Gobstar Film. We are looking at releasing it later this year. Gobstar have been amazing and have worked really hard to try and create an interesting film on nearly 20 years of the band’s history and our waffling interviews (laughs). We also have a few gigs around the country in November. Next year also marks the 10th anniversary of our first album, ‘Applaud Friends…The Comedy is Over’ so I think we’ll do a special gig to mark that…maybe play the album in its entirety. So there are a few things in the pipeline, and hopefully we will keep releasing new material and gigging as long as long as we can.”