Hot Cops: “It’s Been Borne of Dissatisfaction”

Having put in the hard yards over the past few years on Northern Ireland’s ever-fervent DIY scene, Hot Cops are co-headlining a national tour, including a stop at the Roundy next month. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with vocalist/guitarist Carl Eccles.

There’s an immediacy to the music of Belfast trio Hot Cops that’s almost disarming upon further contemplation, really: taking in bits of the indie/alternative oeuvre and melding its poppier aspects to a distinctly Northern strain of smirk and sarcasm. It’s become something of a calling card for the band and their contemporaries, a small but dedicated scene of low-fidelity guitar pop, grappling equally with the current condition of existence, and the post-genre cultural mood. New single ‘Negative One’, the lead-off for an upcoming new body of material, sums this up nicely, a compact running time and pop song structure holding sweet-and-sour riffings together, both lyrical and musical.

Ahead of touring the new single and other new tunes around Ireland with compatriots Junk Drawer in tow, Hot Cops’ Carl Eccles is quick to outline the nature of his compositional economy, and the process that followed it. “‘Negative One’ was the first song I wrote after we had taken a break because of the disintegration of plans we’d made in 2017. I was sitting down to working on the demo for an older song idea, but the main riff for “Negative One” was the first thing I played when I picked up my guitar that day, so I thought I’d just record it quickly in case I forgot. Once I’d written the bassline, I flicked through the notes for lyric ideas I keep on my phone and strung together the ones I felt were most fitting with the tone. It took about an hour to write and record the demo after the conception of the riff, but half the lyrics had been written months before.”

When quizzed on how it’s been received live and among the usual Irish music people, Eccles boils down the process behind the song to its essentials, refusing to ‘pedestalise’ such ideas as wider approval. For Eccles, the feeling of performing it live is the end result in itself. “Most of my writing is coming up with fragments of ideas, documenting them and then just waiting and working on other things until I can find a way to bridge them together. We try not to get too bogged down on the reactions of others, the most important thing is if we’re happy with it, but it’s always nice to get some kind words, and we’re open to constructive criticism. It’s been a highlight in the sets of our last few shows, there’s a real bounce to the track and the audiences have latched on to it.”

This single, and other previous releases, was recorded by Chris Ryan of Robocobra Quartet, an exceptional fusion of hardcore punk, jazz and spoken-word statements, of which two of Hot Cops are members. He’s an interesting dude on multiple levels, from your writer’s experiences in interviewing and reviewing their work, but it’s surely an odd one to work together in studio with someone growing ever more used to horns and string sections? “Chris is a delight. He’s very creative and supportive in the studio and committed to making sure things sound how we want them to sound”, says Eccles. “He encourages any of the more experimental ideas we might have but will be fully honest when he thinks something isn’t working or is taking away from a song. Communication is the most important thing when recording with someone and he’s been very patient with us considering how insufferable we can be. Recording ‘Negative One’ was very straightforward. We did a few live takes of bass, drums and guitar and decided on the best one and overdubbed vocals afterwards as well an additional guitar.”

‘Negative One’ follows on from the compilation and release last year of ‘Speed Dating’, a collection of remastered singles from recent years. Each released on a DIY basis through various online platforms, they formed a contiguous body of work that benefited well from a lick of paint. “This task was pretty simple, as the tracks had been written and recorded around the same period of time. In our minds, they’ll always fit together.”

It seems to be a really good time for DIY rock ‘n’ roll in Ireland again, for many reasons. The amount of great bands that have been touring and gigging small venues around the country lately is testament to this, while it’s a good bet that the industry success of the likes of Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital wouldn’t have happened five years ago. From the lads’ vantage point, it’s an interesting time, to paraphrase the old curse. “I like how it’s been borne of dissatisfaction, and people’s passion for finding a way to do what they love. 90% of artists can’t just be artists, they have to be their own managers, bookers, PR, social media wizards, etc. It’s not ideal, and it’s something everyone struggles with, especially ourselves. But it’ll never stop being inspiring to me to see people put in all the hard work, purely because it’s something they believe in and want to do. Good examples of this are the DIY LK collective in Limerick, who’ve rejuvenated their alternative music scene, and the Pizza Pizza Records gang in Dundalk, an entirely independent label putting out records and putting on shows for acts they love.”

By the same token, Belfast has always been ticking over with great DIY music of all stripes and sorts. Eccles collects his thoughts on the upsides and challenges of being part of that scene. “The upsides are that you’re in great company and there’s such a wide variety of music being made that there’s something for everyone. The people are friendly and there’s always familiar faces at all kinds of shows. The hardest parts are starting out because at first it can seem quite insular and afterwards it’s difficult to successfully expand beyond your own scene just because you’ve grown accustomed to it, playing somewhere new can feel like starting over again.”

Hot Cops are playing The Roundy on April 5th for Alliance Promotions, as part of a few nights of touring alongside Junk Drawer. Gordy and Arlene’s house of DIY wonders has been continuously putting on great gigs for the past few years around the city, taking chances on venues and shoring up the local scene, and on this scene, they’re giving over the floor to new outfit Culture Night to open the show, a side-project of local DIY stalwarts referring to themselves as Cork’s answer to Guided By Voices. It’s a hell of a fray for relative newbies to be thrown into. “We’ve never been to Cork, but we’ve been hearing good things about the Roundy. It’s likely to be a little daunting, but we’ve played with Junk Drawer loads of times, so there’s some reassurance.”

Hot Cops, Junk Drawer and Culture Night play The Roundy on April 5th, an Alliance Promotions presentation. Tickets €10, available on the door.

Bouts: “Nothing Worse Than Seeing a Band Phone It In”

A new album and a UK/Irish tour have been a long time coming for indie-pop four-piece Bouts, who return to the road this month after a five-year absence, including a stop at The Roundy. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken and bassist/vocalist Niall Jackson.

Half a decade can be an eternity in the realms of Irish independent music. For Dublin indie-pop outfit Bouts, scattered across the world by circumstance and work, it’s been made an even longer wait by the exponential pace of change in music consumption in recent years. With the exception of intermittent singles and remixes, the band’s last studio excursion was 2013 long-player ‘Nothing Good Gets Away’, a collection of noise-inflected pop that endeared them quickly to a cross-section of music aficionados. When sitting down to talk about the process of writing its follow-up, ‘Flow’, guitarist/vocalist Barry Bracken conveys the extent of effort that’s gone into keep the band’s home-fires burning ahead of its release next month via their own Wonky Karousel label. “It’s always immensely enjoyable to record an album. Our process was relatively straightforward, just a little drawn out. First sessions were in late 2016. We grabbed time together when we could over different weekends between then and now, in Ireland and the UK, further rehearsing and refining ideas. Not taking too long to let them become over-thought. That’s the single biggest difference between this album and the last. With minimal band contact, maximum focus was required. The songs were written in a kind of pressure-cooker atmosphere. and it definitely added to their immediacy. They’re as finished as they could be, and a decent representation of where we’re at. Although you usually end up outgrowing them quicker than an audience, due to the turn-around to get tracks from ideas to an actual record.”

The post-production and mixing process for ‘Flow’ featured the re-appearance of a few familiar heads from Bouts’ prior sessions – veteran Irish producer Fiachra McCarthy helped with the album’s direction, and the team of Jesse Gander on mixing duties and former Fugazi collaborator TJ Lipple on mastering, returned from the band’s last record. Bassist Niall Jackson recounts the ‘Flow’ sessions and the process of working together to get the record over the line. “Fiachra is basically one of us, same tastes, values and geekiness when it comes to guitar tones and giving things a lash. We could not recommend him more. I’m sure he won’t thank us for mentioning it, but most days our eight-hour sessions turned in to twelve-hour ones, and it was usually him going ‘G’wan, give this weird Fender Jag-Stang a go’ at the end of a day (laughs). It was our first time working with him, whereas with Jesse and TJ, we’ve never worked with anyone else for mixing and mastering since our debut album in 2013. They do a perfect job every single time, and are very reasonable to work with when it comes to revisions or advice.”

Wonky Karousel is a DIY record label via which the band has worked over the years on the band’s physical self-releases and various side-projects. This time, there’ll be a very small 12” vinyl run of ‘Flow’, as the record goes mostly to streaming services, the biggest change in music distribution over the last five years. Jackson discusses the band’s approach to the short-run release. “Basically, we still have a hundred copies of the first record underneath our beds, so this time we thought ‘well, let’s make it difficult, the other way around’. It means we’re paying more per unit, but at least it puts the impetus on the listener. Do you want to listen to a s**t stream, and have no physical relationship with the music produced, or do you want a great-sounding record and become lifelong friends with us in the process (laughs)? Ah no, we really don’t care how people consume it, the vinyl is there for the people that really want it, or want to help us make more music, the stream/digital version is gonna be more than enough for most these days. The most rewarding thing is people wanting to listen at all.”

Going back on UK and Irish tour to support the record, the question naturally emerges of trepidation or nerves about going back out there ‘as’ Bouts. After everything that the band has been through to get to this point, Jackson insists that it’s simply a matter of getting back on the horse. “We’re doing this as best mates, playing songs we love and wrote ourselves, whether five people turn up, or we pack the places out, and we’re going to give the exact same amount of energy. Nothing worse than seeing a band phone it in.” Likewise, getting back into the swing of doing press and getting radio play, after doing well with specialist shows at the BBC and RTÉ in the past might present challenges, but it’s being taken as par for the course. “Yeah, ‘same s**t, different day’, really. You would like to think people invested in music from Ireland are aware of who we are, and if not, that they might listen and think ‘well, this is good enough to play’. But again, it is pointless worrying about that stuff.”

Friday February 1st sees the band play the Roundy on Castle Street, alongside indie/psych outfit Any Joy and a solo show from the effortlessly prolific Laurie Shaw, in a fantastic piece of booking considering the DIY aesthetic shared by all involved. Jackson collects his thoughts heading into the gig, and expounds on sharing a billing with Shaw in particular. “Ah well, people like Laurie are the reason to get back out there. He really puts a cat, or seventy-five cats, among the pigeons, what with his furious album production rate. As for Any Joy, we’ve yet to have the joy of seeing them, so it’s a win-win situation. We’ve also being dying to see and play The Roundy. At the end of the day we’re all live music fans, and your opening acts should be bands you would pay, or go to see, even if you weren’t on the billing at all, never mind headlining it. Cork has traditionally been very good to us, too, people tend to show up.”

Bouts play upstairs at the Roundy on Friday February 1st, with support from Any Joy and Laurie Shaw. €7 at the door, kickoff at 9pm.

All the Luck in the World: “We Wanted to Take a More DIY Approach”

Germany-based folk-pop trio All the Luck in the World have travelled all over the continent and racked up hundreds of thousands plays online, and this month sees them finally ready to come home. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with frontman Neil Foot.

Perhaps the inevitable result of a set of circumstances that saw Ireland declare its young people expendable in the face of economic difficulty, a young diaspora of Irish emigrés scattered across the world over the course of the bad years, taking with them their art and ingenue. Stories are filtering back of the musicians and visual artists that settled elsewhere and took authorship of their roots, as well as their body of work, subverting the ‘wild geese’ narrative that romanticises such displacement routinely. Though formed in County Wicklow, where the band’s self-titled debut was recorded, folk trio All the Luck in the World in the end turned to Berlin for a headquarters from which they could realistically plan tours, and be at a continental centre of creativity.

This relocation has led the band to cut its teeth on touring European venues and festivals rather than building a bottom line at home, but also informed the band’s approach to creativity, keeping busy enough in the interim with live activity to approach second album ‘A Blind Arcade’ the way they wanted, says band founder Neil Foot. “Yeah, we’re really pleased with how the record turned out. The writing and recording of our first album was quite rushed and we were determined to take our time with this one, so there was no real chance of us being unsatisfied with it. In the end we probably spent a little bit too much time sitting with it, but we’re just happy to have it out in the world now.

Recorded between the band’s own ‘Haven’ studio in Wicklow and the Golden Retriever facility in Berlin, the band’s more relaxed approach this time around has resulted in a fine example of accessible folk, with textures alternating from brittle string-plucking and baskmasked chords to sweeps of strings. That cavalier mentality of self-direction prevailed, says Foot. “The creative process usually involved the three of us sitting around, showing each other musical and lyrical concepts, and then developing them together. There was no overarching theme to the record, we just wanted to create a collection of short stories that felt like they belonged together.  A good portion of the record was produced at home, we wanted to take a more DIY approach from the outset. When we were happy that we’d taken the songs to certain level, we brought our recordings to the studio in Berlin, where we worked with our producer Paul Pilot, and then back home to add some finishing touches.”

Since the album’s release in February of this year, some three years after work began on it, the band is happy with how things have been proceeding, with positive reviews and growing crowds at their shows. Sharing in that goodwill has been a big part of how the band has managed the slow trickle of success that’s been coming their way. “We’ve been fairly pleased with the reception online and at the shows so far. We’re always hoping to reach a larger audience of course, and that’s not always easy. But it’s great to go on tour and really feel the reaction to the music, and to meet the people who have been listening.”

Being based in Berlin, as touched upon earlier, creates a different angle on the perception and question of creating within the Irish space, at once being able to say they took a go at wider success, while perhaps not benefiting from the tight-knit structure of community that supports Ireland’s DIY music scene. What’s that like as a cultural, diaspora and business experience? “Of course we are Irish artists, but we don’t have a very strong support network here in Ireland, and we’re still relatively unknown, I think. We’re based in Germany, as is our management, distribution, and previous labels we’ve worked with. Most of our touring so far has been in central Europe, this is our first ever Irish tour actually. But yeah, looking forward we’re hoping to make more of an impact (at home)!”

Said excursion happens over the course of next week as part of a wider swing of UK/Irish dates, including a stop Friday week at the Roundy on Castle Street for a show promoted by The Good Room. Foot collects his thoughts on the upcoming dates, and coming to the Leeside city. “Yeah, we’re really looking forward to all of the Irish shows we have coming up, and it’ll be our first time playing in Cork city. There’s a pretty unique energy to Irish crowds, and that’s always exciting. We played Indiependence a few years back, and the crowd were fantastic, so we know there’s a great buzz for music in the county.”

With their second album in the can and another major notch on their touring belt complete after this run of dates, the question of what’s next is quite straightforward for All the Luck in the World. “After these gigs, we’ll take a few weeks off over Christmas. Then we’ll hopefully get straight into writing lots of new material at the start of the new year. We want to share a lot more new music with people in 2019.”

Marsicans: “We’re Always Going Down the Rabbit Hole”

From DIY stragglers to BBC radio playlisting, indie four-piece Marsicans have had a fairytale eighteen months. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with members James Newbigging and Rob Brander ahead of their gig at Cyprus Avenue next month.

Sometimes a good story is made interesting because a certain trope is subverted, or at the least, flipped convicingly. In a time when artists going it alone and wearing the multiple caps of a DIY musician, it’s increasingly interesting to see a band sign to an independent label and obtain success by any measure. In the case of Marsicans, the process of gigging, recording and generally slugging it out has accelerated exponentially since signing with indie label LAB in 2017. What began as just a means of getting the band’s new music out has landed the band at festivals, in high-profile touring, and in a most unlikely occurrence, providing the theme song to Channel 4 reality confection ‘Made in Chelsea’. For frontman James Newbigging, it’s been a lot to take in. “It’s been full-on, but in the best kind of way. Working with LAB has helped us keep doing what we were doing, but on a bigger scale, and more frequently. Each release has been gaining more momentum, and we have been lucky enough to have BBC Radio 1 and Spotify supporting us along the way.”

The band’s arguable breakout single, ‘Wake Up Freya’ released earlier this year, and aside from online success, is the anchor track for an EP of LAB Records singles of the same name. Newbigging discusses how he feels about how they’ve fared creatively in the past while, in terms of writing and production. “I’m very happy with what we’ve released so far, but there’s always ways to improve. I’m mostly happy that each song has its own kind of ‘place’, if that makes sense. When writing, we try not to stick to one exact formula. I think some bands find something that works and stick to it. That’s not to say they won’t do well, but we’re always calling each other out if we’re trying to get away with the same tricks song after song. Production-wise, we’re always going down the rabbit hole in the studio. That might not always end well, but we make sure we give everything a go.”

The band has hit a million streaming listens, also – while vinyl and merch is important to any indie band, Spotify has had an increasing impact on bottom line at management level. As mentioned earlier, Newbigging credits the emergence of the service and its accessibility for much of their newfound success. “I think it definitely makes your band more accessible to a wider audience. For example, we were sat in a restaurant in Ipswich the other week and our song ‘Too Good’ came on. They had put on a Spotify playlist that we’re featured on, and I don’t think those chance plays would happen without Spotify. There’s definitely a change overall with streaming, but you’ve got to roll with it, because ultimately you want your music to be in as many people’s cars/ radios/ ears as possible. Spotify and streaming make that a lot easier.”

Not to discount radio and the like – singles of theirs have made the aforementioned BBC daytime playlisting, placement on Channel 4, etc. with backup from the numbers that the band has reached via streaming. For bassist/vocalist Rob Branding, these are all signifiers of progress. “Those kind of things are, first and foremost, a great validation that you’re doing things right. It’s such an open-ended industry that it can sometimes be difficult to know whether you’re making the right decisions. So when Radio and TV start supporting then it feels really good. The two platforms are great for helping to get your music further afield, but I’d say the biggest thing that having media backing does is to tell your existing fans that things are happening. The people who have been with us from the beginning get just as excited as we do about that kind of thing, so it’s good to make them feel their support has been worthwhile.”

After endless grinding in support slots and spot-shows, the band is just off its first headline tour of the UK, off the back of some high-profile tour supports in the indie and pop worlds, and all this media excitement. Branding is keen to emphasise that this is what the lads are after. “It’s the best feeling in the world walking on to stage in a room full of people who are all there to see you play your songs. The other stuff is nice to have, but ultimately it’s the energy you feel from those people that you chase.”

The band is renowned for the constant roadmiles it’s putting in, and as with any other band that leaves their effort and energy around the touring circuit of DIY venues in the UK, the question emerges of how they have managed to balance all this with a personal life, health, and wellbeing. There’s a certain amount of sacrifice, but Branding maintains its value. “In terms of having ‘normal’ personal lives outside of the band, we kind of just forgot that idea a long time ago. It sounds like a sad thing, but when you spend all your time in a van with your best friends seeing new places and meeting cool people, it’s not worth crying over. Being in a band is all-encompassing, so it’s not just the touring that has an effect on our personal lives, it’s the everyday stuff too. We have to be ready to go at the drop of a hat and having structure and routine is almost impossible. That can sometimes have a negative effect, but at those times we try and look at the bigger picture and think about what the alternative might be. We soon start to feel better about ourselves!”

Marsicans are touring Ireland next month, including a date in Cyprus Avenue on the 7th. It’s looking like a voyage of discovery for the four-piece, lying just before another stint in studio and the pressure to maintain their considerable momentum. “For most of us, it’s our first time in Ireland full stop, let alone as a band, so we’re really excited to come over and see that part of the world. The travelling element is one of the most fulfilling parts of band life and it’s always fun to be somewhere new. It’s also a nervous time because you don’t know whether there will be 1 person or 1,000 people there to greet you. Let’s hope it’s the latter (laughs).”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.