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.