Megacone: Hitting Cork With Absolute Magnitude

Ahead of their trip to UrbanJungle on November 12th, Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Megacone guitarist Conor Callan about their formation, new extended-player and the support they’ve received so far.

With a sunny disposition as prevalent in their output as their consummate musicianship and eclectic musical frame of reference, it’s little wonder that Dubliners Megacone have developed the following they have in recent times. The progressive/math-rock quintet have only been together a few short years, but have taken on the Irish music industry already, quickly rising to headliner status and doing so at a relative young age. Guitarist Conor Callan explains the band’s beginnings, stemming from time together in BCFE’s renowned music course. “We all met in music college in Ballyfermot. Ross (guitar), Podge (guitar, etc), Bala (bass) and Nimai (drums) were all in a band already playing together. We were all really good friends, and would jam in classrooms quite often. I, nervously, messaged Ross and asked if he thought the band could use a third guitarist. He invited me down to jam with them and we came away with the starting bits of The Accidental which is the first tune on Fondle Fantasy.”

From the off, the band have distinguished themselves live, no mean feat to accomplish in such short order in Irish math-rock/prog circles. Playing fast and loose with genres and influences, the band remain accessible, yet seem to relish leaving something to unearth on repeated listens. Callan recalls the band’s early excursions, as their initial set was coming together. “We went down quite well at our first few shows. The rest of our class in college was really supportive. Watching back videos of our first shows we definitely weren’t as good as we thought we were (laughs).”

Debut extended-player Fondle Fantasy released in 2015. Conversation turns to the initial process, and Callan recalls the band’s first attempt at putting an EP together, as well as the attendant work. “The whole writing side of it came quite naturally. The four songs that are on Fondle Fantasy are the first four songs we wrote together. We were really excited to be recording at all, and then on top of that we were recording with David Prendergast (of Dublin post-rockers Overhead, The Albatross). It was a great learning experience, and we got to spend a nice chunk of time doing pre- and post-production out in David’s studio in Clane. I think it was our first time all recording to a professional standard, despite having been in other bands, and recorded with other projects before. It was a lot of work, but a great learning experience and a lot of craic was had.”

The band’s live engagements began to pick up, among them regular bookings with Dublin alternative/DIY bookers & promoters Dimestore, for whose support the band have been especially grateful. “The Dimestore lads have been a great support for us, they gave us a lot of gigs playing in Sweeney’s (Dame St., Dublin) when Dimestore had a weekly event there. They also gave us an amazing slot at Knockanstockan festival in 2015. It was our first time playing the festival, and we were playing it at 10pm on the Friday night, so we were over the moon about it. It was such an amazing night, and gave us a big audience we otherwise mightn’t have gotten. Then we got an equally amazing slot at Knockanstockan 2016, so those Dimestore lads are good lads.”

The band’s new extended-player, Absolute Magnitude was recorded alongside Rian Trench, one-half of recently-disbanded duo Solar Bears and a busy producer and engineer in his own right. Callan gets into the whole experience. “It was pretty exciting, getting to record with Rían, and his co-producer Robert “Scan” Scanlon. We got to go out to The Meadow, Rían’s studio in Delgany. It’s a pretty special place, and it is sort of secluded, which is really nice. You can really just get into it, without much distraction. We had only planned to record two songs Crocodile Dundalk and Absolute Magnitude but we got the two of them done and still had another two days in the studio. So we quickly got together some click tracks for Dance of the Sand Wizard and Straight for the Juggler. It was a little hectic getting everything done, but Rían and Scan really know what they are doing, and we are really happy with the end result.”

The EP’s eponymous lead single is a stomper to say the least, and your writer’s first thought was to ask what rush of blood to the head brought it all on. Callan dissects the song’s creation. “We played an early version of Absolute Magnitude at the Fondle Fantasy EP launch, so the tune has been floating around for a long time. It just came together from a bunch of different parts that we made fit together. Our process is the same for most songs. It’s a lot of time writing parts as a band, or as individuals, and then making this random part work organically with that random part. There’s a lot of trial and error in working out songs but when they are finished, we are usually pretty happy because we have spent so long working on them.”

The band is playing UrbanJungle, the basement venue of the Mardyke complex, on the 12th of this month, with support from Cork proggers Meniscus and the debuting Aponym. The latest in metal auteurs Pethrophile Promotions’ Welcome to the Jungle night, it’s the conpany’s penultimate gig of the year, and occurs before the announcement of their 2017 programme. Megacone have been to Cork before, on occasion, and Conor, like the rest of the band, is fond of gigging Leeside. “We love playing down in Cork. We have played down there a handful of times. The last time we were down, we played the Crane Lane with our friends and Cork natives White-Line Fever. We had a great crowd, and the people of Cork seem to really dig our music, which is always a plus (laughs).”

It’s been a fairly hectic two years for the band, but as 2016 winds down, the band focuses on the future, and Callan leaves the conversation on a cliffhanger. “We have some pretty huge, juicy news to announce for 2017, but we can’t announce it just yet. Soon. Very soon.”

Megacone play UrbanJungle on the 12th of November, with Meniscus and Aponym in support. Tickets are €5, kickoff at 8pm.

God is an Astronaut: Plotting a Course

Before setting off on tour and finishing their next record, God is an Astronaut play Cyprus Avenue on Saturday the 23rd. Guitarist Torsten Kinsella speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan about the future, overarching themes and genre labels.

“We are still really pleased with it and it’s working out very well live too so we couldn’t have asked for much more.” Last year saw the release of God is an Astronaut’s fifth album. Helios/Erebus was positively received, and guitarist Torsten Kinsella is positive about its place in the Glen of the Downs post-rock outfit’s increasingly storied canon. “We began writing it in late 2013, we road-tested a lot of the material live first before releasing it. It helped us gauge the reaction way before the release. We wanted this record to capture the sound of the band live, which hadn’t really been our primary aim in the past. Centralia was the first track we wrote, which set the mood for the rest of the album. While there was a lot of heavier tracks, we also wrote some ambient tracks, which is a very important side of the band too. Most of the tracks began with an electric guitar, or piano, and some began with soundscapes, and from that we carved out melodies.”

The as-yet untitled next LP will be released through Austrian metal label Napalm Records following an announcement last year. Kinsella explains how that working relationship come about, and breaks down how the new deal stands to benefit the band. “They approached us, initially we weren’t really interested but after speaking to them off and on for a few months, they seem to really understand what we’re about. They were enthusiastic for us to retain artistic control which was important. They have a big marketing budget for our next album which we hope will increase our profile substantially. They have allowed us to work as long as we want on the next record so we will take our time to ensure we write the best record we can.”

The band has, by and large, been an independent entity for its whole run, avoiding most, if not all, of the usual Irish industry pitfalls. How has the band done so while maintaining sustainability, and how does it change with the Napalm deal? “We have been lucky, and we have worked very hard and written music that resonated well with many listeners. Keeping control has enabled us to strategise wisely throughout our career. We were in a good position when Napalm approached us so we were able to get an agreement that really made a lot of sense, for example we still retain our full rights to our back catalogue outside the Napalm agreement which was hugely important to us. The deal is a fair one, with above average percentage splits, so as long we write a good album and they do a good job marketing it, I do believe we can become more successful.”

Talk turns to the band’s upcoming live excursion on the 23rd. When asked for any stories or memories of playing Leeside, one story comes to Kinsella’s mind. “The time we played in Cyprus Avenue a few years back and there was a storm raging outside, the river had burst its banks, and the rain was hammering down through a hole in the ceiling on me while we were playing. I was lucky not to get electrocuted.”

Next year will be the band’s 15th anniversary. In 2002, the term “post-rock” was a lot different, as were perceptions of the genre. Kinsella explores his relationship with the term, and contrasts perception of the band against the band’s own aims. “When we began, we were labelled as dance/trip-hop, with the release of our second album we began to hear the term post-rock, we weren’t familiar with the genre, or the other groups at the time. There were obvious differences to what we were doing compared to the rest, our tracks were considerably shorter and we had much more electronics than the other groups. Today of course, it’s all become integrated as part of the post-rock sound. I’m not really sure what post-rock fans’ perception of us is today, I keep away from online forums etc., reading positive or negative opinions pollutes our vision, so we just keep our heads down and write the best music we can, that represents who we are and how we are feeling at that time.”

In that post-rock, as a largely instrumental enterprise, lends itself to capturing moments in time and allowing listeners to interpret that through their own filters and frames of reference, how has the process of deciding what theme, or what moment, or feeling, changed? “That really depends on what’s happening to us, and around us. Right now the world is going through a dark phase with a massive amount of innocent casualties in the Middle East and in turn the continuing rise of religions extremism. That really influenced Helios/Erebus. Our front cover was largely influenced by the Aztec calendar. I believe when you look at the history of the Aztecs, we have a lot in common. The Aztecs were keen astronomers. They designed whole structures around the sun, moon, and the stars and paid special tribute to them with their buildings.But they also had a dark side to them. The Aztec religion was full of gloom and doom, as it were. They lived with such fear that they offered blood sacrifices to the Sun God, in hopes that he would assure the rising of the sun each day. So all in all, not too much has changed when you look at the world we are living in today. The immolation of innocent captives, beheadings and the mass bombings of innocent civilians in the name of religion and politics are still celebrated by many. I think we could learn something from history.

Turning an eye from the past and the bigger picture to the band’s immediate future, God is an Astronaut are in the eye of a storm of activity at present. “We are currently on tour in Italy and we finish up in Romania before coming home to do a few shows in Ireland. We’re returning to the US in late August, for a headline tour. It’s been five years since we have been there last. We will also be returning to Greece, Barcelona and Germany in November. We are also writing new material for the next album.”

God is an Astronaut play Cyprus Avenue on Saturday the 23rd of this month. Tickets available from Eventbrite and the Old Oak.