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)!”

Irish Indie Label: “Just Getting Off Your Arse and Doing Anything is Worthy of Support”

This coming Saturday, October 14th has officially been declared Irish Indie Label Day in Ireland by a coalition of independent and DIY record labels dotted around the country. An initiative kicked off by Cork’s Penske Recordings and Sligo-based Art for Blind label, it entails a day-long record fair in Whelan’s in Dublin, featuring over a dozen indie imprints’ stalls, zines, and a special gig later in the evening to mark the occasion. For Art for Blind man Dany Guest, it’s the realisation of a long-held concept. “The idea has been floating around my head for a while, and is something me and Edel (Doherty, AFB label partner) have discussed at length over the last few years, having seen the success of things like the Indie Label Market in London. We decided to ask Penske to be involved because we know Albert so well and know he is totally on our wavelength and has been a big supporter of what we do since before we even landed in Ireland. To me the big thing that differentiates it from similar initiatives is that to us the community, integration and social aspects of the event are of equal importance to us as the commercial goal of flogging records and merch.”

Contrary to the idea of the death of the traditional record label model, a very wide spread of labels exists around the country in a number of genres, each facilitating and creating the bottom line for the development of their genre/community. Among the other labels listed alone for this event include: Little Gem (Dublin), Touch Sensitive (Belfast), Deserted Village (Galway), Lunar Disko (Dublin), Distro-y (Sligo), Box Emissions (Cork), Fort Evil Fruit (Cork), Sofia (Leitrim), Bluestack (Sligo), Rusted Rail (Galway), and Rudimentary (Belfast). Albert Twomey, founder of Penske Recordings and former hassler at Plugd Records, speaks on the process of outreach. “We contacted labels that we liked to start with & fleshed out the field as we figured everything out. There were some labels that were not interested/ available to attend & we may have missed out on others but this is all part of a learning curve I guess. Other labels/creatives have been in touch once they heard there was an opportunity to represent. There is still an opportunity for folks to get involved by contacting artforblind@gmail.com.”

Whelan’s is obviously an epicentre of music in Ireland and one that famously deals with a lot of bigger names coming through the doors – Twomey is quick to divulge if they have any hand in what went into the event at all, and what their involvement means to the enterprise. “Whelan’s were very open to getting involved from the start. It is great that we have access to the upstairs area from mid afternoon to the early hours. Not many venues would be able to facilitate a market & event for various reasons. Darren & Dave from Whelan’s have been incredibly helpful. It became evident that Dublin would be the best place to host the market/event but we do hope to replicate it in other Irish cities if everything runs smoothly & venues/labels are interested.”

As mentioned, the festival exists to shine a light on independent labels in the country in 2017, as well as highlight the challenges they face. As mentioned, Twomey runs Penske Recordings, home to The Jimmy Cake, Percolator, and Dan Walsh’s Fixity, and one imagines even with the weight of distributors Cargo behind him, that it’s still a tough game without a big PR presence. What challenges does an indie label like Penske face on the daily? “It can be a struggle, even with the support of an international distro like Cargo. They also take care of the Penske digital catalogue, and my sales rep there has been incredibly helpful. Plugd did lots of business with them, and I reckon they have the best reach and labels on their books: Constellation, Rocket Recordings, Hyperdub, etc. I guess the increasing cost of getting a record recorded, pressed & promoted are the principal challenges for Penske. Building up relationships with record store folks and distros is the easy part, even if I have the reputation of being a cranky-pants.”

As well as labels on the ground, there’ll also be zinemakers and booksellers, occupying an important space in-between slabs of wax at the fair. Rusted Rail Records man Keith “Keef” Wallace speaks of his delight at this area of DIY culture being considered specifically. “As someone who used to sweat over a hot photocopier making ‘zines at the turn of the century, I’m delighted to see the resurgence of ‘zine culture, a physical expression of something which could have been lost in the digital drowning pool. It’s all part of DIY culture, an alternative form of transmission, and that can only be a good thing to add to the conversation around underground musical culture.”

The challenges for record sales extend out to retail, also, a situation Twomey is only too familiar with via his stint with Plugd, an erstwhile hangout of musicians and creatives in Cork slated to reopen in the coming days in the city’s Roundy gig venue. The realities of peddling vinyl from this standpoint are no easier than getting records on the shelves to begin with. “Selling music can be a very challenging endeavour overall. In fact, Belfast is losing a really great store in Sick Records over the next few days. The cost of rent and rates in major cities has always been really prohibitive for small businesses. There is also lots of competition for the small pool of disposable income available to your target audience. Plugd is lucky to have a solid customer base & a very supportive arts/gig-going community. I am looking forward to getting my hands dirty at the market, to be honest, as I’ve missed the buzz of selling records & engaging face-to-face with customers.”

The post-match gig happens in the venue at 8pm, and boasts a suitably strong line-up. Guest gives us the runthrough on who’s who and their relation to the day’s endeavours. “Well, firstly, Alien She are a three-piece experimental post-punk band from Dublin. Their debut LP, ‘Feeler’ will be out on Art For Blind in November. Gross Net is the weirdo noise solo outlet of Phil Quinn (Girls Names). It’s great to have Gross Net as Art For Blind released a Gross Net cassette a few years back, and his debut LP was released by Touch Sensitive who will be joining us at the market from Belfast. Finally Girlfriend is a fledgling Dublin based garage punk/emo band who we are really looking forward to catching live.”

Shrug Life: “There’s a Small Victory in Articulating Absurdity”

Observers of the mundane, be-moaners of the grind and fond custodians of lo-fi pop propulsion, Dublin trio Shrug Life have been doing the rounds for a few years now, and with 2014 E.P. The Grand Stretch long since committed to the review pages, the long-term project of putting down a full-length has finally come to fruition. Recorded in 2015-2016, the semi-eponymously titled album, sees the band address their mission statement in more detail, marrying a slow seethe at the state of play with some genuinely excellent power-pop. Vocalist/guitarist Danny Carroll provides the context for the band’s complaints regarding modernity.

“Shrug Life is the shared hobby of three man-children from Dublin, and collectively, we started stumbling into song in the summer of 2014. At this time, I was permanently lamenting my spirit-sapping career in the cancellation department of a TV & broadband provider. Keith (bass) was jumping from temp job to temp job and secretly hatching a plan to become a meme-worthy emoji translator, and Josh (drums) was committed to going on the session at every music festival in Ireland. He managed about nine that summer. Thankfully, we’ve been able to tolerate each other since then.”

The band is very obviously influenced by the Irish tradition of power-pop gems, including a love for the Undertones, as well as the lo-fi pop scene in Dublin. Lofi staple Fiachra McCarthy (So Cow, Dott, Squarehead), then, must surely have been the best possible hand at the production tiller. “Fiachra is a good man for reference points. His knowledge of music is encyclopaedic and his love for guitars unending. He’s also a big fan of using a mini-megaphone he bought for a tenner in Tiger, and open to the notion of using a 1watt Fender mini-deluxe for recording guitars. What more could we ask for?”

The band’s focus is heavily set on critiquing the current way of things for young(ish) people and the failings of Irish society, gleaned from their own experiences and the common experiences of our generation in (post-) austerity Ireland. How does one settle on a more, for lack of a better term, light-hearted approach to heavy topics? “There’s a Keith Richards quote I like: “rock n’ roll’s great weapon is humour”. In theory at least, it makes the message easier to listen to. There’s a small victory in articulating the absurdity of Irish society. In the bleak gags and self-deprecation, I’m trying to diminish the power these factors have over my life. Maybe in acknowledging its ridiculousness it becomes that little bit more tolerable.”

A highlight of the record is the joyfully riffy ‘Temp Job’, a koan to the shitty side-jobs that serve as distraction from our own callings and an Elastoplast over the shotgun wound of unemployment. It also showcases the band’s real strength – gentle observations of topics that, while not a tonne of bricks in the short-term, are just as crushing and grinding as the more immediate social concerns. Carroll outlines the creative process and considerations behind the commentary. “Every song tends to demands its own approach. Something consciously political and outwardly focused usually takes a bit more research and reading – it’s less instinctual because you’re trying to distil a bigger, social topic into the confines of a lyric. You start to ask questions of over-simplifying things and the perspectives sacrificed to fit this subject into a song. However, I think with any polticial/social commentary it’s about humanising the impact of the issue. How do macrodecisions affect myself or others on a micro level? “Personal ennui” can also take time to express, but it’s certainly a more navel-gazing process. Those songs have more to do with taking ownership of your own shitty situation or nagging conflicts.”

Pro-choice homily ‘Your Body’ seems more relevant than ever off the back of last week’s March4Choice. Carroll has no issue discussing the obstacles facing the Repeal campaign are now that Leo Varadkar has called for a referendum, including the attempts at tone-setting that official Ireland has already tried to get a start on before the formal date is announced. “If the marriage equality referendum is anything to go by, the next few months could be very difficult – anti-choice campaigning will inevitably rely on scaremongering and distortion of fact. Organisations such as ARC are excellent in helping people consider the facts and myths surrounding this issue. There’s an obvious obstacle in the fence-sitting taken of Varadkar and others, but the March For Choice last week chipped away at my pessimism. It’s funny, we were playing in Galway recently and I was accosted by a 50 something man who waited all gig to tell me my belief was wrong and he’d been about to buy our album but would no longer do so, because of our pro-choice stance. I politely informed him that I would rather express my belief than have his money. That night he messaged us on Facebook to re-iterate “any band that promotes the killing of unborn babies should have been aborted themselves”. Seems like a contradiction in terms there, but that’s just one microcosm of the idiocy we’re up against.”

Considering how irrelevant the idea of the seemingly unending “death” of rock’n’roll is, does even entertaining the argument for it in ‘Japanese Bonus Track’ kind-of validate the kind of tedious rhetoric that the aul’ lads that complain about guitar music being “dead” come out with in lieu of bothering looking for new tunes? Ah, but I love “the aul’ lads”. I’m complicit with and repulsed by the nostalgia surrounding “rock’n’roll”. I make music documentaries for RTE Radio 1, and the first significant one I made was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Whiskey In The Jar’. I enjoy the notion that rock n’ roll is permanently dying, or now graduated to the stage of niche old man concern like jazz. The song is also a comment on the endless commodification of this once rebellious concept – be it bloated Beatles reissues for granddad or the overpriced summer festival for junior. All that said, you’re quite right, if you think it’s dead, you’re probably disconnected from what’s happening around you locally. Stop moaning, go to a gig!”

The band is working with Little L for the local release, a prodigiously active label for physical releases in Ireland at this stage, and Seattle-based Jigsaw Records is handling the album’s international release. Carroll outlines the plan from here. “Young Callum Browne is the impresario behind Little L Records. A good friend and guitar nerd. I suppose his contribution boils down to caring about what we do – going to gigs and encouraging the endeavour where most others are indifferent. He’s doing a few tape cassettes for anyone who owns a car made before 1995. And for anyone who owns a car made from ’96 onwards, there’s the compact discs of Seattle’s finest, Jigsaw Records. The latter came about at the suggestion of Tuam tunesmith Brian Kelly (So Cow/Half Forward Line). I asked him for advice when the album was complete and he suggested Jigsaw. Yet again, their optimistic assistance surpasses the embarrassed disinterest of the rest of the world. The plan is to muddle through as we always do… then world domination. Maybe beg Aiken or MCD for a support, get ignored by Hard Working Class Heroes, y’know, the usual.”

The Dublin launch of the record happens on the 20th at the Grand Social, with Limerick’s Slow Riot and local boys Handsome Eric supporting. Coming off Galway and Belfast launches, Carroll is happy to finally be playing the home leg of the album’s launch excursion. “It’s actually these scant few gigs that make the thing real and worthwhile to be honest. We’ve gotten to meet so many pleasant people from different parts of Ireland over the last couple of years, and it’s those connections that justify all the other slog. We’ve wanted to play with Slow Riot for a couple of years now. It was actually a mutual friend of ours, Brian Morrissey, who encouraged Josh (drums) and I to play together in the first place. Handsome Eric is the project of the enviably young, talented Steve O’Dowd and features the aforementioned Callum B on drums. His songs remind me of how I felt at age twenty, but had no capacity to articulate. Suffice to say, we’re hyped to have a party with our friends… you’re all invited.”

Ganglions: “We Might as Well Make a Thing of It”

Melding the smarts of math-rock with a warm but smart-aleccy pop streak, Sheffield/Cork trio Ganglions have come into their own in the past year or so, marking the release of debut EP Fetch! with their maiden Irish excursion, including an appearance at this year’s Quarter Block Party in Cork. This week sees the trio return to Ireland for a string of dates to launch follow-up extended-player Thirsty, including dates in Dublin, Galway and Limerick and a return Leeside engagement.

A few days removed from the main swing of gigs after the band’s appearance at last weekend’s Clonakilty International Guitar Festival, singer/bassist Eimear O’Donovan discusses the creative process behind their new offering. “It was quite a similar process to (writing/recording) Fetch! Generally we write the music first, starting with a guitar riff, and then ideas for lyrics come from somewhere and we put the two together. I guess one way it differed was that we had a bit of experience writing together this time around, so it was a bit quicker and a bit more comfortable. My Wife Won’t Stop Flirting With Me was written entirely by Chris (Saywell) on guitar, Brian (Scally) and I put drums and bass to it and then we recorded the instrumental track. We then sat in Brian’s bedroom/makeshift recording studio and brainstormed lyrics and vocals for a few hours, recording them at about 1 AM when we were happy with what we had. It’s a bit of a risk because you could come back to it with fresh eyes and find out that you hate what you’ve done, but luckily that didn’t happen.”

Releasing digitally via Sheffield collective Audacious Art Experiment, Thirsty also features as the A-side of a double-sided cassette, release with Fetch! rounding out their discography to date on the flip. O’Donovan is enthused about the format’s continued renaissance, and to have the first E.P. appended to their new work. “Tapes are great. They sound different to digital, there’s a different sound quality to it compared to vinyl, or anything else. There’s a real resurgence of tapes as a format in the DIY scene as they’re so cheap and accessible and small and dinky. We would have loved to have done vinyl but cost and time constraints meant it wasn’t possible this time around. We self-released Fetch! on digital only last year, and we always really wanted to do a physical version of that E.P. I personally don’t like physical releases that are only a couple of songs, it seems wasteful. So, doing a tape with 8 tracks on it, it feels like there’s enough music there to make it worth peoples’ whiles. Buy our tape.”

With one foot in the Steel City’s DIY scene, and the other still firmly planted in the Rebel County of O’Donovan and Scally’s sonic upbringing, one could be forgiven for getting the band’s elevator pitch muddled up, especially with the band’s voices sitting over a somewhat different sonic palate than the high-velocity Irish math-rock of recent times. “We usually describe ourselves as Sheffield/Leeds math-pop-rock-punk-something etc., as two of us are based in Sheffield and one in Leeds. Sheffield and Leeds are really close together, only an hour’s drive apart, but both cities have a really distinct DIY music scene. We like to keep the Cork connection though, I’m from Cork city and Brian from, Clonakilty so that’s where our musical education and experience and influence came from initially. I think that’s important to nod to that. Also we can’t really hide our literal Cork accents so might as well make a thing of it.”

Ganglions’ tunes revolve around homelier topics, ranging from the joys of mundanity to pearls of general knowledge, with live favourite Chindogu serving as example. Meanwhile, Thirsty provides commentary on some weighty topics, from the idea of authenticity, to heteronormativity as marketing pitch. O’Donovan gets into the nitty-gritty of subject matter and concept. “We just try not to take ourselves too seriously. We love playing music and playing gigs, and making people nod and dance and smile and laugh. We like to write lyrics collaboratively, where we try to make each other laugh and hit upon the thing that’s warm or silly enough without being too ridiculous. Chindogu, for example, is just a great thing, the Japanese concept of useless inventions.”

Math in Ireland is in an odd place – with exponents like Adebisi Shank and Enemies now in the history books and veterans like And So I Watch You From Afar more active on the world stage, it’s a time of transition for the genre, in which O’Donovan sees much reason to be hopeful. “There seems to still be things happening for math-rock in Ireland – the Fecking Bahamas Ireland compilation was testament to this. You’ve got great bands like The Redneck Manifesto, Yonen, Alarmist, Leo Drezden, so while we can’t really say from a distance whether it’s a cohesive “scene” or whatever, it seems there’s still the interest there at least to some extent. I have huge respect for bookers and promoters who put on and support this kind of music in Ireland, as there’s significant risk attached to promoting something so niche.”

Merch is obviously vital for any independent band’s operation, acting as both promotion and petrol money, but Ganglions’ shirts to date have been adorned with a resting, unsmiling yet seemingly contented visage, peaceful yet pensive. “That illustration is by the very talented and wonderful Jess Thomas. It’s inspired by some of the imagery from Chindogu, the “face splash guard / to keep your shirt neat” lyric. If you look up chindogu on Google image search some very funny images appear of Japanese useless inventions. How could we not write a song about them?”

This week’s whip around the country sees the band accompanied by Dublin instrumental math outfit Chancer for a double-headline tour, kicking off tonight in the Bowery venue. O’Donovan outlines the band’s mindset heading into it. “We are excited and ecstatic to be playing around Ireland! We’ve only played Cork before, and now Clonakilty, so to be playing Dublin, Limerick and Galway for the first time is class. We love Chancer’s music and I’m a big fan of Rachael Boyd’s solo stuff, so we are excited to play many gigs with them.” Their homecoming is merely a pitstop, though, ahead of the next chapter of their onward march, with more releases and touring in the works. “We hope our next release will be on vinyl, and we want to get writing an album quite soon. We’ve played gigs up and down England but want to do a cohesive tour and take in lots of places we’ve not played yet, as well as hopefully making it to Scotland for a few gigs.”

Honeyblood: Honeyed Tones from Scots Duo

Honeyblood vocalist/guitarist Stina Tweeddale chats with Mike McGrath-Bryan about their new album, tour footage, and what lies ahead.

It’s a time of expansion for Scottish punk/pop duo Honeyblood. Sophomore effort Babes Never Die has landed on shelves, with the record’s eponymous leadoff single now doing the rounds. What follows in the coming months will be the band’s biggest tour yet, taking in another circumnavigation of the UK, debut Ireland dates, and gigs in Asia and Australia. Vocalist Stina Tweeddale speaks on her relief in getting the music out there and seeing the response it’s received. “It’s very daunting putting out the second record, so, I’m very glad that Babes Never Die has connected in the way it seems to have done. People get the ideas behind the record and that’s more than I could ever ask for.”

The curse of the difficult second album seems to be no issue here – equally spirited and noisy, it amply shows off the pair’s knack for melody. Tweeddale’s writing process was a lot more defined, and the project benefits from a newfound collaborative songwriting process. “Definitely there was a change… I started demoing more, the tracks were coming together with sounds and basslines which didn’t happen with the first record. And of course, Cat is now here to collaborate with me (on drums) which makes all the difference. I guess with this one I had a bit more of a clue of how to go about making an album.”

Taking in the sights and sounds of the band’s touring activity over the past year or so, the video for the Babes Never Die single was constructed entirely from found footage and photography. “This video could not have been made without the help of our fans who filmed and were part of it. It was made over three months of touring the US and UK and also includes a lot of footage that Cat and I filmed ourselves. It’s really just the reality of what our tours are like.”

Touring as a two-piece – how might it differ from heading out with four, five people, in terms of keeping each other’s company almost exclusively in the car/van/bus, etc? Is there a risk of cabin fever, for lack of a better term? “It’s great. We tour in a little van and scoot around! Nowadays we actually do take a few other people on tour, so it isn’t ever just us, but we fortunately don’t get too sick of each other’s company. I think we would have stopped long ago if we did!”

The album has released via Brighton-based indie Fat Cat Records. For a band so attitudinal, what does a label infrastructure offer that the do-it-yourself approach perhaps mightn’t? “We had the opportunity to work with FatCat from a very early stage with Honeyblood. I guess we have really formed a business with their help as a label. I do entirely believe in bands self-releasing though – I think it’s a hard task, but a very worthwhile one.”

April 7th sees the pair head to Cyprus Avenue for the Leeside stop of their tour, part of the run-up to a massive London show at the Koko, the biggest in the band’s run so far. When asked their thoughts heading into their Irish stretch, however, none of this is in mind – the date is a night of celebration. “It’s Cat’s birthday the day of the Cork show! So, I’m hoping we are going to have a very fun night indeed!”

In a time of exponential growth for the band, the summer festival grind comes calling, before the next step of the journey. “We will be hitting a fair amount of festivals this summer and then back to do some writing at the end of the year, maybe for the next album.”

Honeyblood play Cyprus Avenue on April 7. Tickets available now via the Old Oak and cyprusavenue.ie.

Therapy?: Boys in Black, Here to the End

Therapy? frontman Andy Cairns speaks with Mike McGrath-Bryan ahead of the trio’s acoustic Cork date next month, on the band’s past, their present, the future and their Cork connections.

With nearly thirty years on the road, and fourteen full-lengths under their belt, Belfast post-hardcore trio Therapy?’s odyssey has taken them to the stages of the world, through best-selling records and a dedicated following that has stuck with the band through thick and thin. Over the years, however, the band have purposely kept home visits short and sweet, in order to maintain the sense of occasion inherent to their Irish shows, which makes next month’s extensive acoustic sojourn all the more surprising. Guitarist/vocalist Andy Cairns is excited for the Wood and Wire tour. “I’m really looking forward to the gigs, as I don’t feel we play Ireland enough, not through any lack of desire on the band’s part but a lack of offers (laughs). I’m looking forward to Cork, Belfast and Limerick the most. Cork because I love the place, ditto Belfast, and Limerick because it’s been so long since I’ve been there.”

Taking as noisy and varied a back catalogue as Therapy?’s and retooling it for the acoustic idiom presents a series of issues all its own, both in terms of arrangements and in choosing a setlist that reflects their career and expectations of fans. “The first challenge is keeping the intensity of the songs, without huge banks of amps and propulsive, frenzied drumming. Different songs call for different approaches, and some of the tunes just don’t work at all in an acoustic environment. For this Irish tour we’re going to try and pick songs that are definitely shaped by the country itself. Either through lyrical references, or musical influences, and ideas behind the songs themselves. Chatting with the crowd is a good way of making it an engaging experience, and I’m sure the audience won’t hold back either.”

Last year saw the band release their most recent long-player, Disquiet. Rooted in the band’s poppier leanings, the record plays on the paranoia and dissatisfaction first given voice on 1994’s Troublegum album, revisiting the latter record’s conceptual protagonist in middle-age and finding that rage has given way to despair. Cairns gets into the process behind the album’s writing and recording. “Disquiet was one of our melodic forays that started with Skyward on (debut album) Babyteeth, galvanised on Troublegum and continued in High Anxiety (2003 record). It was written in my kitchen on an acoustic guitar over the space of a month and then iPhone recordings were sent to Michael and Neil for their opinions. From such traditional foundations the songs themselves are more of the verse/chorus template than our previous two records, but as lyrically I was exploring the whereabouts of the protagonist of the Troublegum album, it was a conducive medium for the project. It ended up being a popular record with our fans, and charted in some countries, which was a surprise. Songs like Still Hurts and Tides will probably be in the set list for a long time to come.”

As much of a treat it’s been for longtime and lapsed fans to hear the band returning to more immediate material, it doesn’t come without a bittersweet note for the boys in black, having put massive effort into the cerebral and groovy direction of the their records prior. “Much as we enjoyed the creative process involved in making the previous two albums, we found it frustrating that so much of the content was unnoticed or misunderstood. Enjoy the Struggle was influenced lyrically by Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and musically by the riff from Mingus’ Haitian Fight Song, however one critic claimed it sounded like Zakk Wylde. Bad Excuse for Daylight starts off with an appropriation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps before going into a rhythm section that has its timing based on a section from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. One wag claimed it sounded like “cavemen banging sticks” and in the Nabokov-saturated A Brief Crack of Light album the mix of Slint, Beckett, African highlife and dub went unnoticed by people curious to know “where the tunes have gone”. Both these albums were such a great working experience, and a lift for us as a band but we were hugely disappointed that people didn’t get it. The nature of the band however, means that we shall return to these waters in the future.”

Helping the band negotiate the waters of an ever-changing musid industry in recent years have been Amazing Records, the spinoff label from the popular UK digital radio service. Cairns expresses his satisfaction with the label and his preference for the model over crowdfunding and the like. “It’s been okay. Amazing Records have been fantastic. They’re a very young label, staffed by young people, and seem keen on the band.We know that we could always go down the crowdfunding route if we need to, but as I’ve mentioned, some of our musical choices have often left some of our fans bemused, and the crowdfunding always seems to go hand-in-hand with people forking out disproportionate sums of their precious money, in return for extras like ‘a day ice-skating with Michael McKeegan’ or ‘an eating competition with Andy’ etc. They might also enforce a caveat that in return for their contribution, there is to be no mention of high fallutin’ authors or dalliances with jazz, no-sir-ee, just riff, after riff, after discordant riff, with lots of shouting on top.”

Is it not a tad strange, though, after being in such a forward-thinking headspace all these years, to be in the position to be looking back on your body of work and seeing a demand for reissues, anniversary tours, etc.? “Yes, but we are a working band that needs to pay for rehearsals and storage space, new equipment and pay our mortgages. We still get stimulation from new music, literature, cinema etc., so we’ll not be curling up into a pub rockin’ third act at any time in the future, besides it’s a lot of fun to play classic songs to an audience that know every lyric, lick, bass fill and snare hit.”

The band returns to Cyprus Avenue on the 28th of April for their Cork stop of the tour. Having emerged from the Irish scene of the early nineties, Cork is an important locale for the band, as Cairns reminisces on. “I absolutely love Cork, it’s one of my favourite places in the world. First time I visited was on a camping trip when I was nineteen, and I had a great time hanging out in the town and going to different bars with some locals we hooked up with. Nancy Spain’s was a lovely gig and being put up by the lads from Judgement was a fantastic way to spend an evening.We played an odd showcase gig in ’91 at Henry’s with Toasted Heretic and Sultans Of Ping which was good craic, mainly because those bands were fun to hang out with, and had a very memorable show there later on with our friends Babes in Toyland. I remember going to Comet Records with Lori from Babes, and seeing that our albums were number 1 and 2 respectively in the Indie charts. The crowd for the show was full-on, our equipment broke down and I went into full Graham Norton mode and did covers of Jolene and Neil Young while it was sorted.”

Not that their love affair with the town is anything to do with nostalgia, with the band making somewhat of a home in Cyprus Avenue in recent years. “Cyprus Avenue is always such a pleasure to play. We did a gig there once during the Jazz Festival, and opened our set with a few bars of So What by Miles Davis, which completely went over the audience heads. Later on we rampaged around the town and I woke up the next day with one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had in my entire life. Cork is also responsible for Cathal Coughlan, Rory Gallagher and Noel Redding to name but a few. Crosshaven is also where the legendary Bobby Tambling of the mighty Chelsea FC lives, and of course Trish O’Callaghan, a wonderful artist who was responsible for the cover art of our Caucasian Psychosis album release.”

The future lies ahead of the trio, and in short order, at that: a new album is planned, but under tight wraps at present. “We’re currently writing new material and look likely to set foot in the studio in July this year. We’re all pleased with the direction it’s taking, but will be keeping quiet about it until it’s done.”

Therapy? play Cyprus Avenue in a special acoustic tour on Friday April 28th. Tickets available now on cyprusavenue.ie.

Richie Ramone: Animal Boy Comes to Cork

He’s travelled the world as part of arguably the foremost exponents of punk rock’s velocity and fury, a vital component to its longevity and a cornerstone of the band during some of its most turbulent times. Richard Reinhardt, today a percussionist and composer, his reprised the moniker of Richie Ramone for a new body of solo work, including new album Cellophane and a long-running tour that winds through Cork on Wednesday the 14th, at Cyprus Avenue.

Richie first joined the Ramones under the name of Richie Beau in ’83, following the departure of Tommy Ramone. Hopping behind the kit just before Subterranean Jungle was released, he took the Ramone surname shortly thereafter. An active session drummer in his own right, the gig came along at just the right time, according to Richie. “I was hanging out with Little Matt, Johnny’s guitar tech, and he told me that the Ramones were auditioning drummers. I told him to put in a good word for me, and he got me an audition. The next week, I got a call from Monte (Melnick), their tour manager, and the rest is history. From that moment on, my life changed.”

Richie spent four years with the band, penning songs and becoming the only drummer to sing lead vocals with the Ramones. An infamously volatile working arrangement, fans these days can only wonder at how the band managed to co-exist for as long as it did. Vocalist Joey, although legendary for his personable nature, would eventually be diagnosed with OCD, which presented numerous logistical challenges on the road. Guitarist Johnny was a strictly-regimented road general whose discipline informed the band’s attitude and dealings, while Dee Dee, on bass, would become a law unto himself while battling with what we now know as bipolar disorder. Yet, for all the discord that went on, when it came down to brass tacks, they all knew what to do. “I spent four years and ten months in the band. When it came time to do a record, we all brought our songs to the management office, and voted on which we would do. Joey took me under his wing right from the start, and made everything easy for me.”

Foremost in Richie’s contributions to the eighties Ramones canon was Somebody Put Somethin’ in My Drink, a mean, grimacing bubblegum tale of spiked drinks and ruined social plans. What brought the song about, and did Richie think it would stick with people the way it has done all these years later? “I told Dee Dee the story, about how when I was a kid and had no money, we used to steal drinks in the nightclub when people got up to dance. One night, I started feeling really weird, and soon realized one of the drinks had been spiked with LSD. He told me I had to write a song about it.”

Perhaps the sorest test of the band’s working relationship with Richie on-board was when he was tasked with remixing the entire Halfway to Sanity album by Joey, apparently much to Johnny’s chagrin. When questioned on the challenges the situation presented technically or creatively, Richie holds his cards close to his chest. “Joey called me in the middle of the night saying he wasn’t happy with the mixes, so I went and remixed half the record. It went quite smoothly and everyone was happy.”

Richie took his leave of the band in 1987, stating in the End of the Century documentary film that it was business differences that caused him to split from the Ramones. It begs the question now of what Richie makes of the original members’ estates’ vast merchandising and intellectual-property empire surrounding the band’s infamous logo and early album artwork. “(New York venue) CBGBs and the Ramones are two of the most iconic logos in the world. I think it’s great that kids still want want to wear the legacy, although the band is no longer around.”

As of recent years, Richie has been involved in music again, composing in different genres and oeuvres, from classical (in Suite for Drums and Orchestra, a piece based vaguely on West Side Story, no less), to reprisals of his punk roots. He’s very straightforward when asked about his relationship with music today. “Nothing has changed, just the music business itself is different.”

While touring again under the Ramone pseudonym, he’s also been returning to Dublin, working closely with local agents on Irish touring. It’s a bit of a shift from his memories of mid-Troubles Ireland, when the band crossed the border to the North, a commitment few other major touring acts would undertake. “Back in the eighties, we played Ireland all the time. We were one of the only bands who weren’t put off by the IRA. I remember that some of the hotels were behind barbed wire fences. The crowds were always great.”

With a year of touring and recording behind him and the band, Richie is focused on winding things down for a bit, ahead of next Spring’s live activity. “We toured extensively this year, and I want to take a month or two off, then we start touring in March again, in support of the new album, which is out now on DC-Jam Records.”

Richie Ramone plays Cyprus Avenue next Wednesday, the 14th, and tickets are on sale now, at cyprusavenue.ie and in the Old Oak. Support from The Grunts and Tequila Mockingbyrd.