Fangclub: Baring Their Fangs

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Fangclub’s Steven King about the band’s upcoming Cork shows.

It was a busy 2016 for Dublin rock revivalists Fangclub – their Bullet Head E.P. released through Universal Music Ireland after signing a rare domestic deal with the major-label office in May, the Coma Happy E.P. following shortly in September of last year. Frontman/songwriter Steven King hasn’t had much time to make sense of it all quite yet. “No (laughs), there’s been no time to take it in, or for rest, but the hindsight of what we’ve done so far, has been mind-blowing, so far. We were only talking about it yesterday, actually. Looking at this tour and then looking at the touring we’ve been doing the last few months, it’s such a crazy jump for us, man. There’s been no time to process it.”

The creative process for Fangclub is relatively uncomplicated, perhaps a given considering the band’s raw, garage-rock feel. “I guess it all starts with me, with a guitar, in my apartment, from there I’ll bring a full song or an idea to the practice room, and we’ll just bash it out. Really quick, really organic. From there, then, we don’t have a producer, we have a friend who knows how to work ProTools. We don’t really want a “producer” because we don’t want to meddle with the sound. We’ve always been sticking to our own guns, and we mixed the album ourselves, with our friend, because we don’t want to go away from that raw, natural sound.”

For such a loud and noisy band, coming from Dublin’s DIY scene, has signing for Universal Records presented any challenges or creative differences? What would be the advantages over staying DIY, for example? “It was a worry, signing up to a major label, that they’d throw producers at you and stuff, but for us, we kinda have that golden ticket of just doing what we want and being left alone in our bubble. We definitely hit a wall, doing the DIY thing. Not creatively, or anything, just that there was no real challenges left, and a major label opens up a bigger platform, and you surround yourself with the best people possible.” Is there a fear of staffers in big entertainment not necessarily “getting” what a band like Fangclub might be after? “Nah, I think they get it. Think that was another thing, where you think you’re going to be made do things, being pushed into whatever mould or structure. But we’ve just been left alone, just being shown these doors opening.”

The press’ response to the EPs has been huge, with a lot of UK publications getting behind the trio. King has been careful not to assign a whole bunch of grá to critics, however. “It’s really cool, but I don’t go after that kind of stuff, but it’s kinda flattering when you get it, as well. It opens you up to different audiences and it helps for quotes, in terms of booking gigs, and all that. We don’t really get into all that stuff, though, it kinda freaks us out a little too much. We stay away from the positive stuff as well as the negative, it’s all the same. You don’t wanna build yourself up in your own head. We just wanna do the work, really.”

Being on a label and so forth also affects releases – as Spotify and the like have affected musicians’ bottom lines, downloads have begun swirling the mainstream drain, and vinyl has effectively become the utilitarian physical format of choice for a generation, surmounting CD for that cultural throne in recent years. King is circumspect about it all, when quizzed on where they fit on the big-label schedule. “We haven’t seen any trouble yet. We have a pocket of diehards that go for everything we put out, and it’s steady growth. The best thing we’ve had so far is vinyl. We’ve been surviving on vinyl, we sell out of it all the time on tour. As far as digital stuff… Spotify is cool, you can go into the analytics and track where people are listening, you can see a thousand people in Dublin are listening or five thousand people in London are listening. That helps with us, putting on shows, planning out a tour. Money-wise, everyone knows there’s no money in that sort of stuff, but for an upcoming band that’s not making that much money anyway, Spotify is a pretty cool tool.”

It’s a ridiculously fertile scene Ireland has at present, with new bands and artists emerging everywhere. The conversation turns quickly to who’s making a difference for King at present. “Otherkin are really cool, Bitch Falcon are incredible, we’re really good mates with the Shaker Hymn, they’re from Cork. We’re really good mates with those guys. The Academic. We’re just really good mates with all these bands, it’s such a good time to be in a band right now, ’cause we all meet each other on the same circuit and support each other.”

Fangclub are playing DeBarra’s on April 7th and Cyprus Avenue on April 8th. King is enthusiastic about the prospect. “Every time we go to Cork, it’s just the best, y’know? We did a launch for Indiependence there a few weeks ago, that was excellent. That’s why we’ve booked a Clonakilty show, and a Cork show: it’s the end of the tour, our new single comes out on the night of the Cork show, so we’re staying on extra just to hang out in Cork. We always have a good time.”

The band has a busy schedule ahead with intensive UK/IE touring throughout the summer. What is the mindset heading into it all? “We’re pretty focused, we have our album coming out in August, we’re confirming some UK tours, got some festivals coming up, we’re supporting the Pixies in Dublin in July. Big stuff coming up this year. The whole mindset is bewilderment, really. We probably won’t realise until it’s behind us”

Fangclub play DeBarra’s on April 7th and Cyprus Avenue on April 8th. Tickets available at venue websites and box offices.

Neon Atlas: Alt-Rockers in Lights

Neon Atlas play the Crane Lane on the 18th of February, and bass player Enda O’Flaherty is preparing for a solo release. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with O’Flaherty ahead of a busy period for the musician.

It’s a busy time for Cork bass player Enda O’Flaherty, to say the least. His sonic day-job, Neon Atlas, is gigging again shortly, playing the Crane Lane with Paradox to launch new single The Afterglow. It’s been a creatively fertile time for the band of late – their third album is due before the end of the year, following on from 2015’s Graffiti Reality long-player. Having had the time to live with the last LP’s material, the band are looking forward to getting back into the grind. “I guess music wouldn’t be so exciting if it wasn’t in a constant state of flux and development, progression and growth. And I guess the music you make grows with you. So we’re perfectly comfortable with the tracks we’ve laid down over the past few years – it was the music of our time for us, and we thoroughly enjoy playing those songs live. But like everything in life, there’s also a drive to move on and be more creative, that’s what we’ve been doing of late, and we’re looking forward to playing our earlier tracks, but also bringing our new music to a wider audience this year.”

Meanwhile, O’Flaherty’s other project, The Grey Merchant, has a new single out, The Last Transmission, which definitely feels different, featuring O’Flaherty alongside various collaborators and buddies. The project has its roots as a solo endeavour, but its scope has quickly expanded. “The Grey Merchant came about for me sometime in early 2014. I began laying down tracks at home, but they basically got shelved for about two years while Neon Atlas took priority. Through the second half of 2016, there was some room to revisit those recordings and bring in some friends, to lay down tracks. We re-worked and added to them. It became apparent that there was probably enough material there to get an E.P. or album. It’s different to Neon Atlas, probably a little heavier, rougher, who knows. But it keeps me occupied and it’s a great learning experience for me.”

Both projects release via Demeanour Records, O’Flaherty’s own label. While the influx of artist-led/DIY labels is nothing new in this day and age, the moniker seems so far to exclusive home his own projects and creative impulses. “One of my hairbrained schemes, as my bandmate likes to refer to it, it is a long term project. I wanted to create a platform for releasing music, kind of a hub for musical projects. We’ve only released material that I’ve been involved with so far, but like The Grey Merchant, it’s a good learning experience, and I guess down the line, I might expand it to release other artists – In fact I’m pretty sure that’s what I’d like to do.”

Of course, Neon Atlas’ gigmates on the 18th, Paradox are bordering on their 20th anniversary this year, with a documentary and such to follow, returning to original material after the Nirvana tribute shows of late. With their frontman Pete Mac now hopping in on guitar for Neon Atlas, O’Flaherty speaks highly of the band. “We started teaming up with Paradox last year. They’re youthful veterans of the music scene and know what’s what ,and the work levels involved in putting out your own material. To that end, they’re just gearing up to release their next single in March, recorded with Brian Casey in Kerry, where they recorded their last album ‘Chapters’. They’re great gigging buddies. How could they not be?”

Returning to the topic of self-releases, and such, The Grey Merchant slipped under a few radars last year, but got international airplay and online accolades. O’Flaherty takes us through the mindset of establishing a project and getting this far under one’s own steam, in particular negotiating the tricky question of radio. “The process is quite simple really; you make music and then you put it out there. Establishing the music either happens or it doesn’t. Of course you help it along by reaching out to blogs and radio stations. I guess it’s curious that The Grey Merchant and Neon Atlas get more coverage outside of Ireland than at home. But it’s a small island, and radio stations are super-saturated with a lot of middle-of-the road material, trying to please the largest audience and keep themselves afloat. It’s understandable. But in larger markets, there’s room for something a bit different. The Grey Merchant has had regular plays in the UK, US, Canada, Oz, New Zealand, France, the Philippines …the Mauritius, and few other spots. I did a phone interview for Radio Rock Mauritius; they were so keen to listen to, and digest new music. Even with our radio quota for Irish music here, we still seem to rotate the same Irish artists constantly. It’s a real shame.”

While Cork has always had a very strong alt-rock scene, the recession in recent years has hit that scene, and its various micro-offshoots via venue losses, and emerging from the wreckage, seemingly, are other genres, while noisy guitar music seems to be struggling to find a place at present on the live scene. O’Flaherty is pragmatic on the topic. “Goodness knows. It goes in cycles I guess. When the mood is right, and the material is good enough and fresh and relevant, maybe there’ll be an upsurge in noisy guitar music again. Maybe not. But if there’s a call for it, then the venues will re-appear in a new guise, and the sound will be familiar but different; of its time hopefully. I’m not tied to noisey guitar music, though it’s what I’m making at this moment – maybe this time next year I’ll want to make music that expresses moods through the pan-pipes played in a public toilet; exclusively released on four synchronised cassettes for quadraphonic, lo-fi sound. Probably not.”

Neon Atlas and Paradox play the Crane Lane Theatre on Saturday night. Free in. New single The Afterglow available on March 2nd via iTunes. The Grey Merchant’s new single The Last Transmission available February 17th via iTunes.