Mark Graham: “You will not hear ‘Whores of The Lizard People’ on any radio station, there’s a lot of swearing and slander in it”

Mark Graham, an integral member of party-hard festival lovers King Kong Company, is a Waterford music legend. As well as his work with the band, he’s spent recent months releasing the brilliant Irish Music Industry podcast, something of a scene bible, and made himself utterly integral to the Irish music landscape in the process.

He’s typically modest about all that, of course, as he comes into the launch of a new concept, Mark Graham vs King Kong Company, a kind of solo-offshoot of his musical day job. And what a charismatic one it is, too.

The biggest bombshell of this interview by far for me, though, was Mark’s revelation that in a few years he plans to head off into the world and cycle for an extended period, leaving us without his considerable expertise. Best lap it up while he’s still here. Here’s what the main man had to say about his new project…

First of all, let’s talk about this new side project. What’s the story behind it, and how will it link in with King Kong Company?

It’s very much linked to King Kong Company. We often find that we’ll be working away on material, stuff that we’re really getting into, but when it comes around to this time of year, we know that those tracks will never see the light of day because they just won’t fit into a festival set. They might be too slow, a bit too serious or just not gelling with the other material. Those tracks form the basis for these remixes and reworkings.

There’s an obvious stylistic difference between this and your musical day job. Do you see it as more of an emotional, poetic outfit as opposed to an energy-driven thing?

My musical day job is teaching music technology-related subjects to students on the BA Music course in Waterford Institute of Technology. Pretty much all the stuff I do can be related to that job in some way. But yeah, there probably is a bit of a difference between these latest remixes and full-on KKC tracks. I suppose it goes back to that previous point, they’re not full-on bangers, they’ve been written with something else in mind.

I’ve been surprised in the past to read and hear King Kong Company described as a ‘dance band’, I always just thought I played in a band, full stop. Without doubt, what we do is heavily dance-influenced, but there’s ska, reggae, rock, post-punk, spoken word and god forbid, even a bit of folk in there too.

These remixes lean heavier on those other influences, and releasing them
from a slightly different angle hopefully won’t fuck around with what
people expect from a KKC show.

Coronavirus Shutdown: day 24

It’s incredible how quickly something becomes the new normal. Crossing the street to avoid people when you leave the house for a little exercise. An amount of handwashing that would previously have seen ludicrously over the top. Trying to work during normal days, with a six-year-old running around the housing wanting to do everything, or nothing that you suggest at all. We started a tradition today of clapping him at weekends for coping with it all.

The shutdown is scheduled to end in just over a week, but I don’t think anyone in their right minds thinks it will. In fact, we were meant to fly to Scotland in four days time for an extended Easter holiday in the Highlands, what would have been an absolutely unprecedented second trip in just over a month, an amount of travel that’s completely out of the norm for us. It seems alien now; the flights have already been cancelled for weeks.

The corona numbers are through the roof. Closing in on 1.5 million cases worldwide, with the US now with an astonishing one third of a million in its own right. Deaths are creeping towards 70,000. Ireland still seems to be under relative control, in that the numbers are rising at or below 10% a day, and our intensive care units aren’t overrun. Yet. But it is a weird, anxious time, not helped by the riddles of silly conspiracy theories and misinformation that seem to be a feature of life now.

Anxiety, in fact, has really crept into it for me. It comes and goes in unpredictable patterns. Some days I wake up wildly enthusiastic about another day with family, making the house nicer, and getting in a bit of real work around things. Other days, it feels like the apocalypse and I barely function.

Hannah Kathleen: “I’d like to use my voice as a positive influence, and hopefully inspire others to chase their dreams too”

Hannah Kathleen‘s route into music has been anything but conventional. A marketing entrepreneur who dropped out of school due to medical issues, she steps into music with a wealth of life experience for her tender years and drops her debut single ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as she’s stuck in South Africa amid the coronavirus crisis.

Behind the scenes, over 60 tracks are waiting to follow the debut single down the pipeline, so we’ll be seeing plenty of Hannah Kathleen’s upbeat pop in the coming months.

I caught up with her to get a glimpse of her career’s promising early days…

At two and a half minutes, ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ really is the lightest of glimpses of what we might expect from you. How typical of your music is it?

I felt Little Miss Sunshine was the ideal introduction; it highlights many key elements of my vocal style and it’s quite vulnerable in its approach. I do, however, have multiple sides to me that I enjoy exploring in my music. So in a nutshell, I would say it’s typical in its styling of my music, but also just one side of me.

Did it feel strange releasing the single into the ether while you’re locked at home?

Yes, it felt completely strange! I’m actually stuck in South Africa right now due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and so, I was away from home when the single dropped. At first, I felt a little apprehensive to share it at such a time, as we are all going through so much, but my hope is that it can bring some sunshine to your day when listening, even if just for 2 minutes 29 seconds!

In the announcement of the single, you talk about how music helped you through health problems when you were young. Are the 90s icons you cite as influences the same acts you were listening to back then?

They have always been big inspirations to me, for sure. But there are also many other artists that I listened to growing up, ranging from the likes of Celine Dion to The Carpenters, to Westlife to Enya, so my musical taste is very broad and always has been.

Dreaming Of Jupiter: “Being in a room with all of our favourite people, vibing to tunes we’ve put our hearts and souls into – what more could anyone want?”

On the face of it, Dreaming Of Jupiter are a classic beat-driven dance-pop band, one that, perhaps, owes a subtle debt to the poppy floor-fillers of the mid-90s, like a toned-down N-Trance twisted with some modern licks and obscure, beat–led influences.

They call their sound ‘ambi-groove’, which sounds, above all else, like a whole lot of fun. Latest single ‘Beyond A Vibe’ would perhaps, under less surreal circumstances, be one of those songs that reverberating through a summer.

The three-piece, with vocals by Zoe Gough, have been gathering some serious radio play in recent months, and are working on making 2020 their biggest year to date. Here’s what Zoe had to say about the journey so far…

I understand you’ve invented a genre label for yourselves, Ambi-Groove. Can you tell me a bit about it?

Yeah for sure! Any time anyone would ask us how we sound, we always seemed to come back with the words ‘groovy’ and ‘ambient’…We feel our style has a range of influences. We are all natural groovers, that’s for sure. We’re big on funk and soul genres, even reggae…but we also have a strong appreciation for textures and love to create a soundscape for the listener. We aim to create a new textural palette with each song, with a kind of sonic space where the listener can get a little bit lost in the mood of each track. That’s where ‘Ambi-Groove’ originated from, I suppose.

How varied are your tastes in music, and how are they feeding into the tracks you’re producing?

Super varied. We’re all from different backgrounds and we each bring different flavours to the table for sure. Of course, there are lots of acts we all listen to a lot…the likes of Little Dragon, Nao, The Internet, Bonobo, Tycho and so on…but then we’ve each got our own tastes too ranging from 90s Hip Hop, Neo Soul acts like the wonderful Jill Scott, to grittier sounds of the Bristol underground scene and Trip Hop vibe – the likes of Massive Attack and Portishead and so on, all the way to classic P-Funk and Soul vibes of Chaka Khan and Chic to clean vibey pop of the likes of Dua Lipa and Jessie Ware.

We just love music, and the more we listen to, the more we learn, and the more interesting it all becomes. That’s what we love about this, we just never stop learning and we can literally move in so many directions! Sometimes we love to take a classic reggae concept or idea and completely re-think it and use it in a pop context for example, or a groove that has it’s roots in a trip hop idea, but we’ll modify it and adapt it by changing the choices of timbres we use or how we mix it to fit into a track with a soul vibe, you know what I mean? Pushing boundaries and trying everything – that’s what we love. 

Tell me a little bit about the tracks you have out so far – They strike me as very much a taster for a more long-form, ambient piece of work. Is that fair?

Yeah – absolutely! We would hope so. Like, we would definitely love to do an album, when we are ready. We don’t rush anything though, we never have, and we will know when the time comes. Would we love to have a strong concept and depth to it? Yes. With a couple of pop bangers on there too of course :).

Lisa Lambe: “When I have downtime I always escape the city and find my own rhythm. I feel very drawn to the rural landscape”

Lisa Lambe‘s creative range – which incorporates both her music and a successful career as an actor – takes its latest turn on new album ‘Juniper’, an ode to Ireland away from the city.

The album is what you might call ‘a mood’ – soulful, delicate and visceral, and a heady tribute to the rural environment that spawned it. “The title track was sparked by a boldly gnarled juniper tree I spotted on an isolated bog road,” Lambe says, and that kind of inspiration flows through the record, both lyrically and in its subtle textures.

Ahead of its launch, I spoke to Lisa about Juniper, which is out this Friday, April 3…

Congratulations on the new album. I haven’t heard of many albums so explicitly inspired by nature. Do you have a particular way of applying your surroundings to your music?

This album is certainly a love letter to nature. I spent many months over the course of a year in Connemara and so every day I was there has inspired and lead to the texture of the lyric and sound of the project. I think when you are making new work –where you are or a sense of place will always influence you, and then it’s a choice about whether to embrace that and feed it into the work. Lyrically this project is certainly an ode to the landscape.

In some senses, this also seems to be a real tribute to rural Ireland. Are you still inspired by our landscape?

Yes very much so. I love nature and I love the quiet. When I have downtime I always escape the city and find my own rhythm. I feel very drawn to the rural landscape.
 
Was there anything specifically that you took from the studio in Donegal?

I take amazing memories with me from the studio, atmosphere, the collaboration and the joy. There was a lot of joy making this album, a shared experience in the truest form and that is down to the people involved in making it with me.
 
You seem to live a really quite international life. Has that helped colour your perspective on humanity and the way you portray music and characters?

First Class & Coach: “music is cathartic, creative and vital – and forms a central thread to life anywhere. West Cork just happens to be home for us”

Photo by Caragh MacCloskey.

First Class & Coach are one of the numerous bands that sit somewhere off slightly on the periphery of a scene, not so much as their music hasn’t broken through, but because they choose to, sharing diverse influences and making music for their own pleasure before anything else.

The four-piece from West Cork bring diverse influences to the table, exploring gritty American influences and German fairytales on their debut album ‘The Truth About Honey’, for which they flew in past collaborators for the production.

Bassist Jonathan Parson told me their story so far, with contributions from other members of the band, below…

West Cork is famed for a lot of things, but grungy rock is certainly not one of them. Are there any specific challenges that come with breaking into a scene from somewhere like Ballydehob?

What we are doing, musically, is a response to ourselves, and certainly not attempting to be part of a scene. In practical terms, of course, the best places to find an audience are likely to be in cities, but that does not preclude us from creating in the first instance.

Ultimately, this band grew into a project to fulfil our own musical inclinations, and not specifically to enter the music ‘scene’ per se. Therefore, we are not trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what we should be. We are just doing our own thing, and happy that it is striking a chord with fans of music generally. Diversity is essential in most things… music especially. It would be futile to chase after a ‘sound’ or scene because that will ultimately shift and then you are left without a cornerstone to your creative voice.

The material we create is a true reflection of what we are as individuals and equally as a band – Geri’s writing comes right from the centre of her – the music and atmosphere we create is both a response to Geri’s written emotion and a soundtrack of what has come before us all in our lives.

Not least, our location in a rugged, beautiful corner of the country provides a great counter-balance to some of the material – and a direct inspiration for other tracks. In particular, ‘Ballyrisode’ was created and named
by the beach that we all frequent and was a favourite spot for Beckett, Reuben’s Irish Wolfhound, to whom the album is dedicated.

We all know that music is cathartic, creative and vital – and forms a central thread to life anywhere. West Cork just happens to be home for us. The bonus is that you get to have a quick swim in the Atlantic just before a rehearsal or gig, which helps clear the mind and reset the body!

Coronavirus shutdown: day 16

The shutdown has officially been extended in both its length and its limitations, and what a weird world it is. I had to go to the supermarket on Thursday, and the whole place – blessedly empty – basically involved people slowly pacing the aisles as they carefully avoided each other as far as possible. It took a lot longer than usual.

From now on, we can exercise a little in isolation outside the house, but travelling no more than 2kms from our front door. We can go to essential jobs only, and the supermarket if necessary, and medical emergencies. Its a far more hefty lockdown, but seems like it’ll save lives.

There’s a really odd feeling to the whole thing as an individual. I’m lucky, so far, in that I personally don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus. On the one hand, there’s a battle for life going on, one we hear about on the news on a day-to-day basis, a shocking, abrupt, overpowering thing that’s proving really draining even for those not involved, and I can only imagine the agony for those that are.

Then there’s the almost monotonous side of it. I’m still at work (from the kitchen table), and certainly don’t lack for things to do, but the restriction of freedom, while necessary, is hard. Humans weren’t designed to be mostly confined by four walls, or at least this one wasn’t. My running has stepped up, as an excuse to weave far from anyone else who is outside, but at least get in some exercise. Earlier today I ran over 8kms on an empty 150 metres long lane a few metres from our house, just up and down and up and down.

We’re trying our best to keep some normality for the little guy. He does reading, writing and maths every day, and has been running with me and cycling around the empty pavements near our house at times, too. We’re now signed up to Netflix, Now TV and Disney Plus for entertainment, with plenty of movie nights. We’re working on unlocking the final level of Super Mario Odyssey. I’m writing a lot, including an extended series of music Q+As which you’ll find elsewhere on this website, something to keep me going.

There are now over half a million cases worldwide, and over 30,000 deaths. Ireland’s cases are in the thousands. Things are going crazy in the US, and in Spain, France, and worst of all Italy, where the death rate is really quite high. This will end, of course, but it feels a long, long way off. Thankfully we still have no symptoms. Hopefully we’ll come out of the other end of this sooner rather than later.

James Cramer: “It’s funny – when I write a song it could be on my bed, in the studio, on a plane, wherever… and then as if by magic it’s suddenly halfway across the world on a TV show!”

Until recently, James Cramer has been as much a part of what you might call the ‘hidden’ music industry as a star in his own right. Part of the quirky and dynamic ‘Tupelo’, he’s also spent much of his musical life behind the scenes, crafting songs for others.

The multi-intstrumentalist who’s worked with Hermitage Green and Eleanor McEvoy plays every instrument on his own work, which has seen him feature on Canadian TV series ‘Hello Goodbye’, and will shortly see him feature on the BBC adaption of Sally Rooney’s debut novel ‘Normal People’.

Latest single ‘Simple Man’ is, he feels, the closest to his ‘true sound’ he’s ever got. I caught up with James, virtually, just ahead of its release…

I understand you have a substantial background working with others as well as your own work. What are you most proud of to date?

I’m proud of being able to make it a career. When I started out I was advised by lots of people to not write my own songs – to write other people’s instead. I’ve managed to see a lot of the world because of my own songs so that’s something I’m very proud of.

Do you approach writing differently when you’re writing for yourself, or with Tupelo, or for somewhere else entirely?

I write constantly so I have lots of songs in different genres; if a project comes up I usually have some in the locker. If I write with someone else I might buzz off their vibe and usually new ideas come to the surface quickly that way.

Sometimes, an artist might want to cover one of my compositions or do a co-write. That’s great too because the artist might be totally different to me so it brings different elements into the song – they will be the one performing it and recording it so it needs to suit them artistically. At the end of the day, they’re all songs. If you sing it in a different key, or play it using a different instrument, it’ll sound totally different but in its essence, it’s the same thing.

I’ve learned over time what will work for certain projects. My manager, Ian, always reminds me to not get frustrated – to just keep writing. The songs will be used in the future, they just they might not suit right now. He’s been right!