Almost two years on from their number one album ‘Stories From The Surface’, the Kells indie act are riding slow and enjoying the view…
HAM SANDWICH have never been a band to rush things. After their Irish number one album ‘Stories From The Surface’ – their third full-length – saw them reach their highest ebb so far back in Spring 2015, the Kells act stepped up to larger venues as opportunities rushed before them.
They’ve never been the type of band to ‘cash in’, however. It’s taken well over a decade to get to three albums, a journey that’s taken the five-piece to a host of the UK’s biggest festivals. Their laidback outlook still finds them, the night before our interview, performing secret shows at short notice in the heart of Dublin, essentially for the sake of performing.
Niamh Farrell, an iconic frontwoman on the Irish indie scene, tells us where things stand in 2017:
“We’ve started working on new music, but we’re not the kind of band to put anything out until we’re really ready,” Farrell explains. “But we’ve been down to Dingle recently for a weekend to work on a few songs and spend some time as a band, to really gel. We don’t know when the next album will be, but we never really did. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
“What we have so far is a lot groovier, a lot funkier,” she says of the progress already made. “We just do our own thing. We even had a time apart before, but it was just to do our own thing. People misconstrued it as a break up. It wasn’t, it was more refreshing ourselves over that Christmas. We were really buzzing after some time apart, it really helped us move forward.”
Part of Ham Sandwich’s appeal has always been their willingness to do things slightly differently, from some of their earliest album performances involving guerilla gigs in the streets of Dublin, to Farrell’s famous Hot Press cover, nude aside from a coating of copies of the magazine.
“We like new experiences,” she explains. “We’re creative, and playing the same venues again and again isn’t the ideal. We like to challenge ourselves. A gig like last night [the secret Dublin show] can be harder than walking out somewhere like the Olympia. It’s really intimate, totally surrounded by people, and pin drop silent. That can be quite intimidating.”
“It’s the same with the album. Having a number one has definitely opened doors, and helped with radio play, which gets more people coming to gigs. We always had people who were great at dragging their mates along to shows, but we’ve had more people since the album who’ve come along and told us they know us from new tracks on the radio. But we’re not going to just put another album out for the sake of it, we need to get it right.”
It’s long been a tradition that some of the more successful Irish indie/ rock acts relocate to London, simply because of the size of the UK market. While the likes of The Coronas have hopped across the water and started at the bottom, however, Farrell cites family commitments and the difficulty of relocating a group of five and their differing lives as a good reason to stay put.
“Years ago, we thought about it,” she admits. “But it’s a huge deal for five people to up sticks like that. We still go there gigging a lot. We’ve dealt with it by bringing shows together in groups and doing a lot when we get over there in a short space of time, to get your money’s worth. It’s expensive going over, especially for an independent band like us.”
Perhaps the harder moments over the years have kept Ham Sandwich here, too. Manager Derek Nally died of a heart attack in 2010, right around the time Ham Sandwich were putting out their popular second album.
“Derek only heard the final version of ‘Ants’ (one of the band’s biggest singles) once before it happened,” Farrell explains. “The day of the funeral, we had to go back and do our first day of recording [on second album ‘White Fox’]. But we know if he’d been there he’d have been the one pushing us to do it. It’s hard not to think of him at certain times.”
Ham Sandwich’s second-album success came full circle recently, when Farrell dropped down to the Hot Press covers exhibition in Temple Bar with to check out several decades of covers, including her own.
“There are so many more women in music now. I think it’s a confidence thing,” she says, thinking back to the cover, and citing rising act Rosa Nutty as a recent inspiration. She’s right: the fairer sex isn’t quite at parity at the top of the indie scene, but it’s definitely becoming more balanced next to the male-fronted indie of ten years ago.
While backed by four men – including the memorable madness of guitarist Podge McNamee – Farrell has played a huge role there, and it’s a testament to where the band stand. Ham Sandwich’s 14 year, three album journey has plodded for a reason: they do things slowly, when they’re ready to be done. But they get them right.
Ham Sandwich play Live At Leopardstown on June 22, as well as festivals in Cork, Kilkenny and Wexford over the summer.
This article is one of my weekly music columns for the Dublin Gazette, reproduced here with permission. Note: this column is published in the Dublin Gazette several days ahead of on this website, so at times, some columns may be slightly out of date. The Gazette is a freesheet paper available across Dublin, published on a Thursday. Pick up copies at these locations.
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