Dublin duo Carriages are one of those charing bands that seem to put genre aside, and instead focus on producing things that are deeply personal, more an aesthetic than a distinct sound.
Harry Bookless (producer) and Aaron Page (singer-songwriter) have been largely out of action in recent months, but are still producing subtle tracks based on field recordings and weighty memories, exploring for themselves as much as anyone else.
I asked Harry about what’s going on with the pair, and found a man who sounds deeply content with life, with music a natural byproduct…
Let’s start with the obvious – what’s happening with you guys? It’s been a while!
Since Movement came out, I’ve gotten married, had a daughter and now have a son on the way so I’ve just been living life. Aaron hasn’t had any kids but he’s been running marathons and raising his cat.
We both work full time and have never treated Carriages as a full time thing so it can take us a long time to get music out, but I definitely took a long break when my daughter Nina was born. The thought of being a part of a music industry, networking and tirelessly promoting the band has never appealed to us in any way, and anytime I’ve spent promoting releases in the past has always been stressful and a little heartbreaking.
Having said that, we’ve been having a surge of writing over the last two years so we should hopefully be dipping our toes into the promotion machine again pretty soon.
Do the two of you have other musical projects on the go instead?
No, not at all. When we first started, I was in Little Xs For Eyes and was working on their last album, ‘Everywhere Else’, but we stopped playing together. Aaron was playing with a few different bands and has released an album under the name Water Cycle but at the moment we are just doing Carriages. I’d be delighted to hear another Water Cycle album though. I’m sure there’s another one in him.
‘Movement’ went down really well a while back. How do you feel about it in retrospect?
We’re really proud of it and very happy with it. It documented a very happy time for us. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but for the making of it, we took a residency in a studio in Ranelagh for a few months and I was putting in 8-10 hour days, three or four days a week.
I was living in town at the time and each day I’d walk or cycle out to Ranelagh. Emmet from Homebeat had a cafe in Portobello at the time, and I’d stop in there on the way. And then he ended up releasing it with us, so it really brings me back to that time when we were at the height of our involvement with Homebeat.
You used a lot of ‘in situ’, field recording type stuff on your recordings. How did that work in practise?
Its really about capturing a moment in the song. There was a time when I’d go out specifically to record sounds, but it’s hard to find the time to do that sort of thing when you’re a parent so I’ll just carry a recorder around with me or just use my phone to capture sounds from a day out and put them directly into the song.
My daughter might be messing with something in the park and I’ll record it. The song means a lot more to me if I can recognise sounds in it from a particular day trip. And when you’re not the lyric writer, its the only way to convey your own emotions.
At the moment, I’m working on a song that is built around a recording of my daughter playing in the garden for 5 minutes. The people down the road started chainsawing a tree in the middle of it, but to take out the recording just completely removes the essence of the song so there’ll have to be chainsawing in it.
What’s the oddest field-recording type sound we can find in your music? Is there a lot in there that listeners wouldn’t easily recognise?
For ‘Roots’, our second release, I went out to the National Print Museum and recorded the machine that they printed the Proclamation of the Republic on. It’s fairly obvious in the song that its a printing contraption playing the beat but I don’t think I even put that in the press release at the time. It wasn’t planned and I wasn’t making any statement with it. I just happened to have my recorder with me when I was out there.
In the early days of the band, I was working in the National Concert Hall, and I’d wait until the orchestra took a break and run in and record myself quickly playing all of their percussion instruments, maybe a harp, or a celeste and then leg it before they caught me.
Apart from that its mostly your standard flower pots and bicycle chains, but each song brings me back to the time I made it. The beat on Iron & Fire is made up of the door handles in a house I lived in in Monkstown. Tired Love was recorded on flower pots in Emmet’s family home in Limerick in the middle of a tour we did together, Moving Parts is written around a recording of my nephew Alex singing as a toddler. It’s nice that, to Aaron, the lyrics will evoke one memory, and then the sounds will evoke a different memory altogether to me.
Homebeat seems to be an absolute godsend for the alternative side of Dublin music. How have you found working alongside them over the years?
Homebeat have been our saviours to be honest. I met Emmet before Carriages started. He had Little Xs For Eyes play at a few of his gigs and then the first Fading Light festival.
When we put out the first Carriages EP ahead of HWCH 2013 he was the first person to offer us a gig. That was the second Fading Light, and we ended up doing it three years in a row. We probably said yes to a few too many gigs for the first year. We did 50, which is a lot for a band that isn’t touring internationally, and we ended up getting completely jaded with them all apart from the Homebeat gigs, because Emmet kept bringing us into these amazing rooms to play.
The Freemasons Hall, The Goethe-Institut, Mabos, The Another Love Story house, a barn in Donegal, and it just felt so much better playing these places. The music suited them so much more than the standard rock venues. It got to a point where we were only doing Homebeat gigs. We both started around the same time and just fit each other perfectly so it was amazing to do Movement with him. He puts a lot of heart into every event he puts on and we’ve made a lot of friends through his gigs.
The production on the EP is really interesting. Was there any particular technique to it all?
Jaysus no. I wish I had a technique I could rely on. I just throw piles and piles of crap at the wall and try to scrape enough away that it leaves something good for Aaron to sing over.
I keep trying to be minimal and I’m getting better at it. Hardest Mile is probably the most successful attempt at putting just the bare minimum in a song, so I’m really happy with the production on that. The rest of the time I’m just adding and taking away and seeing where it goes.
One thing I’ll avoid is using a drum machine or sequencer for the beats to try and take away any constant repetition. Instead, I’ll manually write in the beat across the whole song without quantising it to any grid. That gives it a bit more personality. I always look to the first few Four Tet albums and The Books for inspiration when I find myself trying to polish it up a bit. They’re both masters of making electronic music sound human.
You seem to have jumped around quite a bit in style over the course of your EPs. Is that why you’ve chosen to stick to shorter releases – to allow that variety?
After the first EP we started to do a lot of festival slots and as a reaction to that we lost a bit of the original folky element and started writing for festival crowds. Sticking in dance beats and layering synths. I’m really fond of all the songs we’ve put out, but in hindsight I don’t think I’d let that sort of thing influence the music again. Personally, the song that is the most true to the sound I want to create is Significant Landscapes, from our second release, and its the song that has had the furthest reach for us so we’re going to be a lot more honest with ourselves in future.
The shorter releases is down to the fact that we work at a slow pace and wanted to keep putting music out. Music doesn’t really pour out of us, like it seems to for some other bands. We’re playing a lot less gigs now and seem to be writing a lot more honestly so hopefully its album time at last. Most likely a concept album about domestic bliss.
How do you see the Irish scene at the moment?
Gigs were few and far between for me even before Covid-19, but I try and keep up with everything that’s being released and there seems to be endless amounts of incredible Irish music being put out. I see a lot of different genres represented and a lot of support and encouragement from fellow musicians. Nobody waiting around to be discovered. Just putting out releases and developing publicly.
Have you made good use of lockdown, musically?
My wife, Michelle, is working from home so I’m doing the full-time parenting throughout this. So I’ve fallen into a system of leaving the studio turned on and ready to be used, and all my gardening tools are where they need to be in the garden, and whenever my daughter takes a nap or finds something to entertain herself, I jump into the studio or garden and get a little bit done, and to be honest, it’s working really well.
I’ve been sending Aaron a good bit of stuff. But I’ve also been able to spend an extra 40 hours a week with Nina that I’d never have had pre-lockdown and its experiences like that that are really going into the songs anyway. We’ve been going on treasure hunts around the neighbourhood and I’ve been recording her reactions and it’s all going into the album so it’s been a really good time musically.
What are your hopes for the future?
That it won’t be too long before I can hug the people I love again. That Aaron will be able to come over and record some vocals without fearing for our health. That we’ll just carry on putting our experiences into songs and sticking them on the internet.