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Kara Marni: “I have so much music written”

“They say love is blind,” Kara Marni laughs when we talk about one of her early singles. “In some situations it’s difficult to see what’s really happening to you, difficult to have perspective, to know if you’re being treated well. Especially if you’re not in a great place.”

Marni isn’t talking about herself, but a friend. An early single, ‘Opposite’, was her take on a close friend’s struggling love life, a series moments that removed her to the role of helpless onlooker, committed to song. In it, Marni takes a stab at all the boyfriend’s mistreatments, the behaviours she saw slowly dragging her friend down. “I think you’re better on your own, but you’re too scared to find out,” she sings, a less than delicate reality check.

“I could see what the situation was, being removed from it,” she explains. “The song basically came from being frustrated she wouldn’t listen to me. I ended up playing her the song, and she got it, so I guess it worked!”

Marni’s music is a lively fusion of soul and R&B, set to beats, but its unquestionably the vocal and the clever messages it contains that stand out. Her compact but varied voice soars over the choruses, breaking into forceful peaks and exploring the reaches of a broad vocal spectrum. It’s colourful, potent stuff.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Marni says of her breakthrough. “It’s been such a whirlwind, in fact, that I can’t remember everything. But I feel I’ve been growing, and everything’s really picked up for me. I’ve had so much support for something that started in my shed with the help of my parents. They built it so I could have everything there in the house, which is just another way they were really supportive.”

The Riptide Movement: “People don’t really think in terms of albums anymore”

GLEN HANSARD’S starring role in the 2007 movie ‘Once’ is semi autobiographical: the Dublin icon did in fact rise from playing his guitar on Grafton Street to headlining major stages, fronting The Frames, and eventually to New York’s theatrical stages, too.

The Riptide Movement – a somewhat more snarling, riff-loving outfit than Hansard’s laid back group – can trace something of a similar trajectory, though their reasons for taking to Grafton Street were perhaps a little more practical.

“We haven’t busked in a while,” guitarist and vocalist Mal Tuohy laughs. “We wrote our first album around the time that CDs were starting to sell a little less well, about ten years ago. We were a bit optimistic, and we ordered 10,000 of them. It was very naive, looking back.”

“They weren’t selling anything like enough in the shops, so we went out and played on Grafton Street as a way to sell the CDs. They were gone within the year, and we got shows in Russia and India out of it. I think we learnt to entertain on the streets, too, how to hold a crowd, so it worked out in the end.”

That debut album ‘What About The Tip Jars’ did chart at an impressive number 16 in Ireland, and everything the band have done since has done better. All three follow up albums charted in the top ten, including a number one with 2014’s ‘Getting Through’.

In a sense, though, the band have left the idea of an album behind them, at least for now. “People don’t really think in terms of albums anymore,” Tuohy says, with The Riptide Movement having released a flurry of singles over recent years. “In a way we’re an album band; each one if kind of a snapshot of two years of our lives, and we’ll probably have one out next year. It can be better, though, to release an EP with a couple of hits instead.”

Amanda Palmer: “I felt a level of artistic liberation that I’ve never felt before”

From years as a statuesque street performer handing flowers to passers by, to marrying famed author Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer’s life has been almost as unconventional as her musical career. The latter, traversing theatrical duo The Dresden Dolls and finding TED talk fame in talking about how she connects with audiences, has ultimately thrived on swimming upstream.

For the last few years, Palmer’s solo work has taken some unconventional roads. She’s been accompanied on tour by an ever changing cast of local musicians who she brings on stage for impromptu jams, replacing her backing band night after night. She plays guerilla gigs in parks and at roadsides for fans who can’t afford tickets, or simply want to see her twice.

She’s spoken openly about empathy, and about her trio of abortions, then later explored the complexities of parenthood and raised money through a committed team of 15,000 personal backers. Being away from a label, she’s found, is a real route to independence and personal control.

“I’m really good at forgiving myself, which is the theme of the show,” she says of her current record. “I’ve been touring for so long that I’ve found an approach to stage work that involves never being bored. If you’re going to do this job for decades, you’ve got to figure out a way to love getting on stage every night, or you just won’t last. Or become really grumpy. I like it too much to ever want to feel like I’m just closing my eyes and doing a routine.”

“Some things haven’t changed since the early days of The Dresden Dolls. My connection with the actual human beings who come to see me is a massive ingredient in my ability to get up there every night and tear my heart out of my chest,” she says of her deeply personal new album, ‘There Will Be No Intermission’. “I wouldn’t want to do it alone.”

“I know there’s a real element of catharsis in it, not just for me, but for everyone who’s watching. The crowdfunding has really changed things. This kind of thing is actually really hard to describe to people, because I think people think about crowdfunding, Kickstarter, Patreon, they think about the financial side of it all.”

Shayne Ward: “I’ve had a lot of obligations recently, and I’ve tried to make them things that matter to me”

SHAYNE WARD burst onto a very different pop scene in the middle of the last decade. Back when pop was largely a shiny, crooning outlet for love songs and harmonies, he was a fresh-faced X-Factor winner who grabbed an immediate Christmas number one, the first stemming from an original post show song, with ‘That’s My Goal’.

In fact, that debut single was the third fastest selling in UK history back in 2005, yet while writing and performing music is still central to Ward’s life, he’s progressed into some strong acting roles, too, and sees balance as his new primary aim in life.

Referring to his years on Coronation Street and a number of film roles, Ward jokes about some of his idols, and admits it’s mainly about having the right kind of experiences. “I’ve watched other people balance film and music, people like J-Lo and LL Cool J, and I figured I’ve got to try my hand at it. You only get one life to live,” he says. His acting has arguably taken centre stage recently.

Along the way, Ward’s not been afraid to speak his mind. In one particularly bold move, he went on popular chat show Loose Women at a physical low ebb, and talked about male body confidence, having gained weight himself after the arrival of his first child.

“A lot of guys have body confidence issues. I felt okay being a bit bigger, and I’ve lost the weight again now, but I thought it was important to talk about. Shaming people for their body isn’t okay,” Ward explains. “It felt like an important message. I think men are much worse at talking about that kind of stuff.”

“I’ve had a lot of obligations recently, and I’ve tried to make them things that matter to me,” he continues. The music, clearly, has become a much more occasional part of Ward’s life, though you still sense the passion in his voice when he speaks about it.

“Back when I released that first song, I felt a lot of pressure, it was a huge responsibility,” he recalls of ‘That’s My Goal’, “I was really lucky it was received so well. An original song for X-Factor seemed like quite a new idea back then.”

The Murder Capital: “I wish someone would come out and criticise us”

WHEN THE MURDER CAPITAL’S debut album ‘When I Have Fears’ dropped, it quickly bolstered an already growing reputation: one for stark, brittle, slightly miserable art punk that ruminates abstractly on Dublin’s – and their own – problems. It’s a distinctly local album referencing Yeats and nodding to The Liberties and Dublin music college BIMM, but also dealing in existentialism and brutalism.

The Murder Capital have not been slow burners. Despite a relative dearth of material in the build up to this debut, their wafer-thin diet of sparse, angsty singles has fuelled hype not dissimilar to vaunted neighbours Fontaines D.C. They’ve appeared in NME and The Guardian, and in an unusual twist, found the hype to be slightly nauseating.

“I wish someone would come out and criticise us,” guitarist Cathal Roper tells me when I mention the hype. “It feels weird to have people talk about us like this. We don’t make the kind of music you’d expect everyone to like.”

It’s true: the shouting and tangled guitars that characterise the band – references, they say, to poetry and fearful philosophy as much as musical touch points – are not exactly straightforward or easy to suck in. They’ve taken a stab at Dublin’s housing situation, and ruminated on their own existence. It’s poignant, and somewhat abstract. 

“It’s not a pop album,” Roper says of the release. “It’s mainly recorded live. We wanted to capture that energy. We are a live band above all, and when it came to making a record we wanted to give a sense of that energy.”

“We put a lot of thought into how we put this album together. It’s a kind of narrative, but also a feel thing.” There’s a real contrast that leaps out in the flow of the album, with fluctuating moments of loud and quiet, an enticing sense of tone.

Marc Rebillet: “Anxiety is very real for me right now”

MARC REBILLET, a cultured multi-instrumental songwriter from Dallas, is often pigeonholed by his stage persona. Rebillet is essentially a talented musician with an incredibly sharp wit, and produces live remixes of some fairly abrasive (but hilarious) beat-driven comedy. He’s been called a ‘techno Randy Marsh’, or ‘Loop Daddy’.

There’s a little more to it, though, from a man who became famous for his social-media remixes. Classically trained from a young age in jazz piano, Rebillet has very few musical staples. He improvises every single show almost from scratch, with just a few of his biggest hits getting treated to regular airings. He’s typically on stage for over an hour, literally making things up as he goes along with the help of his audience.

At around two years since he first broke out of relative obscurity and launched tracks like ‘Reach Out’ and ‘Summertime’, his complicated live approach is taking its toll, and he’s ready to talk in a way you just wouldn’t associate with a man famed for his humour-based public persona.

“Anxiety is very real for me right now,” he says. “It can be at a very high level, surrounding the viability of continuing to do this. I wonder how much longer I’ll be interesting, how much longer can I do it. Those questions are constant, and I’ve been having a hard time maintaining a modicum of general happiness. It’s been a real internal psychological struggle.”

“You sort of zoom out and look at where you’re at and it seems ridiculous, because things are going better than they ever have. On the surface, they’re going very well. I’m playing shows for a lot of people, but the reality is I feel like I’m right on the edge of failing. The more I talk to other performers, the more I realise it’s just part of being a creative professional, and you just have to learn to manage that.”

From the outside, it certainly doesn’t feel like Rebillet should have any particular pressure. He might have his nerves, but his creativity in producing that live show on the spot is almost astounding, and his viral acclaim ever growing.

All Saints: “Everything in the industry’s changed this time around”

The surprise return of pop sensation All Saints in recent years has had a different pace to the mania that surrounded their early releases, as the multi-million-selling four-piece continue their return from a decade long hiatus.

With the digitalisation of music, different styles topping the charts and an audience that have grown up with them, though, Nicole and Natalie Appleton, Melanie Blatt and Shaznay Lewis are enjoying things just as much second time around.

“It’s funny because we never got a chance to properly tour after our first album so it’s so nice being able to perform live regularly and see our fans, I feel like we’re closer to them now than ever before,” Natalie Appleton says of the return. “We do have our families around at loads of shows now, which is amazing for us. They’re all so supportive and we love seeing them out in the crowd.”

Lewis, the group’s core songwriter, sees huge changes in the industry since the band’s heyday with ‘Pure Shores’, ‘Never Ever’ and ‘Bootie Call’ in the late 90s, ones that have been clear in the style of their return.

“Everything in the industry’s changed this time around,” she says. “It’s all about streaming rather than CD sales. As a band, though, we’re stronger than ever and loving being back together making music and doing shows.”

Despite the changes, the process of putting together an album is still very much the same, with ‘Red Flag’ (released in 2016) and ‘Testament’ (in 2018) having emerged since the band’s reformation, accompanied by major tours with Take That.

“I think the songs all mean different things to each of us,” Nicole Appleton says, “but then sometimes Shaz will play something for us and we won’t realize until the end that she’s based it on a story we’ve told her.”

Mongoose: “We had a flugelhorn for the first time, that was an exciting day at the studio”

A LITTLE FOLKY, a little twee, and host to an ever-evolving palette of stunning harmonies and surprisingly punchy, ‘kiss with a fist’ lyrics, the evolution of the wonderfully-named Dublin folk-pop act Mongoose has been a sight to behold.

Made up of four friends drawing on very different musical backgrounds, there’s an open, shared approach to songwriting and a ‘capable of anything’ feel to Molly O’Mahony, Ailbhe Dunne, Muireann Ní Cheannabháin and Cara Dunne’s music. That happy variety feels particularly prevalent on their latest release, second album ‘Suck The Wound’.

“It’s very much rooted in folk,” O’Mahony says of the new album. “We had a synth set up, guitars, cello, all of this. We didn’t set out for the album to be anything in particular, really, it’s a big melting pot of our ideas. There’s everything from pretty heavy going rock to jazzier stuff, a South American ballero, and then some more trad influenced stuff. We didn’t know we’d written a ballero until we hired a South American musician to play on it, but apparently it is one. The whole thing is a mix of all our tastes.”

There’s a real confidence to the way ‘Suck The Wound’ comes together; a faith that the disparate influences can untangle and melt into a coherent and memorable whole.

“Everything is a little bit more extreme on it,” Dunne says. “It does feel like it’s an album, as opposed to disparate songs. We had a flugelhorn for the first time, that was an exciting day at the studio! We had more time with it when we were writing, but then we just recorded it, mixed it, and it was done. It was very much about recreating our live sound, with the vocals are still very essentially to it.”

Harmonies – beautiful, soaring ones and darker, mood-setting ones – are right at the heart of what defines Mongoose as a band, and they’re here with abundance.

“Tonally, we’ve got a lot darker. It covers those middle twenty years that are a wee bit turbulent, trying desperately to mature. Or trying not to,” O’Mahony says.