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Fox Jaw: “bands need to learn, nobody is going to do it for you”

Fox Jaw – once known by the moniker Fox Jaw Bounty Club – have been a fixture on the rockier end of the Limerick music scene for a decade. They’ve learnt a lot. Through line up changes and a slow evolution in the sound, bassist Kieran Sims – a newcomer to the band – tells us they’ve learnt to keep things simple.

“The last album had a bit of a ‘Kitchen Sink’ approach when it came to recording, where it sometimes became a challenge to represent the song accurately in a live setting,” Sims explains of the progression. “We were mindful of that when approaching this record, and we tried not to overload each song with unnecessary layers that couldn’t be replicated live. I think it’s a near accurate representation of what it sounds like when all five of us get in a room and make some noise.”

The new record is called ‘Breathe In The Strange’, and while it’s not likely to bother the upper echelons of the charts, Fox Jaw are proud of the way its developed into a shining, vibrant representation of them. They see the key measure of success as being around sales at live shows, which offer an indication that people value the band highly enough to want the physical versions of the record at home.

“The key track for me would be the album’s closer ’Shadowland’,” Sims tells us. “It was a song Ronan had originally written and demoed a few years ago, but was never quite happy with. I’d always loved the song and knew that if we put our heads down we could get something together we’d all be proud of.”

“We got a rough sketch together from one of our weekend writing sessions, and we built it from there. It took a lot of work and input from each of us, still making last minute decisions while we were recording it, to get it to where it is and I’m so proud of where it ended up.”

The DIY aspect of the way Fox Jaw produce their music is critical to the band’s ethos, as is the conceptual side of things, which has been branded as ‘weird’ in the past.

“I’ve never thought of anything we do as being overly weird, because when it’s created it’s never done for the sake of being off kilter,” Sims says. I think our tastes are so varied from member to member that you’re bound to get some things that shouldn’t work on paper but do in practice.”

Fakenamé: “I’m still working out exactly what Fakenamé will sound like”

Fakenamé – Dave McLoughlin to his friends – made the brave decision last year to depart from a true Irish indie icon of an act in Le Galaxie, and set off on his own. He didn’t know at the time that he was simply getting a jump on the band calling it a day – in fact, many still don’t know he had already departed – but McLoughlin has already been working away on his own new sound, under the new branding.

Fakenamé has none of Le Galaxie’s 80s influence. Instead, McLoughlin is going solo, making all his own decision in a strictly DIY aesthetic that’s seen him embrace sampling, undertake some remixes, and start to consider what his first magnum opus under the new heading will sound like.

I caught up with a refreshingly forthright McLoughlin as he eyed his next move…

Let’s start with the obvious – Le Galaxie are done. It felt quite sudden from the outside. Did it just run its course naturally?

Being brutally honest: I had left Le Galaxie a couple of months before they had announced the end of the band, so I wasn’t part of that decision. Having departed in July I learned from Instagram in December the same way as everyone else. I put my first solo track “Strangers To Love” out on Soundcloud in October 2019 and even at that stage I was getting messages from DJs saying “What? You’ve left Le Galaxie?” I didn’t have any public social media profiles myself until I started the Fakenamé project, so even now a lot of people have no idea I’m even embarked on this. So if you see me online, please “Like, Rate and Subscribe” as I believe I’m supposed to say now!

When I left Le Galaxie, we were just putting the finishing touches to an all new live show, so I had expected that the new live show would be their focus after I’d left, and for them to start writing new material. That all sounds a bit distant – but don’t get me wrong, I still talk to the guys all the time, I’ve met them a few times for pints when I’ve been over in Dublin, and we’ve plans to meet up for pints when all the current Corona Virus madness ends. I live on the other side of the country now, so I’m not just knocking around Dublin city anymore.

Sion Hill: “It is difficult finding our place in the world, it’s easy to feel lost and unsure if we are on the right path”

Having revamped his sound, relocated to London, and gone on tour with the likes of Pete Doherty, A-Ha and Alice Merton, Sion Hill – or Nathan Johnston, off the stage – is on the way to a new album, and a big reputation.

Sion Hill’s journey has taken in spells in Hamburg and Berlin as well as the English capital, but it’s the more metaphorical sense of being lost that carries through in his music, which speaks open-heartedly about issues like anxiety and self-consciousness.

His sound is a kind of indie-pop soul blend, with a little bit of gospel thrown in. Here’s what he sad to say for himself from the heart of the coronavirus shutdown…

Have you noticed a big difference between basing yourself in London and being back home, in terms of getting your music out there?

It’s always going to be hard in London, isn’t it? It’s such a big city – more people, more musicians, more budding artists. Back home the scene is actually quite small but I do miss being a part of something more connected and the Irish scene is pretty dope right now as well!

London feels like the epicentre of the music biz in Europe. There are so many people coming and going from everywhere. In that sense, it’s good for spreading music across a wider audience. It’s hard to see the value now though – when there’s no gigs, it doesn’t really matter where you are as everything’s online anyway…

Elephant has been out for a while now. How do you see it looking back?

Elephant was a product of a very different time in my life. I still think it’s a nice collection of songs but it was sort of a different project as I originally played in a duo with a friend from school and we recorded the album together so it’s obviously going to have a very different feel.

I’m really focussed on looking forward right now to my next album and appreciating working with some great people along the way. It’s no use looking back really, I just want to keep creating and let my sound develop as my life and experiences develop with it.

Sun Shakers: “When the world becomes worldy again we aim to take our show abroad and to start visiting our fans in the countries where streaming has worked its magic”

A sharp collaboration fusing disparate talents into a music whole, Sun Shakers are a mixed-genre outfit that forge a sound they call ‘Psychedelic Soul’.

With twin EPS behind them so far, they’ve already shown substantial artistic development, with songwriting changes contributed to by the developing band, each of whom is outlined in detail below.

As frontwoman Davina Brady tells me, their aims are broad and ambitious, and their hopes born more in the love of what they’re doing than any great dreams of success. Here’s what they told me ahead of the launch of ‘Back To Us’…

You describe your music as ‘psychedelic soul’. Tell me what new listeners should expect…

Psychedelic soul put simply is music working on behalf of peace and love! We describe psychedelic soul as music based on the ethos of soul music which combines a mix of genres such as rock, funk, jazz, folk and elements of old-skool hip hop. Colourful music, we aim to make each track a little bit dreamy and otherworldly through melody and arrangement.

Can you tell me the backgrounds of the various members of your band?

As a four-piece we have all come from very different places. Conall Heffernan, our Drummer is from Bray, Co. Wicklow. A curious mind, Conall has a love of travel and being culture shocked! Conall is a fluent Irish speaker and has a passion for language. The most recent language he has attempted is Russian. Conall currently works in management in a Tech firm and even with such a high-pressure job; band practice is a very important part of his week. A programmer by trade, Conall is the most sociable tech person you will ever meet. A warm heart and a wonderful calming nature, Conall is the Zen of this band.

Laura Elizabeth Hughes: “A social justice fire is burning in me”

LIBRARIAN by day, ambitious and imaginative songwriter by night, Laura Elizabeth Hughes is working on the idea of her twin passions meeting in the middle. She’s always been into writing. Lyricism is key to her work, but she also jots ideas in the more conventional sense, and is working on bringing her music, and other music, into libraries, too.

Her passions make for a disparate fusion, but it’s one that’s working: the Dubliner’s YouTube channel is closing in on three million views, her music giving that sense of an ambient canvas against which her voice can paint a stark, emotive picture.

“Lyrics are something people will take different things from,” she tells us. “People connect in different ways, and it’s very personal to me. The human condition can be very individual, but also universal, so I think I just have to put myself out there and hope it connects. It’s a singles and EPs game at the moment, but I’m focusing on getting back into the game. There might be an album one day, but 8, 10, 12 tracks is a lot to ask.”

There’s a philosophy to the way Hughes has risen in recent months, and it’s one, perhaps unwittingly, that might sound familiar to fans of the comedian Danny Wallace. Wallace, feeling frustrated with life, decided to say yes to… well, pretty much anything he was asked. The resulting book led to a Hollywood movie, and changed his life.

“I’ve been of the mind, since summer last year, to just say yes to things,” Hughes says, echoing Wallace’s thesis. “It’s created some wonderful opportunities. I spend my days in Dublin libraries, telling stories to kids all day.” 

“Two years in libraries has opened my eyes. The kind of people who go to libraries, there can be a lot of outreach, and it opens your eyes to privilege and changes your worldview. I write a lot of unpublished stuff, and there’s a real social justice fire burning in me at the moment.” In fact, Hughes adds, she could easily release an album if it were only down to having the music. It’s a question of both sticking to the very highest quality stuff, and keeping some of the tracks to herself.

Plaice: “There’s some common blood flowing through it all, mainly, melancholy”

Plaice‘s slow approach to the music industry has, it seems, largely been about self-exploration and self-expression. Adam Browne was formerly part of Autumn Owls, and since branching out on his own, has largely been exploring DIY-style recordings, that deal with his own emotions.

Along the way, he’s set up a record label, Sad Songs, which he hopes to expand to other artists, and slowly shaped a slightly dingy niche. I asked him all about it…

Tell me a little bit about Plaice – you seem to be doing quite a bit of hopping around between genres?

I don’t think my sound strays too far from the sum of my influences. There might be electronic moments here and there sprinkled with more acoustic/ lo-fi based work, but if you step back and take it all in as a complete body of work, there’s some common blood flowing through it all, mainly, melancholy.

How different have you found solo work to your time in Autumn Owls?

Being part of Autumn Owls was some of the best years of my life. Every kid should be in a band at some point, it’s brilliant craic. You just don’t get that with solo work.

Working alone can be incredibly soul destroying. You generally don’t have anyone to reassure you that what you’re doing is good and worthwhile, so you live in this constant state of paranoia and fear that you’re a complete failure, which is true for the most part. However, the sense of accomplishment from having created something entirely on your own, and seeing it through to completion, is an amazing feeling.

The process behind Planar En Plain Air seems to have been an interesting one. How did you gather your fragments and samples to build it?

The majority of material on the EP was cobbled together from demos and ideas I had for my upcoming album, Losses. Most of this stuff didn’t quite fit with the album tracks, so I decided a few weeks ago to release them as an EP.

I had to flesh out some of the tracks but the majority were just sitting on my hard drive and needed a little bit of love and care. It’s a very last minute thing and I didn’t have the money or time to get it mixed or mastered professionally, so the overall quality might not be up to scratch, but I think it works ok as a small collection of tracks regardless of fidelity.

Kevin Nolan: “The songs are my first forays into the confessional form”

After more than two decades of songwriting, Kevin Nolan‘s work lives largely in an intriguing world of self-examination.

Taking his leads from Nick Cave and Lou Reed, Nolan ponders and layers his tracks with meaning, producing much of his content entirely off his own back. In the process, he became the subject of a documentary by RTE.

Recently released second album ‘Let’s All Get Nervous’ was five years in the making. I asked Kevin to talk me through it…

First of all, congrats on the new album. They seem to be few and far between for you – does that make releasing one the culmination of years and years of work?

Yes, years and years of work, and months and weeks and days and hours and minutes and moments, as Leonard says, ‘thought by thought’.

Can you tell me how, from your perspective, this record compares to your previous work?

I would hope I have raised the bar somewhat with this new one. My debut ‘Fredrick & The Golden Dawn’ had a lot of rules and I freed myself of these rules on ‘Let’s All Get Nervous’. For example, when working on Fredrick, I purposely refrained from using any effects except reverb and a distortion sound which I created myself. During those days, occasionally my live musicians would ask me why don’t you use any effects, and I would always reply the same: that’s for the next album. Sure enough on LAGN I explore, albeit tentatively, the world of effected sound. Check out ‘Human Story (stet)’ featuring Mik Pyro on lead guitar.

All the songs on Fredrick were piano-based fictions, whereas for this new album the electric guitar is at the centre of the songwriting and the songs are my first forays into the confessional form. A lot of the songs on ‘Let’s All Get Nervous’ were conceptually written and for most of them, I jettisoned the metronome altogether in favour of an organic rhythm.

There are many many other differences besides, not least of all that I invited Mik Pyro (Republic of Loose), Vyvienne Long and Alabaster DePlume to add their expression to the album. And also after a project exhibited in the Irish Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “A Vague Anxiety” in which I collaborated with Susanne Wawra, I asked Susanne to join me on this album. Making ‘Let’s All Get Nervous’ was an entirely new experience for me.

Hudson Taylor: “We’ve gone for little bits of pop and hip-hop to give it a modern edge”

Brothers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor are, musically at least, very much a product of the Dublin streets. Long-time buskers, they’ve evolved over a decade into a traveling folk-pop juggernaut, a slow-forged success that has pushed from the corner of Grafton Street to American tours and European adventures. They’re now feeding that travel experience back into their work.

New album ‘Loving Everywhere I Go’ is very much a nod to the highs of it all. “Just being in New York, doing support slots for Hozier, and the EPs being recorded in Seattle, the hub of grunge, gave us a mixture of genres and influences that are not necessarily conscious, but you allow them all to feed in” Alfie Hudson-Taylor tells us.

“The songwriting is very influenced by our travels. We started working on this album back in 2017 in Seattle, and it would have been out a while ago, apart from the Hozier tour happening, so we did an EP instead, and toured that. For the album, the producer really challenged us to try new things.”

“There are little bits of pop and hip-hop that give it a modern edge. It’s not brash, but they’ve been captured in a way that we really like. Some people think we’re real folky and acoustic, others think it’s really pop. It seems to depend on what they normally listen to. So we’re in a weird spot but that makes it very fun to work on the sections of our songs. We sit in this kind of ‘live band’ type space.”