Elaine Mai: Building on Thematic Roots

Elaine Mai – Photography by Ruth Medjber @ruthlessimagery

AN ELECTRONIC artist originally from Galway but now based in Dublin, Elaine Mai has risen through the Irish music scene through her own nuanced output, but also through a series of clever, intricate collaborations.

From serving up the vocals on Le Galaxie’s wonderful ‘Love System’ to remixing Loah’s ‘Nothing’ in order to highlight the rising star’s soulful melodies, Mai has an ear for the clever twist, the arty repetition and the dancefloor-filling beat.

Her own output, she says, often revolves around themes, and the direction of her life at the time. “A couple of years ago I went through a really hard time,” she explains, “and that really informed my last EP.” The Colours Of The Night was a cathartic work centred on Mai’s experience of grief, and intensely moving with it.

With its thematic nature, though, Mai’s work is set, inevitably, to move on as she works towards releasing new music. Built on a clever use of looping that she reproduces live, and has learnt to subtly adapt as she plays, Mai’s new songs, only slowly emerging from production, will be centred on the concept of home.

“I’ll be putting out a couple of things this year, and then something bigger next year,” she said. “I went up to Donegal and borrowed a holiday cottage that I turned into a studio for a week to work on my music. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, and it really worked well. The new tracks are all around home, but in the emotional sense, rather than the physical. I’m already playing some of it at my shows. It’s coming together.”

The regular remixes that have become a staple of Mai’s output, though, have become almost as important to the artist’s creative brand, as has a long-standing song-development and touring partnership with another well-known Galway dance act. Daithi, a former virtuoso fiddle prodigy who’s slowly adapted into a prolific dancefloor star, often has input on Mai’s work, and vice versa.

Deep Sky Objects: “Ed Smith on Today FM described us as being a blend of The National and Royal Blood. We were delighted with that”

Kerry act Deep Sky Objects are a three-piece rock band who take their inspiration from a host of big-name , ‘atmospheric’ acts like The National and Radiohead. 

Based outside the core of Ireland’s music scene, they’re working their way into consciousness with a series of gigs, a recording made in Berlin, and a softly-softly approach to breaking through. I spoke to Kevin ahead of their Whelan’s gig as they tour new single ‘Nothing To Lose’.

First of all, introduce yourselves – who are Deep Sky Objects, and what can we expect from you?

We’re a three-piece rock band from Kerry, based in Cork currently. We’re fans of all different types of alternative indie/rock, from The Smiths, The National and Radiohead. So if we were to define a sound to expect then it maybe somewhere in the middle of those perhaps!

What were your backgrounds, musically, before forming this band?

Before forming the band we were playing our own instruments since our early teens, with the exception of Thomas who took up drums at seven years old. The three of us have studied music in some shape or another. Myself and DD studied Music Technology in UL and ITT while Thomas is currently studying music at CSN. We were all in different bands over the years before forming Deep Sky Objects.

I understand you’ve been recording in Germany recently. How did that go?

It was great! Berlin is a wonderful city and we felt really at home there. We recorded all of our releases in Cork with Ciaran O’Shea (previously of Cyclefly) at Whitewell Studios near Cloyne. Since then he moved to Berlin so it only felt right for us to go with him again on the new single. The studio was situated in this old communist block on the east side that had studios and rehearsal spaces on every floor. The street was called ‘Frank Zappa Strasse’ so it really speaks for itself!

You were at ‘Music Cork’ recently. The industry side of the game, I suspect, can be both useful and tiring. How do you find those kinds of events?

I first attended Music Cork in 2018 and I didn’t know what to expect as it was first time attending a music conference. Since then I can’t recommend enough for artists to attend these events. I met so many people in the industry from managers, promoters, bookers and publishers. It was the sort of event you could go up to anybody and say “Hi, My name is…” and make a new contact. Personally, I really enjoy the industry side of music. I’m a bit chatty so it just feels natural. The band tend to let me take care of those side of things.

The Eskies: A Fun-Filled World of Craggy Sea Shanties

The Eskies, it’s easy to conclude, have their tongues stuck firmly in their cheeks. The Tallaght four-piece’s modus operandi is one of playful, hard-wired fun, and it reflects in their music: a frantic, snarling but endlessly witty selection of gratifying, whiskey-loving country-punk.

Having been working their way around the Dublin music scene for the best part of a decade, their first album ‘After The Sherry Goes Round’ has been joined by the Christmas-release country-melodrama of ‘And Don’t Spare The Horses’. The entire process, at least from the outside, has been one surreal, messy party.

“The difference between our first album and our second album is our first album was written for live performance,” Frontman Ian Bermingham explains of the band’s progression in recent years. “I think a lot of bands will tell you that. By the time we got to the second album we had our hour long set. When we came to record the second album, we only had about half the album written. Maybe less. The same pressure wasn’t there to write songs that would work live, so we could be dynamic in what we did.”

The second album ended up being delayed by a couple of months for marketing reasons, leaving the band struggling to keep quiet about what they’d finished. “We were going round to people’s houses for sessions, and the thing is when you have lots of musician friends, you have a couple of pints and you all share what you’ve recorded. Then we’d wake up the next day going, ah, we shouldn’t have done that. I don’t want to be that guy. It’s like 2.0 of that guy who won’t put his guitar down. Playing the unreleased album on your phone.”

That album is out now, though, and is helping the band secure a wider audience, something that’s critical to their long term ambition. Despite the silly side to their music, the Tallaght band are deadly serious about finding a bigger audience.

Guernsey Football: “Guernsey FC and the pathway it now affords young players in Guernsey serves as a realistic and viable aspiration”

As Guernsey prepare the 2019 Island Games, but resolutely opt against following the influx of near neighbours Jersey, Yorkshire and Ellan Vannin into CONIFA, I caught up with Guernsey football CEO Gary Roberts about the state of football on the island of Guernsey.

In the interview, he reflects on the success of Guernsey FC, established in 2011 and now playing in the eighth tier of English football despite the obvious travel difficulties presented by playing teams entirely from outside of the island. The team has provided a route to conventional football for people from the island, population 63,000, whose biggest football export to date is Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier.

We also talk about the Muratti Vase, an annual contest against Jersey, and about their history in the island games. Dig in…

I’ve talked to a lot of relatively small-entity football sides like yours in the course of the last few years, and Guernsey is one of only two I can think of where a single name really jumps out as representing you – Matt Le Tissier (Bruce Grobbelaar and Matabeleland is the other one, in case you were curious!). Does Matt have much of a footballing legacy on the island?

Matt is part of a well-known family, with another three brothers who have all played for Guernsey’s Senior Men’s Representative team. Indeed, the three brothers created history when all were selected to play in the Muratti Vase Final in one year, which was the first and only time in which three siblings played in the same Muratti match. Matt himself was recognised as being a stand out youth player but because he signed with Southampton did not play any senior football or ever play in a Senior Men’s Muratti.

Matt did play on one occasion for Guernsey Football Club (for whom his brother Mark is the Chairman) in the 2012/13 season when the club was faced with playing 23 games in 43 days.

I’m aware you’re running a non-league side in Guernsey at the moment that plays English teams in hte league on a regular basis. That must have been financially and logistically difficult, though I understand you’re getting great turnouts and playing some good stuff. Has it achieved everything you’d hoped for as a project?

The club was established following Guernsey’s success in the FA Inter-League (formerly Systems) Cup and subsequent participation in the UEFA Regions Cup as the English FA representative. This led to the GFA identifying a need to identify another playing opportunity for the island’s most talented players, and the concept of establishing a club to participate in the English football league pyramid was formed.

After eight seasons playing in this pyramid, those involved, and the GFA, would likely be of the same opinion that the project has, and continues, to provide the desired playing opportunities. The existence of Guernsey FC and the pathway it now affords young players in Guernsey serves as a realistic and viable aspiration.

Kíla: Thirty Years of Worldly Experimentation

There’s a vibrant intensity to Kíla in person that you quickly get the sense reflects their extreme passion for what they do. It’s best summed up in the closing seconds of our interview.

“One more thing for this, before you go,” frontman Ronan O’Snodaigh says as we finish up our chat in Dublin’s Library Bar on a quiet Thursday afternoon. “If you’re going to write about us, write about what we are now. If we’re not good enough for that, we don’t deserve to be written about at all.”

Let’s touch on that particular message first. Alive Beo – Kíla’s latest release, recorded during the band’s 2016 tour – is breathless, seamlessly diverse, fresh, freewheeling, spontaneous and a great advert for their show. It’s the album of a band at the peak of their powers. They didn’t tell me to say that.

It’s hard to tell if O’Snodaigh is particularly proud of the Dublin world music act’s newest output, or simply sick of features on Kíla that largely harp back to their roots in the early 90s. The band are happy to reference their huge body of work – they’ll be doing so in their 30 year celebratory mini-festival, Féile Kíla, at the end of the year – but also feel they’ve come a long way since the days of hit 90s release Tóg É Go Bog É.

“We’ve had to relearn some of the music for touring that album, actually, because there are some people in the band who weren’t around when we wrote it,” bandmate Brian Hogan explains. “We had a time, back then, when the rehearsal studios were just full of crap. Some of it great crap, and some of it useless crap.”

Aston Villa, The Play Off Diaries: We Go Again

As you might or might not know, I’m a life-long Aston Villa fan. It’s been a rocky road. In the early days, it was quite good fun: a flamboyant, attacking club that won things – albeit relatively minor things like the then Coca-Cola Cup – and reached finals on a regular enough basis to bring lots of excitement. I had a season ticket as a student, by which time the club was a lower mid/table Premier League struggler, but still boasted the flair of people like Juan Pablo Angel and Thomas Hitzelsberger (don’t laugh, they were both excellent to watch). I still make roughly a game a year, which is less than I’d like, but as much as is really fair in the context of having a young child and living in another country.

In the next two weeks, Villa have the chance to regain their status at the top table, so I’ve decided I’ll take the chance to write about it. For two games. Or three. However long it lasts. I won’t be there, in all likelihood, but as far as a small number of games go, there’s nothing bigger than the playoffs. Time to ramble…

And so to year two: the play offs (and so, the play off diaries) strike again.

It’s funny that it can feel like your football team has gone through a complete cycle of transition, and yet come the end of the year, you find yourself facing into the same old battle to re-join the elite. 2019 Villa are a different team to the one that faced Middlesbrough and then Fulham in 2018. They’re a better attacking outfit. Probably a better defensive outfit, too, though they’re certainly liable to concede more chances and far less likely to shut up shop if they go ahead. They’re also far less likely to find themselves up against a team they can’t unlock.

It has to be said, firstly, that this has been one of the most interesting season to be a Villa fan in living memory. I’m almost at the point, as I said last year, where there’s a tiny bit of me that would prefer to stay in the Championship simply for more of this. The Championship is an equal and fiercely competitive league compared to the Premier League, and has far more in common with what I remember the Premier League being like when I was growing up. There’s a lot to like, and that’s before you get to Villa’s particular drama. So I have mixed feelings.

This season has had some distinctive highlights. We’ve had the cabbage incident back in the Steve Bruce era. The longest run of consecutive wins in the club’s history. The absolute doldrums of the first few months of the season, and the blast through from peripheral playoff contenders to comfortably getting in.

There was Jack Grealish getting attacked on the pitch and then scoring the winner against them from up the road, and that wonder-goal from Hutton against… Sure, well you know, them from up the road again. There have been two absolutely brilliant loan signings, in Tammy Abraham and Tyrone Mings, and the football – whisper it – has been really exciting since February or so (who could forget that 5-5 draw with Forest). Having a new manager in Dean Smith who’s clearly a mad fan of the club has certainly helped, too.

The issue with more championship action for Villa next season, though, is obvious. The Championship is very much a breeding ground league, and while Villa have been a selling club for a generation, if we’re honest, the loss of those two loan signings and (almost certainly) Grealish would, in my opinion, be the loss of three of the four biggest stars of this season (the other is John McGinn, for me, in case you’re wondering). It seems likely a lot of what’s been great about this year would be gone with it.

So it comes down to three games, again…

And so, once again, we come to this: the cliched ‘lottery’. I don’t know how to call it. Villa are on form – especially if you’re willing to set aside the loss to Norwich on the last day of the season, which saw half the team rested. The record against West Brom isn’t great this season, though you do have to offset that somewhat with the draw at the Hawthorns being largely down to an injury time handball goal by Jay Rodriguez which quite definitely shouldn’t have stood. This team are so much better than anyone would have credited only a few months ago, but – given I’m giving little credit to any favourites tag – there’s still a three in four chance it hasn’t ultimately meant anything at all.

So what about Albion? The full-on local rivalry isn’t there for me, despite the clubs being so nearby. I quite like Albion. For years they had that kind of ‘upstarts’ thing going on, a team with little bits of quality dotted through them that was willing to attack even when it didn’t seem that well-advised. Those yo-yo years looked entertaining, and I’d imagine they were a lot of fun to watch. I want to beat them, of course, and I don’t think it’ll be easy.

They have a squad full of premier league-quality players (not that it’s always a positive – see Villa last year), and are capable of being extremely strong. They should probably have been closer to the automatic places, but have looked like they’re in a little bit of a tumultuous mess at various times this season. Hopefully, the indifferent lot turn up for at least one leg of the semi-final, as if they do, I suspect Villa would have enough to put them away.

But we shall see. Only an idiot would go into the play offs with any level of confidence. Besides, not long after the plays off last season, it looked very much the club might disappear completely, which kind of puts the whole thing into context, right?

Que sera sera? Try telling me that at half 12 on Saturday…

Body Type: “We spend the whole time trying to amp each other up and usually succeed”

Australian garage-rockers Body Type are making their first steps over to Europe and the US, breaking out through a succession of industry festivals and now their first tour. 

There are high expectations on the Sydney scene for the four-piece, who have two EPs out to date, one of which charmingly features a slightly goofy picture of guitar and vocalist Annabel’s dad on the front cover. I asked them about that, album plans and life in general ahead of their Dublin date later this month…

I understand you’re quite a big deal in Australia. While I could name a heap of great Australian acts right now (I swear!), is it fair to assume that getting a more international breakthrough is as difficult for you Aussies as it is for local acts here in Ireland?

That kind of reminds me this scene in Anchorman where Ron Burgundy says, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal”, so I’m gonna deny that. It’s pretty early days, and I’m not sure if anyone in Ireland has a clue who we are, but I’m hoping that our Australian aura (whatever that is) gives us an edge of intrigue. I think any form of a breakthrough is a small miracle so we’re just giving it an international stab and seeing how things go, but it is definitely harder building up an audience from the ground level of touring when you’re confined by money and distance to a large and isolated island somewhere at the bottom of the world. I guess that’s why the internet is so handy.

How have you found growing into more international tours? Have you developed a good international fanbase?

This is only our second step out of Australia for an international tour but I think we’d definitely do it all the time if it was sustainable. Unfortunately, it’s not though. I’m probably going to be asking my parents if I can borrow money soon, so I think we better lay low for a little while. My main concept of whether we have an international fanbase comes from the breakdown of listener locations on Spotify and by the looks of it strongest international reach we have so far is New Zealand, but we had a pretty nice response to our shows in America, so hopefully that’s a good litmus test for how things will go.

Davie Furey: Fire And Gold

FLYING UNDER the radar for much of a career that’s grown from pub shows to international tours, Davie Furey’s brand of distinctly Irish folk-rock has led him into an extremely hectic lifestyle. He leans heavily on touring income to survive.

The man from Meath believes in telling stories through his music, taking a leaf from the likes of Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg, and winning fans like Christy Moore and Luka Bloom. He’s toured the US, Germany and Holland in recent months, and new single ‘Fire and Gold’ shot to the top of the Irish rock charts in early April.

“For an independent release, it’s a good run,” Furey says. “I find you build up really quickly, in a good way or a bad way. Thankfully it’s been a good way for me so far, but it could change overnight.”

“Radio is still king,” he says, as a veteran of countless in-studio sessions. “I know a lot of people do Spotify and streaming services and stuff. Spotify has a ripple effect and gets people coming from gigs, but radio is the big thing for me. You can see the figures go up with it. It’s not very romantic to say it, but you’re running your own business doing this, and you have to learn quickly.”

One of Furey’s songs is quite a pointed attack on Donald Trump, one which he bravely brought out whilst touring the East coast of the US recently. “They didn’t say a whole lot against it to be honest,” he laughs. “They’re liberal, Democrat states mostly.”