Super Extra Bonus Party: Return of the Underdogs

Seven years after their last release, Ireland’s favourite indie outliers Super Extra Bonus Party return with a new single. They look back to their blistering best.

IT’S EARLY 2007, and against all the odds, Newbridge band Super Extra Bonus Party are stood on the stage collecting a gong and a large cheque, having taken home the Choice Music Prize for their self-titled debut album.

It’s probably the most controversial decision in the history of the competition. Cathy Davey, Delorentos and Kila are all household names, and all have acclaimed albums up for the award, but it comes as little surprise to those with their ear to the ground of Irish music. An album that’s only touched on the fringes of mainstream consciousness has, in some knowledgeable corners, been hailed as the most inventive Irish album in a decade.

With follow up Night Horses, the hip-hop/ indie fusion act returned with abundant Dublin-scene special guests in 2009, accompanying the searing and memorable release with a series of blistering and beloved live shows, before calling an indefinite hiatus in 2011.

Whispers of a return began as early as 2015, and with November’s new single ‘Switzerland’, the revered six-piece (seventh member Rodrigo Teles has sadly departed Irish shores for his native Brazil) have finally returned to the fray.

“It had been kicking around for a while, but the decision was made out the back of a pub in Dingle in December 2014 as part of a ‘tired and emotional’ chat we all had while on a mate’s stag,” Gavin Elsted tells us. “We felt that we had left things unfinished and without any external pressure, wanted to start working on music just to see if the old spark was still there.”

“It was never about the relationships in the band, because in the intervening years we’d still hang out whenever we could, so when we eventually took the first step into the studio, it was like we never left. There was so much joy at being back where we felt we belonged. I still think in some ways it’s an excuse to hang out a bit more with each other, but at least now we have something to show for it!”

Lankum: Sixteen Years of Trad Exploration, Delivered with an Angry Punch.

The Guardian hailed them as the best folk act out of Ireland in years. Here’s the story behind research-loving Dublin trad-folk miscreants Lankum

IN MID OCTOBER 2015, a little-known four piece appeared on the BBC’s iconic alternative music show Later With Jools Holland. Performing harmonised folk tracks like ‘Father Had A Knife’, the Dublin act could already trace their roots back more than 14 years. They’d finally got their break.

That band are now known as Lankum (more on that later), and the rise of the melodic four-piece was already well underway back home in Ireland. The big shot across the water came as a surprise, however. A demo CD that Lankum had sent to “anywhere we could think of” stood out from a pile BBC Head of Music Mark Cooper was hunting through, and next thing – at two weeks notice – Ian Lynch and his band were performing to a prime-time BBC2 audience.

The roots of Lankum, though, reach back through well over a decade of live performance. Lynch has been around Dublin trad circles since the 90s, and much of what Lankum do now is drawn from his involvement in the the kind of music-loving exchanges that still happen between trad-sphere friends and around pub sessions.

Things also went much further for Lynch. “There are lots of recordings passed around, and we often record at sessions, too. I’ve found if you ask and explain why you’re recording, people are great about it. I’ve never had anyone say no. It’s normal for friends to exchange tapes on the trad scene, too. I’ve also worked in the archives at Merrion Square, The Piper’s Club, and UCD over the years, and spent a lot of that time working while listening my way through the archives.”

“We draw from a mix of ideas,” he continues, “and that contains a lot of crunchy pub and field recordings, which are very far from polished. Some are rough as hell. Then there’s techno, krautrock, punk and even black metal in there. It’s not crossover music, the presence is quite subtle, but the different elements do make up our musical palette.”

Lankum also produce original tracks (and the traditional ones are often heavily adapted), but much of their work is drawn from Irish, Scottish, English and even German folk traditions, and routed in that quiet exchange of shaky cassette tape recording.

“The songs we write definitely sound like they’re out of the 18th or 19th Century,” Lynch explains. “We listen to so much of this stuff that it happens very naturally, we’re very immersed in that tradition, so it’s not really that conscious”

Wonderfully Weird: the Charming 60s-Pop World of No Monster Club

From (kind of) faking his own death to releasing a single album with enough tracks to fill an entire radio show, No Monster Club’s Bobby Aherne recalls a career that’s hard to define.

BOBBY AHERNE doesn’t particularly like convention. As a core member of the wonderful Popical Island collective, a loosely formed Dublin record label that thrives on collaboration, his main outlet No Monster Club has been flirting with the fringes of the Irish music scene for some time, performing lyrically sharp bubblegum pop.

His themes are broad, their coherence, perhaps, coming from the fact that No Monster Club is emphatically not about the conventional pop subjects. Bursting with colour, Aherne’s tracks explore Africa, wish retirement on an artist he’s sick of hearing, riff on the buzz of charity shops, and happily harmonize on drinking and smoking in parks. In his latest project, he’s releasing a short EP every month for all of 2017.

“I didn’t want to do a whole album again, as it’s such a big project,” Aherne tells us, and as a man who once released a record with over forty tracks on it, an album might be bigger for him than most. “I just wanted to do songs this year without having to be coherent. There have been songs as a band, as a three-piece, and just solo stuff, as well as longer, more thematic pieces. With this project, I have the freedom to do that.”

The result is – in the best possible way – weird. On the latest two-track, Aherne explores the festival of Samhain, but throws an Ace of Base cover as a b-side (“it’s okay, because it’s one of the tracks that isn’t written by the Nazi one in the band”). Earlier releases – each presented with a kind of abstract, newspaper print EP cover – include a cover of Lally Stott’s 70s hit ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ and a jaunty summer ode to doing things yourself and Factor 50 sunscreen.

Things have been more fantastically odd in the past, though, like the time Aherne released a jokey press release for a track claiming that he’d died. Having taken it seriously, an American publication ultimately released a brief expose ‘revealing’ that the musician – who’d never been less than active on social media in the meantime – was still going strong.

“There was some grief,” he recalls. “Some blog ran a piece on the track, saying that sadly I’m dead now. The PR ‘story’ was that the track was put together from shoeboxes under the bed. The comments section had some mad stuff in it after people realised. There was one guy who said he couldn’t believe this guy, and that I deserved to be dead, and someone who is dead should get to take my place. Then a Chicago place did an expose that I’m not actually dead. I did find it funny.”

Julie Feeney: a Comeback Adventure in Balian Beats

The award-winning Galway opera-pop singer and composer joins an unusual Gamelan orchestra collaboration in Dun Laoghaire.

Combining a plethora of talents, Julie Feeney exploded onto the Irish music scene in 2005 with ‘13 Songs’, a delicately perfect Choice Music Prize winning album on which she personally plays no less than eleven instruments.

Renowned for her theatrical and intimate live performances, she’s gone on to tour the world, write operas, play a ten-night stint at the National Concert Hall, become influential in fashion circles, and even qualify as a primary school teacher.

It’s been a quiet few years for Feeney, however, and the way she’s chosen to return might surprise. Having contributed to an album alongside them in 2015, Feeney is now performing live as a much-valued guest of the Irish Gamelan Orchestra.

Gamelan is the traditional formal, orchestral style of Java and Bali, in Indonesia, and it’s visually spectacular. It consists of drum and xylophone-style instruments, some of which are made out of metal, and some wood, alongside vocals and key changes far outside of western orchestral norms.

Feeney was originally brought into the Irish Gamelan Orchestra as part of their collaborative approach to music. The collective invited star musicians with a classical edge – like the Galway-born pop-opera fanatic, and Belfast’s piano-meets-poetry artist Duke Special – to contribute alongside spoken word acts like author Joseph O’Connor (Ghost Light) and ex-Riverdance man Colin Dunne.

While the project is very much an aside for Feeney, it clearly evokes a passion. “The orchestra is almost overwhelming, physically,” she explains. “The set up, with the guests, probably sounds a bit like a variety performance, but it really isn’t. They asked different composers to contribute pieces, and I originally composed a short 20-minute piece with Michael Murphy to play at a college launch. I’m very lucky, I don’t really get asked to do things that don’t sound great to me, and this was really exciting from the start.”

Famine Tales: Declan O’Rourke Returns with Meticulously Researched Stories of Old Ireland

Sat somewhere in the realm where storytelling and music meet, Dubliner Declan O’Rourke has spent more than a decade researching his latest offering. It may just be his magnum opus.

Declan O’Rourke is not your typical modern-day musician. Having powered onto the Irish music scene in 2004 with debut ‘Since Kyabram’, he became a radioplay mainstay with hit single ‘Galileo (Someone Like You)’.

After touring with Bob Dylan and Snow Patrol, though, O’Rourke was not to be lured by the temptation to repeat the same trick. Instead, he’s stood a million miles from pop tropes, writing on the workhouses his grandfather worked in, or ruminating on arranged marriages. At times, he’s had the RTE Concert Orchestra on board. At others, his music has been beautifully toned-down and delicate.

This latest release, ‘Chronicles of the Great Irish Famine’, is the result of sixteen years of research into the untold stories of the 1840s, a passion product that’s been a rumbling constant in the background of O’Rourke’s entire career so far.

“It just took that long to research,” O’Rourke tells the Gazette of the chunk of his life dedicated to this album. “It needed that. Regular songs come and go, but when you’re dealing with something where the material is based on information that you have to find, there are mountains and mountains to wade through.”

“What I was looking for was personal stories. There’s a lot of legislative information and political background about the famine, but the personal accounts are few and far between. Most of Ireland’s poor were illiterate at the time. Then there was the phenomenon of not talking about it afterwards. Stories that were passed down just kind of died out.”

So O’Rourke dug in, searching out tales from every corner. “If you keep going through books, you eventually find voices and stories,” he explains. “Then it’s about finding the best ones to get an overview of things, and paint different sides of what happened. Part of it was also about making sure I didn’t miss out any really important bits. I’m not an avid reader, so it was laborious. The crafting of the songs themselves wasn’t so hard, but because of the academic nature, you’re second guessing yourself to make sure you’ve got it right.”

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Too Much Love in the Internet Age

American indie icon Alec Ounsworth talks fame, and how you get past it.

THERE WERE A FEW months in 2005 when Philadelphia indie band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were very much ‘the next big thing’. The brainchild of frontman Alec Ounsworth (who also writes all the music released under the moniker), the band’s pre-album demos made them one of the most vaunted of early internet hype bands. The eponymous debut album sold so well it needed a second pressing in weeks, with the presence of David Bowie at early shows only adding to the buzz.

If you were feeling particularly harsh, you could argue things never got any better for Ounsworth. The self-titled debut is certainly a recognisable and memorable entity for any mid-00s indie fan, but follow up ‘Some Loud Thunder’ (2007) never reached the same highs, and the notoriety of the sound Ounsworth invented in his bedroom has only declined since. Ounsworth, though, is happy just doing his thing.

“It was a little disconcerting,” he says of those early highs. “I felt like I had no control over what was going on. I had built a bit of a cult following around Brooklyn and New York at the time, but suddenly I went from playing shows to hundreds, to playing for thousands.”

“The second album was a bit of a reaction to overexposure. A lot of people had a lot of expectations of me, and I felt like it had nothing to do with me. I felt like I burnt out pretty quickly, and the first track, in particular, was a reaction to that. While I wasn’t trying to alienate anyone, the first album wore me down. I wasn’t really bothered if anyone liked the second one. I did it for me.”

The opening track on that second album Ounsworth’s referring to isn’t exactly subtle in its fame-rejecting credentials. ‘All this talking, you’d think I’d have something to say,’ he croons, adding ‘breaking glass, and pretending to start something big’.

“I don’t measure things by the past anymore,” he explains. “I’m more comfortable with who I am now, and with the level of venues, and fame, that I’m at. I won’t resist attention outright, but I feel like it has to be natural and honest, and it didn’t feel like that the first time around.”

Theatrical Poetry-Pop in Duke Special’s Latest Adventure

Belfast’s most enigmatic man turns his musical lense on another poignant theme

INVENTIVE BELFAST solo artist Duke Special’s latest album is imaginatively different even by his standards. Peter Wilson – a mainstay of Northern Ireland’s boisterous music scene – has long drawn influence from his surrounds. These include an album based entirely on a Paul Auster novel, and another based on the work of famous photographers featured in the New York’s MMA.

Wilson jokes that his latest release, is influenced by “gardening,” (a genuine love of his) but quickly gets down to the real detail of forthcoming ninth album ‘Hallow’: putting to music the poems of popular Belfast writer Michael Longley.

“Poems don’t tend to have choruses,” Wilson explains of the challenges of the tracks, which carefully mirror Longley’s originals. “I have a huge amount of respect for Michael, and I felt I had to be really careful about how I used his work. Some of his poems have a great refrain or a line at the heart of things that I could use, but to make them work I had to live with things a bit.”

“I wrote one song over a year ago and gave it to him. He was speaking at an event, and he was really delighted and encouraging,” Wilson said of now 78-year-old Longley. “After that I sent him stuff as I went along, including artwork, stuff like that. I really felt like it was a great responsibility. It was both wonderful and scary”

Wilson is being typically modest: under the Duke Special moniker he’s become a stunningly delicate performer, basing his style on intricate and smartly-charming piano tracks, soulful, honeyed vocals, and a turn of phrase Longley himself would no doubt appreciate.

Bringing his influences very much from the music hall days, he’s a theatrical, dreadlocked, vaudeville-style performer, seemingly aiming to connect deeply with his crowds. Wilson has twice been nominated for Ireland’s national music prize, Choice. He tells us he likes to be “a bit of an enigma on stage,” and has referred to his look at “hobo chic.”

Much like his earlier work – check out hit singles ‘Freewheel’ and ‘No Cover Up’ to get a feel – ‘Hallow’ very much draws from the old school of music. It’s written almost entirely around piano and vocals. Sure, Wilson layers in plenty of other instrumentation such as double bass and guitar that he describes as “layered and embedded around” the main tracks, but the heart of his music is very much one man, one great tune, and a piano.

Otherkin: The Great Rock ‘n Roll Gamble

Half the band left behind medical qualifications to hit the rock scene, so what makes Otherkin fit to succeed?

Otherkin Official photo – credit Jake Hazeldine

THE COVER of Otherkin’s debut album – much like the band’s borderline maniacal live performances – is one big, bold statement. Ahead of the release of ‘Ok’ this month, two members of the band got the album title tattooed on the inside of their wrists.

It fits in with the band’s heady, in-your-face rock vibe (they call themselves ‘grunge-pop’), one that’s made David Anthony, Luke Reilly, Rob Summons and Conor Andrew Wynne famous (in certain quarters) for roughly-hewn pop-rock ditties, but also for crowd surfing and brash, buzzing gigs. The cover, and new symbol of the band, feels symbolic: it’s simply that tattooed arm reaching for the sky.

Their story of the album begins with a shot in the dark, and a certain amount of characteristic mayhem. “We decided to take a gamble on an expensive video for our first single,” vocalist Reilly tells us of the loveable fury of ‘Ay Ay’, “and insist that if a label wanted to sign us, they take the video as part of the deal. It worked out well [the video now has in excess of 100,000 views in its various YouTube guises].”

When it came to recording ‘Ok’, it was important to keep a similarly raw vibe. Recording music, typically, requires click tracks, steady hands and carefully constructed ‘perfect’ versions of songs, often layered from individual instrumental setups. Looking to maintain that live buzz, however, Otherkin’s recording sessions saw Reilly “charging about the place with a bottle of wine in his hand. We built our reputation as a live band, and it was important to capture that on the record,” Summons tells us.

“I think it does that,” he continues. “We used to get this wonderful backhanded compliment a lot, ‘you guys are way better live’. We’re hoping people will hear this album and feel we’ve grabbed hold of what they liked about that.”