Dirty Dreamer: “songs are shaped through hours of improvising and just seeing where the mood takes us”

For a little while, Come On Live Long were quite a big deal in Irish indie circles. A quirky, disparate band, their output was mellow and effortlessly charming, and won them a coveted Choice Music Prize nomination and the chance to expand outside Ireland.

That’s all on hold for now, however, and several of the members have gone on to form a new act, ‘Dirty Dreamer‘, a light electronic act with hints of ambient music in their style, and an overall buzz that recalls the likes of Zero 7, or the lesser-known corners of Moby’s quieter moments.

I caught up with Daithi O’Connor to talk about their new venture…

This is quite a departure from Come On Live Long. How are you finding the change?

We are loving it. Although Ken, Louise and myself have been playing together for years and years, the Dirty Dreamer project feels very fresh and each of us is bringing something new to the table.

Can you give me a quick outline of the evolution from Come On Live Long? Who’s still involved, and does this mean that COLL are finished?

The Dirty Dreamer project consists mainly of myself, Ken and Louise and also our good friend Paul Kenny who plays drums with a host of acts such as James Vincent McMorrow and Jape. We had almost 10 amazing years in Come On Live Long, released two albums independently, toured Canada and got a Choice nomination.

We did all of that completely independently. We haven’t drawn a line under the band but at the moment we are happy out with our respective projects. Rob is doing amazingly well on his own at the moment and he works extremely hard so we are delighted to see him doing so well.

We haven’t heard the second single ‘Electric Sleep’ yet – tell me a bit about that.

‘Electric Sleep’ is a song that has been kicking around for quite a while. It started out with just Louise and a piano but has had many iterations over the last few years and we think we finally nailed it this time. The full version has an ambient outro that Ken and I recorded out on Achill Island a few years ago. We recorded an old harmonium in a tiny church on a very stormy night and built it from there.

Is there much more on the way? Are you set up for live performances yet?

Yes, we have another 4 track E.P almost finished. We have been writing and recording for quite a while now so we constantly have new material ready to go. As regards gigging, we had hoped to put on our own show in May but that now looks unlikely with ye old virus.

Raglans: “We believe in what we do, so we continue. We set no targets other than enjoyment”

Raglans have been mainstays of the Irish music scene for some time, and they’re also an interesting quirk in it: something of a throwback to the heyday of indie, with infectious songs, undeniable Brit-pop influences, a cult following, and a confidence that can be utterly infectious.

Take their recent return: Raglans departed the music scene for several years to live their own lives away from it all. It’s a kind of unspoken battle in music circles sometimes: it’s essential to have something interesting to write about, and sometimes that involves stepping away from the grindstone (I know, because the same applies to writing), but stepping away from the grindstone can also be a route to loss of momentum, especially difficult to do when things are going well.

Nevertheless, Raglans did it, and now they’re back, loaded with energy and ready to deliver a sparkling new album following the release of single ‘One More Drop’ in late January. Frontman Steve Kelly told me about their plans…

You’re fresh back from a long period away from music. How has that been, and how has it fed into the new record?

The time away was essential for me personally, it’s important to scratch another part of your brain sometimes. I can’t speak for the other lads but we have always considered it a marathon and not a race, we never blinked at the idea of slogging it in the back of a van for months on end to play shows and grow the band so we could keep doing what we love to do. Now we have a fresh perspective, in our songs and in our minds but the goals remain the same. Create, perform, travel, enjoy!

How did you spend that time away?

I went to Spain, where my family emigrated in 2013. I set up a business with my Dad and brother which was a brilliant experience, I tasted a brand new type of life and culture and wrote lots of new songs for many new albums.

Do you feel differently about all this than before the time away?

Yes, I’m sad to see so many of our contemporaries and friends no longer performing together – The Strypes, The Hot Sprockets, Otherkin, Enemies to name but a few. It seems unfortunate that in many cases, economic realities can disrupt what seems like a foregone conclusion. We are seeing currently how fickle the world is anyway, so it’s a shame we are deprived of the great works of some great collaborative artists. We believe in what we do so we continue, we set no targets other than enjoyment, and have never been rich so it’s grand like.

Cry Monster Cry: “What I really love about music is storytelling”

FOLLOWING THE ACCLAIMED release of their sophomore album ‘Tides’, Cry Monster Cry are riding a current. The two Sutton brothers Jamie and Richie Martin are fresh from a tour of Germany, and awaiting the release of a new documentary that features their adventures playing their music up a mountain in the Swiss Alps. Music has taken life to an interesting place.

I catch up with Jamie, an English-major who converts his studies into carefully constructed lyrics, fresh from what’s been an exhausting tour and a special time on the continent. “I think Irish music is a bit exotic over there,” he laughs. “We find ourselves selling out places that we’ve never been. People see that we’re playing and in real German fashion, they’ll go to YouTube, do some research into us and if they like it they go and buy tickets. It’s great. I think that’s something that’s fading in Ireland.”

What music fans can uncover when they do such research is delicate and subtle, and in the case of Tides, a deeply emotional piece of work that’s mostly quite slow-paced and poetic, but bursts into wall-of-sound angst in late track ‘The Last Dance’.

“I’ve been trying really hard to be in the moment when I perform, and I’ve found when you do that, when you really put everything in, you feel it coming back to you,” Jamie explains of the tour. “It’s emotionally draining, but I think it makes for an honest performance. I really wanted to approach it in that way, to see if there was any difference in the reaction. I thought there was.”

Tides, as an album title, is a reference to the flow of the brother’s lives: sometimes turbulent and sometimes smooth and calm, a reflection of something really. A touch ironically, it’s taken them to the mountains.

“We went on a trip to the Swiss Alps and there’s a 30 minute documentary of it waiting to be released,” Jamie says. “It’s about the climb and the gig, but it’s more about this guy called Rene Reusser, who brings musicians over there. He’s incredible, a complete music fan.”

HMLTD: “We’re in the midst of a spiritual crisis”

HMLTD’s early career has been a dramatic one. A London act that sit somewhere between a boisterous protest and a broad, flamboyant cultural experiment, they’re difficult to pin down on anything from genre to outlook, exhibiting a kind of glam-punk, style-borrowing ethos.

Once, they were a major label investment project, making and then dumping an expensive album along the way, as NME hyped them as the next big thing. With a new version of that debut album, titled ‘West of Eden’, finally on the market, they’re experimental approach has brought them to a scatty but enthralling release, and a more natural (to them), anti-capitalist stance.

Frontman Henry Chisholm is a politically poignant figure, and he’s not in the least bit shy about the journey the band have been on so far, or how he views modern day society. It’s not a pretty angle.

“People are isolated,” he explains. “We’re in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and I think things like Brexit, Trump, these things are just responses to a larger crisis. At the start of the 20th Century, religion started to collapse, which is a good thing in some ways, but I don’t think it was fully replaced. Collective views have disappeared, and we’ve been left with this kind of alternative individuality. That’s part of why the left are no longer viable. We all see things as individual, not from the view of a community.”

The album title, in a typically oblique way, is a reference to HMLTD’s inherent air of protest. ‘West of Eden’ is a reference to biblical banishment, a nod to Chisholm’s broader metaphor. They’re not religious, so much as borrowing the imagery to make a point. In this case, it’s about the band’s own “spiritual quest,” one they hope to bring an audience along with.

“We live in a world that’s toxic, and full of exploitation,” Chisholm continues. He’s happy to talk about this stuff in-depth – delivering the message, it seems, is the core purpose of the music. “It sits oddly releasing a record in a commercial way,” he admits. “We don’t think we’re going to bring down a system, of course. That’s not realistic, it’s more about spreading a message. We have to work with what exists.”

George Murphy: “reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in”

GEORGE MURPHY found fame at an early age, and it was almost unintended. The Dubliner was more into acting at the age of 17, but he applied to RTE reality singing show ‘You’re A Star’, progressed through numerous weeks, and went on to get a number one album. Now in his 30s, he has a far more organic approach to music.

“It always served as a platform,” he recalls of his early days in television, which helped establish his distinctive vocal and mellow, folk-tinged sound. “I was always grateful for it, but reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in. Like-minded people making something together in a garage or a bedroom is much better. I know that sounds hypocritical, considering the background I come from, but honestly there’s a bit of me that wishes I’d never done it.”

In truth, music was almost thrust upon Murphy, though through his own actions, with the stage his first love and very much his focus at the time. Musically, he was a vocalist, and couldn’t read music, let alone play guitar. That came later, as did his new band, a passion project based around local pubs in north Dublin that accompanies him as The Rising Sons.

“It was great getting a number one album,” Murphy recalls. “That said, I didn’t feel like I earned it. It was given to me on a plate. I feel what I’m doing now so much more natural and so much stronger, and I think it might surprise people who have certain expectations of me. Any success I get now, I’ll feel like I deserve it.” 

That confidence and attitude is emphasised by Murphy’s approach to shows: talking of playing to audiences with certain expectations, he sees a chance to win them over to his developing style.

“The ups and downs are really quite full on,” he says. “It can be a funny world, music, you can be on top of the pile, and the next day you’re yesterday’s news.”

Bessie Turner: “Nearly dying definitely gave me a new lease of life. I came out the other side quite hardened and definitely a little braver”

Bessie Turner is one of those oddly calm rockers, a guitar-led singer-songwriter not afraid of the odd riff, but able to lift audiences with emotional insights and deeply personal stories.

It’s been a tough couple of years for the Suffolk-based singer, who’s recovered from a near-death experience to take her musical story on the road. I caught up with her ahead of her show in Dublin’s Sound House, supporting Gengahr, to talk over new single ‘Donkey’, and how she’s bounced back…

Donkey seems to be something of a treatise on life’s frustrations – understandable. Does your music generally offer a type of therapy?

147437%. I can’t imagine not being able to express myself in this way. I’m really lucky I do, I’ve been writing since I was tiny.

I don’t know about in the UK, but in Ireland surviving as an artistic, creative type is very hard. How are you finding it so far?

It’s not easy but that’s part of it. Financially it would be impossible for me to survive at the moment from my music but that just adds to the drive and experience of it. I already look back fondly on how it all came about from nothing and nowhere.

You seem to be drip-feeding your music. Does it just make sense for you at the moment?

Exactly. I was quiet for so long in terms of releases due to ill health and building myself back up again so it feels so good to be in the position to just keep popping songs out.

How far off is an album likely to be, and what would you expect to change when it comes to producing one?

That’s a tough question. I’d love to release an album this year but it has to be right. I’ve met some amazing producers so it’s just convincing someone to invest their time on me really!

I guess the forthcoming show is one of your first in Ireland. Are you expecting anything to be different when you play here?

The Guinness to be the best tasting of all time ever. I’ve never been to Ireland but Guinness is my go to drink and I’ve heard it’s the best ever in its place of birth…..

Are you concerned what Brexit might mean for shows like this one?

I try not to think about it. It’s an obvious mistake, it gets way too much airtime and I don’t like encouraging the people that voted poorly with my thought processes. I love the EU.

John Craigie: “I was actually a storyteller before I was a songwriter”

John Craigie’s road to the world of folk-style, quirky solo guitarist has been an unusual one. Starting out as more of a spoken word artist, the LA-born, Portland-based troubadour releases conventional albums, but has made his live show into a kind of blend of winding tales and audience interaction blurred with bluegrass-style, mellow guitar pop.

His offbeat side really comes out in those winding spoken fusions, with tracks aimed at particular audience members like, “Let’s Talk This Over When We’re Sober” for the couples, or jokey spoken-word release “Pants in England,” about struggling with language differences in Europe, and then finding England no easier.

On the live record ‘Opening For Steinbeck’, Carigie jokes that his ideal audience is a room full of people, who’ve just been dumped.

“I was actually a storyteller before I was a songwriter. As I began performing it did take a little bit of time to figure out how to blend the two together. But it was a natural path of discovery and I am still learning and enjoying it today,” he explains. “I’m still figuring out the answer to the touring stuff.”

“I find that senses of humor are slightly different. Some of my banter makes sense to the audience and some doesn’t. Other than that, it hasn’t been that different. I need to check my american accent sometimes and if the audience doesn’t speak english then I have to shift my set up a bit as well.”

Latest album ‘Scarecrow’ is, much like Craigie live, a collection of oddities blended from his back catalogue. There’s no particular theme, more a collection of scraps left from previous records.

Soulé: “To be streaming seven figures now just seems so far fetched, as an independent Irish artist”

For those in the know, London-born Balbriggan native Soulé – Samantha Kay to her parents – has been threatening to become a very major artist for sometime.

Hit single ‘Love Tonight’, launched early last year, has millions of streams and is a regular on almost every major Irish radio station. She’s appeared at the 3Arena and her social media does serious numbers. Perhaps most of all, though, her song appeared alongside every Love Island episode for a huge chunk of last summer, gathering hours of prime time play as part of a fashion advert.

“The Love Island placement really did a lot for me,” she remembers. “It was on every ad break for two or three months, and it definitely boosted the track. People were hearing it, but a lot of people assumed it was an American artist. I thought it was amazing. It doubled the number of streams, with radio boosting it too.”

“The dream was to have the song actually on Love Island, but that would be once. To have it on an ad every ad break was much better. At first it was cringey, but after a while I just got so excited about it, with the tweets going crazy all the time.”

Soulé might be flying now, but she finds some of her roots in the local Foroige club, where she spent a lot of her time collaborating with Farah Elle, who has also gone on to be something of a local rising star.

“We were in Foroige Balbriggan, there wasn’t a sort of music thing that they had, and my friends and I were very into that kind of thing, drums, guitar, dancing, singing,” Soulé recalls. “Our mentor there was an Irish rapper called Messiah J, an amazing guy, and he gave us loads of advice on recording, stuff like that.”