Rrestlers: “it reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros the way the songs can put you in a trance, that’s the unspoken aim”

A new act born out of plenty fo experience, Rrestlers come from the same north Dublin stable that’s pumping out acts like Girl Band and Fontaines D.C, but sit in a very different sonic world.

Intent on a kind of escapist, swirling approach to music that aims to put the listener in a trance, they draw on a wealth of experience and the energy that came from a temporary role subbing in another band.

Their debut track ‘Spore’ could hardly be more timely, given it deals in isolation, abandonment and a lack of contact. It’s also a seven-plus minute epic. Here’s what they had to say about it all when I caught up with Paddy Groenland, vocalist with both Rrestlers and his other act, Paj.

Tell me the story behind the new act – is it intended to go far outside of your collective previous experience?

Sure. Paddy here, vox & bass. I play with Ryan Hargadon in Rob de Boer’s band and it started there. Last year I asked Robbie Barrett and Ryan Hargadon to do a festival gig with my group (Paj). They were depping on that gig but the vibe between us was so good that I forced us to start a new band.

There’s a mad connection there where we can just start making noise and turn it into something that sounds like a song. RRestlers is a source of pure live energy and a release for all of us so I think it has crazy potential.

What are you bringing from your various other roles into RRestlers?

Robbie has the most astonishing control of the drums, Ryan is patient and brilliant accompanist and I’m able to connect the two of them. There’s a lot of wisdom there because we’ve been around the block with loads of different bands. Because we’ve all played a lot we’re patient and let a vibe develop – it reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros the way the songs can put you in a trance, that’s the unspoken aim.

Spore could hardly be more appropriate. Presumably it was written prior to the pandemic. What was it intended to refer to?

It was intended to portray the feeling of an isolated singular being, believe it or not. I read the Kurdish phrase ‘I’ve no friend but the mountain’ about being abandoned by the world and it struck me as so melancholic and profoundly sad. The opening line is ‘invisible people, touch me not’ and that sets the tone.

The music came from our first jam together and I remember we were all vibing off of the epicness of it.

Every Irish act ever to do an NPR Tiny Desk Concert

With half the world currently stuck indoors, I can’t be alone in really missing gigs. I’ve long been a huge fan of NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts, which I find often give artists a chance to portray themselves in a totally different light to their more conventional activities. Adele and Alt-J’s double appearance in particular stand out on that front.

So I thought why not combine two of my favourite musicy things, the Tiny Desk Concerts and the Irish music scene, and simply throw every single Irish act ever to have appeared on the channel into one post. It’s fair to say this is pretty elite company… (yes, we’re claiming Rodrigo Y Gabriela, for all that busking back in the day!)…

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.

Coronavirus shutdown: day 10

We’ve just had our second weekend of semi-shutdown in Ireland, and the world has already taken on this weird kind of ‘new normal’. Work from home is hard: the weekends are okay, but occupying a six-year-old indoors and working at the same time is less easy, and I’ve found myself struggling.

What’s more surreal, though, is what’s going on outside. There’s no bar on going outside, technically, in Ireland at the moment, just heavy warnings to be careful of any kind of crowd, to stay 2 metres from anyone else, and to keep your hands clean and away from your face. We’ve tended to stay in as much as possible, or to go out to exercise in relative isolation, before heading straight back to the house. In truth, that’s a real luxury: plenty of people don’t have those options.

I had to go to the supermarket the other day, and I understand people’s concerns about others not following the warnings. We’re up to just over 700 cases of the virus now in Ireland, with three deaths. At the moment, the rising cases are not going up quite as dramatically as we might have anticipated, but there’s also a strong sense that it’s going to get worse. Probably substantially so, before it gets better. The case numbers refer only to confirmed cases, and the tests take a few days for results, plus experiences elsewhere tell us it’s going to rocket. Worrying times. There are over 12,000 deaths worldwide, and over 300,000 confirmed cases.

Aside from the obvious limitations on our freedom – entirely justified, under the circumstances – I saw a newspaper I’ve written for every week for five years, The Dublin Gazette, shut its doors today. Formally it’s going for a break until some time in April, but we know the economy is collapsing heavily around us, and things like newspaper advertising might be a while in coming back. It’s a multi-region paper, so I’ve been in print in approximately 1,000 different versions of the paper since 2015, and if it doesn’t make it back, I’ll miss it hugely. Lots and lots of other businesses are shut down, who knows how many permanently, and I’ve heard reports of a 30% reduction in economic activity, which is absolutely unprecedented.

We’ve started on the DIY. The nook under our stairs is slowly being transformed with tools, filler and leftover paint from other projects, most likely into a form of desk to try and make the work from home scenario a little easier. We’ve started growing a small herb and vegetable garden on the back windowsill, and the compulsion to get some exercise – once a bit of a chore – has become one of the day’s highlights simply because you get some space.

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.”

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 4

A quick note before we begin. This is my blog, and, obviously, not an official source. It’s very much from a personal perspective. I understand people are dying from COVID-19, and if I’m occasionally lighthearted, it’s not to intended on any level to downplay that. I moved to South Korea on my own 13 years ago, and writing about it was one of the ways I coped with the anxiety that came with the early strain of what turned out to be an incredible adventure, and helped me to process what I was doing. Obviously this won’t turn out to be an incredible adventure, but it is written in the same spirit, one of, essentially, dealing with how things are.

Today this became more than a long weekend stuck at home. I mean, it was always more than a long weekend stuck at home, of course, but not going into work on Monday morning (I logged in remotely at my kitchen table) hammered the point home.

The weekend was weird, too. Right now the official advice is to steer clear of unnecessary social contact, and you can see that in some people’s behaviour, though unfortunately not in others. Packed images from Temple Bar – people who clearly aren’t able to use their own common sense – forced the government to require pubs to close from today.

The initial noises of businesses struggling and individuals unable to make a living are already quite vocal; at the moment we’re personally quite lucky in that we’re able to isolate from it and work from home, but that comes with a social responsibility at times like this that I think it’s important we take on. I will be giving a lot of thought to how as this progresses. Airlines, entertainment and the restaurant industry seem to be the worst hit, and the share markets – a figure I’ve always felt was at best semi-relevant to the lives of most normal people – are crashing hard.

We spent most of the weekend at home, but did venture out to get some air, in the park and at the beach, as well as and walking and jogging around locally. A lot of people seem to have taken up running, perhaps as a form of self-protection against respiratory problems, though I’d imagine it’s also something to do with so many social spaces closed. I’ve been running regularly for months, and I’ve never seen even half the numbers out on the streets that I saw over the weekend. I went long and did my own half marathon around Phoenix Park (see pic), because let’s face it, there’s not much else to do, and it’s not hard to imagine a more stringent lock-in might be around the corner.

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.”