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.”

Blood or Whiskey: Celtic Punk on a Wing and a Prayer

The long-running Irish punk act fuse The Dubliners and The Clash in a memorable, brash, political barrage.

Earlier this year, trad-punks Blood or Whiskey spent a month touring the US. Playing 26 shows as a support act for Dropkick Murphys in just 30 days, they added to a growing reputation in American punk circles. Then they came back to Ireland to resume their day jobs.

It’s a strange aspect of the Celtic punk scene – which typically fuses trad tropes, tin whistles, Irish folk and harmonica – that the two biggest acts in the genre have only loose, emigrant links with Ireland. On our shores, it’s seen as very much a musical niche.

Dropkick Murphys are Boston Irish, while Flogging Molly – an act Blood Or Whiskey supported in the Olympia Theatre just two weeks ago – are led by Dave King, born in a pre-gentrification Dublin 4 tenement, but very much based out of L.A. In terms of home-brewed Celtic punk stylings, Blood Or Whiskey are as big as they come, and regularly tour with both the rowdy American acts.

They might be heading on their first punk rock cruise this summer, but getting by hasn’t proved so easy back home, as frontman Dugs Mulhooly explains: “we definitely get more offers from the US and central Europe. People don’t see it as a thing here, because it is us [as a nation], it is what we do.”

“We’ve seen Japanese bands play music with an Irish crossover, though, but in general, Irish music is saturated here. People know these songs. We remember when Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys weren’t filling big venues here. They’d be playing 4,000, 5,000 when we went out with them elsewhere, but grinding it out here. That has changed now, but it hasn’t always been like that.”

For Blood Or Whiskey, though, the punk DIY ethos – building it yourself – is important. “To record an even half decent album costs eight or nine thousand quid,” drummer Chris O’Meara, the other remaining original member of a band that formed in 1994, explains.

“it’s a costly adventure. If you have a record label backing you that’s one thing, but we do it ourselves all the time. We don’t believe in Fundit, in going to the fans. You shouldn’t be begging people to make you a rock star. We all go to work, and do jobs with our hands as well. The thought of asking someone to give me money to release an album… I don’t believe in fleecing your punters to bring out albums. You do it yourself.”

Review: Flogging Molly @ Olympia Theatre, Dublin

DAVE KING doesn’t care what you think, and it might just be the best thing about him.

His band, well-travelled Celtic punks Flogging Molly, sit halfway between a session and a riot; a chaotic, unapologetic, ramshackle fusion of Irish trad and punk rock angst.

Based out of California (and largely made up of Americans) – but led by King, who was raised in long-fallen Dublin 4 tenement Beggar’s Bush – Flogging Molly have made a career out of morphing trad stylings into songs about drink and national pride, love and hopelessness. Dublin is a spiritual home, a loose party at the end of a summer-long European tour.

King’s trademark is a husky, snarling yet somehow warm voice, a quick turn of phrase and cutting lyrics. Fuelled by on-stage cans of Guinness, he wiggles with his guitar, gurning between vocals and throwing playful but pointed jabs, like the dedication of ‘Selfish Man’ to his brother, and a quip about so many of his mates coming down that nobody’s actually paid to be in a packed Olympia.

The highs are in the raucous choruses; ‘What’s Left of the Flag’ is a glorious embittered ode to Irish identity, flowing into a manic ‘Rebels of the Sacred Heart’ and melodic slowed-down celebration of the booze, ‘Drunken Lullabies’.

Tickets should be for fans, says Rock

Fine Gael TD’s campaign to stop ticket touting aims to change exploitative  Irish ticketing market

FINE GAEL TD Noel Rock is pushing forward with his bill to outlaw the above face value sale of tickets, with the long-term campaign proving a popular bid to stamp out the current legal and thriving secondary ticketing market in Ireland.

Rock, who’s at pains to clarify that his bill is targeting only “above face value” resales – and takes no issue with legitimate onwards sale due to personal circumstances – told the Gazette this week that the bill is currently being held up by a consultation process taking place in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, before progress to the next stage.

The problem, he explains, continues to grow. “There’s a consistent pattern of popular, high-profile events selling out in minutes,and reappearing at high value on ticketing websites almost immediately,” Rock explains, citing LCD Soundsystem at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre and Danish singer MØ in The Academy as recent examples. “It’s legal currently, and real fans are being squeezed out.”

“The difficulty is, I don’t really trust the industry to make it difficult. There are a lot of vested interests in the market, and there’s very little motivation to make the market customer friendly. There are also some quite dubious practises.”

“There are certainly cases where companies offer a ‘guarantee’ of a ticket that a customer has paid for, that essentially says they will either be provided with a ticket, or with their money back. That’s not much of a guarantee in itself, but it’s also common to substitute tickets in other parts of a stadium, for example. What kind of customer service is that, really? It’s mis-selling.”

Driving on up: the rapid rise of Dingle’s Walking On Cars

A stroll down memory lane with Kerry’s new chart stars…

DINGLE FIVE-PIECE Walking On cars are hot property right now. So much so, in fact, that when we finally manage to catch up with the Kerry five-piece, it’s back stage at a festival in the Czech Republic. They’ve just performed to a crowd of tens of thousands on the main stage at Colours of Ostrava – the only Irish act on the bill – and clearly won over a heap of new fans. But it hasn’t always been quite so glamorous.

The Dingle act got off to a somewhat iffy start, in fact, as they went topsy turvy in their home town. “We booked a gig, and then we wrote the songs to play that gig,” singer Pa Sheehy tells the Gazette. “One of the songs we still play now, ‘Don’t Mind Me’, dates back to then. ‘Speeding Cars’ didn’t come too long after that.”

“We just stood in a kitchen for two or three nights a week until we wrote them. But the first couple of gigs were shocking. I feel sorry for people who were there,” Sheehy recalls.

“We’ve been quite lucky playing so many international shows,” Sorcha Durham says of the current Europe-wide tours. “‘Speeding Cars’ got a lot of radio play, and we gained fans from there.” The European Border Breakers Award, which the band collected for ‘success outside their own country’ earlier this year is indicative of how an act still based in rural Dingle has flooded onto the international market.

“You start from the bottom and work your way up, from small venues to middle sized venues, that’s what we’ve been doing for the last couple of years,” they modestly explain. Those ‘medium sized venues’ now include fields.

“It’s really different going on to stages like this, but it’s not like we swapped a pub in Dingle for festival stages,” Sheehy recalls. “You can never fully get used to it, but it’s been a gradual change, and in some ways it’s more nerve wracking playing a pub. A pub is just so intimate.”

“There’s been some amazing moments, like the first time we got a tour bus. It’s all bunks, with a lounge and kitchens and stuff like that. That blew our minds. It still does to be honest.”

Paranoid Visions: Dublin’s original punks power on…

The fusion of Paranoid Visions with Steve Ignorant of their heroes Crass has the Dubliners fired up.

Paranoid Visions were punks almost before the concept even existing in Ireland. Breaking through in the early 80s, their early gigs were chaotic in nature; often descending into riots at stage front, with the band spat, demonised and in many cases banned from appearing in venues.

“We ended up playing ‘Battle of the Bands’ gigs just for somewhere to play,” guitarist Peter Jones recalls. “We’d be on between these acoustic guitar acts, and there’d be 80 punks there waiting for us to come on stage. All hell would break loose for the four songs we got to play, and then all our fans, who would be most of the audience, would just leave. Usually we’d come second, as they had to admit we’d had a lot of impact, but didn’t want to give the prize to us after we’d unleashed that kind of chaos.”

“I vividly remember a complaint going in at one of those competitions saying that we only rehearsed once a week, and shouldn’t be allowed to win. The man who said that is still involved in the Dublin music scene. He was right about the rehearsing to be honest.”

There’s plenty of water under the bridge since those days: Paranoid Visions broke up for a decade, reformed, went through an extended campaign of Bono-criticism (including the release of punk parody ‘I Will Wallow’), courted controversy by promoting an album with an image of Brian Cowen’s head aligned in gun sites, and wrote an entire album slamming what they saw as a parochial, Catholic church-led rot in the country.

They are, in short, not afraid to go hard against the political status quo in true punk fashion, with vocalist Declan Dachau famed for both the bluntness of his vocals, and harsh quips in which he espouses staunchly anti-nationalist, inclusive principles.