Arthur Valentine: “The most important thing I’ve learned from lockdown is just to make sure you keep moving forward. Do your best not to get bogged down”

Arthur Valentine (a.k.a Luke Aston)’s creation of ‘Hausu’ has been a huge creative outlet, a musical outlet premised on living in a house and forging a studio with those he lives with, essentially making music a lifestyle.

Coincidentally, the set-up is ideal for the current scenario, a kind of hub that naturally not only survives, but thrives in a corona-hit world.

His latest single ‘Fruit Juice’ is the result of just such a setup. I caught up with him to talk all about it…

Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background, and how you got to launching your first singles?

I come from a very musical family, so music has always been a pretty big part of my life. I’ve been writing music and recording with my Hausu mates Jack (actualacid) and Drew (Automatic Blue) for years, but there was always something that kept us from releasing anything.

Looking back, I think we knew that the music we were originally making wasn’t exactly the vibe we were going for. It wasn’t until I recorded Selfish that I think we gained the confidence to start putting the music out into the world. We definitely took our time, only putting out two singles last year, but it was always my intention to ramp it up in terms of releases this year.

What’s the story with Fruit Juice, and what kind of introduction are you hoping it will be for you, alongside your earlier tracks?

Fruit Juice is a track that was born out of quarantine. It happened one night when I couldn’t sleep, I went into the studio and started working on a completely different song. The track I was working on was very heavy and sombre, and working on it felt a bit overwhelming given the climate at the time.

I started thinking that I’d love to make a more upbeat, optimistic track. I started looking through old beats that Jack had made for the Arthur Valentine project and found the outline of the beat that would later become Fruit Juice. I laid down guitar, bass and some vocal melodies and lyric ideas that night at about 4am.

I showed it to the lads the next morning and they were hyped, so we just tore into it from there. The track was finished about a week or two later. In terms of how people react to the Fruit Juice – making the song acted as a form of catharsis for me, an escape from quarantine. I guess I’d like people who hear it to feel something similar.

Robocobra Quartet: “We have a kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing, like a Trojan horse”

Belfast band Robocobra Quartet flit around in the margins of an unusual genre combination, somewhere between hard-edged rock and jazz. It’s an intentional fusion of disparate experimentation, an unusual, blended sound that makes the group difficult to sum up, but fascinating to explore.

Having won acclaim from the likes of the BBC and The Guardian, the (often, but not always) four-piece are busy working away on their new record, which Chris Ryan – a man with the unusual combined role of drummer and vocalist – took the time to talk us through.

“We’re writing a new record, and we’ve always wanted to do something different every time with our work,” he explains. “The last one was kind of Brian Wilson like, a bit manic with lots of different things, like half songs with different bands, nuts studio stuff, that kind of thing. This time, we’re doing a thing a bit more like Black Flag or The Ramones, just playing the entire set for a year live and then going into the studio and putting it down almost as it is when we do it live. It’s very different.”

“We try not to do a straight up reproduction of our recordings live. We try to improvise a lot, I think that resonates more with people. I think live is where people normally ‘get’ us, and the record takes a bit longer. I guess that’s one of the reasons we’ve gone for a more straightforward live recording. I do a lot of work producing bands for a living, so in some ways Robocobra Quartet are a kind of guinea pig for the things I’m trying out.”

There are advantages to being seen as sliding along the edges of two distinct styles of music, and one of the keys to Robocobra’s huge variety of styles of show is the band’s ability to walk those lines to their advantage, and keep a foot in each of the punk and jazz camps.

“We were lucky in a sense that the [Northern Irish] Arts Council, who helped fund our last album, was to an extent immune from the political problems up here,” Ryan explains. “I guess in a way, the good things take a long time to trickle down, but the bad things do, too, so there were still good people in the Arts Council doing their jobs and helping out, even before the power sharing arrangement.”

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 112

I’ve stepped away from these for a while because I needed the headspace, but here goes.

So technically, we are no longer in shutdown (I won’t rename the regular blog). The figures for new cases in Ireland have dropped to consistently very low double figures, and occasionally single figures so the signs are promising, though there hasn’t been quite the continued drop towards no cases at all in the last two weeks that perhaps we’d hope for. We – my family, though by no means everyone – are still working from home, though our son has returned to school, which is somewhat surreal under the circumstances, taught to tiny numbers and largely outdoors.

It feels like we’re now entering a period of stabilization, and how the numbers of cases change in the coming weeks will be important. We intend to continue to be exceptionally careful, spending almost all of our time away from others and trying to make the most of the countryside and the things we can do outdoors. Honestly, though, it’s getting more and more difficult to do in practise.

What’s really concerning is the broader, international picture. While Europe broadly seems to be in reasonably consistent recovery, the US and Brazil, in particular, are in wild territory, with new cases in both countries close to 50,000 a day. It’s hard to see where that could possibly end. As the below shows, globally we may not even be at a peak yet.

This is a huge worry, because ultimately, if things are to be anything close to what they were before, we’ll need corona to die out internationally, too, and that feels a very, very long way off.

For now, we have to be content with our newfound freedoms, and through a combination of sensible distancing, masks, limited social interaction, and basic common sense, ensure that we don’t abuse them. It’s hard to imagine we will be abroad until at best, very late this year.

Until then, perhaps we can see a bit more of Ireland, there are worse ways to be stuck. Hopefully the mental toll won’t become too taxing along the way, and we all keep our health.

Alex Tierney: “I was just hanging out at home and within a couple of minutes I was preparing for my biggest gig so far”

Alex Tierney had barely started out when he got the call to play one of Dublin’s most noted venues, the Olympia Theatre, supporting a huge chart name in Lewis Capaldi at just a couple of days’ notice.

The 20-year-old, who’s very much taken with the hip-hop and production, but lays it over more pop-style tunes, launched his debut single ‘Over The Maybes’ last month.

He’s already been the subject of plenty of label interest, but for now the focus is personal developmnet. I spoke to him about the journey so far..

Congrats on the debut single. It seems like our unusual times played into its production. Has the shutdown kind of worked for you?

Definitely, the lockdown really helped me focus on just making music and working at my own pace so I think I’m making some of my best work at the moment.

How did you find the process of writing, recording and producing entirely by yourself?

I started writing it right at the start of lockdown and didn’t know what vibe it was gonna be until I found the right guitar effect then that sort of set the tone. The recording and producing side of things was a really fun experience because at home there’s no studio time limit so myself and my brother just made the most of the equipment we had at our family home during lockdown and everything just fell into place.

Can you tell me a little about the story behind the track?

The song is basically about that feeling so many people can relate to where you know how you feel about someone and the situation feels so right but maybe there’s something holding them back from telling you how they feel.

The Lewis Capaldi support slot is some grab considering you didn’t have any music out at the time. How did it come about?

Lewis got in touch with my manager two days before the show and asked if I’d like to support him. I was just hanging out at home and within a couple of minutes I was preparing for my biggest gig so far which was pretty insane!

How did you find the experience playing on a stage like that?

Playing on that stage was unbelievable! Growing up in Dublin, the Olympia Theatre is definitely one of those milestone venues that every musician wants to play in so to get the opportunity to open up for one of my favourite acts there this early in my career was incredible! On top of that, I think it was one of my best performances yet which just made it that bit more special.

Hinds: “We have always loved live shows, we toured almost the whole world before putting any albums out”

Spanish indie four-piece Hinds are something of an exception to the restrictive conventions that have typically governed their genre. Indie rock has traditionally, to an almost ludicrous degree, been the preserve of quite a specific grouping, largely white, male and set in modern English-speaking cities. 

The Madrid-based four-piece, consisting of three Spanish women and Dutch drummer Amber Grimbergen, are a welcome change of pace that sit a long, long way from those traditions. It’s been harder to break in from that outsider perspective. Indie rock bands from non-English speaking Europe that succeed in places like Ireland are a real rarity. That Hinds have succeeded, recently returning from a tour supporting The Strokes that stopped off in Belfast, speaks volume for the quality of their music.

“I think we may have seemed ‘exotic’ playing kind of American music with Spanish accents,” Grimbergen laughs when I ask her about their status in the genre. “I think people are getting more used to girls in bands, and girls on stages, and it’s no longer “the thing to talk about,” but I still think it is harder for girls in music and we still get more shit than male artists.”

Hinds were on the verge of releasing their third album, ‘The Prettiest Curse’, when the coronavirus hit, halting their ever-popular tours, and ultimately halting the album, too, with its release pushed back for happier times.

“It feels amazing to have it done,” Grimbergen says. “It was a long process, building this album, way longer than the previous two albums. It sounds so different, it really is a good third album, in my opinion, and we were all so excited to finally put it out.”

“We weren’t really sure about the delay being the right move, but it seems it was. It was just intuition, and seeing the whole world was going to be shut down… it didn’t make sense to keep the original release date. The new one feels like good timing.”

The Dublin Mountain Way (Run/ Hike)

Route: Shankill –> Rathmichael Woods –> Carrickgollagan –> Barnaslingan –> The Scalp –> Glencullen –> Three Rock –> Tibradden –> Cruagh –> Bornabreena Reservoir –> Tallaght (Shamrock Rovers) –> 2km toward home (main route as described here).

Distance: 44.7km

Time: 6 hours 3 minutes (excluding a couple of snack stops, maybe another 20 minutes)

Pros: Largely really beautiful, with the route taking in sparse mountain tops, forest walkways, some nice, runnable (if you’re fitter than me) hills, excellent views, and the odd nice village to travel through. The Glencullen Adventure Centre (a few kms before halfway) is a great stop off, really relaxed and with good coffee. The route is fairly well signposted throughout (especially well on The Scalp, where it’s necessary), with signs at pretty much every junction. There were large stretches on a Friday morning where I didn’t see anyone for at least a couple of kms, so despite being within the Dublin county boundary, this felt really quite rural. Check out the pictures – the first two-thirds of this route are genuinely lovely.

Cons: Everything from about 28km onwards except the Bornabreena reservoir section (which is maybe 2-3km long), is really quite dull, all little winding roads that are not the most fun to run or walk on. Given the choice again, I’d cut the route short at the far end of Cruagh, and visit Bornabreena another time. The roadside bit through Glencullen was busier than you’d like, too, even on a weekday. Only notable refueling stops are at about 15km in, in Glencullen, then you’re pretty much on your own.

Thoughts: This had been on my list of things to do this year (yes, I have one!), and was helpfully opened up to me by the combination of a very helpful wife, on pick up and drop off, and the opening up of the whole of County Dublin in the recent change to coronavirus restrictions. There’s no denying this is at the limit of what I’m capable of at the moment – it’s fairly comparable to the Wicklow trail run I did from Bray last year, though without quite as much elevation, and I definitely ran more of it, especailly towards the end.

Realistically, I need to be doing more things in the mountain and get more comfortable moving across rugged trails with uneven surfaces to get any better at this, but it was a really great experience, and I found I was only minorly hampered by having to carry a small bag with 1.5 litres of water, food, and other essentials in it.

The route is billed as a ‘1-3 day’ on the official website, but it’s definitely walkable inside a (long) day, and with a bit of jogging, within a shorter one. I was familiar with a lot of the spots – we’re regulars in Tibradden and Carrickgollagan, and less so in Cruagh and Ticknock, but I knew a few kms of the full route before heading out, which definitely made life easier. Maps recommended, though I only really consulted them two or three times just to check I hadn’t missed exits. There are signposts marking the whole way at either end.

Strava:

Pics:

Strange Bones: “I often get hit in the face with a guitar”

A quick glance at Strange Bones‘ demeanor probably gives a solid idea of what to expect from the feisty Blackpool band. Fronted by the imposing, tattooed Bobby Bentham, a man who has been known to lead the band live in a face-covering gas mask, the punky, protest-embracing sound feels a natural fit.

The band, after all, are underdogs, if born of strong underdog stock. Having grown up surrounded by early-punk gristle, they’re off the beaten track when it comes to music’s city trends, and willing – see it as their duty, almost – to hit the road hard. The gritty, hotly-tipped act are most likely to rise through their pulsating live show.

“We’ve gone for a bit more of a breakbeat vibe,” Bentham tells me of what will be their second EP, ‘Blitz Part 2’, which references different sides to their upbringing. “Three of us in the band are brothers, and our parents kind of threw us into the breaking world of punk music at a very young age. It was a good environment to nurture a bit of an attitude towards life.”

“As we grew up and we managed to get out of Blackpool, we also got heavily into electronic music, a lot of jungle and dub. I like to mix it up, to constantly evolve to keep things exciting. It’s not just for other people, it’s for my own sanity.”

“My earliest memories of music, I think I was about 8, and my dad took me to a punk festival. I remember thinking it looked like a lot of fun, and deciding almost on the spot that I wanted to do that, too.”

Strange Bones, are, perhaps, an inevitable result, then, a natural evolution from what they call “the town that time forgot, stuck in the 70s.”

“All the money we make from touring is put into recording equipment,” Bentham continues. “We record it all in Blackpool, in house, which gives us a lot more freedom to experiment. When you’re working to the clock in a studio it’s a bit restricting, so it’s good to take our time. We end up, with tracks like ‘Napalm’, using about the fifth version of the song. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and sometimes that’s a bad thing, but it’s worth it.”

Side 4 Collective: “I just sent them the beats and connected them up and sat there eating sandwiches”

Dave Hingerty’s day job is as one of Ireland’s most successful drummers, a regular behind the kit with the likes of The Frames, Kila and Josh Ritter. Naturally, he’s made plenty of contacts through his job, and the whole thing has led to an unusual record.

Side 4 Collective are, perhaps, the ultimate ‘isolation’ style group, in that some of them have never met, though their output far pre-dates our current situation. Their album is constructed with the layering of their various contribution on top of Hingerty’s drum backdrop. Their new record ‘We Burn Bright’, which features Josh Ritter, Paul Noonan (Bell X1), Joe Chester, Ben Castle (Radiohead, Blur, Amy Winehouse) and Katy Perry drummer Adam Marcello.

I caught up with Hingerty to find out all about it…

Congrats on the new record. Can you tell me a little about the story behind it?

It all started with my obsession with recording drum ideas at soundchecks and at home. I have that type of personality that can’t stick to a practice routine and I go on tangents almost immediately and got into the habit of recording any new creations.

I feel like I am a frustrated guitar or bass player, and I think I try to express melodies through the drums often subconsciously.  This in turn led to the idea that I could use all of these ‘melodic’ or experimental grooves and beats as a ‘first point in writing’ and invite lots of friends and artists to challenge them to write a song or piece to one of these grooves.

You seem to have gathered quite a collection of musicians around you. How much did they contribute to the construction of the record? 

Almost Everything. I just sent them the beats and connected them up and sat there eating sandwiches while Anthony (Gibney, Audioland Studios ) did the real work, recording and mixing. I did ‘Anti Production’. I worked with Steve Albini a few times in Chicago with The Frames etc and he never liked the whole ‘produced by’ title. Like him, I just didn’t want to get in the way. The whole spirit of the project is musical and sonic freedom. Now and then I made some suggestions or played a keyboard, bass or xylophone badly.

This is quite a creative departure from The Frames. Is this more along the lines of your personal taste?

Probably yes. Not that it’s musically so different, but it’s more focussed on freedom and experimentalism. I love The Frames music and I love the music I play with Kila, and also with Josh Ritter, but there isn’t always room for creativity and I often have had to ‘play for the song’. So, for this Side 4 project, these poor artists were forced to work with my rhythmic creations. So, there is more of me creatively in Side 4. I am wide open when it comes to taste, but I prefer if music is brave and performed with emotion though, otherwise I smell a rat.

The album, you say in the press blurb, is a departure from the need to be commercial. How does that pressure influence bands in general, do you think?

Following on from the last question, I do feel that nearly everyone I work with panders towards what they think will be more acceptable to the record-buying public, as opposed to what they really want to make.

Freud used to encourage his patients into ‘free association’ which means talking honestly and continuously and without a filter. We need more of this in music, I think. We need a new wave of punk. Raw, real, and brave. This, I would hope, would freshen everything up.

Where are the mavericks these days? The David Bowies and the Iggy Pops and the Georgie Bests, John McEnroes and the Alex Higgins’? There is too much music now that is slick and sterile I find. Over edited. Overcooked. And, commercially speaking, mostly in the hands of the wrong people.