Gypsies On The Autobahn: “A lot of artists feel the need to be something of a tortured artist, so that they feel like they have something proper to say”

Slow-building and delicately constructed, Gypsies On The Autobahn are a subtle band, performing like a mainstream pop-rock band that occasionally flits into the realms of something more musically leftfield, or far more profound and nuanced.

The Dubliners have been on the go for a long time. With their band made up of brothers Dan and James Smith, together with Gary Quinn and Niall Mooney, they’ve existed as a band since the brothers were in their fourth year of secondary school. It’s clear there’s a certain predominance of music in the Smith household, too: their younger brother is also making waves in hip-hop, under the moniker Kojaque.

There’s a lot of angst to be found in Gypsies On The Autobahn’s music, and for singer James Smith, the band act as a kind of release. Second album ‘Suspended’ came out this summer, following on from 2017 debut ‘Born Brief’.

“Things were tough, life wise, around the time of the first album” Smith recalls, “especially around the first album, really. My dad committed suicide when I was young and I always felt like I had to be a kind of father figure. I was quite young, and it created something I needed to get over. Once that was out of my system, I had to work on myself, getting over problems myself which I’d set aside.”

“A lot of my lyrics are about me getting over my own problems. My brothers are all capable of doing it themselves now, they’re old enough. It can be scary dealing with your own stuff. It can be tough to stand up there and deliver the lyrics that talk about it, too, but I think it’s necessary in this day and age. I think people can gather a lot of hope from vulnrability. It can be a weight, too, I think. A lot of artists feel the need to be something of a tortured artist so that they feel like they have something proper to say.”

Lacuna Coil: “Do what you feel. There are way too many pressures in our society”

Italian metal band Lacuna Coil – meaning empty spiral – are a bit of a temple in a rare realm. A heavy but melodic act known for their theatrical stage performances, they come from a corner of the world little-known for its metal, yet they’ve topped two million worldwide album sales, and tour the globe relentlessly.

Their themes might draw on gothic influences and blistering, pounding guitars, but they also touch on some of the tougher, emotional aspects of life, as Andrea Ferro, one half of their sharp vocal duo, tells me.

“We’ve been mostly exploring the human sphere in our albums and probably the strongest concept we have is that life isn’t perfect, and very often throws curveballs at you. You have to make the best out of it, you have to accept dark times in order to overcome it and make it better. It’s ok not to be ok all the time,” he says.

Coming from that relatively isolated corner, at least from their genre’s perspective, has helped Lacuna Coil develop, though Ferro is modest enough to put their success down, at least in part, to coincidence.

“We are still one of the few metal bands out of Italy to have had an impact on the international rock/metal scene,” he says. “I think that our label at the time was sort of ‘collecting’ metal bands with a strong identity from all over Europe and they wanted to get one from Italy too, so we were presenting the right thing at the right time from the right place I guess. Probably being Italian has helped us having a more personal approach to the genre.”

Latest single, Reckless, very much deals with pushing back against modern society, an obvious source of the Italian’s frustrations.

Ghost: “I’m not really interested in the confrontation dynamic”

Tobias Forge is, surprisingly, a somewhat shy and considered character. He’s a man who never really intended to front a major rock band, and yet here he is. His outlet, Swedish rockers ‘Ghost’, are something of a unique offering: an evolving, theatrical touring act with subtle changing narratives, rotating fictional frontmen, and a ‘plot’ that not long ago would have risked the ire of an Irish audience.

“This cycle is closing in on its end date,” Forge tells us of Ghost’s latest outings in a rare interview. He’s referring to the evolving characters he’s played over the course of Ghost’s life so far; the roles of three different popes, and now, more recently, his latest persona ‘Cardinal Copia’. “You need to be flexible in how you think about the cardinal on the next album. There’s not going to be a Cardinal Copia, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be gone,” Forge expands.

Ghost, understandably, can be a confusing and surreal narrative to outsiders. For many years, Forge didn’t appear outside of his various masked roles, until last year, in the middle of a televised interview, he simply took the mask off. Since, he’s become a little more open, explaining how he had only really intended to write what’s become an epic rock opera, rather than star in it. His band rotates around him, still masked and semi-anonymous, and what they produce is a conceptual mix of a metal show, a pyrotechnics display, and the ultimate expression of a concept album.

“I’m a big fan of theatre,” Forge explains. “My mother was always very cultural when I was a kid. We never had much money, but the money we did have, we spent on culture. I remember when I was about 13, I went to London. She would follow me to Camden, to all these stores, but she’d make me go to the Tate Modern, too.”

“That was a real blessing for me. I’m not really a fan of musicals, and it might sound strange, but one of the biggest influences on Ghost is Andrew Lloyd Webber, who is mindblowing to me. All his musicals had these bigs hits.”

Emma Langford: “It’s that whole thing of ‘an overnight success takes ten years to create”

Emma Langford, photographed by Zyanya Lorenzo.

As a rising singer-songwriter with a distinctive voice and a passion for carrying her message, Limerick’s Emma Langford has emerged into the limelight of the Irish music scene slowly but firmly over the last few years. It’s been an odd journey for a woman who speaks eloquently and passionately, sings in a lyrically-sharp brand of folk-pop, and wears her beliefs on her sleeve.

“I didn’t know if I had it in me to take myself seriously as an artist, and sometimes I still don’t,” Langford recalls of her early days, when she was still battling with the idea of taking the music to a professional level. “I’m just fundamentally the kind of person who has a hard time taking myself seriously. But I’ve discovered that’s quite a nice place to be in the industry. I approach a lot of serious topics with a pinch of salt, and I really enjoy doing it.”

Most of Langford’s songs, she explains, are fairly autobiographical. “I challenge myself to go away from that,” she laughs. “I like to go into other people’s stories at times. People do tell you to write what you know, but I like to put myself in other people’s shoes. I have a few like that on my new album, which I think will be out in January next year.”

Langford’s whole career “happened by accident,” she jokes. “It’s that whole thing of ‘an overnight success takes ten years to create.’ I got asked to do a German tour, and the booker thought I was about to release an album. In the meeting, he needed the album by September. This was in March. So I made the album for the tour, in six months.”

“It happened by happy accident, but it put a fire under me, 100%. I started taking my career seriously because I wanted to say something about anxiety, and did through the track ‘Tug Of War’. It snowballed from there. This second album is the first time it’s felt like my choice, and there’s something quite empowering about that.”

“It’s mostly written now,” she says of the new record. “There are just a few guest vocals to do. It’s got some synths and some backing vocals and stuff like that. It’s a change of direction, and I feel good about it.” It’ll continue, no doubt, to shine a light on the things close to Langford’s heart.

Cry Monster Cry: “This album is a soothing process”

AHEAD OF THE release of their latest album ‘Tides’, folk brothers Richie and Jamie Martin have been exploring music in a different sense. A recent video was recorded in the middle of a boat on a stunning, glacial Swiss lake. They gigged in a mountain hut at the end of a 7 hour trek. The album itself is about loss, and mental health, and then about starting again.

“I just have to go with this,” Richie said of the experience. “We’re lucky, we get to play sold out shows in Germany, in Switzerland. There’s a really different kind of connection with live music over there. I think they use it as a healing process, a time to reflect. That kind of suits what we do down to the ground.”

“The album is a soothing process,” he continues. “If you go back to the beginning of the whole journey since the last record, ‘Rhythm of Dawn’, it’s a conscious decision, what we write about is our personal experiences on this album. We did it in a veiled way on the first record. I don’t think we wanted to be as honest with the listener as we are now.”

“After the first record tour finished up, after two years, we had nothing else to write about. We got to a point where we were burning ourselves out. The artists we admired growing up always wrote about themselves. You have to have experiences. Jamie went traveling. I built a house and worked and had a kid, got married. That was all in a year or two. When we came back together again, there was a real fountain there of stuff for us to work on.”

“We never thought we could mask things, be fake, or write songs for the sake of it. I’m not even saying there’s something wrong with that, but it’s not us. I think music is about hearing what someone has to say, I don’t like the throwaway-ability factor of it. So we did it a little differently”

There’s no question that ‘Tides’ is that deep dive. The harmonies that helped the duo forge their distinct sound are still here, standing tall. The record’s also full of emotion, packed with feelings that are sometimes unexplored, but distinctly human.

Kara Marni: “I have so much music written”

“They say love is blind,” Kara Marni laughs when we talk about one of her early singles. “In some situations it’s difficult to see what’s really happening to you, difficult to have perspective, to know if you’re being treated well. Especially if you’re not in a great place.”

Marni isn’t talking about herself, but a friend. An early single, ‘Opposite’, was her take on a close friend’s struggling love life, a series moments that removed her to the role of helpless onlooker, committed to song. In it, Marni takes a stab at all the boyfriend’s mistreatments, the behaviours she saw slowly dragging her friend down. “I think you’re better on your own, but you’re too scared to find out,” she sings, a less than delicate reality check.

“I could see what the situation was, being removed from it,” she explains. “The song basically came from being frustrated she wouldn’t listen to me. I ended up playing her the song, and she got it, so I guess it worked!”

Marni’s music is a lively fusion of soul and R&B, set to beats, but its unquestionably the vocal and the clever messages it contains that stand out. Her compact but varied voice soars over the choruses, breaking into forceful peaks and exploring the reaches of a broad vocal spectrum. It’s colourful, potent stuff.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Marni says of her breakthrough. “It’s been such a whirlwind, in fact, that I can’t remember everything. But I feel I’ve been growing, and everything’s really picked up for me. I’ve had so much support for something that started in my shed with the help of my parents. They built it so I could have everything there in the house, which is just another way they were really supportive.”

The Riptide Movement: “People don’t really think in terms of albums anymore”

GLEN HANSARD’S starring role in the 2007 movie ‘Once’ is semi autobiographical: the Dublin icon did in fact rise from playing his guitar on Grafton Street to headlining major stages, fronting The Frames, and eventually to New York’s theatrical stages, too.

The Riptide Movement – a somewhat more snarling, riff-loving outfit than Hansard’s laid back group – can trace something of a similar trajectory, though their reasons for taking to Grafton Street were perhaps a little more practical.

“We haven’t busked in a while,” guitarist and vocalist Mal Tuohy laughs. “We wrote our first album around the time that CDs were starting to sell a little less well, about ten years ago. We were a bit optimistic, and we ordered 10,000 of them. It was very naive, looking back.”

“They weren’t selling anything like enough in the shops, so we went out and played on Grafton Street as a way to sell the CDs. They were gone within the year, and we got shows in Russia and India out of it. I think we learnt to entertain on the streets, too, how to hold a crowd, so it worked out in the end.”

That debut album ‘What About The Tip Jars’ did chart at an impressive number 16 in Ireland, and everything the band have done since has done better. All three follow up albums charted in the top ten, including a number one with 2014’s ‘Getting Through’.

In a sense, though, the band have left the idea of an album behind them, at least for now. “People don’t really think in terms of albums anymore,” Tuohy says, with The Riptide Movement having released a flurry of singles over recent years. “In a way we’re an album band; each one if kind of a snapshot of two years of our lives, and we’ll probably have one out next year. It can be better, though, to release an EP with a couple of hits instead.”

Amanda Palmer: “I felt a level of artistic liberation that I’ve never felt before”

From years as a statuesque street performer handing flowers to passers by, to marrying famed author Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer’s life has been almost as unconventional as her musical career. The latter, traversing theatrical duo The Dresden Dolls and finding TED talk fame in talking about how she connects with audiences, has ultimately thrived on swimming upstream.

For the last few years, Palmer’s solo work has taken some unconventional roads. She’s been accompanied on tour by an ever changing cast of local musicians who she brings on stage for impromptu jams, replacing her backing band night after night. She plays guerilla gigs in parks and at roadsides for fans who can’t afford tickets, or simply want to see her twice.

She’s spoken openly about empathy, and about her trio of abortions, then later explored the complexities of parenthood and raised money through a committed team of 15,000 personal backers. Being away from a label, she’s found, is a real route to independence and personal control.

“I’m really good at forgiving myself, which is the theme of the show,” she says of her current record. “I’ve been touring for so long that I’ve found an approach to stage work that involves never being bored. If you’re going to do this job for decades, you’ve got to figure out a way to love getting on stage every night, or you just won’t last. Or become really grumpy. I like it too much to ever want to feel like I’m just closing my eyes and doing a routine.”

“Some things haven’t changed since the early days of The Dresden Dolls. My connection with the actual human beings who come to see me is a massive ingredient in my ability to get up there every night and tear my heart out of my chest,” she says of her deeply personal new album, ‘There Will Be No Intermission’. “I wouldn’t want to do it alone.”

“I know there’s a real element of catharsis in it, not just for me, but for everyone who’s watching. The crowdfunding has really changed things. This kind of thing is actually really hard to describe to people, because I think people think about crowdfunding, Kickstarter, Patreon, they think about the financial side of it all.”