Hudson Taylor: “We’ve gone for little bits of pop and hip-hop to give it a modern edge”

Brothers Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor are, musically at least, very much a product of the Dublin streets. Long-time buskers, they’ve evolved over a decade into a traveling folk-pop juggernaut, a slow-forged success that has pushed from the corner of Grafton Street to American tours and European adventures. They’re now feeding that travel experience back into their work.

New album ‘Loving Everywhere I Go’ is very much a nod to the highs of it all. “Just being in New York, doing support slots for Hozier, and the EPs being recorded in Seattle, the hub of grunge, gave us a mixture of genres and influences that are not necessarily conscious, but you allow them all to feed in” Alfie Hudson-Taylor tells us.

“The songwriting is very influenced by our travels. We started working on this album back in 2017 in Seattle, and it would have been out a while ago, apart from the Hozier tour happening, so we did an EP instead, and toured that. For the album, the producer really challenged us to try new things.”

“There are little bits of pop and hip-hop that give it a modern edge. It’s not brash, but they’ve been captured in a way that we really like. Some people think we’re real folky and acoustic, others think it’s really pop. It seems to depend on what they normally listen to. So we’re in a weird spot but that makes it very fun to work on the sections of our songs. We sit in this kind of ‘live band’ type space.”

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 68

There have been less than 100 new cases of coronavirus each day for the last two days, the first time the figures have been that low since this time in March, shortly after this whole thing started.

As of today, we’re allowed to go to hardware stores (we’re not actually going, because it seems crazy on the first day), and to meet in isolated groups from different households a few metres apart.

It’s starting to feel like things are on the turn, if not necessarily anywhere close to an ending, then at least progressing towards things being just that little bit better. Of course, that comes with the fear that the changes lead to far more widespread infection, and things pick up again.

The hardest thing about all this is probably that it’s indefinite. There are certain things you start ‘waiting’ for, from social drinks, to doing some work that involves a proper level of collaboration, in a normal office, to being able to return to swimming pools, for example, or football matches (those last two seem, sadly, a very, very long way off).

Predictably, there are campaigns against any level of shutdown. I think it stems in part from a certain group of people being absolutely convinced anything a government does must be wrong, regardless of what it is. There are huge conspiracy theories, which in my opinion fall utterly flat for the very obvious reason that getting all world governments to collaborate and act in largely comparable ways simply won’t happen, they disagree fundamentally. Plus, these are clearly a lot of people dying, and these type of people see a conspiracy in whatever is happening, regardless of what it is.

Tiz McNamara: “Ultimately, writing more for other artists as well as for screen would be my dream”

Tiz McNamara live at Independence, Cork. Photographed by Zyanya Lorenzo.

An Irishman based in Canada, Tiz McNamara‘s success is extraordinary for a man who is still celebrating the release of his debut EP.

With music on TV shows like Hollyoaks, and having worked with the likes of Paul McCartney and Shane McGowan, McNamara’s debut release ‘April Fool’ is the product of a lifetime of work, referencing a tragedy in his early life and the impact of it.

I caught up with Tiz to talk over the launch…

First of all, congrats on the EP. It must be a very strange time to put out a debut. Has it affected your approach much?

Thank you, yeah it feels like a relief to have it out as it’s been such a long time in the works. Unfortunately, the approach had to be changed greatly, yeah. Had tour dates across North America as well as Ireland and the UK which all got cancelled as well as an incredible music video which I was very excited about having to be postponed indefinitely, but everyone has been affected by this pandemic. My family and I are healthy and happy so I can’t really complain about trivial things like live shows or videos in the bigger scheme.

Could you tell me the story behind ‘April Fool’?

As I began writing over the past few years I decided to create my debut EP or body of work and wanted it to be as cohesive and honest as possible.

I was lucky enough to be able to record with the incredible Dan Ledwell (Producer) at his lakeside studio in the woods of Nova Scotia.

Carriages: “I use my phone to capture sounds from a day out and put them directly into the song”

Carriages. Photography by Ruth Medjber

Dublin duo Carriages are one of those charing bands that seem to put genre aside, and instead focus on producing things that are deeply personal, more an aesthetic than a distinct sound.

Harry Bookless (producer) and Aaron Page (singer-songwriter) have been largely out of action in recent months, but are still producing subtle tracks based on field recordings and weighty memories, exploring for themselves as much as anyone else.

I asked Harry about what’s going on with the pair, and found a man who sounds deeply content with life, with music a natural byproduct…

Let’s start with the obvious – what’s happening with you guys? It’s been a while!

Since Movement came out, I’ve gotten married, had a daughter and now have a son on the way so I’ve just been living life. Aaron hasn’t had any kids but he’s been running marathons and raising his cat.

We both work full time and have never treated Carriages as a full time thing so it can take us a long time to get music out, but I definitely took a long break when my daughter Nina was born. The thought of being a part of a music industry, networking and tirelessly promoting the band has never appealed to us in any way, and anytime I’ve spent promoting releases in the past has always been stressful and a little heartbreaking.

Having said that, we’ve been having a surge of writing over the last two years so we should hopefully be dipping our toes into the promotion machine again pretty soon.

Do the two of you have other musical projects on the go instead?

No, not at all. When we first started, I was in Little Xs For Eyes and was working on their last album, ‘Everywhere Else’, but we stopped playing together. Aaron was playing with a few different bands and has released an album under the name Water Cycle but at the moment we are just doing Carriages. I’d be delighted to hear another Water Cycle album though. I’m sure there’s another one in him.

The Nilz: “There’s a constant back and forth between the need for protest and the futility of it”

Renowned for their feisty live show and colourful antics, Dublin punk band The Nilz tell me that they’re too controversial for mainstream attention, so they’ve given up on the idea and prefer to carve their own scene.

They’re doing an excellent job at that, roping in a bunch of gig exchanges that have seen them partner with punk acts in Sweden and Germany, and create a colourful scene that attempts to go island-wide.

As for their own music, it’s a rapid, furious gut-punch, just like these things are meant to be. I caught up with vocalist Eddie Nil and bassist Christ Dahmer to talk it all over…

Congrats on your successes so far. You seem to have done very well outside of Ireland. Do you think there’s a particular story there?

Eddie: Very hard work! It was Chris’ idea to start running our own gigs with the idea of it being a DIY gig swap deal which has led to us forming strong relationships with other bands throughout Ireland, in Germany and especially in Sweden.

Chris: Yeah it happened pretty naturally by working with overseas bands of a similar mindset to ourselves

In my experience, the Irish punk scene receives very little media attention outside of very niche circles. Yet it does really well more broadly. What do you think the story is with that?

Eddie: well the media i.e. NME have their heads up their holes when it comes to actual Irish Punk, but look I know as well as most us DIY bands don’t put ourselves out there as much as we could.

A recent band who unfortunately broke up, Shithätt, should’ve had the music press & radio stations fawning over them but it didn’t happen & they broke up too soon.

We’re in the luxurious position of being too controversial for certain sites, publications & venues to have anything to do with us, so we’re in no danger of “Selling out” HAHA whatever that is.

Chris: The Irish punk scene and bands have always done fairly well in spite of pretty much no media attention really, the reality is the people who are interested will seek out and find the bands and gigs they’re looking for especially with everything being on the internet.

Badself: “The reason I picked up the guitar in the first place was because of Back To The Future”

Dublin band Badself‘s latest video is an infectious 80s parody, ‘Stay Down’, on which they draw their influences from ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ and Journey. It’s not their typical direction, which is somewhat more complex, but indicative of a group intent on having fun.

Containing former members of local indie-icons The Future Kings Of Spain, Badself are primarily about having fun and indulging, with the ultimate aim of making a splash live.

I caught up with Karl Hussey to hear all about it…

We have to talk a bit about that video to start – it looks great fun. Can you talk me through the planning of that?

When we started writing ‘Stay Down’ in the practice room, it started to feel like a modern-day Eye of the Tigerso that’s where the 80’s reference came in.

I’m also allergic to my own ego, so the idea of a music video initially turned my stomach, but this way we could just mess around and have a laugh. No trying to look cool or manly or whatever, just take the complete piss out of ourselves instead. We also lined up the music with Journey’s Separate Ways video and it worked really well, so we used that as our main inspiration and just went from there!

Is it fair to say you’re all 80s lovers, despite the parody aspects of it?

Yes, big time. The reason I picked up the guitar in the first place was because of Back To The Future. As a child, I used to play along to the end sequence (when Marty plays Johnny Be Good during the ball), on a tennis racket. But yes ZZ Top, Iron Maiden, Hall and Oates and AC/DC, bits of it are all in there. Lots and lots of other more recent stuff too, however. We’re not an 80’s rock act. It’s really just because of that particular song ‘Stay Down’.   

I think there’s something really ‘let loose’ and pure about the idea of producing songs in a style of so long ago, in that it lets go of a lot of more modern production aspects of music. Was that your experience?

It was never our intention that it would be like an 80’s rock song, to be honest. It just came out that way. Even now, when I listen to the song without the video, I don’t think it sounds 80’s. However, the feel and rhythm have a lot in common with Eye of the Tiger. The guitar style and production sounds modern to me.

Regarding the production side of things, that’s really the three of us playing live in a studio, with one extra guitar on top and one keyboard overdub. So I suppose it’s the way they would have done it 50 years ago. So yes, recording-wise it was old school.

We wanted to keep it as real and pure as possible. I’m not a fan of ‘perfectly’ produced rock. I think it sounds fake. I can’t picture the room that it was recorded in because it doesn’t exist. With the album, that’s us, and that’s the sound of the rooms. Warts and all! No vocal tuning, no drums on the grid. Just us having fun.

Royal Yellow: “My girlfriend put me on to Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’, which pretty much changed my life then and there”

Mark O’Brien’s musical change of direction in recent years has been an abrupt one. Once part of the popular instrumental rock band Enemies, a hit on the Irish music scene that went as far as making waves in Japan, he turned in a totally different direction when his old project wound down.

Back under the name ‘Royal Yellow‘, he’s mixing together complex, multi-faceted beat tracks which have drawn love from the lofty heights of BBC Radio One. His most recent, May The First, is hung cleverly on a vocal from Lisa Hannigan’s Pistachio.

Below, Mark talks me through the change in direction, and how he landed himself playing with Lisa’s sound…

Congrats on the new single. This is quite a change of pace from Enemies. Was that a very conscious thing when the band ended?

Not at all. Enemies was a huge part of my life and creativity for almost a decade, so once it ended I hadn’t a clue of what kind of music I wanted to make next. I had to just stop thinking about the creation of music and go back to simply soaking up and appreciating music for a while.

I spent a few months travelling across Asia with my girlfriend and she put me on to Solange’s ‘A Seat At The Table’, which pretty much changed my life then and there. It floored me, and opened up the door to whole new realms of music that are miles apart from what Enemies were doing.

What gave you the idea to play around with Lisa Hannigan’s vocal – does it have a particular appeal to you?

That song was sketched out over two years ago, so it’s difficult to remember exactly what was in my mind at the time. But I do remember that I had hit a complete wall with my own vocals. Nothing I sang was really adding to the atmosphere of the track, so I went in search of something I could just drop in to inspire something new in my own approach.

I think I had recently seen a video of Lisa performing Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ at Vicar Street, so maybe subconsciously I knew that her voice was perfect for a trip-hop tune. Either way, as soon as it was in there I knew that it couldn’t be anything else. I was smitten.

How difficult is the process of getting permission to do something like that?

I was really nervous to approach Lisa about it. I became so attached to the sample and how it was enriching the song, but knew that she would be totally entitled to just say “thanks, but no thanks”. Fortunately Lisa turned out to be just the nicest person, and was very much into the track. I think it helps that we’re both part of a community of musicians here in Dublin. Maybe there’s a kinship there, even if you’ve never met in person.

Plastic Cowboys: “I think punk is getting a face-lift with much more of a regard to the lyrics”

Fresh from the release of their new single ‘Not As Cool’, Dublin indie-punk three-piece Plastic Cowboys evolved from a solo act into a vibrant, heady live set-up, with the new single at its core.

Facing something of an uphill battle in Dublin’s niche punk scene, they lean on that live show, whilst exploring relationships and hangovers in their punchy tracks, with an album somewhere on the horizon.

I caught up with all three, Ciaran (vocals and guitar), Darren (bass) and Joe (drums) during the shutdown…

Congrats on the new live video for ‘Not As Cool’. I guess you’re missing playing live?

Darren: Thanks very much, we recorded it a while back so it feel’s great to have it out. Definitely playing live with the guys is my favourite thing to do, and I especially miss playing ‘Not As Cool’ to a live crowd, as that is when the show gets a little bit chaotic.

Can you tell me a little bit about what your live show is typically like in a non-studio setting?

Joe: Our live shows definitely follow through with the energy we create together. A tight sound with high energy coinciding with Ciaran’s songwriting is key to our bands live show. It’s something we tried to recreate in the studio setting as best we can, ‘Not As Cool’ being our latest example of that.

How much material do you have now, and what are the themes behind your music?

Ciaran: We’ve got a batch of about 18 songs at the moment ready to be recorded, and some new ones that I’ve written during the lockdown that I’m itching to play with the lads. Some of these songs go back years from when I first wrote them. For example, I wrote ‘Not as Cool’ around the summer of 2016, so it’s great to be in a position to finally release it.

I tend to write about my experiences in one way or another so the recurring themes throughout our music would probably be relationships, and being hung-over.