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.

Join Me In The Pines: “I want to do that thing where I go from style to style and execute it really well”

DAVE GERAGHTY is best known for his role in delicate local indie heroes BellX1, but in recent years his solo career – both under his own name and under the moniker ‘Join Me In The Pines’ – has taken precedence.

Geraghty’s life is a little different to the old days: while BellX1 recently did an anniversary tour, much of his time is spent focusing on cinematic soundscapes, including the Academy Award-nominated short film ‘The Crush’. Alongside that niche, the singer-songwriter has allowed his creative juices to flow through engaging with his long time friend, Belfast creative Mick Major, who’s encouraged his redirection into a more soulful, funky outfit.

“It’s lovely having to join the dots in somebody else’s mind,” Geraghty says of his cinematic work. “I feel unburdened by not having to produce lyrics; it’s a new lease of life and energy that I can just pour into making the music as it’s supposed to be, fitting the visual. It has to carry the emotional intensity of what’s on screen. It’s insightful.”

“I watch movies in a slightly different way now. There are potentially four projects lined up on the cinematic side, and the last couple of films I’ve watched have been research, so I have an ear on the score. I’ve just been doing it if I’m into the project, which is great, but there is an analysis going on.”

There’s been a crossover between the music for movies and Geraghty’s wider work. “Since doing The Crush, I went into the IFI to see it as part of an Irish Short Films showing, and one of them was by Roy Spence. He made many films back in the 70s, and they were real pioneers in home-made sci-fi special effects. I thought that was so good, and I ended up using it for the slight sci-fi feel for [new single] ‘Feels So Heavy’. We built the video around an edited down version of the film. It was a great happenstance that it all came together.”

Despite being a solo project, primarily, Join Me In The Pines has taken on a collaborative bent for the newer material. “Paul [Noonan] does the majority of the lyric writing in BellX1, and I guess there’s that melting pot of everyone’s input and influences. The latest album isn’t just me, I’ve got this symbiotic relationship going on with Mick Major.”

“He really encouraged me. We have two very different albums, but I’m on his album and he’s on mine. There’s a lot of common ground to our friendship, but near the beginning of Monomania [the latest album], I got the chill about trying to pull another album out on my own. I just wasn’t up for it again.”

The Remedy Club: “I have a natural desire to tell stories and tap into feelings and emotions and try and express them through songwriting, singing and acting”

Heavily touted by critics but not yet quite in the mainstream of Irish music The Remedy Club have the feel of one of those bands that are about to break through and make some real noise.

Consisting of heavily harmonising, folk-loving duo Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy, the band have just released their third album ‘true Hand, True Heart’, recorded in Nashville alongside the legendary Grammy award winning producer Ray Kennedy.

I caught up with the pair in the midst of the global shutdown to talk it all over…

First of all, congrats on the album. Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind it?

Aileen: Nashville based producer, Ray Kennedy who had mixed a previous single and mastered our last album ‘Lovers, Legends and Lost Causes’ had chatted to us about the possibility of him producing the next album. We are both big fans of his work and first came across him through one of our all-time favourite Lucinda William’s albums ‘ Car wheels on a gravel road’, which Ray co-produced with Steve Earle and subsequently won a
Grammy for.

We had already written a lot of the songs and raised funds through fundit.ie and knew that Ray would be the right person to produce the album.

Kj: We managed to raise enough money to record the album, although Ray gave us his special ‘living in a dumpster rate’ for broke musicians! We still had to pay for our flights to Nashville but we got there and recorded the album in seven days.

There are some great harmonies on the record. How do you construct those and decide when to use them?

Aileen: We both harmonise naturally together without thinking too much about it. When we are rehearsing a new song the harmonies kind of fit in naturally so we rarely deliberate over it too much. Sometimes we will hit a tricky or unusual harmony that we have to work out.

I guess it’s important to know when not to harmonise too, when one vocal is enough for fear of sounding like ‘The Andrew Sisters’ (who of course were
wonderful but maybe not the right direction for this genre!).

Kj: We’ve both been singing harmonies all our lives so there’s no
‘construction’ required. We generally just sing the most natural-sounding harmony and apply where necessary! Most songs generally lend themselves to harmony although we don’t overdo it. If we decide something needs a three-part harmony for example then there’s a little more construction to it but we rarely do three-part harmonies.

Miles Graham: “During what felt like a grieving process, I began to write through my experiences”

Miles Graham‘s rocky road through music, which once saw his writing come to a grinding halt in the face of heartbreak, has brought him full circle.

Now using that heartbreak as fuel and his music as therapy, Graham returns with the single ‘Don’t Change’, a new EP, and the support of Laura Whitmore, RTE and the BBC. This could so easily never have been, as Graham’s success is testament to his ability to bounce back and express himself through emotive, soulful sounds.

I caught up with him ahead of the new EP, entitled ‘All The Right Things’…

Congrats on the forthcoming EP. Can you tell me a little bit of the story behind it?

I’d been working hard on promoting my music and creating music up to two years ago when I had a massive personal setback in the form of heartbreak. I can talk a little bit about it now but back then I was totally floored.

A couple of weeks after my relationship of 18 years broke up I was invited on The Late Late TV Show. It was a massive opportunity that my manager and I worked so hard to get, but I was in no state to go on live to TV to the nation. I told my manager ‘I’m not sure I can do this’. However, my family said to me that I’d worked so hard that I really deserved the opportunity and convinced me otherwise.

I did the performance on The Late Late in April 2018. It was OK but I don’t feel it was up to my normal standard personally. I totally broke down afterwards I told myself I cant do this right now. So I effectively gave up music. During what felt like a grieving process over next year I began to write through my experiences, I just couldn’t stop myself. It was write, or die. Seems strong, but that’s how I felt, maybe it was therapy.

A year later I had a bunch of songs that my friend Shane sent to a publishing company/ label in the UK. They loved the music and immediately hired a producer to record them, and here we are.

I understand a lot of your music is based around life’s more challenging sides. Is it a kind of therapy for you, and how does that work in practise?

It definitely seems that way now re: therapy, but previous records were never as close to the bone as this record. I would take stories I’ve heard and mix them up to create fictional narratives or moods. I think generally my songs have always held hope and I don’t think that has changed, but maybe I’m slightly more realistic on this record.

Yenkee: “The more free time I’ve had, the more I’ve realised that getting up at noon and lazing around my home studio recording pop songs is what I want to do for the rest of my life”

There’s a refreshing simplicity to the way Yenkee conducts himself. A popular live act who feels he’s still only uncovering his sound, he uses the most straightforward of recording setups, modelling his approach on classic rock tracks he’s long loved.

That means single-track bedroom recordings, leaning on his own ability to craft a song over any elaborate techniques in post-production, a strategy that’s seen him develop a following substantial enough to sell out numerous shows around Ireland. New single ‘Shiver Shake’ – a mixed-feelings ode to Cork, rather than a coronavirus reference – is a great demonstration of what it’s all about.

I caught up with the man known as Graham Cooney to his friends to talk it all over…

Congrats on the new single – odd timing to be releasing a song called ‘Shiver Shake’! What were you basing it on in pre-pandemic times?

Shiver Shake was just based on an unsettled feeling I’ve had, and I think a lot of people have had, for the past few years. Something hasn’t really felt right in the world. It’s probably just me growing up and growing older or something. It’s a positive song though I think. I tried to also allude to the things that have gotten me through it – friends, family and love.

I understand the song was in part about falling out of love with Cork – did anything change afterwards – can you re- fall in love through music?

I do love Cork, and always will, but the city you grow up in can be like a parent. It’ll be difficult to leave it when I do, but it’s inevitable. I think the battle between the part of my brain that wants to stay where I grew up and the part that wants to get up and leave it has always been something that works its way into my tunes.

I’ve heard a lot of your influences relate back to 60s and 70s rock. Anyone in particular that feeds into your style?

The first artist I became obsessed with as a young fella was Johnny Cash. Something about his persona drew me into him. His music taught me to keep it simple, too. Simplicity is very important to the music I make. The Kinks, John Martyn, Jonathan Richman, Randy Newman – they’re all huge influences.

How much of your time busking do you think we still hear in your music?

Busking definitely gave me the courage to sing in front of people. So, without it, I don’t think I ever would have been able to play shows. I’m not sure how much you can hear of it in the recordings though. Maybe none. I feel like my love for writing and recording developed completely independently.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 56

It’s hard not to be sweepingly negative in these posts, but things are going a little better, so I’m going to try and act like it. Restrictions eased yesterday in Ireland for the first time – every measure before now has been a tightening. The change allows us to travel 5kms from home, instead of 2kms. It’s not a huge change, but it does bring Phoenix Park back into play for us, and we’re grateful for that. Things genuinely seem to be slowing down, in terms of both cases, deaths and critical cases. It’s becoming more a question of how to go back to normal

For later, when I read back, I thought I’d talk about some of the themes of the lockdown so far, from my perspective. Here’s what’s been important personally, whilst simultaneously being utterly unimportant in a wider context, such is life: