Peter Zirbs: “Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer”

Austrian artist Peter Zirbs has had a lot of incarnations over the years, and his latest, he feels, is most representative of who he is.

Having lost a feeling that he needed to pigeonhole his music, Zirbs has embraced more classical leanings, embarked on some collaborations including with former Archives man Craig Walker, and embarked on new EP ‘On A Beautiful Day’, which manages to be both quite dark in tone and occasionally euphoric. The perfect release, perhaps, for our times.

Single ‘Locked In’ is a particular stand out, exploring The Velvet Underground’s Nico’s period locked in an apartment, and feels oddly linked to today’s ‘stay at home’ world. I spoke to him about how things have changed, and his movement with the new record…

I think it’s fair to say your work under your own name is a far cry from some of your earlier stuff. Can you talk me through the musical evolution that got you to here?

I actually grew up with the duality of experimental/ synthesizer/ minimal music (Ph. Glass, M. Nyman, S. Reich, T. Riley, but also Yello, Art of Noise, Isao Tomita, Jean Michael Jarre etc) and on the other hand pop and rock music (big New Romantic and New Wave fan here! And also Disco from the 80ies) …

I’m a proper 80ies kid as I’m born 1971. So for me, there never was an “either/or” when it concerns musical styles. It’s not easy, but I try to bring both aspects into my music. I always loved experimental and artsy stuff, but you can find me on the dancefloor at 3am shakin’ it to a straight kick drum and a distorted 303 synth bassline, too. Sitting between the chairs for all my life basically!

How have you found your current incarnation differs from your work under other monikers earlier in your career, in terms of approach and feel?

Yes, it indeed does differ. I never had the courage to play my piano/ minimal/ instrumental stuff to other people, and it’s been my friends who encouraged me to do so. Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer. The fantastic label Fabrique Records took it to a next level by almost physically forcing me to record my odd stuff (this was about three years ago), et voilà, a new Peter Zirbs was born … kind of.

George Murphy: “reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in”

GEORGE MURPHY found fame at an early age, and it was almost unintended. The Dubliner was more into acting at the age of 17, but he applied to RTE reality singing show ‘You’re A Star’, progressed through numerous weeks, and went on to get a number one album. Now in his 30s, he has a far more organic approach to music.

“It always served as a platform,” he recalls of his early days in television, which helped establish his distinctive vocal and mellow, folk-tinged sound. “I was always grateful for it, but reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in. Like-minded people making something together in a garage or a bedroom is much better. I know that sounds hypocritical, considering the background I come from, but honestly there’s a bit of me that wishes I’d never done it.”

In truth, music was almost thrust upon Murphy, though through his own actions, with the stage his first love and very much his focus at the time. Musically, he was a vocalist, and couldn’t read music, let alone play guitar. That came later, as did his new band, a passion project based around local pubs in north Dublin that accompanies him as The Rising Sons.

“It was great getting a number one album,” Murphy recalls. “That said, I didn’t feel like I earned it. It was given to me on a plate. I feel what I’m doing now so much more natural and so much stronger, and I think it might surprise people who have certain expectations of me. Any success I get now, I’ll feel like I deserve it.” 

That confidence and attitude is emphasised by Murphy’s approach to shows: talking of playing to audiences with certain expectations, he sees a chance to win them over to his developing style.

“The ups and downs are really quite full on,” he says. “It can be a funny world, music, you can be on top of the pile, and the next day you’re yesterday’s news.”

David Gray: “I was never going to just keep remaking White Ladder”

DAVID GRAY’S 1998 album ‘White Ladder’, a whopping seven-million seller that features smash hits ‘Babylon’, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘This Year’s Love’, is Ireland’s best selling record of all time, and given changes in the music industry, is likely to remain so for some time.

Gray is still profoundly grateful for Ireland’s role in his breakthrough, in fact. “Ireland embraced me in such a big way before anyone else did,” he recalls. “It was unbelievable, really. Looking back, I still can’t quite take in what happened. It was an unforgettable time for me and I’ll always love the Irish because of it.”

Naturally, though, the Cheshire-born folk-pop singer has long been ready to move past his major commercial breakthrough on that fourth album. His eleventh studio album, ‘Gold In A Brass Age’, was released earlier this month, and offers something really quite different.

“I was never going to just keep remaking ‘White Ladder’, it’s important to experiment and stay interested,” Gray said of the new record, which is layered with some complex electronic aspects, producing an organic, delicate element. It also sees Gray explore falsetto vocals across several tracks.

In many ways, ‘Gold In A Brass Age’ is a stylistic throwback to Gray’s early, art-school days. “I want to go back to making art at some point,” he said. “I like to go out to the countryside and switch off, it’s essential to me to have that time, and it would be perfect for painting. But to paint again, I’d want to really dedicate myself to it. It’ll happen at some point, just maybe not quite yet.”

Dean Friedman: “I think I was the first solo artist to crowdfund a record”

From signing a record deal whilst still a pre-teen, to getting involved in the video game industry and cinema, Dean Friedman’s musical road has been an unconventional one…

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and it has proved for revitalised singer-songwriter Dean Friedman.

Friedman had huge hit records in the late 70s, charting with his debut release ‘Ariel’ and follow ups ‘Lucky Stars’, ‘Woman of Mine’ and ‘Lydia,’, before a critical mistake – releasing a key single referencing the brand McDonald’s – got the track banned from BBC radio stations, and was a huge contributing factor to his label dropping him.

Having been in music since he was first approached by a label at age nine, however, Friedman simply diversified, and looks back at the period with pride in the direction it led. “I’ve never had the chance to rest of my laurels,” he jokes. “My career hasn’t allowed for much rest, I’ve had to keep working.”

Friedman moved into producing early music-themed video games, as well as working on a heap of movies, writing children’s musicals, and producing the music for the British crime drama ‘Boon’.

Today, having reconnected with his old fanbase around the time the internet became a big resource for music, Friedman is back recording, touring heavily, and exploring what he calls “a natural affinity for storytelling.”

“I think I was the first solo artist – Marillion had done it a year earlier – to crowdfund a record,” Friedman explains. “I wrote out to my fans asking them to pre-order the album, via an email mailing list. I was a little worried people would tell me to get a real job. Some did say exactly that, but lots of others backed the idea. I was able to hire musicians and upgrade my studio.”

“This was a few years before the days of Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Since then, I’ve always had a great connection with my fans, and I’ve always done things that way. I never liked the aloof thing that musicians were supposed to do back then. My fans aren’t shy in telling me what they think, but as many of them are connected with what I’m doing now as songs from the 70s,” he says. “Lots will say their favourite album is one of the newer ones. It’s been a great journey.”

JAWS: “We have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice”

Birmingham dream-pop act JAWS were the source of a lot of local hype a few years ago when they burst onto the scene with a series of extremely enticing demos. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the band since, taking in the realities of moving out of home and getting jobs, as well as touring extensively and learning to be self-sufficient.

I talked to singer Connor Schofield about the journey so far…

You talked a bit around the release of the last record about how your situations had changed – growing up, essentially, and having to move out, get jobs, that kind of thing. That’s got to be a bit of a reality check in a sense. Do you think you can hear it in your music?

Kind of, the main thing that’s changed is time, we have less of it, but it also means we can be more patient and take our time with writing and making sure the songs work.

The Ceiling has been out a few months now. Are you happy with how it’s done?

Very very proud of it.

I’d imagine it can get quite complicated reproducing some of the texture of the record live. How do you deal with that?

It’s not as tricky as you’d think, we have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice.

Do you feel like the process of recording and reproducing records in a live setting helps you develop as musicians? How do you compare to the band who started out?

100%, with The Ceiling we learnt to play them together after recording which we’d never done before, we all learnt a lot from that, probably not to do it that way again, but still was an interesting way to do it.

Slowthai: “There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it”

‘There’s Nothing Great about Britain’ reads the title of Slowthai’s debut album, the cover of which features the man himself in a rustic wooden stockade, restrained naked before a large block of council houses as the occupants look on. 

If you know a little about the history of the Northampton rapper – a rising star of the increasingly pervasive and hard-hitting British hip-hop scene – it’s easy to see why such sentiments would appeal. Slowthai – Tyron Frampton to his friends – was brought up in a tough estate in the East Midlands, and struggled through early life. He’s determined to pay back those less fortunate.

“The 99p tour, it’s because that’s the price of an ice cream,” he laughs about his incredibly cheap recent UK tour. “I don’t want people to miss me because they can’t afford it, you know?”

There will be plenty of people fighting for tickets for the hard-hitting lyricist, a man who’s abrasive style has seen him come on stage in body bags, make videos featuring him wrapped naked around his girlfriend, and produce cutting lyrics dealing with how at one point in his life, drug dealing seemed like the only realistic career choice.

“I did some dumb stuff and I was going nowhere,” Frampton laughs. “I was doing some labouring and working in Next. I got in trouble for giving my friends the employee discount. It was a difficult life. There’s this hidden side to society that most people don’t see unless they live it.”

Frampton found a way out, though, his almost skittishly varied music drawing the attention of the notorious tastemaker poll, BBC Sounds, where he was ranked fourth most likely in British music in 2018. “That was weird,” Slowthai says. “They just called me and told me I was on it. I wasn’t expecting it. I’ve got a lot more attention since, I guess, but these things don’t really matter. I want to be a musician, I don’t really care about that stuff.”

Jamie Adam: “I didn’t write the record for anyone other than myself”

I love discovering people like Jamie Adam. I think its the intimacy that’s implicit in listening to an artist who made tracks that perhaps weren’t, at the time, really meant for the light of day. Most of Adam’s music was strung together in tiny gaps in his schedule during years of night work, and they have this kind of mellow, slightly fuzzy, heady fuzz that comes with the 3am spaced-out world.

His new album ‘Melodic Electronic’ has grabbed the attention of the likes of the BBC, as the Kells man emerges from his iPad and instrument cocoon as a complete entity, complete with tracks that sound fresh from the MGMT cutting room floor, with an added tinge of electro-weirdness thrown in. 

I had a chance to chat to Jamie about his debut record and the experience so far. Here’s what he had to say.

You sound like the ultimate bedroom music producer. How have you found stepping out of that zone in recent years?

My comfort zone is the bedroom/studio. It’s where I enjoy being the most. But I like being on stage, as well. The only feeling that rivals writing something new and exciting is the feeling you get when you play music with other people. That’s why I ultimately was looking at recreating everything from the album live with other people. I never wanted to do the whole DJ/ solo act thing live as I knew I would never get the same enjoyment from it. I do see myself doing more production work down the line. I love fleshing out ideas and developing a basic piece of work into something more whole and complete.

How inspired by the nocturnal post-party scene would you say the album is? Was it literally post-party? Was it a sober process?

I think the Nocturnal post-party scene would be accurate for only a snippet of the album! It was a very busy period in 2016 when I committed to writing Melodic Electronic. I was still at college and we were required to be present quite often. I was also working a night shift job in hospitals at the weekends just to have enough money for living expenses. So I would write whenever I had the chance really. Whether it be an hour in my bedroom in the evening after a day of college or a half hour in some random hospital canteen at 4am on a Saturday night. I ended up not really going out for about three months while I was writing Melodic Electronic, there was just too much going on!

The Lee Harveys: Protest Punk.

AS THEIR NAME might suggest, Dublin punks The Lee Harveys – made up of musicians who have been hanging around the Irish punk scene since the early 80s – were originally very much about American political protest songs. An odd niche for a Dublin-based band, perhaps, if one most punks would agree offers fertile ground.

The band are angry, firing off two-minute, politically potent tracks on themes like Israel and Palestine, gun crime and a certain Donald Trump. Their latest EP, due shortly, is entitled ‘Resistance is Not Terrorism’, and – amongst other themes – rounds on Eurovision’s visit to Israel with an ‘alternative Eurovision’ track.

“One of things that I loved about the Dead Kennedy’s was the sense of mischief they had, and that’s what we’re doing here, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons,” guitarist Peter Jones says of the song. “It’s not against the Eurovision, it’s in support of Palestine.”

“We’re not against the Israeli people, we’re against what’s happening over there. I think it’s like holding the Eurovision on the Shankill Road in the middle of the troubles,” Bitzy Fitzgerald explains.

“We have submitted the track to RTE, but we haven’t had a response. I’m not sure we really wanted one. But the whole thing was to make a point about it, really, a bit of subversion and a bit of craic.”

There’s a real punk ethos to the way the Lee Harveys release their music, too, with circumstances seeing the band cram their new ‘EP’ with old classics because they can.