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VannMusic have just released their latest EP Running, which quickly found its way to the top end of the Irish charts, including a number one ‘physical single’ in Boy (you can get hold of the new releases through their site, here). The Dublin-based rockers have been slowly inserting themselves into the upper echelons of the local music scene over the past few years, and have stuck to their guns impressively, not least in their insistence in valuing their art (they won’t play for free no matter how big the gig) and in their determination to stay independent. Bizarrely, they were recently recommended on Twitter by none other than Piers Morgan.

For the latest ‘State of the Nation’, I spoke to Aaron about the learning process involved in breaking into the Irish music scene, their philosophy on live shows, taking bookings and music in general, and if there’s enough support out there:

Irish music seems to be on a high but the music industry in general on an ever declining spiral. Is that your view? Do you wish you’d been doing this two decades ago? 

Back two decades ago hardly any Irish bands were signed, there were less labels on offer and it was harder to get a record out then than it is now, unless of course you were U2 or The Cranberries.

If you were lucky enough to have a label you would’ve gotten more money from your label than you might get now if you were signed. I think I read somewhere before that the frames got £150k from ZTT to do “Dance The Devil” in the late 90’s. That kind of money just isn’t around now to make records. In saying that though, you can’t live in the past, Its easier to make records now as an independent due to the availability of good recording gear

Two decades would we be doing the same thing as now? Yeah, we would. We’d be trying to get ourselves on the next rung and grow the band both inside and outside of Ireland.

Is the industry in decline? That’s the business side of things & our secondary focus. Our main goal right now is getting our album together, writing good songs. I think we need to let the industry figure things out for itself. Two decades ago there were two main outdoor gigs in Ireland, Feile and Slane. Now there are a couple of festivals on every weekend from May to September. Most of these festivals are populated with Irish artists, who two decades ago wouldn’t have gotten the chance to play.

What are the greatest pros and cons of working on the Irish music industry at the moment?

I think the pros out weigh the cons. There are so many great Irish acts right now that are creatively pushing each other to bigger and better things. The level of music now doesn’t compare to any other time in recent memory.This has led to burgeoning communities amongst artists. More bands are getting on Irish radio /TV / newspapers. The only cons would be maybe if we had one or two more labels to help artists get their music to a wider audience that would help.

What are the biggest challenges you come across starting out as a band? Are they financial/ publicity related/ building a brand/ simply writing good music?

Thinking back to day one, there was too much excitement about the sounds we were working on to interfere with the start up phase. I guess the fundamental things like getting the music recorded properly, getting the CDs made, deciding on artwork, planning a show and so on, this was all fun and interesting to us. It was only the next stage which was seeking the correct team to manage our affairs. The music industry is full of excellent go-to people, for example a booking agent or a publicist which I guess for a new band, is the number one priority when wanting to get out there, show your music off and play gigs. You need to have the following; No.1 decent music. No.2 a decent fan base and No.3 a decent level of exposure and track record of selling out shows and an over all presence online and in your region. We have had the experience of several different avenues which we learned a great deal and one thing we had to get a hold of early, was where to spend the little bit of money that we had. Money is always going to be a thorn in the side of any unsigned band but we have learned to utilise it as best we can. It’s all about strategising. We have an a1 size white board which we regularly work from and if we have a problem we brainstorm how to get around it. When there’s a will…

How much goes on behind the scene that the fans don’t see, in terms of the ‘business’ side of the band? Do you think the payments made to bands are generally fair? Which areas are more/ less fair? (no specifics needed unless you want to give them, lads!)

Being in a band today you are the Record Label / Booking Agent / Designer / Tour Manager / Engineer / Psychologist!

Its a full time job & a health hazard, I think you need to be slightly crazy. Running a band is costly business, paying for rehearsals, studio, renting transport to get you around the country, petrol, sound engineers / tour managers / good equipment. The list is endless. You need to be good at delegating BUT, none of this puts us off it, the love we have for it is endless.One of the great things about being independent is the education you receive along the way.It becomes second nature and really helps you out when negotiating or just figuring out how to get the best out of releases.I think payments to bands in this country could be better. Starting out you are expected to play for free, even to this day for bands doing relatively well that expectation is still there. I think its wrong, and regardless of how small a band or performer is they should be receive some sort of payment. 470 million is the figure that the Irish music industry contributes to the Irish economy. I’d love a full breakdown of those numbers.

You’re on record as having turned down gigs because they won’t cover your costs – big ones in some cases. Have you ever regretted it?

We have been asked to headline big stages at festivals for free.The world over headliners get paid whether it be Glastonbury, Bonaroo or Benacassim, Why should Ireland be any different? The only regret we have is when people ask why you weren’t playing at a particular festival that they lived close to & they missed an opportunity to see us.Running a band is costly and some bridges are too far. The best way to describe this would be to see things from a different perspective. If I was building a house, and I wanted really nice expensive lighting, do you think for a second an electrician would come and work at it, doing what he does, for free?. If I was to accept his work for free I personally would feel like I was taking advantage of him. I understand the whole new band drill, where as, say you can’t fill a venue, why get paid because entertainment is a business… I get that however, so is performing. Festivals especially. Because you are entertaining. The headline bands pull the crowd, everyone knows that. The rest are there to entertain. Entertainment is a business.

You’ve done fairly well for radio play so far. A few others doing my ‘State of the Nation’ interviews have talked about Irish radio not featuring enough Irish acts. What’s your take?

We’ve started to do really well on radio as an independent band. There are some great champions out there for Irish music on radio,

you have 8Radio / TXFM / Roddie Cleere / John Loftus / John Barker / Dermot and Dave / Claire Beck / Anton Savage, to name a few playing Irish music

These guys constantly play and plug Irish bands. In the first issue of GoldenPlec’s new magazine, starting on page number 4,  Claire Beck gives great advice on how to approach radio with your songs.

Her piece is must for anybody looking to get their music on radio. We strongly recommend picking up a copy.

Let’s talk about the ‘drive’ and the famous huddle… does it work? How do you get yourself up for playing a blinder?

Ha, the famous huddle! Since we started we have approached every show the same way, give 100% no matter what.

We leave everything at the side of the stage when we go on.

I really hate it when you go see a band & they couldn’t care less, its disrespectful not only to the people who’ve paid hard earned cash in but also the band themselves and their people.

As for playing a blinder, you have to believe in what your doing and just go for it. That 30/40/1hr is your time, make the most of it.

What’s the thinking behind putting ‘Music’ in your name?

Well, one day we got mail from a guy in Canada who at the time also went by the name of Vann and had put out a few records in the states as well.

Both he and his lawyer politely asked to make an addition to our name or change it. So that evening when I went home I was digging through my record collection and pulled out a Roxy Music record and thought to myself lets just add “music” onto your name. If its good enough for Brian Ferry and co then its good enough for us.

What can we expect from the EP? Is an album on the horizon?

It marks the beginning of Vann Music part 2, people can expect a change in direction on this record. Writing it was a rewarding experience on both band and personal levels as we got to work with one of our heroes Steven Hague.

He taught us so much about the recording process and more importantly, the writing process. It was great to have someone guiding you, filling in the black spots. He also challenged us regularly on why we did things certain ways, why some the lyrics where the way they were, articulating ourselves better!

We have started work now on our debut album now, we feel its finally the right time for us to make it. The past few years have been great in terms of finding out what makes us tick as a band. We’re going to give you the whole love!

What else does 2015 hold for VannMusic?

We are going to go on an Irish tour in March and April. We will be going to North America in May and after that it will be knuckle down on our debut album.

State of the Nation is a blog project for 2015 focused on telling the story of the Irish music scene through interviews with some of its major players. Interviews are published weekly, and you can find a full index of all published to date here


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