TOUCAN are one of the rising stars of the Irish music scene, a kind of Motown-loving, glorious throwback of a band, big enough to seem like they were formed with a healthy disregard for the practicalities of touring, and lively enough to instantly engage. Their second EP, ‘So Easy To Love You’, is released on November 22, and showcases the ever-expanding talents of frontman Conor Clancy.
Clancy is one of those vibrant showmen who consciously evokes with his every word, a kind of curator at the head of a talented ‘army’ of an act that hang out funky licks and flowing, pop-tinged grooves. Known for a spicy, frantic live show, their rise looks set to continue in the coming months. I spoke to Clancy about the journey so far…
Congratulations on your rapid rise, how have the past months felt for TOUCAN?
Thank you! It’s been an absolute dream. Once the Summer started, it was like someone just turned on a tap and we were getting the craziest gigs. We opened for Nile Rodgers & CHIC in Dublin, played the Southbank Centre and the Royal Albert Hall, a cracker of a gig at Electric Picnic and we’re just back from New York. It’s just been so much fun!
Let’s pretend I’ve never heard your music for a moment. What do TOUCAN sound like, and how do you hope audiences will take your music in?
Well, I’d hope that most people enjoy it in the same way most Motown music tends to go down – most people would say Motown is hard not to love. It’s just feel-good, the hooks have you singing and the grooves have you moving. For me, while the music is so important, I’ve always been huge about lyrics and making sure the imagery is right. I think it’s an element that can sometimes be overlooked, but the imagery used in a song can be a hook too.
Can you tell me a bit about your forthcoming EP, and the story behind it? Does it feel like much of an evolution from the debut for you?
For sure! It definitely is a step forward for us in terms of how the whole things sounds and sits together. I think between the writing and recording of the last EP and this one, I’ve grown hugely as a musical director and as a producer. It was actually really cool being able to communicate exactly what I was looking for, and having the language that I once didn’t have to be able to tell someone what I was trying to achieve, both in the broader sense of how the tracks were supposed to sound and what the ‘voice’ of the EP was supposed to be, and in the more specific sense in each take how I wanted things to be delivered. There were still a bunch of times where I wasn’t sure how to say something, and in those moments you just have to chase it, but we got there in the end. Probably all down to the patience of the performers!
Is there an album on the horizon?
Definitely, but the horizon is probably quite some time away. As an independently funded band, even recording small EPs like this is a huge undertaking financially, so I’m not sure how the numbers would work for an album. If we were able to land a deal, I think it would unlock quite a few doors that would lead to an LP.
I understand you played the Sofar Sounds Liberties show recently (I live down the road but couldn’t wrangle a ticket!). That kind of event is a fantastic way of catching live music. How did it feel to play?
Ah, it was great. I always find those sets are way more nervewracking than the bigger shows. I’d much rather play to 2000 people than to 20 because I’m less nervous! It’s just that microscopic sense that it’s your every move being watched. But, having said that, the crowd were so lovely. I did a singalong for the first tune and they were all so up for it, it was actually really nice.
What about the New York showcase – how does it feel to ‘rep Ireland’ at that kind of show?
It’s always cool when you’re representing where you’re from. It gives the gig a whole different feeling and you have like a bigger responsibility to perform when you’re there. It was great craic, the crowd were all mad into it and the place was hopping at the end. I wasn’t sure what to expect – I had envisioned playing to like 15 people – but the room was packed and the atmosphere was deadly.
For me, and I’d imagine many Irish people, the name Toucan evokes Guinness. Is there a boozy story there?
There are many boozy stories there! In relation to the name itself, it wasn’t a conscious decision or anything directly linked in my mind. It may have been subliminal!
I can only imagine the difficulties in organising gig schedules, practices, tours, that kind of thing for a ten-piece band. How does that side of TOUCAN function?
It is pretty tough. At the start, it was much harder. But we have managers who are really on the ball so they’re very on top of things. And everyone in the band is totally committed, which makes it easier too.
There does seem to be a little bit of a rise in the amount of local brass action at the moment. Is there something in the water of the Irish music scene that you’ve noticed?
Yeah, I think I see that alright. I see a lot of people advertising gigs as 7, 8, 9, 10 piece bands. I think it’s after slightly becoming a ‘thing’ to have a load of people on stage. I think a few years ago there would’ve been a lot more solo acts, or maybe 3 and 4 pieces. I’m not sure where the tendency came from to grow out the bands but I’m all for it.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, we’ve been working really hard to produce and release the EP, so that’s taken over for the last couple of months. Between that and putting the Autumn tour together, there’s not been a huge amount of planning for 2020 just yet. But we’re hoping for a lot more stuff in the UK and a lot more stuff in mainland Europe. Maybe even further? Who knows!
TOUCAN play the Academy, Dublin, on December 5