First Class & Coach are one of the numerous bands that sit somewhere off slightly on the periphery of a scene, not so much as their music hasn’t broken through, but because they choose to, sharing diverse influences and making music for their own pleasure before anything else.
The four-piece from West Cork bring diverse influences to the table, exploring gritty American influences and German fairytales on their debut album ‘The Truth About Honey’, for which they flew in past collaborators for the production.
Bassist Jonathan Parson told me their story so far, with contributions from other members of the band, below…
West Cork is famed for a lot of things, but grungy rock is certainly not one of them. Are there any specific challenges that come with breaking into a scene from somewhere like Ballydehob?
What we are doing, musically, is a response to ourselves, and certainly not attempting to be part of a scene. In practical terms, of course, the best places to find an audience are likely to be in cities, but that does not preclude us from creating in the first instance.
Ultimately, this band grew into a project to fulfil our own musical inclinations, and not specifically to enter the music ‘scene’ per se. Therefore, we are not trying to fit into someone else’s idea of what we should be. We are just doing our own thing, and happy that it is striking a chord with fans of music generally. Diversity is essential in most things… music especially. It would be futile to chase after a ‘sound’ or scene because that will ultimately shift and then you are left without a cornerstone to your creative voice.
The material we create is a true reflection of what we are as individuals and equally as a band – Geri’s writing comes right from the centre of her – the music and atmosphere we create is both a response to Geri’s written emotion and a soundtrack of what has come before us all in our lives.
Not least, our location in a rugged, beautiful corner of the country provides a great counter-balance to some of the material – and a direct inspiration for other tracks. In particular, ‘Ballyrisode’ was created and named
by the beach that we all frequent and was a favourite spot for Beckett, Reuben’s Irish Wolfhound, to whom the album is dedicated.
We all know that music is cathartic, creative and vital – and forms a central thread to life anywhere. West Cork just happens to be home for us. The bonus is that you get to have a quick swim in the Atlantic just before a rehearsal or gig, which helps clear the mind and reset the body!
‘The Truth About Honey’ has been out over a month now. Tell me a little of its backstory…
The recording of the album came about as the result of playing live gigs in local pubs and venues. Our first gigs were hot, noisy and rawkus nights in bars around West Cork. We had created a body of music that was great fun to play live and was crying out to be recorded. An old friend of Reuben’s in New York is Tony Maimone – ex-bass-player in Pere Ubu and has worked with the likes of Black Francis –he now runs Studio G in Brooklyn. We brought Tony over to produce the record, and we did a couple of days pre-production in our loft-rehearsal space here in Ballydehob, then decamped to Midleton, to Christian Best’s Monique studios there.
Christian is a really mellow guy – he has created a lovely vibe there. We tracked 10 tracks in 2 days – pretty fast! Tony took everything back to Brooklyn and set about mixing the record. Reuben and Andrew spent a couple of days over in StudioG, putting the finishing touches and final mixes together with Tony.
Have you been pleased with the response so far?
We are delighted with how the record has been received. Moreover, we are personally thrilled with it as a document of our output in the last year or two. It is a true reflection of the band’s sound and mission. A few individuals here in Ireland have really grasped the album, among them, Dan Hegarty on 2FM and Paul McLoone on Today FM. They have been great champions of the record and the airplay they have bestowed on us has been great. Very grateful to Dan in particular – he invited us into RTE Studio 8 to record a live session for his show. We recorded 3 tracks – Detroit (from the album) and two new tracks, which will likely form part of the next record.
Is coronavirus an opportunity to work on anything new, or is that impossible?
We have already got new material in the works – there’s always been something new bubbling under during rehearsals. The limitations of the impact of Covid-19 are obvious, and any plans to tour in Ireland and
Europe have been put on hold for now. We have toyed with the idea of doing a live broadcast, but even that might be considered too risky in light of the social distancing guidelines. Best to sit it out and wait.
How was working with Tony Maimone, and how did that come about?
Jonathan: Tony is now my hero – he came to our rehearsal space for a few days before recording the tracks and fine-tuned some details with us – in particular, my bass sound has been enhanced by Tony – and the overall pre-production process was a revelation – critical inputs that make a real difference to the final output. What a guy!
Reuben: I am not really allowed to make a record without my friend Tony. We have been in bands together since 1995 and always working on something together even when we now live in different continents. I
mentioned to him we were thinking of recording the FC&C thing here in Ireland and someone was interested in coming over from LA to produce. Tony dropped everything and showed up the following week – from an overnight flight to Dublin, train to cork.. 2 hr drive to west cork… drink Irish coffees and rehearsed all day and then played a gig with us that night.. would you want to make a record with any other producer?
There are obvious American and German influences on the record. What did you take from your time in Detroit, and what made you sing in German?
Geri: German is my native language and I do love the sound and melody of the german language, its seriousness in particular. The song Wasser stems from an old german saga dating back to the 16th century about two children of two different kingdoms who fell in love but weren’t allowed to be together so they decided to escape and swim towards each other in a deep lake which divides their two kingdoms. Tragically, they drown, trying to unite.
My stepmother used to tell me the story when I was a child and the intensity and feeling of it stayed with me, so I put it in a song, combined with other pieces of poetry.
What did I take from my years of living in Detroit? A bunch of edgy rock n roll memories, good and bad. One especially, which is to this day still vividly etched in my mind, resulted in the song Detroit that is on our
Reuben: I lived in NYC for 20 years and was always involved in the local music scene in the East Village and Williamsburg. That was Brooklyn before it was $3.50 for a coffee. Everything I know about music is NYC. It’s in my DNA now.
How did you end up on a German label?
Geri: we ended up on a German label which is weirdly related to my time in Detroit in the early 90s. Maybe that’s a story for another time.
Reuben: Wait. We’re on a German label ? LOL.
It’s an interesting twist, mixing influences from rural west Cork and notoriously rough places like Detroit on a single record. Do you see it as a kind of geographical journey set to music?
There isn’t a deliberate narrative structure for the record as such, but the collection of songs are certainly a reflection of our personal experiences and, in particular, reflect significant passages of Geri’s life. The music itself is the product of the dynamic within the group – we have all played with many other musicians over time, yet there is a common musical bond amongst us as a group and that is something to be coveted.
How far on are you with a follow-up record, and will touring locations play into the style of that?
We have plenty of new material in the works – some killer tunes and a couple of new vibes to play with. We really want to tour ‘The Truth About Honey’.. the second record will probably have to wait until we have done that!
What are your hopes for the future?
It seems obvious to say – but I guess: tour Europe with ‘The Truth About Honey’ record – experiment with new sounds – record new material – ultimately, we gonna continue writing, playing shows and having the craic!