Mark Graham, an integral member of party-hard festival lovers King Kong Company, is a Waterford music legend. As well as his work with the band, he’s spent recent months releasing the brilliant Irish Music Industry podcast, something of a scene bible, and made himself utterly integral to the Irish music landscape in the process.
He’s typically modest about all that, of course, as he comes into the launch of a new concept, Mark Graham vs King Kong Company, a kind of solo-offshoot of his musical day job. And what a charismatic one it is, too.
The biggest bombshell of this interview by far for me, though, was Mark’s revelation that in a few years he plans to head off into the world and cycle for an extended period, leaving us without his considerable expertise. Best lap it up while he’s still here. Here’s what the main man had to say about his new project…
First of all, let’s talk about this new side project. What’s the story behind it, and how will it link in with King Kong Company?
It’s very much linked to King Kong Company. We often find that we’ll be working away on material, stuff that we’re really getting into, but when it comes around to this time of year, we know that those tracks will never see the light of day because they just won’t fit into a festival set. They might be too slow, a bit too serious or just not gelling with the other material. Those tracks form the basis for these remixes and reworkings.
There’s an obvious stylistic difference between this and your musical day job. Do you see it as more of an emotional, poetic outfit as opposed to an energy-driven thing?
My musical day job is teaching music technology-related subjects to students on the BA Music course in Waterford Institute of Technology. Pretty much all the stuff I do can be related to that job in some way. But yeah, there probably is a bit of a difference between these latest remixes and full-on KKC tracks. I suppose it goes back to that previous point, they’re not full-on bangers, they’ve been written with something else in mind.
I’ve been surprised in the past to read and hear King Kong Company described as a ‘dance band’, I always just thought I played in a band, full stop. Without doubt, what we do is heavily dance-influenced, but there’s ska, reggae, rock, post-punk, spoken word and god forbid, even a bit of folk in there too.
These remixes lean heavier on those other influences, and releasing them
from a slightly different angle hopefully won’t fuck around with what
people expect from a KKC show.
Tell me a little about the artists you’ve worked with on these tracks, and why you like them…
It’s always great to get some new voices. In the past we’ve worked with Sue O’Neill and Cian Finn. The reason I got in contact with both Lawriii Craic and Abby Oliveira because of what they have to say and the way they say it.
They both have unique voices, and I was delighted when they agreed to come on board with these tracks. Fuck me, can they write a lyric!? It’s not just the things they have to say and their turn of phrase, it’s also the musicality of their voices that drew me in.
I’m releasing a track on April 17th called Whores of The Lizard People, that one features Abby and meself on vocals. This one actually is a banger, and was incredibly fun to write. You will not hear Whores of The Lizard People on any radio station, there’s a lot of swearing and slander in it. The reason for writing that song wasn’t to include it in festival sets or for it to get coverage or played on the radio. We wrote that for fun.
Working with Abby on that was savage craic. Lawriii is working on another track that’s in the pipeline, and he just brings flow and grit to the table, stuff that we’d never be able to do. They’re both uniquely talented and it’s a
pleasure and honour to work with them, but it’s also great fun, which is the reason I started playing drums as a kid. This shit is meant to be enjoyable on some level, isn’t it?
Will you be taking this on the road once that’s an option again?
These tracks weren’t created with the festival circuit in mind, and KKC have been working since January on other material for our festival set, so it’s unlikely that these latest releases will make an appearance on festival stages. There is a track with another guest artist that’s being released in June though, and we have been rehearsing that one. It was all set to be released on vinyl on Record Store Day in April, everything was ready to go, but Record Store Day got shifted to June and the content of this track is such that those of us involved thought it might be better to wait until May/June to unleash it.
Hopefully, by then we’ll all be given the green light for cutting loose. I’m always excited about new tracks, but I’m extremely excited about this one.
Do you have a lot of music ready to go? What can we expect in the future?
Yeah, we’ve been plugging away since early January, getting new King Kong Company material ready for festival season. This summer we’re booked for slots and stages bigger than we’ve ever played before, so fingers crossed they go ahead. I’ve also been working away myself on these remixes and new music and through that, meself and a producer friend of mine are launching our own record label when we release that vinyl on Record Store Day. Keep sketch for news about that in the coming weeks.
It’s going to be a really strange few months in music. Have you come up with a plan for how you’ll spend it yet?
It’s a strange few months in every walk of life, not just music. The music stuff isn’t as important as what’s happening for family or loved ones, so there’s perspective in something like this. I’m lucky in that I can work from home, but there’s plenty of family and friends who are out of work for the foreseeable future. Music is secondary to those concerns.
I’m still teaching online during the week, working on some new tracks and collaborations outside of that and I’ve set up some tracks on BandLab so we’re all able to rehearse remotely and get material ready for the summer. I also have the Irish Music Industry Podcast to work on, I’m just getting my head around some of the best ways to record interviews remotely for that.
Out in the real world, the veg patch in my garden is going to be savage this year, and I’m building a smoker out of an oak bourbon cask out in the back garden. I’m not stuck for things to do. I’m very lucky to live right beside the beach in Tramore, so even with the current restrictions, I’m able to go for a canter and a swim on a very quiet beach. That’s keeping me relatively sane.
The Podcast has really taken off. Do you feel it’s had an impact on the industry, and have you had much feedback about it?
The podcast is going surprisingly well. I thought it’d have a very niche appeal, but I’m taken aback by the response. Yeah, it’s had an impact, in small ways. There was an episode where I interviewed 2FM’s Head of Music and asked him about some bands that weren’t given things they were promised after the Play The Picnic competition. That got sorted.
I was interviewing the chair of IMRO and during that I voiced concerns from another interviewee about ageism in IMRO workshops. That got sorted. Small things, but those and others are chipping away at some of the obstacles in the industry.
Industry aside, it’s having an impact on me. I’m learning soooo much. I should’ve done it years ago.
How well does the Irish scene stick together, in your view, and what can we all do now to keep things going? Is it as simple as buying music and merch?
The tools that we have at our disposal to promote and distribute our work are so powerful, and it’s wonderful to see Irish artists using those tools effectively, cutting out the middle folk. Sticking together could be a bit better in terms of harnessing the collective power of musicians to use as political leverage.
Without the creation of music, the industry doesn’t exist, and there aren’t supports or protections for the people responsible for creating the music. A
musician’s version of the Irish Famers Association, a lobby group for musicians that could bring about some support and protection, that would be a wonderful thing.
When you consider the amount of followers musicians have on their social media channels, and the power of their message when they speak into a microphone, if Irish musicians decided to agree to unify that potential and focus it on a benevolent political party or candidate, it’d be a powerful thing.
In the meantime merch and streaming/downloads can help a bit. Supporting FundIt/Kickstarer/Patreon or whatever you’re having yourself is also helpful. Going to your favourite artist’s next gig and losing your fucking mind would be very helpful indeed. Probably now more than ever, it’d be good not to lose sight of the importance of personal contact.
Do one or all of the above, but also send your favourite artists a private message to let them know why you want to support them, what their work means to you and why it moves you. There are so many artists who walk a fine line between doing the thing that they love and packing it in for something more stable.
Without doubt, this period will see a lot of artists walking away from the creative side of their lives. A heartfelt private message of support and encouragement could be the thing that sustains them. How many Spotify plays would a message like that be worth?
Your life must be a giant balancing act with all these things going on. Is it a constant flit between different projects? How do you work that?
Not really a constant flit at all. I got asked a similar question during my job interview for WIT, at the time I was working in a local radio station in Waterford, living in Dublin completing a fulltime MA in Trinity, and gigging with a band most weekends. I prioritise and manage my time. Once I know what I have to do in a given day/week/month, it’s easy enough to manage my time and get things done, while also prioritising time for myself, loved ones and family.
I could do better on the loved ones and family front, they’re very understanding and patient. I was doing some radio work a few years ago and there was a week where I was ill, and for that week I had to call in sick to four different places. That seemed a bit much, so I gave up the radio work.
All of the things I do feed into each other, and it works because I love doing it all. It is work, but all of it is exciting and enjoyable, so I don’t mind clocking in a 12 hour day, as long as there’s a long cycle and a sea swim on the cards too.
I really look forward to the summer and festival season because there are less demands on my time and I can let off a lot of steam, go on the missing list and head off in the van or on the bike for a couple of weeks. I don’t have kids, I don’t have a telly, and I’m cutting back on social media stuff, so I’ve got time. Although, last summer my tomato plants were incredibly neglected, even with this slow release nozzle thing I fitted to 2L water bottles, but I still got some fruit from them.
Actually, on the basis of those tomato plants, I could probably do less things, and devote more time to doing fewer things better, but we only get one life!? I’m currently sowing this year’s tomato plants, their health and yield will answer your question better than I can.
I like the funkiness of the artwork associated with these tracks. Is making the effort to present a rounded package rather than just the music something you’ve carried over from King Kong Company?
Hawkie is the Dublin based artist responsible for those. Wait until you see the image he’s created for Whores of The Lizard People! I love his work, just happened across it while down an Instagram rabbit hole.
When I started the podcast I asked him to create a couple of images for that and we struck up a working relationship. I sent out a press release for these latest tracks and one magazine didn’t interview us or even mention the music, but they gave Hawkie some work, and that’s a result. It’s another collaboration, as important as working with Abby or Lawriii.
King Kong Company definitely have an influence on that. The lads started KKC while studying in WIT, and two of them were studying graphic design and art. I think I’ve been conscious of the rounded package for a long time though. If David Bowie has taught us anything…!?
Years ago I used to sing and play trombone with a Ska band called Skunk, and we had a very strong visual and graphic design element to that as well. That whole Two-Tone movement had an impact on me musically and visually. I used to dress as a priest, black suit and white collar, and I actually became an ordained minister in the Church of Light, an online religious tax dodge based in California.
I can use Reverend in front of my name, like Ian Paisley, and I think I can legally perform marriages in San Francisco, if you’re ever interested.
What I’m very conscious of now is that every track needs the equivalent of a profile picture for digital platforms. Something interesting and engaging can only help. It won’t be true for everyone, but from where I’m sitting at the moment I question the return on an expensive and time-consuming music video. A strong still image that can be used on multiple platforms, created by an independent Irish artist is more appealing to me right now.
What are your plans for the future?
All the stuff mentioned in the question about the plan for how to spend the next few months. In 2023 myself and my partner are planning to pack everything in and cycle around the world for a couple of years, gods willing. After that? Who knows.
Mark Graham’s debut ‘vs King Kong Company’ double A side REST / Lonesome Valley is out now.