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We Cut Corners: “it’s about the protagonist’s psychological unravelling”

After a break of over a year following the release of latest record IMPOSTERS, We Cut Corners returned to music determined – as they have been in the past – to convert their experiences gathered away from music into art.

New EP ‘Muscle Memory’ is, perhaps, a nod to the way the duo – teachers in their day jobs – continue to function in musical ‘shifts’, returning in productive periods to bounce onto the Choice Music Prize shortlist, or deliver the most vocally beautiful, rapidly-morphing songs that bounce from White Stripes-like rock to delicate, emotional ballads.

‘Muscle memory’, string-man with the Dublin-based band John Duignan explains, is focused very much on the idea of domesticity, psychology, and absence. 

“After the release of IMPOSTORS in 2018, we took about a year away from formal band duties to dwell in the domestic for a bit,” Duignan explains. “As is so often the case, those down-times are the most fertile in terms of writing and it wasn’t long before we were back sharing ideas over email and piecing together the current EP..”

“The title track is a pretty emblematic of the collection,” he continues, “detailing the protagonist’s psychological unravelling in the face of the physical absence of a loved one. Thematically, the songs on the EP are pretty disparate but there was definitely a sense of heightened neurosis that fed into their composition. Too much domestic time perhaps!”

The four-track contains a colourful variety of styles. On the title track, ‘Muscle Memory’, Duignan describes “taking a look at the country’s institutional past and the legacy that is still culturally palpable here. It’s a rally-cry against repression really,” while ‘Mystery Illness’ another stand-out, is “an absolutely full-on, unabashed, bare-faced love song. Having resisted the urge to even use the word love for the first four albums, it seemed reasonable to pen a tune where every line begins with ‘I love you…’.”

August Wells: An Irishman in New York

It’s been half a lifetime since August Wells vocalist Ken Griffin left Ireland behind for a new life in the big apple, yet in many senses his music’s themes still reflect an immigrant tale: songs of hope and loss, false dawns and changing faces.

New record ‘No More Operators’ sees Griffin and musical partner John Rauchenberger, a pianist, build on their emotion-laden earlier records with stark, dark, fragile tones.

“All my songs are derived directly from my life, so maybe the theme [of the record] is simply me and my perspective,” Griffin says. “I am always simply trying to refine my ability as a songwriter. We are always working on a number of songs at the same time, I prefer to have a lot of ideas going, so I don’t get stuck on one idea.” 

“When we have 10 or 12 complete we just record an album. Because we are independent and have our own studio we can do that at any time. For a record, we just pick the songs we feel work cohesively together, and the ones that feel complete.”

“Although all the songs were written before the pandemic,” he continues, “it is strange how applicable a lot of the lyrics are to this moment. I have always used, or at least tried to use humour in my songs, even at the centre of what might be a tragic subject.” 

“We all live with senses of dread, and fear and worry. We all live with dreams and hopes and wonder, but sometimes I feel being overtly positive can actually be very sinister and lead us to naivety and delusion.” 

Josh Gray: “My journeys have been amazing so far, I’m really enjoying being present in the moment”

Josh Gray’s latest single is starkly appropriate, a vibrant lockdown anthem of a cover, borrowed to suit our times.

‘Hold On’ is a 30 year old single that originally knocked Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ off number one in the US charts, and perfectly suited to the mental anguish of the coronavirus and its social impact. Gray, one of a plethora of fast-rising pop acts, is the perfect man to deliver it…

I must admit I wasn’t familiar with ‘Hold On’ as an original (maybe I’ve been living under a rock!). What made you pick it out as a cover right now?

Hey! It’s quite funny, a lot of people have been thinking that I wrote it, it’s actually an original song by Wilson Phillips! The reason I picked it out as a cover was down to the message it tries to push out, that times are hard but it will get better. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ve all been struggling a little in the current climate. We all have our own worries that are relevant to ourselves, so I want to try my best to send a positive message to as many as I could!

How has your personal journey been over the last few months?

It’s been quite mixed, I’ve been thriving in my writing and production!  I’m excited to share! On the other hand it’s been tough at times when it’s uncertain as to when we can get back out gigging again, but I think it’s been a great opportunity to do those ‘on the long finger’ things.

Is there any way to make our current circumstances into an opportunity as a musician?

Yes, it’s a great time to be creative and grow your skills as a musician! I never thought I’d be so far into production as I am so soon, but I guess thats what 10 hour days making music does to you.

Do you find the strange social circumstances we find ourselves in impact on your music?

I won’t lie, and say it hasn’t. I think it’s been tough on everyone. It’s pushed things out a bit but, it’s hard not to be out performing and engaging with people. Online outlets are great but for me you can’t beat the real physical thing. I’ve been very lucky though with all of the support with Spotify streams and some really touching messages of support from people I really hope to meet one day at a live show or just in general. With the current situation, I’ve learned to try and adapt and I think I’m still trying to day by day!

Soda Blonde: “It’s been a little less daunting and unknown this time around”

Soda Blonde, pic: Ste Murray

Born from the remnants of acclaimed harmonising pop-rockers Little Green Cars, Soda Blonde’s early career was unusual: not so much a slog in front of tiny crowds, but instant recognition of their ability, and no little local hype based on their previous work, resulting in mid-sized gigs from day one.

The four-piece are led by the vocally distinctive Faye O’Rourke, and produce spacey yet vibrant alt pop that nods to their past, but is less abstract and more engaged in social commentary. New single ‘Love Me World’, for example, is a personal ode to looking for acceptance and love through darker moments.

“I don’t think anything should feel easy,” O’Rourke says of the rebranded return. “It’s been a little less daunting and unknown this time around but it was a huge deal to pick up and start again. We have more control over the visual aspects of this project. That was always something that we wanted to harness more in the past, and with this new beginning we’ve been able to have a lot of fun with that.”

“The single is about acknowledging the darker moments of wanting to be loved by everyone,” she continues. “The idea of bending to fit within the zeitgeist in the pursuit of acceptance and love. Being judged certainly lies within that sentiment, but I think it’s more interesting to focus on what and why that happens.”

“I think what ‘fake’ we wish to portray says a lot about who we are and what we desire. I do think people have to be brave today to expose what they really think.”

Like most acts, Soda Blonde have struggled a touch with the lock down, though O’Rourke says there have been good and bad days. Virtual gigs – something the band did in support of the single – are not something they particularly crave. “The audience is 99% of the experience of a live show,” she says.

FYNCH: “Admirable traits in men stem from your basic humanity, not being a tough lad”

Drimnagh rapper FYNCH is very much the modern-day rapper, using his music to examine the themes of modern-day life, such as battles with toxic masculinity, while forming connections to assist his music online.

FYNCH’s debut EP ‘Bookies Pens & Loose Ends’ was released late last year, and for much of the time since then, like the rest of us, he’s been forced into a life less ordinary. Self examination has been an important road.

“Self-reflection is always something which comes out in my tunes, and I’ve looked at the patriarchal society we live in as being detrimental to seemingly everything, including men at large. I just recalled and recounted elements of it in the track, even the title is a nod to the instance of being a ‘big man’ as though it’s somehow admirable. Admirable traits in men (and indeed everyone) stem from your basic humanity, not being a tough lad.”

Latest single ‘Big Man’, out this week, is the product of a collaboration with regular partner in crime Local Boy and an unlikely backbeat sourced from elsewhere in Europe.

“The track I found by chance by trawling through the internet,” FYNCH explains. “Mikkel is a Danish producer and I loved his stuff, so I hit him up and we went from there. As for myself and Local Boy, I had the track written, but I needed some signature flavour, so I hit up Local Boy and asked him to hop on the track. Thankfully, he didn’t need any persuasion, so we went from there.”

Dagny: an album a decade in the making.

Norwegian pop act Dagny – a singer who made her way in the world through singles and shining gems of short pop-songs – has finally, a decade in, got around to an album. It’s unsurprising, perhaps, that now that the moment for a longer record has arrived, the popular singles-merchant, who has nearly half a billion streams to her name, has found her way to producing something that firmly breaks her own mold, going gloriously popcorn to long-form and conceptual.

‘Strangers/ Lovers’ is being released in two seperate parts across 2020 – a benefit of the less format-focused nature of albums in a post hard-copy world – and documents the stages of a relationship, from meeting someone new to the intimacy and closeness of being together, and the strange alienation that comes if it falls apart again.

“This album is a two part album, and it’s because of the way I assessed the songs,” Dagny explains. “I had well over 250 of them to look at when I started a couple of years back. I landed on my twelve favourites. I played all of the songs to my guitarist, and he said it sounds like there were two sides to the story. That kind of split things up, and created a conceptual album, giving me the idea for what it would be. I was worried it would be seen as two EPs and not an album, actually, but I’m happy I did it like that.”

With the songs written over a long period of time, they were the ones that happened to fit together, augmented by some extras written late in the day to hold things together. “I knew what the concept I would draw out was at the end,” Dagny says, “which made it easier to tap into the emotions in the studio and draw it out. Before I was so much about singles, and for this I was thinking about the whole, the story, and how all the tracks fit together. That’s been a really exciting part of the album.”

“There were songs I’d love to have on the album but they don’t really fit. It’s about the whole idea of meeting someone that’s a stranger to you, then you fast forward a year and you’re the closest people and they’re the person you always go to. And then when a break up happens you go from lovers to strangers, that transition, that disconnect and not being able to call them anymore… I find that whole scenario kind of brutal and yet inspiring.”

“There are so many emotions I wish I could put in the album,” she continues. “I could have written three albums on the same kind of subject, but I don’t know if people would go for that. It does feel like the music world is more a free game now, people can just do what suits them, and I like that.”

Dubh Lee: “Sonically, I was inspired by Led Zep’s The Lemon Song”

I interviewed Dubh Lee, below, via email. It’s something I’ve done a bit more recently, as absent the choice to talk face-to-face amid the covid crisis, I’ve found people are putting more time and consideration into written answers, but rarely do you receive answers as full and complete as the below, which give a real taste of the lively blues singer’s story so far (so I thank her for that!).

Her style is one that mixes blues, folk, and teenage rock influences into a distinct sound, one that grew vocally out of time busking on the streets in Germany and has slowly but surely established her on the Irish music scene.

Like everyone else, Dubh Lee has had a weird 2020, but topped it off with a beautiful single called ‘Carousel’ part of an EP recorded in Wicklow earloier this year. Here’s what she had to say…

Congrats on the new single. How was it releasing the track into this kind of situation?

Thank you! Honestly I’ve been chomping at the bit to put out some music this year so I enjoyed releasing the track immensely. I intended to have a whole EP out by the end of 2020 but the recording process got delayed due to COVID complications.

Carousel was recorded for the EP back in March before the first lockdown and I was excited to share it with the world so I decided to put it out as a single on November 20th in order to end this strange and trying year on a more positive note. Usually I’d plan a couple of gigs around a release but obviously that couldn’t physically happen this time. Other than the lack of a single launch gig the process was the same as usual – lots of time spent in front of the computer sending emails, posting updates on social media and the likes.

AJ Wander: “The songs are quietly hopeful and speak frankly about navigating the emotional minefield that is relationships”

For most of us, 2020 has been a strange and ultimately perhaps a bit of a depressing year. With the pandemic hanging over us, there have been limited chances for creativity, fun or even career progression, and the world has felt loaded with tragedy.

For London-based songwriter AJ Wander, though, it might just have been the kick up the rear end he needed. Escaping a world of playing piano bars to make rent – that’s not an option anymore after all – he’s released his debut two singles instead, charming pop tracks full of emotion, entitled ‘Time Out’ and ‘Way We Walk’. Both are loaded with potential.

I caught up with AJ to reflect on a year crammed with change…

Congrats on what’s clearly been a very successful lockdown. How has all the contractual stuff come together for you?

Thank you! Itʼs definitely been a crazy time for me. I feel so lucky to have been able to take something positive from this year. I recorded a bunch of tracks with my friend and producer Brad Mair just before lockdown hit in March. I then sent out the tracks to a bunch of industry and subsequently spent much of lockdown in Zoom meetings.

At the end of summer I took on a great team that Iʼm so excited to be working with!

Can you tell me a little bit about what brought you to this point?

This has always been my dream situation…to be releasing music that means so much to me. Iʼve been singing for as long as I can remember, but the piano playing and writing kicked off for me when I was around 14. I joined a band called ʼTorsʼ whilst studying in Guildford in 2015. I spent an amazing few years with the band before leaving to pursue a solo career.

I must admit I got a little side-tracked after leaving the band and drifted into performing at piano bars and hotels in order to pay my rent. I spent two years playing covers for cash, whilst I was still writing during this time, I spent most days kicking myself for not putting my all into my own music.

Lockdown this year forced a shift in attention for me as gigging was no longer an option. I finally started focussing all of my attention onto my artist project which ultimately led me to the point I’m art now.