By the time Sounds Of System Breakdown released their self titled debut album earlier this year, the electronic-edged Dubliners had been flitting around the periphery of the Irish music scene for some time, picking up their own fan base without every really threatening to make their way out of the city’s smaller venues. Their enticing debut quickly changed all that, with everyone from State to Hot Press and AU offering up highly complimentary reviews, and some enthusiastic convertees even slipping in comparisons to the mighty LCD Soundsystem. At the very least, Sounds Of System Breakdown have established themselves as a band to watch around these parts. Rob Costello told State all about it’¦
Tell us about the background to SOSB… how did you meet, and what prompted you to start a band?
SOSB started as a one-man show about four years ago. I was messing around with live laptop-based music but felt that I needed to get out in front of the audience more and properly perform the music, so guitars and vocals started to make an appearance. With that in mind, I was always on the look out for other musicians who might be interested in expanding the sound even more. I met Adam a few years ago through a mutual friend while he was doing an MA in Trinity and we started jamming shortly afterwards. Richy was a friend who was into the tunes and joined us last year.
You’ve recently been compared to LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy – how does that one feel?
We’re big fans of LCD and DFA in their various guises, so it’s a huge compliment. Musically, I guess there are similarities, but I hope that we’re exploring new territories as well. Our influences are pretty varied.
At this stage, what would you consider to be a successful career for the band?
We wouldn’t mind being able to give up the day jobs! I know it’s a cliche, but it really is all about the music, and to be able to do that for a living full-time would be wonderful.
You recently played an acoustic show, which seems a little odd given the content of your album. How does the majority of your content – being highly electronic – come across in an acoustic setting?
We’ve actually only done one acoustic show (by choice, occasionally the computer packs in and we have to do our best with guitar, bass and drums) and a couple of studio sessions. Underneath all the synths and electric guitars there are actual songs in there. Sometimes it’s nice, and I think good practice, to strip back the stylistic stuff and just try to perform the song.
How easy/hard was it to produce the album, and then promote it afterwards?
I was in a state of severe panic for about nine months. There’s a kind of a saying in engineering or web design: It can be good, fast or cheap; pick any two. We had no money, and we wanted to do it well, so it ended up taking ages, despite my repeated attempts to set deadlines. Adam was in his final year of his masters so we had to work the drum recordings around that, which included a couple of midnight shifts in the studio. Thankfully though, we had wonderful friends who were willing to lend us equipment when we needed something in particular.
Was there a conscious effort to keep things on the down low before the record came out, and concentrate on development and touring?
It’s more that we’re not very good at multitasking. Obviously we would have loved a press frenzy about us at any stage, but recording and mixing the album took priority during the time from Adam joining the band until the launch.
I think we needed that time to develop the live show as well. With the amount of tech we carry around with us, and the question of how exactly to fit the dance and rock elements together, we spent a long time debugging.
There’s a distinctly Irish twang to a few of your tracks, especially lyrically. Was it important for you to maintain a local character?
There was no conscious decision to do that but when I’m writing songs I guess I try to keep them conversational and not use phrases that I wouldn’t use otherwise. I’ve never called anyone “baby” (with a straight face) so I would try to avoid stuff like that as much as possible.
‘Love’s Only Chemicals’ – my personal favorite – is a huge aside from the rest of the album, yet still sits well amongst the more lively tracks. Do you have other ballads up your sleeve? What made you decide to go in that direction as a one off on the album?
‘Love’s Only Chemicals’ was probably one of the earliest songs I wrote that made it on to the final album, and we never really considered not including it. We always thought of it as an anti-ballad; musically it’s pleasant but the lyrics are quite dark and ironic. In that respect we thought it fit well with the rest of the album thematically.
I’ve written a fair few slower numbers, as well as more acoustic stuff, but they all have to take the “is this an SOSB song?” test, and most of them fail.
You’ve been playing together since 2005, yet the album only came out earlier this year. What was going on in the mean time?
It was a solo affair until a couple of years ago and since Adam came on board there have been periods when jobs and study and lack of money have got in the way’¦mainly money though. Everything works much slower as an independent band without a label to back you.
In the mean time there have been lots and lots of gigs. We used to play in places like McGruder’s on Thomas Street a lot, very messy nights. One time just after our set a fight broke out and a punter took a bar stool full force to the face… and it was one of the bouncers who swung it!
SOSB was originally just Rob. What made you take on new members, and how have they changed the style of the band?
It was always part of the grand scheme, the less I could be accused of “just pushing buttons” the better. Adam and Richy come from more of a rock background than me and we’ve influenced each other in different ways. I think Adam’s drumming has made the beats more driving and direct, and Richy just has limitless energy, on stage and off. He’s a crazy man.
Let’s imagine you have just one song to promote yourself (which may well be the case, given the pace of the music industry these days). Which one should we listen to?
If it was live, I’d have no qualms about saying “The Band Played”. From the album tracks it’s more difficult, probably “Devil’s Son”.
As published on State.ie, June 2010.