Dublin-based, but taking their inspiration from the culture of the southern tip of Italy and, sonically, from an Americana-tinged fusion of rock and country, Moo! are not exactly your typical Irish-rock combo. The three-piece, consisting of vocalist Darren Flynn (bass, vocals), Claudio Mercante (guitar, vocals) and Mark Finlay (drums, vocals) have recently completed a fourteen month residence at iconic Dublin rock venue Whelan’s, showing off debut album ‘Wanted’ and follow up EP ‘Tall Tales’. The ambitious three piece are a rising force on the Irish music scene, all set to take their live-focused act across America. I caught up with them prior to their appearance at YouBloom Dublin, and learnt that, even despite their imagery, there’s not even a hint of cow in that name…
Your music isn’t very typically Irish, but does have quite a folky, close to the land feel to it. You’re quite open with your influences, but how did you come across a group of likeminded musicians with a mutual love of Johnny Cash and Enio Morricone in Dublin?
(Darren) Its true that there is a folky tint to a lot of what we do- probably that comes down to the fact that we all come from places that have strong folk traditions – I’m from Sligo, a place steeped in Irish trad (there’s even a specific way of playing the fiddle called “The Sligo Style”), and Claudio comes from the South of Italy – home of traditions such as the Tarantella. As for how we met – that wasn’t folky at all! We were both in a Rolling Stones cover band. A pretty good one too, but we grew out of it and into Moo. Mark came along later- we’d already been through a couple of drummers but once he sat in everything clicked into place.
How do Claudio’s Italian roots come through in your music?
(Claudio) I would definitely say that Moo’s sound can be described as having a Mediterranean feel. I am originally from Bari, in the region of Puglia, Italy’s ‘heel of the boot’ which is famed for its musical tradition, with some great rhythmic beats and choral harmonies. Also, I think my love for Morricone’s spaghetti western scores emerges often through a lot of the band’s musical arrangements.
What are the pros and cons of being an Irish based act? Has it been easy to spread further afield?
(Darren) There are loads of pros – the biggest and most important being that the Irish love music. So there are loads of places and opportunities to play, everyone is generally supportive of musicians trying to make a go of it – even down to busking in the street. Contrast this with the time I spent living in France. I lived in a town that had three huge, really nice shops for music instruments, and only one venue (it was a town of 250,000 people – the same size as Cork), and that venue, by dint of a special bylaw, was only allowed open once a fortnight!
As well as this, the community of musicians in Dublin is pretty tight knit. This, obviously, is not a characteristic solely of the musician community, Irish folks in general are very communal, but it does mean that the opportunities for meeting and playing with lots and lots of really talented people are manifold.
As for cons – well, there are so many brilliant bands in Dublin, it can be hard to get heard above the madding crowd! That’s just a spur to make you be the best musician (and band) you can be though – so its not even that much of a con.
Spreading further afield is something we have been tentatively doing up until now. Every venture has been a successful one, but its something we’re keen to do much more of.
Do you think it’s the slightly Americanized twang in your sound that’s helped you do comparatively well in the US?
(Darren) A Lot of what we do has strong Americana influences, its true, but I don’t think that’s what gives us our appeal to American audiences. If anything, it’s an ice-to-the-Eskimos affair (one fan even went so far as to suggest we should “Irish up” our act!). So, I think rather its that we try to write really good songs, and perform them really well, and to get on my soapbox for a minute I think in the world in general that’s a thing that’s dying out. So, maybe it’s as simple as that. It could also be that what we do isn’t really Americana, and its sufficiently unique to itself that it stands on its own merits.
You’re pretty difficult to sum up musically, and reviewers do seem to struggle with the task. How would you like to be described?
(Darren) Again, very true. And to be honest, its something that we struggled with alot in the past. It can be quite awkward not to have a neat little tag to describe yourself (even down to such simple things as registering for websites such as sonicbids). I can’t tell you of the discussions we’ve had, grappling with that very question, even going so far as to try and invent new words (all attempts were terrible and don’t bear repeating). In the end, though, we’ve realised that its a great position to be in. If you want to hear what we sound like, you have to hear us for yourself! As to how we’d like to be described, I think we’d like to be described honestly. Why don’t you have a go? You may come up with the magic formula we’ve been looking for!
What’s been your greatest moment as ‘Moo’ so far?
(Darren) Well, there’ve been many. It may sound trite, but it’s true that gigging is always a great experience – especially playing to folks who are hearing us for the first time. If I was to pick one gig, I’d say our EP launch gig last April in The Grand Social. It was heartening to see so many folks
In some ways your career seems to have gone in reverse: album first, then video, then EP. Did you need to take a step back after the album, or is this just how things worked out?
(Darren) Its just how things worked out, really. This is another facit of the same thing that gives us our inability to label ourslelves neatly. From where we sit, the thing looks like it has a logical progression. The EP came about because we had a bunch of tunes that really sat together well, and we thought “They’d make a really nice EP”, so that’s what we did!
What is it about YouBloom that attracted your interest? Will you be looking to the industry panels as well as the gigs?
We’re a really ambitious band – we work really hard at doing what we do because we want to do it well, and we like to work with folks of a similar mindset. The people organising Youbloom are talking about creating a new SXSW in Dublin, which is big talk, but they also seem to have the smarts to pull it off. This is the first year, but I really think that within a couple of years they’ll be doing exactly what they’ve set out to, so we want to be in on the ground floor! We’ll definitely be looking at the industry panels – as well as the speed sessions. We’re especially interested in the social networking one (its a cliche at this stage to mention how important social networking is – nonetheless it does seem to remain a “dark art”, despite all the advice readily available, so we’ll be keen to see what nuggets we can glean).
What do you make of the modern music industry in general? Is it difficult to navigate? How hard is the financial side?
(Darren) There’s no point denying that it is tough – all dreams of mansions in the Hollywood Hills with 50 foot swimming pools evaporated long ago- but with a little perseverance, ingenuity and self belief, we feel its possible to make a decent living doing what you love. We’re not rolling in it yet, but we can see a gliimer of light that we can survive (it beats digging ditches, at any rate!)
You have a residence at Whelan’s, which is very much a hub of Irish music. How did that come about, and how is it going?
(Darren) We’ve just finished it, actually! We did it for over 14 months, and it was great. Whelan’s is a fantastic place to play. In the end, though, we realised that we’d gotten a little too comfortable there, and our gigs were becoming “workmanlike”. One thing a show should never be, is staid or predictable. So it was best to quit while we were ahead (I can’t tell you how painful it was though, as a full time musician, to start turning down a regular gig!).
I can’t let this interview pass without asking about your name… what’s the story behind ‘Moo’?
(Claudio) It’s totally my fault! When I first came to Ireland, I met few Italians who were amused by my frequent use of a colourful expression from Bari, “moo!”, (Darren: pronounced “Moe” as in Moe the bartender in The Simpsons) which basically means you’re surprised or bored. When I started to busk on my own in Dublin and I had to put a name on my CD, my friends made me call it MOO. I got so used to it that we kept it for the band, even though I’m aware that for native English speakers it sounds, let’s say, unusual.
What are your plans for the future?
(Darren) As I mentioned before, we’re very ambitious. Right now we’re setting down to the task of signing with an agency. We’re very keen to work with someone whose vision for Moo matches ours, so finding the right partner is going to be tricky. The next time we play in Europe, we want it to be done in such a way that will allow us to bring our music to alot more new fans.
As for gigging, we’re really looking forward to Youbloom, and then the next big thing is later on in the year we’re going to be playing a mini-tour in the US to coincide with the release of a movie by a New York documentary maker, Karen Gehres, that features two of our songs (it’s about the Italian American community in New York, and she liked our mix of old Italian and modern Americana). Alongside that we’re working on our next recording.
Moo Play The Mercantile, Dame St, Dublin at 9.10 on Saturday June the 29th 2013, as part of YouBloom@Dublin.