Carsie Blanton: “Love and rage is meant to be a soundtrack for the people”

Fiercely independent and pointedly political, rock-edged singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton is in love with doing things herself – and with Ireland. Having toured on our isle, New Orleans-influenced Blanton is looking to make an impact here, despite the more obvious market on her doorstep.

Her road has been boisterous and at times highly critical, her songs exploring the personal side of life, but also striking out at the misuse of power and the lack of decency in American political life, something at the forefront as she launches her sixth full-length record.

“I’ve been an independent artist, without a label, for my whole career,” she says, ”and there is no public funding in the US for the kind of music I make, so I’ve relied quite heavily on crowdfunding. I’ve run Kickstarters for three albums (and a card game), I have a Patreon page where fans can contribute to my work on an ongoing basis; and I’ve been throwing monthly ‘Rent Parties’ throughout the pandemic, which have been paying my bandmates’ rent while we wait for gigs to return.”

“When I was young, my plan was to be a rockstar, with loads of money and an aloof attitude. Instead, I rely directly on my fans to be able to make my work, 100% of the time, and I’ve come to love that. It’s a kind of symbiosis.”

That symbiosis, she feels, is a natural fit in Ireland, which her take on protest music and poetry also seem a natural fit.

“Every time I’ve visited, I’ve been delighted by Irish culture around music, poetry, and humor,” she explains. “I’m also fascinated by your political history and culture; I’ve found that the average Irish person has a more complex and thoughtful critique of capitalism, imperialism, and revolution than the average American. I have felt more at home traveling in Ireland than anywhere else, including the States.”

Imelda May: “Sometimes you need the darkness to see the light.”

Dublin icon Imelda May has always been prolific, and her current creative blend of heartfelt poetry and sparkling collaborative music – two things she largely keeps distinct – is no different. May’s determined to take the positives from lockdown, and while her current record dates back to some degree to what we’ll call ‘the before time’, it’s full of shining positivity, an ode to what she feels we currently need.

The Liberties-bred singer is still very much about fostering creativity, with a sweeping, experimental workflow that sees her explore time with various connections she meets along the way and connects with, as well as spending time exploring her own ‘wants’. In fact, she barely sees the whole process as work, the business aspect of it all aside. The latest record, ‘11 Past The Hour’, she feels is her best yet.

“If I could, I’d sit and write every day, if life didn’t get in the way, the business side of getting an album out,” she says. “Sitting and writing is something I love, it’s my time to wind down. But the poetry and songwriting are two different things for me.”

“I’m trying to make them the same, but poetry is something I find more liberating. I don’t have to think of a band, or time limits – length, and so on. I don’t have to construct a song, and arrangements. I just write and that’s it.”

“‘Solace’ [from the new record] is the only poem I’ve turned into a song. I’d been to see U2 in London with my friend Pedro Vito, and we had a stinking hangover the next day. We were supposed to write a song, which we did, and it was kind of rubbish.”

“I got some coffee, and when I came back, he was looking at my poetry book, which I’d left open, and he was working on the music for it. So ‘Solace’ was a poem that became a song, and not really changed at all. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the album.”

Teenage Fanclub: “we never got caught up trying to follow trends”

GLASWEGIAN ICONS Teenage Fanclub’s latest release ‘Endless Arcade’, due in a couple of weeks, is a real stepping stone for the band, as the first record since the departure of one of their three core songwriters, Gerard Love. 

Love’s departure has come as something of a shock to the way the band perform: they’ve long rotated vocalists on their tracks, and have already had to adapt their live performances to work around some of Love’s iconic hits. Not that it matters, particularly, to those still involved., now including Euros Child, formerly of cult Welsh act Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. They feel the partnership had run its course, and they’ve never been that keen on nostalgia anyway.

Instead, Teenage Fanclub charge on with a new album that’s bittersweet, and takes place in a mythical endless city of the act’s imagination. “The pandemic gave us a bit of extra fiddling time on the album,” Raymond McGinley, guitarist and vocalist, told the Gazette. “It’s new territory for us having a record out but not going on tour.”

“The title wasn’t so much born out of a conscious process, but it came out of writing the songs. I wrote the title track, and afterwards, doing vocals in the studio, Norman [Blake, co-writer and guitarist] saw it and thought it would be a good song title.”

“As a concept it just worked, and kind of came out of nowhere,” he continues. It was reverse engineered in our heads a little bit. It’s this idea that life is just a thing you kind of wonder through. It seemed to be something that fit. It was just part of our expression, really.”

After Gerard’s departure, in fact, the process for the album still felt quite normal particularly with Euros involved, too. “There was a long process with Gerry,” McGinley explains. “We still worked together for a long time after we knew he wasn’t going to be in the band anymore. More than six months. The weirdness was in the consideration of everything that was happening at the time. It had gone by the end, and we’d processed it while he was still in the band and rationalised it, and then we just got on with our lives.”

“I guess it’s unusual that someone who’s not going to be in the band is still in the band, but we did all that together. We worked together from June until November knowing he was leaving, and we had that nostalgia tour, and then we moved on. That’s life. We were a bit self aware about it, about taking it too seriously. It’s only a band. No one died, and we’re not The Beatles.”

Siobhra Quinlan: “It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture”

Performing under the name sfiiinx, Siobhra Quinlan is a real rarity in Irish music. While she finds her roots in plenty of mythology, using her music to tell spectacular tales, she takes her grounding in classical techniques, straddling the gap between contemporary chamber pop and classical performative arts.

As she works towards her LP ‘The Magma Chamber’, Quinlan joined us to reflect on her style of music and its place in modern Irish culture, and talk about new single ‘Changeling’.

“It’s fascinating to me that mythology and folklore continue to be echoed throughout popular culture, rendering time or eras irrelevant, as we find traces of ourselves or our stories in archetypes or myths,” Quinlan said. “I also find it fascinating that mythology serves as a framework for us to project the complexity, ugliness and beauty of existence onto, which appeals to me as a medium through which one can exorcise their demons.”

“‘Changeling’ is threaded together by a few different fragments. One of those is the myth of Philomela, which to me, is the most brutal and disturbing of myths. Philomela, has been raped by her sister’s husband Tereus. He then cuts out her tongue to silence her. Unable to speak, Philomela weaves the truth of what happened into a tapestry, which is how her sister learns of what has become of Philomela.” 

“The myth continues to darkly tangle itself. The sisters are then liberated from their human existence, and transformed into birds – Philomela, a melodious nightingale, finally, singing freely. Woven with this thread, among other things, is also another myth of sorts in that I found out nearly a decade ago that the meaning of Síobhra is not just a “fae” but a “changeling.” Which I was initially not so cool with, but I have since embraced.”

“I’m not certain that there is a great market for this stuff in Ireland,” Quinlan says. “And I’m not entirely sure where my music will end up finding a home, but it’s not something that enters my mind when I’m creating my work. Whilst it’s certainly not the most industry-savvy approach. I’m comforted by knowing that I’m never playing to the gallery, or bending my musical language to piggyback on to a certain genre, style or audience.”

Groundhopping: Rush Athletic (v Castleknock Celtic, St Catherine’s)

Date: 5 September 2021

Competition: Leinster Senior League Sunday Senior Division 1B (sixth tier)

Result: Rush Athletic 1-2 Castleknock Celtic

Tickets: free in.

Attendance: circa 150

The game: This was my first time checking out my new local team, Rush Athletic, who are playing their very first season at the senior level of Irish non-league football this year. They look a decent physical team, with a pacey striker, if a little naive for the level.

Castleknock took the lead with virtually their first attack, a break down the left wing that was tapped in at the near post. Rush equalised before half time with a breakaway goal that was typically of their pace-led attacking style, before conceding a silly penalty at the end that cost them the game in the final couple of minutes. They’ll be in a relegation battle this season but on this basis should have a decent chance of grabbing a few points and hanging in there as they get used to the level.

The ground: St Catherine’s is a quaint little roadside spot at the edge of what was once the Kenure Estate, formerly Rush’s dominant feature, beaches aside. It has a smart looking little club house and a bit of old stone masonry that seems to host the ‘ultra’s – and yes, there actually are a bunch of rowdy teenagers letting off flares.

Eiza Murphy: “I normally start with a concept or lyric idea”

Eiza Murphy is only two singles into her short career in music, one that circles around a uniquely personal brand of pop, and which began under lockdown. London-based but Irish-raised, she’s found sparkling success almost immediately, shooting to number one in the Irish iTunes charts with debut singles ‘Black Hole’ and ‘Taxi’.

That’s unsurprising, perhaps, for a woman who’s long been focused on music. Her background includes trips to the Caribbean to perform, and musical education in New York before she headed to London to make her mark.

Murphy’s songs seem to be drawn from a vivid imagination, each with an enticing story to tell over the beats. “With ‘Black Hole’, I wanted to write a song about the world ending and then it grew from there,” she says. “I wrote it during the Australian wildfires and at the beginning of covid so it has an apocalyptic-like feel to it. ‘Taxi’ is about leaving a toxic relationship or scene so they’re very different songs. They were both produced by my sister, Lenii, and released at the end of 2020.”

Her new track is still more personal. “I think in every relationship (not just romantic), there’s a power play going on. One person always seems to be more in control, even if it’s barely noticeable. I played with the idea of dominance being shared in ‘Bat and Ball’.”

“I rarely write the melody first so I guess that’s how I bring out the storytelling elements in my songs. I normally start with a concept or lyric idea when I write and then build the melodies around the story.”

While Murphy has plenty of experience, she didn’t really delve into the industry expecting instant success. Experience, perhaps, gives a sense of realism in that area, and being independent has never been a common route to making noise in the music industry.

“I’m completely independent so when I released ‘Black Hole’ and ‘Taxi’ I didn’t have any expectations. I was really grateful for the support they got, especially because they were the first songs I had shared,” she says.

Ailbhe Reddy: “I choose to put myself out there”

Every so often, an album comes along that’s dripping with beautiful personal stories and perspectives, and captures hearts. Ailbhe Reddy was a regular on the Dublin music scene, but not a star member, when she released her debut album ‘Personal History’ last year.

A slow-builder of a record, it evokes emotional takes on her own life to tell stories, and captures something of what it is to be young and slightly vulnerable and facing into the world. Nominated for the Choice Music Prize last week, Reddy missed out on the win, but will have gathered plenty more love for her delicate performance for the event, highlighting some of the album’s finest moments. There’s no question she’ll be emerging from the current crisis, ultimately, performing shows to much larger audiences than when it all started.

“It was my first album obviously, so I suppose I don’t have a frame of reference,” Reddy says looking back at her debut record. “Releasing during a pandemic was tricky. I had the album finished in September 2019, so the world I released it into was very different to the one I envisioned.” 

“We spent the first few months of lockdown having deals taken off the table and tours cancelled, so by the time I released Personal History I was just excited to get it out into the world. It was just before another major lockdown so I was lucky enough to be able to go for dinner and celebrate a bit!”

“I really loved all the messages of support I received from people and hearing about how people connected to the music in different ways. I’ve always said that you can put out the most personal song in the world, but once other people hear it they project their experiences onto it and it becomes a bit less yours everytime you play it.” 

“I have definitely tweaked a few lyrics to hold things back,” she says of the more personal side of her music. “Not for myself, I don’t really mind because I choose to put myself out there.  But I would definitely take out anything that identifies someone else too clearly, as other people don’t choose to be part of someone else’s songs, so that always seems a bit unfair!”

Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v Flora Tallinn, Tallaght Stadium)

Date: 26 August 2021

Competition: Europa Conference League, final qualifying round

Result: Shamrock Rovers 0 – 1 Flora Tallinn

Tickets: €20 for adults, €10 for kids (in practise add another 10% for those pesky booking fees)

Attendance: 3,500

The game: I had high hopes for Shamrock Rovers qualifying for a second European group stage tonight, despite losing 4-2 away in the opening leg in Tallinn. That might seem overly optimistic, but I’d watched the first game and felt it was a bit of a robbery, with Rovers by far the better side on the ball, and a two goal deficit looked more than achievable, especially if they stopped the daft defensive mistakes.

This was a poor performance, though. The Flora goal, conceded early in the second half, contained both defensive and goalkeeping errors, but worse than that, Shamrock Rovers never really seemed that up for it, playing with little energy throughout and spending far too much time passing the ball around at the back, often shakily, at a time when they needed either two or three goals at the other end. I’m not sure they believed, which felt a bit rubbish given I did.

Flora were professional but fairly average, and definitely beatable. A missed opportunity.