Wallis Bird: “I feel like a newborn in this now, because everything is different”

Photo: Jens Oellermann

A joyous force of nature, Berlin-based Wexford woman Wallis Bird is a musical soul-injection, producing sparkling odes to life and its many charms. Bird has been a loss to the Irish music scene, where in the mid-00s, her Temple Bar shows became regular haunts that shone sunshine on gig-goers’ weeks. With a long awaited return post-covid on the cards, she’s chomping at the bit to see her home crowd in the coming weeks, and keen on some collaborations.

“I’m nervous, I won’t lie,” she says. “I feel like a newborn in this now because everything is different. The usual “deadly buzz” wild audience is an understandably careful thing now. It will pass, as all things do, but it’s a play it by ear situation. Technically I’m prepped for every kind of buzz, so I’m gonna take it one song at a time.” 

“I hope to be involved in everyone’s session, that’s my aim. Collaboration shows like this [HIbernacle, in Galway in late September] are one in a million and it’s something I love best about being a musician – jumping into someone’s world and fleshing it out together.”

Bird’s German show returns have signalled the emotion that might be involved: “Some moments were like tearing our skin off with elation,” she recalls of recent shows. “Then  one song later swiftly clutching our skin back on again, people bawling their eyes out, it’s been real intense. I know that in a few years I’ll think “lord those were once in a lifetime shows”.

Royal Yellow: “There’s nobody to reign me in when I go off the deep end”

Former Enemies man Mark O’Brien, now functioning under solo-moniker ‘Royal Yellow’, is about to skip out on Dublin. “You kind of see it through different eyes once you’ve decided to leave,” he says, “it’s unsustainable.”

O’Brien is heading to Limerick, a move he announced publicly to widespread support online, and one which reflects a broader trend in Dublin music, a need to be more fiscally sensible, as covid times and expensive rents hit. The move strikes, oddly, just as events return.

“It’s a blur coming out of these times, like a surreal dream now we’re experiencing the tail end of it,” O’Brien says. “I played a gig with Jape in Offaly, and that got me back to playing in front of a small number of people without much pressure. The next day we played at ‘Love Is A Stranger’, a mini festival, and that felt amazing.” 

“It’s already become a cliche, but you don’t realise how much you’d missed that feeling of purpose and meaning. That physical element of feeling bass and drums in your body that you don’t get at home. I could only describe it as euphoric, two of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever played. It’s like fasting for two years and then eating something delicious.”

In that particular scenario, the mental space offered by lockdown helped out. “The lockdown gave us space to figure out what it is in terms of a live performance,” O’Brian says. “The EP, ‘Still Until’ gave me the chance to focus on multiple tracks at the same time, and take a more widescreen view of what our writing is.” 

“Then there was space to go away with the band to Wexford for a couple of days. We jammed, tried out different instruments, and made a short film about it all. We worked out the different permutations of the band, and it coalesced into this feeling of ‘this is what it is’. Before that, it was really just me experimenting with different line ups and becoming a solo artist, in inverted commas, for the first time. Now it’s become a more comfortable thing.”

ZOiD: “I thought it would be cool to understand everything going on in the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of jazz so I could use all that in electronic dance music”

ZOiD is a bit of an exception to the norm in current Irish music circles. Combining jazz and techno, two scenes that the city’s not particularly known for these days, he produces beautiful tracks with a wide mix of guest vocalists, which he then somehow twists into a coherent whole. That in itself is quite an achievement.

He’s also prolific. Daniel Jacobson – his real name – traces his routes back to a specific Dublin scene of years ago, one centred around the label D1 Records. I caught up with him to discuss his latest release, ZONGS, due out shortly, and found a man with plenty to say about his colourful craft…

You seem to have been inspired in part by the Dublin inner city and also jazz influences, which from the outside looks like an unlikely combo. How did that come about?

Well… I got into techno and jazz simultaneously when I was 15 or 16. Me and my friends worked on the forecourt at a petrol station in Deansgrange and we’d spend all the money we earned on techno records. They’d be from Germany, the US, the UK, Japan, Netherlands… and occasionally we’d come across a record from Dublin, on a label called D1 Records.

It was exciting to know there were people not far away who were making this music on a par with other labels around the world! It inspired me to start producing music. I bought a synth and the first tape I made found it’s way to Eamonn Doyle who ran D1. He rang me up and I got to go and make tracks at their studio, play livesets at The Funnel, and later on release an album on D1 (ZOiD Vs Jazz Musicians of Ireland Vol 1).

In terms of getting into jazz, I loved the challenge of trying to play it because it was impossible. Also I thought it would be cool to understand everything going on in the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of jazz so I could use all that in electronic dance music. That was my reason for studying jazz full time for 4 years. It didn’t exactly work out…

Obviously the record is heavy on collaboration. How did that work in practise, and how did you keep it coherent as a whole?

In practice it was a whole bunch of emailing files back and forth over a couple of years. It was cool because nearly everyone has a basic mic they can use to record themselves, and i didn’t mind if the recordings weren’t very high fidelity. If they were a bit noisy or low quality, I thought it would add character.

Liam Grant and Les Keye who helped me with the mixes probably have other opinions… but anyway, there was a really big diversity of tracks and I was worried for a time that it wouldn’t be coherent enough… after a few months of working on the mixes with Liam though, it all started gelling and sounding like an album. I remember the first time I listened to it all the way through, while walking along the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire, I was so relieved – IT SOUNDED LIKE AN ALBUM!! It took ages to get it there.

Was it part of the plan to feature only female vocalists?

I picked vocalists I like and they just happened to all be female. There were a couple of tracks with male vocalists but they didn’t get finished in time (Danny G, if you’re reading this… let’s go haha!).

Palps: “I have been worried that the album is so bleak there may not be anything positive to take away from it”

It’s not often I receive promo from a band that hooks me immediately on almost every level. Palps are just such a band. The Essex group only have a handful of singles out yet (the album is on the way), but have a firm concept: they address mental health through a combination of music and video, using characters that represent both people and the mental health issues themselves (the issues are played by a kind of band symbol, called ‘The Plague Doctor’).

Of course, I’d dismiss this kind of stuff off hand if it wasn’t also backed by quality music, but it is. The first single from the slow-release concept album (which will be entitled ‘Black Heart’) is a track called ‘AVA’, which comes with an evocative video and is really quite reminscent of a slightly edgier ‘Black Parade’-era My Chemical Romance.

The next single, entitled ‘Love, Always’ (and not yet launched publicly at the time of writing), is much more spacey and angular, and for me, firmly evoked singles from the pulsating My Vitriol. It all adds up to a seriously promising offering.

I caught up with them to talk over their concepts and find out what it’s all about…

Congrats on ‘Black Heart’, It sounds like it’s going to be pretty conceptual. Can you tell me about the ideas behind the chapters and the story?

Thank you very much! The process almost killed us, but we made it in the end. The whole concept of the album is how traumatic events and mental health issues can harden you as a person and sometimes cause you to hurt the people around you, even if you do not realise this at the time. In the videos, we follow the main character Matt as he tries to navigate through life and build relationships. However he is often held back by his mental health issues and past trauma, which is personified in this case by the Plague Doctor character. 

How did you come up with Matt, the Plague Doctor and his friends?

We decided that we wanted to make a short film before we actually recorded the album, but it took us a very long time to work out how we would make this work on screen and how we would tie all the videos together as a cohesive piece. 

I’d never written a script before and was completely out of my depth to be honest. I randomly saw the Bo Burnham special on Netflix ‘Inside’ and was so inspired by the concept. For those who haven’t seen it, it takes place in a single room and becomes increasingly cluttered as the effects of isolation during lockdown take effect on Bo. After watching this, everything just began to flow and all the characters came very naturally.

I knew that I wanted to have the room play a prominent role in the story and almost represent Matt’s mental state. Whilst not fully autobiographical, I have also taken inspiration from things that have happened in my life to form the events and characters.

The Plague Doctor has been our symbol as a band pretty much from the beginning and we try to incorporate him into everything we do as much as possible. We toyed with the idea of having him as a physical representation of mental health struggles in our last music video for Aliens and have tried to expand on this in the new album. 

Loud Motive: “We are a lot more driven right now to succeed, something just feels different”

Dublin and Kilkenny hip-hop act Loud Motive have been around the Irish scene for quite sometime: you can go back four years and find beautiful tracks put together with now-superstar Loah, and also uncover an early guise of the band that had five members, instead of their current three, and sounded distinctly different.

In recent years, they’ve been at their most creative, however, working with Danny Sabre (U2, Madonna), on new singles ‘Astronaut’, and putting together a vast collection of tunes over the course of the covid lockdown. For all the behind the scenes work, they’ve become a huge live act, too, with a focus on producing hip-hop in a more live and diverse way.

I caught up with them for a quick Q+A around the new single, as they gear up for a big summer…

Congrats on Astronauts, can you tell me a bit about the story behind the track?

We made Astronauts last year at Crossroads studios in Kilkenny. Astronauts is one of many tracks in our catalogue that we wrote on the spot with nothing pre-written. It was very organic, we were messing around with sounds trying to construct something in the studio. Once we started making the beat, something was telling us that this one was going to be special, so Marv was writing lyrics as the beat was coming along. The main topic behind it was perseverance through tough times and not giving up.

How do you craft your lyrics, in terms of process?

Marvell: I often switch up the approach depending on the track, the moment or how I’m feeling if I’m to be honest. Sometimes a feeling takes over when making music where you hear the beat and you’re inspired to write based on what’s on your mind and heart at that moment in time, on the spot. I’ve also pre-written something before inspired by a certain topic or event and then its about acknowledging or making the right beat that the lyrics sit well with.

You’ve been around a few years now. How does the post-covid Loud Motive compare to the earlier guises

We believe say we are a lot more focused now, and we’ve been working a lot harder on the music just to make sure what we release is what we envisioned. Obviously, the big thing was we went from being a five-piece to a three-piece group, but we adapted to the workload well and very quickly, because us three grew up together and have played music together for so long that we all know our strengths and refused to give up on LM.

Another thing is the catalogue has expanded tremendously because we used the covid time as a period to create. We are a lot more driven right now to succeed, something just feels different, timing is everything and this just feels like the right time.

Groundhopping: Drogheda United (v UCD, United Park)

Date: 4 March 2022

Competition: League of Ireland Premier Division (first tier)

Result: Drogheda United 4 – 2 UCD

Tickets: €15 (adult), free (kids)

Attendance: circa 2,000

Match Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐

The game: Drogheda United were bottom of the admittedly very early-stage League of Ireland Premier Division season going into this game, so a match against newly promoted UCD – once again, I believe, the only student top-tier team in Europe – looked like one with the potential to be quite evenly matched. It wasn’t particularly.

Sometimes a match takes on an interested flavour when one strategy seems dominant, and Drogheda worked out a few minutes into the game that UCD were weak down their defensive left. They continually exploited this, with a series of overlaps leading to crosses and three first half goals, which meant a dominant 3-0 half time lead. UCD sorted it out to a degree in the second half and looked far better (this worked out well for us, as five of the six goals happened right in front of us at one end), but Drogheda were always going to win this one. Entertaining, though. Fiercely so. I suspect Drogheda will do well at home, though they’ll finish bottom half. UCD are in trouble already, I think.

CheryM: “If guitar music was dead five years ago, it’s sure as hell not now”

Pop-punkers CheryM – pronounced Chair M – are a vibrant, fun-loving guitar band from Derry, one that documents life, love and frustrations, and accentuate their music with a real love of professional-looking, film-like videos. They jokingly call themselves the original Derry Girls.

“We literally write songs about our friends, we write songs about being in love, falling out of love, shitty experiences from school and how to overcome them, bullies, working shit jobs… we write about what inspires us and our experiences so far in this life so yeah I guess they’re all just from our perspective,” Richardson says of the band’s output so far.

The latest single, in fact, is a nod to a Netflix show the band particularly like, and hones in two particular characters.

“The idea behind ‘Listening To My Head’ was based around Betty and John Broderick from the Netflix series Dirty John season 2, as I became a bit obsessed with it over lockdown and soon decided Betty needed her own anthem,” Richardson says. 

“The story goes that Betty and Dan Broderick are a very wealthy family living in California. Betty has supported Dan the whole way through his law degree, financially supported him and basically been there for him when nobody else was. Dan then decides to have an affair, runs off with his secretary, takes all the family money, the kids and the house and leaves Betty with nothing. She then plots and succeeds in killing Dan and his mistress. ‘Listening to My Head’ is written from her perspective. And no we do not condone murder!”

With their witty, colourful approach, CheryM quickly drew the attention of cult UK label Alcopop Records, but they’re going to take their musical journey at their own pace, to ensure they’re well placed when it finally comes to a debut full-length release. 

Groundhopping: Shelbourne Rovers (v St Patrick’s Athletic, Tolka Park)

Date: 18 February 2022

Competition: League of Ireland Premier Division (first tier)

Result: Shelbourne Rovers 0 – 3 St Patrick’s Athletic

Tickets: €15 (adult), €5 (kids)

Attendance: circa 4,400

The game: The opening game of the League of Ireland season, a freezing cold February night that saw newly promoted Shelbourne take on far more established St Patrick’s Athletic in Damien Duff’s first game as a manager (of anyone, but specifically of Shelbourne). Despite the score this was a fairly tight contest, with Pat’s handed the advantage after Darragh Burn scorched a fantastic finish into the corner from about 25 yards in the first half.

From there, Shelbourne were chasing the game and created quite a few chances, especially down the left hand side, but couldn’t put any away. Pat’s were far more clinical and look like a side that will at least challenge for Europe again this season, if not go a little futher. A good game that petered out towards the end with the result obvious. Good entertainment, and televised, too, though – the TV coverage meant a load of glaring spotlights in one corner of the ground, which I’d imagine were quite distracting to the players!