BARQ: “There was a jazz quartet, a Motown group and then a hip-hop covers group before we got to BARQ”

Photographed by Dara Munnis. @daramunnis

A PRODUCT of both a top-class education in jazz, and the inventive expansion of the Irish music scene in recent years, BARQ – a soulful, imaginative and lively Dublin act with a boisterous stage presence – are on a fast-rising path.

Having featured on the cover of Hot Press and made the Irish Times’ list of ‘50 People To Watch in 2017’, frontwoman Jess Kavanagh – who’s previously worked with Hozier and Lethal Dialect – sees the band’s music very much as a fusion of its members varied influences.

“The scene today comes from easy access to music all over the world,” she explains. “When I grew up, you had a musical identity, like ‘I’m a rocker’, and you go to whatever section in Tower Records is selling the rock music. It was part of who you were. People don’t consume music like that anymore, it comes from a multitude of places.”

“Now Ireland also has all these music and cultures that didn’t exist here ten years ago,” Stephen McHale adds. “As soon as people had MP3 players, I remember people started talking about different things – my friends listened to Malian bands, classical music, orchestral tracks, stuff like that. Odd tracks here and there. It wasn’t so vertical; not the whole catalogue from one band, but a really wide range of genres. That was a big shift, and it affected everything.”

We spent four years playing jazz, and that feeds into what we do, too. I don’t think we feature anything we don’t have some background in, so it feels authentic and natural to us, even if it does sound a little bit like ‘what is that’ to outsiders. It’s a combination of what we all listen to: jazz, Kendrick Lamar, stuff like that.”

“Tommy (Gray), drummer, was living in what we called ‘the jazz house’, and we spent a lot of time messing around with music,” Kavanagh recalls of the early days. “We were listening to music around the kitchen table and drinking wine. There was a jazz quartet, a Motown group and then a hip-hop covers group before we got to BARQ. We settled into a sound in the hip-hop covers band, and so when we started writing our own songs, the overall sound was already there.”

Zaska: The Making Of A Village

Guitarist Max Zaska is a hard man to put in a nice, easy-to-grasp box. A brilliant guitarist and adventurous songwriter, he eschews genre convention, preferring to flit between funk and R&B, pop and soul. The result if often bright, bubbly and bouncy.

His approach to performing is similarly atypical. Zaska’s forthcoming debut album hosts something of a who’s who of Ireland’s more interesting musical fringes: BARQ, Come On Live Long, Little Green Cars, Super Silly, Loah and Wyvern Lingo all have members who have chipped in on vocals or instruments, taking roles that Max himself jokingly says he’s utterly unable to fill himself.

It’s hard to peg precisely what Zaska is, then, apart from a project led by a man who’s clearly not short on vision, or on friends (Hozier has also been a regular feature in his career). The inventive musician finds his finest moments is big, bold, diverse collaboration.

“The album title, ‘It Takes A Village’, comes from the way this album was put together, both with all the collaborations and with the FundIt [crowdfunding] campaign that’s supported it,” Zaska told the Gazette of his debut.

“I’ve been working on it since 2015, and the €14.5k people contributed to my FundIt has kept it going right up until now. I’ll just be pushing into my own finances for the first time with some of the promo stuff, so I’m so blessed. It’s been a lot of work. I almost died from exhaustion, but the support has kept me afloat.”

The result is brave and bold. Zaska’s new single is a swipe at Dublin’s increasingly prominent housing crisis. In the imagery around ‘It’s Ridiculous’, you can see the songwriter perched outside the Central Bank in a cardboard box labeled ‘two-bedroom apartment’, grimacing and clutching another piece of cardboard with the song title penned on it in marker.