Flogging Molly: “We felt we might never work again”

Born in LA, but of strictly Irish stock, Flogging Molly are named for the local Irish bar where their career started: by their own admission, Dubliner frontman Dave King and his band played Molly Malone’s a slightly daft amount of times.

Since then, the folk-punks, who combine heavy Irish trad influences with politics and punch, have soared to international acclaim and a heady touring schedule that means Dave and his wife Bridget, also in the band, live a large part of their marriage on the road. In fact, these days, that lifestyle is a relief: early in Covid times, King and the band feared they’d played their last show.

“People are starting to get out a bit more and the atmosphere at shows is unbelievable,” King says. “This hit everybody in a shockwave. We were packed up in trucks and had driven to the first show of an American tour in California, and the tour was cancelled on the day of the first show at the start of a major US tour,” he says of Flogging Molly’s harsh Covid experience.

“Bridget and I got a flight to Dublin and drove to our house in Wexford. We thought it might be two months, six months… then we felt we might never work again. We shrugged that off and went to New York and locked ourselves in a basement and wrote an album in 14 days. We just went for it, there was a real sense of urgency.”

“We just wanted to get together as a band and it felt almost like the last hurrah, but also like going back to the beginning, all the shackles off, like the early days. The album [which will be titled ‘Anthem’ and is due in September] has that about it. One song is completely live, the rest of them are just three or four takes and a few things patched up here and there.”

“The thing for me is that the music is very rock and very raw. The lyrics are simply about hope. No matter what the subject is, I think as a songwriter there needs to be hope in the lyrics. There are a couple of songs about the pandemic, because that’s what was going on when we were writing. I can’t ignore things when I’m sitting down writing.” 

“There’s one song, “We All Stand Alone Together’, which I wrote in my house in Wexford sitting alone, looking down the lane, and thinking about the beauty of people caring for their older neighbours,” he says. “‘Song Of Liberty’ has a video by two of our friends from Ukraine, a very powerful animated video. That also gives hope. It’s their piece of art, telling their story through our song.”

The new and the old, though, combine in modern day Flogging Molly. “We might actually be going back to playing Molly Malones, around the time the album’s out,” King laughs. “We might even film it and get it out there. These last few shows have been really positive, especially Europe. There’s a wonderful atmosphere at gigs and festivals.”

“The guestlist in Dublin is always pretty big,” he continues. “The last show we did in Dublin was the last gig and the best gig of the tour. It was electric. I still get really nervous and have to do everything in a routine before I go on stage. It takes a couple of songs, before that I’m useless.”

“We’ve been very lucky to be doing what we’re doing,” he concludes. “We’ve had some great results, like two top ten albums in the US charts. Our gigs are great. We’re lucky and honoured to be doing it. It’s great to be back.”

Banríon: “I always write about what’s close to home”

Formerly a solo project out of outgoing singer-songwriter Róisín Ní Haicéid, Banríon have developed into a really strong jangly alt-rock band, a Dublin act with a message, and distinct Irish elements, but that feel like the natural sister act to the likes of Vampire Weekend or Phoebe Bridgers.

Now a four-piece fronted by Ní Haicéid, Banríon are both quirky and accessible, and while there’s only a single EP on the market so far, tracks like ‘End Times’ and ‘Yesterday’s Paper’ give a real sense of promise. 

Ní Haicéid’s songwriting style has both personal and social elements, but it’s not so much a planned process as a reflection of who she is. “I guess it’s an extension of what I spend my time thinking and talking about,” she says. “My lyric style is very verbal, or maybe the word is colloquial. I can’t really write poetically or anything too complex, so I always write about what’s close to home. It doesn’t feel like activism much because there’s not an end goal or awareness-raising motive, it’s just singing how I speak.”

“So much of our sound and songwriting is inspired locally, by my friends. Our guitarist Robbie Stickland has been instrumental in planting the seeds that maybe I could do music too. His shows introduced me to the Dublin indie music scene when I was about 18/19. Diarmuid O’Connor (Passersby), who produced my last single End Times, is another musician whose early encouragement made me pursue music and whose music and approach to it continue to inspire me.”

As something of a ‘covid band’ – much of their lifespan so far fell under the times of the virus – the four-piece are really enjoying making their way into the live scene, with a series of shows lined up over the summer. 

“We’ve Only Just Begun [a Whelan’s festival taking place in August] is absolutely up our street because of the ethos,” Ní Haicéid says. “There’s been way too many gigs where I’m the only girl in the green room. Forever being the minority creates a horrible feeling in the back of your mind that you’re being booked as the ‘token girl’ on the line up, even though I know we get booked because we’re good. I’m so excited to play Ireland Music Week as well! Both shows have such amazing line ups and I’m really excited to meet the other bands who I’m huge fans of.”

Shortly, they’ll be a second EP to join debut ‘Airport Dads’, though a full length is still some way off – at this stage, it’s building blocks.

“​​It’s the next natural step from Airport Dads,” guitarist Robbie Stickland explains. “We recorded out in a studio in Wicklow called Meadow Lodge which was a whole lotta fun. It’ll be a much more lush sound than what people are used to from us. It’s Phoebe Bridgers, it’s Snail Mail, it’s Soccer Mommy, all with the unique wink of Róisín’s songwriting. It’s gonna knock your dang socks off!”

“It’s a bit of a time capsule of songs I had written in 2021-2022, which are about falling in love and looking back on what I maybe thought counted as love before,”  Ní Haicéid adds. “There’s one about how it feels when your friends are all moving away and another about how putting on a brave face sometimes fools no one. It’s our first studio recording so probably a bit better quality sound than our other stuff!” One to look out for.

Razorlight: “we were just a little squat band, being in the charts was laughable”

Razorlight are back. After a long period as what could – though perhaps we’re being cruel – be described as the Johnny Borrell show, the London-meets-Sweden glory days line up returned in 2021. Early this year, the band launched a first new single since their 2018 record ‘Olympus Sleeping’, an album which in itself came after a stop-start hiatus, and a break from recording that dated back to 2008’s ‘Slipway Fires’.

Their fast-rising band history is something to behold, and features a heap of odd moments: Borrell’s own label mocking his solo record for selling only a few hundred copies in its first week; NME nominating Razorlight as ‘best new band’ and then ‘worst band’ only two years apart; a plucky little garage rock outfit at the heart of it all, producing hit after melodic hit.

New single ‘Call Me Junior’ feels like the Razorlight of old. It’s steeped in nostalgia, not least in the video, which features clips from an old tour of the US, but also in its sound: the new track has that jagged, melodic urgency and pace-changing guitar that always defined the backdrop to Borrell’s distinctive vocal. In fact, it could only be Razorlight.

The band for now are learning to be together again. Drummer Andy Burrows – later a member of We Are Scientists – had a fall out with Borrell and they didn’t speak for many years. Their reunion has been filmed for a documentary, its release date yet to be determined. When we speak to Bjorn Ågren, the founding guitarist, who returned from his own work with Lucy Rose to rejoin Razorlight in 2019, he insists the band are now in the best place they’ve been for some time. This is Razorlight’s essence: a return to their purest form.

There’s a new album on the way, though it will be preceded by a series of singles and, most likely, that documentary. Above all, though, Razorlight are enjoying being a band again, and their expectations are not all that high. Primarily, they’re just hoping to enjoy making music, and in hindsight, the whole experience of those flying early years, when ‘Up All Night’ and its self-titled follow up went, between them, nine times platinum, are all in the past.

“It seems to me that it was a very, very strange decade,” Ågren laughs. “It was indie chart music, which is a complete oxymoron. When indie turned up in the 80s, it was music for weird kids up in their bedrooms with no mates. It was before the internet so you can’t find other weirdos on Instagram or whatever. You used to think you were alone, and then you heard this song, and this guy called Robert Smith understood exactly what you felt.”

“It was never meant for the charts, that was the whole thing. It was meant to say to the popular kids, ‘this is not for you, you can have the radio’. And then that ended up being the kind of music that everyone listens to. The most popular game became guitar hero. It was this weird thing where being in a band was the coolest thing in all of culture. It was a world before Me Too, and before mental health really being a thing, especially for men.”

M(h)aol: “the goal is to make people who have felt alienated or isolated feel like it’s okay”

M(h)aol – a feminist post-punk band pronounced ‘male’ – are a poignant hit of noise that amounts to one of the most interesting emerging bands of 2022. Deeply political, the five-piece, who manage to make things work despite being based in five different locations across the UK and Ireland, have been going since way back in 2014, but only recently started releasing a notable volume of music and gaining a significant public profile.

The brilliantly abrasive band launched debut EP ‘Gender Studies’ last year, and have an album on the way. They’re also touring, including a date at Whelan’s in early August. Vocalist Róisín Nic Ghearailt is a key part of the sound: a fiercely political vocalist who, in a live setting, is backed by some incredible use of the loud/ quiet dynamic that adds to the abrupt messaging. We catch up with Nic Gheatailt just as the band absorbs their growing stature.

“My goal with the live shows is to make people who have felt alienated or isolated feel like it’s okay,” Nic Ghearailt says. “I think what a lot of people miss [in our music] is that I always try to end the songs with something positive. My message might be that, yeah, you shout at me in the street, but that’s okay because I like this version of myself.”

“With ‘Asking For It’, the whole song is about victim blaming and rape culture and stuff like that, then at the end of the song I say ‘I’m not going to let this define my whole life’. I think because people are hearing a bit of shouting, they’re missing that every single song has a strong theme of hope.”

There certainly is a lot of shouting and aggression in M(h)aol’s music, and it’s wonderfully poignant and punchy. Nic Ghearailt’s lyrics are close to poetry, largely based on personal experience, and a visceral statement to the world. At her most abrupt, in tracks like ‘No One Ever Talks To Us’, she has the power to provoke thought and shock in a single turn of phrase. 

The band have even cultivated a sense of mystery, in particular through a track that’s less than a minute long, called ‘Kinder Bueno’, which is available only on the sold-out vinyl EP, and as such is difficult to hear, and has gathered a bit of a cult reputation around its live performances.

T’Pau: “It’s a little bit of fairy dust, a little bit of timing”

T’Pau were a huge deal in the world of 80s pop, with frontwoman Carol Decker and her spectacular vocals always standing out. The distinctive Decker worked with her then partner Ron Rogers, and produced massive singles like ‘China In Your Hand’, and ‘Heart and Soul’.

Still going strong today, Decker is on something of a nostalgia tour, but still writes music, too, despite the focus on live settings. She’s charismatic and easy-going, clearly at ease with her role in music today. In fact, when it comes to the process, she’s nothing short of joyous about it all.

“Maybe I might have been headlining back in the day, being frank,” Decker tells us, laughing about her appearance at Forever Young Festival this weekend. “But overall things are kind of similar, we’re all a little older and wiser. All my peers are still there with me, or most of them, but the chess pieces have moved on the board a little.”

“Some people get hits and some people get a longer career. Maybe it’s about having a faithful following instead of momentary adulation, I don’t know. Creative arts is a crapshoot,” she continues. “If you could make a formula for always having a top five hit, I’m sure we’d all do it, but it’s not possible. It’s a little bit of fairy dust, a little bit of timing, and a little bit of charisma, and it falls into place. You just have to enjoy it when it does.”

Danny G and the Major 7ths: “Recently, I’ve been trying to write songs that say something important”

Neo-soul – a kind of deeply expressive and varied version of traditional soul music – is a growing genre in Ireland and slowly finding both expression and quality, with acts like the poignant and lively Danny G and the Majors 7ths.

Channelling a real variety of music from around the globe, the band already have two full-length records behind them, and have been dubbed “one of the founding fathers of Irish neo-soul”, delivering swing, funk, and an effortless smoothness.

“I’m inspired by anything that grooves, really. Motown, Rn’B from the 2000s, music from Africa, South America,” Danny G tells us. “Lately I’ve been really into Salsa, latin stuff, Venezuelan music from the 70s. But when it comes to neo-soul, D’Angelo is probably my greatest living influence. I’ve been to see him a few times and his shows are funk gospel workouts. It’s like a religious experience.” 

“When I write, I try to sing the melodies to myself first,” he explains, “and if they’re interesting I’ll make some voice notes. I put the chords down afterwards on an acoustic guitar. I find if I do it the other way around, I get bogged down in trying to be too complicated musically. The vocal melody should be the most important thing so that’s the best place to start.”

“Recently, I’ve been trying to write songs that say something important. Not that love songs aren’t important too. But I feel like we’ve reached a point in our civilisation where we need to prioritise the survival of our planet, our species, and music can be an important tool in spreading that message.”

Recently, the band went down a beautiful rabbit hole of classic Irish tracks and funked them up, producing a record of the results.

“That was something close to my heart,” Danny says. “I’d been thinking about making Ceol for the Soul for years. There are so many beautiful Irish songs from all sorts of styles, be it folk, rock, trad. The tracklist sort of chose itself.” 

Will Young: “it’s quite fun to remember how ridiculous it was”

Twenty years after taking X Factor by storm, lecturing Simon Cowell on bullying, and heading off our TV screens as a bona fide superstar, Will Young has found an inner peace that sits well on him.

Embracing nostalgia and ploughing forward all at the same time, he’s seen his fanbase morph, found a calmness around fame, and seen his own taste and his music slowly converge.

“That moment where I had a go at Simon Cowell still stands out as a proud moment, as I stood up not just for myself, but for other people, which was my impetus going into it. I wanted to tell him that he was a bully because I was so appalled watching the rounds on TV, the way people were being treated. I just thought ‘you don’t scare me’. It’s easy to bully from a position of power. I’m still really proud of that.”

“It probably took me six or seven years to process the change, in total,” Young says of his personal circumstances following X Factor. “I’d done two albums, a film, a play, and various tours, and once I started therapy and went on a couple of courses I sort of put work in its place.”

“I didn’t ever really get involved with the fame thing, I was more interested in getting the music right. The days of being followed by paparazzi, I can’t even remember what that was like. It probably was stressful because it was quite scary. I used to ring up the police and say I’m being stalked, because I was. The police would come round and tell the person to go away.”

“My life’s so different now so it feels so alien. It’s quite fun to remember how ridiculous it was. I never really engaged with the magazines and stuff, I wasn’t interested in seeing what I looked like. I remember thinking nobody’s going to tell me something about me that I don’t already know, so why do I need to read it?”

Now that things have moved on, Young is back on the road, and enjoying a glance backwards.

“A huge amount of nostalgia was involved, and I really enjoyed it,” Young says of his recent Greatest Hits album. “It’s really fun to look back on things, I deliberately made it nostalgic as I think people like that.”

“I put the singles on the greatest hits record, really, after 20 years there are more than enough to put on there. A bonus version, which I’m really pleased with, involved digging around in my attic, finding old photos and Polaroids and things that I felt made it worthwhile. The bonus CD has old demos and acoustic versions that I did on a random radio station in Germany or something. Things like that make it really special, and that was really fun to do.”

Megan O’Neill: “walks and nature… that’s where my best ideas come from”

As she releases her second album ‘Getting Comfortable With Uncertainty’, Megan O’Neill is drawing on both the experience of a rural Leinster upbringing, and a different kind of life – periods living and working in Nashville, and London. She’s marked, widely, as a rising star of a gorgeous Irish folk scene.

Her new album, though, is the result of a revision of her sound.

“I wanted to branch into different sounds for a while,” she says, “and pre-covid I’d been probably a little bit scared to do so. I think during covid we all had this time to sit down and think about our lives, and I thought a lot about sonics, and where I want to go. One of the great things about songwriting is once you’ve got the bones of a song you can do a lot with the production, and that changes where it goes and how it’s perceived.”

“For me the bones of the song are still the same, the lyrics and the story are always the most important part. I need to be able to strip the song back and play it on acoustic guitar and piano, and then it goes from there.”

Part of that sound, in this case, comes from coming home.

“I lived in London and Nashville and I kind of convinced myself I was a city girl,” she says, “but the reality is I am definitely not. I like open space, and being able to go for walks and take time in nature, and that’s where my best ideas come,” she explains of her relocation to the heart of rural Ireland to focus on her music.

“Nashville crept into my music for a while, and I suppose it still does in my approach to songwriting, my structure and my lyrics. I grew up obsessed with Americana and folk, country music, and so on. That’s why I wanted to be there in the first place. My style has grown a lot since then.”

“It gave me perspective on where I’m from. I grew up in a really tiny village and I couldn’t wait to get out and explore, and see what the world had to offer, but the more time I spent away, the more I missed being there. Even when I’m away, the minute the plane lands back at Dublin airport I breathe a little easier.”