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Ålesund: “our common ground as a band is the cinematic, epic, soundscape vibe.”

As a Bristol-based four-piece with a Scandinavian-style name, Ålesund evoke the soundscapes that seem to inspire them, with the kind of ethereal, spaced-out, scenic type of alt-pop that’s been made famous by the likes of Sigur Ros.

The relative newcomers were making waves when covid hit, touring across Europe and establishing themselves as one to watch in a style of music dominated by soulful melodies and clever delicacy. New singles ‘Lightning’ and forthcoming EP ‘A Thread In The Dark’ are the product, to a degree, of being forced to slow down.

“Lightning is based on that feeling you have before making a big life changing decision, or someone you are close with making that decision and in turn impacting your own life,” vocalist Alba Torriset explains. “It’s about having the courage to take a plunge and trusting in your choices. The video is inspired by a hero of mine, Eadweard Muybridge and his Studies In Motion. His work is essentially the birth of the moving image and I find it beautiful. Using that as inspiration, the rest of the video quickly formed around it. It was a real joy to make.”

“I would like to say the EP is hopeful and uplifting. Even the songs that are slower in tempo are rich in instrumentation and have a warmth about them.”

“I’m lucky in the fact that the band are all amazing producers and engineers so I’ve never had to think about that myself, until Corona hit and I had no way to record or demo up my ideas,” Torriset continues. “The band was amazing though and facetimed me through learning how to use Logic and it’s actually been one of my proudest achievements in lock down!” 

“Only having myself at the start of the demoing process meant I layered up my ideas with lots of backing vocals and percussive clapping, wooden spoon banging and anything else I had to hand. It weirdly turned out to be a brilliant experiment that we rolled with. So I’d say it very much informed the making of this EP.”

Brídín: “I’ve learned very quickly not to take the little things for granted”

SLIGO NATIVE Brídín is the product of generations of music. Born into a trad-loving family, the harpist engaged with more modern sides of music once she got to studying at UCC. Now finds herself in the relatively unusual role of a modern harpist, producing a sound that would be unrecognisable to many trad fans, utilising modern studio and stage techniques to play with her sound.

“When I was studying music at UCC, I learned a lot about all different genres of music,” she says. “That’s where my mind was musically opened. I went on to do a masters in performance at UCC after and that’s when I started writing my contemporary pieces, with my loop pedal and effect pedals. I’m not trying to be ‘contemporary harp’, I just write what I like to hear, and it turns out to be contemporary. I’m so glad people are liking it so far.”

“I’m a fourth generation Irish traditional musician, so the mainstream of music I was surrounded by was Irish traditional music, choral and pop,” she explains.

“I was surrounded by music growing up luckily, because of my amazingly musical mother, Aileen. Mam would take us around playing music in different places and we’d teach ourselves tunes at home. I still love and play lots of traditional Irish music.”

On the ‘Ocean Of Stars’ EP, Brídín does dip lightly into trad elements, but quickly reveals far more substantive modern leanings. A track entitled ‘The Salmon’s Tale’ is closest to her childhood roots.

“I think my music has its own life, with little flavours of different genres.”

Beans On Toast: “We should be allowed to change our opinion, otherwise, what’s the point?”

It is, arguably, the era of the singer-songwriter. Not in the sense of the Ireland of 15 or 20 years ago, where every other act was a lad with a guitar, of course. More in the sense that those who do produce playful folk with wit and panache have never had a more natural audience: they can perform near enough as normal, while few other musicians are hampered at home by more complex technology.

Beans On Toast, a London-based singer songwriter who delivers sharp-edged folk-pop from the heart, is one such man. The solo act is a popular leftfield festival mainstay, and has spent the last few months performing in his back room most weekends, with only his girlfriend – a regular in his tracks – in attendance. 

‘Beans’ as he’s lovingly referred to by his fans, is political without being a know-it-all, smartly observational, and incredibly consistent: an album a year for a decade, on his birthday in early December (or two, this year, one themed around corona, and one more regular).

“It felt like an ending was in sight when I wrote the album,” he laughs as he talks of his corona record. “I’m not just going to keep doing that. I do write about life, though I really hope it won’t just be the one thing to write about for the rest of my days.”

“I miss touring and festivals, but I feel more for 19 year old kids who’d be going to their first festival. I’ve been to hundreds, so I can’t really complain. I don’t physically miss gigs, I’ve started getting aches and pain. I’ve never had any kind of routine before, so that’s been nice. The change in the mental dynamic of my life has been really big, actually.”

“The biggest worry might be how quickly you can adapt. It only took a year to get into things feeling normal, not being close to people. Later, they’ll be a phase before everyone goes mad, I think, with socially distanced shows and stuff. But I hope humanity comes out of this with a new lust for life. Connection to nature feels like it matters like never before, and that connection with each other. Surely we’ll learn some lessons.”

Django Django: “It became slightly more political, with a little bit of angst holding things together”

Indie icons Django Django’s latest album ‘Glowing In The Dark’ is loaded with musical undertones, it’s meaning portrayed subtly in the descriptions of its title. Due on February 12, it’s crammed with nuance and clever constructions, typical of the indie act’s broad approach to music and thought-through twists.

Django Django have always rebelled against the musical norm. Their music seems to morph from record to record, with limited discernable themes, and plenty of exploration. They get vocally frustrated with delays between writing and releasing records, and they’re not afraid to express their disappointment with how some of their early work turned out.

In fact, their leftfield approach to music is something that gains and loses fans in a hurry, but keeps them utterly compelling.

“We don’t really take time off, we finish a piece and we’re onto the next one,” Derry frontman Vincent Neff says when I call him in his studio. “We finished the album just before lockdown. It was scheduled to come out before summer, but we pushed it back to ‘when things had calmed down’. So much for that.” 

“We wrote ‘Glowing In The Dark’ in 2019, and Trump was riding high on a litany of destruction, Brexit was a disaster, it had potentially looked like we might be able to remain. Then the hardliner elements got in. It looked quite bleak, I suppose. By the end I just couldn’t listen to it anymore, so I went into my imagination for how things could be, how they could be better.”

“It became slightly more political, with a little bit of angst holding things together, I guess. It’s quite nice to hear tracks like ‘Blackbird’ [by the Beatles], tracks that are quite covert. They have this collision of a mood in the lyrics and a brightness in the music. That kind of grabs us in a lot of music we listen to. That’s always been a kind of underlying sense of the music, and it’s really come to the fore in this one.”

Richey McCourt: “I hope to continue to write and produce music that connects with people”

Graduating from a role as a session and stage guitarist to an acclaimed songwriter, Richey McCourt’s career in music has gone ‘behind the scenes’, but the route the Blanchardstown musician has been able to take, in part from his own home, has opened plenty of impressive doors.

There’s a distinct difference between performing music and writing it for someone else, and McCourt’s journey has been very much about collaboration, working with record labels and high-profile acts to develop songs, style and direction.

“I started as many do, in guitar bands, and not always in a songwriter role,” he tells us. “During this time I was studying sound engineering, which is where my love of production started. After a few failed bands, and a realisation that it wasn’t the career path for me, I worked in Ireland as a session player with artists when they came in for promo – artists like Olly Murs, Shane Filan, Rebecca Ferguson and more. Throughout this time, I really focused on honing my craft as a songwriter. And that really started to come to fruition about five or six years ago.”

There have been plenty of steps on that journey, but some stand out, not least collaborating with some of the UK’s biggest acts.

“Landing a song on a UK Number 1 album, Will Young’s ‘85% Proof’ [Richey was involved in writing the track ‘I Don’t Need A Lover’], helped open a lot of doors. Working with major labels such as SYCO, RCA, Island Records – you’re dealing with really talented A&R teams, and it’s often a collaborative experience,” he says. 

“I always approach working with these teams and artists in the most professional manner possible. I am a songwriter and a producer and my role is to bring their creative vision to life. The majority of artists I’ve worked with are so immensely talented, and each have their own ideas and vision, so there needs to be flexibility and an openness to all of it. I think good communication and trust is key.”

Lauryn Gaffney Aims for Broadway… and K-Pop.

Award winning musical theatre composer Lauryn Gaffney, from right here in Dublin, made her off-Broadway debut last year with ‘Big Shot’, a show voted the Best Musical by Irish Broadway World.

Suffering an obvious dearth of opportunity amid the recent virus outbreaks, this year Gaffney turned her hand to making a short audio-only musical story, a 15-minute piece about two strangers trapped in an elevator and sharing their emotive stories. It’s an impressively colourful and engaging piece of music and storytelling for one that was effectively a time-filler, but Gaffney’s aims, it quickly become clear, are vast. In particular, she’d like to work for Disney, or write for stars of the South Korean K-pop scene. But that’s for the future.

“My dream was to have my first musical Off-Broadway and sometimes I still can’t believe that it happened,” Gaffney says, looking back at ‘Big Shot’. “There were many, many people, a lot of hours and a splash of luck that helped get the show to where it has been.”

“The show was performed initially in DCU in 2015. Then I funded the next production in the O’Reilly Theatre. We then took part in the San Diego Fringe Festival (winning the ‘Spirit of Fringe’ award and also performing in Tijuana, Mexico), and the Camden Fringe Festival, with some Irish performances in between, and then finally Off-Broadway. This was over the span of a few years. My incredible collaborators and I have spent many all-nighters calling the U.S., laughing at rewrites and crying over tech issues, but it was all worth it to be smiling, arm-in-arm at the bows.”

Corona, of course, required a change, and Gaffney adapted quickly. “I think now is the time for Musical Theatre to pivot until live shows come back. I’ve always wanted to write an audio-only musical where you don’t need to see the story to understand it,” she says.

“I want listeners to visualise the characters themselves. This musical links to isolation as there are two women trapped in an elevator with no choice but to hear one another’s story. I wanted it to be funny but have some serious elements too. It’s been described as ‘an emotional rollercoaster in under 15 minutes’ by Broadway World.”

Cousin Tablet: “We hope and believe the album will have a big impact”

Part of a scene centred around a popular bar in County Galway, Cousin Tablet aim to emulated a big-band style, drawing in a variety of musicians for newly launched debut single ‘Whatever Happened To Betty’.

The track is a real glance at the band’s ethos: an exploration of their past and a story from where they grew up, but also a broader commentary, if slightly unintentinally, of the Mother and Baby Home’s Scandal that touches on the life of frontman Donal Gibbons.

As well as getting their own music out there, Gibbons os keen to fly the flag for rural Ireland, a harder place from which to launch a band. I spoke to him around the launch of that debut…

Can you talk me through a little of the history of the band and how you came to be?

Jamie ,Steve,Wil and myself have been close friends for over 20 years. In that time we have played in a variety of different acts together and separately. We are a part of a much wider,dynamic and diverse music scene based around legendary Co. Galway venue Campbell’s Tavern, which spawned acts such as This Nachez, The Whileaways, The Rolling
Tav Revue, The Tav Jam Band and many more. When I had the first couple of songs written the three lads were my first calls to put some flesh on the bones of the ideas I had. Having played together so much over the years it was an easy fit and the contribution of the lads was critical in turning the ideas I had in to the songs they became.

How has lockdown treated you – any positive sides creatively?

For me creatively the lockdown has been amazing! Prior to its onset I was working full time as an electrician Monday to Friday and playing gigs Friday,Saturday and Sunday nights. Myself and my partner Juliana (who plays strings on Betty) had a beautiful 2 year old girl with another on the way so time to be creative was at a premium. I have to say we absolutely loved the time and space afforded to us during the first few months of lockdown. We had time to be creative and were both at home full time after our second daughter was born in June 2020. In a world without the lockdown I would have been back to work within a couple of weeks of the birth. That time at home is a luxury not afforded during normal times.

It has also shown me what can be achieved when you can afford to spend time being creative and not have to work over 40 hours a week as well to keep a roof over your family’s head. I also found time to help with the startup of a local Community Radio Station and present a weekly show, where I talk to other musicians about the music that influenced them,that has proved hugely popular.

We also set up a home studio during this time and learnt a lot about the recording process and its been great for us to be able do some recording from home while studios were shut during the lockdown. Also, being unable to afford to hire a PR company to help out with promotion,websites etc I took on all this myself and have found that I quite like the whole process of it so I have now also started doing websites and PR for some other acts. It’s a time consuming process but one I quite enjoy.

I wasn’t the only one who had spare time on my hands once the lockdown kicked in. Jamie, Wil and Stephen would also have been crazy busy during normal times so its hard to know if we would have found the time to put these songs together without the time afforded to us by lockdown. All that being said, we are well fed up of it now and itching to get back playing live and seeing other people!

Neomadic: “It’s for the nocturnal”

Neomadic‘s mellow, tripped-out style of hip-hop is, in their own words, an ode to the summer, and it does ooze the feel of the after club, a kind of sunny-climes spaciness laden with easy charm.

I found myself swept away by the style of ‘After Dark’, its distinctive and original and absolutely shine with colour, and those animated videos are something a bit special, too. I caught up with them around the time of the single ‘Waves’ to talk over their progress…

Hi guys, congrats on the new single. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

Thanks so much, it was inspired the ocean, late nights cruising, relationships, and generally good times. It’s centred on taking that leap of faith and really going for something, we hope people listening can relate to that feeling and be inspired by it.

Talk to me about that animated video – that’s class!

We’ve always been really into animation and everything to do with it. We feel our fans really enjoy it, the type of music goes hand in hand with anything animated really.

You seem to be big into the arts side of things. Do you see that as a big part of what you do?

Yea of course! But I’m sure any musician or artist would. It’s hard not to be when you’re creating something. Especially these days where artists have a much bigger say in their work compared to a few decades ago.

How much difference did your Other Voices make – was it a real launch for you?

It was an honour to be able to play! I wouldn’t really say it was a massive launch or anything like that but it was a key step at the time and it felt great to be noticed by Other Voices.