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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.”

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.”

Lissie: “You want to succeed, but at the same time, you want to be able to be more subtle”

‘Thank You To The Flowers’, the new EP from American singer-songwriter Lissie, invariably hugely popular when she tours Ireland, sees the star explore what’s been a difficult year.

Tarnished by both the impact of the coronavirus and a difficult break up, Lissie’s latest is a collection of five covers, including the Prince classic sent stratospheric by Sinead O’Connor, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’.

While her original music has propelled her to four consecutive UK top 20 albums, Lissie has always dabbled in covers, putting her distinctive spin on work that catches her attention as a form of inventive light relief.

“With the pandemic and all the intense political energy in the world, as well as a break up that was pretty shocking to me at the time, I’ve been quite down, and haven’t been able to do any concerts or travel,” she says. “I had to just sit with myself and my feelings. I found it therapeutic to go and record five cover songs, just to keep my inspiration up.”

“I hadn’t intended to release them, they were just guitar and vocal recordings, but the project allowed me to keep expressing myself, and allowed me to be reflective and feel more empowered through this strange and painful time.”

“I’ve started to write songs again myself now, and I’m not quite ready. Huge emotional upheaval in your life needs processing, but there’s no doubt that some of the best art comes from sorrow and discomfort.”

Peter Zirbs: “Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer”

Austrian artist Peter Zirbs has had a lot of incarnations over the years, and his latest, he feels, is most representative of who he is.

Having lost a feeling that he needed to pigeonhole his music, Zirbs has embraced more classical leanings, embarked on some collaborations including with former Archives man Craig Walker, and embarked on new EP ‘On A Beautiful Day’, which manages to be both quite dark in tone and occasionally euphoric. The perfect release, perhaps, for our times.

Single ‘Locked In’ is a particular stand out, exploring The Velvet Underground’s Nico’s period locked in an apartment, and feels oddly linked to today’s ‘stay at home’ world. I spoke to him about how things have changed, and his movement with the new record…

I think it’s fair to say your work under your own name is a far cry from some of your earlier stuff. Can you talk me through the musical evolution that got you to here?

I actually grew up with the duality of experimental/ synthesizer/ minimal music (Ph. Glass, M. Nyman, S. Reich, T. Riley, but also Yello, Art of Noise, Isao Tomita, Jean Michael Jarre etc) and on the other hand pop and rock music (big New Romantic and New Wave fan here! And also Disco from the 80ies) …

I’m a proper 80ies kid as I’m born 1971. So for me, there never was an “either/or” when it concerns musical styles. It’s not easy, but I try to bring both aspects into my music. I always loved experimental and artsy stuff, but you can find me on the dancefloor at 3am shakin’ it to a straight kick drum and a distorted 303 synth bassline, too. Sitting between the chairs for all my life basically!

How have you found your current incarnation differs from your work under other monikers earlier in your career, in terms of approach and feel?

Yes, it indeed does differ. I never had the courage to play my piano/ minimal/ instrumental stuff to other people, and it’s been my friends who encouraged me to do so. Until a few years ago, I thought that I have to fit into a stylistic drawer. The fantastic label Fabrique Records took it to a next level by almost physically forcing me to record my odd stuff (this was about three years ago), et voilà, a new Peter Zirbs was born … kind of.

George Murphy: “reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in”

GEORGE MURPHY found fame at an early age, and it was almost unintended. The Dubliner was more into acting at the age of 17, but he applied to RTE reality singing show ‘You’re A Star’, progressed through numerous weeks, and went on to get a number one album. Now in his 30s, he has a far more organic approach to music.

“It always served as a platform,” he recalls of his early days in television, which helped establish his distinctive vocal and mellow, folk-tinged sound. “I was always grateful for it, but reality TV is not something I’d advise musicians to get involved in. Like-minded people making something together in a garage or a bedroom is much better. I know that sounds hypocritical, considering the background I come from, but honestly there’s a bit of me that wishes I’d never done it.”

In truth, music was almost thrust upon Murphy, though through his own actions, with the stage his first love and very much his focus at the time. Musically, he was a vocalist, and couldn’t read music, let alone play guitar. That came later, as did his new band, a passion project based around local pubs in north Dublin that accompanies him as The Rising Sons.

“It was great getting a number one album,” Murphy recalls. “That said, I didn’t feel like I earned it. It was given to me on a plate. I feel what I’m doing now so much more natural and so much stronger, and I think it might surprise people who have certain expectations of me. Any success I get now, I’ll feel like I deserve it.” 

That confidence and attitude is emphasised by Murphy’s approach to shows: talking of playing to audiences with certain expectations, he sees a chance to win them over to his developing style.

“The ups and downs are really quite full on,” he says. “It can be a funny world, music, you can be on top of the pile, and the next day you’re yesterday’s news.”

David Gray: “I was never going to just keep remaking White Ladder”

DAVID GRAY’S 1998 album ‘White Ladder’, a whopping seven-million seller that features smash hits ‘Babylon’, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘This Year’s Love’, is Ireland’s best selling record of all time, and given changes in the music industry, is likely to remain so for some time.

Gray is still profoundly grateful for Ireland’s role in his breakthrough, in fact. “Ireland embraced me in such a big way before anyone else did,” he recalls. “It was unbelievable, really. Looking back, I still can’t quite take in what happened. It was an unforgettable time for me and I’ll always love the Irish because of it.”

Naturally, though, the Cheshire-born folk-pop singer has long been ready to move past his major commercial breakthrough on that fourth album. His eleventh studio album, ‘Gold In A Brass Age’, was released earlier this month, and offers something really quite different.

“I was never going to just keep remaking ‘White Ladder’, it’s important to experiment and stay interested,” Gray said of the new record, which is layered with some complex electronic aspects, producing an organic, delicate element. It also sees Gray explore falsetto vocals across several tracks.

In many ways, ‘Gold In A Brass Age’ is a stylistic throwback to Gray’s early, art-school days. “I want to go back to making art at some point,” he said. “I like to go out to the countryside and switch off, it’s essential to me to have that time, and it would be perfect for painting. But to paint again, I’d want to really dedicate myself to it. It’ll happen at some point, just maybe not quite yet.”

Dean Friedman: “I think I was the first solo artist to crowdfund a record”

From signing a record deal whilst still a pre-teen, to getting involved in the video game industry and cinema, Dean Friedman’s musical road has been an unconventional one…

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and it has proved for revitalised singer-songwriter Dean Friedman.

Friedman had huge hit records in the late 70s, charting with his debut release ‘Ariel’ and follow ups ‘Lucky Stars’, ‘Woman of Mine’ and ‘Lydia,’, before a critical mistake – releasing a key single referencing the brand McDonald’s – got the track banned from BBC radio stations, and was a huge contributing factor to his label dropping him.

Having been in music since he was first approached by a label at age nine, however, Friedman simply diversified, and looks back at the period with pride in the direction it led. “I’ve never had the chance to rest of my laurels,” he jokes. “My career hasn’t allowed for much rest, I’ve had to keep working.”

Friedman moved into producing early music-themed video games, as well as working on a heap of movies, writing children’s musicals, and producing the music for the British crime drama ‘Boon’.

Today, having reconnected with his old fanbase around the time the internet became a big resource for music, Friedman is back recording, touring heavily, and exploring what he calls “a natural affinity for storytelling.”

“I think I was the first solo artist – Marillion had done it a year earlier – to crowdfund a record,” Friedman explains. “I wrote out to my fans asking them to pre-order the album, via an email mailing list. I was a little worried people would tell me to get a real job. Some did say exactly that, but lots of others backed the idea. I was able to hire musicians and upgrade my studio.”

“This was a few years before the days of Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Since then, I’ve always had a great connection with my fans, and I’ve always done things that way. I never liked the aloof thing that musicians were supposed to do back then. My fans aren’t shy in telling me what they think, but as many of them are connected with what I’m doing now as songs from the 70s,” he says. “Lots will say their favourite album is one of the newer ones. It’s been a great journey.”

JAWS: “We have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice”

Birmingham dream-pop act JAWS were the source of a lot of local hype a few years ago when they burst onto the scene with a series of extremely enticing demos. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the band since, taking in the realities of moving out of home and getting jobs, as well as touring extensively and learning to be self-sufficient.

I talked to singer Connor Schofield about the journey so far…

You talked a bit around the release of the last record about how your situations had changed – growing up, essentially, and having to move out, get jobs, that kind of thing. That’s got to be a bit of a reality check in a sense. Do you think you can hear it in your music?

Kind of, the main thing that’s changed is time, we have less of it, but it also means we can be more patient and take our time with writing and making sure the songs work.

The Ceiling has been out a few months now. Are you happy with how it’s done?

Very very proud of it.

I’d imagine it can get quite complicated reproducing some of the texture of the record live. How do you deal with that?

It’s not as tricky as you’d think, we have a few magic tricks plus a lot of practice.

Do you feel like the process of recording and reproducing records in a live setting helps you develop as musicians? How do you compare to the band who started out?

100%, with The Ceiling we learnt to play them together after recording which we’d never done before, we all learnt a lot from that, probably not to do it that way again, but still was an interesting way to do it.