Dan Fitzpatrick lives something of a musical double life. On the one hand, he’s a gravelly-vocalled, poetic, semi-solo artist who goes by the name of ‘Badhands’. On the other, he produces beautiful ethereal tunes designed to provide the backing track to documentaries, sounds that have appeared on the BBC, RTE, and American broadcaster PBS.
His 2022 album ‘Far Away’, as such, comes a full four years after his debut release ‘Predictable Boy’, and is vibrant yet sorrowful, with themes like isolation, but also lightheartedness and optimism. Between the two records came ‘Oceans’, a kind of environmental record that used the world’s great bodies of water as inspiration. Fitzpatrick is, in short, colourful, varied, and knows how to grasp a theme.
“I would say that ‘Far Away’ generally has a bigger sound than the first record, ‘Predictable Boy’,” Fitzpatrick says. “There were a few songs on the first album that were a little more sparse, solo efforts, compared to this record where everything features the whole band. The record also features a little more use of electronic instruments, as I was getting a bit more into synths while we were making it, though they’re mainly just used subtly and texturually on the album.”
“The vocal sound is a little different too; I experimented a bit with double tracking vocals, possibly as I just had so much time at home to work on them. I was aiming to get them sounding a bit like the John Lennon Plastic Ono Band album.”
“I recorded a lot of the vocals in my bedroom during the full on lockdown early last year, and there were times when it was difficult to get into the studio to work with the band, which was frustrating,” he continues. “It was definitely a more sporadic way of operating given the circumstances.”
“I just had to do what I could at home and get into the studio whenever the restrictions eased up. But a good bit of the work was also done before Covid hit, and that was much the same as the previous album, working with the same musicians: Chris Barry, Aoife Ruth, Tom Cosgrave and Ken Mooney.”
From their early days hammering aggressive but melodic punk into sweatbox venues, to going big, supporting Foo Fighters and extensively touring Russia, Belfast rockers And So I Watch You From Afar have always centred their lives on touring, and on-stage performance. That’s not to say their records aren’t things of beauty: fully instrumental, and lead with jagged guitar and swirling, hypnotic instrumental flirtation, they’ve always been works of art. But the lockdown called for something different.
New album Jettison, due out in February, is certainly something different. “The music here was a byproduct of creating the Jettison show,” guitarist Rory Friers tells us. “It was a collaborative piece with Sam Wiehl, a multimedia artist from Liverpool. It was always designed to be just this thing you came and saw live, but we fell in love with the music and decided it deserved a release of its own.”
“It’s very different,” Friers continues. “It’s one continuous piece of music, written with a string ensemble, so it’s different territory for us. Outside of the band, I’d be scoring music for films and working with other instrumentalists, so it was like amalgamating that world and the band.”
“We’re still going to be the band that people know, going out and playing our regular shows. For the Jettison show, though, we’re behind this huge screen. At times it’s completely transparent, and at others it’s completely covered in this visual piece created by Sam. It’s quite an overwhelming sensory show, and it’s an absolute blast. We play with these amazing performers, and this whole world, from a games engine called Unreal, unfolds in front of you as you play. Sam manipulates the show through these worlds.” The result is swirling, nuanced, and often – almost unheard of previously for ASIWYFA – quiet and stripped back.
“We’ve been a band now for 12 or 13 years, so it’s cool to be doing something that’s really completely new. We’re even sat down, which those who’ve been to our shows will know is not at all normal.”
Neill Dougan’s My Pilot have, over the years, been both a solo project and a band, a deeply personal vehicle that rarely appear live, but have gained ample kudos for Dougan’s inventive and sometimes leftfield songwriting. It’s been a long, long road between his earlier EPs – the most recent release was launched in 2015 – and a return with the album ‘Team Dangerous’, part of an ambitious project that could expand into a trio of records.
In this deeply personal interview Neill – who I used to work alongside at Alternatiev Ulster, though I’m not sure we ever met – talks about the themes behind his music, the family barriers that have delayed its production, and why he’s donating a portion of his profits to charity…
Let’s go right back to the start – tell me about the roots of My Pilot, and what you set out to do?
There was no big plan, really. I had been playing guitar since my early teens and once I got to a certain level of proficiency I found myself being way more interested in making up my own songs than learning other people’s songs. I’d also always harboured a secret hankering to be in a band but (bizarrely, looking back on it) I was always faintly embarrassed to admit to it.
That’s probably something to do with the environment I grew up in, which was a small town where I always felt creative endeavours were viewed as vaguely suspect in some way. Anyway, I was living in Dublin and at some point I just realised that there was no point being behind the door about it, and there was no point sitting on all these songs and doing nothing with them. Like I had written literally hundreds of songs at that point, though most of them were pretty bad. So I just decided to go for it.
I was also quite lucky timing-wise in a way, because the whole home recording boom was taking off around this time which made recording a lot more accessible to rank amateurs such as myself. My brother Connor was also a big inspiration as he got right in at the start of home recording and was making music that I was blown away by from the word go (he records under the names Defcon, AI Messiah and Deathbed Convert and is on Touch Sensitive Records).
So I started recording songs, and had no more grand a plan than just to get some songs out on CD (people still bought CDs back then) and see what happened. I didn’t sell many but enough people seemed to like what I was doing to give me sufficient encouragement to try and make it a proper band.
How does today’s My Pilot compare to the solo version of all those years ago?
It’s pretty much the same insofar as the recordings are all me. In some ways I really want to move away from that and record as a band but in other ways it’s just easier to record on my own as I can work to my own schedule and essentially do what I like. But there’s a downside to doing all the recording yourself as well, as it’s a kind of isolated, hermetic experience and although collaborating creatively with other people isn’t something that really comes naturally to me (I’m kind of awkward about it) I have realised over the years that when it’s right it’s really rewarding and fulfilling.
The obvious difference is that once it became a proper band we were able to actually play live, which I’ve always had mixed feelings about (I’m not a natural performer) but again when it comes together properly is a pretty incredible feeling. The typical live set features songs that, oddly enough, aren’t on the album, and which are essentially band co-writes, borne out of riffs and tunes that we came up with from improvising together in the practice room. Because those are songs we wrote collectively, I want to record them collectively.
I’d also like to think that, although I don’t really consider myself a “producer” in any meaningful sense (like, if someone else asked me to produce their music I’d probably have to refuse as the way I work is embarrassingly basic and idiosyncratic), the new recordings are much better produced than the early stuff. They almost sound professional.
I understand the album’s been on the backburner for quite some time. What should we expect from it?
Yeah it’s taken a long time, much longer than I would have liked. I alluded to this in the press release that I put out when the new single came out when I said that some real life stuff happened that kind of prevented me from properly focusing on music for a while. I’ve been humming and hawing about how much I should say about this because there are other people involved who have a right to privacy and to not have me blabbing about their lives.
But I talked to my wife about it and ultimately decided that I could maybe, in my own small way, try to be an advocate for the person and the issues involved. In fact, my wife told me it was my job to talk about it. So, to be specific, my youngest son (I have two boys) is autistic and has some considerable additional needs. For example he’s completely non-verbal (or pre-verbal I believe is the preferred term) and when he’s going through a bad patch my family’s life is essentially put into crisis mode, with all hands to the pump to help him through it. And even the ordinary, day-to-day challenges of raising an autistic child can be significant. And I love him to bits, needless to say, and he’s great in many ways, but any parent of an autistic child will tell you that it’s not without its challenges and moments of heartache.
And I would also say that in terms of my own mental and emotional state I’ve spent a long time over the last few years struggling with trying to come to terms with the situation I found myself in, because everyone who has children has certain hopes and expectations for their kids and when you have a child with additional needs you find yourself having to recalibrate those, in some cases quite significantly.
So that is essentially the reason why it has taken me so long to get new music out. And on that note, I’ve decided that I’m going to donate 10% of any vinyl and cassette sales of the album to a charity called My Canine Companion, which has been of great help to us.
Sorry, that didn’t really answer your question but I wanted to mention it as I have been wrestling for a while now with how much to say about that if I was asked about it. To actually answer the question, I think there are some really poppy, catchy moments on the new album and also some weird glitchy psychedelic moments. There’s properly polished stuff and some scratchy, lo-fi moments. Some of it is quiet and folky and some is pretty noisy. Basically a bit of everything I like.
Music media is in many ways, a strange and niche world. Riddled with complex aspects, heady PR and, at times, agendas (and yes, broadly, everyone does know each other, especially somewhere like Ireland). It can be hard to grab attention for your music.
Personally, I’ve worked at a local, national and international level: at various times in my career, I’ve written regularly for NME and The Sunday Business Post, Bandcamp and The Fly. One of my most regular outlets, though, and perhaps the most under-utilised, has prompted this long-form post, which you’ll find in my email signature from now on.
I write, and have done for at least five years, a full-page weekly mid-length feature interview, and a side column, for the Dublin Gazette, a Dublin region paper which is read by approximately 300,000 people weekly, or 20% of the population of the city.
Most of my features are based on interviews, and I get a hugely mixed bag: we’ve featured acts with just a couple of singles out, and huge international names: Elton John, Stereophonics, John Lydon, Fontaines D.C and Glass Animals in recent years, which means all of those acts have deemed our audience worth tapping into.
I’m not going to talk excessively about the Gazette specifically here, but go much broader, on local media. I think musicians should engage with us more. But why, and how?
Why Target Local Media
First of all, the obvious reason: you get a large audience that is far less tapped into than most other markets: many of my Dublin Gazette features start out with someone asking to feature in another publication I write for. More often than not, bands don’t bother to contact local media themselves, and stick to targetting national level publications and music-specific publications. Both of which you should do, too, of course, but especially with general subject matter national publications (like the Irish Times or Independent), you’re far, far less likely to get featured. Especially as a less established band.
There’s more, though:
It’s stating the obvious, but if you’re looking to sell tickets in a city, local media is where to do it. You can guarantee close to 100% of the audience could hypothetically go to your gig. You don’t get that in national media.
Local acts are far more likely to get coverage. A new breakthrough act in a small city may get attention simply as something new and local in a regional paper. Unless there’s growing hype, you can forget that in the nationals.
Building a profile of media coverage is valuable for a band when it comes to things like booking shows and showing that people have an interest in what you’re doing. This is a good way to do that.
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.”
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.”
‘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.”
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.