Interview: Axis Of

Deadheading got to have a chat with Axis Of about their love of traveling, touring with Frank Iero, and celebrating their 400th show in their hometown of Portrush, amongst other things.

DH: Why did you choose “Wetsuit” as a single?
NL: It was probably one of the earlier songs in the writing process, and it was quite unique. From the first album, it was a really big departure, so it felt really good to be writing something that was so different than what we usually do, so that made it a bit special in our minds. Then we brought the finished version to Smalltown (America), our label, and they were loving it, they had a really good vibe on it. I think it has a really good chorus, and I always like the idea of dropping something from a new album that will get people’s attention, in a positive or negative way, so when people heard it they were like “That doesn’t sound like Axis Of!”. A lot of people said they listened to it, and didn’t actually like it at first, and then it grew on them, so it was like shock value, almost.
EF: It was actually Andrew, I remember Andrew, the head of the record label, we had like three singles that we were talking about, and we were like, “Oh, well we could do this one, because it’s a bit like ‘Finding St. Kilda’, the other album, and it could kind of bridge the gap, or ease people into a new album.”, and he was like “Nah, don’t.”, as Niall said, shock value, get the most different song out there first and grab people’s attention, so it definitely did, you’re right, people were like, “This doesn’t sound like what we know.”, but people did come around to it, I think.

DH: How exactly do you think the North Coast has shaped your sensibilities, musical or otherwise?
EF: I mean, I think the defining thing is our love of travel and we’re shaped by that, our wider view of the world, but it does always come back to this idea of home, and there’s a lot of that on the album, the idea of returning home. I think it’s impossible to escape around here- you know it yourself, walking around Portrush, or just generally, you’re so immersed in it, and the distinction between nature and civilisation is much more blurred than it would be in a city, like you’re walking on the cliff when you’re even in the town. I think the raw power of the coast is so inescapable, and that’s probably why we’ve maybe absorbed it the way we have.

DH: How did the tour with Frank Iero come about?
EF: We have a friend who was helping him on his European tour, helping with some of the logistics and personnel, in terms of the crew he might have when he came to Europe, and that guy got our record and he said, “Oh, here, check out Axis Of if you’re looking for a support band.”, and Frank listened to it, and he liked the band, simple as that. He needed a band to open the tour, and he trusted this guy’s word on it, that we were a nice bunch of chaps, so we got the tour.

DH: What kind of an experience was touring with him?
EF: It was brilliant, I mean, he has such a dedicated fan base and they were there from seven in the morning, or sometimes the night before the show, so there was never any question of “Will we get to play to people?”, and that’s something that’s always asked everyday on our own headlining tours, or even some of the support tours that we’ve done, it’s always “Do you think there’ll be anyone here?”, “Will we play to anyone?”, but that was never an issue, so having that being sorted off the bat was amazing. We could focus on how we sing, we could focus on how we play, and various technical things, because we didn’t have to worry about drumming up a crowd, which was cool. And then, we got to travel in their sleeper bus, which was amazing, because it was the most luxurious, comfortable way to travel, and surprisingly, say there was three of us, and then there was a tour manager and then there was his crew, and none of the three parties had met each other before, but everyone got on so well. We were effectively living and working together for a month; I don’t think there was one argument, there were no disagreements. Everyone just got on, everyone got on with their work, I remember telling my mum about it, and she was like, “That’s so lucky.”. I mean, you’ve got people from Ireland, someone from Italy, and then a whole crew from America, and it was so surprising that everyone got on as well as they did.

DH: How do you feel about tonight being your 400th show?
NL: Good. It’s mad, isn’t it? It’s just like, that’s insane. That’s our growing up, that’s all of our adult life we’ve been in this band. We were 17 when we started this band.
EF: It’s amazing, we’ve seen so much over those 400 shows, done so much, changed so much- I’m really proud. Pride is the overwhelming thing, and then, I think our band is very obsessed with documenting our own history, as it were. I nerd out on bands anyway, so I’ve got a list of all those gigs, and I’ve got little bits written about all of them, so just having that, it’ll be incredible for us to be able to look back on in years, and think, “What amazing memories.”.
NL: It was funny, we were talking earlier about the widest scope between the styles of gig we’ve played. We were trying to work it out, and I think we said, Mandela Hall, with Twin Atlantic, maybe Vicker Street, with Therapy?, or the Ulster Hall, and then going from that into this squat we played in Amsterdam, and there were more dogs than people there. It was behind this big barricade, so it was like a squatted school, and it was one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to, it could not be more different, but it’s cool, because I think not all bands could really get that, we’re lucky in the sense that that gig wasn’t good for us in a financial or a business sense, but in terms of us getting to do interesting things that we wouldn’t get to do outside of music, it was the best gig we’ve ever done, you know? Just an utterly bizarre, otherworldly kind of place.
EF: It’s like, I think primarily we view our band as a vehicle to see and experience the world, and we just happen to do it within the eyes of the band, and that’s the way we do it. Not only that, but we’ve met people that there would be no iota of possibility of us ever meeting these people had it not been for being on tour. Like we’ve played in Germany, we’ve played in Italy, but you could go there as a tourist and you wouldn’t see a single thing that you would see if you were a band touring that place or meeting people in that way, so it’s a really unique way to view the world, and all 400 shows have been a part of that story, so yeah that’s amazing.

DH: What, if anything, do you miss most whilst you are touring?
NL: Someone there in Europe asked me this, and I said seven-a-side football. In a more general sense, it’s because I really like jogging and I really like swimming and I love playing football; I can jog while I’m on tour, and I can swim the odd time, but I can’t play football, so it’d probably be that.
EF: I’m into nature and hill-walking and that, so I would miss the North Coast a bit, but then by the same token, I don’t think we really pine for things. Like the odd time, we’d say “Oh, I wish I could do that.”, but generally you’re just so wrapped up in it you don’t have the chance to miss anything. Unless the tour is really bad, then you probably do miss things.

DH: What’s the worst tour that you’ve ever been on?
NL: I think it’s better looking at it through gigs.
EF: We’ve done really bad gigs. Like sometimes, a bad tour can be saved by one great gig. We’ve done some really, shockingly bad gigs over the years, it happens. I mean, in our first year of being a band, we played in this venue on winter nights all the time to no one. We used to do it all the time, like, “Aw yeah, do you guys want to play here again?”, and we were like, “Yeah, we’ll go play.”, so some of those were bad.
NL: Well actually, last week we played in Manchester, at a festival, and it was a really weird atmosphere, because it was in this bar and half of it was a bar and the rest of it was stage, and then a standing area. So there were a load of people in the bar, so we thought, “They’re all here for the bands.”, but no-one was there for the bands. Everyone was just sitting there, having their pints and ten metres away, a band was playing. But it was like that for all the bands, so it wasn’t a one-off for us, all the bands were playing to a full bar where no-one was listening. Whilst we were playing, a guy brought up a note onstage, and it said, “You guys are shit. Love, Ronan”.
EF: It was a strange thing to do, but there you go.

DH: Whenever you’re writing songs, do you think about what would work live?
EF: Yeah, there’s a bit of, “I think this would be good for crowd participation”. We were thinking more about how the songs would sound live when we wrote and recorded our first record; on the next one we tried to think more methodically, like, “Let’s write the best album we can, and worry about playing it after.”, but I think you’re always conscious of that. Some people would say that we write catchy choruses, at least, the odd time, but you always have to think about how that’ll be live, and even about riffs and stuff as well.

DH: Which record did you find the most challenging to write?
EF: The next one. But out of the two, I would probably say-
NL: Probably St. Kilda. I don’t know, I can’t really remember any struggle. There was one stage when we were writing the Mid Brae Inn, and I was a little bit anxious at the idea of moving away from the super-heavy vibes we were going for, but then it was only like fifteen minutes, so I can’t even say it was an issue. The writing process for Finding St. Kilda spanned quite a long time, so there was always, “Will this fit with this song?”, “Will this work?” or “Is this new style too difficult?”. A lot of that was going on.

DH: Was striking a balance between heavier music and pop elements a conscious decision, or did it occur naturally?
NL: Yeah, I think it came naturally.
EF: A bit of both. As much that it’s conscious in that you listen to a band that you like that’s really poppy, and you go, “Oh, we should do something like that.”, nothing more than that. We didn’t say, if we do this, then this many people will like us, it’s just, you get really hyped on a style, or even a device in a piece of music, and you go, we should put that in one of our songs, but then you interpret it through the eyes of what Axis Of is, and then it sounds different anyway.
NL: In quite simplistic terms, I like a lot of metal, and I like a lot of pop music, so it’s going to happen.

DH: Who has been your favourite band to tour with so far, and if you could tour with anyone, who would it be?
NL: This is a tough one, because I think The Bronx are the best band we’ve toured with. They’re an amazing band, we got on really well with them, but we were touring in our own vehicle, and they were in their van, but it was a great tour with Frank and the guys. They were lovely, and really helpful, supportive, but different bands bring different things. I mean, we loved touring with And So I Watch You From Afar, the few times we’ve done that.
EF: Yeah, that’s always good, just like there’s banter and that going on.
NL: Yeah, they’re our friends and our relatives, so that’s always good. I’m trying to think, any band that we could tour with… Queen.
EF: Any band, ever? Yeah, Queen.
NL: Would you like The Clash more?
EF: Ah, yeah, The Clash. Or like, because you’re going into the territory of do we go on tour with any band because of their crowd size, or because we love the band?
NL: In an all-round sense, I think Queen would be a great tour. Like massive, humongous shows, hanging out with the lads.

DH: What made you want to form a band in the first place?
EF: Basically, what happened was, we were both in teenage, kind of punk bands, two different ones, and we were doing pretty much the same sort of size gigs and the same sort of things, and Niall seemed like the guy from his band that, whenever that band would die away, that he’d keep continuing to do music and keep pursuing that, in a more serious way. And then I was the guy in my band that wanted to do that: I wanted to go on tour; I wanted to release records, so we kind of spotted each other. Then we had similar taste in music, and similar ideas about what our new band would be, so we just formed a band together, and that was it.

DH: Was a career in music always your end-goal?
NL: Pretty much when we started the band. We were in, say, upper-sixth at school when the band started, and we were making decisions like that anyway. I was going to study music technology in Belfast, so it was like, maybe we’ll move the band to Belfast and see what happens there. Those decisions kind of came to the fore anyway.

DH: If you hadn’t ended up in music, what would you be doing?
EF: If I hadn’t ended up in music… I thought for a time that I really wanted to do some kind of environmental studies, like renewable energy or something like that, I think there’s an interest there.
NL: When it came to deciding what things to do, I’m always very non-committal, I just don’t like taking things seriously, so when I was asked what in Career Studies, and everyone else was writing teacher or social worker, or something like that; I think my first one was musician, and my second one was football pundit, and I literally meant football pundit, like I’m going to be on Match of the Day. I was joking to a certain extent, but maybe something down that road. I like the idea of how simple it was; I’m either going to be on TV, or I’m going to be a rock star.

DH: What has been the most difficult aspect of committing to Axis Of full-time?
EF: Ask any band that does what we do. We don’t pay our rent with what Axis Of make, we don’t buy our food with what Axis Of make. This music, particularly at this time in the music industry, it’s not financially secure, so you’ve got to busy yourself with other bits and pieces, so that struggle between part time jobs and that kind of thing, that’s the hardest thing about it. Some people just can’t live the way we do.
NL: I think it would be impossible for some people. It’s manageable for us because we don’t have expensive lifestyles. It’s not like, “God, the band isn’t selling enough records, we can’t go to the Caribbean again!”.
EF: That’s the most challenging thing about the band and where we’re at, because we’re not quite in the place where we can just quit our jobs, so we do other bits and pieces, which is all kind of linked in with music or in the media world, it keeps us going, but we’re not a big enough band to be making money off just Axis Of-
NL: But we’re not small enough to just do the odd gig every six months.
EF: I don’t think we could have had three people in Axis Of doing nine to five jobs, who meet every once a week to have a practice; it’s a bigger commitment than that. It’s walking that line between, we’re not making that much money, but we still want to go on tour a few times a year and spend some time in the studio, so it’s a big commitment.

DH: Do you always think that music will be your primary focus?
EF: I don’t think you should ever think like that. Like you know what your end game is, and you know what lies ahead of you. Right now, who knows? I think that for me, personally, I always think that something creative will be my primary focus; whether or not that’s music, who knows?
NL: One thing I’ve noticed through playing music is if I do end up in another career, I’ll want it to be a career that helps me travel, or that at least doesn’t prohibit me from traveling. I like the idea of being able to go different places via something I’m working on.

DH: What comes first: the lyrics or the music?
NL: We write independently of each other, so obviously we’d play the music first, but the lyrical ideas might already be there, so I’d write a song or Ewen would write a song, and then we’d bring it to the full band and then we’d put the lyrics on top, but the lyrics might already be there.
EF: There’s ideas for lyrics, maybe, in the beginning, then comes the music and then the fully-formed lyric, and so on.

DH: Is song writing something that you approach spontaneously, or do you actively seek out subject matter?
EF: We don’t sit down and think, “Today I’m going to write a song”. As long as you play a lot of guitar, just sit and play it, that’s how it happens.

DH: Outside of music, what do you tend to draw influence from?
EF: A huge pool of things. I mean, if I had the lyrics now, I could sit down and pick out all the little bits that come from it, but I think a lot of it comes from our travels.
NL: It covers a wide range of topics, like the idea of traveling. So you’d be somewhere, and you’re not just traveling, you’re witnessing the political situation of a new country, you’re witnessing the nightlife of a new country, or you’re witnessing the environment of a new country, so with that landscape it gives you the freedom to go into other areas.
EF: If you’re someone who is interested in travel, what does that mean? It means you’re interested in the science, or the architecture, the art, the culture, or whatever it is. Traveling is like experiencing the world and all of its facets, so that’s why our songs are so crammed, so abstract and reference-heavy, in regard to music and politics and everything. We’re basically an encyclopaedia of knowledge: an encyclopaedic band.

DH: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
EF: I learned to play the bass for Teenage Kicks. It’s so clichéd, like the first thing you ever learned.
NL: I think it was Barney the Dinosaur on piano. On guitar, it was probably Seven Nation Army, but I remember getting into secondary school and being in music class, everyone was like, “Does anyone know any songs?”, and they were like, “No, no-one.”, and I was just like, rocking out Barney! I can still play it to this day. If someone gets me a keytar, I will play it.

DH: When you write songs, is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually end up with?
EF: That’s a great question. You think there is?
NL: Yeah. Between what I write and what I attempt to write?
EF: That’s deep. I think, one thing close to that, particularly when I’m writing something on my own at home, I’ll write it on an acoustic guitar, so I don’t even know what it sounds like on an electric guitar, and then I’ll work out a bassline or something and I’ll imagine what the drums are, and I’ll have that in my head. Then you take it to the band, and it always sounds different, but occasionally, good. I don’t think I ever know what a song is going to sound like in the end.
NL: It’s like, in my head, I’ve got all the drums, and I’ve added all the bass and stuff, and then you bring it to the band and you’re like, “Wow, that sounds awful, that’s insane.”. Not all the time, but definitely on occasion.
EF: I think when I first wrote songs for my old band, you did just write a song, write the structure, tell the drummer what to play, tell the other guy what to play, and that was it done, whereas that’s never what’s happened in Axis Of. We’ve never had an idea and it’s just been done, it always needs tweaked, and I think that’s important as a much more mature band. It doesn’t frustrate me when it changes. For example, “All My Bones”, the first song on the album, it was a lot different once we actually finished it, and it took six months, and it’s such a simple song, but we changed the structure every practice, so that kind of gets frustrating, but generally speaking, it’s great that it changes, that’s the whole point.

DH: Is creative control something that’s very important to you?
EF: I think we’ve learned to compromise, and I wouldn’t be in a band with Niall if I didn’t think he had great ideas, so obviously, if he suggested them, you’ve got to speak to each other. Occasionally, there are things where we just wouldn’t budge on a thing, like, “We’re going to do it that way, or we’re not going to do it at all.”, that happens to, but I think we’re better at talking about it than we used to be.

DH: You’ve gained quite a following, especially in recent months. Has the reception been anything like you had anticipated?
NL: No, I guess I didn’t really anticipate the reception we got. I thought that it would be quite divisive, and it has been, to a certain extent. There’s a lot of people in Belfast that follow more indie, or pop-rock stuff, and those people like us as their punk band, so when we get a bit lighter, it’s like, “Oh, but I like it when they’re heavy.”, but then there’s people who are really into heavy music who might not like us too much, so it’s kind of weird. It’s been cool, especially going on that tour and playing to so many new people, so to them we’re a new band, there’s been no history, there’s no preconceived ideas about what we do or what kind of sound we have, and they all loved it. So it does make you think that yeah, we are writing really good music. I totally respect that some people like a certain style of music and they wouldn’t be into it, but we’re still going to write whatever we want.

DH: Do you resent being a token kind of heavy band for some people?
NL: No, definitely not. It’s cool, I guess, that’s what gave us the leg up in Belfast, we played with loads of indie and post-rock bands, and we came out with really heavy guitars and were screaming, and people were a bit shocked then. If we play with a load of other bands who are screaming with heavy guitars, then we’re just going to be seen as another run of the mill band. So no, I don’t resent that at all, actually, I think it’s kind of cool. If a band lasts long enough, Biffy Clyro being the perfect example, there are people who will swear blind to the first three albums and then say everything after that is god-awful, and then there are people who don’t know those first three albums, who got into them later, but that’s just the way of it.

DH: Have you found any experience surreal so far?
NL: Probably the Frank tour. Frank wore our t-shirt at a gig in Bristol, and that’s just really odd. It’s really cool, but it is odd, because I was never a massive My Chemical Romance fan. I wasn’t mad into them, but they were like one of the biggest bands in the world. When I was sixteen and I was into my punk, I used to really hate emo kids, and it’s funny- if you told my sixteen year old, naïve self that I would be on tour with a guy from My Chemical Romance and that he wore our shirt on stage, I probably would have been like, “No, I won’t!”.
EF: There was a surreal moment on that tour, speaking to Frank’s guitar tech, and he was like, “Yeah, there was that time we went over to Brian’s house, because we had to rehearse for Reading and Leeds.”, and I was like, “Brian?”, and he was like, “Yeah, you know, Brian May.”, and I was just like no, I don’t know him, but I do know who you’re talking about. He was like, “Brian May made me a cup of coffee.”, and I was like, that’s so insane.

DH: How did the Prospect Roads podcast come about?
NL: For me, it was, because I always wanted to do a football podcast, but I felt like I couldn’t really offer anything new or unique, and I remember thinking if bands ever do tour podcasts, because surely there’s something to be said for that, and I said to Ewen about it, and we were like happy days, let’s do it. I think people are interested in the touring side of things, and we get to speak to so many ridiculously interesting people, so why not try and showcase that, and use touring as a vehicle. There are people who might run a podcast, and they’re like right, I want to interview this person in Berlin, but I’ll have to get a flight over, but we’re in Berlin anyway, so we might as well. It’s very convenient, if nothing else.
EF: I’m starting to have this idea, that Axis Of could be bigger than something that’s just a band. I like the idea of, if you went to the website, it’s something that’s quite down the line, and here’s where Ewen and Niall have a lot of things to offer: here’s the podcast that they do, this is their band, here’s their records. It’s a collective and a collection, and if you have those things to offer- I’m really proud of our podcast- and we love doing it. It’s a great outlet, so we’re very proud of it, and if anyone wants to subscribe, then please do.

DH: What, if anything would you do differently?
NL: Nothing. I don’t think we’d change anything, really.
EF: Yeah, I suppose we wouldn’t do anything differently. I mean, I could get out that list of the 400 gigs and write all the ones that we shouldn’t have played, but at the end of the day, it’s all led up to where we are today.

DH: What are you currently listening to?
EF: I’m currently listening to a band called Why? I was in America, writing some music, and I was hanging out with a guy called Henry Cohen, he plays in a band called Mylets, and he was driving me around in his car, and he was playing Why? all the time, and I was just like, I love this, so that’s totally my jam right now.
NL: Kendrick Lamar. I really like To Pimp A Butterfly.

DH: You obviously enjoy working with Smalltown America, but as a local band that’s become quite successful, do you ever feel any pressure to refute the attention of bigger labels?
EF: Well, we’ve never had any choice.
NL: I think if the right opportunity arose, I wouldn’t feel any pressure not to do it. I’d weigh it up, I wouldn’t run out and say that I’d definitely do it, but I wouldn’t let anything other than personal preference decide that.
EF: Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it.

DH: If you could transcend space and time, what artist would you see live?
EF: The Clash, definitely.
NL: A tour between Nickelback and GG Allin, but they’d have to be on the same bill.
EF: No, GG Allin fronting Nickelback, because he’d hopefully ridicule the rest of the band.

DH: Have you ever actually visited the Mid Brae Inn?
EF: Yeah, we’ve played there. We’ve played two gigs in Shetland, and one of them was in the Mid Brae Inn; it was this tiny bar, with a handful of people here. It was less about the venue, because it’s similar to somewhere like here, but it’s more about the trip itself, we wanted to take something with a Shetland theme. It was a great trip for us, it encapsulates the whole ethos of the band, going to those weird and wonderful places, seeing different things, meeting cool people and interpreting our landscape that way, but it had to be about Shetland, and the Mid Brae Inn was one of those names that just popped out.

DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
NL: “Would you like this big bag of money?”

You can order Axis Of’s new album, “The Mid Brae Inn”, here: http://www.independentmusic.com/products/546075-axis-of-the-mid-brae-inn

You can also subscribe to their podcast, “The Prospect Roads”, on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/the-prospect-roads

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Interview: Rainy Boy Sleep

Deadheading had the pleasure of picking Stevie Martin’s brain about his current project, “Rainy Boy Sleep” (amongst other matters, such as Dostoevsky, why Marilyn Manson might be the last rock star, and his debut album with Universal, of course).

DH: Why did you pick “Manchester Post” as a single?
SM: I think it connects immediately, it’s pretty hard-hitting, and it’s the most ferocious one. In terms of pace, we did Ambulance first, and it’s almost like a curveball, as it’s so different in direction to Ambulance. So there’s a lot of bases to cover with the whole album, you know, you need to make a big impact early on as well, so to get that out there is good. It’s great live as well, so if people know it, it’s going to be even greater when they turn up to see the show.

DH: Was the censoring your idea?
SM: No, definitely not. It’s just (uncensored), it’s definitely not going to get played on the radio, but that’s cool, it works. Everybody knows what’s going on there, you know, before the blank.

DH: When are you planning to release Waiting Games?
SM: I think it’s around May, it might be coming out. We have been, kind of, in discussion about that whole thing, but hopefully it should be May. There’ s a bit of a concept to the album, so I’m looking forward to getting it out and have people listen the whole way through, and kind of getting to go through the whole story of it.

DH: Will there be any other singles in the meantime?
SM: I just have to wait and see, really; what with marketing strategies and all this crazy business, I’m just playing it by ear.

DH: You picked “Rainy Boy Sleep” in order to maintain a distance between your writing and your personal life. Is it difficult to maintain that distance?
SM: I wouldn’t really say it’s a pseudonym; it’s more like a project name. It’s like, if you’re playing like a huge tour where you’re out there constantly, it’s easier to get into character, so with the shows being kind of intermittent, it’s a bit more difficult to get back into that character, that groove. But yeah, I like the fact that the whole project name, and (because) it’s not going under my name, there’s more room for just having a bit of fun really. I know some of the songs are really, really personal, but there’s a bit of ambiguity with the whole project.

DH: That kind of leads into my next question: do you ever feel like you’re playing up to a construct, or a character? Like there are two separate entities: Stevie and Rainy Boy?
SM: I try to be me, you know, when I’m onstage, but at the same time, like a cooler version of me. Yeah, so I try to be me, but the whole thing is, I just don’t want to go out and depress people for whole evenings. I’m generally a bit eccentric; I don’t want to water that down too much by putting on too much of a character. I mean being onstage; you’re not always going to be a hundred percent you. Like Morrissey says he does, but something changes, you know, it has to.

DH: Do you try to strike a balance between personal experience and fictitious accounts, for the sake of lyricism?
SM: I think a song is always going to be based on some element of personal experience, but the ambiguity, you know setting up a block. It’s like another barrier, kind of. Like I remember the first song I ever wrote, it was the most personal song that I’ve ever wrote, and it was just like, saying all this stuff, and I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. It was called “Never Think Again”, but it was just crazy personal, and you know, you need some form of protection.

DH: Have you ever actively offended anyone (with your lyrics)?
SM: I don’t think so? No, um, maybe people could be touchy about if they’ve ever been in an ambulance or something.

DH: It would seem like you’re prone to spontaneity in terms of writing, for instance, you wrote the song “Your Face” in something like ten minutes at Glastonbury festival one year. Do you actively decide to hone in on something, or is subject matter something that is decided relatively naturally?
SM: As you say, it’s kind of spontaneous; you have to take it as it comes. There are times the spark comes immediately, and you just have to sit down and get it done. A couple of weeks ago, this idea, just, out it came, but then again, a song like “Bottom of the Sea” that’s going to be on the album, it kind of, it was there for a couple of years. I remember the first time I thought of it, I was driving down to a gig in Dublin, just a nice, sunny day and all the rest, but the concept kind of came then, but it was two years until the thing was done. Just have to kind of, go with the flow really, and if the opportunity presents itself, get it done straight away.

DH: Is there ever a disparity between what you intend to write and what you actually come up with?
SM: The whole process is, it would start off, and normally what I start off with isn’t what I end up with. One line would set off another thing, and then singing melody, trying to get melodies and that, you do a lot of scat, so I would record just scatting on my phone and that. The scat is good, because when you listen back you can hear phrasing and it sounds like, “Oh wow, that’s a good word there!”, or you hear what fits in. It’s usually the case that it ends up being something different from what I started with.

DH: Do you ever find the difference between what you’ve envisaged and what you end up with frustrating?
SM: That’s usually the case, but I’m getting better at writing songs, so it’s easier to command directions through the song now. Like I was saying, the song I wrote two weeks ago, I knew exactly what that would be used for: it’s not a song for me, but it’s just going to be kind of published out, so I knew exactly what that song had to be. I guess that’s the whole getting better thing, being able to command it a lot better, whereas I feel looking back, like I know the songs are good, but I realise how I could have went about them differently; I’m a bit pedantic.

DH: You have a fairly distinctive voice: at what point did you discover that you could sing, or was it always something that you knew you could do?
SM: I’ve always been singing- in the shower. Yeah, just from mucking about in school, and getting a band going- “Aw, I wonder who can sing?”, “I’ll give it a go.”- so yeah, I think alright, if you want to go for a certain style like, aye, get trained and all the rest, but for my style it (training) would completely take away from that.

DH: Did it take a while to achieve that style of singing?
SM: I’m pretty sure I’ve got it now. I remember listening to earlier demos and, like, using an American accent where I should’ve been using my own. I think (Americana) sounds a bit false, especially with the stuff I’m doing. Hearing “Frightened Rabbit” sing their whole album through in a Scottish accent, it’s just like, that comes from the heart; if they’d sung that album in an American accent, it would have been crap, like. So I’d be selective, but there are times when a chorus needs a more general accent, but the verse, I mean, I sing the verses of Ambulance in my own accent, but then I adopt a more general accent in the chorus, make it a bit more universal.

DH: At what point did you seriously begin to consider a career in music, or was that always the end goal?
SM:I never even really thought about it, I just knew that going out and playing gigs was the only thing that really made me happy, so I never really thought about it, career-wise. I always dreamed about being able to do it and that, but I just took it as it came really.

DH: Are you self-taught?
I got about two months’ help, this guy Alan Wilders from Strabane, so the first song I learnt was Avril Lavigne, “Complicated”- it’s not too complicated though! So a couple of months, and I was just off to learn on my own, like Josh Ritter covers and Glen Hansard and all them ones.

DH: How old were you when you started playing music?
SM: I got a bass for Christmas when I was sixteen, and I dabbled in that. It wasn’t until I was like seventeen, which is pretty late like, that I got stuck into it.

DH: What made you progress onto (and stick with) guitar?
SM: It was just a technical thing. I’m more like a songwriter, I guess, so that kind of isn’t the most important thing for me to focus on, I need to be able to mix the melody with the rhythm more, so it’s just that the guitar fitted a lot better.

DH: You play a bit of everything. How much, if any, involvement did you have with recording the instruments of the album?
SM: I worked with Niall Dalton, so me and him are of the old guard. He was like the engineer on the album, so we were trying to get that round the campfire vibe; we’re both of the opinion that it’s essential to get the sound (right) before pre-production, and get the most natural sound, and he’s so good at doing that. The recording process was very experimental, in terms of microphone placement and all the rest, trying to get the most natural sound, so we spent a good bit of time at it, but we did work hard on that. For one of the tracks, I plugged the microphone into a guitar amp, put it through weird effects and that, it kind of created this big soundscape-y thing.

DH: How did the collaboration between you and Reuben come about?
SM: Initially, we met like three years before we started working together on the album, so it was a case of I was off on the tour with James Morrison, and was starting work on the album, and I was looking for all these crazy producers- I’ll not name names or anything- but I was going to the ends of the earth, basically, to find a producer for the album, and it’s so weird that, you know, Reuben was the one, and he was there all along, right on my doorstep. So yeah, it was one day, somebody said something, and it just dawned on me, like “Oh my God, Reuben Keeney!”, so that’s pretty cool.

DH: I’ve always maintained that your voice would work perfectly on an electronic track (as is supported by the recent slew of remixes of your songs). Would a standalone electronic/dance track ever be anything you’d consider?
SM: I would love to do something like that. I kind of have a vision, well, I know what the second album’s going to sound like, so it’s kind of time to think about the third. I know what direction it’s going to be, although I’ve only got bits and pieces of songs and that, but I can envisage that it’s going to be a bit different alright. Maybe SOHN-y, Crystal Castles-y direction-y, so yeah.

DH: Reuben has joined you onstage more often than not in the past few months: will he continue to be a part of the live set up?
SM: I’m continually striving to get to a full band set up on stage. I love the dynamic of what we’re doing right now, but I think definitely, that’s what I mean, for us to get three four musicians on stage at once. It’s very, very handy to have a laptop, because I am still poor, but for the gigs that we’re playing right now, it’s very handy. Like being a support act, that’s what they (promoters) want; no fuss, which is what gets us onto these bills, you’re set up in three minutes flat like, but when I’ve got my own headline shows, that’s when it’s going to be time to start thinking of a whole band.

DH: When the band does form, will it be associated with Rainy Boy Sleep, or will it be a separate entity?
SM: I think it’s always going to be, like I’m always going to be me, so this is just a project name, this is maybe my chance to be a bit weird, and you know, I can always use my own name for stuff. I always have that freedom to go on and have another project as well, a collaboration or something, there’s always that opportunity, so it’s just holding onto that freedom.

DH: Will you maintain creative control if you expand this project into a band?
SM: Well, you’ve got the general thing like, you’re playing to the sound of the record, but I mean, every musician is going to put in their own wee touch. It depends, like if you get a rock drummer, it’s going to be a lot more visceral than a jazz drummer, but then a jazz drummer is going to be more stylised, so I guess a happy medium (would be good). I wouldn’t want to be like, I need to stick with the vision, not get too far off it, like there’s room for flourishes and fitting in their own wee touches, but you know, (you have to) stick to the vision at the same time.

DH: You’ve only embraced the idea of being a pop artist relatively recently. Were you somewhat reluctant, for fear of others’ perception of current pop music being applied to your music?
SM: I wouldn’t really say pop. Well, I know the stuff’s pop, but I’m kind of anti-famous, anti-being famous, it’s just within the music, but that’s completely not what I’m about. I’m not after getting my face in the newspapers and that there, which is kind of the idea why the project is called “Rainy Boy Sleep”, you have to make your mind up about that, you need to sit back and go, “Right, OK, let’s figure this out.”, that’s why that’s always the first question asked, “That name, what does that mean?”, you immediately have to think into it, and I think that’s the reason why. But pop, I’ve always listened to pop, and, they’re the songs that I wanted to listen to, like growing up listening to Blondie in the car. Pop means pop you know, at the end of the day. If you can write a poppier song, let’s go.

DH: Your influences are something of a surprise. You’ve previously listed Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, and System of a Down as artists that you like, as well as the more obvious ones like The Cure and Damien Rice. Are you still into that kind of thing?
SM: As I was saying like, it kind of dawns on you, “Here, I’m not listening to heavy or loud enough stuff: cue Deftones.”, and it was such an important part of my life, and it’s definitely going to come through more down the line in the songs.

DH: Yeah, currently, you don’t seem to incorporate too many of the heavier elements into your music: you have dark lyrics, but rather uplifting music. Do you think that contrast works well?
SM: Well, Manchester Post is like the closest so far, so I’ve got bits and pieces and riffs that I know I want to use in the future.

DH: Do you think your current style of music lends itself better than say, metal, to exploring darker lyrical themes?
SM: The juxtaposition of that happy sound, I don’t know, I know it’s a dirty word, but emo, it’s real uplifting music that’s really dark thematically, which is pretty much as dark as you can go. What’s that Fall Out Boy lyric, that first song, “When you wrap your car around the tree, your makeup looks so great next to the sea.”? It’s not an influence, but yeah, that all comes from The Smiths. I had a bit of an emo phase, but all emo comes from The Smiths, Joy Division and that stuff.

DH: I remember that you covered Joy Division one year at Stendhal, but you made it sound so upbeat.
SM: I thought it was funny anyway, it was almost a celebration, you know, “Love’s going to tear us apart, yay!” That’s my idea of humour.

DH: You obviously take a lot of influence from literature. What writers have had the most impact on you?
SM: A few years back, I was into a lot of early American writers, like Kerouac, Fitzgerald. I think life throws signs at you as well, as to what the next book that you should read should be. I don’t know how, but Dostoevsky as well, and Sartre, I started reading Age of Reason, but whatever happened anyway, I kind of put it down again, and Dostoevsky was the next thing. Actually, I put up a picture of “The Count of Monte Cristo” on Facebook, and said “It’s still the best book I’ve ever read.” and it’s a bit more slapstick, but I kind of want to laugh hilariously at it as well, and you don’t really get that with Fyodor, but it sparked a debate in the comment section underneath it, and someone said “Karamazov Brothers”, so I thought OK, that’s the next one. I love that, and I want to keep doing that, because somebody who is interested in getting into reading, and would pass them (books) otherwise, that’s how it happens, word of mouth, and that’s how I got into this book.

DH: It’s very evident that you have a real respect for storytelling. Have you ever directly taken musical influence from a book?
SM: I absorb stuff from books and that, but I love just hanging out with older people and hearing stories. Like sitting on long journeys, my soundman at the minute, Vinny, he’s got so many class stories, and it’s just a pleasure to sit in the car and just listen to these stories, like he’s got a story for everything, and I think that’s more of the stuff that goes into the songs, because it’s all broken down, it’s been filtered, it’s been thought out, and you have to be able to tell it in a way that’s going to make it good. You could tell the best story in the world, and some boring fucker telling it, it’s, “Aye, good one mate.”, so I think that makes its way into the songs. But you know, reading and keeping your mind open is so important, just being more aware.

DH: What else, outside of literature and music, do you take influence from?
SM: I have my favourite film, I like stuff by Danny Boyle, but The Graduate is my favourite film. Like, that’s obviously going to make its way in there as well. Traveling, nature and that as well, I love. As much as I don’t do it enough, going out and being in the fresh air, but I think whenever you’re hidden away in a dark room for so long, it’s all the more wonderful once you do go for a walk.

DH: Can you see music as always being your primary focus?
SM: I started off doing painting and photography and that, although it’s like something that you can’t just jump back into straight away, and go do that. It took me a year and a half to draw a decent portrait, and because I haven’t been drawing and doing that, it would have to be a conscious decision to say, “OK, I’m not going to focus on music as much right now.” when I do get back into that again, but it’s always something that I can do later on. Like music at the minute, I can’t take my hands off the guitar, it’s just immediate and there, you’ve got your catharsis right there.

DH: What’s been the toughest thing for you as a musician so far?
SM: Every musician I think has to go through the soul destroying gigs. I don’t think any musician can be a musician without doing them. I’d just go to this place, and there’s just nothing, no reaction, they’re the toughest, but I was thinking not so long ago; it was a particularly difficult gig I was playing, and halfway through the gig, I just started smiling, thinking “Snow Patrol had to do this shit!”, so aye, that’d be the hardest thing.

DH: How have you found working with Universal? Have there been any compromises?
SM: No, the album was finished and we presented the album and nothing had to be changed, so that was perfect.
DH: Have you written anything and felt that you couldn’t release it?
SM: Aye. Well it’s frustrating, I know, but I understand that the timing is very sensitive as well, but I’ve got songs, I’ve got a great song- well, what I think is a great song- but to release them now would be sheer folly. Two years down the line, aye, there has to be a bit more structure, get people’s idea of the whole thing first of all, before releasing.

DH: What does the next year hold for you?
SM: We’ve got some festivals to do in the summer, then, well the album release and that, so I’m working away, working with what I’ve got. Kind of what I would hope would be about 75 percent of the way through album number two, writing wise. I’m kind of writing on the side as well, songs that I won’t use myself. It keeps the whole artistic flow going as well, you don’t have the pressure of “Oh, I’m going to be singing this song, so it’s ok, I’ll just get this done in any way that I want.”. I’ve been writing with that (other artists) in mind, so there’s my own, there’s that stuff, but aye, just kind of keeping my head into the next album and that, because this one’s done, it’s been done for quite some time.

DH: Are you sick of playing the first album yet?
SM: Um, no.

DH: Are you allowed to say that?
SM: No, there are times I think, “Ah, that song’s grand like.”, and then you know, it’s on my phone or whatever and it would come on shuffle while I’m driving, and I’m like, “That’s pretty good!”, so no, I’m not sick of it, definitely not, but I can’t wait to get stuck into the new stuff as well.

DH: Is control over what you produce something that’s really important to you? Are you willing to let some things slide, or do you meticulously monitor what goes on in mixing?
SM: I am a bit of a control freak like. My bookcase is fucking, I don’t know if I do it on purpose, but it’s kind of intimidatingly neat. It comes and goes in waves, I think the artistic process is messy, it has to be messy, but then there’s this sort of element of control freakishness that takes over when you’re kind of closer to the end product, because you start freaking out. Rihanna has a good thing on Instagram about the creative process “Oh, this is great. Oh, this is maybe not so great. This is shit. I’m shit, and then hold on, maybe this is a wee bit good”, so that’s the way it goes like, the start it’s like “Whoa!” and then you slow down and think, “People are going to have to hear this, it’s not just in my own head,”. But control-wise, with Reuben producing the album, I think if there’d been too much (of my) control, then it would have been a lot different to what he came up with, because that vision that Reuben had, producing what were essentially singer-songwriter songs, and turning them into what they are now, I was overwhelmed at the start.

DH: You’ve been pretty successful in establishing your own style, which has obviously been intentional, but how much experimenting did that take?
SM: As I was saying about the accent and that, it took a while to evolve, and with Frightened Rabbit being such a big influence, it sort of opened my eyes to, “That is so honest.”, hearing these songs being sung in their own voice, and I mean there’s give or take with that as well, some songs don’t need that, if you need to change something and sing it in a more general accent, but stylistically, that’s been important. And then again, with the loop pedal, like I thought that I was just tied into having to be able to play songs that way live and not being able to put anything different on the record, but since working with Reuben, I know that that’s not the case. The most important thing is having a very energetic live show, and being very dynamic as well, so there has been a lot of experimentation. Where I was kind of a wee bit close-minded about the whole thing, working with other people as well really helped.

DH: You’ve gained quite the following in the last few months (as has been reflected in social media). Has the response been anything like you had anticipated?
SM: It’s always surprising me what gets the most likes, what kind of posts get the most likes, but I think I’m kind of getting to grips with that now a lot better, seeing what works and what doesn’t. Like the other night, I was sitting in the house, and just the phone beeped, “BBC Radio 1 are now following you on Twitter.”, I was like, “Oh fuck, that’s kind of a shock.”. It came up on the lock screen, so I took a screenshot, and put it up on Facebook, and three hundred odd likes, which (is mad) compared to not so long ago. It’s very simple things that everyone can kind of relate to, honest things work a lot better, not trying to be too out there, like “Hey, yeah, I’m just a tortured artist man”. I think the rock star is almost dead and gone.

I think Marilyn Manson could be like the last rock star ever, because everything’s changed now. Everybody wants to, everybody’s a celebrity now, because you’ve got your Twitter thing, you’ve got your followers, everybody is a celebrity and everybody’s got that celebrity ego thing in their head, if you have a Twitter, if you have a Facebook, then you’ve got that. There’s no such thing, because everybody’s a rock star now, and because of that like, who would I be to say that I’m any better than anyone at all? People want to know the person, people don’t want to know, because people think that, like I’m running around at the minute with people calling me “Rainy Boy Sleep” or whatever, but it’s not (my name), it’s a title for a project. At the minute, songwriters are such a big thing, because people are tapping into wanting to know the person, and because of that I think that the rock star is dead. I never wanted to be like that, but that’s the whole thing nowadays, I mean, music goes with the times, doesn’t it?

I’m never going to be completely on top of it, because you just don’t have to time to be a musician as well as an expert on how to fucking like, get fire tweets or whatever; there’s never enough time. I mean it’s fascinating, and obviously it’s very important, but it’s not the most important thing.

DH: Have you found anything surreal so far?
SM: I nearly met Alice Glass. We were playing Picnic, my mate was there along with me and we were just walking along backstage, and we seen Alice Glass walking towards her tour bus, and she was just looking round her, and then she kind of did a double take thinking, “Oh, those guys look famous!”, and then she realised, “Aw no, they’re not famous!” and went on the bus, but that was surreal.

DH: Have you been recognised yet?
SM: Aye, going in just to do support slots, and then coming out the back door after the show and thinking, “Nobody even knows my act, let alone my name.” and then they’re all, “Stevie, Stevie, give us an autograph!”, and all this here. Aye, it’s weird, but it’s all part of the fun like. That whole thing, what I’m saying about everbody’s a celebrity, it means so much to fans that they take a selfie with you, and they you know, tag you on Twitter, I think it’s great to be able to retweet that and it’s really special. I try to interact with every single one you know, because that’s what it’s all about these days. It’s so cool that they’re all excited, and then they tweet that on to the world, that’s cool.

DH: What are you currently listening to?
SM: I’m not really listening to anything at the minute. It comes and goes, because I’d kind of discover three or four bands at one time and then be obsessed- ah well, Neutral Milk Hotel, I was obsessed with their album for a while, and I learned a good few of them. I was obsessed with that album there, with King of the Carrot Flowers, Two Headed Boy, all throughout January and February, so that was the last thing I was really hardcore into. Do you ever get that you listen to an album way back, and then, “OK.”, and then it disappears for about a year, and it comes back, something just brings it back to you, and then that’s when you’re obsessed. So yeah I was obsessed like that, I suppose my neighbours were as well, for that matter.
But yeah, locally, Reuben is constantly working on the next thing; he’s a really, really focused artist. I was in Cork there, and just yeah, Reuben’s going to be big. He’s got a lot of things that he’s working with, and he’s always got his head fixed in it, so yeah, he’s going to take off.

DH: If you could transcend time, what artist would you see live?
SM: I really wish that I was old enough to see Slowdive, back then. They’re not the same any more. I know it’s not that long ago, but being around in London to see that kind of shoegaze. And Radiohead’s OK Computer gig in the Mandela- was that 97 or 98?- but that’s not even that long ago. But yeah, shoegaze, like Spiritualized, fuck, you know, I’d have loved to have been there, because I think that (the nineties) has been the most inspiring thing for bands at the minute, because the shoegaze thing is so, so good. Like, bands are taking the eighties as an influence and that, and you think, “OK, is it far enough away now that the nineties is a thing?”. I mean, the eighties thing has already been done a lot, hasn’t it?

DH: Is there anything that you wish I’d asked you?
SM: *fixes fringe* Um, “how do you get your hair like that?”

Check out the video for Rainy Boy Sleep’s latest single, “Manchester Post”, below (now available on iTunes).

Deadheading Digs…

“Deadheading Digs” is a new feature, intended to publicise any recent releases that have proved themselves to be ear worms and deserve to be heard by you, the clamouring, music-hungry masses.

“Red” – More than Conquerors

Belfast-based quartet, the almighty More Than Conquerors, are back. The rhythm-driven, yet almost elegiac “Red” is their first release of 2015, and is evocative of Fugazi, but with greater lyricism and slicker production. They are currently touring the UK, and I strongly advise that you check them out before they take off (they are due to appear at SXSW in Texas later this year).

“Manchester Post” – Rainy Boy Sleep

Flying the flag for folktronica is Rainy Boy Sleep. “Manchester Post” is the first single from his forthcoming album, “Waiting Games” (which is his debut, and will be released with Universal Music, no less), and it is nothing short of smashing. Pleasantly melodic, but with biting, acerbic shreds of wit interspersed throughout, his flawless writing and delivery is matched only by Reuben Keeney’s sharp production.

“Sirens” – Silent Noise Parade

Stalwarts of consistently innovative, alternative electronic, Silent Noise Parade have just released the brilliant “Sirens”. Minimalist, emotive, and something of a slow-burner, this is an incredibly rewarding track (think Brian Eno by way of Irish post-punk) that is bound to keep you hitting the replay button.

“Peanut Butter” – Krill

Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, Krill are a trio that create exceedingly great, pseudo-psych, guitar-based rock, and are leaving a slew of equally eccentric sounds and URLs in their wake (for instance, see their Bandcamp and Twitter links). “Peanut Butter” is catchy, diverse, tinged with dark, garage-rock undertones, and is further evidence, if any were needed, of their being destined for big things. They’re are about to release their third album, the much anticipated “A Distant Fist Unclenching”, and are currently touring Europe.

(I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologise to frontman/bassist Jonah Furman, in case any offence was caused by a tweet of mine. Your vocals on this track are, to me, evocative of Kim Gordon, and that is intended as a compliment.)

Exclusive: New Tracks from Moscow Metro, “Late Night Radio” and “Berlin Prayer”

Exclusive to Deadheading: stream Moscow Metro’s brand new tracks!

After months of anticipation, Limerick’s almighty Moscow Metro are finally releasing the follow-up to their highly acclaimed debut, “Spirit of a City”. The two new tracks, “Late Night Radio” and “Berlin Prayer” are part of an upcoming series of releases: the band is planning to release a string of new singles as quickly as they can record them.

Produced by Owen Geaney (of Silent Noise Parade), these are also the first songs that Moscow Metro have released as a trio, and feature Sean Corcoran on lead vocals, guitar and bass following the departure of frontman Barry McNulty, who’s baritone vocals received much praise: Dylan Casey (drums/percussion) and Alan Holmes (synths) remain as before.

“Late Night Radio” is by no means what I had anticipated, but in a truly great way. It is filled with more hooks than a well-stocked fishing boat, but in no way compromises the band’s trademark “joyous in the face of nihilism” sound (if you have yet to be acquainted with Moscow Metro’s music, you’ll know what I mean upon listening). It’s a brilliant mesh of hard-hitting, vibrant rhythms, and bursts of sharp melody; the reverberating guitar licks don’t just cascade, they expand right across the night sky conjured by the rhythm section’s brooding, pulsating cadence.

This is bound to be a sure-fire hit in terms of radio play, and not just because of its apt title. Here is a band that obviously recognises the levity of matters like social isolation which is in correlation, if not causation, with the inherent bleakness of industrial cityscapes, and chooses to integrate said matters into a catchy, dance-influenced track. Corcoran’s vocals are not entirely dissimilar to McNulty’s, despite their being more frenetic than expressive, and they blend well with the general tonality.

Late Night Radio Itunes

Inspired by the band’s experiences after playing a string of well-received German shows on their first international tour, “Berlin Prayer” is something of a departure from their usual sound. Whilst the hallmarks of post-punk are still very much present, particularly in the bright, melodic guitar tracks, which layer until they build a veritable wall of noise, the lyrics’ melancholic gaze has shifted slightly from the usual manners of introspection. There is a vibrant vitality to be found in the notably slower pace, with Holmes and Casey providing a restrained, atmospheric rhythmic undercurrent, which rapidly rises to dizzyingly high, crashing waves of furious sound come the song’s crescendo.

Berlin PrayerItunes

Thankfully, Moscow Metro have successfully managed to avoid the dreaded “Second Release Syndrome” (sidenote: this is when a hotly-tipped band begins to feel the heat, and releases something purely for the sake of satisfying the increasingly rabid fans that their first release won them), and in doing so, have meticulously crafted two more wonderful songs that showcase their diverse abilities as both musicians and writers, and are well-worth raving about (I’d make the seemingly inevitable allusion to their being a worthy successor to a certain group that were famed for indulging in Unknown Pleasures, but this is a band that will surely go on to transcend comparison and genre boundaries alike, and deserve much better than being lazily dubbed “post-punk revivalists” for the umpteenth time).

And so, I not only stand by, but am happy to reaffirm all of the praise that I have ever had for Moscow Metro: make no qualms about it, when a band is able to consistently deliver such high quality output at such an early stage, you’d have to be a fool not to sit up and listen.

 

Artwork by Shane Connaughton

You can check out the video for “Late Night Radio” below.

 

 

 

Live Review: Portrush Brawl, 29th December 2014

The Portrush Brawl, featuring Good Friend, A Bad Cavalier, Two Glass Eyes, Sons of Burlap and Pocket Billiards

Monday 29th December 2014- the Atlantic Bar, Portrush

2014 marked the 8th annual Portrush Brawl, which, in the spirit of tradition, was hosted by Team Fresh at the Atlantic Bar, and this year, was in aid of the Welcome Organisation (a Belfast-based charity that reaches out to the homeless and vulnerable, and is a cause which is definitely worth checking out and supporting: follow the link below for more information on how you can help).

http://www.homelessbelfast.org/

The North Coast/Newcastle Upon Tyne based Good Friend kick off proceedings, with an energetic fusion of old-school post-hardcore and regional punk(think Black Flag meets Dropkick Murphys, but with sharper guitar effects, and no pipes). Playing a series of hearty, hardcore tracks, and providing a preview of their (then unreleased) single, the riff-fuelled “Irish Goodbyes”, Good Friend are a solid choice of starter.

Newcomers to the live circuit, brainchild of ASIWYFA’s Niall Kennedy (and super group, of sorts) A Bad Cavalier produce a slick, joyous, almost glam-influenced set. Every song is a highlight, so for fear of gushing, my personal favourites include: “I Miss My Mind”, which is wonderful, with cheerfully syncopated, yet contagious, driving rhythms; “Olive Tree”, filled with crafty lyrics and infectious electro overtones; and finally, the hook-filled “Coast On”, which boasts expertly constructed layers, full of crashing vocals and waves of harmonious synth and guitar effects. Not a bad start at all for A Bad Cavalier; with their brilliant, meticulously rehearsed repertoire, this performance is even more impressive upon taking into account the fact that this is only their second live outing as a band.

Acclaimed for their visceral, cerebral alt-rock stylings, the superlative Two Glass Eyes are next to take to the stage. Their set blends old fan-favourites, such as the soaring “Mend” and the heart-rending, gnarled “So Old”, with explosive new tracks (which are as yet unreleased, but likely to be featured on their upcoming album) that are full of rumbling bass, pounding, no-holds-barred breakdowns and vocals that veer between hardened and explosive. Evocative of early Deftones, Two Glass Eyes are an intense, brilliant unit that certainly know how to pummel a crowd into (deserved) awe, and are well worth keeping an eye (be it glass or otherwise) on in the year to come.

Having heard only positive things about the rather elusive Sons of Burlap, and given the nature of the other acts, I, for some bizarre reason, anticipated some variation of local, possibly heavily bearded, rock outfit. Despite my expectations being proved wrong in almost every respect, I was not, by any means, disappointed. Having honed a truly unique style, with firm roots in traditional Irish music, but with folk-tinged, Eastern European sensibilities, you’d imagine that such an ambitious musical venture would serve only to divide an audience (a word to the wise: you’d be wrong. I’ve scarcely seen a more tightly concentrated mosh pit assemble).
Upon the band breaking into “Caravan”, I recount it being the first time in my life that I’ve overheard a flute solo being referred to as “killer”, “insane” and “f***ing amazing” non-ironically, while narrowly avoiding being kicked in the head by a passing crowd-surfer. Even if (not just figuratively) killer flute pieces, acerbic fiddle and percussion that’s frenetic enough to fuel a week’s worth of Armenian weddings aren’t your thing, I strongly advise that you never pass up the opportunity to see Sons of Burlap play live. They might not necessarily be synonymous with traditional, but they certainly are with raw, compelling, musical energy.

Heading the bill are Belfast-based ska-punk outfit, Pocket Billiards. They are possibly the ultimate feel-good outfit; the 9-piece waste no time in breaking into their unique strain of energetic ska, with an inclination towards riff-heavy sensibilities that are normally more typical of rock. “Belfast Town” epitomises this, bursting with clever lyrics that have the potential to cut close to home, blaring trumpets and a veritable crescendo of punchy guitar tones harmonising beautifully with the brass section. Their sense of dynamics is second to none, working the audience further into a fervent, heaving mass with songs such as the driving musical force that is “Dirty Money” and the aptly named “Last Chance to Dance”. As members of the crowd are passed overhead at random, writhing, mere inches from inflicting a multitude of fractures, I’m sure that it occurs to everyone that this is a musical initiative that is truly deserving of its name. However, thankfully, no significant injuries are obtained by any party, and as the pit gradually dissolves, it marks another fantastically successful year for the Portrush Brawl; long may it continue.

Live Review: SOAK, 7th November 2014

SOAK with support from Gabriel Paschal Blake

Friday 7th November 2014- Christ Church, Derry

If you aren’t familiar with “SOAK”, you probably haven’t seen too much but the underside of your rock for a while. The Derry-based Bridie Monds-Watson, who goes by the pseudonym “SOAK” (a portmanteau of “soul” and “folk”, despite it being difficult to pigeonhole her music based on such broadly defined trace elements) recently embarked on her “B a NoBody” tour, which encompassed venues of varying capacity in both the UK and Ireland. The penultimate show in Christ Church, Derry, was the first date that she had played in Derry for almost a year, and put a definitive end to the recent dry spell that the city had been experiencing.

As neither of us are overly familiar with Derry, upon my plus one enquiring of the venue “Are there like, pews?”, I made the mistake of laughing confidently. However, after two hours of resting rigidly upon a wooden pew, my joints and I were certainly no longer laughing. As it turned out, Gabriel Paschal Blake, a lyrical acoustic act hailing from Letterkenny, wasn’t much in the form for mirth either. His songs regale rambling tales of woe that would rival a lot of early (and overly emotive) LiveJournal entries. Boasting misleadingly cheery titles such as “My Father the Undertaker”, Blake’s songs are, admittedly, brimming with emotional depth and lyrical prowess beyond his years.

His stage presence transcends the stage (in the sense that he sporadically leaves it in order to engage further with the audience) and his vocal delivery doubles as a crash course in theatrical melodrama. What his songs may lack in conciseness is compensated for by his (almost worryingly raw) enthusiasm- unfortunately though, his highly ambitious reach just exceeds his grasp. I feel the need to point out that posing questions like “Does everyone die the same way?” for a few (fairly extensive) verses only to eventually conclude that, on second thoughts, “Not everyone dies the same way.” is possibly not the best formula for building rapport with an audience.

Taking to the stage with minimal preamble and a quiet confidence, SOAK exudes natural ease and ability, and chose to kick off the proceedings with “Explosions”. It is a gentle, understated opening track, and oozes ambience, with lulled arpeggios and her murmurings of “your heart” resounding continually off of the dimly illuminated walls. The atmosphere verges on ethereal, between her otherworldly music and black-clad, nymph-like stature, which is only accentuated by the purple and green candlelight.

Followed by the wonderfully wistful “Sea Creatures”, her vocals are delicate and harmonise beautifully with the earnest acoustic melody, all of which again contrasts sharply with the fluid, arresting lyrics. Coming from anybody else, “I prayed for you/And you know I don’t like Jesus” would most likely be written off as an attempt at being knowingly self-conscious, but when it’s coming from SOAK, you can’t help but be drawn into empathising with her lightly lilting plight.

The lesser known tracks, “Worry” and “Blind” are also rather well received by the enraptured audience- SOAK could easily remain silent between songs and still win over any crowd, but instead, she chatters with great ease, conveying her sincere appreciation and dispersing snippets of information about her recent tour and each individual song.
Next up, and setting the scene for some serious soul-searching, is the beautifully melancholic “24 Windowed House”. We are privy to hearing that it was written with the intention of stepping back and looking at someone by means of “different parts of them, like they’re a house, and you’re looking at them and bits of their personality through like, different windows”. The song is, despite its unusually ambitious concept, pleasantly articulate: brooding in nature, but open in its evident affection for the subject. Her delivery is nothing short of stunning: the crystallised sweep of her vocal range combined with the soulful strumming on her acoustic is absolutely mesmerising, and a pleasure to behold.

Having recently hit a whopping one million plays on Spotify,“B a noBody” is a no-brainer of a crowd pleaser. It is recreated live with no difficulty whatsoever, which is something of a rarity for any current artist, and only demonstrates further her infallible talent. The song alludes to something of a paradox, in that SOAK seems to take a variation of pride in being a self-proclaimed “nobody”, when in fact, she is considered not only a somebody, but one that is certainly of note, by fans and critics alike: she recounts having fans steal the black helium balloons from the previous night’s show in London; being invited to a Burberry launch party; and more recently, has received a nomination for the BBC’s Sound of 2015.

The emotive “Blud”, which was dedicated to a friend who recently passed away, was declared to be the last song of the evening. It is evocative of Beach House, and would have been a rather fitting ending to such a heartfelt set. However, needing little persuasion (in which the crowd are more than happy to indulge- I highly doubt that this is a church that has echoed with chants of “One more tune!” prior to this evening), SOAK obliges with a much appreciated encore.
Featuring “Reckless Behaviour”, which is “probably” going to be her next single, but regardless of release date, is bound to be a sure-fire hit. Filled with clever hooks, and complete with a rather catchy refrain, it is definitely a release to look forward to.

Finally, switching up her acoustic for an electric guitar, “Oh Brother” runs in a darker, but nonetheless thrilling, vein. Frankly, it is bewitching to witness a talent so versatile, and yet so distinctive. Upon seeing her perform, the fact that SOAK has become so well established in a relatively short space of time is of no surprise, especially when you take into consideration her incredible natural ability. She is an artist truly deserving of the surrounding hype, and her musical prowess is already remarkable- it is simply an added bonus that she will only continue to hone her existing skills, as both a performer and as a songwriter, and that Derry is fortunate enough to be able to lay claim to having produced such a brilliant young talent.

Live Review: Rainy Boy Sleep, 24th October 2014

Rainy Boy Sleep with support from Chelsey Chambers
Friday 24th October 2014 – Mason’s, Derry

Having recently signed to Universal, this is the penultimate Northern Irish show for the singer-songwriter Rainy Boy Sleep. Promoting his new EP, “Ambulance”, he is effortlessly straddling the transition from renowned local artist to a major act, continuing to strike the balance between larger venues and more intimate ones.

With no announcement, Chelsey Chambers took to the stage. Her strength lies in her vocal performance, with her self-styled strain of country-pop making for easy listening. Performing tracks such as ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘A Million Homes’, it is obvious that her song writing is highly personal, and is brimming with pleasantly relaxing harmonies and hooks. Despite her quietly confident performance, she leaves the stage with little ceremony.

After a brief amount of fine tuning, Rainy Boy Sleep stepped up to the mic, kicking off with an unreleased and acutely melodic song called ‘Jeanie’- it’s a solid start, but so far, nothing out of the ordinary. However, the wonderfully witty ‘Yours Truly’ takes on a new depth in such an intimate venue; never has writing letters to dead girls seemed so hopelessly romantic (or plausible) a concept.

By the time he reaches the ode to platonic love, ‘Shopping Centre Song’, he has well and truly broken into his stride. The self-assured swagger with which he performs has become even more pronounced with the addition of some shiny new backing tracks (courtesy of the prolific dance producer, Reuben Keeney), and is nothing short of endearing, making him even more engaging to observe. The wonderfully melancholic ‘One After One’ follows – it is something of an oxymoron in that it manages to be powerful yet subdued, beautiful but haunting all at once, all of which are indicative of a truly great songwriter.

The lead track from his forthcoming album, ‘Waiting Games’ is a sweet, agreeable, but somewhat anaemic offering, serving primarily to showcase his dizzying vocal range (and presumably, is intended to appeal to both radio stations and his hoard of female fans). ‘Your Face’, penned at Glastonbury 2011, fulfils a similar purpose, and from anybody else, such a song would surely be praised; however, it lacks his trademark acerbic twist, and is verging on being overly sentimental, which is nothing short of a pity when his capacity for being sharp is otherwise so evident.

Thankfully, the bite re-enters his performance in the shape of the charmingly self-deprecating ‘Stupid Boy’, but for me, the show is stolen by ‘Manchester Post’, which has been revamped to the point that it is barely recognisable. A track which admittedly, I previously found underwhelming, is now stunning in the most unexpected way- it is punchy and danceable, and despite its genre-bending tone, lends his self-defined label of “folktronica” some real meaning.

The set is rounded off with the crash course in duality that is the title track of his recently released EP, ‘Ambulance’. The notably dark subject matter (which just happens to be violence within an abusive relationship, since you asked) is presented in a jaunty, playful, almost joyous way, complete with a children’s choir on backing vocals. The contrast between the uplifting harmonies and the brutality of the lyrics is at no point either inappropriate or misleading: it is truly clever, which is even further evidence that Rainy Boy Sleep is a musical talent that is not to be underestimated by any means.

A compelling set from an intriguing artist, the only disappointment of the evening was the lack of audience turnout, but he even managed to turn this to his advantage: instead of feeling (relatively) sparsely populated, the room felt full of excitement and bated breath. It’s difficult not to feel rather privileged, as seeing a performer as truly stellar as Rainy Boy Sleep in such an intimate venue is a rarity, especially in the face of his surely imminent success.