Musical Rooms

June 23, 2010

Musical Rooms Part 101: The Dead Flags

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 12:04 pm
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“The bathroom in the place we make our music, is a small room with all the usual accoutrements you’d expect. The main thing is that it’s a bright, sunny room and the tiled walls make everything sound that bit better so you can really get into playing a song. The window affords equal views of some amazing mountains and an electricity transformer station which might lead a better songwriter to assess the encroachment of man into nature. Not me though, I write about girls. The “good room” faces south into the garden with large windows and can get really warm in the afternoon which is great for getting into the right headspace. It’s a very comfortable room with old armchairs and couches and even a gazelle skin on the floor.

Most of the musical instruments in the house end up in the good room so there’s always something lying around. My dad plays so many different things and this is where he practices too so within reach are a piano, tuba, flugelhorn, saxophone, a Cajon that I really must return to its owner, some drums, a glockenspiel, a stylophone, bongos and an old kids’ keyboard. When I’m working on a song, depending on what I’m doing, I drag all the band’s gear into the room too so that adds guitars, amps, basses and general percussion stuff. I used to have a massive Hammond Organ which I bought for €37 on e-Bay but it was taking up too much room so I gave it to our drummer Kev, who keeps it in a studio up in Donegal.

I used to have a studio set-up using Logic, a desk and several decent mics, but I found it very cumbersome in terms of writing fast. I had no real desire to be a recording engineer and it really is a money pit so I just stopped using it. Now, I record onto Garageband on a Macbook using the in-built microphone and a pair of walkman headphones. It might seem ridiculous and remedial, but if you’re not planning to release the recording, it’s the fastest way to multi-track. It’s got enough functionality in it for me to craft the sound a bit towards how I want everything to be and I’m never delayed by worrying about mic placement or trailing leads all over the place. I use my live set-up for the guitar- a Fender DeVille tube amp, a Fender Telecaster and a pedal set-up with a bunch of overdrives, distortions, delays and effects like that. My acoustic is a beat-up Yamaha which is no great shakes, but is all I can afford and has done the job for years.

The guitar, my voice and the laptop are probably the only things I really need in here. When I’m writing I like to write with just my guitar because I want the songs to stand up without needing embellishments. When I’m demo-ing, I try to restrict the recordings to just what we can do live which basically means guitar, bass, drums and three-part vocals. Sometimes you can hear a keys line or you think something needs tambourine or something else, but restricting yourself can help breathe a bit more creativity in terms of arrangement.

I sometimes try to keep to a schedule of getting up early, having a good breakfast and sitting down in front of the laptop for some solid work but when the other parts of being in a band like promotion and bookings need to be done, they end up taking priority. We recently returned to playing live after recording the album and I forced myself to sit down and write some new tunes so that there’d be something new for us to play in the set – I didn’t like the idea of not having new songs when we came back to playing.

I work alone pretty much exclusively. I like to figure things out on my own and get the whole song together before I let anyone hear it. For me, there’s nothing better than the feeling of finishing a demo. It’s like finishing a drawing or a story or something – you knew that there was something you wanted to get out of your head and into reality, and here it is. The next most exciting thing is playing that song to an audience and seeing how they react. The only other person I write with is Sam Jackson, a pianist friend of mine. When I play with Sam, the two of us just get into a mind-meld and hours fly by with me on guitar and him on an old Fender Rhodes or upright piano. I’ve never met anyone else with whom I can write freely and where you completely lose the line of who-came-up-with-what. It’s always a true collaboration and it’s often more rewarding and much more natural then writing by myself.

I don’t know exactly when a song starts for me. I know that I suddenly become aware that the melody I’m humming is actually original. It might have been in my head for days or just have come out that moment but when I realize that its mine I try to get it recorded as soon as possible so that I won’t lose it. Sometimes it starts with a chord or a sequence or a rhythm – the lyrics come very quickly or very slowly – nothing in-between for me. I’m always walking around the streets in Dublin singing songs into my phone hoping nobody’s listening or taking notice. I do the same when I’m driving. However you get the start, you’ve got to get going on it pretty quickly while it still excites you. The best thing about writing a song for me is that when I finish a song, I’ll probably come up with another one almost immediately after. They usually come in twos for me. And the best ones come fast.

The bathroom is where I’ve written songs since I was 14 so it just feels like home in terms of my song-writing. I’ve always been able to write songs in different places but that’s where I’ll always want to be when I’m doing it. The good room doesn’t have any magical powers but it’s brilliant to work in a large space and not be interrupted. That’s the opposite of anywhere I’ve lived in Dublin where you’re always bumping off walls and trying not to disturb someone. It’s like an office where everything is conducive to the process but there’s nothing so amazing about the space that leaves a mark on the work. I (used to) design buildings for a living so I’m always fascinated by the prospect of designing a perfect creative space for myself. The light, the privacy and the comfort would all seem to be important elements but once you find a space that feels like it has those attributes, all the others can be created.”

Musical Rooms was in conversation with Billy Fitzgerald, the lead singer and songwriter with The Dead Flags.

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Sligo band The Dead Flags release their new double A-side single, O My Love! O My God!! Girls this Friday, June 25th. Their debut album Gentlemen’s Club was released earlier this year. They play The Sea Sesssions (main stage, 6pm) in Bundoran, Donegal on June 25th and The Chasin’ Bull, Bundoran the same day at 22.30. They also play the Lovin’ Life Festival in Sligo on July 3rd, Club F.E.A.R. at Pravda, Dublin on July 9th, Clockwork Apple at Whelan’s, Dublin on July 16th, The Quad, Cork on July 21st and Baker Place, Limerick on August 13th. For more information, visit www.thedeadflags.com/ and www.myspace.com/thedeadflags.

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