Musical Rooms

January 28, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 9: Mumblin’ Deaf Ro

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 8:10 am
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“I usually write music at home in my box room. I live in a quiet cul-de-sac in Baldoyle with (other people’s) kids cycling up and down outside in Spiderman costumes. Musical ideas, when they come, usually come quickly enough. Then I play them over and over and over, until the music, and in particular the melody, is locked into my head. The lyric writing then takes about three or four months and I do that while out walking. I spent about three and a half years on my last album but didn’t actually write any of the lyrics down until the last minute when I had to type up the lyric sheet. My favourite places to walk and write are the Burrow Beach in Sutton and the promenade in Clontarf. All my life I’ve been singing under my breath without moving my lips, which is probably why I have trouble projecting my voice at gigs.

My box room now has a piano in it, which I got in exchange for buying my sister a new sideboard. I am currently learning ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’. The room has laminate floors and sliderobes with mirrored doors, which means I can look at the chords I’m playing. Arnotts have yet to deliver curtains so my neighbours wave at me when they walk by. I usually sing with my eyes closed, which probably makes me look stupid.

Once I have my guitar I’m pretty much good to go. I also need peace and quiet of course. Other than that I don’t really need any special atmosphere. I’ve always fancied having one of those design-classic Danish or Swedish chairs that I could sit in and write from. It would become some sort of lucky charm that would stay with me through thick and thin until I was eventually buried in it. They’re very expensive though and would probably scratch the laminate.

I don’t spend that much time here to be honest: maybe a few hours a week. I tend to go into the box room on the off chance that something will happen and then just start playing a few songs or messing about on guitar. I usually know within a quarter of an hour or so whether anything will come of it. It’s important to get joy out of playing music too, which is why I have started learning the piano. When you write songs, you can feel under pressure to be productive when you’re playing, and you perhaps overlook the sheer pleasure in it. Since I started learning the piano I am spending more time in the room, as practice is very important at the early stages of learning anything.

In terms of when I make music, it’s pretty random, although I would generally have more free time in the evenings. It’s not unknown for my to just hop up off the couch and run upstairs to work on a sudden idea though; that usually happens at the very early or very late stages of writing a song, when there is a specific problem to solve.

I can’t really work if other people are around and I’m as solitary as an oyster when it comes to writing. I have no urge to collaborate, which sounds closed-minded, but it is probably a necessary part of being quite an intuitive/haphazard songwriter.

I like the sense of familiarity and comfort in the room. However, I just know that when I go back into the room tonight, it’ll be giving off vibes like ‘You’ve been talking about us, haven’t you?’ and ‘No one was supposed to know about us’.”

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Mumblin’ Deaf Ro’s latest album The Herring and the Brine is out now – for details of gigs and downloads please see www.myspace.com/mumblindeafro. He plays with Adrian Crowley and Boa Morte in Whelan’s on March 5th.

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January 20, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 8: Steve Fanagan aka Northstation

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 10:10 am
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“I mainly make music at my space in Dundrum where all of my equipment and instruments are. It’s a good-sized room in a house away from the main road, so it’s pretty quiet. It’s not a traditional studio space. There’s no real sound-proofing and only limited acoustic treatment and most importantly of all, it has windows, so it’s nice and bright in the daytime and full of street light at night. In the summer I sometimes work with them open, even when I’m mic-ing things.

I have the room split, so half of it is pretty dead sounding for close mic-ing and mixing/monitoring/mastering and the other half is roomy and live for ambience and natural reverberation.

I use the room for making my own music, but also for working on other people’s records too. So, depending on the day, I’m either alone or surrounded by a band or other musicians. I really enjoy both situations. There’s such an important and rewarding social element to making music with other people. It’s something I really love. It’s also a real privilege to have someone ask me to be a part of their creative process. I think because I work out of a non-traditional studio space there is a nice relaxed atmosphere and people that I work with feel it too; what you lose in sound design etc, you gain in homeliness. does that make sense?

With my own music, I mainly work alone. The isolation and solitude is important. I spend hours working on sounds and figuring out ways to use the equipment I’ve got for as many different things as I can. I try to spend as much time as I can in a given week working on things. With Northstation, I don’t go into the studio with a song written; it’s a more improvised sort of thing. Usually I programme a beat. I have a few nice drum machines and I sit in the headphones making sounds, sampling noises and working on the structure of the beat. When I’m happy with that I record it, through amps, pre-amps, guitar pedals, compressors or whatever makes it sound interesting to me.

The next step is to find an instrument to try play something over the beat with. This used to always be a guitar, but with ‘Wagtail’ and the album I’m working on at the moment I’m opting for other instruments that I don’t play particularly well. I hope this helps me to not repeat things I’ve done before. When I find a part I like, I record it and then try come up with the next bit. When I started playing music it was in a band and we used to spend hours in a rehearsal space trying to come up with ideas out of just playing on two or three chords or a rhythm someone brought to the table and making songs grow out of that. My approach now is still kind of the same, except that I’m working alone. Usually the start point is the beat or sound or feel of whatever record I am obsessing over at the time, trying to take what I can from it and run.

This space is where I rehearse and put gigs together, so it’s a live experience too; I keep my Northstation live set up together, so at any time I can add sounds to what I’m working on without having to spend time setting up. The room is really important for this. I have all of my instruments, effects units, guitars in different tunings, mics, etc set up and within reach for when I want to try something. I try spend at least one full day a week working on my own music. This usually starts at 9 or 10am and would go through until 5 or 6pm, sometimes later, if I have nothing else on. The longer I can spend in one sitting, the better. I find it really important to be able to get lost in what I’m doing. With teaching full-time and working on other people’s music and paying bills etc, I sometimes only have a few hours in an evening a week. But the fact that the space is always set up and I can just sit down and run with whatever ideas fall out is really important. Even one spare hour can be put to good use. Coffee, water and eating well are all also really important to the experience, too. There is a kitchen downstairs and I keep it stocked.

My routine in the space changes, depending on the other work. In the summer, when I am not teaching, I try to spend five or six days a week working and keep really regular hours. The earlier in the day I can start the better. I like to take breaks and walk around the neighbourhood with rough mixes in the headphones or head out to the sea to swim to clear my head. I find that working on my own can have its drawbacks in terms of getting perspective, so it’s important at times to get out and remember that there is a functioning world around me. It’s also nice to sometimes get so lost in what I’m doing that nothing else matters. It’s very relaxing and rewarding.

For me music is all about enjoying the process of making it; once a record is finished, my work is done and it becomes someone else’s if they choose to listen to it. Every minute – until it leaves the studio – is all about refining and shaping and trying to make something I enjoy putting all of my energy and ideas into. That or helping someone realise theirs. Working on my own or on other people’s music, the main goal is to make the sound in our heads become a record and to enjoy everything about the process of it. Each record brings something new and helps me develop as an engineer and musician, it’s a really rewarding thing; this is something I plan to be doing until I’m cold in the ground.”

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Steve Fanagan is in the final stages of work on a new Northstation album. As Wrecking Ball, he has just released a collaboration with his friend Papercut – a two-track album of improvised electronics, voice and effects released on Deserted Village. He describes it as “a pretty noisy, droney affair” which he hopes they will try to do live at some stage. Steve has also just finished work on a Moose Eats Leaf album called Adrift, a guitar loop-based instrumental work, which should be later this year. As Northstation, he has just completed a remix for Swedish band The LK , who he met while gigging last summer. Another recent project was a remix for The Declining Winter (which got a limited release via Misplaced Music last October), which is a new project featuring Richard Adam from HOOD. Northstation open for Hooray For Humans in Whelan’s March 15th.

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January 14, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 7: Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 8:26 am
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Dan Le Sac:

“To be honest, because most of the work I do is on a laptop, I can do it pretty much anywhere. My favorite place though is pretty much any room of my house. It’s a tiny little brick-built terrace in Reading. We own very little furniture but have a lot of mess, and the best bit about it is one of my neighbours is deaf. I do have a room called the music room, but it is always pretty much a shit tip, so I’m not sure if it’s a help or a hindrance though…

All I need in that space is a table and chair – I have very simple requirements. In terms of time spent here, it’s basically most of my waking hours. As far writing to a schedule or when inspiration hits, for me it’s a bit of both really. I jot down ideas as they come to me but try to set aside a few hours a day to flesh out those musings.

I don’t play well with other children so isolation is really important. I’m really easily distracted so tend not to do anything when other people are about. The most important thing is a little time alone before I work, an hour or so to get my head straight.

There’s in nothing in particular that I like about the space I make music in. It’s not an exciting room. The best thing about it is that it exists. I spent the years before moving to this house without anywhere defined to work, so at least now I don’t have to be in a constant cycle of setting up mics and the kit and then having to put it all away when someone wants to use the dining table.”

Scroobius Pip

“When I’m recording, my favourite place to do so is any space in my house that is free at the time. Sometimes the toilet, more often my bedroom. For me, it’s all about function. I have cheap drum kit that is just about good enough so that it can do the job. It’s ALWAYS cramped when I’m recording but thats a good thing. A bit of pressure and discomfort keeps you humble!

I don’t have much in my recording space except for my mics, my mixing desk type thing and that’s about it. Oh and three woolly hats – my headphones suck so I have to wear three woolly hats on top of each other so my vocals come out clean enough for Le Sac to use.

I’ll spend as much time here for however long it takes to get things done, but I’m a bit of a one-take type character to be honest. That’s not me showing off though, it’s more a lazy thing. I’m all about content as opposed to finesse, so it’s normally Le Sac that sends it back saying “Bro, you can hear your mum in the background telling you dinner is ready. Re-record it.” I do as I’m told. He know best.

In terms of writing, I don’t have a schedule, it’s usually when inspiration hits. I don’t like to force things. Recording-wise it depends on when I have an empty house. I don’t like recording much when others are about. I like to be able to set all my stuff up and know I’m gonna have no distractions and all that.

ISOLATION is key for me! Me and Le Sac work separately and it really works for us. It allows each of us to progress a track in our own ways without someone leaning over our shoulders. Dan makes a beat and emails it to me, I record a vocal, email it back. We are modern men! Sometimes I will email Dan a rough track and he will build a beat, but its far better to put your ideas and criticisms across in an articulate email than lurching over someone’s shoulder going: “Why you doing it like that?”

What do like most about my space is exactly that, It’s MY space. There’s no one messing about with my stuff or pressuring me to finish up!”

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Best known for their cult electro rant ‘Thou Shall Always Kill’, Dan Le Sac VS Scroobius Pip have notched up a huge following, managed to audition for X Factor and bring out a clutch of killer singles. They play Crawdaddy this Friday January 18th and The Black Box in Belfast on January 19th. In February they’ll be touring the UK supporting Mark Ronson. For more info visit www.myspace.com/lesacvspip

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January 9, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 6: Ungdomskulen

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:12 am
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“The absolutely best place for Ungdomskulen to create music is in our organic rehearsal space. But just as important to that place is the discussions, the laughter and general awesomeness in our lives leading up to being there, in a physical form, experimenting and jamming out songs to come. This makes the song-writing process ripe as far as communicating goes. Our rehearsal space is a rectangular room in an old Fisherman’s lodge and it has a direct connection to the nearby fjord, and you can basically jump out the window and land in the water. Each summer we dip our sweaty bodies in the freshness of the salty sea after band practice.

In our space we have a refrigerator that holds a bottle of ketchup and mustard, a sofa and big wooden shelves for storage. We have our amps and our beloved instruments, and the walls are decorated with the most beautiful, exotic posters to draw inspiration from.

In order to create music in this room we need our instruments, our hearts and our ears. We always bring our ears and our hearts to band practice but sometimes we forget to bring our instruments. On those days we just sit and talk about stuff, and that alone can be just as powerful as rock itself.

Depending on the season of the year, we spend a lot of time in our space because the winters can be pretty harsh to fisher-lodges and man. We tend to practice less in that time of the year, but that goes for summer as well, as sometimes it can get too hot, leaving our heroes limp and saggy. On such days we just throw our asses into the water, and stay there til the sun’s gone down.

We are very military about our practices, and we usually get together to make music three times a week for five to six hours at a time. Tuck in your shirt, soldier! In creative terms isolation is important, but for us, it’s not isolation from the world per se, but isolation from distractions such as the internet, girls and internet-girls. Everything else we can handle.

The best thing about our space is that its untouched by the hand of God.”

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Ungdomskulen are Norwegian trio Frode Flatland, Kristian Stockhaus and Øyvind Solheim). Between them they play bass, drums and guitar and their sound has been described as sprawling prog punk and new wave post rock (make up your own mind by listening to tracks on their myspace page.) Currently in the middle of touring 80 towns in 80 days, the band play Whelan’s this Friday, January 11th and the Roisin Dubh in Galway on Saturday January 12th. Their album Cry Baby is out now on Ever Records. For more info, gig updates and music, go here:

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January 4, 2008

Musical Rooms Part 5: Cougar

Filed under: Interviews,Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 2:10 pm
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“My basement is my favorite place to make music. It functions as a studio, percussion storage space and label warehouse, so I’m never short of things to hit. It’s where the most recent Cougar and Youngblood Brass Band records were recorded as well. It’s quite small, with a low ceiling and the limestone foundation of my house is constantly crumbling… it really looks like a completely ramshackle arrangement. It basically is – especially in these pictures, when I am fresh home from a Cougar tour and random percussion instruments are scattered everywhere.

Along one wall are all ‘small’ things to shake and hit, which is hidden here and along another wall are all the ‘big’ things to shake or hit. Then there are things that fall in between, like the berimbau, which always stays close by. You can see the gourd for the berimbau chilling on the monitor right now and on the other monitor, a ‘Rock on’ sign we got in South Africa.

I try not to get too regimented or connected to any kind of superstition, so it’s hard to say what things are most important down there. My laptop, good headphones and plenty of things on which to make noises. I tend to either collect or acquire random noisey trinkets from around the world, and I really prefer using organic sounds as opposed to synthesized or processed sounds, so I spend much of my time just doodling around trying to find the sound in my head. Even when I’m looking for a specific effect or sample-type sound, I try to combine acoustic sounds and find creative ways to prepare the instruments or make things sound like ‘real’ produced tones… I’m not sure any of it ends up making a difference to the listener, but to me it gives our records a very warm feeling.

There’s very little production on Cougar records, contrary to popular belief. Almost every sound is real, every guitar and bass tone is naked. We’re not studio geniuses, so it is almost a product of necessity at first. Sometimes I don’t record for days or weeks on end, and sometimes it’s easy to spend eight to 12 hours a day here, depending on how inspired I’m feeling. I also teach private lessons down here for the High School students that are in my drumline programs.

I do prefer to work alone, or at least prefer to have plenty of time to mull things over and make mistakes, and then edit and make more mistakes on my own. I like having the band nearby though, to bounce ideas off. Having alone time isn’t too hard anymore, as most of the guys in the band live in New York, Texas, Illinois, Louisiana… and I’m up in Madison, Wisconsin keeping it chilly.

The thing I like most about my basement studio is that it’s home. I bought this house a few months back, and though the studio is cluttered and cheap and lo-fi and all that. It’s my place, and I love being able to wander around the room hitting whatever I want and just enjoying the sounds that wood and metal make. Sometimes I just sit and listen to a cymbal’s overtones for minutes, or play crappy kalimba or ukelele parts, or make soft little whale sounds on the congas. I just like making sounds, and it’s nice to have a safe, warm, happy place to do it. I feel like this is probably all I ever wanted as a kid; to wander around a room filled with ways to make interesting noises. Every now and then I stumble across something I really love, and it makes it onto the record. Most of the time though, I just listen to the sounds things make because it makes me feel nice.”

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Cougar’s album Law was one of the best albums of 2006 and the band are currently working on a new record. For more info, gig updates and music, go here:

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