Musical Rooms

August 28, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 84: Sunken Foal

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 2:50 pm
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sunkenfoal

“Writing and producing tend to be two different entities for me. The producing and arranging mostly takes place in my studio pictured above but the initial inception is usually anywhere but. My studio is in a little village on the south west coast but my friends and family are in Dublin. When I’m off visiting I love picking up other people’s instruments and coming up with something new. Writing in the same place can leave things a little stagnant for me. Even going into the kitchen, bedroom or living room helps. I’ve even brought some arrangements to different studios and found that very beneficial but my studio is inevitably where most of my work is done.

I live in a small two bedroom house with an apex roof. One of the bedrooms is presently my studio. The window over the the mixing desk looks directly out over a bizarre natural rock formation that extends a couple of miles out into the sea. There’s constantly some kind of mechanical noise flowing over from the harbour along with anxious drones of motocross/quad bike enthusiasts. Having lived in Dublin until my late twenties, the lack of orange glow at night is extremely welcome.

The central hub here would be the mixing desk where all the synths, effects, mics and computers get sent into. One computer is for composition (Mac) and the other is for sound processing (PC). I keep all my guitars, banjos, harps etc. in the studio but I usually go into a different room to record them. There are various boxes of broken equipment and cables waiting for the day I decide to get into soldering. I recently counted all my spare change lying around the house which added up to €150. This should give you an idea of the strength of my procrastination.

The time I spend with an instrument is invariably inversely proportional to its importance on a piece. I may spend three days programming a patch in the computer which is barely heard in the mix and five minutes programming a synth which sits very prominent in a particular track. I feel very at home with my Epiphone in my lap but that may be more for leisure than ‘work’. I feel pretty bad if i don’t do four or five solid hours of work a day in my studio. I set schedules for myself and if I get halfway there I reckon its pretty good going. When I’m preparing for gigs I’ll usually set out a strict schedule but when I’m recording for a release, my presence in the studio can be fairly erratic. I get inspired by the instruments and software themselves so I’m generally already working on something when the lightbulb flashes.

Playing live, I’ve been working with Rod Morris of late. It’s similar to the way I compose in that I spend X amount of hours building sounds and systems to work within and then a fraction of that time either playing or composing. Isolation is important for a lot of my recorded results. I tend to compose something and sit with it for quite some time getting to know it. The piece will metamorphosise during this time quite a bit. I used to have my studio in a house I was sharing with two other gentlemen. I found my melodies didn’t progress as far from their inception as much as they do when I’m in solitude. Neither scenario is quantitively worse/better for the music i reckon – just different.

Every piece is hopefully different. Sometimes it’s a string of guitar chords. Sometimes its a process to play the guitar through. Sometimes it’s a lyric. Sometimes it’s an idea for some software to develop. Some tracks will benefit from being left alone for a year and sometimes I’ll finish them in a day. When I find myself precisely repeating an approach to either a production technique or composition method I get this odd shameful feeling. Its a problem.

I use the following:

Software: I’m still crazy about Sound Forge. I build a lof of sounds from scratch in the Nord Modular Editor. Lots of the structure is done in Logic Studio but I’m not adverse to other sequencers. I’m spending more and more time in Max/MSP to build my synths, samplers and effects.

Hardware: Korg, Yamaha, Oberheim and Akai analogue synths and filters. Waldorf, Emu, Yamaha, Nord, and Korg digi synths and samplers. Lots of Boss, Rat etc. effects. Various Midi controlers. Quite a few acoustic/electric guitars and basses. I have a couple of autoharps that are great for throwing some chords together on. My mics and preamps aren’t the best so I sometimes record instruments in a ‘real’ studio.

Anatomy: My brain, fingers, thumbs, wrists, arms, elbows, shoulders. Never my legs or feet.

What I like most about my space is that I’m the only person in it.”

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After completing his MA in Music Technology at UL, Sunken Foal (Dunk Murphy) released his debut album “Fallen Arches” on Planet-Mu records alongside the “Fermented Condiments” E.P. in late 2008. Since then, he has played a string of successful gigs developing a unique ‘finger-triggered’ improvisational live performance setup with Rod Morris. His BBC Radio 1 session for the Mary Anne Hobbs show (featuring Jürgen Simpson and Cormac Dermody) is set for release in late 2009 which includes remixes by acts such as Legion of Two. Sunken Foal plays in the Body and Soul Area of the Electric Picnic, Stradbally, Co. Laois, at midnight on Friday September 4th, at TWEAK festival in Limerick on Wednesday September 23rd and at DEAF with Legion of Two at Crawdaddy, Dublin on Friday October 30th. For more information visit www.myspace.com/wesunkthefoal.

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August 24, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 83: The Vinny Club

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 8:56 pm
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vinnyclub

“I make my music in my bedroom in my parents’ house on the Northside of Dublin. My brother and I used to share this room but he went up to the attic when we got it converted. With him gone I set about transforming it into the sexy bachelor pad/recording studio it is today.

There’s far too much stuff rammed in now… all over the floor and in boxes and under my bed. I do battle with it every couple of months but it’s just pure chaos with wires and Weetabix bowls and leather trousers and muscle suits. There are two PC’s, a laptop, a Commodore 64 and Gameboy, a SNES, a MegaDrive, paintings by my amazing girlfriend, a couple of broken synths, a million guitar pedals, tape decks, boxes and boxes of tangled leads that my mam keeps asking me to sort through, some tins of Quality Street from Christmas – and my guitar, an 80’s Vox White Shadow that I got for my 10th birthday. I’ve also got a bass that’s good for slappin’ that I bought in America and of course, my Gibson Explorer Guitar Hero guitar that serves as my live guitar/babe magnet. My room is a bit like that film 1408, except with me instead of John Cusack and music instead of ghosts. And my dog instead of Samuel L. Jackson. I saw him a few months ago actually. In Spain.

Probably the most important thing I have is the Commodore 64. It was the most popular home computer of its day. Hearing the C64 was the thing that as a kid really got me into music, I mean it’s not just blips and blops – although it can dish them out too – the C64s onboard SID chip is really more akin to a miniature analog synth. I realised a couple of years back that I could actually harness the power of that machine to make my own tunes was a bit of a lightbulb moment (or shitebulb moment, depending who you ask). The other important thing for me is my tape deck. My first EP was only available on tape and I recorded them all in this room, on this tape deck, taping over all my old tapes for friends and friends of friends. Actually a guy stopped me at a gig a while ago to complain that the tape I gave him back in the day just had Elvis on it. We all make mistakes, you know.

I spend as much time as I can here, messing with sounds, listening to tunes, sleeping. I’ve been away quite a bit the last while so I haven’t been here as much as I would have liked, so I’ve been making music on my laptop at venues and in the van. There’s no great mystery to it, music is like pooing and I’m lucky enough to be quite regular, touch wood.

The first Vinny Club album was made entirely in this room, on my own. There was no grand scheme to the isolation, more of a “there’s no point asking anyone to be involved in this cos nobody apart from me would ever want to hear to it, let alone work on it” buzz. It really is the most selfish music I could possibly make, purely for my amusement and fun, and I honestly never ever believed anyone apart from me would ever want to listen to this stuff. To say I’ve been surprised by people’s reaction to the album is like saying Prince is alright at riding. So far the most positive thing to come out of releasing the album with the Richter Collective is tons of people have been asking can they get involved with the new stuff, so I’m hoping that there’s gonna be some collaborations on the next album. After a long stint in this bedroom you can find yourself talking to your weetabix about kick drums, which isn’t half as fun as it sounds, believe me.

I’ll usually just be having fun with a bizarre sound or loop or a beat on the C64 and it’ll progress from there. One time I had a dream I was playing a song on Top of the Pops, when I woke up I could remember the song exactly and dragged myself and my duvet over to the computer and recorded ‘It’s Not You It’s OF’, the first tune on my album. Best thing about sleeping in your studio! Still waiting for Top of the Pops to call though. Saps.

What I like most about this space is probably the huge Pierce Brosnan poster over my bed My brother bought it off eBay but it wouldn’t fit in the attic. It’s an eight-foot Tomorrow Never Dies vinyl poster. The guy on eBay said he got it from the premiere but his wife wouldn’t have it in the house.”

Musical Rooms was talking to Vinny of The Vinny Club
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The Vinny Club is the lovechild of Vinny, bassist in cult Irish band Adebisi Shank. Born out of a dangerous obsession with 8-bit video games and 80’s action movies, his unique brand of sexy synth pop will leave you with a grin on your face and a boner in your pants. By age 11 Vinny had constructed a makeshift recording studio under his bed where he retreated to for hours on end. His first release was 2007’s Tech Noir EP which garnered rave reviews despite being available as a cassette only release on his own label, “Vince Rekyrds”. Next came 2008’s Rocky IV Reckyrd, a concept album based on Sylvester Stallone’s fourth Rocky movie. It’s an album bursting with glitchy synth pop fun, super fast melodies, whip cracking sexy beats and more funky basslines than you can shake a joystick at.

The Vinny Club play the Richter Collective Singles club at Twisted Pepper on Friday, August 28th. This month’s 7″ vinyl release features new and exclusive tracks by Herv and The Vinny Club. Doors are 9pm and the first 200 people get a free 7″. For more information visit www.richtercollective.com.

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August 13, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 82: Groom

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 11:11 am
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groom

“When Groom began, in 2004, I worked out of the spare room in the apartment in which my ever-patient wife, Míde, and I live. It’s a small, well-lit room with nice acoustics. I wrote and demoed the first couple of Groom releases there using a fairly basic recording setup and my computer. However, we now have three daughters – Norah, Anna and Lois – and the room has become exclusively theirs. Sacrificing my music space for the kids was a no-brainer, as I’m happy to write a song anywhere, or try to at least. I guess the real difficulty is time. With three kids and a day job you seldom even get five spare minutes. The girls want to grab the guitar strings, twist the tuning knobs, or else get me to sing one of their favourite songs, such as ‘Round the Mulberry Bush’.

But thankfully, despite this time difficulty, since my unceremonious ousting from the room my songwriting hasn’t slowed down at all. In fact, I have found that having the girls has given me more confidence, ideas and inspiration. There’s certainly never a dull moment with them around. My writing has become something I do sort of “on the fly.” For example, on our latest album, At the Natural History Museum, I wrote the music for the title song one evening at home. Then I went out and walked along the canal (a great place to think of ideas), and after an hour’s walk, I had the core idea for the song. Then a couple of days later I went into the Natural History Museum itself with a notepad and wrote the words.

With domestic requirements forcing me to adapt in whatever way I can, I am always on the lookout for new ways of writing. I have learned how to write songs in my head, which is actually a real pain in the neck and not something I’d recommend. ‘Death of a Songwriter’ was written in my head while walking quickly home from work; hence its sort of “walking-pace” beat. I wrote ‘Let’s Die Together’ at work and kept e-mailing it to myself over the course of a couple of weeks. ‘Mythical Creatures’ was written on holidays in Kerry while the girls watched cartoons. Once I have written a song, I can’t stop thinking about it until I’ve worked out how it’s supposed to work with the band, because I like to write for the band, not just for the guitar. I like to be sure what I want the song to do, how I want it to feel. I lie awake at night till two or three A.M. thinking about it, sometimes (tiring, when you have to get up at 6am with the kids! But the way I look at it, if you can’t sleep it’s a good way of passing the time.)

From that point on, I bash the song out with the band in our shared practice space off North Frederick Street. We practice twice a week, and I go there after the kids have gone to sleep. This is almost as important to me as the songwriting itself. The moulding of the song with the band is an arduous, collaborative process that involves lots of reworkings, discussion and arguments. The band contribute their individual parts. We try to keep things loose and let everyone do what they feel is right — but the song is always the guide. It’s good fun and very rewarding.

Having said that, the song doesn’t rule all. Being with the family has placed music firmly into second place in my list of priorities, and “the song” seems happy with that. It’s less pressure on it. I’m not phoning up all the time, wanting to hang out. And when I do call, the conversation is more relaxed. I would bid a sorry farewell to it all — the songwriting, the band, the recording — if Míde and the kids wanted me to. But that has never come up. And who knows, maybe some day the time will come when the girls will write their own songs. If that happens, I’ll be happy to be the audience instead of the writer. We’re now moving on from our little apartment, to find somewhere with a little more space. I’ll be sad to leave but it’s okay. I’ve realised in the last few years that my musical room is not a physical place but a living, breathing, mobile entity and, so long as I take care of it, it’ll hopefully take care of me, wherever we go.”

Musical Rooms was talking to Michael Stevens of Groom
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Groom began life in 2004 in Dublin, arising out of the ashes of alt-folk band Settler. Starting off as an electro-folk two piece centred around the songwriting of Michael Stevens, they released a short experimental album, Stitch. Groom soon expanded into a four-piece and began to explore synth-folk-rock territory. They released their first album proper, All This Happened, More Or Less on Fairview House Recordings. Its follow-up, At the Natural History Museum was released earlier this year. Groom are Michael Stevens (guitar, vocals, synths), Jeroen Saegeman (guitar, melodica, keyboards), Wil McDermott (bass, synths), Brian O’Higgins (drums), and Ruan Van Vliet (drums, percussion, synth, autoharp). They are supporting Herm, Upstairs at Whelan’s on Saturday August 22nd. For more information visit www.myspace.com/groomtheband.

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August 9, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 81: Amiina

amiina

“We don’t really have one favourite space to make our music, except for our studio of course, where we’ve spent most of our time rehearsing and making new material. But we like going elsewhere now and then, it helps bring in new energy. Our studio is actually a garage next to a big beautiful old white house, and our landlady is a very respectable elderly lady. At first when she heard a band was going to rehearse in her garage she wasn’t terribly happy, but she soon realized we’re not the loudest band in Reykjav�k, and was fine with it.

As long as the space is quiet, has natural light, isn’t too cold and has enough space for us and all of our instruments to be set up comfortably we’re happy. And there has to be some sort of a kitchen close by as well, cause we usually like to make time to enjoy something nice to eat and drink together between sessions. Our studio has all of that, as well as lace curtains.

The amount of time we spend here depends on our schedule, sometimes we spend every day in our studio for long periods of time, but we do most of our recordings elsewhere. It’s in the middle of a nice old neighborhood and usually a little bit too noisy for recordings. We try to stick to a schedule when we’re working creatively on something. There’s four of us, and we make all our music collectively, so co-ordinating hits of inspiration would be complicated.

It is very helpful to get time away from everyday life, away from phones and internet. If the creative process is allowed to flow uninterrupted by these it’s amazing how much is possible to achieve in relatively little time. Every time we’ve had a chance to go somewhere outside the city and work, it’s been great.

Our studio is very close to where we all live, it’s in the best part of Reykjav�k and there’s a really nice grocer on the corner who knows us all and chats for a long time every time we come for milk or fruit or bread or something. It feels a lot like home, and that’s a good thing for doing what we do.”

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Having started out as Sigur Ros’ string quartet, Amiina have gone on to produce their own very unique music. Hildur Ársælsdóttir, Edda Rún Ólafsdóttir, Maria Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir and Sólrún Sumarliðadóttir play a huge array of instruments and layer simple vocals and harmonies to create something epic. Their debut album Kurr was released in 2007 and featured strings and synths, as well as guitar, harp, harmonium, melodica, glockenspiel, zither, desk bells, kalimba, mandolin and saw. They also reworked their song ‘Hilli’ with vocals provided by singer Lee Hazelwood before his death.

Amiina play St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny tonight, Sunday August 9th at 8pm as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival. Support is from Katie Kim and Geppetto. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/amiina.

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August 8, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 80: Land Lovers

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 9:17 am
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landlovers
“For years, I’ve always been most comfortable making music in a converted garage in my parents’ house in Templeogue. This is a smallish area with a bookcase and a hi-fi system at one end. The bookcase boasts a set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1986 and The Great Books of the Western World. The hi-fi is closely guarded by a choice selection of various family members’ vinyl, including James Last’s Christmas, A Very Mickey (Mouse) Christmas and The Andy Williams Christmas Album. At the opposite end, there’s a TV. There’s a couch and an armchair. It’s a cold room in the winter and a warm room in the summer, due to a total lack of insulation. In the 80s, there was a pool table in there, but the room was too small to allow shots from either side of the table. I think that was the main reason that the pool table was jacked in after a couple of years, but it’s still called the Pool Room even now.

I don’t keep any equipment in the room permanently. I was a resident, a well-treated tenant of the generous proprietors Cooney, until quite recently (despite this, I’m going to talk about the room in the present tense, because I haven’t quite replaced its special charms). I drag my gear in and out of the room as necessary; as I use a lot of the same equipment when rehearsing with the band or playing shows. When working on something, I have my electric guitar, my acoustic guitar, my little synth, a bass, a laptop with audio interface and rubbish speakers, a mic stand with a wire hanger attached and an aul pair of tights stretched over the triangular part, an amp, various pedals and other bits and bobs like shakers and toy xylophones and what not.

When I’m there, what I need with me is a pint of water; a pen; a notepad; a Dictaphone; a kitchen chair (if recording a demo or something); the remote control for the telly (I find the mute TV a useful addition if you don’t have anything definite to work on, and are rather just absentmindedly playing around with riffs or chords). I don’t have a fixed schedule, nor do I wait for inspiration to hit to go there. I tend to write songs in my head through the day, imagining arrangements and devising structures without an instrument to hand. So there is always something to commit to Dictaphone at least, or to Pro Tools if I’m a little further along with it.

I almost always work alone. It is highly unusual for me to bring a basic idea like a riff, a melody or a lyric to someone else to work on together. I like to bring a complete song to practices, to give collaborators demos with well-developed structures, so we can then focus on enhancing whatever is good about the song. I’d guess that about 50% of the songs I write start out as tunes that pop into my head away from a musical environment – in work, walking or driving somewhere, etc. Sometimes I’ll get really excited by the original idea and try to work it out on guitar as quickly as possible, but as often I’ll forget the idea completely before I have the chance to record it. Sometimes they come back.

Another reliable source of inspiration for me is a song title. When I was younger, I used to guess what the songs on a new CD would sound like based on the titles, and write my own songs with those names before listening to the album. This has mutated to the present day in that I often make lists of imaginary song titles and dip into these lists to set off the writing process, or to get me started on a lyric. Sometimes a whole song can spring from a line that means nothing but sounds good and is suggestive of a character or story that you then flesh out around it. Once I have some sort of tangible song on my hands, I’ll decide if it has any potential to be hammered out into something worthwhile, and if I think it does, I’ll start working on it in a Pro Tools session – layering instruments, trying different rhythms, coming up with vocal harmonies, etc.

I like the absolute comfort of the place. It’s home territory. There’s no prospect of having to leave, a cup of tea is only a few seconds’ walk away and the TV is there to alleviate frustration or boredom. I find other rooms suitable enough in my absence from the Pool Room – most new bedrooms in new apartments do the job.”

Musical Rooms was talking to Pádraig Cooney of Land Lovers
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Land Lovers began as the musical project of Pádraig Cooney from Dublin, and has now expanded to include Ciarán Canavan, Brian Lynch, Rob Maguire and Cormac Hughes. In the main, the band aims to craft satisfying pop songs that match memorable melodies with intelligent and sometimes funny lyrics. They take their name and some influence from Luke Haines, and would invite Elvis Costello, Stephin Merritt, Bob Pollard, Robert Forster and Dan Boeckner to their weddings. The debut album Romance Romance was launched in September 2008 and since then the band have supported the likes of the Future Kings of Spain, Uzi & Ari and R.S.A.G. They have recently released the EP ‘Immovable Feet’ and play the Twisted Pepper on Dublin’s Middle Abbey St. on Friday, August 14th. Door 9pm and admission is €8. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/landlovers.

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