Musical Rooms

January 19, 2011

Musical Rooms Part 104: Somadrone

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:07 pm
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My favorite space to create music in is in my room in San Francisco, on 14th St. The building I live in was uprooted and moved from a place called Dolores Park after the great earthquake of 1906. It’s quite small, but that’s fine – I crawl around among the wires like an ant. I have a lot of light, natural daylight. There are three bay windows, so I watch the sunrise in the east and set in the west, like at home, only eight hours later. It smells of an old gold rush San Francisco. The front door has a leaver at the top of the stairs that opens the door. This is quiet common in SF. It was built for the lazy, or for shooting the sheriff if he were to ever rap upon your door.

Most of my musical arsenal is still in Ireland (although I had to sell a lot of it to fund this self-indulgent trip). Having said that, new instruments bring new sounds, new ideas. I currently work with the following gear:

1. Moog Opus III
2. Moog Sonic Six
3. Vox Continental Organ
4. Matel Synsonics Drum Machine
5. WEM Tape Echo
6. SP-404 Sampler
7. Fostex 80 ¼ 8 Track Reel to Reel recorder
8. Other Bits and Bobs
9. Old Reliable – My Fender Jazzmaster
10. Laptop
11. A broken Oscillator
12. A Electromyometer (its measures sound waves made by skeletal movements)
13. Lots of vintage lamps (on loan)

The most important thing for me to have in that space is my ever fluctuating musical thought. I have to strike a machine up to get it going, but when it does it can go either way; really great, or absolutely terrible. I have to catch it when it’s in a good mood. I swim a lot so that helps wash out the cobwebs and demons that lurk beneath. Walking helps too. If it were a physical thing, I guess it would be my guitar. It often acts a starting point, so it’s good to always close to the source. Sunlight; a foreign concept of an Irish expat. Abstraction.

I spend 90% of my time here. I have always been a bedroom dweller. I think Brian Wilson put it best, in ‘In My Room’ when he said, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to”. It becomes bit of a vortex also; It served as a prison when I was finishing up my PhD last October. I lecture at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco, so I work a lot at home. I usually work during the day, and write and record at night, weekends also. I found a new place for the weekends though. I am a member of the SF Photo Center, and every Saturday I go and print and develop photos. I am going to be part of a catalogue they are releasing next year. Being in a darkroom is the most peaceful place in the world. I find it very therapeutic. I read a lot here too, usually when I am bouncing down files, or just looking for route of reference.

Isolation is probably the most important element in creativity. Since I moved here, knowing relatively little people, it’s forced, rather than by choice. I miss my family and friends, as they were obviously an important part of my formal influence. I am more focused when I work alone, wandering around the shallows of my ego. I do miss a second opinion and set of ears every once in awhile. Quality control comes in and out of question.

When it comes to starting a piece, modes and moods is what it boils down to for me. Left hemisphere brings the logical, sequential and rational. Right side, right time: Intuitive, Random, a bit of both perhaps. I watch a lot of films. Music is transitory, where as film grabs a hold of you. Not to say that sound does not, it just operates differently. Observations, reflections and experiences; lots of new ones over here. I have been using ‘cut-up’s lately (as done by William Burroughs and David Bowie) to help me generate lyrics. Musically, its very organic, no real plan or goal in mind. Sometimes using Brain Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’ is fun. They are a pack of cards he and an artist called Peter Schmidt invented. They are essentially a deck of cards, with different sayings like ‘Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance’. Sounds like a load of jargon, but it can work.

I like various things about this space:
Situation: It’s in a new city that brings new experiences and situations. All that happens day-to-day is documented in this place, through thought, writing and sound.
Light: Three bay windows overlooking 14th St bring an insane amount of light, which brings lighter moods. Sunsets are very inspiring here, especially when I am sitting at my desk watching it happen.
Coffee: Downstairs coffee shop, great cakes too. They make a mean carrot cake. Something like this is not only inspiring, but filling too.

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Somadrone is Irish composer, musician and film-maker Neil O Connor, now based in San Francisco, California. His current album, Depth of Field, is a follow up to 2007’s Of Pattern and Purpose and 2005’s Fuzzing Away to a Whisper, released on Trust Me I’m a Thief Records. Depth of Field was recorded in Dublin, Germany, Sweden, France and San Francisco, California and is “a totally new sound for Somadrone; a minimalist inspired electronic pop songbook, somewhere between Ennio Morricone, Jim O Rourke and Air. Depth of Field is out on Skinny Wolves Records. For more information visit www.iamsomadrone.com.

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September 16, 2010

Musical Rooms Part 102: Hunter Gatherer

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 11:33 am

“At the moment, my musical room is the spare room in my apartment. It’s a small bedroom without a bed. There’s a river outside. The room overlooks half of Dublin from quite a height and I sometimes watch factory fires in the distance. Aeroplanes tiptoe across the sky. There’s no history to the building; it’s only a couple of years old. There used to be a factory on the site but that’s passed into oral history. Kids drink by the gate to the apartment block, slurring into their phones in the shadows that the CCTV cameras can’t reach. There’s nothing for them to do and everywhere to do it in. There are shells of men in the nooks and crannies of the industrial estate down the path, with enormous, hideous, slavering dogs. The men don’t seem to speak; I’m starting to think it’s the dogs that are dealing the drugs. But that’s down below at street level. The curtains are drawn when I work on music. They’re heavy and thick. The light is low. For monitoring, I often open the curtains and stare at the horizon. Never in daylight.

There’s a PC, a laptop, some keyboards, a Kaoss pad, some circuit bent stuff, microphones, miles of cables, a D.I. box, a guitar, some homemade filter things, pedals and some things I smashed. I need time to make music, and that’s hard to come by for me these days. Other than that, it needs to be dark and quiet. My back needs support, too – it’s on its last legs, if you’ll pardon the term. I might start working to a schedule soon. If it’s good enough for Nick Cave, it’s good enough for me. I don’t have the luxury of working on music any time I feel like it, as my job gets in the way (not that I don’t consider myself very fortunate to have a job). Much of my music is composed or recorded in manic bursts lasting a few hours. When I’m away, it’s important for me to have a recording device handy, be it a Dictaphone, a Zoom or even a phone. My brain’s deteriorated to the point where I have to record every idea that pings through my head, good or bad. I work alone but everyone’s different. A lot of the second album will be recorded in extreme isolation. It’s the only way it’ll work. It’s going to be darker, more bleak, more emotionally resonant and much more intense, so it’ll take focus and energy. I have a strong sense of place, too – not that I believe location is enough to engineer inspiration – but I’m interested to see what a change of surroundings can actually do.

More often than not, I start with one sound and start building from there. Sometimes I’ll try to recreate a melody or passage or phrase or whatever that’s already formed in my head. A lot of my stuff is made in one sitting, then embellished, simplified or restructured at a later date. At least two of the free tracks I’ve released this year were made after I woke from nightmares. This year, I’m looking into different approaches to writing and recording. Alongside the second album, I’m going to try to write and record another album in a week.

What I like most about the space is the diffusion of weak lamplight, the height of the table, the quiet and the curtains.”

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In 2009 Hunter Gatherer released the acclaimed solo album, I Dreamed I Was A Footstep In The Trail Of A Murderer. He has just released a 7″ on Osaka Recordings containing Père Lachaise (A side) and Undergrowth (B side). It’s a vinyl-only release and each copy comes with an mp3 download code on the Okasa site. He plays the Co-Op, Newmarket, on Saturday September 25th as part of the Young Hearts Run Free night and the single is launched at Whelan’s on Thursday October 7th with support from Meljoann & Ilex. For more information visit www.myspace.com/huntergathererforevers.

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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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March 23, 2010

Musical Rooms Part 100: The Redneck Manifesto

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 4:00 pm
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“My musical space is the rehearsal room in the back garden of my parents’ house in Crumlin. My parents have always been very supportive of me, my brother and friends when it came to creating and playing music. There has always been some kind of space for me and my friends to play together at home. At first it was just a small wooden room my father built behind two apple trees. We used to keep pigeons in there until the cats killed them. You couldn’t fit a drum kit in there, it was just big enough for me and my brother and our tiny guitar amps. Then as we started to play with more people, my parents decided to build a real rehearsal space. Sound proofed, to some extent, with double doors and the whole nine yards. We dug up the soil and poured the cement for the foundation together. My uncles came around to help.

It took a long time to finish but when it did we took full advantage of it. All our friends’ bands rehearsed there and my parents’ house became this kind of meeting place for a lot of really good bands. My parents opened their home to anyone we knew who wanted to play there. They never once complained about the noise, fed the bands and treated them as friends. It was a great time. Bands like Bambi, The Dudley Corporation, Dinah Brand, The Connect Four Orchestra, Jape, Goodtime John (He’s actually out there now as I type this), Decal, Puget Sound, Large Mound and The Dublin Guitar Quartet all recorded and rehearsed there. Plus many more I can’t think of right now.

My band, The Redneck Manifesto, all live quite close to Crumlin so the room was perfectly placed and convenient for everyone to get to. It really helped us to become the band we are today because we had no limitation in time when it came to rehearsing. We could rehearse as long as we liked and this helped us grow together as a band. We played off each other for years in that room. Each of us filling the spaces left by one another. All our individual styles of playing would not exist today if it wasn’t for all those years of jamming together. We sound best as musicians when we play in the Rednecks. Everything locks in to one unit. So I can say that as a band, this is our favorite space to create music and the most important. It’s not a square room, so it’s quite hard to measure. All the walls are at different angles, not to help the sound of the room, but because we wanted to make it as big as possible so it forms around the shape of the garden walls. The front door has a big wooden B on it, the room’s name is Studio B (B for Bolger). Once you open the first door you enter a small hallway then through another door into the main room. It has wooden floors and white walls. There’s a big sky light in the roof that leaks a little when it rains but gives the room amazing light in the day time. Outside the room is a beautiful garden my parents have built over the last 2O years. It’s very cosy, beautiful and a nice place to hang out in the summer when we need a break from the insanely loud volume we rehearse at. When the room is set up properly there are two drum kits, a 12 channel PA we put all our synths and samplers through and our bass and guitar amps. The corners of the room are filled with old Marshall heads and cabinets and there is musical equipment everywhere. From Little Bontempi organs to giant console organs with Leslie speakers. A lot of synths, A Moog Voyager, two Juno 60s, a Wurlitzer Piano, lots of drum kits and drum kit parts, samplers and lots of effects pedals. The gear changes a lot, as we’re all mad into buying new stuff, although we do keep a lot of it in our home studios.

The most important things for us to have there is heat, light, electricity, coffee and tea, beer on special occasions, plectrums, people in a good humor, showered bodies, spare strings and creative brains. We used to rehearse two to three times a week. Now I live in Sweden and Neil lives in San Francisco so now we rehearse when we’re getting ready to record a new record or coming up to a gig or tour. We all have studios at home and all make music by ourselves. We all miss getting into our rehearsal space but when we get a chance now there’s no time wasted. We’re happy to see each other and play together again. We all meet up and jam for a few hours. After a while ideas start to come together. We spend a very long time developing these ideas into a song as a group. It’s a completely democratic process, where everyone is needed for it to sound good and like us. Some songs are in the making for years and others just come together quite quickly over a few weeks. We take a lot of time forming a song and tweaking it before we play it live. If it passes the live test it’s tweaked a little more and is then ready to record.

The core of the group, at the beginning was drums, bass and guitar. So that was the only equipment we had in the room. Now synths, samplers and percussion have become a very important part of the band, so now they rest along side the amps, guitars and drums. These are at the centre and surrounding them are all the dead and broken instruments we’re too attached to to get rid of.

Our space has a lot of history. I built it with my brother, father and family. I have very fond memories of what has taken place in that room and what we created there. The fights and laughs we had with one another, and the fact that the room allows me to meet and hang out with some of the most important people in my personal and creative life. I like the fact that it’s in my parents’ house so when I come home now I feel as if I’m returning to both my family and creative home.

Musical Rooms was talking to Matthew Bolger of The Redneck Manifesto.
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The Redneck Manifesto’s new album Friendship is released on the March 26th. The album launch will take place in Tripod on Saturday March 27th, with tickets available from Road Records, City Discs, tickets.ie and ticketmaster.ie. For more information visit www.myspace.com/redneckmanifesto or www.redneckmanifesto.com.

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February 19, 2010

Musical Rooms Part 99: Valerie Francis

“I’m a little upside down at the moment, as I’m living with a friend while I look for my own place. I’ve never had a rehearsal space but I would love that. Somewhere to put all my instruments and record. For now I make do at home. I’ve always written songs very simply on guitar and recently on the harmonium. It means I can do it anywhere. Which is great.

Right now, all my instruments are scattered around the house. My beautiful autoharp is hidden away under my bed. Which is a shame. Everything that I use to play live, the bells, keyboard and thumb piano are crammed into a suitcase. I’ve dragged that suitcase around so much it finally lost a wheel.

I really just need quiet to play. The wee hours are good of course. That unsocial time. It has a mood that lends itself to writing music I think. You drift away. I’m flat out busy with work, rehearsing and trying to keep up with music related things. Like this! I am writing new songs so whenever I get home it’s the first thing I do. Pick up the guitar or play the harmonium. Even when I’m going to bed. Knowing I’ll have little sleep. I can’t stop myself. I think ‘I’ll just play that once through’ but then I’m done and I immediately want to play it again.

I’ve always written songs alone. Because of that I get really embarrassed playing a song to someone for the first time. It is baring your soul a little. Putting yourself out there. I have that fear of people laughing. But ya gotta do it. My friend has a great saying. Her Dad would say this to her when she was teased at school. ‘It’s none of your business what other people think of you’. I love that.

I write songs by falling into the music. I never have a plan for a song. I suppose it becomes apparent after a while what it is that I’m writing about. It’s about feeling something. Music makes me feel something and the words are my feelings. It’s pretty simple.

I don’t have a recording setup at the moment. I have Pro Tools but I learned how to use Nuendo in the studio and now I know all those shortcuts. They don’t translate. I talked to Jimmy [Eadie], who I recorded my album with, about starting a new album. He’s going to help me set up something at home so I can do the ground work myself. Then bring it to the studio. That’s the plan anyways.

I like that I don’t have to rely on a space to write music. Though it would be nice to have somewhere. If I can write a song simply, that I’m happy with. Then there’s room for it to grow.”

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Valerie Francis’ debut solo album Slow Dynamo picked up rave reviews when it was released last year. It was named Irish Album of the Year in the Irish Independent and her video for ‘Punches’ was championed on KanYe West’s blog and won IMTV’s Video of the Year. She is nominated for Best Irish Female in tonight’s Meteor Awards and Slow Dynamo is nominated for the 29 Choice Music Prize. She plays Whelan’s on Saturday 27th February. Doors are 7.30pm and tickets are €15 (including booking fee) from Ticketmaster, Tickets.ie and WaV Box Office [lo-call 1890 200 078]. She also plays Scoop Foundation charity gig at The Academy on March 19th alongside Le Galaxie, Adrian Crowley, Ann Scott, The Ambience Affair, The Gandhis, Scribble Orchestra and Jobot with more acts to be announced. For more information visit www.myspace.com/valeriefrancis.

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January 13, 2010

Who will win the 2009 Choice Music Prize?

A pretty good, all-round list this year. Glad to see Adrian Crowley, Valerie Francis, Julie Feeney and ASIWYFA on there. Disappointed for Patrick Kelleher, Hunter Gatherer, Delorentos, David Kitt and David Turpin. So who’s your Paddy Power cash on?

December 14, 2009

Musical Rooms Part 96: The Holy Roman Army

Filed under: Interviews,Irish Music,Musical Rooms Series — by Sinéad Gleeson @ 2:35 pm
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“It seems like I’ve always made music at a desk by a window in the spare room at home, wherever I’ve lived. For a few years the window was overlooking the river in Cambridge (which was lovely, the sound of passing cyclists and late evening rowers drifting in the window) and for another year it was the canal in Phibsboro (which wasn’t so lovely, the sound of feral teenagers and broken bottles spoiling the ambience a little). Now I’m overlooking the manicured flowerbeds of a suburban South Dublin apartment complex, they’re like Celtic Tiger Memorial Gardens. I don’t know if favourite is the word, but I’m able to write here. It’s very quiet outside, the room is very plain and there’s very little external stimulus. For some reason that seems to work.

There’s loads of odds and sods lying about the place. Effects pedals, guitars, loads of keyboards, a xylophone, a Speak and Spell, many many wires, a set of monitors that are too big for my desk. Empty teacups feature prominently, although I have yet to harness their awesome musical potential. Something for the difficult second album perhaps. Dirge In B Minor (With Teacups).

I try to write something or tinker away at a piece a couple of times a week. It’s hard to find the time sometimes with work but thankfully over the last year or so I’ve had a more 9-5 job
so I find more time during the week to write. I write best generally when I’ve a weekend afternoon to myself, I can get loads done if I’ve four or five hours to really go at it. I go into an odd, almost trance-like state for a few hours, I lose track of time, I forget to eat (believe me, that’s not my usual modus operandi) and at the end of it there’s a song. Sometimes I come back to the song a few days later and I ask myself what the hell I wasted a whole Saturday for to come up with this rubbish. But sometimes I don’t and it makes it all worthwhile.

For anything we’ve written so far it has begun with me working on a song by myself and if I think it’s going somewhere I send it to Law and then she adds in her bits and then we work on it together. Her bits often being the melody, hook and funny things like that which I tend to overlook sometimes. We’ve never really sat down together and written something from scratch. I think if we did we’d end up killing each other – Law is much more finicky than I am about everything being in tune and whatnot, it’d probably take a year to finish a single song.

The creative process starts with me opening a blank project on my audio sequencer Ableton Live (a German program which I now know and love so well that it’s like an extension of my arm; it’s also the only piece of musical equipment at which I am even vaguely proficient). I think that moment is even better than the point of feeling a song is finished. It’s like starting a new book by your favourite author, not knowing the plot or having read reviews. It’s maybe not the most useful feeling – I’ve started hundreds of songs and finished far less. The program is so good and I’ve so much virtual musical equipment on it that opening the program is as bit like opening the door to Abbey Road, there’s no excuse not to be able to write something good there. I started off writing DJ Shadow rip-off tunes and I’m still very much in the habit of starting a tune with a sample I’ve grabbed from a CD or record and then building the song from there. Nine times out of ten I’ve gotten rid of the sample after a half hour, but for whatever reason that seems to spark things off for me.

What I like most about this space are the boundless possibilities. And they make the tea the way I like it there.”

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The Holy Roman Army are Chris and Laura Coffey, a brother and sister from Co. Carlow, Ireland. They blend samples, synths, vocals and guitar to create music that encompasses electronica, hip-hop, dub, post-rock and shoegaze indie. Their debut album, How The Light Gets In, is out now on their own Collapsed Adult label. This weekend they play the first in a series of planned gigs by Ragged Words. Also on the bill are Adrian Crowley and Hunter Gatherer. The gig takes place at Dublin’s Twister Pepper and tickets cost €10 (plus a small booking fee) and can be bought here. For more information on the band, visit www.myspace.com/theholyromanarmy.

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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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“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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“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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