On a more practical level, how you do you manage the release of an album and playing shows part – is that a major headache, or is that easier now because it’s the third time around.
I’ve had a lot of great help from Popical Island in terms of supporting that. I think people maybe don’t realize that the releasing of an album requires an awful lot of emails and organizing and phonecalls. I’m an extraordinarily busy person, far too busy for anybody really. I have a very busy job and I’m busy with the kids at home but I think that for me, music is part of who I am. My creativity, I’d said before, is as much a part of me as my sense of humour so it’s something I just build into my life and try to make time for. But also I don’t take it on to a crazy extent. I’m doing quite a few shows between say now and Christmas but they’re spaced out two weeks apart and I’m able to rehearse in a way that doesn’t interfere with family life or interfere with my work and I’ve always tried to balance things. Like, most people I work with don’t know I do music at all. A couple of people might’ve seen my name but I try to keep things completely separate. I don’t talk about my work in music and I don’t talk about my music at all in work. It’s very demanding and you have to be careful not to let all the arrangements and all the organization stop you enjoying the moments. Like the launch is a bit like having your 21st birthday party and a gig and your wedding afters all together. You want to enjoy the thing but you’re afraid people won’t show up or that the gig won’t go well and its very hard when you start playing music to get across your love of the music, your love of playing live when two minutes before, somebody is on the phone saying ‘I can’t get in!” or “I can’t find my capo!” You’re there to compartmentalize a little bit.
I want to ask you about one of the particular songs, ‘St. Christopher’s Water’. It’s strange that it’s almost personal but it’s almost topical because of the spate of people leaving the country. I find it’s almost one of the more humourous moments of the album.
That song is maybe less directly autobiographical, it conflates a couple of people in to the brother. What I wanted to get across in that song was the extent to which families get close because they go through so much together. And that this sort of experience of watching a guy go off to emigrate – he’s full of optimism about it but he’s hopelessly under-prepared and just that sense of vicarious love… most of the rest of the songs are about one-to-one relationships of some sort. In my own family we’d often sit there having a chat or have jokes or talk about things that happen as family that you share together. That’s where the closeness comes from I suppose. That song was lyrically, to get that through. I’ve only had one or two songs ever that I’ve begun where I just sang a melody in my head and did the guitar afterward. The only ever song I’ve ever done like that was ‘What’s To Be Done With El Salvador?’ on the second album. I just had that chorus melody that I really liked and it was very boring, I just strummed four guitar chords behind it. Sometimes that what I do, I write a very basic underlying guitar part then go back and jazz it up, try to deconstruct the chords a bit and it’s actually turned into quite a neat little band song when we play it with the two guitars and bass on it. I love the bass-line on it, Conor Rapple’s bass is really clever and he had to completely change the way he played bass for that whole album. Essentially because he’s largely playing without drums, he couldn’t be a rhythm player. We talked about how we listened to little children’s toys, the bass sounds often does this independent line that picks it way through the space in the guitars. So that song is sort of a mish-mash of those different approaches. I think it’s needed on the album top just lift it in the second half, I sort of wrote it for that position in the track order after the heavier middle section.
The second album is more about metaphor, where fictional characters are used to tell a story, whereas this album is more personal characters that are related to you and your life.
I’m aware it’s quite a difficult album. It’s emotionally quite heavy. I don’t expect to hear it pumping out of every car stereo as I walk down the street but I think people are sophisticated enough to say that these experiences are serious enough in peoples lives and commonplace enough that there’s no reason not to have them in music and while you may not want to listen to it all day, every day, there may come a time in your life when you’re glad that albums about these things exist.
After all, death is part of life. Everyone unfortunately will probably go through some experience up front with cancer and there’s no point in pretending it doesn’t exist or to write about it in a way to give it a Disney effect. I think in a way you can take a lot of the terrifying aspects out of these things making them real. There are risks in this that people will feel it’s kind of mawkish or too much. There’s only been one or two reviews so far, and I got one earlier in the week that more or less said that, he thought that it had got the balance wrong. But I think, the reaction so far is that people on an individual level found it quite moving. I’d rather have people find it moving than mawkish, or uncomfortable, like it’s a bit too much information.
At this point I’m a little nervous because I don’t really know what people think of it, I don’t really know how its going to do. Although I spent a long time with it and I know it really well and I’m absolutely happy with everything on it. But the human element of me is curious to know what people think of it. Obviously I want people to like it. I think it’s an album you listen to yourself and develop your own relationship with it. It’s not an album that I’d imagine would work well in a crowded room maybe, I don’t know. Sometimes raw songs can come off very well in live gigs.
But I put a huge amount of thought and work into the album and I’m really sure that this is exactly the album that I wanted to make. It’s a bit like waiting for your Leaving Cert results. You come out of the exam you think you did well, then as the weeks go by your confidence falls apart [laughs] until the day before the results, you’re looking up repeat colleges!
It seems like the sort of album I’d give to my dad!
A companion album is how I’d think of it. Some books you read can be very very raw. I just finished The Grapes of Wrath for example. It’s a very hard-hitting book. I don’t know if you’ve ever read it but the closing scene where the woman loses her child and breast-feeds an elderly man ‘cos he’s starving, which isn’t in the movie obviously. Steinbeck obviously knew what he was doing and just took a fucking risk on that. Like, I don’t care, I’m gonna show people that this shit happened. You won’t always be in the mood for a book like that, but wouldn’t it be a shame if they didn’t exist? I’m assuming people have other albums in their collection for other circumstances, that this isn’t the only album they’ll have!
It’s not an insecure album that’s trying to make people like it. It knows what it is.
I’ve been to things before – I was at a poetry reading before, where the guy had written some dark poems, about historical things, not personal, but war and things like that. And he kept apologizing for how dark they were, and it really didn’t work, ‘cause the poems were fine, people didn’t mind them but he kept apologizing – “Oh, another depressing one…” – and it really broke the mood. So I remember thinking to myself, you just have to commit to it. If you decide that you want to write about something, write about it accurately, don’t apologize for it.
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