18 December 2002
It’s Christmas, time for some of the leading lights of the Irish musical family to return from far-flung stages and convene for a traditional evening of reflection, revelation, conversation, merriment and, well, gargle. The guests: Glen Hansard and Colm Mac Con Iomaire of The Frames, Gemma Hayes, Mundy and David Kitt.
Give ’em a quick call, mention that the hotpress Credit Card is being stuck behind the bar, and Bob’s your uncle!
That’s all it would’ve taken a few years ago to get five of Ireland’s most lauded musicians into the same public house. But not any more. I doubt if even Kofi Anan could’ve handled the delicate negotiations that have gone into organising today’s gathering of the clans. Forget Liam-esque tantrums and Whitney-style divaness, the problem with this lot is that they’re doing too bleedin’ well for themselves.
Let’s examine the line-up and current form:
Glen Hansard and Colm Mac Con Iomaire of The Frames. Just back from a hugely successful Australian tour and in the middle of a sell-out four-night run at Vicar St.
Gemma Hayes. Still basking in the glow of her Mercury Music Prize nomination and getting ready, at Adam Duritz’s behest, to support Counting Crows.
Mundy. Busy proving that you don’t need a major record company to have a gold album. Or stuff 1,000 people into Galway’s Black Box last night.
David Kitt. Having trouble deciding what’s been the best thing about this year. Being invited to play at the Meltdown Festival by David Bowie; recording in New Orleans with the legendary Warren Storm and Dickie Landry; or secretly getting married last month.
More about Kittser’s nuptials anon. Ringing ’em mightn’t work anymore but, I tell you what, the hotpress Credit Card still sets the pulse racing. Beck’s (Gemma), Heineken (Colm), Smithwicks (Mundy), Guinness (David), Ballygowan (Glen) and Double Vodka & Coke (sorry Niall, I was thirsty) on the table, it’s down to journalistic business.
STUART: You can always tell when somebody’s career is taking off because they start hobnobbing with famous people. Glen, tell us about The Frames hanging out with Wheatus, and nearly hanging out with Bruce Springsteen.
Glen: The Bruce Springsteen thing has been on-going. Y’know, trying to catch up but never managing to be in the same place at the same time. He actually went to the local council in Asbury Park and got them to change a law so that we could play a Halloween gig in this gallery he’s associated with. It was something funny like, “No music in a public space at festive times.” The first we knew about it was when he phoned and said, “Look, I’m just back off tour. I’d love to come down but me wife’s insisting that I go trick or treating with the kids. I’ll see you again.” He’d turned up for one of our gigs before that but got the wrong Tuesday!
As for the other mob, it was Joe (Doyle) that spotted them. We’d just finished our third or fourth East Coast dates and he said, “You know that band Wheatus? I think they’re coming to all our shows.” They were down the front again the next night, so I asked, “Are you…?” and they went, “Yeah, we fucking love you!” It was only when they came on stage and did ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ that I 100% knew who they were. One moment you’re watching these guys on MTV, and the next you’re singing backing vocals on their squillion-selling single.
SC: Talking of secret admirers, Beth Orton is quoted in a recent hotpress as saying: “David Kitt? All the girls love him!” Come on Kittser, dish the dirt.
David (Going a delicate shade of beetroot): It’s funny ’cause she thought Richie Egan, the bass-player in my band, was me. I met her briefly at our Electric Ballroom gig in London and she was a really nice person. You don’t get as strong a sense of her personality on record as you do in the flesh. Not that I’ve seen her in the flesh!
SC: I’d hope not, you being a married man and all! Tell us about this hush hush wedding of yours.
Gemma: Beth’s going to be heartbroken!
Colm: You got married? Well done!
David: Thanks. We were married in Nashville by an old judge called Mr. Charles Galbraith. He was wearing this Hawaiian shirt, worn jeans and ancient sneakers that they’d turn their nose up at in the St. Vincent de Paul. It took about a quarter of an hour and then we drove straight off to Memphis.
SC: You old romantic you! Gemma, I’m not saying there’s any romantic involvement but you and Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse have become quite chummy.
Gemma: I joined him on stage at the Olympia last week, which was great except I couldn’t reach the microphone. I looked like that bloke from Motorhead, tilting my head back! The first time I met Mark, on the Witnness Rising tour, was even more embarrassing! I thought when he asked me to sing ‘Homecoming Queen’ he meant that Monkees song, ‘Daydream Believer’, but they’re completely different. I was all ready to do the, ‘Cheer up sleepy Jean/Oh what can it mean’ bit, but had to stand there instead looking stupid.
SC: I imagine you felt slightly less stupid when you got your Mercury nomination.
Gemma:To get recognised for my first album was a big deal. Particularly as the Mercury is about music and not who’s sold the most or squeezed into the skimpiest outfit. It had an immediate impact in that the day before the nomination we gigged to 80 people in Oxford, and the day after we had 400 turn up in London and had to change the venue. Jo Whiley started playing the record every night, and all the Sundays wanted to talk to me. It also led to things like the Suede tour which we did last month in the UK.
SC: Ladies’ man that he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if Brett Anderson had more on his mind than high art.
Gemma: (laughing): I actually think he’s a bit of a man’s man! I didn’t see him pat his bum, but he still has the hips going on stage!
SC: I don’t know what you’re inferring young lady. Sticking with good things that happened to people in 2002, I guess the biggie for you, Mundy, was having your first gold record.
Mundy: It was brilliant. There was six years between my first album and this one, so people had a right not to care anymore. I got 3,000 printed and they flew out. Another 3,000, same story. We’re getting them pressed up now 6,000 at a time, which is great seeing as there’s no record company machinery behind it. It’s totally homemade.
Glen: What Muns has achieved this year is fucking amazing. He fell off the saddle and got back up again. A lot of artists see being dropped as the end, whereas it’s actually a beginning. If you’ve got the confidence and ability to make things happen yourself.
Mundy: The gold disc is partly down to the fact that I did have a major deal, so I can’t be fingers up to them all the time! Bottom line is I haven’t been happier in years. I don’t have anyone telling me whether my songs are good or bad. I like what I do, so there you go.
SC: Gemma, having heard indie-dom described in such glowing terms, are you beginning to regret signing to a major?
Gemma: There was a massive struggle before Night On My Side came out, with me pulling one way and Source the other. They wanted to make it poppier and more about me than the band, but that’s not the direction I want to take.
They’re business people and they make money. Everybody knows that. What I haven’t worked out yet is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
David: You’ve got to be strong going into the deal and make sure that artistically you’re looked after.
SC: Glen, I need you to settle an office bet. Is that or is that not The Frames on the new Esat BT advert?
Glen: Someone rang me in the middle of a tour asking, “Can we use your music?” and I said, “Talk to our manager.” I didn’t think any more about it until I was reading our Message Board one day and it was like, “‘In The Deep Shade’ is on an ad!” What I didn’t realise either for a while is that NBC used it on September 11 behind a montage of people running out of the building.
Colm: Match Of The Day played ‘The Dancer’ for the goals once.
Gemma: RTE used ‘Hanging Around’ for the goals as well during the World Cup.
David (despondently): There was a programme about depression recently which had my music on it.
Mundy: It really worked!
Glen: The weirdest thing we’ve had in relation to that is some guy emailing us to say that all he listened to while microliting from Namibia to South Africa was The Frames. He’s made a documentary about it that’s won an award.
SC: You’ve been on a few planes yourself this year. Most notably to Australia where, first visit or not, you sold out all your gigs.
Colm: The company we’ve licensed For The Birds to only have one band – us! – so they’ve pushed it really hard and got the big radio stations, like Triple J, on side. Normally you start off gigging to 20 people and build it up, but the first place we played in Sydney was a 1,000-seater. It helps that when Irish people travel they put a few CDs in their rucksacks, but most the crowd were born and bred Aussies.
SC: Hands up who’s been to a stylist?
Colm: We were sent to this hairdresser whose claim to fame was that she’d invented Bono’s mullet.
Glen: Dave Odlum was the smart guy in that they gave us a budget to go and buy clothes and he invested all of his in a Louis Copeland suit.
Gemma: The white one which hasn’t been taken to the cleaners in eight years? Despite the red wine stain, he’s still wearing it!
Mundy: Mine were this coven of women in their mid-30s who were gone in the head but loved me. I was only 19 so I was in a very dangerous situation – what with the offers that were being made! Leather pants were mentioned but I went for a leather thong instead.
David: They wanted me to use a stylist on my first video, so I said, “Okay, we can meet and go shopping together.” Which translated as, “I’ll pick them out and he can pay for them!” I’ll take whatever’s fucking going because the deal I signed didn’t involve too much money.
Gemma: I tried it once, didn’t like it and haven’t done it again. If there’s “sexing up” to be done, I’ll do it myself, thank you!
SC: Glen, you said a while ago in hotpress that the only big Irish band you’ve a rapport with are Ash. Do you think there’s an onus on the likes of U2 and The Corrs to give their musical compatriots a leg up?
David (butting in): Bands like U2 and The Corrs will only come in to champion something that’s already in motion and might make them look good.
Glen: It’s only ‘cause they’re not watching. The Edge said in your magazine, “There was a band at the hotpress Awards I liked”, meaning us. We’ve been going 12 years and he doesn’t know who we are. That’s hilarious. And understandable given the different level he’s operating at. In terms of onus, shared nationality isn’t a reason for having to help someone. If there’s a natural affinity, great, but the only responsibility they have is to themselves.
Colm: The rule they seem to abide by is, “If you break the top 30 in England, you can support us.” Which means JJ72 and Ash. We’re flying under their radar.
Glen: U2 have always been classically concerned about how they appear. U2 at the hotpress Awards…I mean, why? Give a bit of space to the rest of the world. You’re taking everything. You are the biggest; you don’t need to fight anymore. For a band like us, that makes me want to go in the opposite direction.
Gemma: You can’t blame them for being successful. I wouldn’t be a huge U2 fan but I recognise what they’ve done for Irish music in terms of taking it to the world.
Mundy: I know somebody who works for their company, and he says they feed off that success. They need it.
Glen: We’re talking about U2 now, so everybody starts getting a bit, “Shit, do I want to say that?” It makes you realise that U2 are like the Catholic Church in Ireland. You’re both terrified of them and you respect them. If you say anything bad about U2, you’re going straight to hell. And I don’t have anything bad to say about them except they’re not important in my life.
SC: What was the last record that genuinely blew you away and made you think, “Fuck, that’s what songwriting’s all about!”
Gemma: I heard Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted album for the first time this year and have been listening to it non-stop. It’s made me want to go back to the stuff I was into as a kid – Nirvana, Pearl Jam – and wig out.
David: I bought that record with money my parents gave me for Christmas, listened to it non-stop like you and realised it was the link between what was happening then and the likes of the Velvet Underground in the ’70s. It had all the sounds that I wanted to hear at that point in time.
Glen: We had been listening to The Rachels and more instrumental stuff like Philip Glass, but I got turned on – by accident – to Coldplay recently in Atlanta. I banged my head on a nail coming off stage, and the guy holding me in the dressing-room and asking, “Are you alright?” was Chris Martin. There was this big, nice, warm energy going, “Don’t go back on yet. You look pale, stay here.” I’d never met him before but he stayed with me until I was feeling better. He went on stage and afterwards we ended up jamming till 4 o’clock in the morning. I wanted to check ‘em out, so four days later I bought the album and, yeah, there’s something so believable about his writing.
Mundy: I got the exact same feeling listening to Old Ramone by Red House Painters. Everything on that record I related to.
SC: How are your best songs written: Happy/sad? Early/late? Sober/shitfaced?
Glen: All them. Often at the same time!
David: I had a bunch of sad songs that I’ve had to lose because I want the next record to be fairly “up”.
Gemma: That’s because you’re a happily married man now! I’m a great one for coming home after a few drinks and sticking something on the eight-track. You go to bed thinking it’s the best thing in the world, but in the morning…urrrrgh! Occasionally, though, it’s as good as you remember.
SC: Give us an example of a song that was written under the influence – of whatever?
Glen: ‘Star Star’ was one of those songs I wrote drunk. ‘Races’ on the new album is another where you leave the tape machine running and just lash out.
Mundy: There’s a song on my album called ‘Addictive’, which was easy to write ’cause that’s the mood I was in. Not shooting up on heroin or anything, but recognising that there’s certain stuff I need to get through the day.
Gemma: There’s two songs of mine, ‘Back Of My Hand’ and ‘Hanging Round’, which were like bleeurgh! As in everything coming out at once, not puking!
SC: What – present company excepted! – are your albums and singles of the year?
Colm (to murmurs of approval): Murray Street by Sonic Youth. Them at Witnness was the best thing I’ve seen in years. Sonic Youth really know when to put that effects pedal on! Their dynamics are so incredible.
David: Dead In Motion by The Anti-Pop Consortium.
Mundy: The Super Furries’ Rings Around The World, although maybe that was 2001.
Glen: I thought I was going to love the Idlewild record ‘cause I saw them soundchecking a few weeks ago and they were amazing, but it didn’t do it for me.
David: The problem I have with new records in general is that there’s no great sense of angst, urgency or fun. Bands don’t emit that collective energy. I increasingly find myself going back to the ’60s and ’70s when you had three or four people in the same room, feeding off each other. Those Stax and Motown boys had an understanding that came from playing with each other, day in day out.
Gemma: We’ve been listening to a lot of albums on the bus, and what marks the new ones out is that they sound so clean. The knot of warmth you get from, say, a Neil Young record isn’t there.
SC: Does that strike a chord with you, Glen?
Glen: Very much so. I don’t like playing For The Birds stuff as much as I like playing Dance The Devil stuff, because Dance The Devil was a band in a rehearsal room and me on a vocal PA having to shout over the top. That’s the approach we’re taking on the new record. Going into the rehearsal room and writing all the songs as a band.
SC: They’ll doubtless argue the toss, but I can’t remember the last time I heard an Irish singer-songwriter who wasn’t influenced by one of you guys. Which of the young guns out there do you rate?
David: Richie Egan of The Redneck Manifesto…his solo record’s amazing.
Gemma: I’m not sure about the young part, but I love that band from Limerick, Woodstar. This is a shameful admission for a Tipperary girl to make, but living in Dublin you forget there are other parts of the country where music’s made.
Mundy: I can’t wait to hear Ann Scott’s album. She’s class. I believe her.
David: The D-I-Y thing means that it’s actually too easy to release records at the moment. The standard of a lot of the stuff is low. Which makes something that is essential – like Richie’s album – stand out all the more.
Colm: I think it’s important that there are hundreds of records being made. The more you record, the more you define and learn about your sound. So what if it only sells 150 copies? You’re doing it.
Mundy: To move on creatively, you have to release records.
David: Don’t get me wrong, I’ve total admiration for labels like Volta, Independent, Front End Synthetics and U:Mack who, shoestring or not, operate a strict quality control.
Glen: There’s a culture, which has come out of American independent music, of releasing everything you record. Hence the limited-edition 7”s and collaborative efforts with your mates that a lot of people get excited about and want to collect. Some bands can pull that off, but only a few. Like Dave says, a quality record is something you have to spend time on. You let the song flow out of you and then you put the work in.
SC: Now that everyone’s in suitably festive mood, what are your plans for Christmas?
Gemma: Not playing! I’ve done 160-odd gigs this year and, while they’ve been brilliant, I need a break. When you sing the same songs over and over again, you start to lose the meaning. I refuse to play the guitar at home, but my brother makes up for it by strumming out a really bad ‘Stairway To Heaven’! There’s always a big hoo-ha because my father never gets home from the pub in time for dinner!
Glen: Because my mother is the tent-peg of our whole family, everybody converges on our house. Dinner plays second fiddle to 80 people drinking in our gaff, all day. My abiding childhood memory is trying to watch Willy Wonka while all this madness was going on around me!
David: The day starts with me being dragged out of bed to see the woman who used to mind me as a kid. Me, my brother and my dad do the sing song thing for an hour, then we leave and go home for the standard overindulgence!
Mundy: Unlike Gemma, I always have a guitar in my hands otherwise my parents make me work in our pub. It usually ends up with me and my brother Niall doing a drunken ‘Two Little Boys’. Guaranteed to get the female members of the family crying, that one.
Glen: The biggest session is always at Colm’s.
Colm: These musicians start arriving at about midnight and don’t leave until Stephen’s Day morning. Uncles and Aunts and most of Kila. It’s mayhem! Which is the way Christmas ought to be.