Sunday, 30 August 2015

Single: My Fellow Sponges - Air

My Fellow Sponges Air Galway Music
Photo: @Topfloorhub

My Fellow Sponges, 'Air'

Info: Galway band My Fellow Sponges have released their latest single, 'Air', a lovely trip-hop song that evokes elements of Portishead's Dummy, lo-fi end Massive Attack and Moby's 'God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters'. Without getting too serious, the band describe the effect their music can have; 'Come with the Sponges as they take you on a bright and colourful journey, with music that will have you falling over with laughter, floating on waves of sadness, and climbing trees of elation. Their trickster melodies will ensnare you like an old crone merrily luring children into a gingerbread house. Whispers in the forest warn that, once you see a live gig by the Sponges, your life will never be the same.' 

Although mostly a simple 'camera from the car' video, I though it worked very nicely with the track and the interspersed effects added to the ambience of the escapist and groovy sound that My Fellow Sponges bring to the table. The track's slowly rising tempo, impending drums and Anna Mullarky's soothing vocals, coupled with a deliberate but intermittent restrained bass-line, all combine to great effect on 'Air' and it's great to see an Irish act dip their toe in this genre. 'Air' is by no means a narrow reflection of the overall sound of My Fellow Sponges however, see below the theatrical and equally enjoyable 'This Dream Song' below, and is that Richard Dawkins blowing in candles (yes, you read right) at 1:15?

My Fellow Sponges, 'This Dream Song'

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My Fellow Sponges Air Galway Music

Album: Freudia - Spirit Bear

Freudia Spirit Bear Wisconsin Green Bay

Freudia, 'Vanity Beach'

Info: Just released last week, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, comes the second album from Freudia, Spirit Bear, the follow up to last years Cornucopia which came out in September, 2014. Scarily only in his late teens, multi-instrumentalist Nick Williams has created an album that spans some of the best sounds of 60's folk, electric rock n' roll and chamber pop with a nice dash of jazz.

Opening with 'Spirit I Am', a track that echoes a more bolshy and modern take on a version of the bossa nova of João Gilberto and Stan Getz on 'The Girl From Ipanema'. Third track 'Warehouse' has a nice, sharp and raw tinny sound to its drums, vocals falling somewhere between Interpol's Paul Banks and a long lost deeper-toned Everly Brother. Then 'P. Rosso' happens and it's arresting, nowhere to be seen on the horizon as you've travelled through the first three tracks. It's straight in with solid drumming and percussion that would make Buddy Miles crack a smile, a smoking hot guitar riff and delicious hammond-style keyboards, two minutes of mania followed by a sudden and soft-landing. 

Freudia, 'Another'

The next track, 'Another' (above) is a joyous piece of music, with stand-out trumpet playing and crooning vocals, there's a hint of The Flaming Lips or Mercury Rev in both the music and singing and it's crescendo as all of the instruments tie together at the final third is very satisfying. Easily my favourite number on the album is the sixth track (very top), 'Vanity Beach'. Starting out with its playful acoustic strumming and Beach Boys harmonies, you're on a Californian beach as the sun sets, at least for a little while until there's an elongated pause, and then, magic. It's lo-fi Clapton blues-rock heaven for me, keyboards holding their notes while the slow drum beat maintains the lazy mood alongside the bluesy electric guitar-playing. 

Freudia, 'P. Rosso'

'Home for the Holidays' enters late-1960's psych territories, reminiscent of The Moody Blues, simple cymbal playing and again the hammond effects resurface just before it enters into a cacophany of chaotic sound emulating theatrical seventies prog-rock. The album's title track towards the end again reaches into Flaming Lips territories, see-sawing between crescendo and calm. Freudia bids you farewell with a fitting concluding track on Spirit Bear, 'Worth', it's like a cheesy band on board a cruise playing the final song of their repertoire before diners depart for the night, you are being waved goodbye as you drop your napkin on the table and push in your chair. I'll be listening to this album for a long time, and while I detest associating age with musical talent, I just can't help but admire the quality and natural feel of Spirit Bear's protagonist, Nick Williams, who has created a superb album by any measurement.

Spirit Bear is available as a free download here on the Disco Yeti independent label, but if you enjoyed it and think you'll be listening to it more than once or twice feel free to donate to future music here.

E.P.: Penrose - Live For The Dream

Penrose Live For The Dream

Penrose, 'See You Again'

Info: Dublin indie-rock band Penrose released their debut E.P. Live for the Dream last month with a launch night in The Grand Social. Beginning as a duo founded by Darragh McGrane, the band's early days were spent growing a fan base at venues such as Sweeney's, The Mercantile, Sin É and TGS in Dublin's city centre. Due to open the main stage of the cancelled Killarney Festival this summer for Duran Duran, Texas and The Proclaimers, the band dusted off the disappointment by heading along to the INEC in the town to back up Damien Dempsey and Mundy. 

Where do they sit musically? The Penrose sound is distinctly along the dual lines of 60's and 70's pop-rock acts such as The Kinks, Beatles and ELO, but more noticeably influenced by the Britpop / indie era of the mid-90's, jangly guitars leading toward Oasis' 1998 compilation album The Masterplan or some unwritten Boo Radley's material. Opener 'See You Again' will certainly bring a flood of nostalgia to listeners of all generations, it's a nice slice of summertime indie with sharp pop threads running through it, and it is damn catchy, belting choruses and a psychedelic hippy mood abounds on the rolling guitar riffs.

Penrose Live for the Dream

'Harmony' is indicative of a more contemplative side of Penrose's song-writing capabilities, tiny pings of Elton John and Billy Joel at the piano early on and then some really nice guitar solos are accompanied by grand orchestral strings. Final track 'Where You Go Now' is also a more withdrawn affair in contrast to the E.P.'s opener, the chorus is anthemic and a call to arms, unrepentantly sounding like something from post-Rubber Soul Beatles before going full-indie with harmonies and Kula Shaker electric guitar solos to draw Live for the Dream to an energetic conclusion. It may become a happy coincidence that Penrose's influences and sound actually fill a current gap on the Irish music scene that will appeal to many, but it will also be interesting to see how their sound develops in the future as there are small (perhaps almost subconscious) and promising shoots of other genres peeking through at us on this E.P.

Penrose, 'Where You Go Now'

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Album: Wheels Collective - Liquid

Wheels Collective Liquid Barcelona

Wheels Collective, Liquid (Album)

Info: Sergi Boal is a classically trained guitarist who has previously released 3 albums and an E.P. as a solo artist, his latest venture sees the formation of Catalonian 5-piece act Wheels Collective and their debut album Liquid. Self-professed influences include modern classical composers Philip Glass and Iceland's Ólafur Arnalds (Gimme Shelter) as well as pop and classical music. Among the themes covered by Boal on Liquid are the reality of the world, the cruelty of war, the drama of the plight of refugees ('Eco Eterno'), velocity of the pace of change of the current times (reflected in the album title), and the hope of a better world ('When The Lights Are Everywhere').

The film score influence is evident from the very opening of the album on 'Fred Roig', rhythmically held together by the acoustic guitar playing and enveloped in operatic string arrangements which soar as the song reaches it's middle. One of the early favourites of mine is second track 'When The Lights Are Everywhere', which has a nice baroque style before suddenly breaking in the first signs of 80's pop elements with vocalist Alba Serrano eerily sounding like Jeff Buckley on 'Opened Once' from Sketches.... In the midst of the string arrangements on 'Lovers' is a slight country western twang, with the track closing with a nice melting electric guitar solo. 

'' is possibly the most intriguing feature of the album, you think you are about to hear the most authentic traditional sounds as a 5-minute instrumental before a brief almost dance-pop vocal sequence lands upon you, the track then winds down into Fleet Foxes territory, an unusual mix in such a short space of time. Towards the album's close comes 'In This Cold Place', very much back to the film score tones of it's beginning, strong jazz vibes come into play with both trumpet and clarinet featuring heavily, a very soothing piece. The bonus track, 'Faces' provides a snapshot of Sergi Boal's solo guitar song-writing and is a good pointer to his previous work, much in the mould of José GonzálezLiquid will require a few more listens for me to figure out how everything comes together, but it's equally enjoyable to try and make sense of an album over time, maybe it's disjointed or maybe it's a very clever blend of sounds that shouldn't work together. 

Sergi Boal, 'Nuvol' / 'Ice Voice'

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Interview: Monster Monster @ The Sound Feed

Interview with Ríona Sally Hartman of Monster Monster @ The Sound Feed Studio, Dublin

Remy chats to Ríona Sally Hartman of Dublin duo Monster Monster about a year of pleasant surprises, playing Electric Picnic and their upcoming E.P. launch in Whelans on the 23rd of October. For all the latest news from Mon Mon Land head along here…

Interview reproduced here from

Monster Monster, 'Christmas in Liverpool'

Video: Kingdom Of Crows - Beauty Is The Witch

Kingdom Of Crows - Beauty Is The Witch

Kingdom Of Crows, 'Beauty Is The Witch'

Info: Kingdom Of Crows started out in Dublin as a one-man acoustic operation back in 2011, when Stephen Kelly headed into the studio in 2012 to start recording his material, he was joined by two session musicians which carried over into live shows as a three-piece. With the live performances receiving a consistently positive reaction, Kelly felt compelled to get working on a first album without delay. A further metamorphosis was to occur with the original trio now being joined by vocalist/lyricist Lucy Earley, bassist Robert Stanley and drummer Ken McGrath. 'Beauty Is The Witch' (above) is the 5th single to be released by the band from their forthcoming album, The Truth Is The Trip, which will be released at some point over the next month or so. 

The first thing I liked about 'Beauty Is The Witch' was the utilitarian hair-rock sounds of the intro guitar, starting out at Deep Purple / Blue Öyster Cult and moving along the timelines to Queens of the Stone Age's track which shares the 'Witch' of the songs title and finale scene. The song, video and vocals from Earley nicely strike a perfect balance between creating dark and sinister moods whilst clearly reminding you that you shouldn't take it too seriously, we're only here to burn a witch after all! The video, as you may have noticed recreates 1970's cult horror classics and was produced by Bad Apple Films. The package presented here between the video and track is very enjoyable but it's worth noting that Kingdom of Crows have many more strings to their bow, as mentioned previously this is only one of five singles released from the new album to date. Other tracks, including the beautiful video and song 'Dreamless Sleep' (below) are a redux of the above focusing more on acoustic and alternative folk styles, First Aid Kit's recent Stay Gold album springing to mind. Check em out!

Kingdom Of Crows. 'Dreamless Sleep'

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Saturday, 29 August 2015

Video: The Bonny Men - Kottayam

The Bonny Men Kottayam Moyne Road Irish Trad Music

The Bonny Men, 'Kottayam'

Info: The Bonny Men are a seven-piece traditional folk band from Dublin whose roots and musical background is in traditional Irish music. The band recently released their second album, Moyne Road, the follow-up to their self-titled album which was released the year they were founded in 2011. By far they are the most accomplished act in their genre, live shows and recordings receiving unanimous praise amongst both punters and critics, with Hot Press acknowledging their  "....reputation for electric live performances with an energy reminiscent of the legendary Bothy Band". Their first album reached No.1 in the Irish Music Magazine charts, with the magazine’s editor Sean Laffey stating, “this is a stunning debut album, filled with energy and references to the best Irish ensemble work from the heydays of the 1970’s…they will be the big bookable band.”

High praise indeed and well earned by The Bonny Men who just released a music video for 'Kottayam' (above), a song from the opening track of Moyne Road with all footage recorded in India on a recent international tour. The video was shot entirely by the band themselves as they travelled around the sub-continent and it's a very uplifting watch to accompany a great track shot in an almost documentary style. Whilst many find traditional Irish music inaccessible or outside of their own personal taste, the contemporary folk infusion that they have developed, as well as mastery of their respective instruments, will appeal to anyone who has a remote interest in 1970's and 1980's Irish folk music from the likes of The Dubliners, The Pogues and Planxty but with added fresh ideas and individuality. 

The Bonny Men, 'The A Minor Reels'

To hear more music from The Bonny Men and find out more about the band click on the following links;

The Bonny Men are: Turlough Chambers, Natalie Ní Chasaide, Conor Lyons, Moss Landman, Adam Whelan, Maitiú Ó Casaide & Barry Lyons.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Single: Kisses - Control

Kisses Control Rest In Paradise Los Angeles

Kisses, 'Control'

Info: The latest single from Los Angeles pair Kisses' (Jesse Kivel & Zinzi Edmundson) forthcoming third album Rest in Paradise certainly focuses the attention on how the new LP might unfold following the release of last month's disco-funky 'A Groove'. While 'Control' is a bit more laid back and chilled it hangs on to the previous tracks ability to make you want to move your feet. Kisses have cited a wide-ranging group of influences from Wings to Rick James and Talking Heads, and the latter are certainly a reference here, but moreso in terms of their predecessors, the immense Tom Tom Club. This is one to shake your hips, clap your hands and shuffle yo' feet to fo sho!

While we set out to make a 'live' sounding record, "Control" is definitely the closest song on the record to marrying our new sound with our old, drum machine and synthetic sound. With help from both Andrew Maury and Jeff Brodsky in their own midi and electronic universes, we were able to bring an electronic element to this record, that felt natural with the live playing of the guys in Midnight Magic.
While the groove of this song may be New York, the lyrics allude to the west and east sides of Los Angeles, a drive, that each year becomes more treacherous then the next. 

Rest in Paradise will be released on the 9th of October.

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Saturday, 22 August 2015

Track: Robocobra Quartet - Mizaru

Robocobra Quartet Mizaru

Robocobra Quarter, 'Mizaru'

Info: First off I'm a massive fan of Belfast free-jazz / punk, band Robocobra Quartet, their last E.P. BOMBER released earlier this year knocking the socks off me straight away back in April. I had described in general terms their sound firmly founded on traditional jazz sounds and surrounded by the likes of New York's El-P, and Toronto trio BADBADNOTGOOD, the latter of whom's sound I'm an especially big fan of, I've included a previous Robocobra release, 'Knotweed' to exemplify this.

On the 16th of October Robocobra Quartet release a lathe 7" with upcoming single 'Iwazaru' on the A-side and above B-side 'Mizaru'. The band explain the concept behind both; 'Lyrically exploring two of the three proverbial "wise monkeys", the latest release from Belfast's spoken-word-infused jazz/punk quartet finds the personal tangled with the social. This comes in the form of Mizaru's melancholic re-appropriation of an MP's 1932 speech and Iwazaru's self-deprecating look at "speaking no evil" that brashly pairs a lyrical call-back to The Who and a Gandhi quote in the same stanza. Robocobra Quartet's ever-present pleading lead vocal is cradled by an effect-heavy instrumental that morphs in sympathy to each word spoken, offering up saxophone stabs, latin drum patterns and distorted bass guitar when and where appropriate.'

Robocobra Quartet, 'Knotweed'

'Mizaru' sweeps closer to the jazz end of the spectrum than punk, imagine a slightly slowed-down version of 'Resolution' from Coltrane's A Love Supreme with added spoken-word on top, Chris Ryan's by now trademark vocals retaining their animated and powerfully descriptive and pointed delivery. The track is smooth, cool and pleasantly meandering, in contrast with the soon to be released 'Iwazaru' which shall be shared here in good time. The 7" will be on limited release from independent label in mid-October. Robocobra Quartet have a number of live dates before then playing Electric Picnic on the 4th of September, The Magic Garden in London (25th Sept), Four Bars in Cardiff the following night and finally The Mother's Ruin in Bristol on the 27th. Definitely get to one of those shows if it's in your neck of the woods to see one of the most original and unique acts on the scene right now. 

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Robocobra Quartet Iwazaru Mizaru

Single: Brass Phantoms - Kaleidoscope

Brass Phantoms Kaleidoscope

Brass Phantoms, 'Kaleidoscope'

Info: Brass Phantoms are a four-piece indie rock band from Dublin who were formed organically in 2014. School friends Ryan Cashell (singer) and James Geraghty (guitar) sought out drummer Adam McCabe and finally added a second guitarist, Greg Whelan, after discovering common tastes in music at a party to complete the line-up. From there the band released their debut self-titled E.P. 6 months ago and played at Guinness Amplify, Sunsets Festival, Galway Fringe and Waterford Art Beat festivals. A new two-sided single featuring 'Kaleidoscope' (above) and 'Summer Song' is due for release on the 20th of September with the band's second E.P., City of Wolves, pencilled in for early 2016.

'Kaleidoscope' has a merry disposition with catchy guitar loops and crosses over somewhere in between noughties indie sounds such as The Killers Hot Fuss and late 90's Britpop tinges, there's certainly a charming instant appeal about the track. 'Summer Song' drops the volume a bit and has a 'Coffee & TV' rhythm to it, the song's title appropriately setting you up for lazy day summer feels. Of the two tracks I think 'Kaleidoscope' definitely stands out as my preference and it makes sense that it takes the A-side slot here. Both will be released on 7" vinyl as well which I'm always delighted to see, because when Skynet becomes aware we may lose all of our digitally recorded music, physical copies are a must in such an inevitable eventuality! There are also some tracks from the debut E.P. that I enjoyed, in particular 'Hawaii' and 'I Fly Kites', so have a snoop around their SoundCloud page. Check out news and info on Brass Phantoms below....

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Brass Phantoms Kaleidoscope Single

Sunday, 16 August 2015

E.P.: Mr Huw - Du Llun

Mr Huw Du Llun

Mr Huw - Du Llun E.P.

Info: Mr.Huw has a fascinating back story which goes as follows; 'formed in 2005 after Huw met himself when parallel universes collided whilst taking bottles to be recycled in the co-op car park in Porthmadog. When parallel Huw told Huw, "you must make the world a better place, and do it through the medium of song."'

The Welsh indie-pop artist has certainly achieved this goal on new E.P. Du Llun (Black Photo). It's impossible to resist the pop-rock offensive over the recordings 5 tracks which are made seem so easy by Mr.Huw, as if he picked up a guitar and thought to himself, 'I think I'll just write a very addictive set of songs right now'. From the Sonic Youth-type opening chugging guitar intro on 'Calonau Ni I Gyd' (Hearts Us All)* to the locomotive rhythm of the song and pop vocals, your attention is immediate and you are already seeking more before the track ends. 

Third track 'Hoel Dannedd' (Nail Teeth) follows a Pixies-esque model and it's slightly heavier riffs and bass stay on loop in your head long after you've stopped listening to it, another slice of pop-rock joy. 'Caeth I Ryddid' (Captive to Freedom) is a strange mix of 50's rock, late 60's garage-rock and the type of chorus you'd expect from Swedish outfit The Hives. 'Mewn Prydferthwch' (In Beauty) closes the E.P. off very nicely, a slightly more withdrawn track in comparison to it's predecessors but sticks to the winning formula of rolling looped bass-lines and has some very nice vocal harmonies. It's rare to get a five-track E.P. where every single song is competing with each other in the eyes (or ears) of the listener, Du Llun is instantly likeable and enjoyable and Mr.Huw certainly knows how to pepper his music with delightful hooks for us to enjoy. 

Mr Huw Du Llun Wales

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Video: Coral Florist - Dorian Grey

Coral Florist Dorian Grey

Coral Florist - 'Dorian Grey'

Info: Coral Florist is the lo-fi casiopop adventures of New-Jersey based musician Jon Prokopowitz. Armed with an array of vintage keys and drum machines and some sweet lo-fi equipment. And there you have it, 'Dorian Grey' is the fifth track from Coral Florist's new album Zodiac Time which was just released last week. Very fun pop gadgetry with VGM that takes you back to lost yet very enjoyable hours spent in front of consoles for entire summers. Check out the rest of Zodiac Time here;

E.P.: Barry Jay Hughes - This Way Up

Barry Jay Hughes This Way Up

Info: In April this year Monaghan singer-songwriter Barry Jay Hughes released his debut solo E.P., This Way Up, along with lead single 'Judgement Day'. The Carrickmacross musician has been incessant in touring the E.P. since with no fewer than six more live dates between now and the end of the month (see below). 

Opening track 'Judgement Day' certainly displays traits of one of Hughes' self-professed influences of Eddie Vedder, the heavy bass chord playing on the acoustic guitar give a rock energy to the country sounds accentuated by some fine fiddle playing from Irish trad 5-piece Caladh Nua's Lisa De Buitléar. The E.P.'s title track reminded me of San Francisco folk rock group Counting Crows in some ways, a sunny side-up optimistic number that surely forms a strong centre-piece to any live performance from Hughes you would imagine. 

I was particularly surprised and impressed by the E.P.'s third track, 'Falling Moon', Barry Jay Hughes putting forward the strongest case for his song-writing ability here. It's a beautifully pained song, both the piano playing and Hughes' vocals here are perfect, displaying fortitude in his lyrics the listener is entirely at his beck and call for the duration of the song. We finish on a nice gentle cover version of Jack L's 'Georgie Boy' from his 1999 album Metropolis Blue which Hughes recently performed to open for Lukeman at the Iontas Theatre in Castleblayney. Hughes has all of the elements required to make a success of his solo career, vocally, lyrically and musically, and as evidenced by his tireless gigging is determined to work hard to ensure that he is rewarded accordingly. 

Tour Dates: 

16 Aug 2015 Boylans Bar & Venue, Main Street, Carrickmacross,                                                Co.Monaghan  
22 Aug 2015 Carrickmacross Arts Festival, Callans of The Bridge,                                              Co.Monaghan  
23 Aug 2015 Smithfield Square , Dublin 7  
28 Aug 2015 Rothar Cafe, 16 Fade St., Dublin 2  
29 Aug 2015 The Button Factory, Curved Street, Dublin 2  
30 Aug 2015 Boylans Bar & Venue, Main Street, Carrickmacross,      
7  Sep 2015 The International Bar, 23 Wicklow Street, Dublin 2           
19 Sep 2015 The Glyde Inn, Annagassan, Dunleer, Co. Louth
20 Sep 2015 Boylans Bar & Venue, Main Street, Carrickmacross, 

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Saturday, 15 August 2015

Interview & Album: Vivienne Monday - Modern Cruelty

Vivienne Monday - Modern Cruelty

Vivienne Monday - Modern Cruelty

Info: Bass-player with Galway funk ensemble Earthship, Karl Clews, has released his debut solo album under the moniker of Vivienne Monday. Modern Cruelty is markedly different from his work with Earthship whilst retaining strong strands of his trademark bass-led 70's funk style on some tracks, the album journeys through many decades and musical styles. Opening track and single 'Rely On Me' starts off like David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' as I mention in the below interview, and then goes into Duran Duran 'Save A Prayer' territory as well as Phil Collins vocally. 'Beaten Down' has a more withdrawn sound steering itself toward mid-90's sounds of Portishead / Sneaker Pimps whilst 'Until The Morning Light' has a heavy 70's soul and funk identity, like a Doobie Brothers and Marvin Gaye mash-up. Among the other tracks I enjoyed the expansiveness of 'Manhattan' and 'Moonlight''s chilled out late night ambience and cool electric guitar riffs as well as the mother-funky Prince opening on 'Something We Did'. In the following interview myself and Vivienne Monday dig deeper into Modern Cruelty and dispel scurrilous rumours that he is a control freak!

Remy: It's been quite a while since we last spoke to your alter ego of Commander Clews, leader of the free-form jazz-funk collective known as Earthship, aside from the new album which we'll come to shortly, to misquote Marvin, what's been happening brother?!

Karl: Yes, I guess it’s been about a year. We last spoke when Earthship put out their Proximity Effect EP last summer. We toured that around Ireland as much as we could, and it got some great reviews and we played some great gigs, but by the end of the year, we were all exhausted and, I have to admit, a little disillusioned. We put our hearts and souls into that EP – and I still maintain that it’s a fantastic EP! – as well as a fair bit of our own money, so it was disappointing when the overall feedback from radio stations was that it wasn’t suitable for their playlists. We found it very difficult to get any kind of radio play, so the EP just didn’t get the publicity it needed and never really broke through to the mainstream consciousness. 

I’ve always felt that Irish music fans are underestimated by those in charge – when they get the chance to hear something a bit different, they are generally very open to it, but unfortunately you have to go through the venue owners, promoters and radio station heads to get your music to the public, and these people are much less open to anything different, for some reason. They play it safe, so the public rarely gets the chance to hear anything that might be a bit leftfield, let’s say.Anyway, after this artistically fulfilling but commercially dispiriting experience, I felt the band was tired and needed a break, rather than launching straight into the next round of writing, recording and gigging. So I put Earthship on hiatus for a few months. But I get restless and hate to be sitting around twiddling my thumbs. And that’s where Vivienne Monday stepped in. 

Remy: It's fair to say that the instrument that you (quite literally) hold closest to your heart is your beloved bass, is that what you started out playing when you first took an interest in music and who were your bass-playing idols during those formative years?

Karl: Yes, I’m a bass player first and foremost – that’s what I get paid to do, and it’s what I love doing. But as a kid, I started as a classical guitarist, primarily because I was a very fidgety child – lots of nervous energy, so I always needed to be doing something with my hands! I went the whole classical training route, grade 8, Performer’s Diploma, the whole shebang. But as a teenager, soul and funk caught my attention, and to my ears, it was very much the bass that directed that kind of music. And I was lucky that good bass playing technique actually has a lot more in common with classical guitar technique than you might . So the bass immediately felt very natural to me. I guess it was Mark King of Level 42 who made me want to pick up a bass and try it – not only was his sound very distinctive, but he also made it look so much fun. I know it’s cool to look angst-ridden and pained when playing, but like Mark, I just can’t do that – it’s fun, so why not show people that? Then of course, I wanted to find out about his bass heroes, guys like Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius – jazz-fusion players – and these kinds of influences have coloured my own music ever since. 

Remy: You pretty much went full pelt into working on your new album Modern Cruelty, there was the single release in April of 'Rely On Me', but it seems as though there were no tentative steps such as releasing an E.P. first, would it be fair to say you were very self-assured with regard to your goal of releasing a solo album, something that you'd thought about for quite some time perhaps?

KarlNo, quite the opposite in fact, not self-assured at all! I’ve always demo’ed material myself when writing for projects like Earthship, but I’ve never had any great delusions about being a singer. I hate the sound of my own voice, so I find it really hard to be objectively critical of it on a recording. But then I read an interview with David Bowie in which he said the same thing – that he can’t stand listening to his own voice – and I began to realise that it’s quite common, not just me! And I put 'Rely On Me' up on my Soundcloud account and a few folks started commenting favourably on the vocal, so I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. The rest just followed from there – it was an experiment, just seeing what I could do with my own voice, that got a bit out of hand, and suddenly I had an album’s worth of material on my hands!To be fair, I had had the idea of doing a solo album for a while, but in my head it had always been a funk, bass-led thing. Which is why I opted to introduce Vivienne as an alter-ego: people would expect a certain kind of album from Karl Clews – lots of slappy bass and jazz-funk, I guess! But Vivienne is an unknown quantity. He’s free to make whatever kind of album he wants to!

Stanley Clarke

Remy: Listening to Modern Cruelty I felt like I was been taken on a tour of recent decades, even within songs themselves, take for example opening track 'Rely On Me', it's intro reminded me of Bowie's 'Let's Dance' but as the song goes on it has more Duran Duran vibes. 'The Tears of St. Anthony' reminds me 
of, well, Tears for Fears in a way, 'Manhattan' vocally at least recalls Mr.E from Eels and 'Find What You Love & Let It Kill You' ticks some 90's R n'B boxes. Do you feel like the album was a melting pot of many sounds and genres rather than a narrow focus on one style?

Karl: Absolutely, and you’ve nailed a lot of the touchstones for this album right there. To me, a lot of today’s music feels and sounds soulless. There’s no depth to it. It’s all surface. I love the music of the 80s, despite the fact that a lot of it now is regarded as cheesy throwaway pop, and desperately uncool. The fact is that the best bands of that decade really knew what they were doing. They had grown up listening to classic rock, disco, funk, soul and fusion in the 70s, and they knew how to play that stuff, but after punk hit and made all that kind of thing look uncool, they made the commercial decision to suppress those influences and make pop records. I’m thinking of bands like Level 42, Duran Duran, and guys like Nik Kershaw, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby. But you can still hear echoes of those influences in their pop songs, in the occasional jazz chords and voicings slipping in, in unexpectedly virtuosic solos offhandedly thrown in here and there, and that gives that music a depth and longevity that I don’t think much of today’s pop has. 

I’m a firm believer in building on what has gone before, not trying to erase it from history and start from scratch. So yes, I don’t mind at all if some of my 80s and 90s influences come through. And with regards to the style of the album, there is no focus at all! That was kind of the point – in freeing myself from Earthship, and from the expectations of being a funk bass player, I was freeing myself from having to focus on any particular style. I had lots of bits of songs lying around in my studio that had never been used because they simply didn’t sound like Earthship, or whatever project I might have been working on at that time. And these bits and pieces have a way of piling up and getting in your way when you’re trying to move forward. So I had to do something with them, let them out into the world. And regardless of genre, they were all fair game for Vivienne, simply because, as I said, he’s an unknown quantity. Nobody has any preconceptions about his style, least of all me!

Remy: Looking from the outside you can feel that Modern Cruelty was definitely driven by one man in terms of how you wanted it to sound and play out as an album, was it a strange feeling not having to consult with others like you might have to do in Earthship or other bands, or did you encourage input from session musicians, old music friends as well?

Karl: It makes me sound like an arrogant control freak, I realise, but it was nice not to have to compromise! As I mentioned earlier, I have always demo’ed material myself when writing for any band projects I’m working with – I would record a track on my own, as near to completion as possible, then have the rest of the band re-record the guitar, the keys, the drums and the vocals in their own way, in the hope that they will bring something interesting and fresh to those parts that I would never have come up with on my own. And with a band like Earthship, full of inspired and inspiring musicians, that’s pretty much always the case. But occasionally there will be situations where I think, ‘well, actually what I played on the demo worked better’. I may not have played it as well or as cleanly, and maybe I played part of it ever so slightly out of time, but there was something about my take that was lost when somebody else came in and re-recorded it. Music is like that: it’s not about being the best player or recording the most pitch perfect take; sometimes there’s something in the imperfection that adds to the atmosphere of the song. And having a unity of vision – everything coming from the same source, as it were – means it’s much easier to maintain the atmosphere that you’re aiming for when you don’t have to bring other musicians into the mix.

Of course, I have a few guest players on the album – Ciaran Storey, from another band project I work with named Superfreaks, contributed lead guitar on a couple of tracks, and Bart Kiely, drummer from Earthship, added some percussion here and there. I may be a control freak, but I know my limits: sometimes there are sounds you hear in your head that you know you just couldn’t possibly create. Luckily I knew two guys who could!

Remy: Undoubtedly the theme of love permeates the album’s tracks, but the album's title suggests that our protagonist Vivienne Monday may have a less than endearing message that he wants to share as well, would that be correct?

Karl: Well, yes, no and maybe! The origin of the album title is rather more banal (or comical) than you might imagine, but it went on to colour the mood and themes of the album as a whole. I’m a blow-in from the UK, now living in Galway. And there’s a certain old Galway accent that I find particularly endearing, and two words that leapt out at me as examples of this were ‘modern’ and ‘cruelty’, which when rendered in this accent, to my English ears, come out something like ‘mothren’ and ‘crulity’. Discussing this with a friend, one of us put the two words together and something clicked. It didn’t mean anything at first – I just liked the sound of the two words together – it has an echo of the 80s New Wave about it somehow which suited the range of influences I had in mind as I was recording this. But over time, I realised that it 
also had a certain resonance for the lyrical themes of the album. Indeed, most of the songs are about love, but love under difficult and occasionally dark circumstances. Love can be the greatest feeling in the world, but it can hurt like nothing else when it goes wrong. And modern life sometimes has a way of making things go wrong, of dropping obstacles in your path. Shit happens, as they say. We just have to learn to deal with it. And we always will, because the high that love gives you is always worth it. That’s the cruelty – love keeps you coming back for more, no matter how much it hurts.

Remy: With the album complete and released, what's the next step, is it back to the deck of the Earthship or is there more solo material on the way?

Karl: Oh yes, there will be more from Vivienne at some point. I certainly haven’t finished exploring his sound and his story. And there will be a Karl Clews album sometime too, which, unlike Vivienne’s album, will sound exactly as people expect it to! And yes, we’ll be firing up Earthship’s engines for another flight very soon. After intentionally keeping the bass playing so minimal and unflashy for Vivienne’s album, I’m getting itchy fingers!

Remy: Finally, where can people catch Vivienne Monday live around the country?

Karl: That depends really on how Vivienne is received. If he gets a good amount of airplay and interest from radio and promoters, then I’ll happily gig it as much as I can around the country. I just don’t expect everyone to understand it. Even to my ears, it’s a very odd album on first listen, and I accept that it’s going to polarize people. So at the moment, I only really have plans to do one or two local shows in Galway. But we’ll see how things go.

To buy a copy of Modern Cruelty, head along to Vivienne Monday's Bandcamp page here