Band on an Island
Barry Healy | Monday, 30 November 2009
On a cold and blustery night in Newbridge, we had the absolute pleasure of meeting with Ciarán and Andrew from Band on an Island for a chat over a few pints in the warm and friendly surroundings of their local pub, Flanagan's.
The banter is lively from start to finish, mainly revolving around Ireland's 1990 World Cup songs, East German dictaphones and other bizarre and unmentionable topics before we get down to the real business of discussing music.
First of all the band's name is very unusual; where did it come from?
Ciarán: Basically, we started the band as a kind of joke. Rob, our old drummer and I wrote a song called 'The Teenage Years' for a girl's birthday. We made a video for the song down in our local riverside park: one part was of me singing in my boxers and behind me there was a tree that grew in the river and eventually formed a really small island from a build-up of silt and crap. After the video we needed a name for the fake band and Rob just looked into the river and said 'Band on an Island'. So our band is basically a joke combined with a build-up of random dirt and shit in a river. That's Glen Hansard kind of shit isn't it? (laughs)
How did you become a serious band and did you ever think of changing the name?
Ciarán: We wouldn't change the name because of all the history and we have decided that bands who change their names when they become serious are pricks (laughs).
Anyway, Rob and I did some gigs with songs about Newbridge, people came along and enjoyed themselves so after a while we asked some friends to be part of the band. It was always a way of friends hanging out, playing music, and drinking. The biggest step in our development to becoming a real band came when I met up with The Mighty Stef at college - he was a real musician when I was only starting and I actually approached him to teach me how to play B minor, which funnily enough he told me he didn't know how to.
The result of this was that he ended up recording some of our music after hearing a live version of 'Mad Sunday', inspired by one of his tunes following this he invited us to support him in Crawdaddy and I suppose that's when we became a band.
Which bands and musicians, past or present, would you say have had the biggest influence on you so far in your career?
Ciarán: Obviously the Mighty Stef was a big influence but so were Dead Kennedys, NOFX, NWA Eminen & The Wu-Tang, who all gave me buzz for lyrics and meanings in songs and demonstrated how you can put humour into songs without being a joke act.
Personally, when I discovered Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott it opened me up to a whole new world of music because he was a great songwriter - almost a folk singer - but he was in an amazing rock band. The discovery of Mark Geary and Damien Dempsey got me writing songs and got me into the singer-songwriter buzz. Before that I didn't know what the fuck was going on. Our band has changed and evolved over time through listening to lots of different types of music, but a lot of folky stuff.
The new record is out now a few weeks; what's the response been like?
Andrew: It's been great and we are really blown away with how the album launch went in Dublin. We put a lot of effort in but it was worth it in the end. I don't want to sound fucking crass but it means a lot to us when people buy our record because it's more of a commitment to buy an album than a single. The feedback from people has been amazing; people seem to really like it. All I want is for people to listen to the record - it's nothing to do with shifting 'units' and making money.
Ciarán: I have loved the fact that people have different favourite songs from the album, no one song has been singled out. Maybe all are songs are crap; I don't know.
What was the thinking behind the album, because it's very dark at times?
Ciarán: The album contains plenty of darkness but we didn't set out to do that, it just turned out that way and we only realised how dark it actually was when we had finished recording it. 'The Last (Free) Man Standing' is one of those tracks - it's my angry take on music inspired by when people were leaving the band and deals with the music industry parasites which I don't like: arsehole bloggers and journalists who decide to slate something because they are afraid to be different. They have serious power and often they are held up to account; many of them think they are bigger than the music or bands.
There are a few collaborations on the album. Did you write the songs with contributors in mind?
Ciarán: Sort of, I guess. 'Down To The Riverside' was originally just a chorus but I always had Jinx (Lennon) in mind. Similarly with 'Radio', I knew Stef felt the same way about the subject matter as I did so he was who we wanted. 'Back Disco' on the other hand was always written as a duet but we weren't too sure who would sing on it. It turned out perfectly.
Your hometown, Newbridge / Co. Kildare, has a rich musical heritage with Christy Moore and the likes. Are you glad to be part of the latest wave or does it put added pressure on you?
Ciarán: It's just coincidental that we make music and come from Newbridge because we grew up listening to contemporary music. We didn't grow up listening to Christy or Planxty even though now we are huge fans of their music. I'm not gonna sit here and try to be cool with my influences as lots of people do; I got into Christy through Damien Dempsey, the same way I found Joy Division through Editors. I'm the last person to find out about bands every time.
You've played with some really interesting artists like Damien Dempsey, but who's been your favourite to play with so far?
Ciarán: Well, probably Damien Dempsey who's an absolute hero of ours, or playing with Andy Irvine and Donal Lunnhy in the Olympia. That was just amazing because it was the Olympia and they are true legends of Irish music; they're such nice and approachable people too and we had a great (if nervous) night - I even managed to get a hug from David Norris (laughs).
How strong do you think the music scene is in Ireland right now?
Ciarán: what people think is the Irish music scene or popular Irish music is shit, a sham and a fuckin' joke. There are tons of great bands in Ireland that get absolutely no recognition or credit which then makes it impossible for good Irish bands to make it big, let alone break the UK. It's very tough for small bands at the moment because punters don't want to go to small venues and pay to go into what they think is a glorified pub. It's not the recession either because the big venues are jammed and even though people's heads aren't even in the recession most won't face up to the serious bullshit we're in right now.
Andrew: I'd agree with Ciarán, especially about the commercial music that is promoted and played endlessly on the radio. For the most part it's complete shit and it's actually embarrassing to hear. There are great Irish bands out there now, as much as ever, but people have no way of finding them out. I'm in a band because I want to be, and I'm not motivated by popularity or money. People are in bands for the wrong reasons and they can become blinded by bullshit. PR and record companies create scenes and bands get sucked into chasing the money. As long as you have a pair of shoes on your feet, a roof over your head and a pint in front of you, you should be happy. As a band we're mates trying to be musicians, not the other way around.
What's the plan for BOAI now the album is out? Any touring lined up?
Ciarán: Another record! We have a full album written and ready to record and we will release 'Back Disco' as a single in February. Of course, we'll be playing as many gigs as we can fit in.
Andrew: We need to put the hard sell on the album and after that we want to make another.