Sunday, February 14, 2010
2FM DJ and broadcaster Jenny Huston wrote a book profiling Irish bands and artists on the up. The book is filled with interviews on how they got there, got dropped, got signed again and split - before getting back together in some cases! It’s an enjoyable read and essential for both folks with an interest in Irish artists, as well as budding artists who will soon discover music as a career choice isn’t all glamour.
Was the book a long time coming? Was it a long time work in progress or something that occurred to you as something you’d love to do?
I was approached by Jo O'Donoghue (editor) from Currach Press in December 2008 asking me would I be interested it writing a book on emerging bands. It was not something I had ever thought of doing. I gave it serious thought over Christmas and said yes in January. Work started in February 2009, so it took the best part of nine months to complete. I wanted to celebrate the various bands successes and for all of the interviews to be exclusive to the book.
How did you choose the bands and artists? Did you pick your favourites or was it more a question of who you think have achieved success or tinkering on the edge of success?
I chose the bands on merit as much as humanly possible. I wanted In Bloom to be about the new headliners - the bands that had come to prominence in Ireland post 2000 and could sell out numerous shows a year. There is great mix of style within it - The Coronas are very different to Jape etc. I really like that about it.
In the foreword of the book, Glen Hansard said Irish people are too self aware to ever think they are cool, and that they have something that’s different. Do you think Irish bands can be too self aware and instead of just going for it, are waiting for perfection, and afraid of rejection (as they see it) before they put anything out? There are lots of bands who have been around for 4-5 years and only one or two EP worth of songs released (over the web or otherwise).
I think Glen was hitting on the 'cool factor' that many bands in London or New York have. Our bands don't tend to spawn fashion trends or be known for their haircuts, but that doesn't mean they are not every bit as interesting. With bands and productivity it is as different as apples and oranges. Some bands release everything they write and record (and shouldn't) and others heavily self edit (perhaps overly hard on themselves in the strive for perfection). Money is still a huge factor in getting music out - it costs to mix and master and to print and distribute and it costs to promote your releases. Some bands simply are not as hard working as others. Laziness can be a factor as much as a lack of self belief.
I recall speaking to a singer from an Irish band in the nineties who were signed to Geffen at the same time as Nirvana and G’N’R, and he said “we were always in the company of cool but never in the company of money”. Is the business side of things the biggest roadblock for bands and artists in successfully sustaining a good career?
Definitely. The major reason for any bands splitting up is usually money. One or more members are tired of being broke, not so keen on sleeping on floors or in cars anymore and simply wanting a normal routine like their friends from school now have. In your twenties its great but as many artist reach thirty the need for proof of success (financial as well as critical) can become really important, otherwise the question "what are we doing this for?" starts to creep up more and more often. Not being able to pay rent when you have five star reviews is extremely frustrating and can kill the spirit of the best creative artist.
How important is a good manager? Do you believe that a band can have all the talent in the world but if they don’t have the right person watching their back, it’s no use?
Yes, a good manager is very important once a band reaches a certain level and is doing long tours/in demand. They need someone who is at the end of an email or a phone on a daily basis that can be the buffer between agents, labels and promoters and who knows how to talk in the business world. These days the only people with money are often drink and telecommunications companies and doing a corporate gig might be the difference between funding your next album or paying for flights for your next tour. They need someone that can make the right strategic decisions about what things to say yes or no too. Someone that will protect their future and who will maximize their opportunities and longevity and who fundamentally believes in their work
The decision of whether or not to sign for a big label is a reccurring them in the book, do you think with the advent of the internet and music being so freely available online, that bands don’t need labels anymore? Or is still the first thing on a lot of artist’s minds?
Artist don't need labels to reach a level of success in Ireland, but it would be next to impossible to successfully release and tour in the United States without support. Nowadays bands lean towards recording an album themselves (creative control) and then licensing it to a label for larger territories. It is the best of both worlds. What labels offer is financial support (just like a mortgage to buy a house) for your release. The cost of distributing an album and PR in Ireland is a fraction of what it costs for the UK, Germany or Australia (they have the machine in place).
How influential do believe radio to be nowadays for breaking bands? Do bands still flood stations with demos as much as ever?
Radio is crucial for many bands but then it completely depends on the genre and aspirations of the artists. If you are a pop artist you need radio. Metal bands get virtually no support from radio yet metal concerts sell out in Ireland all the time. Snow Patrol are a great example, they were doing ok (popular with indie kids etc with about 40,000 sales) then 'Run' was played by Jo Whiley on daytime BBC and the band was catapulted into public consciousness and started selling hundreds of thousands of records within weeks.
Bands flood radio with CDs now MUCH more than ever. Everyone can record these days and everyone seems to (whether they should or not is another question). Radio is a great tool for a band and will certainly increase your public profile, grow your fan base and perhaps even more importantly (and yet rarely discussed) earn the band income. National radio pays per play. That is why daytime high rotation is so coveted. It doesn’t just sell albums and sell out concerts, the band will earn a great deal from the airtime as it accumulates.
How long is too long for a band to stay together without getting what they want out of it do you think?
Once a band still enjoys playing together - enjoys the creative expression, the buzz from it then they can play together happily for life. If the end game is playing stadiums and living in mansions then it will become apparent after a few albums whether or not that is on the cards or whether or not that is still the goal. Again I will use Snow Patrol as an example. Final Straw was the album that broke them worldwide. It was their third album. Elbow enjoyed a critical following until the Seldom Seen Kid, their fourth album, and now have huge audiences wherever they go. Self belief is crucial. You only have to read Glen Hansard's passionate foreword understand it .
Who would be your top three picks as acts who you think are going to break into the public consciousness this year?
Bangor's Two Door Cinema Club are already well on their way and I think Fred and Cathy Davey's next albums will see them exposed to whole new audiences (inside and outside Ireland).