This article was first published on CLUAS in June 2000
Steve Wall talks about the years since the Stunning split...
With the recent release of their new album 'Hi-Lo', organising gigs, running their own record company, and managing their band, The Walls (former main men of The Stunning, brothers Steve and Joe Wall) are keeping themselves very busy indeed. However, on his way home from posting promotional materials at Dublin's GPO, I did manage to snag Steve and lure him into Whelan's for a pint and a chat about the business of building The Walls.
Even though 'Hi-Lo' is the first release of new material by the brothers in over six years, they have been working on their music since The Stunning's demise in 1994. Back on the dole after the band's break-up, the Walls continued writing and recording new songs in Galway resulting in a major record deal with Columbia Records in January 1997. They moved to London only to find their progress grind to a standstill. No product was generated and the brothers seemed to lose control of their lives leading to disillusionment.
"We hated that feeling of being helpless and in limbo. Anything could go wrong in the record company and you had absolutely no control over it. I hated the fact that we were so powerless because The Stunning to a certain extent was always quite self-sufficient. We paid for all of our own recordings except 'Once Around the World', which was paid for by Solid Records. We always had the final say on things and actually got more done quicker than if we were on a major label."
"I know we probably got the worst possible experience in London. I know some bands on major labels and they're very happy and their labels are doing well by them. For us it was like Spinal Tap. This is how silly it got. The first thing that happened was this guy there had a problem with our name, The Walls. He said that it's quite negative; it's a barrier. He had a list and decided to call us The Ghosts. The name was very apt because they couldn't come to any decisions so nothing happened with our music and we just disappeared. We were just ghosts existing within the walls of the Sony building in London."
Steve and Joe did some recording in their own home studio in London to get the wheels of progress moving again, but soon settled in Dublin intent on forming a proper band. Their London housemate, Carl Harms, was imported for his programming, engineering and musical skills, and Tallaght native Rory Doyle soon took over drumming duties.
"When we got back to Ireland we had to snap out of that virtual band thing and that's why we were really eager to get a band together. We needed to just get on stage and start playing again - to go back and do what we'd done in the beginning. Music is all about getting up on stage in some little, sweaty bar and playing it. One of our first gigs was in a small bar in Tramore. We went in and asked where the stage was. A guy there said: 'See that table over in the corner? Well, move that out of the way.' It was basically where a trad band would play. We were actually happy to do it because we felt we were finally a band again."
Once the live act was off the ground, they continued recording and mixing their songs in Dublin. To retain control of their output, they decided to set up their own Earshot record label to release their material. Being their own record company has been a learning experience for the brothers.
"Since there was no way we would release the album on a major label, especially not in Ireland, we decided to try releasing a few singles on our own label to get an idea of what kind of work it would take to do it. We made the mistakes with the singles 'The Night I Called It a Day,' 'Broken Boy,' and 'Something's Wrong' just learning about what it takes to sell product. We're still learning with the album, but we've got much more of a suss on it. At the end of the day, I'm really happy with what we've done so far ourselves. We have an album now that we can stand by whereas if we'd released it on Columbia Records I think it would have been something that we'd been forced to do."
"In regards to running our own label, myself and Joe are doing every single aspect of it because we don't have the management. The last few weeks now we've been running around like headless chickens just pushing the album and organizing the promo campaign. We have somebody doing the distribution and the PR, but it's still up to the record company - which is us - to print up the posters, do the press releases, organise the website, get a database together and that kind of thing. It's going to take a while for the album to get out there into households around the country. In the meantime, we only have a few gigs coming up at the moment. Once enough people have bought the album and our profile is up a bit, then we might do a more extensive tour."
Though the Stunning songs are an entirely different style of music to The Walls' more contemporary output, audience members might be surprised to find some have recently entered the band's sets.
"Originally we wanted to get away from The Stunning songs because we wanted to try to do things for ourselves as The Walls. We first added some to our set last October when we did two showcases for CMJ in New York. To pad out the trip and give ourselves a few bob we played in some Irish bars that could have easily been located in Tipperary. They had carvery lunches, GAA football on the TV, Irish accents, and freckly kids, grannies, mothers and fathers about the place. The posters had ex-The Stunning bigger than The Walls on them. When we started playing all we saw were the backs of people's heads chatting at the bar. We thought, 'Jaysus, if we want to get paid we have to do something,' so we launched into 'Everything that Rises'. Rory and Carl didn't really know the songs well so they just attacked them. They came out like The Clash playing The Stunning and it worked amazingly. The place went ballistic!
"In Ireland we'd felt that if we played them people would keep calling for more Stunning songs and would become completely disinterested in The Walls songs. Here in Whelan's we'd been steadily building up an audience last year who were coming just to hear The Walls music. Finally in November we added 'Everything that Rises' and 'Brewing Up a Storm' to the Whelan's encore with the same ballistic results. I think it'll be easier for us to do them now because we've finally got our album out there and more people will be familiar with our new music."
It took Steve and Joe five and a half years to build The Walls to the point that they are standing strong today. During that time the most stunning things about them have been their tenacity, their resolve to continue making their music, and their ability to take control over their own careers. After that length of time and effort, hopefully The Walls are built to last.