posted on January 15, 2009 02:51
Despite the fact that nearly every Irish music lover knows their name, and probably has a copy of a Pony Club record lying around somewhere, this band have remained sadly in the background of the Irish music scene. Yet with a brand new album just released, Pony Club are ready to inch that little bit further toward fame. CLUAS writer Alan Morrissey caught up with Mark Cullen from the band.
Are you happy with how Post Romantic turned out?
I think so, I'm terrible in the studio, I'm always trying to change things up to the very last minute, it usually drives the producer and engineer mad, and I always record more songs than I need just in case I don't like how something turns out. I only ever listen to the final mix and then I never play the record again, probably because small things grate on me, things that nobody else can hear. So yeah I'm thrilled with it, I think .
You started the album back in 2006 but a number of things, including your wife being ill, mean the record is only seeing the light of day now- was this lengthy gestation period a source of frustration for you?
It started out as being very frustrating but the more ill my wife became the less I cared. She contracted a virus called Guillane barre syndrome and steadily became paralysed so i had to look after the kids, it put everything in perspective for me, music came way down the list.
When you started out in Bawl you probably thought the world was your oyster. By the time you had recorded an album as Fixed Stars that didn't see the light of day had your spirit been broken? Or did these experiences just give you a healthy mistrust of the music business?
We had a great time in the intervening years, I'm not bitter in any way. It would have been nice to have success early on but I think I wasn't strong enough as a person to deal with record companies. They let you make the record that they want you to make, if it doesn't sound right to them, i.e. if they can't hear three singles, they just get another producer or get it remixed by someone fabulous and current. I was totally in awe of the whole business especially when we moved to London. We were very young and naive and we hung around with some people who should have looked after us more but I had some incredible memories and experiences, which is all that really matters; it's just a shame that it had to come to an end but we were so much in debt to Mercury and Universal that we would have to have outsold Enya to break even.
Why do you think so many quality Irish acts from that period (Whipping Boy, yourselves, A House, Kerbdog etc) never got the recognition or success they deserved?
We were' nut British, and we didn't want it enough, we didn't practice hard enough and we weren't good enough.
When you came back to Dublin after seven years in London to record Home Truths were you treating Pony Club as a full time concern? Or with a wife and kids were you always viewing it as a vehicle to just have fun and if anything else came your way it was a bonus?
No, I had just signed to Setanta and I still had a publishing deal with Chrysalis, but for the first time in my life I was left alone to make a record. You could never make a record like Home Truths on a major. Writing music for me is not fun, it takes a lot out of me. Playgrounds are fun though, I don't think I've ever grown up.
Was living in your parents' house in Finglas when you came back to Dublin a humbling experience, or a valuable learning curve for you?
A learning curve in how to dissolve your marriage in three easy stages, it was an absolute fucking nightmare. Finglas hadn't changed much, still extremely exposed to the elements.
You have been called in some quarters "one of the great Irish songwriters of the past decade". Do you think there's anything particularly Irish about your music, and if so, what exactly?
I am very flattered by that, I have always tried to retain my accent when singing, that was always extremely important to me. Maybe if i had an american twang like Bono I would have done better perhaps, but I come from a suburb in Dublin that's basically like any other suburb in the UK – or any other european city for that matter – so the topics are parochial yet universal I hope. Even Cannes has a Dorset street.
You seem to constantly get critical acclaim- is there ever a stage when you just think "I just want bloody success, to hell with the acclaim!"
Christ yeah. It's not easy always being the poor relation with a bag full of newspaper clippings, but unfortunately I'm more interested in writing a song like Ave Maria than Are we Human. I also have an extravagant taste in cars: I have my 16 berth car garage all planned out, I'd be worse than Chris de Burgh.
People rate you as an excellent lyricist, up there with Morrissey, who is one of your big influences. Is there an exact science in relation to how you work- words before music or vice versa?
The music nearly always comes first, It's funny though, I never really liked Morrissey that much I was always more in to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe.
Reaction to Post Romantic has been extremely positive- do you pay much attention to any of it, or is it dangerous for your ego?!
No, I always read the reviews, sure that's all I've got. It's hardly like i'm selling any records...
What's next for Pony Club- will there be a full tour and promotional work to back the new release?
I wasn't expecting to do anything but the reaction to the record has been so good all over the place that the pony will be riding into a town near you, probably in Feb/March – and maybe even a spot on the Late Late.
Interview by Alan Morissey