A music blog from Ireland.
In a funny turn of events, one of the most-laid back and interesting meetings of this year happens to have been with a band who released, amongst others, one video I disliked intensely. Considering the 99% negative backlash that usually occurs when I slate something, it was a breath of fresh air that We Cut Corners didn’t take my disdain for Go Easy personally. In a warm city centre hotel, I met up with Conall Ó Breacháin and John Duignan who, under the guise of many band names, came a long way to reach the release point of their debut album Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards.
“We definitely had the intention of getting the album out this year,” answers drummer Conall when I ask how 2011 has been for We Cut Corners. “We’ve had the songs for about two years and we really just want to have them out so we can start working on new material. The album is quite short, it’s only about 27 minutes long. Playing our own headline show with 27 minutes of material isn’t really enough so we’re quite anxious to get our second album out so we have enough material to play proper shows.
“We certainly didn’t set out with a grand vision, even sonically, of what we wanted. We knew what songs we wanted to include on the album. We treated each song as a thing in itself to be worked on and get the best out of. It just so happened in looking back that they’re quite different to each other, I don’t think any of the songs are very samey. But that’s just something that happened, it wasn’t something we set out to achieve.”
“We could have had an album of quiet songs or loud songs but that wouldn’t make much sense for us to do.” Explains John, who plays guitar. “So with Jimmy [Eadie, producer at Asylum Studios], we tried to have the two sides of what we do knit together.”
“We got Jimmy Eadie to record, engineer and co-produce. He’s great in his approach, he knows what he likes and he’s very uncompromising in his decisions, strict but in a very good way.” divulges Conall.
“I don’t really remember tracking the album at all.” John says. “What’s more memorable is the hours spent during the winter after school, mixing it late into the night. That’s what I remember. You’re putting yourself up to be shot down so it’s important that the person who is fielding isn’t going to tell you it’s a shit idea. He was just a really nice guy basically.”
Conall continues.”With someone in that kind of role, a lot of it is in their personality and whether they can create an atmosphere that is conducive to making music. He’d let you play around for hours just to get something. Even when one of us would be like, come on, for fuck’s sake, he’d be like, ‘no, something might come’. And sometimes something did come which turned out to be important to the album. He was just great.
John: “Even with guitar takes, you might do twenty takes on the guitar and they’d all sound exactly the same but he’d say, ‘yep, that’s the one’. He was very discerning.
Conall: “His patience was amazing. When you’re doing takes, you do them so often that after a while, you don’t care! I just want to get it down, I just want to be finished! Jimmy would be like, ‘Do it again, do it again, we haven’t got it yet’. He was just always watching and listening. He was totally there all the time. Then when you’re performing and trying to come up with stuff, you try a whole lot harder.”
After two years fine-tuning the songs, the lads can answer immediately when quizzed on the subject of lyrical themes. “Looking back on the songs, we can see a lot of them point towards regret,” Conall remarks. “That’s a terrible word but it relates to things you’ve done that you’re not proud of or you could have dealt with better. When we decided on the album title Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards it seemed to fit, we loved it as a phrase. There is regret, but you can learn from your mistakes.”
Though not “mistakes”, John and Conall previously made music under different names as Camogie Lovers and Twin Elect while still refining their sound. I first encountered the band at the Hot Press/Tisch video screenings of winter 2006 when a video was made for their song Black Russian.
“We were called Twin Elect,” begins Conall, “but only for the Tisch project.”
“We sent in a demo that we were starting to record at home.” John picks up. “We saw this ad in Hot Press and went for the opportunity. Surprisingly, they picked us on the back of this rather shoddy demo. So it was great to be accepted at the time but we hadn’t written any songs or anything. We were just on our way to figuring out what kind of music we wanted to play, it was probably too early.”
“It was so early that when we recorded the track at home, we didn’t have a real kick drum so we used a programmed kick and we didn’t have real hi-hats.” Continues Conall. “We didn’t get it mastered so when they were showing the videos in the Sugar Club and everyone’s songs sounded amazing, ours sounded so bad we were mortified. We realised we had a lot of work to do! So we changed our name.”
John laughs. “…To another name, which we subsequently changed again!”
Having spent the winter of 2010 recording the album, We Cut Corners solidified their public image and even brought in Dylan Haskins as a manager for a short time. Then in July this year, the band announced they had signed to Dublin’s independent Delphi Label.
“We literally worked with Dylan for three or four months,” explains Conall, “we hadn’t even got the artwork done for the album, we were just tidying up the recording side of it. We weren’t at a level where we could have advanced much and then the election came up and Dylan wanted to run for it. Basically he wouldn’t have had time so we parted ways.”
It seemed natural that Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards would come out on the Delphi label. “We’d known Alexis [Vokos, label boss] since the first HWCH that we did back in 2009. We got on well and we had shared interests, music mainly! So we stayed in touch and when we had the album finished, he listened to it and he was very excited by it. It seemed his sort of vision for it was similar to ours, just a nice, little, low-key release.” John smiles. “We shared the same philosophy on what we wanted it to be, so we were delighted to hook up with him.
“People like Alexis are just so passionate and believe in the idea of a record label on whatever small level it might be. There’s so much evidence that points towards the demise of shops and labels, and while it’s easy for us to be passionate about the music because we write and perform it, for someone else to have that obsession and passion is just amazing.”
Conall agrees, and understands that while it’s an uncertain point for record labels, the business model will remain. “I think he’d look at it the same way we do; he wants to put together a collection of artists and releases he’s very proud of, the same way we want a collection of songs we’re very proud of. I don’t think for a second he’d consider, ‘this isn’t working out financially’, he’d probably just still do it anyway, the same way we would. We would never think, ‘we hope this album sells’, because we know it won’t, because nothing sells. That doesn’t mean we’ll pack it up, we can’t. We’ll do it if there’s no audience. We’re at the stage where there’s a tiny, tiny audience and we still do it so we’ll do it if there’s no audience. I think Alexis and the small label will do the same, if that makes sense.”
Aside from moving on towards new material, We Cut Corners must have other goals in their sights. There has been something of a trend amongst Irish bands to build on their early success by aiming for the top as soon as they can, often by applying to play SXSW. Is there anything like that on the cards?
“Definitely not! We’re not at that level.” retorts Conall.” To go to SXSW you have to have built a serious profile to make any impact because there are so many brilliant bands. If you just go as one of two thousand bands, you have to be going with a lot of buzz and a lot of hype.
“We’re doing Eurosonic in Holland in January, which is the European equivalent.” John replies. “A lot of bookers will be at that, so it seems like a good step for us, to do something closer to home. Then with our second album, if anyone likes it, maybe that will be a better time to do SXSW.
“It’s so expensive,” Conall points out. “You’d have to sacrifice so much.”
“You could make an album for the price of going to SXSW, realistically.” John carries on. “So you have to decide which would be a better thing to do.”
Conall laughs. “Right now, that’s making an album!
“I don’t want this to sound selfish but we make our music for us and just hope other people like it. So the goal is just to have an audience. We’d love to play a show that people came to and I think that’s a lofty aspiration in this day and age. I don’t think that’s too humble, it’s just realistic. If we put on a show and people came, that would be great.
“Then if you put on a show in a different town that people came to. And another. If our name had disseminated through the blogosphere or print media and we got to a point where people came out and spent their ten quid or whatever, their disposable cash for the weekend, for us, that is the vision of success.”
Comparisons to a multitude of bands from The Shins to Midlake have been bandied around in relation to We Cut Corners but there’s also a rich seam of fun that runs through their songs. An old proverb states that you are who your friends are, so who are We Cut Corners, if asked to name their ideal headliners at a fantasy festival?
“Ryan Adams,” John suggests at once. “He’s our favourite artist of all time, we’ve just been ridiculously obsessive fans of his over the past decade. He may not have been the most well-received artist, he went from being a Grammy nominee to being pilloried in the press for his behaviour and being a brat but his song-writing has remained pretty consistent throughout that whole decade.
“He’d be there and The Maccabees would be there,” adds Conall. “We’re big fans of The Maccabees. Both of their albums are full of tunes and they seem to have the right attitude about it, they just seem so happy all the time. We were at one of their shows at the Academy and their joy in what they were doing was so infectious, the crowd were just delighted to be there.
John: “They’re just a really feel-good band. There are bands you can go to and you love seeing them be really surly on stage and you think ‘They’re bad-ass’, but then it’s almost a nicer feeling when everyone looks really happy on stage.
Conall: You can just totally watch each member, they are all doing amazing stuff. The drummer is incredible, Felix and Hugo – the two guitarists – are incredible and Orlando Weeks has one of our favourite voices in contemporary rock music!
“We really like the Youth Lagoon album…” continues John. “That’s been getting a lot of spins.
Conall: It’s one of those albums you can almost have on in the background at any situation but you can also totally engross yourself in it at the same time. So you’d have to have someone like him.
John: “Then maybe somebody Irish? What about Ross Breen?
Conall: Maybe Ross Breen.
John: “When we were acoustic troubadours we used to play open mic nights with Ross Breen and his songwriting is incredible. He released an album this year which is just a great piece of work. We love him, he’s amazing live.
Conall: This is number five now. What about Phoenix?
John: I was going to say LCD Soundsystem. Can you have an act that are retired?
Conall: Yeah, maybe LCD Soundsystem. Or Phoenix, if you need an act that’s still together.”
Not quite leather-jacketed hellraisers (“I’ve been looking for a black leather jacket for quite a while now actually!” laughs Conall. “We’d probably be more likely to clean up a dressing room than trash it!”) but pleasant and frank without appearing overly-eager, it’s clear that John and Conall are a very tight unit. Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that almost all their sentences begin with ‘we’. But do they ever argue?
“Not really.” John replies openly. “If we do argue, it’s about songs. If someone feels strongly about something and wants to get their way, they’ll push the other person to the point of annoyance, but it’s all coming from a good place!”
And now that good place is open to all: We Cut Corners’ debut album Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards has just been released today on the Delphi Label and is now streaming from Bandcamp. But before you rush off, check out this fantastic animated video for A Pirate’s Life below.