A music blog from Ireland.
Good times and guitars ahead this Saturday for Bouts‘ last gig of 2012. ‘An Evening With Bouts’ will be a special headline show in which they perform all the great catchy songs they’ve put out in the last year, along with a lot of new material they’ve been working on ahead of the second album. Those who arrive early enough on the night will receive a free compilation CD of all their songs released to date. Bouts are bringing along some new friends top warm up the stage in the form of Tremoya and Amateur Historians. It’s a cool blend of different sounds; for something different, Tremoya are instrumental rock, while Amateur Historians put their own enchanted slant on the 90s-style indie that Bouts themselves are so enamored of.
From their beginnings in November 2010 with a first album New Ways Of Saying No that announced Bouts as Barry Bracken and Daniel Flynn’s idea platform, a year later they gelled as a four-piece band with new members Colin Boylan (guitar) and Niall Jackson (bass). That ‘real’ exemplification of Bouts was last last autumn when they released a free self-titled EP and was followed by a 7″ single Get Sick/Turn Away at the start of this year. Things really got going in spring and they’ve hardly stopped since, racking up radio play, support slots, festival shows and even a jaunt to New York for CMJ. It took me a while but when I finally saw them perform on the first night of HWCH12, they made a huge impression on me and stood out amongst the best of 30+ bands I saw that weekend.
Thought it might be cool to post a transcription of an interview I did with Bouts in their practice room earlier this year, shortly before they launched the 7″ single. Bear in mind it hasn’t been massaged into selective-quote interview form. Daniel was away at the time and Enda Canavan had temporarily stepped in as drummer, but for a peek into the first six months of their experience as a full four-piece band, I think it’s an interesting read.
Is this the biggest run of gigs that you guys have put on now?
Barry: Yes, definitely. We’re feeling it, you know? As we all scramble after work, like ‘come on, quickly, get the car.’
Niall: It’s way more exhausting than I thought it ever would be.
Barry: But it’s so enjoyable!
Niall: The payoff is definitely worth the while. I hate loading in and loading out.
Barry: A small part of Niall dies every time we lift our own gear.
Niall: I want one day somebody to just hand me my guitar and then I’ll just quit.
Barry: Tom did that last week!
Niall: I didn’t have a guitar change, prima donna! I’m stuck with my one guitar. I can tune a guitar!
Everything set up perfect on stage and just handed over to you.
B: Colin wants three guitars before he goes on stage now. We’re going to have to draw a line. Megalomaniac!
N: He bought this Marshall cab and the Orange dual-tower head in the Music Maker sale a few weeks ago. Remember they had a sale and everything was half-price? He just turned up with that and it was like twice the size of our amps.
That sounds like the dream band member there.
N: Kind of… but now he has to work until 5 every day to make the money back.
B: That is a godsend, somebody in a band willingly saying, ‘I actually need that’ about a piece of equipment. And Colin is such a loud guitarist and he basically didn’t have a proper amp for quite a while and he was meaning to get one, and as soon as he could he bought it. It was brilliant.
N: Barry only bought that cab and head recently enough as well. What was it, September/October? I bought a bass amp that’s too heavy to bring in so far.
It’s all come together properly now, hasn’t it? You’re a proper, real band. A guitar band?
B: I think so, only for about six months, so it’s been relatively short.
N: I actually heard a song today and the sun was out, and I was like, this is the first time a Bouts song has been played in the sun. And I was actually quite pleasantly chuffed with myself, and it works in the sun! Bands like Best Coast and Weezer always sound better in the sun and I think we fall into that bracket.
B: It’s been relatively short notice as a proper band, which is good in that we’ve done enough in six months to say, ‘yes, we actually have something here.’ Before that it was always that we hadn’t quite got all the pieces to fit. Colin was with us for maybe about six months before Niall, and even still we didn’t have a bassist, and even that holds you back. Before that it was just me and Daniel, just the two of us in a room for a year.
N: Not even with any instruments, just embracing!
B: It was just one of those things. We sat there in silence for four hours every evening.
N: Me and Barry, after the Roisin Dubh, after Enda had passed out and Colin got a bus home to go to Madrid, me and Barry had an old sit down and realised it had been six months we’d been going as a four-piece.
You launched with an album but were just a two-piece at the time.
B: Yes. I remember we sent it to you at the time. We didn’t really do anything, we just put an album out and we didn’t play any gigs, we didn’t charge any money for it, we didn’t publicise it. We didn’t do anything. I think it was like Bouts Version 0.0. We weren’t even a full version of anything and we just kind of put some songs out there. And I think it was good to do because that means that that first set of songs didn’t linger any longer than they had to. At the time it was just myself and Daniel asking guests to come in and play instruments with us in the studio. It was not even half-formed. It was a good thing to do, but I don’t think it was a ‘band album’ per se. But yeah, it is now the first thing we’ve ever done.
N: The difficult second album is gonna be more like our first real album. You get two goes at the first album. Although, that said, we’ve only just started writing.
B: That’ll be the difficult third album. Then there’ll be the inevitable break-up. We’re hoping to do that in as spectacular a fashion as possible, possibly involving something in this room… definitely glass. I know that for a fact.
N: We’re going the violent route. We’re very much about the live show now. Since Enda’s joined in January – that’s when Daniel left – it’s just been about jamming so much, making sure the six songs we’ve recorded are really tight. We’re not playing any songs from Version 0.0, as Barry called it. We’re only playing the songs since me and Colin came on board. Those six songs we’ve recorded – the free EP and this new double A-side, and then we had a few demos with Daniel that Enda stepped in on, and then we’ve written a few new songs with Enda.
B: A few? 20, 30…
N: Yeah, it’s been a bit of a blitz the last few days. We have six songs and we’re trying to get 10 really solid tunes for the launch and for the tour.
B: Yeah, it’s weird. We’re going to be all wanky and talk about this now, but I think we’re evolving quite fast in that even in the time it took us…
N: We’re a live band now, and it never was before.
B: That has forced us to evolve in a direction whereby the songs actually feel comfortable when you’re rehearsing them. They have to feel comfortable live and that’s then what passes the test now. I think that’s changed the direction. We’re still guitar-based but we’re not as intricate and as finicky, and I like that. It’s more cohesive, full-on, three-four minutes. We’re getting there.
I think you can hear that on the single.
B: You can, and I’m thinking even in terms of what’s come since then because we were playing those songs for like six months, those two songs which we wrote and recorded in January. Since then there’s been an evolvement, with new songs that we play live. It’s good. I think we’re going in the right direction now.
You’re already starting to get a bit of a buzz about your live shows as well. I’m hearing rumblings. There was a gig up in Castlebar the other week…
N: Yeah, Finbar Hogan put it on. It was with Jape, Windings and Mia Sparrow – actually a really good line-up. We were lucky to be on that. It was Enda’s very first gig as our stand-in drummer.
B: Was that Enda’s first gig?
N: Yeah, it was only about two weeks after he joined, because it was before Valentine’s Day and Daniel left the end of January, so about two weeks after Enda joined. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for him. But that was really cool, playing live with all these people I’ve been watching live for 12 or 13 years – Richie and Steve from Giveamanakick. All of a sudden you’re going, ‘can I use your amp?’
So the first album was never intended to become a big live band thing.
B: You’re dead right. Initially, way back before we had even decided to do something with it and we got Colin in – we were reluctant to bring anyone else in, we thought we could do this just the two of us and just make it a studio entity, just make it a recorded entity where it’ll just be the two of us doing a sort of White Stripes except, bit by bit, just churning out material over a constant stream of time and then people will sit up and take notice by the sheer weight, the sheer volume of material. Some of it is quite good. But you need the live aspect of it, you really do. You’ll go a little bit silly otherwise. You’d go a little bit insane. It’s a lot more fun when you’re in a band with more people and it’s more fun playing gigs. That is an idea, but a different idea, and I think what Bouts are now are what they were supposed to be.
I think any band with different instruments and characters, personalities and different levels of noise, it has to be live otherwise it’s too much to contain in one room.
B: It is. And we’re all in different projects as well on the side and I think it’s the collective experience of what everyone brings that makes it whatever it is.
I was going to mention the Lines Drawing Circles thing… yourselves and Green Lights were around at roughly the same time.
B: We even played gigs together!
And Daniel was in Green Lights with Colin?
B: He was. He was the drummer, yeah.
I loved that band. I listen back now and they’re still really rough but they were great at the time.
B: They were really good. They played an insane amount of gigs. I think Nigel, who was the keyboard player – Nigel is the missing link. Nigel was how I started playing with Daniel, how I got to know Daniel, because I knew Nigel from college. Nigel was the other member of Green Lights. He was the one… myself and Nigel decided we’d form a band and he was like, ‘oh, I live with a drummer, who also happens to be the best drummer I know.’ And we asked him, and then that was it, and then Nigel left.
N: It’s kind of a trend. Someone just leaves, it’s like ringing the doorbell and then doing a runner! Colin’s actually left – I didn’t want to tell you. Yeah, he’s gone now.
B: Shit! You’re breaking it to me on tape too!
I have the exclusive, I’ll write it up as a scandal!
N: We’ll always have two members, Barry, I was just waiting for someone to relieve me.
B: Hang on, he’ll relieve you, then Daniel will come back. Who’ll relieve me?
N: You are the writer – the creator – of these songs. You’ll never be relieved. You’re stuck in your own head for life.
B: Anyway….yeah, Green Lights were really good at what they did. I’m saying that to you because Colin’s here and he’ll hear that, but if you turn that off I’ll tell you what I really think.
N: I missed Green Lights. I was away for over a year and I completely missed the Green Lights/Lines Drawing Circles thing. And I came back and I got to know you from you working in RTE.
B: That was it, yeah, because I met Niall when he was playing in Old Romance.
Niall is a virtuoso who must be recognised.
B: At least in his own head.
N: Yeah, mam calls me a bass whore.
Talking about being in your own head, what has it been like relaunching this band in its new form, and the way the music scene is now towards guitar bands again. I think there was a bit of a tail-off for rock in the past year or two.
N: I remember there were some comments in the last year or two that guitar music is dead – that wasn’t even in Ireland, that was in America. There was this perception that guitar music was dead. The sales would indicate that but definitely not live. Yuck was probably my favourite album last year. That was completely guitar-based, then Cloud Nothings this year.
B: I think it comes in waves the whole time. You can’t be definitive about it. Maybe overall, more electro stuff was punching through or there was and there was less excitement about guitar bands the way there would have been with The Strokes and all that ten years ago.
N: It probably got a bit shit for a while.
B: Yeah it did but it’s reinvented itself. Look, you’ve got the Cloud Nothings album which is terrific, you’ve got Japandroids about to come out with an amazing album. Yyou’ve got Best Coast, band de jour of the internet – they’re guitar based. Has anybody noticed? You’ve got Yuck from last year. You’ve got so many who do that well. Yeah, you’ve got so many who do it shit too.
N: You’ve also got all the reunion tours, so many ‘90s bands reuniting. Afghan Whigs are back, Pavement are back, so many bands from the ‘90s are back.
B: I think that’s an easy headline to write but I think we’re maybe just figuring out that that’s what we like doing best. The keyboard thing we don’t have.
Why is that?
B: Nigel left. [laughter] It’s a sly dig at him.
N: He finally admits it!
B: In the future we might, why not? If there’s room for it. But it’s simply because we like it. I like it. It’s easier. It’s less hassle. And it also gives us the, ‘oh that’s the guys who do the guitar thing, and they’re doing it really well.’
N: It’s worked out in our favour just by coincidence I think.
B: There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. We have put a lot of work into what we’re about to do now.
N: We’re down here two or three times a week.
You’ve got some really nice recognition… Lauren Laverne is a fan, isn’t she?
B: Yeah, she was very nice to us, partly because Colin wrote her a lovely little note but partly she must have liked the music enough to feature it on her show and it did us a huge favour.
N: I think that was back when we’d only set up a twitter account one month previous.
B: Yeah, October or early November. Early November I think. We were only going a couple of weeks and it was a bolt from the blue. The first I knew about it I was going to the cinema and I got an email about it from this Italian music website saying – badly, poorly written – ‘I heard your music on Lauren Laverne.’ I thought it was spam. I read it and, went ‘PFFT!,’ went to the cinema, turned off my phone, came out and it was just insanity.
N: It was really weird – there was actually an increase in followers straight away, an increase in listens and downloads of the EP straight away. I don’t know if it was just coincidental but a few of the Irish stations picked up on it a little bit as well.
It’s the kind of reaction that can’t be created here very easily.
Barry: You’re dead right – not easy.
Niall: As many brilliant DJs as we have, they haven’t got the reach.
Barry: They haven’t got the depth of population.
Niall: We’ve got to have loads of people batting for us like Dan Hegarty and Cathal Funge and a few others, but they just don’t have the reach, and that’s through no fault of their own.
Barry: It was very good, but it does make you realise the audience that is there next door, that is so wide. Irish bands don’t break the UK a huge amount – they’re the exception rather than the rule. Cast of Cheers have been doing a brilliant job – they’re really going for it. Two Door Cinema Club, though? That kind of guitar thing. Any others?
Enda: Does that count?
Niall: They’re on Kitsune, aren’t they?
Barry: Well I suppose, but they are Irish and they have done spectacularly well, but it’s off the frame.
Enda: The exception to the rule.
Barry: Yeah, but Cast of Cheers might just do it.
They are close to blowing up, but the thing is they haven’t actually broken through, which I think is what most people are forgetting in Ireland.
Niall: They’re being really patient. I don’t really want to talk about them but they’re doing the really patient thing where they’re touring with a lot of English bands, and they’re holding off and holding off and holding off. Conor Villagers had to do something similar. You just have to be patient.
Barry: Oh I beg your pardon, Villagers. I mean getting a Mercury nomination.
Niall: I think patience is the word. There was talk of us doing an album this year and we just went, no, let’s take our time. There’s no need for us to rush ourselves to do the album this year. Let’s just gather and gather and record over the winter and look at next year again. That’s actually the lovely thing about this single – it meant we could put the money we did have into releasing a 7” vinyl, which we all wanted to do, and it’s given us a bit of breathing space to do an album. The EP mightn’t have carried us over the full year, but this little release has.
Barry: It was good. We made a very on-the-spot decision coming out of Christmas week, new year, into January just going: ‘Will we do this now? Let’s do it now. Do it while everyone’s still settling into a new year.’
Niall: And also Daniel was leaving.
Barry: That was an impetus – Daniel was on his way out.
Niall: We had three weeks to do something with him.
Did you film a video on New Year’s Day as well?
N: The second video we filmed for ‘Barbs’ I think Christmas week, I think it was just before Christmas. We got up at 5AM and went up to the Hellfire Club and acted like dicks with a few GoPro cameras. We actually have a video coming out for one of the songs on the vinyl. We recorded that the night before Jape actually, the night before the Castelbar gig.
B: I don’t want to give the game away too much but it was recorded in a karaoke booth. That’s all I’m going to say.
N: With double the capacity and double the alcohol.
B: It’s insane. It’s definitely my favourite thing we’ve done ever.
N: We’ve given it a nice Japanese theme. My friend Barry McNeill shot it and his friend Peter Grogan did the post-production on it and Barry edited it himself. We kind of all directed it in our heads but there was no direction – it was chaos.
B: That could have been a disaster. We might not have had a video coming out tomorrow. That’s how thin a line we walked.
N: And the lens on the camera wasn’t big enough to get much in so we had to crowdsurf with us in there.
And are you playing?
N: No, it’s all karaoke.
B: We’re all singing, all our friends are singing. There’s loads of people, loads of kind of musician people hanging around it. Not a huge amount, but enough to…
Enda: Bono’s in there…
N: Yeah, Bono in a pile-on.
B: He wanted to crowdsurf, who were we to… ‘oh, accidentally dropped him.’
N: It was whiskey-fuelled fun. In Yukio Bar, the Japanese karaoke bar next to the Musicmaker. I think we squeezed about 15 people into a 10 person room.
B: It was so hot that you could feel the sweat hanging in the air.
Niall: You know what Colin was reminding me of? The last song we played before we left was ‘Peaches’ by the Presidents of the United States of America.
And then you supported them!
Niall: I totally forgot that. We were all in there singing ‘Peaches.’ We were pissed. A really weird segue into what happened next.
And what was it like playing with those guys because I was really surprised to hear that they were touring and that they’re actually quite good as well.
Niall: In Vicar Street!
Barry: They put on some show, yeah. They’re showmen to the core. I have to say it was probably the best thing I’ve done in the band, live-wise.
Niall: It was amazing fun. And they were really nice guys. Their support was after having to pull out because they missed the ferry.
Barry: Simple as that. So we had less than a day to pull it together. Colin was actually going to be in Mayo for the weekend.
Niall: Yeah, we pulled Colin back from Mayo.
Niall: He cancelled his weekend. It was really strange because, was it Paddy’s Day? It was so messy getting in to rehearse and get the gear down, and none of us had time to think about it. And then they gave us an unlimited guestlist, so all of our friends that were pissed in town arrived into the gig and all of the really loyal Presidents fans were there from like 7PM at the barrier. So we thought we’d play to like eight people looking at their phones, but it was good.
Barry: There was a very respectable crowd. I wouldn’t put a number on it but it was definitely less than a thousand and more than 250 by the end.
Niall: I’m no good at numbers but I’d say there was a million people there!
Barry: I’d say there was at least 4 million people there.
Niall: We had to run over to Borza for a burger about half an hour before we went on because it was that manic that we didn’t even have time to think about anything. I slept it out, the day of rehearsal, which didn’t help.
Barry: That’s a euphemism. ‘Sleeping it out.’
Niall: I was asleep! We literally got up, came in, rehearsed, got through those horrible crowds, had a burger, played and then went ‘what the fuck just happened?’
Enda: Then watched the Presidents do their thing for two hours.
Niall: They were such a powerhouse. He [Chris Ballew] signed t-shirts at the end and it seemed like every single person in Vicar Street bought a t-shirt and got a picture with him and he was just more than happy to do it.
Barry: I think the reason their fans love them so much is that they’re completely unpretentious.
Niall: He does video blogs and everything, a bit like Rivers from Weezer. He’s really good to his fans.
Barry: It’s so rare nowadays. And you kind of go, ‘oh, yeah, well he’s trying a little too hard.’ But then at the show you see what they do, and what they did was they played a whole lot of new stuff at the beginning, then they decided to run through their album, the whole first album, and then they did Beatles covers, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,’ drank Guinness, had people on stage…
Niall: It was very paddywhackery…
Barry: It was a bit. At the end though, they had a rope line to stop the I-don’t-know-how-many people it was who got t-shirts and photos taken with him. It was like, wow. It’s a well-oiled machine but people are completely crazy about them. I couldn’t believe it. I’d never actually seen… I’ve seen Paul Simon play at Vicar Street and there wasn’t that type of insanity at the end.
Niall: But there was – with all due respect to them – a few wires missing, a few mad people in the crowd. The Dutch group of people that followed him around 21 gigs.
Enda: They’re called ‘dedicated fans’ Niall. You’d be happy to have some.
Niall: How many bands have you followed around 21 European cities?
It shows you can be a regular working band and actually make a fanbase out of it. You don’t need constant media bombardment to make that work.
N: It’s always going to be tough to be an independent rock band.
B: If your songs are good enough… I think it’s a bit of a cliché – it is a cliché – but if you’ve got something that sparks with enough people, the in the blink of an eye all that hard work will go away and something could happen. Yes, in one respect it’s a pipe dream but otherwise, why are you in a band? You’re in a band to play music you like and if people happen to like it, great. And if lots of people happen to like it, then wow. It’s not that complicated, really. Yes, we’re in a small little place and don’t really have enough people listening to the type of music we make, but that can change very quickly.
N: Some people probably pretend that they don’t really care, but the more people that like it the better, really.
B: How demoralising would it be to play a live show to like 4 people? Actually that’s happened to ourselves! We’ve done that! We know how demoralising that is actually.
N: It’ll probably happen again though. The important thing is to never think that music owes you anything. It doesn’t owe anybody anything. Once you play with that premise and don’t get caught up in all that success or whatever else, just do what you like doing and don’t ever think that anyone owes you anything. As I get older – 30 this year – I realise that more and more. I prefer playing in this band that any band I’ve ever been in.
What about on Friday, you’re playing with Large Mound.
B: On Thursday.
Niall: But our launch is on the Friday.
B: We’re playing with We Are Losers and Girl Band in the Workman’s Club. Thursday is the Large Mound gig which I am secretly kind of thrilled about – I’m really looking forward to that gig. I remember seeing Large Mound in the Village in 2004 – that was the last time I saw them. They don’t get out much – they don’t get out often enough.
N: They’re so hard working as well. They’re a band to look up to. What we’re doing now, they were doing that 12 years ago.
B: I cannot wait for that. That’s going to be great with Land Lovers as well.
What you said about not worrying about success, there are these bands playing in Dublin who don’t attain the same level of record play… a good few places will pick your songs up as soon as they come out, but Large Mound for example that doesn’t really happen. I think their fanbase is actually crucial too, because that kind of Dinosaur Jr, fuzzy rock songs are exactly the kind of stuff their fans want to hear.
B: There’s not as many Irish bands that do that. If you can do that well.
N: We were so happy to get asked to do that because that’s a nod from people who have been doing it since the ‘90s. I saw Large Mound in 1999. They’ve had a few spontaneously combusting drummers as well, so we’re continuing that trend as well, by changing the drum stool.
B: We told everybody that Daniel is going on holiday but it was a bit messier than that. If you’ve seen Spinal Tap you’ll know.
N: That was months before we planned our tour. And then it just ended up happening that ours fell in Dublin the day afterwards – that’s pure coincidence that we’re playing. We have Thursday with Large Mound at their launch with Land Lovers, then we’ve got Friday in Tower Records at 6pm and then a mad dash over to the Workman’s for 8pm doors for Girl Band, We are Losers and then us, which is another two awesome guitar bands. I’ve got to get earplugs before tomorrow night.
I presume you’ll go for festivals over the summer season… is that the goal?
N: Yeah, it’d be great.
B: It would be nice. We’ve applied for a lot of them.
N: We want to play all of them. We’ve applied for a few but you can’t bully them.
B: You can’t do much more than that. We’re playing one in Leitrim, I know that much.
N: We’re playing in Limerick as well, on Good Friday. It’s called Great Friday. That’s kind of an ad hoc thing. We’re playing the provincial ones at the moment – there seems to be a rite of passage for festivals. If we get the nod we’ll be there.
B: We’d like to play a few – we’d be delighted – but we’re not going to lose any sleep over it.
N: I think we’re a good festival kind of band. I do hope we get picked.
B: I think any band would like to play a festival but we’re still only starting out. It’s still early days so we’ll go wherever we wanna go.
N: We’re not one of those naive bands pretending we don’t want them. We have all of their details, but there is like a pecking order.
Tell me how a successful year for Bouts would finish, if everything could go to plan.
Niall: If we break even.
Barry: If we play something like 35-40 gigs this year. We’re already ten into that. Have an enjoyable summer where we play a few festivals, possibly put down another one of our new songs that has a release in the latter half of the year that’d be just a Soundcloud type job, bring all the demos we have to a more rehearsed fruition, record them as Niall said in the depths of winter of something like that, and then come out in January with everything ready to go again, except it’s an album and it’s a bigger deal.
Niall: Barry records every demo on an iPhone and sends them as memos. I received Memo #106 last week.
Barry: Very few of them are like 30 second sketches. They’re like three or four minute proper songs. That would be a successful year for us and definitely get somebody on board to put us out, whether they’re a tiny small label or, like, a ridiculous label. Doing it again ourselves would be fine, but only if we’ve exhausted somebody who might like the possibility of fitting with a little bit of support from a label. I think it’s a natural progression. It works. It would work well for us.
Niall: The immediate goal is to break even I think, so we can make more music.
Barry: For sure.
Niall: That’s probably everyone’s immediate goal.
Barry: Just in life, to break even.
Today I emailed Barry to ask how the wishes for 2012 panned out. This is his response:
Barry: We’ve done pretty much everything we wanted. Played the 40 or more gigs, played the festivals, put another song out on Soundcloud and we’re currently demo-ing the living Jebus out of all of our new songs. That’s the point of the gig this Saturday – to play them both for ourselves and for people to see where they’re / we’re at.
If you wanted to add that when the interview was recorded all the above was ahead of us – a lot of it unknown – so it seems we’ve hit all we wanted to hit. CMJ was indeed a great marker and milestone – co-incided with our one year anniversary as a band. Recording the next album early in New Year, people should see it before the Summer. But we are going to disappear for a while after Saturday so we can pull everything together. A lot has happened since we talked to you that time!
Bouts play Whelans Upstairs on 17 November with Tremoya and Amateur Historians. Admission is €7, doors are 8pm and a free compilation CD will be presented to those who arrive early.