Looking back now, I wouldn’t say I was that aware of what I liked about the music I listened to as a kid or a teenager. The awareness came after 16 years of playing music when I realised how influential the music of my youth was to how I write songs.
The first band I remember hearing as a kid which, made me want to get involved with music was The Beatles. I found the songs so melodically infectious that I would always tried to mimic them, usually badly. The Beatles to me seemed to have had a limitless appetite to try new things. For me as a kid, I couldn’t believe that “I want to hold your hand” and “Eleanor Rigby” were written by the same band. There is such a difference in feeling, emotion and subject matter between Beatles’ songs that it intrigued me even then. I learnt from them that it doesn’t matter what subject you write about; if you don’t do it with conviction and feeling, then no one will believe you. The Beatles also introduced me to melody and how you can get a story or message across with your lyrics. Melody is still to this day the main driving force behind how I write songs.
The largest musical influence on my early teenage years that helped shape the music I play today was Nirvana. Kurt Cobain’s voice was a game changer for me. I would have easily slipped into “safe” chart musical options like UB40, 2Unlimited or worse still Aslan if it wasn’t for Pat Gillen (bass player with Hope is Noise) lending me Nevermind. It was because of Nirvana that I got a guitar at 15. Joe (Hope is Noise guitarist) and I got a guitar at the same time. We have been playing together ever since. Kurt’s melodies and delivery are second to none in my opinion. He showed me how you could scream and shout your head off but still carry the tune; melody did not require a pitch perfect voice or blended harmonies. You can get it from a loud guitar and genuine heartfelt vocal. I know Kurt never put much credence in his lyrics but to me his attachment to them was very obvious.
Since then the list of vocalists whose bands and songs had an impact on how I write and perform is huge. These include: Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü, Sugar), Rick Froberg and John Reis (Hot Snakes, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket from the Crypt), Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto (Fugazi), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer) and Black Francis (The Pixies). The list is endless but these are the main guys who have had a bearing in finding my style. They have, in my opinion the ability to be extremely melodic one minute while screaming the shit out of it the next. There’s always an intensity and excitement in this style of vocal delivery that I admire and try to bring to anything I write.
The biggest influences on my writing today are the other musicians I get to practice and play with on a weekly basis, especially my Hope is Noise and Slow Motion Heroes band mates. They all function as my “shit filter” which helps keep me on my toes though some shit still gets through. These guys share the same passion I do for music and it’s in this community that I get the greatest impetus to keep writing and performing. I have met some of the craziest, coolest and nicest people ever in playing music and long may they continue to influence and inspire me.
Tell us about how you got to your own lyrical style:
I have been pretty lucky in being able to play music constantly and in doing so, I get to collaborate with other people without whose help, many of my riffs or melodies may never have become songs.. With Hope is Noise it is usually the process of me bringing 50 -75% completed song to jamming and finishing the song as a band. However once the music is put together, the collaboration stops. All the lyrics are left to me to write.
Melody is fundamental to me. I write 90% of my songs on acoustic. I find this the easiest way to write music. I like to be on my own when writing lyrics away from the jamming room so it is usually in a room with the guitar and a notepad. I am not one of those guys who keeps journals or notebooks of lyrics so I write pretty quickly once we are happy with the music. I constantly tweak the lyrics right up to and during recording.
After that, the golden rule for me is write about what I care about; from personal experience and emotion. You can, in my opinion, only really do a song justice if you truly believe what you are singing. Writing about topics like the war in Afghanistan or famine in Africa is very alien to me. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about world events but it’s always been the more personal events that have inspired my lyric writing.
When I started playing and writing at 15 or 16, I tried to write lyrics just like bands I was listening to. It took me a long time to figure out my own style. Two or three years before recording Applaud friends, I came out of a 5 year relationship, was single, and then started a new relationship, and I found that this period gave me a very clear focus about what to write about. There were plenty of bad and good times during this period and it kick started me in finding my own style. The majority of the songs on that first album are about relationship stuff but some of them like Subtitles and I live with Bruce Banner are about the trials of living with house mates. I had also just moved into a gaff in town.
Though the lyrics for the second and third albums are more politically or socially focused, I still write the lyrics so that they can be applied to personal relationships or issues. The majority of my songs are written in such a way that the listener can apply the lyrics to their own lives even though I wrote them about mine. Most times there may be only be a line or a verse about the actual person or event the song is about. I write the rest of the song about something else but I still want to convey the same genuine feeling. I usually take a political issue and twist it to fit a personal one or vice versa
For example, Peace and Quiet is a very politically angry song but the essence of the song was written about a nagging (that’s how I perceived it) girlfriend…. so I try not to limit my songs to one specific theme or topic.
“This used to be a laugh” is our third album and in many ways is a departure from what we have done in the past. Our last two albums were very produced and overly polished in places, which was often at odds with how we sounded live. We really wanted to capture our live sound with this album. Not only did we want a rawer and heavier sound we also wanted to experiment with some instrumental tracks. Hope is Noise has always relied on a catchy chorus or melody (this is not a bad thing) but we wanted to see if we could write interesting music without vocals. It was very much a learning process for us and we are delighted with how we were able to challenge ourselves to create something different. There is still melody in this album but it is surrounded by a more aggressive and intense sound.
The majority of the songs on “This used to be a laugh” have an emphasis on the political and social wrongs of this country (Das Ich, Official Party Line, Sleeping Dogs). All love and nothing is in the vein of Subtitles as it is concerned with someone who has pissed me off on several occasions in the last few years. It is not a angry song but more a “cop on” song….haha. The instrumental songs do not have a particular theme but they fit quite nicely into the overall intensity of the rest of the album.
Having worked with Ciaran O’Shea for our last two albums, we decided to work with someone different this time. Noel Lynch has been one of our biggest supports over the last 6 or 7 years and it was his love and understanding of our music that allowed us to create something we are really proud of. We recorded and mixed it in a week (spread over 6 months) in Cork and Bantry and got to work with the mighty Lawrence White who has recorded Slow Motion Heroes and Revolution of a Sun.
The album is being released on March 16th on 10” vinyl by Wing Nut Records and on CD by FIFA Records. We are launching it in Freds with a mini-festival featuring some of Ireland’s best bands including Revolution of a Sun, I’ll Eat Your Face, Them Martyrs and Agitate the Gravel. All proceeds go to Ataxia Ireland.
Plans for the future?
We have never been a band that lays down future plans but we hope to be able to continue jamming and writing music together. Having recently signed to FIFA Records, we hope we can now reach a larger audience by playing more gigs outside Cork. We continue to write music and hopefully will get the opportunity to record again this year. Other than that we are old men who could possibly get heart attacks from all the excitement and drop dead but hopefully that will only happen to Pat…ha ha.
Check out the new HIN album here:
Hope is Noise launch “This Used to be a Laugh” on the 16th/17th March with a massive two-day shindig in Fred Zeppelin’s, Cork
Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/events/215584205203407/