Tag Archives: Interview

Like A Bird

Like A Bird

Wallis Bird discusses condoms, coke and travelling, and reassures Sally Hayden that she’s not ALWAYS happy.

Wallis Bird is hyper. “Too much coke”, she declares. “Coca cola that is!”

This Meath-born Wexford-bred ball of energy has just turned thirty. A modern-day nomad, she is permanently in flight. Her wandering lifestyle is reminiscent of Ryan Bingham in Up in the Air, encased in the paradox that change can be similarity. “I think the constant thing is that you always keep moving, that’s the only thing that has really been solid in my life since I was a child.” Bird is just back from Holland, a “really cool country, very open-minded system and beautiful landscape”, flying in to support Rodrigo y Gabriela in the UK before coming over to Ireland.

Though she mentions a home she seems, somewhat admirably, to lack the standard human feelings of attachment. “It’s kind of part of the game to be on the road really… It’s kind of incredible to be able to get out of a train or get out of a bus in a different country every day, in a different town, different currency, different language, you know it’s incredible. Travelling around, seeing all of this different culture, yeah I mean, what’s not to love?”

But at least she has an entourage. “Ah yeah, I have my person who lifts me up stairs and who drinks my tea and makes sure it’s stirred! No, I think it’s just us the band, and a tour manager. Entourage, like people hang around that make us look cool? No. We always pick up a few people along the way, but it’s not really an entourage. We just kind of hang around, do our own thing, play the gigs, meet people after the show, party and go on to the next one. I suppose it’s a temporary entourage all the time, yes.”

Signing with Island Records six years ago brought her to London, for better and for worse. “The scene is excellent, it’s kind of the epicentre of the music business as such, but that doesn’t mean that it’s anywhere better than anywhere else, I prefer jamming at house parties as opposed to big serious gigs or going around and networking, all of that shite that comes with London.”

Three albums down, she describes her music as “the basic rhythms of a nation”; a genre-neutral nation that is. “I would describe it as a healthy mixture of many, many different styles ranging from rock to jazz to reggae even. It’s, oh fuck, you explain it for me, you’re better, you’re the journalist. It’s very style-blind.”

Musicians overcoming adversity seems to be par on course with the emphasis on today’s X-factor sob-stories, but Bird is an authentic example. At just 16 months old she was in a lawnmower accident, which led to five of her fingers being chopped off. Four were sewn back on, and as a result the originally-left handed songstress plays a right-handed guitar upside-down. “Because I wasn’t allowed to do it after the accident, you know you have to rest your hand. That made me want to do everything double the amount more… It shaped me as a person, definitely. I work harder at a lot of stuff based on the fact that I grew up just wanting to prove people wrong.”

She’s also one of a rare breed of musicians that will unashamedly reference their ego. “Mostly my success is quite simplified down to just wanting to just play music for the rest of my life and live my life by that. That would be the only success that I wish really to have, but you know because of my ego I like to have that massaged every now and again, so I suppose I’m probably like most musicians in that way.”

Bird’s glee radiates from her music and her voice. It is infectious and undeniable. If there’s a secret to eternal happiness, Otwo believes she’s the keeper. “I do of course have a lot of sadness and elements of deep-rooted depression, I think everybody does, to be able to allow myself to get down and low, but I tend to work myself out of it, and I think the positivity is just the allowing to allow myself to feel any way that I want to feel, and I think that’s where I get my energy to be positive.”

Her life advice to students is to let loose, get practical experience and “always have condoms. Yes, always have condoms, that’s handy.”

And with such a pun-friendly moniker, Otwo asks her can she bear the the inevitable associated quips. “Do you know what, out of all the interviews that I’ve had there haven’t been as many as I thought there would be. I think people might have found that a little bit too lazy or something. But no, it’s cute. Like a lot of people call me Birdy Bird. I’m sure for the release of the record there might be quite a few ‘this bird will fly’ or something to that effect.”

“Birds tend to sing to themselves and enjoy their own life, don’t they, and share it with us a little bit. That’s alright.”

Originally published in the University Observer in March 2012

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Colm Tóibín Interview: Tell me something that you are sure is true

Prior to his appearance in UCD, novelist Colm Tóibín talks gay babies, Dana, emigration and Starbucks with Sally Hayden.

It’s not every day you get the chance to chat to one of Britain’s top 300 intellectuals. Apart from the eternal question of Rice Krispies versus Coco Pops, this was Otwo’s first notable thought this morning. Even more notable because this intellectual is most definitely Irish.

Colm Tóibín is rankled about the recent Observer list too, but for a different reason. “I thought 300 was a lot of people, and some of the other people were not very smart at all. If they had said I was one of fifty I would have been happier. They should have ranked us!”

It is twenty-one years since Tóibín wrote The South. His first novel dealt with the topics of immigration and sense of self, themes that are recurring throughout his subsequent works. It is set in Barcelona, where Tóibín himself moved in 1975, immediately after graduating from UCD. A cyclical market and an unprecedented global downturn have ensured that our generation are fleeing the fatherland just as hastily. At the recent Irish Economic Forum Tóibín called this a “tragedy.”

Whilst noting the mind-expanding benefits of spending anything from a year in Sydney to two weeks in Costa da Brava, he points out the serious detriment of the “disaster” of relocation in the longer term. “The entire business of permanent migration, of losing your roots and your relationship to the place you were brought up in, and you suddenly think twenty years later that everyone drinks in the same bar as they did twenty years ago. You think everyone at home is the same age as they were when you left, when in fact they’ve got two kids.

“Your dream of home now doesn’t equal the reality. Your entire relationship to your peer group and your family begins to dissolve and change fundamentally, and you end up a decade later coming home less and less, and having less and less connection to home.”

Upon his return to Ireland after three years he found it backward in every way. “To give you one small example, in 1978, when I came back to Dublin, there was one coffee machine in the entire city.”

Now Dubliners are besieged by the epitome of the American coffee dream itself, in the form of Starbucks and its various competitors. However for Tóibín, modern Ireland is still founding wanting. “I think in most families there’s an absolute innate racism where you learn not to say things, but if your son or daughter came home with somebody from a different race you would be very concerned about that”.

The same applies to sexuality, negative attitudes to which still lie latent, the explicitness of which, according to Tóibín, we’ve learnt to “disguise”. “There’s no overt homophobia in political discourse, or the newspapers, or on radio, but it doesn’t mean that anybody longs to have a gay baby.”

Tóibín’s laugh is as infectious as his books are miserable. During our brief time talking Otwo chuckled, giggled, chortled and guffawed. His latest work is a film script. “I can’t write comedy. This really was a comedy, I swear to you. But I looked at it yesterday and thought ‘we’ll have to get sad music for it now.’”

As a patron and producer of the arts, he is delighted about the recent election of Michael D. Higgins to the Presidency. “He is stylish, he is cultured, he is articulate, and as he said himself, being old was not a secret he was keeping. So [I’m] very pleased with the result, I think he’s a most civilised human being. Perhaps more civilised than most of the people who elected him.”

Having said that, he did wonder if these voters deserved Dana instead. “I think it was a good idea to accuse Martin McGuinness of something, but it was hard to think up of the others. Dana had American nationality, who cares? Mary Davis was on some state board. Yeah, well, I’m on the Arts Council, I was appointed by Fianna Fáil. They needed someone competent, they appointed me. She didn’t defend herself enough by saying ‘would you shut up’.”

Sensing a prime chance to shape the political future of Ireland, Otwo slyly suggests President Tóibín for 2018. “You think I would tour around the country telling everyone that I thought I had qualities that were presidential? I think self-deprecation is actually fundamental to citizenship. I would hate the National Ploughing Championships. I would hate getting into wellies!”

Three times a Booker Prize potential, Tóibín also has no interest in the “theatre of cruelty” that are awards ceremonies. “I actually knew Anthony Burgess, and he wouldn’t go to the Booker ceremony unless he was sure he had won. It was that year that his wonderful novel Earthly Powers was beaten by some novel by William Golding, and Burgess just said ‘why does anyone think I’m just going to go and travel all the way over from Monaco and sit there and not win?’”

Though never previously renowned as a breeding grounds for British intellectuals, with the year of the Queen, the times they are a-changing. “UCD is a great place. I kneel down every morning and thank God I didn’t go to Trinity.”

Otwo tells Tóibín to not give up on the comedy.

Colm Tóibín will speak to UCD’s English and Literary Society on Wednesday 23rd November in Theatre O (Newman Building) at 6:30pm

Forever Loose: Republic of Loose Interview x2

Published on the 4th October 2011 by the University Observer

2001 was the year that changed global politics forever; the first cloned monkey was born, George Harrison died, Ireland didn’t win the Eurovision and (luckily for the compilation of this sort of unsystematic list) Wikipedia was launched on the internet. It was also the year that “a huge metaphysical overturning” of Mick Pyro’s value system provided the catalyst for a young troop of fortune hunters to become united with the aim of creating beautiful, funky music.

Ten years later and Republic of Loose are still very much together. Bono has called them “trailblazing sophisticated soul bootboys”, and Gary Lightbody, “the best band in the country.” Sinead O’Connor asked could she abandon her solo career to become a member, and Irvine Welsh said ‘Comeback Girl’ was “one of the greatest songs ever recorded”. With four albums and fifteen singles behind them, their fervour shows no sign of abating. However, it would be easy to see why, perhaps, a decade without properly progressing beyond the Irish market might create some level of despondency amongst the band.

“The hustle never stops”, as Benjamin Loose puts it to Otwo. “I think we’re going to release ‘Comeback Girl’ in the States in November and we’re looking to release another single around February and then to go over around Paddy’s Day and tour the east coast.” In addition to these plans, they’re soon creating a compilation album, to be available worldwide online and physically in France and Germany, along with recording several new songs in Ireland with the aim of releasing another single here in October.

Grand designs aside, the band are also currently promoting their involvement in the First Fortnight Student Tour, which has been organised by First Fortnight, a non-profit charity aiming to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination through the arts. Loose doesn’t claim that the band are in any way experts in the area of mental health, but emphasises that their support for the cause is sincere.

“Well it was an exciting idea to play a bunch of colleges in a short period of time. And it is a good cause, so it’s something to be involved with. It’s not something that we know a whole lot about but it’s a crazy world we live in so anything that wants to give help to people or give solace to people has got to be a good thing.”

Their gig at the Student Bar next week marks a regular return for the lead singer to his alma mater. “Mick and one of our guitar players both went to UCD for years. Mick did a Masters in Renaissance Literature and, I think, English and Spanish”. Loose, however, studied theology in Trinity. “I try not to mention that too much.”

With competing ideas, growing egos and close quarters, many musicians fail to find the perfect working relationship within their bands, leading to tumultuous public break-ups that can put Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston to shame. “We hate each other,” Loose laughs. “I’m only kidding, we’re pretty tight. It’s kind of like a family. You get so used to each other that you don’t even need to do the usual things that friends usually do, you know each other that well.”

Loose also admits that the State of Loose isn’t always a democratic republic but then again,  democracy isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. “We know when someone’s got a vision for something, whether it’s a song, or a gig, or an idea for a link in a live set. Sometimes democracies don’t work. Sometimes you need visions and sometimes visions can’t be compromised and can’t accommodate another opinion. I remember reading an interview with your man from Bell X1 saying that their band is very democratic and as a result he feels that an idea can be compromised. Sometimes things need to be unadulterated and seen through to their bloody end whether for good or for bad.”

Internal politics notwithstanding, is there life outside of funk-rock for this musician? “If I wasn’t making music, I’d be in trouble,” Loose declares emphatically. And Otwo has to agree; if you have someone to listen, there are certainly worse ways to spend ten years than playing in a band, whether your location be Belfield, Paris or Miami.

Wherever the next decade takes them (Loose thinks a duet with Cee Lo Green would be cool), Mick, Ben and their confusingly assorted associates will always be counted among our own, but hopefully they’ll have more of a chance to escape their poor meteorological luck once they’re abroad. “Usually when we play outdoors it rains, it’s the ‘Curse of the Loose’. It’s happened to us in every country.” Sounds more like the curse of the Irish to Otwo.

Republic of Loose play the Student Bar on October 10th as part of the First Fortnight Student Tour, which aims to challenge mental health prejudice and discrimination. For more information see Firstfortnight.com

You Can Make Sound

Published on 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Whether you love them, loathe them or remain wholly indifferent to them, you’ve probably seen them play live. otwo spoke to Delorentos guitarist Kieran McGuinness just before the European release of the band’s second album, You Can Make Sound.

The forthcoming promo tour of Europe is a mammoth cry from the band’s position a year ago. “It wasn’t that we almost broke up,” McGuinness explains, “it was more that we felt we couldn’t go on the way we were going. We pushed ourselves very hard and we were getting a bit careless with looking after each other. The first year we got tons of amazing reviews and played tons of amazing gigs and all, but we kind of expected it, we didn’t sit back and enjoy it, but now we’re able to sit back and go, this is what we want, this is great.”

Their regular association with the UCD Student Bar also holds related recollections. “The first gig after we decided not to break up was there last year, and we announced on the stage that we weren’t going to, and everyone went a bit crazy. It was great! Whenever we play UCD we go down, get a doughnut and have a cup of coffee before we go on. One of our first brushes with A&R came at UCD too – we ended up getting to record our first release through that, so the student bar always holds good memories for us.”

otwo asks whether McGuinness usually enjoys relative anonymity when he goes out or whether he’s besieged by hoards of screaming girls. “Sometimes I get recognised on the street. There was a time I was in a rough part of town and some guy came up behind me and punched me in the back of the head, completely floored me, then walked away. So I was lying there and another guy walked up and asked if I was OK, and then he was like, ‘Oh my God! It’s the guy from Delorentos!’ He was looking at me like he wanted me to sign something and I was there lying on the ground…”

Exceptionally modest about the band’s success so far, Kieran can’t see anything else he could possibly be spending his time on. “I would always be doing music. I mightn’t be in this band, or I might be playing a different instrument but I’d still be doing music. Music is what I was always supposed to be doing.

“The most important thing to do is write and play songs, and if you’re good at that, get gigs,” he concludes. “I don’t think there’s any rocket science to it. If you play well and love it, you’ll get better at it and then people will like what you do and come to your gigs.”

Delorentos played the Academy last week.

Causing a Fiasco

Published on the 30th March 2010 by the University Observer

Northern Irish three-piece General Fiasco prove that appearances are deceptive. Though you would be forgiven for thinking they were barely out of school, this band have been there and bought the t-shirt on the music scene. Brothers Owen and Enda Strathern and Shane Davey have been supporting themselves through music for the last 18 months, and have no plans of ceasing any time soon.

otwo meets Owen in the Odessa Club off George’s Street. The exclusive members-only establishment is a good indication of how far the band has come, and Owen tells me of the change that has happened.

“Back at the start when we first went on tour, we didn’t have any money so we had to sleep in a van; the clubs we were playing were so small that they had no showers so we’d go to a swimming pool before we played the gigs, have a swim and get a shower and stuff. But it’s all part of the experience – going from sleeping in a van to sneaking five people into a hotel room and gradually getting a few more rooms and a bit more comfort.”

Their debut album Buildings was released last week. “The album’s something we’ve been working on for quite a while now. We recorded it gradually, we were touring for about a year and a half and we sort of recorded whenever we were home between tours, so it’s just something that happened naturally. It’s some songs we wrote a few years ago and some songs we wrote a few months ago. We didn’t just get a record deal and then write a whole new album, some of the songs that people first got excited about are still there so hopefully people will still like them.”

Owen also has a novel take on the alcohol and revelry-laden teen years many inhabit. “Sitting in Belfast losing days and partying and stuff, it was just something to write about. Not being content with what we were doing, you sort of feel like you’re treading water, doing nothing and being aware that you yourself are slipping into the same thing as your friends are,” he supposes. “It was just something we experienced, something that everybody does no doubt about it. Getting a routine, going out and partying you sort of lose sight of the things that are important.”

Though Owen admits he finds being recognised awkward, the impression made when playing is essential to achieve. “People only get to make their first impression once so make sure when you get out and start playing to people that you’re the best band that you possibly can be. You’ve gotta be great before you do anything.”

General Fiasco’s album Buildings is out now

Up the Scruff?

Published on the 19th January 2010 by the University Observer

You’ll be forgiven if you don’t instantly recognise the recording name that is Mr Scruff, though the likelihood is that you’ll recognise some of the tunes behind the handle. Scruff (known to his mother as Andy Carthy) is a British DJ, artist and tremendous tea enthusiast. Speaking to him the day before he performs a series of gigs in Canada, we talk about music, hot drinks and horribly drunk students.

As a DJ, Scruff is renowned for his extremely lengthy sets, which can often last five or six hours. Scruff humbly downplays his stamina. “I get the energy from the same place all the dancers get the energy. I just stand there putting records on. I’m playing my favourite records on a great sound-system to a load of lovely people, I’m not going to be looking at my watch.”

A former shelf-stacker, Scruff clearly takes great pride in what he does, and expects others to do the same. “The only bad experience I had playing to students was playing a fresher’s ball once in Coventry – a club full of eighteen-year-olds who had probably never drunk before and were licking each other’s faces and getting drunk on alcopops.”

Scruff ensures there is a tea-stall set up at every performance he plays, and I ask him whether this is an anti-booze revolution, but he believes in both in equal measures. “It’s just about giving people an option. Normally if you go into a bar after 7pm they’ll tell you they can’t make you a hot drink, but then they’ll spend ten minutes making you a cocktail. That’s only for mainland Britain though; for overseas gigs I either bring my records or my teabags and I don’t think people would pay to come and watch me drink tea all day.”

Scruff also hails the arrival of the laptop and how accessible it makes music creation for all. “There’s an enormous amount of music being released because it’s so easy to do now. It’s lead to an inordinate amount of bad music but also an incredible amount of good music, there’s just more to wade through.”

Mr Scruff’s music videos and onstage performances are accompanied and characterised by his unique illustrations, usually involving a potato. “I’ve drawn in that exact style for twenty years now. On one level I’m really kind of geeky and trainspottery and nerdy about music so the little potato characters show the other side which is the kind of daft eccentric silly side as well. It’s good to present something which can potentially be very beardstroky.”

These images also help him combat the issue of being commonly recognised. “I think you’re famous when people who have no idea what you do start shouting at you across the street and that definitely doesn’t happen to me, because most people think that I’m a potato, and I’m quite happy with it that way.”

The Bailey’s Tale: Interview with Bill

Published on the 24th November 2009 by the University Observer

otwo meets Bill Bailey just as the comedian is leaving Theatre L (“the tiny woodlouse of dreams”) where he had received the L&H’s James Joyce Award, a LawSoc Honorary Life Membership, done some stand-up and a Q&A session for a “much smaller crowd than usual”.

IMG_8263Let’s cross our fingers that UC-double-D finds fame in one of Bailey’s routines, because one student certainly made an impact. “I’ve never been asked if I wore pyjamas or not,” says Bailey, recalling how his evening had gone. “Occasionally there are people who say, ‘Get in touch with me. Touch the beard, kiss the hair,’ something like that, but the pyjamas one… that’s a first. I was really impressed by that.”

How does it feel to be a James Joyce Award recipient? “It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. I’ve never received any award or any kind of university bestowing-of-things before, and so the only ones I’ve done have been like award ceremonies for TV things, or the only other award that really made any impact on me was from the Composer’s Association. This here is the best award ceremony there is! […] You don’t have to sit there for hours and hours watching other people go, ‘I’d just like to thank…’ It’s brilliant! I’d like all award ceremonies to be like this.”

The first rule of comedy is ‘thou shalt know thy audience’, and Bailey hit the jackpot with his opening verse to the assembled crowd:

 

“You may have won this time, Henry,

you may have scored,

but you are a fraud,

and now you will never be a recipient

of the James Joyce Award.”

Uniquely, Bailey’s comedy is lacquered with tremendous musical ability. otwoasks which of the two arts Bailey prefers. “If I had to choose between music or comedy I couldn’t possibly do it, I’d sort of shatter, like kryptonite! It’s very difficult, I’ve never been able to choose. No, it will probably always be comedy; only because I love the spoken word, I love the nature of comedy, the way it’s a connection with an audience just through voice and through language. Music’s great because it does that on a visceral level which you’re not quite aware of… language is quicker and has more of an immediacy to it, so probably comedy then.”

His passion for English led to him studying it for a year in college, and in the same way led to his career path. “I love the work that Irish comedians like Dylan [Moran], Tommy Tiernan… people like that who use language, it’s a celebration of language, that’s what I love about it and anyone that does that.” Bailey reserves special praise for Daniel Kitson: “I love seeing him because he sort of takes the stand-up form a bit beyond stand up.”

Coming from a family of doctors and stonemasons, Bailey was forced to look outside the home for childhood inspiration. “When I was a kid I was watching comedians like Les Dawson on the TV; they were these guys who messed around with music and comedy so that was a big inspiration. And then punk bands, that was my era, I went to see the Stranglers and the Undertones, and I graduated to bands like Talking Heads. We had a piano at home so I just naturally wanted to play it too… make noise.”

Though the grey hair might deceive you, Bailey is only 45, and still half-troll half-rebel, composing the song “Asda, I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Bitch” after being asked to do an Asda ad campaign (ironically probably resulting in even greater publicity). Bailey also admits to smoking cannabis during his downtime. “Not as much as I did, because I suffer from asthma; I have to be a bit careful, because wheezing, stoned, is not something you want to do at all. Try to remember where you put your inhaler.”

And what of a possible return to Never Mind the Buzzcocks where Bailey was a much-loved team captain? “You know what, I did a hundred shows of Buzzcocks. A hundred shows! When you get to a hundred of anything – you eat a hundred carrots – you think, ‘That’s enough’. And also I did get a bit fed up… I’m a grown man [but] I’m humming the introduction to ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears to some gormless indie halfwit.”

With a sell-out gig at The O2 under his belt, Bailey is not stuck for other distractions. He loiters drinking wine, though, until his tour manager decides it’s time to depart, and not before answering the question of the evening.

“No, of course I don’t wear pyjamas to bed! Because I’m covered in hair, I’ve always been hairy – even as a child I was hairy… I’d be too hot, so no.”