Having put out their debut album just under a month ago. Kristan Johnson had a chance to interview Alan Duggan, the guitarist of Dublin’s intense and noisy Girl Band to talk about the recording and freedom of finishing ‘Holding Hands with Jamie’, the future of Girl Band and a beginner’s guide to the Irish music scene.
NT: You just released your debut LP, how was the whole experience?
AD: Ya, it was cool, we were doing a tour through the US for a while, and it was our first tour there. So at the end of that we came straight from America to the studio, and we started recording the record. It was really good, we recorded it all live, some of the tracks we’d had for a long time, so we were able to blast through very quickly. But ya, recording was great, it was really exciting then when the record finally came out, it’s really cool altogether.
NT: Sounds like you had a lot of time to maul over the material for the record during that tour.
AD: Ya, ya, ya, I mean, we recorded the whole thing live, so having come straight off a long tour it was right into it. Ya, it was cool, it made the whole thing a lot easier.
NT: Ya, sounds perfect, were you doing a Minutemen type recording, where you just had it in mind and bust through a whole set and mixed that as an album?
AD: Umm, no, we knew what songs we were gonna do, we didn’t know exactly what order we were gonna do them in or anything like that. We just knew the song and then it was like whatever we’re feeling, like ‘do we wanna give that one a go’ like ‘ya cool, that’s good’. And just recording live makes the whole thing go quicker.
NT: I noticed that you guys had been releasing a lot of your old demos recently, have you been playing that material at shows, or is it just ‘for the fans’?
AD: Ya, so we released a couple of singles with Any Other City records and they were the kind of people that got us a lot of attention.outside of Ireland, and then when we signed to Rough Trade no one really knew us in North America, so we so we got the idea to re-release a couple of tracks as a kind of introduction to the band for people who wouldn’t have know those songs. So, it’s just a collection of some early singles and we still do play a lot of them. They’re really fun ones. For a while we’d had nothing released, album wise, so they’d be the only tracks that people’d know. This tour’s been the first time we’ve seen people actually know some of the tracks off the album, which is kind of bizarre, because they’ve always just been tracks that only we’ve known. So it’s going to be interesting following forward to say that change in reaction to the songs.
NT: That sounds like a band in my area, that’s getting close to releasing their first LP, they’ve got a load of singles, but they’ll play a few album tracks that only they know.
AD: Ya, for sure, it’s definitely a bit of a change, and we can’t really fuck around like we do on songs, like make mistakes or forget lyrics anymore. We have to know the songs. So it’s kind of different.
NT: I guess you can’t be as ‘jazzy’ with the way you approach your songs?
AD: Ya, the way we right is that we try to be very open and not stick to any sort of verse/chorus structure. So, we try to experiment with structure as much as we can. In terms of playing live, it’s very strict, we don’t improvise or anything like that. Very much what we wrote, is what we play live.
NT: So you guys have a pretty unique sound, but with such a unique sound have you ever felt limited?
AD: No, I mean, we’ve been writing for a while, and it’s not like ‘this is our sound, this is the sound we want to make’ these are just songs that we’ve had that kind of work cohesively together. So in terms of newer projects or whatever, it just feels really open. We can go in so many directions. I mean, we can’t go and just do an album full of acoustic ballads, that’d just be too far. We’re talking about different things for newer projects and not trying to stick to a very “we’ve done that album, so let’s try and do it again, do it better”, now it’s like “we’ve done that album, what else can we do musically that’s still gonna work for the four of us as players and musicians”. It’s exciting to be honest, because you don’t really have any sort of big rules. The albums gone well, I mean we can just keep doing what we’re doing without any sort of outside influences. We can be selfish and put ourselves first in terms of the songwriting.
NT: At the end of the day, the bands that are doing it because they like what they’re making, and they like their own sounds it just sounds better.
AD: Ya, I think so, we always writing music for ourselves, like music that we cant to hear. Like “Ya, I’d like to hear something that sounds kind of like that, or like that”. It’s a healthy way of approaching it. Instead of trying to write music for a certain genre or people, it distorts what you’re doing.
NT: You mentioned some new projects for Girl Band, are you able to talk about that, or is it under wraps?
AD: We don’t really have any projects at the moment. We’re kind of at this place where we’ve got a couple of new ideas together, but not songs even, just a lot of ideas. Then we have to tour until Christmas. It’s at a nice stage where it’s like a blank canvas. We can approach it again and be like ‘what can we do here’, we have no songs. Even for ‘Pears of Lunch’, we released that as a single, and there’s no b-side. You know, we had no b-side. We released it physically, so what we’ve done instead is on the flip side of the record is we’ve done an etching of our drummer’s face. So it’s kind of nice to have is face on the b-side. But you know, we have no music left, but it’s cool because we don’t feel pressured or anything. We have time to think and get ideas going then just go in and start writing.
NT: Do you typically go in and come up with a new song through jamming together?
AD: The way we write would be like one person comes in with a riff or chords. The way we do it is we all get in the room together, make a lot of noise, record it, listen back and then hear maybe one thing out of say, 6 minutes of jamming. Then say ‘okay’ then just reduce it all down and try to develop that idea; come up with different parts and see what makes sense before and what makes sense after. That’s kind of the way we think about approaching it.
NT: That’s cool, it’s always interesting hearing how bands come up with their material.
AD: Ya,it’s the same for us. We rent a rehearsal space with a lot of different bands. There’s a really good band from Ireland called ‘Jetsetter’. We rehearse next to each other and they’re completely different than our kind of music. But we go in and spent like 3 weeks or 2 months working on a song and when we finally get it done we’re like ‘we have a new song!’ and they come in and hear it. Then we go in for them and they’re like ‘ya we wrote 7 songs today’. They’re definitely a bit more efficient anyway.
NT: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about the Dublin music scene, I feel like it’s a bit under-represented.
AD: Ya, for sure. Ireland in general is very small, It’s a really small country and it’s a really small population. Logistically for bands who get out and tour a lot more it’s a lot more difficult because it’s an island. If you’re a band from the UK to tour and to get into Europe it’s logistically a lot easier because you can just get the tunnel to France and then you’re in mainland Europe. Whereas in Ireland you have to get a ferry to France or a ferry to the UK and it just costs way more money, you know what I mean?. So I just think it’s kind of difficult for Irish bands to get touring. But in terms of the scene itself, it’s very healthy, there’s not like this huge scene of like noise bands or anything like that, it’s really varied, there’s a lot of different types of groups. At the moment tonight, we’re playing with a guy called Paddy Hanna, he’s kind of like a mix between Daniel Johnson and Scott Walker or something. You’ve got a lot of techno, there’s a lot of different types of bands. It’s cool, when you go to a gig chances are you won’t just see like 6 of the same type of bands in a row. Chances are you can get a good mix of a lot of different types of music. It’s nice, everyone knows each other, it’s cool, it’s a cool place to be if you’re a band. It’s also not a huge industry here so there’s not that kind of pressure to make it as much as there might be in say, London. Where bands can get picked up straight away and then dropped straight away, it gives bands more time to develop and take their song with songwriting, and figure out what they’re doing.
NT: I don’t know if it’s similar to the Toronto scene, but there’s a weird dynamic where a band will play here and no one will care, but then after they go out and tour the US and get popular. Then they come back and everyone’s suddenly like ‘I love these guys’.
AD: Ya, that’s not too dissimilar from Ireland, the Irish crowds can be a little cynical in ways, in the sense that if you the thumbs up from a big international music site or international newspaper or something like that not from Ireland, everyone’s like ‘oh jeez, they must be serious now’ so there’s a bit of that kind cynical-ness too. Like, we sold out shows in the UK before we sold out shows in Ireland.
NT: So, do you guys strictly stick to playing in Girl Band, or do you guys play in other projects, too?
AD: It’s kind of different between different members of the band, like I’m just in Girl Band myself, as is Adam. Daniel is a sound engineer so he is involved in producing a lot of other bands. Derek, he’s in a number of different side projects, that are all just joke bands. Literally just going down to the practice space with a couple of friends and havign a few beers and just making up silly bands, with made up names like Farm Boy, and Second-Hand Children, nothing serious. There’s no serious side-projects, it’s not that we’re against it or anything, but we just don’t really have the time. We just put out our first album, so we’re just enjoying this, you know touring and walking into a shop and seeing your record there. It’s really sweet.
NT: It must be weird to be able to go to another country after putting our your LP and having fans there. Amazing, but weird.
AD: It’s very very weird, we had it the other day where we played our first show in Russia, in a club in Moscow. It was on Sunday night, it was like ‘ah shit, there’s not gonna be anyone at this gig, but we’ll do the show and then be able to see Moscow’. So we went down there, and there was like 200 people there, which is small for a big band, but we’re not a big band. So for us it was fucking huge. We were like ‘holy shit, there’s like 200 people here, that’s absolutely huge’ and people were so excited to see us. It was really really bizarre, and you know people wanting to take pictures with us. I work in a restaurant at home, it’s like “I’m not famous”. It’s really nice.
NT: I’ll leave things there, but thank you for the interview, it’s been a pleasure.
AD: Ya, thank you very much for the interview.
Interview by Kristian Johnson