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After the madcap hustle and bustle of the full Irish breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, I was ready for something a little more relaxing to finish my Friday night at SXSW 2015. And since it was still raining, I was happy to settle in for the night in the warmth of St. David’s Episcopal Church for the Communion Music showcase. I had attended the 2014 Communion showcase at St. David’s and was amazed by the talent on display there, including Bear’s Den and Hozier, so though I wasn’t familiar with all of the artists on the 2015 lineup, I eagerly anticipated another night of incredible music. Let’s just say that I wasn’t disappointed.
The night’s first artist was Swedish songwriter Tove Styrke, whose spunky, hook-heavy pop style came as a bit of a surprise in the context of the St. David’s chancel. She was energetic and engaging, and her songs would surely have had her audience dancing if we hadn’t been respectfully seated in pews. I recently heard her single ‘Borderline’ playing on the radio here in America, which leads me to assume that she had a positive SXSW experience in terms of gaining exposure, and I will happily count myself among her new fans.
In a bit of fortuitous timing, I had caught Laura Marling’s set at the BBC Barbecue on Thursday, and after that brief taste of songs from her new album ‘Short Movie’, I was interested to see her play again at St. David’s. Her set at the Communion showcase was a bit rough around the edges, with a notable lyric flub during (of course) ‘David’ that sent her into a fit of giggles, but I was mainly impressed with her storytelling on stage, both in her incredibly sharp new songs and her mild-mannered banter in between them. Balancing her powerful lyrics with music that was by turns delicately pensive and fiercely emotional, Marling proved once again that she is a force to be reckoned with on the singer/songwriter scene.
Next on the docket was a band I hadn’t heard of before, but who will definitely be on my radar from this point forward. Nashville duo Foreign Fields were perhaps an obvious choice for the Communion showcase, with sumptuously orchestrated melodies and lush vocal harmonies, but in this case the obvious choice was also a wise one. Foreign Fields’ music was both as complex and as pastoral as their name would imply, particularly current single ‘I Have Your Weapons’.
I was also unfamiliar with the next artist, American soul singer Leon Bridges, but judging from the number of people who streamed into the sanctuary before and during his set, his reputation had preceded him to Austin. Accompanied by a full band including brass and a pair of female backup singers, Bridges treated us to a gospel-tinged sermon on the retro artistry of Motown, starting with a track called ‘Better Man’ before touching on popular single ‘Coming Home’. Bridges was suave on-stage, and his songs were laced with a smooth r&b style that swiftly warmed the room on this cold and rainy evening.
If you’ve been reading TGTF regularly in the past few months, you’ll already be acquainted with Hitchin’s hatted prodigy James Bay. I had seen Bay on tour with Hozier here in America last autumn, and I remarked on the similar career trajectory the two songwriters have taken in my recent review of Bay’s album ‘Chaos and the Calm’. Bay took the opportunity here at the Communion showcase to whet our appetites for the new album, which was released the following Monday, and to further fan the flames sparked by his soaring hit single ‘Hold Back The River’.
As I’ve remarked previously in my SXSW 2015 coverage, the last artist on a showcase is often left to perform for a dwindling audience, especially at night shows where the final slot actually begins in the wee hours of the following morning. Such was the case for Jack Garratt, and once again it was a shame that so many people left without hearing him play. I had thought that his electronic style might be an oddity for the Communion show, but as he progressed through his set, it became very clear that Garratt is, at heart, a singer/songwriter who happens to base his music on electronic instrumentation rather than the typical acoustic foundation. He deftly played keyboard, guitar and percussion to accompany his own singing, and I left at the end of his set feeling both delightfully impressed by his skill and sad for the people who had missed out. You can find previous TGTF coverage of Jack Garratt, including his upcoming UK tour dates, right here.
Communion Music continues to highlight a fine array of up and coming artists, and their showcase at St. David’s once again proved to be a popular Friday night choice. In the past, the show has been open to the public, but this year the audience was restricted to official SXSW badges and wristbands. That decision was most likely prompted by increased attendance, and though many disappointed punters were turned away this year, it’s nice to see Communion artists receiving such well-deserved attention.
The Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub on the Friday of SXSW 2015 drew a full crowd throughout the day, probably in part due to the rainy weather outside, but in greater part because of the talented and widely varied lineup of musicians on the docket. After a last minute interview with Frank Turner, and by the time I found Mary sat at a table enjoying her full Irish, the pub was already starting to fill in. Mary had to leave early for her other engagements while I stayed to navigate the fun, hectic madness that would ensue throughout the day.
First on the day’s lineup were two very different female singer/songwriters, Dublin’s Orla Gartland and Derry native SOAK. Gartland’s bright and catchy brand of pop was just the burst of energy we needed to get the grey and drizzly morning off to a good start, and her onstage charm matched her offstage persona when I interviewed her a bit later in the morning. SOAK, otherwise known as Bridie Monds-Watson, captured our attention with a very different mood. Her delicately poignant songs might not have translated as well to the pub atmosphere at B.D. Riley’s as well as they had to Latitude 30 earlier in the week, but her name was certainly on everyone’s lips after her set was finished.
After taking advantage of a break in the rain to step outside for interviews with both Gartland and SOAK, I ducked back into B.D. Riley’s to catch the end of Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s solo violin set. I had heard him play the previous day on the Lost In Austin boat ride, and I was pleased to see that his music wasn’t completely overwhelmed by the somewhat more disorderly audience in the pub. I almost missed the following act, Dublin punk act Girl Band (pictured in the header above), while interviewing Mac Con Iomaire, but I saw enough of their set and the crowd’s enthusiastic response to get the feeling that these four guys are well and truly on their way up.
Next I had an encore performance from Walking On Cars, whom I’d seen at their sparsely attended Wednesday night set at the Music From Ireland showcase. While their performance that night hadn’t been lacking in any way, they were more energetic at B.D. Riley’s on Friday morning, feeding off of the more enthusiastic crowd. They elected not to perform their medley of pop hits here, wisely allowing their own energetic pop tracks to make an impression on our ears instead.
I was scheduled to interview self-described “cosmic reverb rock band” Buffalo Sunn ahead of their afternoon set, but they arrived to the venue later than they had planned due to the uncooperative weather outside. They did turn up in time to play, and their vibrant guitars and rich vocal harmonies were a perfect accompaniment for the mellowing ambience of the late afternoon. Luckily, the band were available to do the interview after their set; you can listen back to it here.
Unfortunately, rescheduling the Buffalo Sunn interview meant that I once again missed out on Dott, who played the Irish breakfast showcase at SXSW 2014 as well. Again, I heard just the end of their set, but it was enough to confirm that the band have refined both their sound and stage presence in the past year, as well as working up some new material for their upcoming studio album.
By this point in the afternoon, B.D. Riley’s was fairly packed in with people escaping the rain outside. Despite the tight fit throughout the venue, it was a favorable situation for experimental five-piece band Meltybrains?, who channeled the room’s restless energy into an ambitious and dynamic set including their by-now-famous face masks, which were floating around in the audience as well as on the stage. Their quirky stage antics and infectiously danceable rhythms made them instant crowd favourites, and their natural enthusiasm translated from the stage into my lively interview with them.
Hard rock duo All Tvvins followed Meltybrains? with an equally energetic set of their own, gearing up the crowd for the unabashed joviality of the final two acts, Fight Like Apes and Le Galaxie. Fight Like Apes lead singer MayKay was in particularly fine form and fine voice, engaging the audience both with her vocals and her seductive stagecraft. She was called back to the stage to join in on Le Galaxie’s recent single ‘Carmen’, adding even more fuel to their already pulse-racing electronic dance set and bringing the afternoon’s festivities to a sensational finale.
The annual full Irish breakfast event at B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub has gained a not-to-be-missed reputation, which is well-deserved both for the high quality of the musicians on the showcase and its ever-present atmosphere of warm hospitality. This was my second time attending the event, and I must say that while this year’s showcase was a bit more eclectic than what Mary and I saw in 2014, Music From Ireland once again hosted a spectacular and memorable show. Cheers!
My final interview at SXSW 2015 was with five-piece avant/experimental group Meltybrains?, and it turned out to be a lively one, with the focus of the conversation bouncing around like a pinball among the four band members who came out to chat with me: Tadhg Byrne, Micheál Quinn, Donnacha O’Malley and Brian Dillon (bassist Ben McKenna was busy packing up the band’s gear). Meltybrains? were eager to talk about the unique aspects of their music, which are many and varied but combine on stage to create an impressive and memorable effect. Their performance style incorporates an entire gestalt, often including visual aspects such as their all-white attire and signature face masks, which you can see in the above photo and hear discussed in the interview streaming below.
All five members of Meltybrains? have background experience as classical musicians, and they integrate the discipline of classical musicianship into their practice and performance routines, though they describe their style of music as experimental pop rather than avant or classical. Each of the band members brings his own unique set of musical influences to the sound, including pop, rock, jazz, hip hop, acoustic folk and classical violin.
The band have combined electronic sound production expertise with technical instrumental skill, including the use of “unapologetic auto-tune” as a deliberate effect. We also talked about the use of unusual instruments, including a fiberglass violin, and they named Los Angeles composer Miguel Atwood Ferguson as an influence on that aspect of their sound.
For better or for worse, all five members have equal input on the band’s decision-making and composition processes. Unlike solo artists or bands with an established leader, Meltybrains? have to make a concerted effort to get themselves on the same page, and they admit that even the smallest decisions often take a lot of time, though the end result is worth the occasional strife.
Meltybrains? played two official SXSW shows, including the Music From Ireland showcase on the Wednesday night and the full Irish breakfast on Friday, and they took plenty of time to enjoy Austin in the surrounding week. Be sure to listen all the way to the end of the interview stream to catch the funniest story I heard all week at SXSW 2015, regarding the Meltybrains? set at the full Irish breakfast.
Meltybrains? are scheduled to play live shows in Belfast and London later this month, as well as possible festival dates. We at TGTF have already featured their video for ‘Donegal’, but we look forward to another single due later this spring and a possible EP release in the autumn. All of our previous coverage of Meltybrains? can be found here.
As the rain came down in earnest outside BD Riley’s Irish Pub and throngs of people found their way inside for a pint at full Irish breakfast, I was faced with the difficulty of finding a quiet spot for an interview with Irish rock band Buffalo Sunn. We did eventually scout out a location and I had a quick chat with three of the band’s members, as you can hear in the interview streaming below.
I couldn’t resist asking the stereotypical interview question about the band’s rather unique moniker, and in the course of the response, I also picked up an interesting bit of trivia about Ireland. (Did anyone else know that there is a buffalo farm at Tayto Park in County Meath?) It turns out that Buffalo Sunn created their name out of an interest in Native American symbolism and 1970s-style Sunn amplifiers, which were known for the quality of their low-end sound.
Buffalo Sunn have been together as a band since late 2013, after two of their members moved on from a previous project called Sweet Jane. Their sunny melodicism and reverberant guitar sound might call to mind the West Coast style usually associated with Californian rock bands, but as we discussed in the interview, their lush three-part vocal harmonies are a trait often linked to Irish bands as well. Buffalo Sunn’s current album ‘By the Ocean, By the Sea’ was released in Ireland last October and saw releases in Germany, Austria and Switzerland earlier this year. Before SXSW 2015, they played live dates on the A+R Worldwide Passport Approved tour earlier this spring, including a notable show in Portland, Oregon. With wider release of the album planned for later this year, the band will follow their visit to Austin with planned appearances at the Musexpo industy event in Los Angeles and Canadian Music Week in Toronto.
Stay tuned to TGTF for my upcoming coverage of the full Irish breakfast showcase at BD Riley’s.
Many thanks to Elvera for her help with this interview.
I spent much of the morning at Friday’s full Irish breakfast fretting in the back of my mind about the pronunciation of violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s name, even after hearing it enunciated aloud the previous day on the Lost In Austin boat ride by another Irish artist, The Lost Brothers‘ Oisin Leech. As it turned out, when I interviewed Mac Con Iomaire after his set at BD Riley’s, he put me at ease on the subject right away. In the interview streaming below, we discussed the difference in ambience between the Thursday and Friday venues before moving onto Mac Con Iomaire’s background experience as a solo artist as well as playing in Irish bands The Frames and The Swell Season.
Mac Con Iomaire was a last minute addition to the Irish SXSW 2015 contingent, making the trip in support of his new solo album ‘And Now the Weather’. The album, which is due for release on the 17th of April, includes a masterfully effective piece called ‘The Finnish Line’ composed in Helsinki at the end of a particularly long and disorienting tour cycle. In the interview, I refer to the music on the album as “songs”, but as the tracks are instrumental, it might be more appropriate to call them “pieces” of music as opposed to true songs with verbal lyrics. However, the fundamental lyricism of Mac Con Iomaire’s violin style, influenced by modern classical composers and traditional Irish music alike, is at the forefront of the compositions he played for us here.
Having played four solo gigs in 4 days over the course of his time in Austin, Mac Con Iomaire recounted a relatively relaxing experience in Austin compared to many of the other artists I talked with during the week. However, he was looking forward to heading home to begin the more complicated job of rehearsing with a 10-piece band for his upcoming live shows in Ireland.
Thanks to Aoife for her help in coordinating this interview.
In the midst of the madness at Friday’s full Irish breakfast, I was fortunate enough to catch Northern Irish singer/songwriter SOAK, known offstage as Bridie Monds-Watson, for a brief interview at the end of her week in Austin. As you can hear in the interview stream below, Monds-Watson was at this point quite exhausted from the hustle and bustle of her busy SXSW 2015 schedule, but her performance on the BD Riley’s stage had showed no sign of fatigue, and her delicate, soft-spoken personal demeanor perfectly matched the graceful beauty of her songs.
Our previous coverage of SOAK at SXSW 2015 includes her spellbinding performances at Monday night’s Creative Belfast showcase and Wednesday’s BBC barbecue. The somewhat rowdier atmosphere at BD Riley’s Irish Pub might not have been the ideal venue to display SOAK’s fragile, introspective vocal melodies, especially as she played this and all of her SXSW showcases in purely solo style, with only her acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Nevertheless, her set was enthusiastically received by those of us lucky enough to be in the front of the room.
As she discussed in our interview, SOAK’s upcoming debut album for Rough Trade, ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’, features more expansive song arrangements than we heard here at SXSW, including a full rhythm section and some electronic sampling. After a stop at home for some much needed rest, the youthful Monds-Watson will take those more extensive orchestrations on tour worldwide, including a brief trip to the Southern Hemisphere for two shows in Australia and a one-off show in Dallas, TX among her already scheduled European dates. Her summer plans include headline shows in the UK as well as appearances at The Great Escape and Latitude festivals.
SOAK’s debut LP ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’ is due for release on the 1st of June via Rough Trade Records. You can find a full listing of her upcoming live dates here.
Many thanks to Sonya for helping us arrange this interview.