Music’s beauty is unlimited capacity for diverse tune and opinion…there’s room for everyone’s voice. I want to know what musicians think of the gig circuit they work so hard to conquer. This week’s instalment of Thirty Years Underground comes from Dave Marron of Sanzkrit….
Off Her Rocker: What do you imagine are the differences between emerging musicians today and that of U2′s day?
Dave Marron: U2 had released two or three albums before I was even born, so I didn’t witness their rise to fame first hand. but in my opinion I think it’s easier for bands to achieve some kind of success in Ireland today than it was in the early eighties, but I’m not necessarily sure if that’s a positive thing artistically.
There seems to be a lot of middle of the road bands, sticking to a formula of contrived blandness. They repeat a dumbed down lyric over and over until it takes hold of people’s sub-conscious. It seems that most of today’s emerging artists in Ireland focus their attentions on PR and propaganda more than song-writing. I think there was more truth in the eighties scene. Maybe when our country was in economic turmoil we found it harder to lie to ourselves. We sought something real.
Like U2 in Dublin in the eighties, Most of the best scenes seem to have stemmed from a time of recession. The Beatles in Liverpool in the sixties, The Madchester scene in the late eighties, The Seattle scene in the early nineties. People needed local heroes to tell the world their stories and lift their spirits.
OHR:Which experiences of breaking into the music industry remain the same?
DM: The core elements of getting a band off the ground remain the same. When you’ve got a set of songs and you’re well rehearsed, you need to go out and try to get support slots with more established bands. You need to record a demo to showcase yourself to strangers and you need to establish and maintain good working relationships with venue owners, promoters and the music press. Every new band has to go through that initial phase. It’s always been like that.
How do you identify with your precursors of twenty years ago?
Artists are inspired by much the same things now as they were twenty years ago…. even fifty years ago. Good art is timeless. If you look at artists like The Pixies, Joy Division, The Smiths, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits. They’re as relevant now as they were twenty years ago. Love, Loss and politics have always been strong themes in music. It’s subject matter that everyone can identify with.
How has Irish music progressed from its early roots? Are guitars and sex still a golden formula?
We’ve progressed in that we’ve been more willing to embrace international music cultures and we’ve allowed it to influence our own traditions, and I think that has been positive for music in this country. Ireland has always had talented individuals with initiative.
The sex and guitars formula still plays it’s role. Probably sex more so than guitars considering our biggest musical exports these days are airbrushed poster boys… with not a guitar in sight.
What do you think is brave and original about your sound?
We’ve always been a little left of centre. Musically and lyrically. That’s not something we decided, it’s something that happens naturally when we write. We’re not afraid to evolve either… a lot of bands seem to tie themselves to a specific genre, whereas we drift in and out of zones of influence and we never visit the same place twice. We’re always trying to push forward and test ourselves. I guess we kind of graduated from that Sonic Youth / Radiohead school of thought and we try to pertain those values.
Is there a genuine garage-band scene today? Which acts do you feel are ‘underground’?
I don’t know if there’s a “scene” as such. There’s is a community of bands that kind of gig together. We all know each other but it’s not like we hang out all the time or anything. It’s not how people imagine it to be.
There are some amazing underground bands in Ireland today. Some of whom should really be achieving acclaim on the world stage. Berkeley for example, have released two staggeringly beautiful albums. They’ve written some of the best songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, but yet they’re still really only known here in Ireland. That baffles me. Angel Pier, Giveamanakick, Somadrome and Jinx Lennon are some of the other underground acts that excite me, and I really liked The Immediate when they were around. Also, I think if The Flaws are a bit more self indulgent on their next record we could see an Irish classic. They’ve got tonnes of potential and they’re into some very cool music.
How would the gig circuit in the Eighties compare today?
I think the circuit is better today. It has become easier to tour in Ireland now for a lot of practical reasons. The roads are in better condition, The venues are better equipped. Communication with promoters, press and fans is easier now through the internet too.
How much publicity depends on the Internet?
I think the internet is vital for bands today. We do the majority of our promotional work online. It’s inexpensive and you’ve got direct access to your target audience. TV, radio and word of mouth are still obviously very important channels of publicity, but with the net you can cut out the middle man. It’s a more hands-on DIY approach.
How do you think earlier bands compensated that lack of exposure?
I don’t think they had to. It was an even playing field. No band had the luxury of the internet.
Do you think successful bands of the Eighties could still break the charts today if they were starting afresh? Give an example of who could/not…
It’s hard to say really. I think bands like The Smiths, The Cure and The Pixies, would have been pretty influential in any era. I’m not so sure if they’d have any chart success though, it’s all R n’ B and Rap now. You’d have to have a “Pimp my Smiths” show where Morrissey gets all blinged out and Johnny Marr is one of his beatches dancing ’round him shoutin’ “Uh, uh, yeah, Go Morrisey, break it down.” Now there’s an idea! :’)
What fresh challenges do new bands face in the Noughties (image, internet, touring, distribution/management)?
I think the biggest challenge is finding a balance between artistic integrity and commercial savvy. Nobody wants their creativity compromised, but you also need to make a living from your music. That can be difficult.
Also, if you’re in a new band and you don’t have a manager or promoter it’s important that you educate yourself about the music industry. There are lots of seminars explaining the industry, and you can seek advice from Irish music bodies like IMRO and FMC. If you don’t learn about the pitfalls you will without doubt, get screwed over by someone.
Are the pressures greater on talent or image?
There’s definitely more emphasis on image now. I suppose it’s understandable to a certain extent. The advent of the music video meant bands needed a professional representation visually as well as on their records. There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your image as long as you don’t let it over shadow the music.
Bob Geldof organised Live Aid to highlight humanitarian crises abroad. What issues influence modern songwriters and musicians? Do personal issues take precedence over political?
You write about what you know best. That’s why personal issues are usually most prevalent in modern music, but political issues certainly have a place. It’s impossible to not be inspired by the injustice incurred by many throughout the world today. Some people argue that there’s no place for politics in music, but I disagree. Listen to the Hurricane by Bob Dylan or anything from Rage against the machine’s first album. They wrote brave and emotive songs tackling injustice. They were raising awareness about important issues, and thankfully this trend continues today. Artists are still influenced by global political issues and they’re not afraid to incorporate these influences in their music. The song Harrowdown Hill from Thom Yorke’s solo album is a perfect example or Road to Peace from the latest Tom Waits album. They’ve crafted thought provoking pieces without sounding preachy. That’s the key to a good protest song.
Finally, how do you think the industry will evolve in the next few years? Are changes already apparent?
The In Rainbows “pay what you want” thing was a bit of a shock. It’ll be interesting to see if that logic snowballs. I like that “trust your fans” mentality but I don’t know how well it would work for smaller bands.
The industry is changing in many ways. There’s a major power struggle right now between labels and artists. Independent acts started to find success on their own through the internet and at the same time CD sales were nose-diving. The labels felt threatened, and as a consequence you now have record companies trying to score exclusivity deals with radio stations and music magazines to wipe out the independent competition. The legalities of these actions are questionable but I guess money answers to no law, if it’s all done behind closed doors.
I think we’ll see a streamlining of how bands tour, in an attempt to make gigging profitable again. In recent times, it has been generally accepted that live shows are a loss maker, but you do it to promote unit sales.
I also think corporate sponsorship for bands will probably catch on here in Ireland soon. It’s been happening for a while in The States now. Think it’s only a matter of time before they come looking for our souls too.