Tuesday, June 15, 2010

R.S.A.G. in Dolan's this Wednesday

ANYONE WHO has actually seen Rarely Seen Above Ground (R.S.A.G.) perform will tell you it is something akin to an illusory audio-visual experience, less gig than cinematic event.
R.S.A.G. is Kilkenny man Jeremy Hickey, but when he performs, festooned in the middle of a drum-kit, he sits in front of a screen, upon which a virtual band is projected.
Of course, every member of the virtual band is Hickey himself, the man clearly a talented multi-instrumentalist as well as evocative drummer.
But where the show might be considered something of a gimmick if Hickey didn’t have the musical abilities to back it up, this is not the case.

Hickey releases his third album as R.S.A.G. this week, the excellent Be It Right Or Wrong, straight-away a contender for Irish album of the year, we feel.
Where his double album debut, Organic Sampler, was a raw rush of frenetic, infectious energy with influences as varied as David Byrne to Eastern rhythms that saw Hickey acclaimed and Choice Music Prize nominated, the many facets of Be It Right Or Wrong are smoothed, unruffled and bursting with warmth and melody - the product, largely, of Hickey working with a producer for the first time, Leo Pearson, who has worked with U2 and Elvis Costello. For a man who recorded his first two albums at home in his bedroom, working with an outside influence was clearly a departure.

“I had never worked with a producer before, especially a guy who actually had his own studio, particularly one as nice and relaxed as Leo's,” explains Jeremy.
“I was thinking I needed to approach this album in a different way. I did a lot of stuff at home and brought the demos to Leo, but it was his thing to say, let's do everything again. When I heard the quality of his studio, it didn't take much to convince me.”

The result is warm and rich, the central core of songs the superb The Roamer, Movement and Bitter Swing, Hickey allowing more melody to come through than ever before, and particularly allowing his vocals to shine through in a much more pronounced fashion.
“The consistency of the drum and bass sounds are there and there are a lot more guitars on it because Leo has a nice collection of guitars, old style and new style, so I could pick up whatever guitar I thought would suit the sound in that way,” explains Jeremy.
“Between the both of us there was more of a knowledge of what kind of sound we were trying to get. It was very much, get the sound, record it, there was no real major treatment of the sound, the way it was recorded, and I was excited about that, because you have more of an idea of where the album is going, whereas on the first one it was a bit of a mish-mash.”

He continues:“I was into getting more of a melody, especially with the delivery of the vocal, rather than hiding behind an effect. When I met Leo, the first thing he wanted to do was to make sure the vocals were much more to the fore, and they are. That is the difference in working with someone who knows exactly what they are at.”
Hickey says the moniker was inspired by something a friend used to call him - although “he doesn’t remember it all,” he laughs - and the idea for the visual band came from seeing DJ Shadow live in concert. His brother encouraged him to use that idea of shadows on a screen, believing it to be a powerful image.

For the first time, on this tour, Hickey will have a live DJ with him, who he will perform a sort of soundsystem with after his own gigs. But he warns against reading too much into the fact that he has replaced a band with versions of himself.
“The whole idea is with music, visuals and having a good time - it is not supposed to be seen as a band or not a band, the whole idea is that we are going out to put on a show, so hopefully people will get it and continue to enjoy it,” he says.

R.S.A.G. plays in Upstairs in Dolan’s this Wednesday, June 16. Be It Right Or Wrong is in all good record stores.

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