Friday, February 11, 2011

Devil in the detail for Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters

THE opening strains of ‘Thread the Needle’, the first single from the much anticipated debut album from Limerick rock band Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters, rings with a chillingly dark tone, the newly expanded four piece cleverly employing an age-old musical structure to set the scene on their newly released single.
A dark, bluesy slice of harmonica driven rock that sends shivers up the spine, the single is cleverly intended to flag the thinking behind the upcoming album’s title, ‘The Devil in Music’.
When you find yourself discussing the historical roots of a chord structure in an interview, you know you are dealing with a level of thinking beyond the banal, crash-bam-wallop of some everyday rock bands.
It seems that the affecting opening note on ‘Thread the Needle’, as Fox Jaw drummer Shane Serrano explains, is a ‘tritone’ or augmented fourth, essentially a collection of notes or a musical interval that spans three whole tones. This tone has assumed a historical reference due to its supposed “evil” connotative meaning in Western culture, which saw it referred to as ‘diabolus in musica’ - or, you guessed it, the devil in music.
“On Thread the Needle, as soon as the full band kicks in, the first chord that is played is a ‘tritone’,” explains Shane, local rocker, filmmaker, magazine editor.
“That combination of notes, back in medieval days, because of how it sounded, got banned by the church, and was referred to as ‘diabolus in musica’. The chord also actually appears a few times across the album. Although it is also known as the ‘Devil’s Chord’, we thought that sounded a bit metal-tastic, so I guess the Devil in Music felt right,” he explains.
“That is one of the main reasons for choosing Thread the Needle as the first single, as a lead up introduction as to why the album is called The Devil in Music.”
The decision to stay away from metal territory suits the band’s style, which is evocative of the louche, scuzzy tones of Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age, but contains elements of Woodstock-era Joe Cocker and other reference points.
The band impressed with their previous releases, the seductive, bluegrass-riddled ‘Homeward Bound and Gagged’, and more recently, with the bourbon soaked, ‘Congress of Oddities’, marking them as ‘ones to watch’ in several quarters, including these pages.
But there has been a delay with the release of this album, an intervening period of time that has convinced Serrano and his mates Ronan Mitchell and Morgan Nolan, who formed the energetic Fox Jaw from the ashes of previous local punk bands, Fun Bobby and Natweed, to recruit a fourth member, local bass player Sean O’Mahoney.
“When the album comes out and people hear it, if we were still a three piece trying to carry off what is going on in the album, you would sense that you weren’t doing it justice in a live scenario,” explains Serrano of the album, which was recorded with Irish super-producer Owen Lewis.
“We started recording in August. We set aside two weeks and it ended up taking five months,” laughs Serrano.
“Owen did our first EP so it kind of came full circle when we went back into the studio with him and started recording. He played a very big role and has a lot of ideas. He would stop us and make sure we were doing everything perfectly.”
“We went into do it as a three piece, but when you get into the studio you get carried away with layers and instrumentation and ideas, and that is why we have expanded to a four piece,” he adds.
The result promises to be very special indeed given the band’s previous offerings, but Shane says they will be keeping themselves grounded, walking rather than running, at least initially.
“We are taking the view that you shouldn’t do anything until you are 100 percent ready,” he says.
“Nearly everything is in place now and we have never invested as much time and money and blood sweat and tears into something before, so we have to give it as much as we can. You only release a first album once.”
Fox Jaw Bounty Hunters play in Baker Place on Saturday, February 12. Thread the Needle is out now, The Devil in Music will be released in March.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mr Scruff returns to Limerick for Dolan's Warehouse gig

THE return of Manchester based DJ Mr Scruff - aka Andy Carthy - to Limerick has prompted much excitement on the local scene, such was the impact of his last show in these parts in 2008.
Likewise, the news that the ‘DJ, Producer, Cartoonist and Tea Drinker’ is to play a four hour set of jazz, soul, hip hop, disco and anything and everything else he can throw into the pot in Dolan’s Warehouse, has provoked scenes of rapture among those who have witnessed such muscular feats.
Promoters Streetlife have also decided to open the terrace in Dolan’s for this Thursday night gig, with Paul Webb and Mr Noiseee to host proceedings Upstairs, while local Limerick spinner A2DF opens in the Warehouse.
Carthy, who made a name for himself under the shadow of Manchester’s mid 90s club scene, has achieved much in his career, with critically acclaimed albums and sales of over half a million records worldwide under his belt.
As a DJ, the man himself explains that he plays “across the board”, with a mind-bending list of genres in his cache.
“As a DJ, I play across the board, including soul, funk, hip hop, jazz, reggae, dubstep, latin, african, ska, disco, house, funk, breaks, soundtracks and loads more,” says Scruff.
“As a producer I make music that draws on these influences, with a large dose of cheek and good humour,” he adds.
Carthy, who is also the proud owner of a tea company, was heavily influenced by his father’s record collection in the early days, a tell tale sign of where his live set grab their inspiration from to this day.
“The event that first sparked my curiosity about music was in the early 1980’s when, as a young 2 Tone fan, I discovered a stack of my father’s original Blue Beat 7”s, including several Prince Buster songs that had been covered by my then favourite band, Madness,” he says.
Mr Scruff takes to the stage in Dolan’s Warehouse this Thursday from 10pm. Tickets are €12.50 and are available from Ticketmaster and on the door.

Mogwai perfect art with seventh album - review

'Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will'
(Rock Action Records)

SCOTTISH rock band Mogwai have been startlingly prolific over their near 16-year career, one that sees them clock up a seventh studio album with this release, ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’.
The band have rarely, if ever, put a foot wrong, and this, the follow-up to their 2008 opus ‘The Hawk is Howling’ and last year’s superb live CD/DVD ‘Special Moves’, sees the band remain staggeringly original in their output.
A band whose music effectively coined the term ‘post-rock’, the Glasgow-based outfit have nonetheless consistently made a mockery of that simplistic tag, this album no different in its variety, from the click-track based, Battles-esque ‘Mexican Grand Prix’, to the subtle, delicate and soaring ‘How To Be A Werewolf’, to the epic, grandiose and feedback-drenched album closer ‘You’re Lionel Richie’, Mogwai take their so-called ‘post-rock/shoe-gaze’ style and tear up the rulebook, producing an album that is wonderfully inventive and fresh in scope.
Reunited with Paul Savage, producer of the band’s landmark debut album ‘Young Team’, the closing three tracks in particular might be viewed as classic Mogwai, slow-burning and epic, but other parts of the album represent something of a departure for the band, with the Godspeed You! Black Emperor-influenced, piano-based track, ‘Letters to the Metro’ and the heavily distorted, rare vocal track on ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’.
The album and song titles show this is a band with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, their humour and far-reaching abilities self-evident on what is an expressive, genre-defining and unselfconscious album.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole with Quarry Players

NICOLE Kidman has just received a Best Actress nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards for her taut and drawn portrayal of Becca in 'Rabbit Hole', John Cameron Mitchell’s movie adaptation of David Lindsay-Aubaire’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.
Playing a sort of Stepford wife character who spends her days tending to her garden, Kidman’s performance is a restrained and gut-wrenching examination of the problems dealing with grief - the central theme of a play that is held as one of the greats of American theatre.

Having secured the rights to the play and a top class director in Dara Carolan, an accomplished playwright, actor and graduate of the London Guildhall who has appeared at Ireland’s top venues and toured internationally, the Limerick based theatre group Quarry Players have pulled off something off a coup in that they will be producing the Irish premiere of the renowned play at the Belltable next week.

“We got the rights after a year and a half looking for them for Quarry Players, so it is nice timing to be able to jump on the fact that the movie hasn’t been released in Ireland yet - it has in America to great acclaim, and we are looking to jump on that bandwagon over here,” says local actor Zeb Moore, who stars in the play as Becca’s husband, Howie, and is PRO with the Quarry Players.
Indeed, the acclaimed movie is released on these shores four days ahead of Quarry’s production, which boasts a cast of five; Moore, Michelle O’Flanagan, who plays the Kidman character, Niamh O’Meara, Bernie Hayes and Conor J Ryan.

“It is great timing with the Oscar announcement, but this piece is renowned as one of the best to come out of America,” says Zeb, well known on the local scene for star turns with Quarry over the past six years, plus work with Impact, Teaspach and his own theatre company Magic Roundabout, whose one man play Spinal Krapp took him to UnFringed and Electric Picnic last year.

Rabbit Hole was brought to Quarry’s attention, “nearly two years ago”, Zeb explains, and it had a dramatic effect on the theatre group.

“When we read it, we all fell in love with it. It just fell into the right place this time around, when we sought the rights, they were available and we decided to move on it,” he says.

The play is a fluid one and largely plot-free, save for the central strand, which deals with Howie and Becca’s attempts to deal with the tragic death of their four year old son. However, there are elements of wit and humour, and the tagline runs that “no-one would ever call Rabbit Hole a comedy about grief, it is a play that shows how close comedy and tragedy really are”.

“The play pivots around the family and how each individual family member copes with this traumatic experience, and whether they can move on,” explains Zeb.
“In saying that, even though the context of the play is based around this tragic accident, the play doesn’t dwell on that sentimentality aspect, there are comedic parts - the attraction to the play is the normality of it, these are real people, this is how life goes on, rather than being dramatised,” he reasons.
Zeb adds: “There is a lot of wit and humour in it”.

Originally from Dublin, Zeb moved to Limerick 11 years ago with his wife.

“We said we would give it a year and if it didn’t work out, we could leave. That was 11 years ago, which is great,” he laughs, his most recent work as casting director on The Outlaw Concy Ryan for RTE’s Storyland project.

A chance encounter several years ago with a director led to a small film role, and Zeb hasn’t looked back. A nephew of Eurovision star Butch Moore, he is a firm believer in getting involved in all aspects of theatre in order to learn the craft. He is staunchly proud of Quarry, who have been an established theatre group for close on 40 years.

“Quarry Players have prided themselves on several Irish premieres in the past, nor is this the biggest production,” he explains. “They have run for 40 years and have had huge, significant successes in the past.

“This production is different in-so-far as it is not your typical mainstream piece, it is a little bit off a tangent, it was just that the writing was so brilliant that it drew us in,” he adds.
Rabbit Hole runs in the Belltable on February 8-12. For bookings see here.

Album review - Owensie 'Aliens'

(Out On A Limb)

THE Limerick based independent record label, Out On A Limb, have something of a nose for talent that is perhaps not sufficiently recognised in Irish music circles.
The label - run on a ‘DIY ethos’ and punching far, far above its weight - was set-up in 2003 to facilitate the release of “Is It OK To Be Loud, Jesus?”, the debut album from hard-rockin’ and now defunct local band Giveamanakick. In the intervening years, OOAL has released albums by Windings, Crayonsmith, Hooray for Humans, Rest and Ten Past Seven, providing an outlet for some of the finest in up and coming Irish music, refusing to be just limited to the confines of the burgeoning Limerick music scene.

OOAL return this February with the debut release from Michael Owens (no relation!), who styles himself under the monicker, ‘Owensie’.

A haunting collection of warm and atmospheric classical guitar-based tracks with a folk-tinged sentimentality, the talented Dublin songwriter has an interesting background as a former member of the considerably more intense Puget Sound and Terrordactyl, and is currently a guitarist with rock outfit Realistic Train. Terrordactyl indeed contained members of jaw-droppingly loud rock band Adebisi Shank, so Owens’ background is on far different terrain to the flamenco-bossanova, cinematic landscapes present on this album.

A nine-track album that boasts reference points as disparate as Jose Gonzalez and Albert Niland, Owens’ vocals verge from the haunting to the sublime on ‘Aliens’, with his rock-background informing proceedings and lifting the album out of the ordinary, singer-songwriter territory.
Because of that the opener and title-track is a brooding and unsettling offering, with ringing guitar strings and a haunting violin accompaniment, while the piano-based ‘Cat and Mouse’ offers a gorgeously warm counter-point with superb harmonies.

This is a deeply affecting and addictive album that contains several layers on repeated listens, the simplicity of the music at first a distraction, the depth of feeling gradually becoming more apparent than first glance suggests. The jazzy ‘Cat and Mouse’, largely without vocals, is upbeat and allows Owens to flex his considerable guitar skills, while the more urgent, Chequerboard-esque ‘Ronda’ swells with strings.

Overall, this often malevolent album is deceptive, dark and takes some listening to appreciate its depth, but when you do, it becomes eminently rewarding, and a fitting addition to the OOAL stable.