It wasn't easy to get the nominees for the Choice Music Prize together in one room. But we did it. John Meagher poses the questions and lets the conversation roll ...
Published 15/02/2008 | 00:00
Now in its third year, the Choice Music Prize has firmly established itself as Ireland's answer to the Mercurys. Its aim is to reward the best album released by an Irish artist in the preceding year.
Some fine Irish albums were released in 2007 and the 10 nominees reflect the disparate styles of music vying for the prize that's been previously won by Julie Feeney and The Divine Comedy. Nine of the nominees were represented at this 90-minute roundtable discussion which took place in Dublin on Monday. The 10th, UK-based Roisin Murphy, was on holiday at the time and could not make it.
What do you all think of awards like this?
Paul Finn, The Flaws: We are nominated for both the Meteors and the Choice, but the Choice would be perceived as a better award because it's purely for artistic merits.
Kevin Littlewood, Dry County: It's not the be-all and end-all, but it does reassure you that you've done something right with the album. For so long you wonder if your album is actually that good because you're so close to it.
Any surprising omissions among the nominees?
Kevin: I thought the Somadrome album would make it.
David Geraghty: Mumblin' Deaf Ro. It's a brilliant album, he's a fantastic lyricist.
Adrian Crowley: John Hegarty -- he's made a brilliant album with some beautiful songs. I'm really surprised that hardly anyone has heard it.
How well supported is domestic music?
Stan O'Sullivan, Stanley Super 800: The only time you hear Irish music is at five in the morning. It's boxed in by the American and British stuff. It's not getting enough of a push. It seems like Irish music is being discriminated against. Local music gets put on something called the Irish Hour on local stations. It's pretty patronising. If we spoke our own language [Irish] we'd all be on the radio.
Colm O Snodaigh, Kila: [Laughing] I don't know about that. We don't get any radio play with our as Gaeilge songs. Irish people don't tend to get excited about music made in this country until it does well abroad. Glen [Hansard] and Marketa's [Irglova] album is top 10 here now, but it didn't do well at all before all the talk of Oscars and Grammies. In Chronicles, Bob Dylan talked about radio in the late 1950s as being gutless and flabby. The same applies today.
Paul: It's pretty soul-destroying when you know you've made music that would work well on radio and they can't be bothered to play it.
Cormac Brady, Super Extra Bonus Party: Homegrown stuff is perceived to be less exotic than music made abroad. It's as simple as that.
Cathy Davey: I think it's a confidence thing. People seem to need a lead from somewhere that's more trusted in their eyes.
Adrian: The fact that we live on an island might have something to do with it. Nobody wants to be seen as naval-gazing. They want to look to other shores and other horizons.
That all sounds very negative -- any good things about the local scene?
Stan: There's a very healthy live scene ...
Kevin: That finishes at 10.30pm in Dublin.
Cathy: There's real warmth from live audiences in this country that I just haven't felt abroad. In the UK, there's a willingness to dislike artists from the off. The Irish will give musicians more of a chance. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that everything gets so ridiculously over-hyped in the UK and people are sick of it before they've even heard it.
Paul: NME are the masters of that. But it didn't go down very well in this country when they launched an Irish version of the magazine here. Look how long it lasted.
David: That's what's nice about the Choice -- it's about the album as a format, something NME culture seems to be completely against. It's not about the 99c download.
We've all been hearing for years that the album is dying on its feet. Anyone share that view?
Cormac: That's a ridiculous notion. That stems not from music, but from financing, from f***ing record companies. The album for the music listener will always be the ultimate.
Adrian: The album is the format that we've all grown up with and one that will endure. Once you put it out there, it's up to others to decide how they chop it up or what songs they want to buy.
Cathy: Musicians' favourite songs are always the album tracks anyway [Cue enthusiastic assent].
Ciaran McGuinness, Delorentos: To me an album is like a film. It only works as a complete entity. Just like a movie scene usually doesn't work without the context of the rest of the film, albums are so much more than a bunch of singles and "other" songs.
Kevin: It took us about three years getting our album together and in that time an album or two's worth of stuff went out the window. Not because the songs weren't good, but because they just weren't right. You've got to look at the bigger picture. You hear a lot of albums and it just feels like 10 or 15 tracks shoved together and the attitude's been: "that'll do". For us, the album has to work as a unit, as a piece of art in its own right. I mean, if you consider truly great albums -- something like Kid A -- I would never skip a track on it when listening to it. I want to hear it from beginning to end, in the sequence that Radiohead intended.
Speaking of Radiohead, what's the feeling on the newsworthy way with which they released their latest album, In Rainbows?
Ciaran: It's still a great album. The story was about how it was released and it did seem to detract from the fact that there were great songs on it. I think it's their best album.
Stan: I was pissed off with the whole thing because it was spoken of as this revolutionary thing where music was being given away for free, but that's been done for years -- bands have often given away CDs at their gigs. It was a PR stunt from Radiohead. A win-win situation.
Ciaran: I would prefer if a thousand people got our album for free rather than 200 people paying for it, because maybe those thousand people would go to see you play.
Interesting point. Anyone else agree with Ciaran?
Adrian: As musicians, you want people to hear you, so I'd go for that, I think. A novelist obviously won't hand out his new book for free, because that's the only way he can make money. Musicians have a number of ways of making money, especially playing live.
David: I would rather 200 people bought my album rather than a thousand got it for nothing. I don't think people appreciate free stuff. If they buy something, it's because they really want it. That Prince thing [giving away his latest album for free with a newspaper] -- I just thought: "What the f*** are you doing?" There was no sense of integrity about it.
Colm: But these are often commercial decisions. I think something that's been forgotten about the Radiohead thing is that 100,000 people paid 40 quid for the boxset. That's four million into their hands in two months. The whole thing was an enormous financial success. It's the same thing with Prince at the end of the day.
Ciaran: There's a line, though. I'm not saying, just hand out a thousand albums and go home. I'm hoping that enough people would want to see you. We did our first pressing of 5,000 albums -- very optimistic -- and the albums came back and the last track didn't play the whole way through. So we ended up with all these defective CDs. So when we played a tour in England we decided we'd give them away for free to anyone who had seen us play.
We did a show at Wolverhampton and there were loads of kids there and at the end of the gig and they took the CDs. When we were leaving the venue we saw these kids rolling the CDs down the stairs and other CDs had been dumped on the pavement. That was pretty soul destroying. But then in the weeks that followed, 20 or 30 people went on our website and posted messages about having listened to the free albums and liking what they'd heard, so that was very gratifying.
Any MP3 lovers here?
Kevin: I don't like downloads at all. I bought the Radiohead boxset as soon as it came out. I love going into a shop to buy an album. The only time I've ever downloaded anything was when you couldn't get it anywhere else. There's something so cold about having a few f***ing MP3s on your computer.
David: As musicians, there's something special about the artwork. I like reading the liner notes.
Cathy: I love the artwork as well. I love music enough to make demands that it stays in a physical format, be it CDs, vinyl or cassettes. I'm one of those people who loves cassettes.
Adrian: Me too. I've got a great new cassette player at home.
David: I do worry about the generation that's coming through because there is a mindset that MP3s are all-important and physical copies of albums don't count for much.
Cathy: There's always a problem with the younger generation! When Bob Dylan went electric, they all kicked up.
Ciaran: The MP3 format is brilliant though -- the portability is fantastic. Any way of me hearing new music is good. For me, my favourite format is the EP.
Colm: I don't have an MP3 player. I didn't have a Walkman either. It never suited me.
Kevin: I bring my iPod everywhere, mainly to shut out the sound of some gobs**** on the bus.
Adrian: I want one. I just haven't got around to getting one yet. I actually suffer from really bad travel sickness which means I have to take heavy medication for it which means I can't talk to anybody. And if I try to read I get really sick and I vomit everywhere. Sometimes, I have 11 hours ahead of me so I kind of go catatonic. It's probably why I'm a solo artist.
Kevin: I think whoever wins the Choice should get him a f***ing iPod out of the 10 grand! [prize money].
U2 manager Paul McGuinness recently complained about companies such as Apple not doing enough to stop illegal downloading.
Cathy: They're looking at their 10s of millions and they see that it's gone down. Well boo-hoo -- who gives a f***?
Stan: One of the guys from the Bee Gees was complaining about the same thing, as if they haven't made enough money from Saturday Night Fever.
U2 will have an album out this year. Who will buy it?
[Shaking of heads all round.]
Paul: If they did something good, I'd buy it.
Kevin: If they did Pop again, I'd buy it.
Ciaran: Bands like U2 are there for people who buy two albums a year.
Stan: That's the market we should be able to get. I'd love if there was an age-limit on bands like U2 and the Rolling Stones. It might give some of the rest of us a chance.
Kevin: It's reunion after reunion. Even bands like New Kids on the Block are getting back together -- without Marky Mark. I mean, f*** off.
Stan: It's easier to play hits and memories rather than create new stuff. It's a no-brainer.
What about getting that music heard? Sometimes it must feel like you are releasing albums into a vacuum.
David: It's back to the [radio] playlisters. They are trend-followers, not trend-setters. It's like the guy from 2FM made some bizarre remarks recently ...
Paul: He said 2FM wasn't there to promote Irish music. We did the 2FM Tomorrow Tour. We had a single out when we did that tour and we couldn't get it played on 2FM. They were saying that they couldn't playlist it because it wasn't suitable for daytime listening. It's pathetic -- it's a f***ing radio station.
Stan: It's the same with Red FM [Cork local radio]. They're afraid people are going to turn over. Would people actually turn over if they played any of us rather than Beyonce?
Kevin: [2FM DJ] Dan Hegarty does a really good job, but it's a late night show. Obviously the people tuning into that want to hear a certain type of music. But people listening to daytime radio seem to have it on as a distraction.
With the exception of Cathy and David -- via his membership of Bell X1 -- very few of you have ever had an affiliation with one of the major record companies. Are you happier to go the indie route?
Paul: Not necessarily. Cathy is a great example because she's on a major and is doing pretty well.
Cathy: Yeah, but they don't care.
Are you going to stay with EMI?
Cathy: Who knows? I don't know anyone who works there [in the London headquarters] any more. They come over to see me once every three years. I don't think it's a very interesting subject for people reading this.
Adrian: Someone from EMI wrote to me last week and said "I like your stuff on MySpace. Could you send me more of those demos?" I wrote back to say that the album had already been released and they didn't write back to me. It was a guy from the UK. I wasn't being coy or anything, but I messed it up.
Cathy: A&R guys were once really good. They used to develop artists, but that's changed very drastically and I don't know why ...
David: Because of an obsession with what the next big f***ing thing is going to be ...
Cathy: And there's a sycophant culture there as well ...
David: They're tripping over themselves try to second-guess each other. Why don't they develop the talent that's there?
Kevin: Smaller labels like Domino are putting out some good stuff. They filter out a lot of the shit, whereas the likes of Universal and whatever else sign up everything without actually giving serious thought to what they are signing.
Cathy: They need to stop buying up 10 acts a year in the hope that one of them will kick off straight away ...
David: And trapping acts ...
Cathy: It's just heartless ...
To David: Bell X1 were signed to Universal and are now with the indie Yep Roc in the US. Would you ever go back to a major?
David: We're struggling financially. We're trying to do stuff in the States, but it costs so much f***ing money. But we don't need their interference -- which is all it is. Labels like Domino are like the cool kids and the majors are like dorkish dads [laughter all round], trying to get with the kids but failing miserably.
Ciaran: It's pathetic the way there's a feeding frenzy for bands that sound exactly like something else. When the Arctic Monkeys came out, another 10 bands who sounded the very same were hovered up. And they were actively encouraged to make similar music. Record companies spend all this money on trying to get identikit scenes together and that's to the detriment of other bands.
Kevin: And that's precisely what's good about the 10 acts nominated for this. We're all so very different -- whether it's Dry County, Dave or Kila.
As this is an album's award, what recent long players have turned you on?
Stan: Niall Connelly's album. I can't remember the name of it, but it's his third album and it's one you can put on repeat and listen to all the time. It's singer-songwriter stuff, but it's good.
Paul: It's an obvious one, but Feist's The Reminder is amazing. I just can't stop listening to it.
Ciaran: Right now, I'm in the middle of a complete obsession with Sigur Ros. It's gorgeous -- they convey incredible emotions without lyrics that any of us would understand.
Adrian: Vic Chesnutt made a beautiful album a few months ago, North Star Deserter.
David: Micah P Hinson, from Texas ...
Cathy: I love him ...
Adrian: Yeah, he's great ...
David: I played a gig in Derry on the night of my birthday and I went to bed and listened to his album on headphones. I was feeling very alone on my birthday and the music was just incredible. It's a dark album and his voice sounds like a broken chainsaw at times. It's the last time that an album blew me away from start to finish. Kevin: Johann Johansson is superb as well.
Cathy: I'm always moved by music that sounds spontaneous, rather than something that appears laboured over.
Cormac: Juana Molina's album Son is incredible. I was listening to it a lot last summer. It totally transported me back to San Sebastian where I'd be on holidays.
Ciaran: Ultimately, when any of us make music, there should be this desire to create something that someone somewhere will listen to and be moved by it in some way. That's all you can do. At 60, you won't be thinking that you should have got a higher chart placing or you should have sold out some gig, you'll want to be able to look back and say: "I made a f***ing great album".