Tuesday 19 September 2017

‘I can’t let that into my head - you can't stop doing what you do’ – Bressie on gigging with The Blizzards in wake of Manchester terror attack

Bressie on The Blizzards' comeback, the music industry, terror, and where we go from here

Bressie from The Blizzards at the Homeless Gig in The Olympia
Bressie from The Blizzards at the Homeless Gig in The Olympia
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

After a six year hiatus, Mullingar band The Blizzards are back. They've been back for 18 months, plugging away on the live circuit, reconnecting with old fans and fostering some newbies at gigs across the length and breadth of the country.

It's a different landscape in summer 2017 than when the five bandmates took a break in 2010, not least because of the terror attacks on music venues in Paris and, more recently, Manchester.

And like those musicians who defiantly took to the stage at the One Love Manchester benefit concert last week, Bressie (36) is determined not to let terror win.

"Hand on my heart it’s not on my mind at all and that’s probably a personal thing," he tells Independent.ie.  "I can’t let that stuff be on my mind playing gigs. 

"I keep thinking back to the people [at Ariana Grande's Manchester gig] and how music is escapism.  Everybody goes to a gig as an escape, to get away from the world, and it was very sad to see what happened.  The world is quite chaotic and people were coming somewhere to get away from that. 

"For me personally just the way I am I have to put that in the back of my head with gigging.  Since what happened [at the Bataclan] in Paris it’s frightening but if you let that overly submerge you you won’t leave the house and that’s essentially what terrorism is.  That’s where it’s most effective, making people terrified.  You can’t live like that.  I do what I do every day and everybody is the same.  You can’t stop doing what you do."

The Blizzards
The Blizzards

The Blizzards are currently on their Back to Basics tour and it's back to basics for frontman Niall Breslin who says music is the biggest passion in his life. 

He spent some of the band's six year hiatus charming the nation on national TV as a coach on The Voice of Ireland, but don't expect to see him in a similar role anytime soon.  He says he's done with entertainment television.

"I’ve always loved live TV," says, before adding, " I enjoyed it but I’ll never do entertainment television again.  Life is  too short to dedicate to something you don’t adore.  It was great for me but I know going forward if there’s another show in entertainment television I won’t do it. 

"I would do documentary based stuff, stuff that you kind of don’t know what you’re going to get when you start... But I'm most comfortable playing guitar and being on stage with the four lads I grew up with."

You might wonder then, if music is his number one passion, why the band took a break at all.

"We weren’t enjoying it," he admits. "We simply weren’t enjoying it and I knew as soon as we walked on stage and we were not feeling it, I knew it was over. 

Una Foden, Kian Egan with Rachel Stevens and Bressie during a recording of The Voice of Ireland in The Helix
Una Foden, Kian Egan with Rachel Stevens and Bressie during a recording of The Voice of Ireland in The Helix
Bressie on The Voice of Ireland

"I said we need to walk away until we feel hungry again and we’re all in the right place. Until we’re balls out loving it again it’s too much work and effort and heartbreak to do it half arsed."

A year and a half ago he felt the itch again, and the rest of the lads - Dec Murphy, Justin Ryan, Anthony Doran, and Aidan Lynch - were on board too.

"The first time with the band I wasn’t in a  great place.  I wasn’t in any space to be doing anything.  It was putting pressure on the band."

This time around things are different.  They don't have a label.  They've all got full time jobs and the others have wives and children.

"It’s not like we’re 21 years old and can rehearse 6 days a week.  We have to be really smart with our time and we are," says Bressie.

"They all have kids.  I don’t think I have any kids.  I’m pretty sure I don’t.  I’m waiting for that knock on the door from a 6ft 12 year old!" he laughs.

"They’re all married and they’ve all got pretty busy jobs.  We’re not doing it to achieve anything. The first time around we were like, we have to get out in the UK.  This time I was like, 'Right lads, stop that bullshit, let’s just actually gig and enjoy it'.  We’re not doing it to make a living or buy a house.  It’s literally just to see what comes of it.  There’s no expectation, no pressure."

Not having a label, he says, is no longer a necessity.

"Record labels are still important and have a huge part to play but they’re not an absolute necessity," he says.  "I own a recording studio so that’s your biggest cost in not having a label. 

"Even with a label we never had a gun to our heads with them breathing down our throats but there is an element of sacrificing creative control.  It’s not necessary for bands anymore. 

"Making music and selling music is over.  It’s so far gone we have to stop talking about it.  It’s basically a marketing tool now and that’s why live music is essential  If that dies we’re all fucked.  It’s important people recognise that."

He feels strongly about the need to appreciate live music.

"People need to stop ringing bands, some of the biggest bands in Ireland, and asking them to do shit for free.  They didn’t spend 15 years working on their craft for you to send a couple of tweets.  I think it’s important to start respecting what goes into music, whether you like our music or not.   We need to start valuing music.  It isn’t valued now in terms of selling CDs, that value is gone."

The Blizzards play their biggest gig of the summer on Saturday June 17, supporting The 1975, a favourite of Bressie's.

"They’re a band I would have went to see anyway so it’s nice to get a free ticket out of it!" he laughs.

"Their crowd are a slightly younger crowd than our original fans so you’ve got to win people over in those support slots.  We’ve done big gigs in the past and really they’re an opportunity to go, ‘Right, they don’t have to like what we do but it’s a great way to get in front of a large number of people.  If they buy it, great, if they don’t it’s fine.'  They’re not there for us.  You always have to remember on support gigs that they’re not there for you.  It’s your job to give it socks but they’re there for the headline act.  It’s different at a festival or your own gig.  It’s a different vibe."

The band is also working on their third album, which Bressie reckons is more cohesive than their previous two.

"The last two records we had this philosophy where we would just play what feels right, thinking there doesn’t have to be a thread.  But with an album it does really need a common thread," he says.

And this common thread will be more uplifting than before.

"Generally what we set out to do when we started to write the third record was say there’s no more room for break up songs or dogs dying.  There’s no room left for those kinds of songs.  We don’t want to get into that area," he says. 

"We want to play off the slightly more optimistic view of life.  With the songs you will notice they’re quite uplifting, there’s a more fun element to them. 

"I was listening to the radio the other day and I think it was Wheezer were being interviewed and the DJ said, 'So you’re getting more mature?' Getting more mature is associated with doing a slow song but why do you have to play slow songs and get more into yourself just because you’re getting older?  I’m the opposite."

Bressie has often spoken about his mental health struggles and battle with anxiety and even though he may have been experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, he says he always tried to write uplifting music.

"Even when I wasn’t in that headspace I tried to write music like that.  I think music is massive escapism for me – to write it, to perform it, rehearsals.  It’s always been massive escapism and that probably has a bearing on the positivity because that’s what it represents for me personally.  It’s always been a positive thing in my life. 

"Obviously I don’t write feckin cartwheel songs all the time but generally it’s immensely important to me, even just listening to music or going to gigs.  Just being part of it, recording, working in the studio, everything that comes with.  It’s a massive comfort for me and hopefully that comes across in the music."

He says he's not a "music snob" and listened to everything from Guns N' Roses to Abba as a child.  The Blizzards' latest single Show Me the Science sounds like an 80s anthem complete with sax solo.

"I was massively influenced by, and I love the flamboyance of, the 80s, that kind of ‘fuck everything’ vibe and how out there you can be, how flamboyant, and how much you can express yourself," he says.

"I’ts the genre that has had the most influence on me.  I think music has gotten very serious today but back then they didn’t take it so seriously.  I think The Blizzards were part of that as well when we were gigging and we ended up trying to do stuff we didn’t actually enjoy."

However, don't expect them to whip out the glam rock era eyeliner anytime soon.

"It would be immensely offensive if we tried to do that," he laughs.  "We don't want to be too literal with it.  It's about writing a great chorus with a great melody, Belinda Carlisle, Hall & Oates.  That's really the mantra we use."

The Blizzards support The 1975 at Malahide Castle on June 17 and their new single Show Me the Science is out on July 7.

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