Entertainment Music

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Green for go

Little Green Cars are poised to break through

Niall Byrne

It's noon in Austin, Texas, and Little Green Cars have already played two sets today. The five-piece band from Dublin are at South By Southwest (SXSW), the world's largest music industry festival where thousands of bands play during the annual city music binge.

Their schedule today began at 7am with a performance for KUTX, a local Austin radio station. The band performed in front of 300 hotel guests in a conference room, many of whom were eating breakfast. Because at SXSW, you can always squeeze in more live music.

"It's incomprehensible," marvels Stevie Appleby, the group's main male singer, standing outside an Austin hotel, surveying the musical madness in the 30 degree sun later that day. "How does anything get done around here?"

The band are on tour in North America in support of their debut album Absolute Zero. They are signed to Glassnote Records in the US and the album comes out in a few weeks there.

While an appearance on the BBC Sound of 2013 list at the start of the year would indicate otherwise, their rise has been anything but sudden.

Stevie, Faye, Adam, Donagh and Dylan have been playing together for five years since they were all hovering around the age of 15.

Serendiptiously, I saw the band in 2008 at a Battle Of The Bands-type event where they were the eventual winners and I was a judge. What was evident back then was that they were very talented and had lots of on-stage chemistry. They were out of step with every other band that day, whose performance aped their favourite punk, rock and rap music. Little Green Cars' harmonic folk was naturally a bit rough around the edges then, but they've worked hard since.

Even in Austin during a hectic week, their commitment is obvious. Their spare time is spent shooting a music video for the soon-to-be single Big Red Dragon. "We practiced every day for the last two years," Stevie explains.

The band built up a catalogue of around 70 songs in that time, 50 of which made it to the rough demo stage.

Unlike other bands who eagerly leap at the earliest opportunity, the band exercised caution. They didn't play live all that often and put the hard work in before arriving at the debut album milestone.

"We're a writing band," Stevie says. "We approach our craft like we're building something. You have to always try and get it right, to perfect and change things."

"All that work along the way helped us to find our identity," adds Adam, the guitarist and vocalist. "We know who we are, what we want to do and what we want to say."

The night before the 7am start, the band have a 11pm slot in The Hype Hotel.

The venue, which will become a Chinese restaurant once SXSW and blog aggregator The Hype Machine is done with it, featured $1m worth of lighting augmenting the stage and was the most professional of the temporary venues of the week in Austin.

Not that Stevie noticed.

"I didn't see the lights. I had my eyes closed the entire time we were up there."

Of course, at a festival with free swag, food and drinks, comes the need for great discipline. Bassist Donagh laments overindulging in The Hype Hotel's free tacos.

"I had too many," he gulps, and the rest of the group chime in.

They're a good band for chiming in together in a musical sense too. Each one of them sings on stage and their multi-part harmonies are their biggest asset, a versatile skill to have when you do lots of live radio sessions.

"The exposure is good and people are coming to shows based on hearing us doing the live radio sessions," Stevie elaborates. "We're a live band so as many people that can hear us live as possible is a good thing."

It's very likely that with the release of Absolute Zero a lot more people will hear them. It was recorded in Angelic studios, a residential recording farmhouse owned by Jamiroquai's keyboardist Toby Smith, over four weeks in April last year, and has been sitting on the band's iPods since September.

The album was produced by Markus Dravs, a man who is also partly responsible for one of the biggest selling albums of 2012, Mumford & Sons' Babel, which has racked up a total of 2 million sales in the US thus far.

Dravs also produced Mylo Xyloto, the fifth album by a little-known band called Coldplay.

The band became enamoured with his work when they all lived together in a house in Wexford, where they would listen to one of his productions, The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. "He was our pipe-dream producer," Stevie says.

Apart from significantly helping to make a great debut record, Dravs brought something else to the table. "German discipline," quips Adam. Beyond regimentation, Dravs gave the band confidence.

"He was one of the first people to call us 'artists'," recounts Stevie. "After all the work we'd done, for someone we respected to turn around and call us artists was hugely gratifying."

At the last SXSW show of the week, Little Green Cars are in captivating form. The street outside is mobbed with weekend warriors but the band are offering some calming comfort from the stage.

On Big Red Dragon, you can hear some of that Arcade Fire-style dynamics. Faye O'Rourke leads a devastatingly tender rendition of The Kitchen Floor, an album track which sounds like it takes inspiration from Fleetwood Mac. It floors the room.

Mike Mills of REM is in the audience whoopering and hollering, heckling the band not to leave the stage. He was turned on to the band by Daniel Ryan, the band's manager and a former member of the once-huge Dublin band The Thrills. Ryan has been there and done all of this before and is a vital guide and mentor for the young Dubliners.

While The Thrills burned bright for five years, Little Green Cars talk about their career with the long game in mind. The very long game. "We are a young band and we want to one day be an old band," Stevie explains.

"I don't want to be my own favourite band," he elaborates. "We don't want to be too complacent with ourselves."

Their US tour continues until mid-April, culminating in a slot at the prestigious Coachella Valley Festival in Indio, California, which features Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blur and the Stone Roses headlining.

Last year's Coachella was most notable for Dr Dre's set, where he was joined on the stage by a virtual 2Pac.

Little Green Cars are clearly already thinking beyond that festival. "It's only our holograms, we won't actually be there," jokes Stevie.

Absolute Zero is released through Island/Glassnote Records on May 10

Irish Independent

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