Monday 21 October 2019

'I'm perfectly f***ing happy inside the box' - rising Irish stars Picture This


Against the grain: frontman Ryan Hennessy, drummer Jimmy Rainsford, guitarist Owen Cardiff and bassist Cliff Deane
Against the grain: frontman Ryan Hennessy, drummer Jimmy Rainsford, guitarist Owen Cardiff and bassist Cliff Deane
John Meagher

John Meagher

When young bands talk to the media about their forthcoming album, the conversation tends to zero in on how obsessed they were about music growing up, how recording songs and playing live are the dreams they had early on.

Ryan Hennessy, frontman of Picture This, is different. He says he had no interest whatsoever in music until around the time of his Leaving Cert - and he's almost proud of the fact.

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"I was never into music," he says, with a shrug. "I wasn't interested in it until I was 18. I was a sports guy. I wanted to be a professional soccer player."

By his own admission, he was a "decent" player and plied his trade with the top Dublin boys' club, St Kevin's. He says he only became interested in music when he realised he could sing.

Such an admission must be galling for all those music-fixated bands struggling to catch a break, especially when they contemplate just how big the four-piece from Athy, Co Kildare, have become so quickly.

They didn't even have a band name three-and-a-half years ago when they released a song 'Take My Hand' online, but now they have managed to sell out five nights at Dublin's 3Arena. And in a grandstanding show of Celtic Tiger-like brashness, they have opted to launch their forthcoming second album, the slickly produced MDRN LV, from New York's Empire State Building.

One of their biggest supporters, 2fm's Eoghan McDermott, will broadcast a show from the iconic Manhattan building on Valentine's Day. McDermott is so fixated with the band that he had MDRN LV tattooed on the side of his torso before Christmas.

"It's mad," drummer Jimmy Rainsford says, "but he's been behind us right from the start."

If some daytime radio presenters have been excited about Picture This, a large cohort of the gig-going public have not been able to get enough of them since their meteoric rise in 2016. Just what is it about them that has provoked such devotion?

Hennessy is convinced he has the answer. "Our songs are lyrically very direct. There are lots of songs where I don't know what people are singing about - and I can't relate to that. I've experienced everything I talk about in the songs - and it's f***ing good pop music coming from an Irish band. There have been lots of singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and rock bands, which is all great - but we're a straight-up, fresh pop band with really good songs."

Rainsford, who writes the music and produces in his home studio, concurs.

"I find we fill the niche. When we came out with 'Take My Hand', there was no band, anywhere in the world, playing pop music any more."

It seems like a wild, sweeping statement, especially when one considers the existence of such pop-rock bands as Maroon 5 and The Script.

"Yeah, they were there," he says, "but there was no one new. There was no one breaking through. When we did it, people were like, 'Oh, you're a band - cool!' We didn't sit back for a second. We've been constantly working."

He says they started work on MDRN LV immediately after their self-titled debut album.

Today, Hennessy and Rainsford, along with bandmates Owen Cardiff (guitar) and Cliff Deane (bass), are being interviewed by a succession of journalists in a posh Dublin hotel. Hennessy and Rainsford do the lion's share of the talking - a fact that seems to suit the other two just fine. It's the frontman and drummer who essentially write the songs and get them to a largely finished state before Cardiff and Deane come in for recordings.

"It's something that's worked well for us up to now," Hennessy says. "Each of us knows our place. Nobody tells me how to do the lyrics and I don't tell him" - he nods in the direction of Rainsford - "that his drumming could be better."

Unlike other frontmen, Hennessy will not blanch at the suggestion that his band are aiming for a mass market, to be as big as possible. "That's absolutely the case," he says. "And that's a compliment to us. There are so many people trying to think outside the box - I'm perfectly f***ing happy inside the box. We know what we want, and unashamedly so.

"We have a knowledge of pop and pop culture that a lot of other bands don't have - and we've lots of common sense. We know how to work social media, we know how to write a good song, we know how to look good, we know how to put on a good show."

Nobody could ever accuse Hennessy of false modesty and there will likely be many people who find it refreshing that he speaks his mind so frankly. Rainsford says Picture This aren't interested in being in the cliques they reckon many of other bands are in.

"I've always found it fascinating that no other Irish band thought, 'We'll go against the grain like we did'. We just did it." Meaning? "I would find us extremely outgoing in our music. It's music that gives you a feeling of confidence and getting out and make something of your life, and I don't think too many Irish bands are doing stuff like that right now."

The quartet are all still living in Athy.

"People are proud of us there," Hennessy says. "Athy has got a bad reputation - there's a lot of stuff that goes on there." A 'rough' town? "Yeah, same as lots of other small Irish towns. But now people are saying, 'Great. 'They're [Picture This] putting Athy on the map for all the right reasons'."

And yet, Hennessy says that each of them wanted something far bigger than rural Ireland. "Growing up in a small town drove us," he says. "There's just a hunger there, especially for me because I was on social welfare at 20 and my life was going nowhere.

"You can hear it in the songs. There's a yearning for something bigger. We have such an appreciation for it.

"There's something fresh about a non-Dublin band doing it, because every f***ing singer and band seems to be from Dublin. We're not another run-of-the-mill Dublin band happy to just play the same places all the time."

"I find that a lot of bands from Ireland have to start acting a certain way when they become big," Rainsford adds, "whereas we are still the same lads we have always been our whole lives. We are weird people though - we're not ordinary Irish lads."

Hennessy points out that none of the four has much interest in alcohol and he seems appalled by the idea that any of them would ever touch drugs. "I don't see why we would do it now that we're in a band when we didn't do it before," he says, crossly. "Anyway, I used to get offered drugs much more before I was doing this."

As soon as the album is released, their attention will turn to those gigs at the 3Arena. "It's going to be epic," Hennessy says. "We're spending a fortune to make sure the show is out of this world. We're not interested in taking the money and running. We want to keep pumping it back in to make sure we're playing the 3Arena for the next 20 years."

'MDRN LV' is out on February 15. Picture This play five consecutive sold-out shows at Dublin's 3Arena, starting from March 27

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