‘Creative differences’ were initially cited for the break-up of Little Green Cars. Now, Soda Blonde guitarist Adam O’Regan and vocalist Faye O’Rourke say ‘pop used to be a dirty word’ and why the new album is their finest work
The resurgence in the sale of vinyl records has been one of the unexpected high points for the music industry over the past decade, but it’s not all a bed of roses. The global demand for vinyl LPs far outstrips manufacturing capability at present, and the specialist pressing plants tend to favour those who place huge orders. As a result, preference goes to the likes of Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and The 1975. Those not at superstar level — in other words, almost every contemporary act on your Spotify playlist — have to wait in line. And the delays are lengthy.
Dublin quartet Soda Blonde have practically finished their second album but if they wait for vinyl copies, it won’t see the light of day for another year. “It’s a nightmare,” guitarist and keyboardist Adam O’Regan says, “and we’ve decided that we’re not going to let that determine the release.”
The plan is to bring out the album — the follow-up to their 2021 Choice Music-nominated Small Talk — either in late summer or early autumn and then, next year (whenever it returns from the pressing plant) release the record on LP. “We’re really proud of it,” O’Regan, who is currently mixing the album, says. “We feel we have something really special and we don’t want to wait. And we feel, with our fanbase, that they are people who really want to contribute to the band and they’ll be happy to go the Spotify route and wait for the vinyl.” Soda Blonde singer Faye O’Rourke believes it is the best solution. “Sitting on music that will be soon ready to go is not something we want to do,” she says.
The two have known each other for half their lives and often finish the other’s sentences. They may have just entered their 30s, but they are veritable veterans of the music business, making songs together since their middle teen years. They started to make significant ripples on the Irish music scene shortly after leaving school and by their early 20s, they were being feted as ones to watch.
The pair form the core of Soda Blonde and were also at the heart of their previous band, Little Green Cars. That group released two much-loved albums, including one that topped the Irish charts, and music critics and industry execs in the 2010s seemed convinced that they were going to make it big.
It’s fair to say that Little Green Cars were a household name in those households that love music, but they didn’t achieve the huge commercial success that many felt their clever folk-rock songs deserved. Soda Blonde, which formed from the ashes of Little Green Cars, maintains the quality of before, albeit in a different package, and the band’s desire to reach as many people as possible remains undimmed. “We’re really good at what we do,” O’Rourke says. It’s not a boast, more genuine conviction. “We feel our music can connect with a lot of people and we’ve never been afraid to say so.”
“I thought we’d be selling out Madison Square Garden,” O’Regan says, with a chuckle. “Next year!” The duo talk animatedly about the new album. The artwork is complete — and looks impressive when O’Rourke shows Life the imagery on his phone. They will be hoping that the title — which they don’t want to divulge yet — becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Big life events have, apparently, made their way into the songs. O’Regan married his American student-doctor girlfriend last year and O’Rourke is set to marry the actor Fionn Foley next month. O’Regan is still in the honeymoon stage. “I’m loving it,” he says. “We’re living in Dublin 8 with our little cat. We’re best friends. There’s something about that stability and structure [of marriage] that feels good to me.”O’Rourke and Foley have been together for years. She jokes that two people working in creative fields know all about financial instability. “What the hell was I thinking?” she laughs heartily. “We’re screwed. I’m a very passionate person and I do my thinking after I make my decisions, but not in this case.
“Me and Fionn got engaged very quickly about three years ago. So ‘ha-ha’ to those who thought we did it too soon! I’m really inspired by Fionn’s creativity and drive and that’s been a huge part of my coming to terms with my own capacity to work and what I’m capable of. I see him getting up at 9am and stopping at 8pm, whereas my day used to be a bit more lethargic. I’m eternally grateful to him because he’s changed my life and how I see my work.
“I had a lot of confidence issues when I was younger and I think that’s natural for anyone who’s a teenager and going into music. I’m only just learning how to be as productive as I can possibly be without all these negative voices stopping you from doing things.”
O’Rourke says she is keen to seize opportunities when they arrive rather than simply hoping that the quality of the music will open doors on its own. One such opportunity happened last week when Soda Blonde played a Jameson-sponsored gig that was out of the ordinary. As well as performing their own set at Dublin venue, The Camden, they joined co-headliner, Soak, for a special rendition of a song the two acts had been working on together.
Soak, to those not in the know, is the critically acclaimed Derry singer-songwriter Bridie Monds-Watson. Having come out as non-binary a couple of years ago, Monds-Watson prefers to be referred to with they/them pronouns. “Bridie is somebody we really respect and we love their work,” O’Rourke says. “We grew up with them, basically, and were doing things like Other Voices together. They were 15 and we were about 19. Jameson approached us and they would have been our mutual first choice.”
O’Rourke and Soak had collaborated before. “Gerry Leonard, who was David Bowie’s musical director, had put together a group of singers to do a tribute
to him after his death and myself and Bridie did a duet of Space Odyssey together.”
Collaboration, O’Rourke says, is one of the hallmarks of the current Irish music scene. O’Rourke and O’Regan met as 14-year-olds through a mutual friend, Stevie Appleby. “She was good friends with Stevie and he and I went to school together,” O’Regan says. “It wasn’t too long until we started making music together. Stevie and I were writing songs. We’d spend every day together after school writing and recording music.
“One day, Faye came in after school and played us a song she’d written called Georgie Porgie and Stevie and I looked at each other and went, ‘F**king hell. This is better than anything we’d ever tried to do’. The next song I heard her do made me think, ‘This person has a way with lyrics that I’d never heard before’. We were always going to make music together from that point on.”
O’Rourke, O’Regan and Appleby joined forces with Donagh Seaver O’Leary on bass and Dylan Lynch on drums, and Little Green Cars was born. “Forget the rocky road to Dublin,” The Guardian raved in 2012, “this Irish country/rock band are on a highway into the American heartland.”
The following year they were playing their wonderfully catchy single, Harper Lee, on Jimmy Fallon’s TV show. It seemed as if they could do no wrong, especially when debut album, Absolute Zero, was rammed with so many good songs. But while the band played to packed houses at home — something that continued with second album, Ephemera — the success was not mirrored abroad.
“There have been times,” O’Regan admits, “where that really bothered me. It was like, ‘How is this not happening for us?’”
“It can eat you up,” O’Rourke says. “I’m getting better now about not looking back to the past, the what-ifs. The focus is on the future. It has to be.”
Little Green Cars came to an end in 2019 when Appleby decided to walk away. At the time, that hoary old chestnut, ‘creative differences’, was cited, but, even four years on, one feels O’Rourke, in particular, finds it hard to talk about it. “Little Green Cars could not continue without Stevie,” she says. “If one of us left, it was over. That was always going to be the case.”
In 2021, in an interview with The Irish Times, Appleby broke his silence. Admitting he hadn’t picked up his guitar for two years after the friends went their separate ways, he didn’t hold back. “The band to me and my mind were like an old workhorse that wouldn’t move. We whipped it and whipped it until we f**king whipped it to death. We left the label because they wanted us to start doing EDM [electronic dance music], to which we said: ‘F**k that’. So we left the label and were kinda rudderless.
“Then the guys wanted to make a sort of popular music like they do now in Soda Blonde, but I wanted to make more subdued music. In the end, we both got what we wanted; they get to do what they love, and I get to do what I love.”
O’Rourke winces at memory of the quote: “I have no comment,” she says, looking to her bandmate.
O’Regan chooses his words carefully. “I don’t think that it’s ever been the case with Soda Blonde that we wanted to go in a pop-oriented direction. I think that word, ‘pop’, always felt like a dirty word in Little Green Cars. What was alluded to there [in Appleby’s quote] was a decision to push things in a direction that was skin-deep or superficial and that was definitely not the case. I feel we’ve always just wanted to make great music that connects like we’re trying to do now.”
“And that is evident by the music we release in Soda Blonde. The music speaks for itself in terms of its depth. We’ve never made music purposely for radio airplay,” O’Rourke says.
“Stevie,” O’Regan adds, “is a folk singer and he wants to make folk music at the end of the day.”
Has the friendship survived?
“I don’t think,” O’Rourke says, “that we can talk about that.”
“There’s a good documentary somewhere down the line,” O’Regan says, with a wry smile. “I think we’re all reasonable people and, at the end of the day, we’ve nothing but love for Stevie. Rather than thinking about a quintet being reformed” — a response to a question about whether they might one day regroup as a five-piece — “I’d just love to have a conversation to talk about how great things were and stuff like that. I don’t know; it feels as though that ship may have sailed.”
O’Rourke says she hopes Little Green Cars won’t dominate this article. “We’re putting that behind us,” she says. “Soda Blonde is still so new and that’s where our focus is at. When you get to your 30s, naturally you become more aware about what you want from life. We are happiest when we’re making music but we’ve had to put a few things behind us, just rock ‘n’ roll stuff. To summarise, we’re very f**ked-up people.”
She jests. She’s a musician who has always been serious about her craft, never more so than now. “We have complete creative control when it comes to our music and we worked hard to make this album the best it could be.” Admirers will soon get to find out for themselves but vinyl lovers will have to wait a little longer.