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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Return to planet of the Japes

Japes: 'Life is a crazy trip. Songwriting is a good way to take in all the craziness and reflect on it in a song'
Japes: 'Life is a crazy trip. Songwriting is a good way to take in all the craziness and reflect on it in a song'
Eamon Sweeney

Eamon Sweeney

Last year, the emergence of Wicklow singer Hozier dominated the indigenous music scene thanks to his stealthy sleeper hit 'Take Me to Church', which was impressive going considering a U2 album actually saw the light of day in 2014.

One of the most significant Irish releases of 2015 comes early with this month's arrival of the fifth studio album by Jape, which is the nom de plume of Irish singer Richie Egan. Egan is also the only Irish act to win a national award for best album twice in his short career.

The Malmö based musician may have a brilliant new record to promote brimming with smart electronic pop, but the Dubliner isn't exactly shouting the news from the rooftops. I've heard many people observe that Egan is remarkably humble.

"The world is a very messed up situation, so doing music sometimes can seem facile," Egan reflects. "But in giving just a small amount of joy to someone, you are at least bringing something good into the world."

Egan simply has 10 great tunes to share with listeners rather than pushing any fanciful hubris suggesting his latest opus is something you can't live without. The Crumlin man settled on his Jape moniker when releasing of his debut album back in 2003, as he preferred the umbrella of a band name rather than a conventional solo guise.

Richie is also a long-standing member of Dublin instrumental rock band The Redneck Manifesto, who have released four studio albums and a string of EPs, plus he also collaborates with fellow Redneck Matty Bolger on a project called Dimman.

Once a regular fixture on Ireland's alternative circuit in the early noughties, Egan now lives in Malmö. He is quick to debunk one prevalent myth about his current home town.

"Malmö is the third city of Sweden, so it is actually quite cheap," Egan reveals. "The only thing that is very expensive is drinking out. Everything else is either on a par or a lot cheaper than Dublin. Rent is way cheaper and food is about the same price. People think it's expensive, but it's not remotely as expensive as Stockholm. I always describe it as a bit like an industrial Galway."

Egan will be back for an extended jaunt around the country next month in support of This Chemical Sea, an album that contains some subtle environmental themes. "I've always believed the best lyrics come from not thinking about them," Egan maintains. "The reason I called this album This Chemical Sea is there are a lot of references to pollution. It is interesting to consider how we pollute the world we live in, plus also how we pollute ourselves. If you sit down to write about a given subject, it's usually rubbish, or you run the risk of getting up on a soapbox. The best stuff is personal material that ends up being universal and has more than one layer of meaning. I find it fascinating to step back and look at a song and a lyric. I mightn't have any idea how the hell I wrote it. You just have to trust yourself and let go. I love that feeling. People do that in numerous different ways, but for me it is in song writing. It is how I surprise myself. To be fair, a lot of times I can come out with some amount of shite as well."

Egan is the only artist to win the Choice Music Prize twice with Ritual in 2009 and Ocean of Frequency in 2012. "It was amazing to win it twice", he enthuses. "The long list shines a light and collates everything that comes out in a given year and the short list narrows it down to ten acts. We're a small country, but the amount of great albums we put out is incredible.

"I love Clu, who are a new duo with amazing production standards. I like a guy called Monto as well. There is just so much stuff. My favourite Irish release in 2014 was Hilary Woods, but there is something new every week.

"I'm aware of all the new Irish stuff for two reasons; the internet and getting to come back all the time. My Dad calls me the boomerang man. I still feel very much at home in Dublin."

Egan is a fiercely ruthless critic of his own work, but he views this as an instrumental part of the process. "When I was listening to mixes of the album on my headphones, if I got bored with anything I'd dump it straight away," he reveals. "I wanted to have ten songs that I could continually play live. I think I've managed it on nine tracks on this album, which is my best hit rate so far. The music industry is such an unpredictable place at the moment. This could be the last album I get to make, so I wanted to make it as good as possible."

Even though the nature of releasing music in an album format may change, Egan sees no reason whatsoever not to be making music in some capacity. "I just have to do it at this stage of the game." he states. "I'm a lifer. I'll always be making music. For me, it is about a trajectory and you should enjoy every step of it. You do something, you learn from it, you move on and do something else. I feel like I learn something from every album. If I keep learning I won't stop and I'll have to keep doing it. For me, it's just like being alive.

"Life is just a crazy trip. Songwriting is a good way to take in all the craziness and reflect it into a song."

This Chemical Sea is out on January 23. Tour dates at www.thischemicalsea.com

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