Irish indie rockers Ham Sandwich have just released their third album, ‘Apollo’, four years after ‘White Fox’ put them firmly on the map.
Lead vocalists Niamh Farrell and Podge McNamee tell Barry Egan about the evolution of the band, from the release of their debut album, ‘Carry the Meek’, six years ago through supporting Arcade Fire and Mumford and Sons to the release of ‘Apollo’.
“2008 was a mental year for us because the day we released the album [‘Carry the Meek’], that was the day we won the Meteor Hope award,” reveals Niamh.
“And I remember going to the RDS and we were kind of sitting up in the seats and we were all kind of going, ‘Yeah, there’s no chance of us getting this’ and then we won it so we released an album and won that award on the same day.”
Podge adds, “That was the closest we got to an MTV award style acceptance speech! Nobody had prepped us as to what happens when you win an award. We were like, ‘yeah, brilliant, head to the bar to celebrate’ but it was like, ‘no, go this way’ and literally 17 rooms all in a row of interviews and press.”
At that point in their career, Niamh says they were “just messing around”.
“We really enjoyed playing music,” she says, “We never got really bogged down with the whole ‘we’re in a band because we want to get signed’. In the beginning we kind of more just said ‘let’s make music and do gigs’. We love gigging. We had a great laugh gigging. When we released ‘Carry the Meek’ it got a bit more serious.”
Podge adds, “I find with every album we release we know that just by making an album it’ll improve us. Just coming off the back of an album we’re a better band immediately. If we don’t write songs we don’t challenge ourselves and we don’t improve.”
It has been four years since the release of second album White Fox and, ironically, that album’s success was the reason for the long delay for album three.
Podge says, “In a way it’s like – this sounds markety and horrible – but it’s like if you have a product and it takes the guts of a year for it to start surfacing and for people to latch on, that’s a delay. When we released [single] ‘Ants’ we had another single ready to go and we were told to wait because ‘Ants’ was everywhere and doing so well. They were like, ‘Why release another single now?’”
Niamh continues, “We were lucky in a sense that the album kept kind of rejuvenating itself. We had ‘Ants’ and then we got ‘Models’ on the Discover Ireland ad which gave it another kick and then to play Phoenix Park and Slane gave it another kick. People were coming to see us even if they hadn’t even got ‘White Fox’ so it kind of constantly kept getting this boost again and again which was amazing for us but we weren’t really getting time to write. That’s why it took so long for this album to come around because White Fox just kept on going and going.”
For Windmill Lane Sessions, Ham Sandwich recorded the single ‘Hold Me Up’ from the new album ‘Apollo’.
“It’s kind of about wanting to forget about somebody and your mind isn’t allowing you,” reveals Niamh. “We have a lyric in it, ‘Drawing lines in the sand but I’ll always end up with your name.’
“You kind of take a point in your life, I find you can kind of pick out little bits of when you were feeling like that and you can kind of go, ‘I’m going to write about that because it was interesting how I felt about that’. It is a little bit like therapy.
“It’s kind of about a bunch of things. It’s not essentially about one specific person, more about a feeling about something. We’ve all went through something like that in our lives when there’s somebody you can’t get out of your head.”
Podge muses, “I think with this [album] we’re definitely aware of what we wanted to write and what kind of music we like and going way deeper into detail on why we like sonic sounds. We’re close to that kind of Brian Wilson, mental home territory!
“We want to write something more infectious to us and we do want to write more of an album. We feel like it is hard to write an album that really does tell a story to the listener. The new album, there's not so much a story, it’s about trying to get over your troubles. We’re in different places than we were in ‘White Fox’. None of us are going through break-ups. We’re happier.”
Niamh reveals, “I think people relate to feeling sad more than they do feeling happy. You kind of hold on to a bad relationship in your head, so it’s good to kind of use it in a song.”
Ham Sandwich supported ‘Arcade Fire’ at Marlay Park during the summer, and were thrilled to find the band watched their set.
“Wayne came up to us and said, ‘We opened our window and we could hear your set, your music was our music during our preparations. Really good job!’ We were like, ‘That’s mad!’”
They also supported Mumford & Sons at the Phoenix Park in July.
“That was a big thing for us because to play in the Phoenix Park and we had just done Slane, we were like, ‘This is happening again, getting to play in front of a huge crowd.’ That whole day, it was a scorcher of a day,” recalls Niamh.
“They were super nice. They were so nice. They wanted to do an Irish cover. They were going to do ‘Dirty Old Town’ but somebody told them a Scottish guy wrote it. Somebody suggested ‘Galway Girl’ and we went around to their dressing room area and it was like all the bands playing that day around in a big circle playing Galway Girl. And we got on stage at the end of the night in front of 40,000 people. That was just nuts, all of us on stage!”