Interview by Barry Egan
There is a sepulchral school of thought that argues Radiohead’s No Surprises is effectively a lullaby about suicide. With Thom Yorke lamenting thus:
“A heart that’s full up like a landfill/A job that slowly kills you/Bruises that won’t heal/You look so tired and unhappy/Bring down the government/They don’t, they don’t speak for us.”
When we play a live set, we have this folk phase at the start then we slowly bring it into minimalist jazz and then disco!
And then, even more happily, Thom adds: “A handshake of carbon monoxide...”
My Fellow Sponges, Galway’s next big thing — well, they are managed by The Sawdoctors’ manager, Ollie Jennings — performed what was surely the most unusual cover to date at The Windmill Lane Sessions for independent.ie.
Their vaguely bossa nova, vaguely Latino interpretation of the aforementioned dour classic from Radiohead’s 1997 album OK Computer, was truly something to behold from the five-piece. My Fellow Sponges are as bizarre as they are brilliant in their peculiar sonic way — that on any given song can include ukulele, glockenspiel, harmonium, banjo, flute, drums. On stage, this prog-folk Arcade Fire-on-acid sound can extend to include a brass band playing, as well as mime artists, dancers and actors in excelsis.
“We throw it all in,” laughs the group’s Anna Mullarkey.
Asked why they picked the hardly obvious No Surprises by Radiohead to cover, My Fellow Sponges’ Donal McConnon (who is the absolute spit of Jesse Eisenberg when he played the role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the movie The Social Network) smiles: “I honestly don’t know why we chose it. I just really like the song. I think it is really lovely.”
“I like to mess around with alternative — I guess, you could call them Latin grooves, and those kind of chords and things like that. It seems to fit very well with the chords I was messing around with.”
A bossa nova arrangement of this song shouldn’t work but does, I say. “That’s really, because we are such a confusion of different styles and influences,” Donal says. “It just makes a lot of sense of it to come out that way.”
Is that The Mighty Sponges’ sonic raison d’etre almost? Why shouldn’t you do a bossa nova version of a Radiohead song about suicide? In the same way as why shouldn’t you have mime artists and a brass band onstage with you?
“Big time!” answers Donal. “I think that’s what unites us more than anything . The fact that there is a theatrical edge to our shows and the way we make music; we branch away from music as music, as a direct influence.”
Donal says he has been heavily influenced by “the anti-folk movement in New York.”
I ask him is he making this up? He laughs. “No!”
“I guess it’s folk music with a bit of a punk attitude,” he explains.
Much of this attitude, and more, was found on My Fellow Sponges’ debut album from 2013, Bonne Nuit.
“That was definitely our folk phase,” says Anna.
“But when we play a live set, we have this folk phase at the start then we slowly bring it into minimalist jazz and then disco!”
“But Bonne Nuit is definitely our folk side. Or,” laughs Anna, “our anti-folk side, or our prog-folk side!”
“I was very, very into minimalism,” she adds. “So I was into Philip Glass and Steve Reich, John Adams, and La Monte Thornton Young. All those!” Anna continues giddily name-checking umpteen avant-garde gurus.
You also mentioned influences like ducks, birds and mowing the lawn?
“It is very important to keep it real!” she hoots.
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