Windmill Lane Sessions

Windmill Lane Sessions: Little Green Cars 20.03.16

As Little Green Cars release their new album Ephemera, the band's Adam O'Regan talks about the tragic death of his father Hugh and how he inspired him to be creative.

Goes the lines from the William Butler Yeats poem Ephemera: "'Ah, do not mourn,' he said, 'That we are tired, for other loves await us'/Hate on and love through unrepining hours/Before us lies eternity; our souls/Are love, and a continual farewell.'"

Little Green Cars's powerful new album Ephemera takes its title - and its theme of a continual farewell - from this Yeats poem written in 1884. Guitarist and vocalist in the hotly tipped Dublin group, Adam O'Regan knows much about things that are important in life for only a short time.

His father Hugh passed away tragically from a heart attack in his car in November, 2012, when he was only 49. He was, as the Irish Times described him in the obituary, 'one of the most prominent businessmen of the Celtic Tiger era.'

One of the nation's great dreamers, Hugh was however left in a very difficult spot when the global economy crashed in 2008: he was saddled with debts of over €250m - €37m to Anglo - over personal guarantees he had given.

'A volley of prolonged applause accompanied the woven wicker casket that contained the remains of the well-known publican - who "revolutionised the face of Dublin" - as they left his funeral for cremation today,' wrote Nicola Anderson in the Irish Independent on November 30, 2012.

At the requiem mass at Star of the Sea church in Sandymount, Dublin (with Hugh's friends like John Rocha and his wife Odette, Ben Dunne, Jay Bourke and John Reynolds looking on), young Adam sang a heart-breaking version of U2's song Kite, complete with the lines specially for his dear departed daddy: "I know that this is not goodbye."

Intriguingly, Bono wrote in the foreword to the 2015 book sons+fathers: "It's a mysterious thing, the relationship between fathers and sons. All bonds here are different. While the stories are mainly of fathers, they are more revealing about the authors, their sons."

The bond Adam had with his father Hugh was both special and revealing. Adam talks about his father being the primary inspiration for what he did with his life.

"He was such an advocate of creativity," Adam says, adding how his father provided him with "the spark" that "ignited" his passion for music and creativity when he was in his early teens. "It was my dad's idea that I start taking up the electric guitar. I was 13. I remember like it was as soon as I started playing guitar. And I remember also there was a few failed attempts to start playing music when I was younger.

"My mum," he says referring to Adrienne, "would send me to piano lessons or classical guitar lessons or whatever but there was something about when I was 13 and they bought me an electric guitar. There was a cool factor to it. I remember I could not wait until I got back from school.

"I actually remember - this is so lame!" Adam half-grimaces, "I would be pretending that the school chair in front of me was the fret board of a guitar, because I could not wait to come home and play guitar. I was hooked from then on."

Asked how he got through losing his father in the manner he did Adam begins, haltingly: "I have to say if it wasn't for the band, I don't know what state I would be in. It was 2012, just after we finished recording Absolute Zero," he says, referring to Little Green Cars's acclaimed debut album. (The Guardian dubbed Absolute Zero, "dealing almost exclusively with young love and its discontents, a study in sincerity." ) "It was just before we were about to go on tour when he passed away. He was very young. We had just embarked on our first major tour. Then the album started to pick up steam and we were back and forth to Russia and Europe about five or six times - trying to deal with whatever questions arise about that sort of thing, you know, on the road in a confined space with five other people?"

I ask him what was the confined space inside his head like.

"The confined space inside my head? It's definitely. . .[he pauses] . . . losing a father is a crazy thing to try and process."

Sitting beside Adam is Stevie Appleby, vocals, guitar in the band, who says this of Hugh O'Regan: "He was a big inspiration on the band, from the start. He was actually responsible for our name."

Adam: "For about five minutes in 2007 before we started the band, we kind of toyed with the idea of calling ourselves Little Red Cars. Over dinner one evening, I put it to the family table. He said: 'You should call your band Little Green Cars, because little green cars will save the world. He was this kind of dreamer character."

Stevie: "He taught us a lot about integrity and passion. He'd say: 'You stick to your passion.' He never passed judgment on the fact that we weren't the most studious."

Adam: "Not at all. In fact, that was the whole thing growing up, he always encouraged me to find what it was I was passionate about and follow that. Myself and Stevie were not academic at all. We were complete misfits. I detested sitting in a class. I had no interest in it. Dad was always trying to help me find whatever avenue, that passion, a spark that would ignite that flame.

"I remember so many good cop/bad cop fights with my mum and dad where she'd be saying, 'You've got to have something to fall back on, study,' and dad would be the flip-side. He was kind of a successful entrepreneur in the 1990s and the 2000s around Ireland. He owned a few pubs, and Thomas Read Group and The Morrison Hotel. A few little bibs and bobs," Adam says with some understatement.

"After a point, he detested the term . . . being called a 'business man'. I think he found that in life, success or money or the pursuit of financial gain doesn't really bring with it any real happiness."

Stevie, laughing in reference to the pursuit of financial gain: "Lucky for us!"

Similarly in the music industry, I say, if a band sets out to make money by trying to write a commercial hit song, it probably won't happen. Whereas if a band sets out with the more artistic motivation to write a timeless and great song, it could become a hit and make them money.

"Absolutely," says Adam. "Well, that's it - you've just got to follow your gut and believe in what you do and hopefully success follows that. But also I think it is how you define what is 'success'."

Asked how Little Green Cars define success, Stevie says: "It is hard to define, because 'success' is in relation to you. It changes from person to person, even from day to day.

"Sometimes you feel like a complete failure and other days you feel on top of the world. But getting to share something that is personal to you and being able to do that as a career is pretty cool. I don't know whether that is luck or success, but I would categorise that as success."

What music did they grow up listening to and think was pretty cool? Adam smiles. "My dad owned a hotel," he says, "when I was growing up, and he was always very interested in how music creates an atmosphere, so there is a certain type of music for me. I remember Blue Lines by Massive Attack being played a lot in my house. The Doors's first album. My dad loved John Lee Hooker."

I point out to Adam that his dad also loved Bob Dylan. He had a massive portrait of Bob hanging in the bar of The Morrison Hotel.

"That's right! There was!" smiles Adam. "There's a shop in New York full of rock 'n' roll photography called Morrison Hotel Gallery. Elliott Landy took that picture of Bob Dylan and my dad went over and bought the original print. It's great." He smiles when I tell him that I had dinner with his father and a group at the Morrison Hotel on the night the hotel opened in 1999.

Adam and Stevie and the rest of the band are here ostensibly to perform at The Windmill Lane Sessions on and talk up their new album. The latter doesn't need much talking up, it transpires, it is getting rave reviews with Hot Press writing: 'Ephemera confirms that Little Green Cars are accelerating.'

When I ask Stevie and Adam what was the first song they wrote together, Stevie tells this enchanting - and frankly hilarious - tale: "Johnny Blues! 'Another cog in society's contraption! It was about being caught by your parents smoking!" They both roar with laughter.

Formed in 2008, Dublin five-piece band - Adam O'Regan, Stevie Appleby, Faye O'Rourke, Donagh Seaver O'Leary and Dylan Lynch - Little Green Cars released their debut album Absolute Zero in January, 2013. That year, on their American tour, the band performed their single Harper Lee on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The Little Green Cars rise is such that they are on the cover of the current Hot Press magazine; and that they are playing The Iveagh Gardens in Dublin on July 23rd.

Asked made them want to form Little Green Cars, Stevie says: "I guess at a certain age you know when you look at yourself in the world and what you are going to be when you grow up and being almost disturbed to the core by it. You know, looking around, thinking, 'Where am I going to fit into the world when I am older?'"

So you had an existential crisis at 16?

"Yeah!" laughs Stevie. "At 16-years-old you are swimming in the hormone pool without any armbands. I just couldn't see myself doing anything and what was happening through that was music was just being made - just trying to express yourself and be understood. And through being understood you would get an understanding of yourself as well. So music was just something that was happening constantly throughout me trying to decide what I was going to do."

Adam: "I can remember the first song we wrote as a band, Boxcars. We actually put out a little EP ourselves in 2008. That was one of the songs on it. It was the first time we played with our drummer Dylan. I remember we were kicking around this bass-line and he came in and he had this real clever idea of switching up the groove of the song. He was trying to embody Stuart Copeland of The Police. It was one of those moments when you can feel the energy."

The energy on the new album, because of the subject matter of mortality and our short time in existence in this world, and break-ups, is perhaps a touch melancholic, sad. "If you look just on the surface," says Stevie, "you could say that maybe it is a bit sad or melancholic, but I don't think that would be really honest. It's hopeful in a way. There's a part of it that's not ignoring things. It is unhealthy to ignore things. So we're definitely looking at things. So whether the things we're looking at are good or bad or pretty or ugly - dealing with them is a positive move. It's a transitional album."

Transitional in what way? "Transitional emotionally," answers Adam. "It's life."

"Metaphorically you can use the word death," says Stevie, "that kind of thing was cropping up a lot in our lives - whether it was just the death of a friendship or a relationship or, eventually and inevitably, family members," adds Stevie, who lost his grandmother a few years ago.

"There were times in our lives about dying but at the same time a lot of things were being born. So the album itself is a lot about transition and a lot about changes happening in our personal lives. So that was going to be reflected in the music. The album is as much about death as it is a rebirth of us."

"The title Ephemera," he continues, "could be applied to so many things these days: something that is important, really important, but only for a short period of time. That's what albums are. They are really important to people at specific times in their lives. Not that they lose their importance but they lose that immediate need for the music. 'I needed to hear this while I was going through this.'"

"Maybe people will be able to look back at Ephemera almost nostalgically. 'I wanted to hear that then. It still means something to me now because of what it meant back then.'"

What do you want people to get out of your new album?

Adam: "To listen to it."

Stevie: "There's an element of bluntness lyrically."

Give me an example. Stevie: "It used to be the whole world versus you and me, but now it seems it's just you versus me.' That's kind of blunt."

I ask Stevie is a lyric like that about a relationship with someone or his relationship with himself? "That's up for people to interpret," he says. "You try and write a lyric that is direct enough to mean something but broad enough to mean anything. I'd like if someone was breaking up with someone, they could hear that and be like 'I know how that feels', or if someone was battling with themselves they could be like, 'I know how that feels.'"

And so how does it feel?

"It doesn't feel good, that feeling - 'you versus me.'"