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This club is worth joining

Johnny Holden and I go way back. Well, a few years, at least. The journalist/dance-pop vocalist was, for quite some time, a tutor at Rathmines College. I was in one of his classes. And whaddaya know? The dude remembers me. "My manager said Chris Watson to me," says Johnny, when we get together for a chat. "I would have put two and two together if I heard Wasser -- it's not the most usual Irish name in the world ... "

Probably because it's German. But that's not important. We're here to talk about the band formerly known as Hoarsebox. Yep, Johnny's got himself a brand new bag, and Dublin quartet This Club are finally getting somewhere. It's all down to a rollicking debut single (the infectious I Won't Worry -- currently soundtracking a bank commercial near you), a clever change in style (electronic beats, sun-drenched melodies, and luscious, four-part harmonies), and, oh yeah, that name change (This Club was the first track the band wrote together).


"I thought it didn't matter," says Johnny (32) of the band's previous title. "Say if you're, you know, a techno outfit and you're called The Travelling Hillbilly Boys -- if people don't know who you are, they're gonna assume that a band called The Travelling Hillbilly Boys play a certain type of music that probably isn't techno, do you know what I mean?"

Sort of. "Because we changed the name," he continues, "and changed the music style -- it's pretty different to what it was before -- it's hard to gauge how much of a difference the name change has made."

So, he doesn't miss Hoarsebox, then? "No, not really," he laughs, "we got absolutely nowhere!" The line-up, of course, remains the same. It must be nice, though, to finally have people's attention. But you have to wonder where everyone was four years ago, when this promising young band was only getting started

"We never thought we were bad before," he nods, "we always thought we were great! It's a little strange for things to kind of change that much in terms of the interest now, but we've been in it for a while and you don't start biting the hand that feeds you. We're just happy that people are interested in listening to the music that we make." The last time we spoke, Johnny and the gang were on their way to Mississippi to record what would eventually become their debut album, the excellent Highlife. That was a few years back. So it took a while, then.

"We thought it would take six weeks -- we did, but everyone else wasn't as naive as us," he laughs. The lads spent more than a year travelling back and forth to America to work on the record with producer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse).

"The going back and forth thing had to do with visas," says Johnny, "but it also had to do with the fact that Phil, the guitar player, had a baby right in the middle of the recording, and that's the baby you see on the cover of the album."

The fact that This Club had managed to accumulate something in the region of 40 songs, only added to the delay. The aim was to make a fun, "disco-pop album" and it's fair to say that they've succeeded. And, despite the band taking over, Johnny still works as a journalist. What's more, the time he spent in Mississippi has changed his perspective on the art of juggling day jobs with music.

"Essentially, everybody is a musician over there and it's not a dirty word," he explains. "It's okay to be a musician and something else on the side. Which I kind of like. It's stayed with me ever since. I've stopped worrying so much about getting to the next level of success. I'm just trying to enjoy it for what it is..."

Highlife is out now. This Club play the Workman's Club tonight and the Sea Sessions Surf & Music Festival in Donegal tomorrow