Interview: The Straw Gods

by Danielle Holian

For our readers, please describe your musical background.

My own musical background has a pretty absurd trajectory. I picked up the guitar when I was about 12. At the time all I was listening to was Trash Metal, so naturally I turned to Classical Guitar, mainly Spanish and Flamenco. I spent a lot of time on that; did a Degree in music, got to playing gigs and trying to get some work out of it before I jumped ship to start playing in Garage bands.

Again I got pretty obsessed with that; writing and jamming; endless, endless jamming. After a while, I got frustrated with my own abilities on the guitar, mainly at soloing and improvising, and like many, before me, I turned to Jazz. I thought I’d just use it to expand my musical knowledge but instead, I got really hooked and ended up doing a four year Degree in Jazz Improvisation. So I came out of that, started gigging a bit, and decided it was time to start a Rock band, and that’s The Straw Gods.

Who or what are your influences?

I get influenced by absolutely everything, good, bad and in between, and I think there’s a lot of very disparate sounds coming together in The Straw Gods.

There’s a good dose of Blues (Zeppelin, Buddy Guy, and Peter Green); Flamenco (the Blues of its time), Stoner Rock (Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age), Alt Rock (Pixies/Weezer), Trip Hop (Portishead), Art Rock (Radiohead, PJ Harvey), Psychedelic (Pink Floyd)…I could go on. If it’s good it goes in the pot.

Having said that, I listen to myself a lot; to band rehearsals, demos, and dictaphone recordings, and I spend as much time as possible at the guitar. Also, I never actually learned to play most of the music I mentioned. I was never in a cover band, never learned Jimi Hendrix solos (like all right minded guitarists should) and so on. So in a way,I ended up quite detached from a lot of it.

How has the East of Ireland shaped your music?

I can’t imagine how it has influenced us really, but I can’t image it hasn’t either. I’m just not sure how like when you leave Ireland you realise how Irish you are. Maybe the North side Dublin Psyche has seeped into our music and attitudes as a band, a bit of grit or possibly some cynicism in the mix, but it’s invisible to us.

I can say there’s a host of new talent emerging from Ireland at the moment, and we’re reaching out to hopefully help build a scene here. We’d encourage other bands to do the same. Myself and Pia (Vox) went to the same school as Bono and the Edge but they don’t answer my calls.

Why did you choose ‘The Straw Gods’ as the band’s name?

Every time I ask myself this I get a slightly different answer. It’s drawn from the Straw Man fallacy in philosophy; when we mistake our simplified or distorted model of another person’s perspective for their own. If you want to see it in action, simply read the comments section of just about anything.

So it’s in part to do with how we construct meaning and how that influences the way we experience the world (Deep). That’s pretty broad, but it can influence the way you think about anything. For instance, the Pagan Imagery it conjures is a sort of response to the catholicism I was taught in primary school which for me came to represent a lot of the idiocies of human thought; the repression of critical thinking, women, sexuality, of difference and so on. They took something endless complex, beautiful, and ugly and reduced it to a straw man. The only real human perversion is dogma. And smooth Jazz.

Tell us a bit about the background of the making of your debut EP?

We recorded Under A Sun at a small studio in Cabra run by a friend of the family, Vincent McCormack. He gave us a ridiculously good price and mixed it himself, which was great because otherwise we really couldn’t have afforded it at the time.

We’d been working on the set a while by then and I tried to pick out the songs which best captured our sound, and where we were going as a band. Under a Sun and Remember we’re both pretty sombre and shoegazey so we balanced it out with ‘Pictures’ which ended up getting the most attention from reviewers. We’re actually finally releasing a video for Remember in the coming months (there’s a cool preview up at the moment). I really like that EP.

How was the making of your second EP different?

It couldn’t have been more different. Carnivore was recorded by Graham Tully in the venerable Windmill Lane Studios.  He did it pro bono as he needed recorded material for a project he was working on there.

Even before we began recording, he was heavily involved in the production end of the songs, we’d bounce back and forth our ideas, and he was a huge influence in terms of economy; of being ruthless with what gets in the song, making it as succinct as possible. It’s always good to get a set of dispassionate ears on your music, someone to sharpen the knife and whisper in your ear ‘you’ve too many verses Daniel’ or ‘is that 15min guitar interlude really serving a function?’. Things like that.

Once we were in there we had all these varieties of mics and placements open to us, with Graham stalking the room with a snare like a Native American Shaman divining acoustic traps and sweet spots; an amazing room with a history of greats artists. I believe The Spice Girls recorded there.

What is the songwriting process like?

It differs from song to song. The last song I wrote came from a barely audible phone recording (an old Nokia) from about 4-6 years ago. I had to eq and compress it, and listen over and over to try to reveal the melody, and took it from there. That’s actually not a bad example for how I find melodies. Usually, I start with a guitar part, loop it and sing over it (for the record I can’t sing), again and again until something begins to emerge. Sometimes it happens immediately, sometimes eventually, or not at all, but it’s more like conjuring than a science.

With lyrics too, I already have music before I write a word so that the text emerges from the emotional content of the music. It’s like not quite overhearing a one-sided phone conversation. You can hear the tone of voice, it’s ebb and flow, it’s significant pauses and general emotional state of it, and you have to find a narrative which makes perfect sense of it all.

So once I have an idea worked out I’ll workshop it with Pia and Demo it up. I’ll send it to the band, they’ll ignore it (I suspect), then come out with something amazing in rehearsal anyway. and then it’s a matter of chipping away at the arrangement until its parts work together and it begins to feel like a fully formed creature.

What has been the biggest challenge for the band so far?

Well, I think it’s fair to say that the music industry is in flux at the moment. Bands are more and more their own producers, promoters, managers, social media strategists, videographers, album artists, event managers, and so on; they have to be business savvy, brand conscious and entrepreneurial. All of that really. Everything except the music, we’ve got that covered.

What can we expect from your debut album?

I’m not even sure myself. There are so many possibilities. At the moment we’re going through a phase of writing short, sharp, rock songs like Iron Lung, but I think we’ll always have more complex, slowly unraveling songs to balance that out. We’re always trying to refine what we have and given time I think we could really broaden and expand our sound. It sounds like a cliche but we still haven’t hit our stride. I’m genuinely excited about where the music is going (another cliche).

Where can people view your music?

You can download our EPs from Bandcamp or stream them on our snazzy website (or Soundcloud).

The main point of contact with us is Facebook, so that’s usually where new stuff first appears, and where you can let us know how great we are, or aren’t. There’s also a YouTube page, and Breaking Tunes.  

What advice would you give fellow musicians?

It’s difficult to advise any one thing; Everybody’s so different. But one thing I tell my guitar students is that with an informed mind there’s nothing which cannot be improved upon doing more of it. If you’re reluctant to write a song for fear it’ll be a total clanger, write 10 clangers and see how you feel then. Guitar solos suck? practice more, transcribe more and play more guitar solos. Every success demands many mistakes, so start making them now. Practice your instrument, practice your set, and one which I have to constantly tell myself, you have to go out and sell yourself; It’s not a meritocracy; you can’t wait to get noticed.

Any last words?

The world of music is changing: Culture is chasing technology. More than ever the fate of good music is in the hands of ordinary people.

Bands can only keep going if people keep showing up to gigs, choosing to buy music, Youfundit campaigns and so on: but mainly through live music. On an unrelated note, we’ll have a single launch for Iron Lung in Whelans on the 16th Feb, if you want to catch us before then, just Like the page on Facebook or sign up to the newsletter on the Website.

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