I’ve sometimes wondered what the artists I’ve critiqued have thought of that review. That, of course, makes the massive assumption that they actually cared enough to read the review. InReview attempts to answer that question. In this series, I will engage in face-to-face interviews with musicians, basing my questions on my critique of their current record. Confused? Hopefully, it’ll make a lot more sense when you get to the end of this post.
The first thing I notice when I enter The International Bar on Dublin’s Wicklow Street is Brian Brannigan’s beard. Last time I saw Brannigan he we clean shaven. Now though, his face is sporting the kind of bristles that would make Fidel Castro jealous. For those of you that don’t know, Brannigan is the driving force behind A Lazarus Soul, whose new record,Through a Window in the Sunshine Room, launches this Sunday, January 23, in the aforementioned International Bar.
As I’m always curious as to the process involved in making records, my first question to Brannigan is how Through a Window in the Sunshine Room came about. “I started writing parts of this record in 2008 but, about six months before I wanted to record it, I really started to develop the electronic parts before adding the lyrics and melodies. I then emailed them to Joe and the others and we set about making the record.
“I tend to work with people I respect as musicians so I don’t feel the need to guide them too much. Really good musicians, like Joe (Chester), Anto (Hegarty), Martin (Kelly), Ger (Griffin) and Pat Barrett have a way of making songs sound how you wanted them to sound and not how you thought you wanted them to sound.”
Through a Window in the Sunshine Room a curious beast of a record that manages to sound completely unlike earlier efforts – A Lazarus Soul Record and Graveyard of Burnt Out Cars – and yet, as I put it to Brannigan, it’s a record that only he could make. “I really feel that this record is more of me. A Lazarus Soul Record was very much a Joe Chester record; I couldn’t intellectualize what it was that I wanted to say at that time so Joe had a lot of influence on its sound. Whereas on Sunshine Room there were a lot of battles between Joe and I, especially over vocal effects, but I won.”
Those vocal effects are audible almost from the start. Second track ‘We Start Fires’ sounds like a 22nd century documentary on 21st century Ireland. Lyrics such as “You say we once spent Christmas in your SUV and €300 shoes” indicate exactly where Brannigan thinks it all went wrong for Ireland. The video is pretty good too:
Yet when I put the subject of lyrics to Brannigan he says that this record doesn’t have a particular theme. “To be honest, I nearly buckled under the weight of the lyrics on Graveyard. That album has a clear theme, with very obvious areas and characters being described – at least obvious to me and the people who grew up where I grew up. With this record, I wanted to write it subconsciously.”
That process has resulted in the Finglas native’s most personal album to date. Even the title gives that away: “The ‘Sunshine Room’ is what I call the room in my house where I make music,” says Brannigan. He goes on to tell me that it’s probably the darkest room in the house and has no windows. With that statement you really get sense of what A Lazarus Soul is all about. There’s a great deal of darkness on Sunshine but you can’t help but feel there’s wry smile brewing just beneath the surface.
It’s not a perfect album mind. ‘Save our Greenbelt’ – a great song in its own right – feels out of place on this record, especially sandwiched between ‘Through a Window’ and ‘Truth Recorder’. You also get a sense that some of these songs will be difficult to re-create on a live stage. “I’ve never really felt comfortable playing live,” admits Brannigan. “Mostly it’s because some people like things about A Lazarus Soul that I don’t like and that creates an expectation that you sometimes can’t live up to. Because I ignored all that on this record, it’s probably the one I can most comfortably listen to.”
Brannigan goes on to admit that above recording and performing, his main reason for making music is that it allows him to sit in a room writing a song. For him, it’s the creating that should take precedence over the creation.
However, the creation in this case – Through a Window in the Sunshine Room – is a wonderful side-effect of that process. Sure, it’s not as instantly accessible as Graveyard, nor does it have that albums’ obvious singles. But give it space to breathe, give it multiple listens without making a comparison to Graveyard, and you find a record that’s full of hidden nooks and crannies.
‘A Penthouse View’, ‘Diamond Miner’, ‘The Wren Boys’ and others sculpt beauty from the driftwood the rest of us weren’t interested in. The theme here may be different – there may not even be one – but it is the pinhole of light this record shines into Brannigan’s darkened room that makes it an essential listen.
Through a Window in the Sunshine Room is launched upstairs in The International Bar, Wicklow Street, Dublin 2 on Sunday, January 23, at 1pm. Can’t wait that long. Have a listen to the record here:
I love the informal feel of the interview and you’re spot on when you encourage people to “give it space to breathe ….. and you find a record that’s full of hidden nooks and crannies”
I like this idea of combining interview and review, because I for one don’t look to the latter to describe music any more (especially when you can simply stream an album like this one on Bandcamp) but rather to tease out some interesting ideas about a record, and often artists legitimately complain that rather than answering interview questions they prefer the music to speak for itself – so this is a happy medium.
very impressed with the album too, was a big fan of Graveyard but this takes things to new levels.
Thank you both for the feedback. The idea stemmed from a complete dissatisfaction with my own reviews. As you said, what’s the point in describing a piece of music when the reader can just listen for themselves. I think this way it gives readers a flavour of what an album sounds like to someone else (and research has shown that we do care what other people think of stuff we like/dislike) but, much more importantly, it gives the songwriter a chance to say something a bit more interesting than just ‘the music can speak for itself’. Of course that depends on how interesting the musician is to begin with. Hopefully they’ll all be as articulate as Brian.