Noise Annoys: New music from Embarcadero, New Pagans on new LP & a major milestone for Cocoons
:: Cocoons 50th show, Saturday March 27, 7pm
AS REGULAR readers will already be aware, Cocoons is the weekly virtual 'international songwriters in the round' festival launched by local musical talents Cormac Neeson and Matt McGinn at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
Over the course of the past year, these Saturday evening webgigs have offered music fans much needed relief from the lockdown-induced live music drought while raising money for a plethora of charities.
Tomorrow night at 7pm, Cocoons will celebrate its 50th episode with a line-up featuring local musical legends Brian Kennedy and Ricky Warwick along with performances by up-and-coming artist Róise McHugh and Messrs Neeson and McGinn themselves.
As always, you can tune in and enjoy the music free of charge via the Cocoons Facebook group at FB.com/groups/cocoons and, as ever, there is also an optional charity donation link at Justgiving.com/fundraising/cocoons50: this week's good cause is Mencap NI.
:: Embarcadero – Tele Flop (single, self-released)
HAVING found Sonja Sleator's excellent 2019 EP Violent Strawberry in my car the other day, I got to wondering what the Belfast singer/songwriter was up to lately. Before you could say "plate of shrimp", an email arrived from Sonja informing me (and now you) that she has a new musical project called Embarcadero on the go.
Due for release next Friday, their second single is the intriguingly titled Tele Flop. It's an excellent guitar-based dreampop tune which shows off Sonja's easy-on-the-ear vocals and knack for conjuring a catchy chorus from romantic misfortune, not to mention her new band's skill at laying down pleasingly dynamic indie pop/rock.
Tele-Flop is the follow-up to last month's Embarcadero debut, Chasing You Around, a slightly more melancholic affair (offset by an appealing underlying cheekiness) which is even catchier than their current number.
It's all extremely promising stuff from an act which also features drummer Michael Mormecha (Mojo Fury, Amy Montgomery) and bassist Calvin Wells. Tele-Flop is also enhanced by the highly rated skills of producer/musician Scott Halliday (Prince, John Grant, Gavin Glass), while Chasing You Around was a collaboration with producer/instrumentalist Sarah Branigan (JaXson).
Apparently this will be a recurring feature of the band's work, as support from charity Help Musicians has enabled Sonja and co to enlist the help of several guest musicians and producers including Nigel Powell (Sad Song Co, Frank Turner), Alex Loring (Rews, Fangclub) and Joe Capel (Small Pond Records).
:: ON THE RECORD – NEW PAGANS
LAST but not least for this week, New Pagans frontwoman Lyndsey McDougall answers a couple of considered questions about the Belfast alt-rockers's excellent debut album, The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All, released last Friday via the Big Scary Monsters label...
:: Can you tell us a bit about the recording process and how you found it?
It was a bit of a bumpy journey initially, but we realised pretty quickly we needed to make the most of the recording expertise we had in New Pagans. Cahir (guitar/vocals, ex-Fighting With Wire) is also a producer of other bands and he produced our album with the help of Allan our other guitarist.
It was so much work for them but the results are amazing and we're all really proud of this collection of songs. This was really my first attempt at recording anything, it was daunting at the start but I learned so much during the process. I started to get pretty nerdy about vocal mics and technique but I know I still have so much more to learn.
:: While some songwriters treat lyrics almost as an afterthought (ie, Cahir), clearly you do not. Can you describe your approach to writing?
There are many great examples where the lyrics are perfectly subservient to the music, that is a skill all in itself. Maybe if I was a better guitarist I wouldn't focus so much on the lyrics or I'm just programmed that way, I'm not sure.
Usually the band delivers the music and I take it away on my own, into a secluded space with candles and a glass of beer and work on the lyrics and melody ideas. My subconscious normally throws something up to write about, influenced usually by something I've read, watched, seen or heard recently.
It sounds a bit strange maybe, but really all I'm doing is creating a safe and relaxed space on my own to write, like Virginia Woolf describes in her essay A Room of One's Own (1929).
:: Which song on the album are you particularly proud of?
It's really difficult to pick my favourite, it changes daily but if I have to go with one it would be Christian Boys, I love playing this live and it's full of anger but also resolve. The feedback from this song has been particularly encouraging.
:: How did your deal with Big Scary Monsters happen?
It's kind of like noticing someone you fancy from a distance, flirting a bit and then realising you both like each other. That's pretty much what happened. It's a really good fit, we love their ethos and dedication to releasing good music.
:: Every song on the album had already been put out as a single or on an EP prior to its release. Was that a deliberate strategy?
Nope. It is more an acknowledgement that very few people have heard of us or listened to our songs, so we hope more people get to hear New Pagans through this album.
These songs represent the first few years of New Pagans and when we tried to break them all up it just didn't work, it's a collection of songs that was meant to be together.
:: I read New Pagans being compared to Paramore recently. Which musical 'influences' attributed to your band have confused you the most and is there a key act/artist for the band yet to be picked up on by critics/fans?
Well firstly, that's a massive compliment, both Claire (bass) and I are huge Paramore fans, a few years ago we went to their gig in Custom House Square and it was so good.
There's been lots of comparisons where I've had to look the band/musician up like The Joy Formidable – don't really get it, but I think we get compared to lots of female fronted bands which is completely understandable.
One of the best gigs I was ever at was The Kills at Electric Picnic, Alison Mosshart's performance that day made me want to be in a band. We never get compared to them so that's a little hidden influence for you.
:: Finally, how was the virtual album launch show at The Nerve Centre on Friday night and how have you found making the adjustment to audience-free performances like that during lockdown?
It went really well, we had a ball and the feedback has been amazing. We were all more nervous without an audience, I really don't know why that is. Maybe it's because the audience creates the atmosphere, they are integral to our shows, a collaboration between us all so we really missed them on Friday night.
We are excited about playing gigs again as soon as it is safe to do so. We have just announced our first Belfast show since the start of 2020 on December 16 at The Limelight 2 – fingers and toes crossed for this!
:: Buy The Seed, The Vessel, The Roots and All online at Newpagans.bandcamp.com or on limited edition vinyl via bsmrocks.com/collections/new-pagans. Tickets for their Limelight 2 show are on sale now via Ticketmaster.ie, as are tickets for a show at Dublin's Academy 2 on December 9.