At half past ten on a mundane weekday morning, I sat in my pyjamas hoping that my nan wouldn’t walk in on me whilst I rang the blistering Cavan quartet, The Strypes. More specifically, their sensational drummer and expert at hitting things, Evan Walsh. We have a brief natter about touring, recording, dress sense, and even Paul Weller.
For the first time ever (on Northern Exposure), sit down, get yourself a nice drink, and relax for the first half of our extensive and comprehensive interview The Strypes’ percussion pioneer. You’ll hopefully learn a lot, just as I learnt that calls between the UK and Ireland are really expensive.
Not to flatter you too much, but you lads seem like some of the most best-dressed musicians going. Where do you get your fancy attire from?
The cheapest possible resources we can find whilst maintaining the look, basically. All over the place, we like looking for generally interesting clothes. We’re big believers in the idea that a band’s image and sound go hand in hand; whatever the band’s aiming for musically and visually has to coalesce at some point.
And if you can find an interesting way of presenting yourself on stage, go for it. I don’t want to get poncy about it, but in a performance art kind of way, you’re tying yourself in with what you’re producing. You like to get a strong impression when you walk out on stage too, so we’re always talking about how we can develop the way we look, and for interesting things to do. No matter what genre of music or what era it’s from, it’s always been such a thing – If you look at early Bowie or Roxy Music, they were so intent on their image, just as a glam band will look like a glam band, or a grunge band is going to look like a grunge band. It goes hand in hand, and it’s really important.
If you look at a new band, The Lemon Twigs, they’ve got a fantastic image on stage because it looks really arty and weird, you’re drawn in immediately; I like their image as much as their sound.
It’s something else for you to grab on to, isn’t it? I think I first noticed it with The Hives…
Exactly, yeah. We definitely thought about them, and still do. There’s a band with a great look. Even at festivals backstage, they walk around in the same day clothes. They carry that to the most extreme degree, which I admire them for.
You guys have been playing together since a very young age too…
In the case of myself and Josh, yeah. We’ve been playing together for a really long time, ‘cause we’ve known each other our entire lives and we’ve always played music from a really young age; I’ve been drumming since I was three, and he’s been playing guitar since he was about six. We were always mad into it from a really young age, and then Pete was a really close friend from school (I’ve known him since I was five or six), and Ross came a little bit later. Me, Pete and Josh will have been playing together for ten years this Christmas. We played at a school Christmas concert in 2007.
Shit, I’m about your age and I haven’t three albums out! One day I’ll release my audial shitstorm on the world…
There’s still time. I still feel like we haven’t done that. It’s a weird thing, despite the fact that we’ve had three albums out, you’re still thinking ‘one day we’re gonna make a real album and be a real band’. It’s a funny cycle.
With you guys playing together from such a young age, I can only assume that’s why you guys are so tight. I can’t think of that many other bands who perform consistently to a really high standard. Aside from your hard work, is there any other method to your madness?
Thank you very much. There isn’t really. If anything, there’s a stunning lack of method and structure to the way in which we go about things. I think we can start reading people’s minds the more you play with them, musically speaking. You can kind of tell what the person you’re playing with is going to do next. Because we’ve been in it so long, I find things like song arrangements incredibly easy; if we haven’t played a song for a long time, I’m lucky that I can slip back into it and not make too many fuck-ups. There’s still going to be some, but ideally kept to a minimum.
Maybe it’s just something that happens when the same people play together for so long, you just kinda say ‘Remember that thing we used to do?’ and can bash into it just on muscle memory.
With you lads being barely into your twenties, you’ve had a unique perspective, growing up as you’re making music. Is there anything blindingly obvious that you’d do differently?
There’s loads that I wish I’d have done differently. It’s probably all little, quite petty things, I’m happy with the majority of our recorded output; I mean, there’s one or two things where you’re like ‘ah, that shouldn’t happen that way’ or a few tracks where things didn’t turn out right. But little things like ‘Why did we use that photo for that cover?’, and the odd production issue making us think ‘did we miss a trick?’, but nothing too major. It’s all little botherances.
Spitting Image seems a lot more mature than Snapshot and Little Victories, particularly ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and especially ‘Grin and Bear It’. It seems to tackle some serious stuff, where does the inspiration for these new tunes come from?
It’s quite depressing actually! All the songs are quite sad, there’s not much optimism. I suppose we were influences by 70s and 80s new wave bands on this album in particular. We’ve always been influenced by Elvis Costello, even when we were knee-deep in the whole bluesy thing. From a song writing point of view, we were still listening to his stuff and going ‘shit, how do we do that?’
Lots of people like that, or like Nick Lowe, or the Flamin’ Groovies and people around that scene and that time influenced the writing of the album. I suppose the thinking behind the lyrics just comes from our surroundings in a funny way; I’m very much an advocate of the idea of that new wave/post-punk/power-pop thing where you’ve got an upbeat, melodic, stomping backing, rock ‘n’ roll kinda thing, but the lyrics are tender and melancholic, with a sad message or theme running through it. I like the contrast of that.
Tunes like ‘Garden of Eden’ and Josh’s ‘Mama Give Me Order’ stand out because of their slower, moody tone. On an already downbeat album, these really create an emotional response from the listener.
Sorry we’ve had such an effect on you. Lyrically, it’s inspired by things we see around us. There’s not many songs on the album that draw directly from personal experience, it’s not like ‘I woke up and this happened to me’, it’s more ‘I heard from my uncle something about a family friend’.
The album’s a mix, too. Josh wrote a good few songs on his own, like ‘Easy Riding’, ‘Black Shades Over Red Eyes’ and ‘Great Expectations’. Myself and Pete co-wrote seven songs together, so that was an unusual thing in our working relationship, we’ve never knuckled down and co-wrote a pile of songs together and it made a huge difference to our work ethic. I can possibly speak with more authority on Pete’s lyrics because I was more involved in the writing process, that it’s all to do with stories you’ve heard. We all still live in the same small town in Ireland, so it’s a very down-to-earth place, there isn’t really a gentrified spot in Cavan; it’s real life and it’s real people.
Say with ‘Grin and Bear It’, it’s a song about everybody’s mother- Our mother’s generation, with women who grew up in that time, left their school friends, left school at whatever age and you got a job, and your fate was decided for you by the system. This woman’s fate is predetermined as she meets an older fella, and the relationship doesn’t run very smoothly, but at the same time, with her children she gives life, and makes them into strong, confident people. She’s sat at home, and what does she get out of it? That’s the question: You’ve had this hard life where you’ve been struggling for chances, but at the same time you’ve created other people who you’ve given amazing chances to, and turned into confident, capable people. That’s quite a long-winded explanation of that song. That’s an example of the lyrical inspiration; we’re surrounded by people like that at home, so it’s our world, really.
There’s quite a few parallels there with some nearby places where I live…
I think it’s very true. I think the North of England and Ireland feel very similar, I find that when on tour. With the vibe, you can relate. But then again, tracks like ‘(I Need a Break From) Holidays’ is grim but light-hearted; Pete was on about going on holiday when he was about ten. It’s just how people say they love going on holiday, but generally seem to have quite a shit time. Someone ends up in A&E, it’s just a farce really.
So, it’s coming from your collected personal experiences. Do you think being in touch with your roots helps you stay grounded now that you’re a quite sizeable band?
I suppose so, we were all very keen to that. A lot of people when they’re writing songs about small towns, it’s this ‘get me out of this place’, with people wanting to break out, and we don’t have that at all. I feel freer at home than in other places where people go to find themselves. I don’t have that at all. We’ve always been quite cynical people, but not in a negative way, in a good-humoured way, how we have a laugh about most of these things.
The notion of the band becoming successful was a little bit funny; when record companies started coming to us and giving us the spiel about ‘you guys are gonna make the record that changes the world’, we never went ‘Oh My God, really?’, we were never like that at all. We were like, ‘well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?’. So there was this overarching cynical thing about us, even at that age. With old interviews and pieces, I think we were written as quite wide-eyed and giddy, and that’s inaccurate. We were taking things in a level-headed way, obviously have the time of our lives at the same time, having a great fucking laugh with each-other, but there was never a totally blissful dream experience. Pragmatic is probably the word.
A lot of interviews portrayed you in almost an idyllic situation, surely these were omitting a lot of stuff…
Oh, totally. Even on our small scale, when something becomes a story, it becomes a cliché within a cliché of itself, so all the pieces start becoming the same with time. ‘How weird is it that these kids started playing at this time and this place?’ With every rock ‘n’ roll story down the years, from its inception to the present day, it’s been far more commonplace for kids in their teens to come out and make music, it’s actually the spearhead of every major youth movement.
I often make that point, any of these major movements are from the youth- people in their late-teens/early twenties making a lot of noise and wanting to kick up a bit of a fuss. I thought that was far more of a normal occurrence than people make it out to be. That’s been the prevailing attitude, we’ve always had our own angle on it since day one.
You can take that route, or take the really bombastic route, like ‘we are gonna fucking change the world, listen to me’. If you have the gumption to go for that attitude, work away at it. If someone gets a number one album from it, I’ll not argue with them…
Tune in later this week to get your teeth around the second half our interview. Catch The Strypes all over the place, check their site for their upcoming dates, and their very well-managed Facebook page.
Featured image courtesy of APB, header courtesy of The Strypes’ Facebook page.