I caught Silverbacks upstairs in Whelan’s for a midnight gig one Wednesday when I really should have gone home to bed. I had heard good things. Comparisons to Pavement, Television, Parquet Courts, Talking Heads and more piqued my interests. I decided to renege on my instincts for an early night. Sleep when you’re dead. I wasn’t let down.
I caught the guys again recently, which would be the forth time I had seen them live – each better than the last, when they supported Super Extra Bonus Party in the Bello Bar. A new song towards the end of their set, ‘Dunkirk‘, caught my attention. It was big and bold and went places you didn’t see coming. I loved it.
It has been a month since that fateful night and ‘Dunkirk’ is now available for you all to enjoy. I wanted to have a chat with the lads about their beginnings, their influences, the origins of the track, and working with Girl Band’s Daniel Fox. So I did.
Brothers Daniel (vocals & guitar) and Kilian (guitar) O’Kelly and Gary Wickem (drums) of Silverbacks joined me in the HeadStuff studio ahead of their release of ‘Dunkirk’.
I think every single piece I read about you put Silverbacks in a different, yet similar genre; Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Post Punk and now Art Punk on your latest press release. Is there a pigeonhole to fit your sound, or how do you feel about the whole thing?
Gary: We’re genre fluid.
Me: How modern of you.
G: No, I think people always want to put you in some sort of section so it’s easier to kind of lump you in with these bands, “sounds like this”, but i think we don’t really restrict ourselves. Whatever way the songs come out they come out and I think there’s been some variance in the releases so people get a bit thrown, and that’s why so many genres get brought up.
Daniel: I’d say also, we’ve only been a proper live band for maybe a year and a half, but in terms of songs and where we are picking them from it’s been Kilian and myself for the last 10-15 years, since we were kids, so we’d take from whatever we were listening to at the time. The songs we are writing might not always be the same genre but we might revert to a song that we wrote 6-7 years ago and say “oh why don’t we try this again now that we have a better group of people to finish or write a song with”. Maybe thats why there’s a few different styles.
I think also part of it is lazy journalism and whats in the press release and peoplejust take two words from the press release – we’re actually going to have a go at just changing it everytime – so the latest one is art punk, the next one will be genre fluid, I guess.
One thing that does seem to stay consistent at least is the comparisons that people are making of Silverback to the likes of Pavement, Talking Heads, and Sonic Youth. These bands were clearly an influence on your formative years.
D: I would say they are the bands that I would return to a lot, I remember my Da gave me a few Pavement albums because they had a released a reissue – so my dad would buy the reissue, or remaster, and then if he had an older copy he would pass it on to Kilian or myself. So we got into Pavement in our early teens and I find that’s a band I go back to quite a lot and same with Sonic Youth, because there’s so much to dig into – especially on the Sonic Youth side of things.
In terms of Talking heads, I think its more a case of they are one of the best bands ever, especially thinking of the 70s and 80s, I’d say there’s not many bands up there with them in terms of what they released. We’re also big Brian Eno fans. Actually, we are yet to do a good Talking Heads rip off – it’s definitely in the pipeline. We’ve done a few Pavement ripoffs that I think are pretty good.
Silverbacks’ lyrics are often packed with humour, is this something you set out to do intentionally when putting a song together? There are hints of Frank Black and Mac DeMarco inspiration in there. What is the songwriting process like for you?
D: We both write (Dan and Kilian) and Emma (Silverbacks’ bassist) writes on demos as well sometimes with us and then we bring the ideas to Gary and Peadar and then together we finish the songs. So it is a group effort essentially. At the beginning it was just myself but Kilian’s been doing more in the last 6/7 months – so in the new single he had the line “Every punk trick in the book” and then we wrote the song around that line. In terms of humour, I don’t think I was confident enough to write lyrics that I thought would be serious so I would write funny ones. I think that’s where it started and like you said, everyone remembers Pixies lyrics, Pavement the lyrics are excellent, even Mac DeMarco’s ‘Ode to Viceroy’, a love song about cigarettes, is quite easy to remember.
We’re also pretty funny guys (make sure you put that in bold).
Back in 2015 you released Hot Bath under the Silverbacks name, but that was just the two of you (Dan and Kilian)?
Kilian: Yeah so that was just the two of us, we had a friend who had just finished a masters in sound recording, in Scotland, who was sleeping on our couch and bought a load of fancy mics and we just recorded it all in the flat – but it was pretty primitive stuff.
D: That was just ourselves in the kitchen and the drums were just drum loops.
And so how did the full band then piece together?
D: We used to play with Peadar and we had played with him for a few months. I knew him from college, and we used to do the odd music project together. When he was in Toulouse we stayed in touch and we always said that when he came back we’d get the band going again, the live band.
Emma joined after Peadar moved to Toulouse. We weren’t really working out as a two piece so she came in on bass and I moved to guitar. She’s a great musician and had been teaching herself the bass with Kilian. First time I met her actually, she came up to me after a night out in Supermacs singing one of our very early songs.
Once Peadar got back we started talking about it again. Usually drunken conversations, but once we chatted about it sober Peadar said “I have an idea for a drummer” – which is Gary.
K: And then we met him at a Wilco gig…
G: Yeah, we ran into each other for the first time in Iveagh Gardens and I met the lads and I thought, “yeah, definitely not!” No, but I had heard of them through Steve (Connelly – runs Broken Home gigs in Newbridge, Kildare). Steve loved the lads and always rattled on about them but I never actually listened and then Peadar sent me on some of the stuff that would have been on that original album, and some of the singles, and I thought I’d give it a go. Then just slotted in and started practising. We all got on quite well which is rare – joining into a band is usually a fairly daunting prospect especially when the only person you know from the band is Peadar.. [the vocal one of the group]..that’s kind of been it since then.
D: Since we got Peadar and Gary we started sounding way better but also we’ve got this new focus. Kilian and I are people that need a kick in the arse every now and again so it nice to have others who are into it as much as we are. It’s not just ours now, other people are invested in this too. So things started taking off from there….
K: And when Gav (manager Gavin Elsted from Minimum Maximum Management, and 045 Recordings, and Super Extra Bonus Party, and LUMO – he’s a busy man) came along that was another push to get us motivated.
Visually your artwork up to this point has all come from one guy, Cameron Taylor. How did this come about and how does he fit into the Silverbacks family?
K: So I went to school with Cameron, he was in my class in Belgium, and he went on to do graphic design in college and both Dan and I noticed that his work was class and he was into music – we used to write demos together in school, sometimes we’d jam, he’d just be down in the house all the time – so we asked him if he’d do the art. I think the first one was ‘Fad 1995’, a really early single, which actually he has the cover art of hung up in his house in Belgium, which I find kinda cool. Since then we’ve gone back to him because his art is just great.
G: Aesthetically what he does, we think, really fits with what we put out. He’s also started working with a lot of the 045 Recordings – he’s done the Phare (Peadar’s solo electronic project) artwork and we’re obviously happy to promote him as much as possible.
K: Cameron also made the video for the new track ‘Dunkirk’ (video out next week).
Speaking of the new track, how did it come to be? Was the recent movie Dunkirk an inspiration or just a point to kick off from, or not relevant at all??
D: [chuckling away to himself] I’m laughing, because yes. I had come back from seeing Dunkirk and Kilian had a new demo and you had saved it as ‘Every Punk Trick In The Book’ – there were no lyrics but that’s what he saved it as.
K: It was after seeing a band at EP I thought they were using every punk trick in the book and then I told Daniel and he said he was a good line for a song so I saved it as that.
D: So we had a rough demo with two drum beats on top of each other and then we just added layers. The way we tend to work is, if we are together in the same room we’ll just annoy each other so Kilian will do something then he’ll leave the room and I’ll spend a half hour and just swap every now and again. So he’ll just be playing Playstation or watching football or something and just rotate like that. So that’s how the song came about and then we sent it to the guys and they liked it a lot. Things always change then when you learn it live and this sounded a lot better when played with everyone.
G: The demo was tight and constrained compared to how it is now, there’s a much bigger drum and base sound driving it.
K: Sometimes when we go to practice and we want to learn a song it’ll sound better than the demo, sometimes it just won’t sound as good – it can go either way. But in this case it definitely improved.
D: To go back to Dunkirk, I came out of the movie and I wasn’t too sure what I thought of it I didn’t think it that great of a film…
K: I watched it hungover and it was a really really intense experience…[cue Dunkirk soundscapes from Kilian.]
D: But anyway, when I was leaving [the cinema] I wondered if one day there’d be some kind of beach resort in Dunkirk, eventually, when things get more and more built up. Because where myself and Kilian grew up used to be battlefields in the First and Second World War. Some young entrepreneur had the idea of buying the land off the council for cheap. So he excavated the shrapnel, left over shells, bodies, guns whatever and then built houses on top. It slowly built up and now there are just estates there. So just that idea that there are now loads of houses on what once used to be battlefields, after Dunkirk, made me think about what will happen there eventually – people might think, okay we have more important history, let’s make some money out of this.
G: Let’s put in some pools.
The track is produced by Girl Band’s Daniel Fox. How did that come about and how was he to work with?
G: We were all big Girl Band fans going into it and when we heard what he had done on some of the Paddy Hanna stuff we though the quality of recording and the sound of it was really good – and because of the way that ‘Dunkirk’ ended up being so drums-and-base-driven we thought he might be the guy for it. We needed to get that big sound for those bits, so we just approached him, sent on the song and he seemed interested in doing it.
We went in and got it done over a day and a bit and for us he was really easy to work with. When we got in there, very quickly we were all very comfortable and he is just enjoyable to work with. He’s got great ideas and he really helped with a lot of the percussion stuff – especially the last part – he was a big influence. He had the idea for a lot of the flourishes and he really pushed us on, further from even where we even thought it could have ended up, which was great.
Where can the good people of the internet see you this festival season? And how do you find the Irish festival scene compared to the Dublin music scene?
G: Well this is our first foray into the festival scene really. We’re playing the Saturday night of both Castlepalooza and BARE in the Woods and hoping for a spot at Picnic, but we’ll have to get back to you about that.
I think for the first time in a while the Dublin band music scene is feeling pretty good at the moment. Maybe it’s because we’re playing a bit longer and people are starting to hear the music a bit more, but we are getting more gig offers. There is more opportunities to play, even more than what I remember from the end of being in my last band. Trying to get gigs in Dublin was hell. It does seem to getting better now and hopefully, not that we hate electronic mudic, but for us hopefully we’re coming to the end of that being everywhere and some guitar music will come back around.
Me: Guitar music is dead – it’s been said for years. Pack it in.
Before I let you go, I know many of you are big football fans, often wearing jerseys at gigs, are we all looking forward to the World Cup? How do you think it’s gonna go?
D: I went to a lot of the Ireland home games for the qualifiers, I was at the Euros two years ago and I was all set for going to Russia and then we witnessed Erickson murder us – it was Kilians’s Christmas present too, the Ireland Denmark game.
G: Part of me is a little bit happy that Ireland isn’t in it because when Arsenal are playing and lose, and we have a gig that night, things tend to be a bit tense. The lads get heavily affected, so it’s probably a good thing.
K: We had an EP launch last year on an FA Cup final and I remember Arsenal won 2-1 and Peadar is a Chelsea fan – If Chelsea had won that game I don’t think we would have showed up for our own EP launch.
D: Brazil and France….
G: Oh you really went out on a limb with that pick, I could have even said that….
D: I’d like to see Belgium do well because we grew up there but dark-horses? Iceland and Pananma. I’d love to see one of those teams go on a run…
G: Yeah, it’s nice to have someone like that, I usually get interested when there’s someone you’re not expecting to do well. Like when Japan were doing well in the rugby – I had no interest – oh wait, what’s this? “Let’s do it!”
You can keep up with Silverbacks online and through their socials:
Breaking Tunes: http://www.breakingtunes.com/silverbacks