Irish duo MMODE bring their bright and breezy pop to the world in December, in the form of their fine self-titled debut album, which apparently focuses largely on “love, loss and escapism“. I caught up with siblings Thomas and Lucy Gaffney for the lowdown on just what makes them tick.
God Is In The TV: In the brief biography I was sent, it mentions that you were “overwhelmed” when you came to England. In what way?
Lucy: Just in terms of the fact that we didn’t know anybody, and it was so daunting to try to make it in a big city. In London especially, you do feel like there’s a lot of pressure on you to “make it”.
Thomas: Yeah, and after a while, you find that you just end up doing what people say. We were sleeping on people’s sofas a lot, but to say we felt overwhelmed the whole time would be a bit over the top. It’s just when you have that whole industry side where someone says there’s a major label coming to one of your shows, it’s quite nerve-wracking, but you just have to get through it. And it all happens so fast, you know? I think it was when we started to build our own studio that things started to really improve for us. It might have been fate but both our mobiles broke at the same time, and we didn’t use them for over a year, so we were like “maybe we could actually live like this!” and we really did lock ourselves away working on that studio! We bought some sound proofing panels from B&Q and just really made an effort to get it exactly how we wanted it. It was hard but well worth it. The only thing was that when we started we didn’t really know how to record, so we’d have one idea in our minds and try to pull that off, but when we played it back we were like “Why doesn’t it sound like this?” – it was a real learning experience for us.
You recorded ‘Waiting In The Desert‘ with Mark Rankine (Queens Of The Stone Age, Bombay Bicycle Club, Adele) didn’t you? Did that help?
L: He definitely brought a lot of his own personal taste and a lot of experience with him, yes. I’d write an acoustic thing when I was living in Liverpool, put the vocal down and leave for the day, then I’d come back and find Mark had just turned it into this huge sounding track that was nothing like how it started out!
T: I think, because we’re 90s kids as well, there’s quite a bit of that in there too. I mean, we weren’t necessarily teenagers in that decade, but it was such a nostalgic era for us that some of that was always going to find its way through. But also we were hugely influenced by the late eighties, bands like Spacemen 3 and that early shoegaze sound and we were trying to mix that with a kind of hip-hop vibe, at the same time retaining that pop element of bands like Blur or whoever as well.
And I think you’ve achieved that very nicely indeed. Now, there’s always been a long history of squabbling siblings in music, from The Everly Brothers to The Kinks to Oasis and so forth. Are you the exception to the rule?
L: [laughs] No, we’re not the exception. I mean we’re not the Gallaghers or anything but we can have our moments. But it’s mostly about really small things like whose turn it is to do the dishes or take the garbage out!
T: It probably helps that we’re brother and sister rather than two brothers, but yeah, you can get really tired after ten hours locked in a studio with each other but we definitely don’t have huge egos, even if we do have that kind of dynamic at times.
There’s a very vague allusion in the blurb which caused you to knock music on the head for a while…
T: That was about two and a half years ago, when we were on tour all the time (NB – with their former band Southern)and I developed a stomach condition, which I think may have been caused by exhaustion, and I was in and out of hospital all the time. I just couldn’t do anything, and after our final show on that tour, my mum was like “get back home now!” – it really came on while we were driving back to London, I didn’t know what it was at the time but it was a rare form of Crohn’s disease and I did go through a period of not picking up my guitar for a while. In some ways, it was a blessing in disguise because it gave us a chance to think about what we’d been doing for the last five years, and that was the point that we converted the garage. I started collecting vinyl again, hanging out with friends again…all this seemed like the right thing to do, and a clean break…
L: and after taking a year out, we felt we’d grown away from doing Southern, and moved from London to Belfast. Then Tom said “I don’t know if I’m going to do music again“, so I said “Let’s try something, and I’ll sing some of the songs“, and in our eyes, it became this totally new project. It feels like we’ve matured, and it’s a lovely feeling to deliver it all ourselves without having to rely on other people.
What was the songwriting process like?
T: It didn’t actually take that long – only about 5 months to put it all together; we hardly took a break for Christmas even, but it was interesting because we used samples of our old band, and some drum tracks that we did with Mark, who got such nice sounds with the tambourines and congos, and it was just like we were collaborating with ourselves from three years ago. We were creating an almost ‘nostalgic’ album between us then and now.
L: The big difference now though is that we were creating something that WE would want to hear ourselves in ten years time, and not just what the record company wanted. It came to a point where we had to say “Hey, it’s you and me who are creating this! It’s nothing to do with them”, I mean, an artist’s manager can’t pick up a paintbrush and show them what to do – it has to come from you. We’re really happy with how the first album has turned out though. I recorded my vocals inside an old cupboard that we made into a booth!
Being locked away that long in the studio must have made you feel a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, surely?
T: We’re lucky in that there is a park very close to our house, so our schedule is to wake up, go to the studio for a while and if we realise our brains aren’t functioning, we just go to the park. That kind of thing really knocks away any feeling of cabin fever.
What’s the best way to listen to MMODE’s album?
L: A good set of headphones, on a long train journey, a couple of hours – maybe Dublin to Cork because it’s so beautifully scenic – while you’re either looking forward to something or heartbroken!
And somehow, this scenario from Lucy makes perfect sense. I know where I’m getting MY tickets for next time I get my heart broken!
MMODE release their debut album in December.