IN CONVERSATION:  Gurriers at Left of the Dial 3

IN CONVERSATION: Gurriers at Left of the Dial

As a first-time attendee of the Left of the Dial festival in Rotterdam I wanted to take the opportunity to interview a band playing there for the first time. Ireland’s Gurriers supported Enola Gay on a number of their gigs earlier in the year and were going on to support Chappaqua Wrestling on their UK dates after Left of the Dial. Three singles in and with a growing reputation for their incendiary live shows, Gurriers already demonstrate a desire not to be pigeon-holed with an experimentation in sound and a freedom of expression. Finding a quiet bar the night before the festival started, I sat down with Dan Hoff (vocals), Emmet White (bass), Ben O’Neill (guitar), Mark MacCormack (guitar) and Pierce Callaghan (drums) to find out more.

Could I start by asking you where the name of the band came from?
To cut a very long story short we were together for two years with various names. And I remember it was about six weeks before ‘Approachable’ (first single) came out and we were stressing about a name and I was supposed to be meeting up with a friends of mine James and Cormac. James bailed on us and I remember chatting to Cormac the next week and he said “Oh he’s a little gurrier Mark, don’t worry about him“. We were thinking about names and I thought “Gurriers, could that be a name for the band?“. I sent Dan a list of the 11 names that I had and Gurriers was actually my least favourite. I went away for a couple of days and came back and that was the name! On Wikepedia it means “a tough or unruly man” like a scallywag. Its funny meeting other Irish bands and its like “Oh you guys are Gurriers, I was expecting a bit more rough and tumble!“. Enola Gay told us that the name was misleading because “you’re very sound“.

Enola Gay did put a lot of time and effort into choosing their support bands for their first UK headline tour in spring.
They know what they like and what they want. On one gig we were billed as the second support, but they were like no way, these lads have come all the way from Ireland they are going to be the main support. The way they created that whole tour was so interesting. I did a lot of flicking through a lot of the other support bands as well and that breadth of influence. It mightn’t be obvious on first listen that they are drawing from all these other influences but when you look at the support bands, there is nothing there that doesn’t make sense. You hear it and you go oh yeah, I see the link. We’re very grateful to them for giving us the opportunities that they gave us. They got the ball rolling for us in a lot of ways. Gave us a push out the front door in Ireland, and a gateway into the UK.

We’re in a similar boat in that we’re all rolling in the one direction and have a shared interest and common goal. We’re all in very unique situations that most people can’t understand. We’re in a band and suddenly we’re playing abroad, it’s nice to have mates who are Irish and saying “what did your agent say about this” or “what did your manager say about that“. Your other mates are like oh Mr Hype, Mr Americano. “Here he is talking about the band again!”

How did you five of you come together to be in Gurriers in the first place?
Me (Ben) and Emmet have been friends since we were 14. We went to Secondary School together. We had played in bands since we were teenagers. I met Mark in McDonalds about 7 years ago. Pierce and I (Mark) grew up in the same little town in Monaghan, and then
I’ve (Dan) lived in Ben’s house, Mark’s house and Emmet’s house and now I live in Pierces old house! We’re all housemates in a weird cyclical kind of way! Even before the band we had all bumped into each other on various adventures and nights out and different strange situations that we maybe won’t tell you the full details of! Because everyone knows someone really well and half know the others there was no awkwardness and we all jelled very very quickly. When Hoff was living in the house that Emmet was living in they needed someone to play bass. Emmet was only meant to play one gig, but joined a rehearsal and thought this is really good fun, and wanted to stick around, and then stayed.

We’re not a band that started up because someone put a poster on a wall, it’s always been a family orientated thing. But its also not that we’ve been best mates since 12, 13 or whatever and we’ll start a band together. We all kinda have a similar vision, a similar goal – not that when we started this with the ambition of being the best band in the world. When you form a band with mates of mates, at the ages we are and the stages of our lives we’re at, we’re doing it for the enjoyment of it rather than the overall ambitiousness of it I suppose. I mean everyone is ambitious in their own way but you’re doing it because you’re going to really enjoy it. Everyone’s there for the right reasons. We all want to be here and I can’t see any reason why anyone would walk away.

And I can’t really ignore the pandemic and the impact that that had on Gurriers at the beginning.
We met up for a beer November 2019 and we talked about let’s get the ball rolling, what are your influences etc. Very early stuff in terms of what is this going to look and feel like. Obviously we’re all broadly into the same stuff. We got about 8 weeks in of practise. We usually practised in Dublin and on 13th or 14th March we’d travelled to Mark’s house in Monaghan to practise. That was when Covid was properly kicking off, no-one knew anything about it. I felt this could all potentially have to go on the back burner for a while. But then through Covid when restrictions allowed, we kept plugging away and doing what we could. I wanted to push a lot of zoom meetings to keep the momentum going. Just to have conversations. We were very proactive, very on top of things. Very important that no matter how much was going on out there, to think about the band. It was important to keep that ball rolling as much as possible.

Also we had really well written songs. They had meaning and weight to them, they should be played to other people. In the same way that everyone leaned on something at various stages of the pandemic to give them structure and focus and working towards something. With the band it’s kind of like that omnipresent, ticking away, something I’m thinking about, focused on, everyone else is also pulling their weight on. It’s even like the looking forward to something, when we get out of this we have something that we can go towards. When we got out we could hit the ground running and making these things real as opposed to just ideas. I know it kept me going, writing riffs, I’ve got this idea in my head and I can now make it into a physical thing rather than just a thought.

Going on from that how do you create songs?
Sometimes Emmet or Ben will have a riff, or Hoff will say “I’ve got these lyrics“. We mess around with it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work and we come back to it. Someone starts playing something and everyone reacts to it, these days that how we write music. Most of the good ones happen pretty quickly. Usually someones playing something and it takes off from there. Then it’s a good energy in the room because everyone wants to get involved and add to it – and then its grand as there’s a song! Obviously some come together more slowly and we need to sit down and work on it, because we may to approach it a little differently. The more you write together the faster that it comes together. Say Mark comes up with a riff that song could be written in that practise whereas before it could take us maybe three weeks. Getting comfortable with each other, and getting to know how you work, and obviously the more you play with each other the more you know. It’s like learning a dance, you learn how they move so you can move in relation to them. Like symmetry.

Good song-writing is very important to all of us. There’s an element of there’s no egos in the room, anyone would feel free to say to someone “I’m not big on what you’re doing there, maybe you should trying doing this” rather than we’re trying to write a song and everyone is working on just what they’re doing in isolation hoping that it all comes together. Everyone sees the big picture of the song as a complete entity rather than I want to write or play something really cool for me. What serves the song the best, and we’re all really comfortable in being able to say “I’m not so sure about that, why don’t you try something like this” or “this is what I had in mind when I wrote this riff”. There’s never any issue. Very collaborative. We’re very competent musicians but I think chemistry trumps that. Having that chemistry amongst us. Bands like Radiohead or Deftones, it’s the same blokes but they have that strong relationship. They grow together as a band. I’m not saying I want to sound like them or be them but I admire those two bands in particular. They evolved.

And are the lyrics created?
Hoff generates the lyrics. I’ve always had this thing where I think I should have books of lyrics and ideas but they sometimes don’t come to me until I hear the music. Then I’ll just blabble. I think the melody is more important for me, to get the melody down first and then I can fit the words in, but I’ll also have an idea about what song might be. ‘Top of the Bill’ is a song that’s about myself and my partner and my relationship and how that is. It came out of nowhere, we were in a rehearsal studio and there was a poster on the wall that said Top of the Bill, and the first words I said was “Top of the Bill” and then I started blabbering afterwards. And then wrote the whole song after that on my laptop. My lyrics definitely stem from Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Kate Bush, a little of that weird, theatrical, fantasy stuff.

Listening to the three singles that have been release so far they do sound quite different. ‘Approachable’ was first followed by ‘Top of the Bill‘ and ‘Boy‘.
The best songs are atmospheric songs that take you somewhere, transport you to a whole different world. We really like bands that make you feel you are stepping into their world, music that’s really textured. For example Kid A – I love those albums where you are really in it, in this other world. We’re not an electronic band but one thing we take from it is its very textured.

Do you have a number of finished songs ready to go?
Yes, all I would say is that we have done a ton of recording sessions. Emmet recorded all of it in our practise space. I was happy with how they came out. It’s nice to do things on your own. It’s tricky of course to be the sound engineer, record the music and be the musician as well. But it’s nice having that body of work at the start because it’s authentically ours, and no-one in the room told us what to do. We decided on those decisions and how it came out. Obviously when you have people that are very enthusiastic and opiniated you get loads of options. We’ve done all this learning stuff and now we really know what we like. Obviously it was a little bit melty but no-one lost the head with each other, which is also testament to our working together. It’s important for a band to learn how to record themselves. If you go into a studio and you haven’t recorded yourself before and you’re with an engineer or a producer who say this is how I want it to sound because this is how I work. But if you can do your own stuff yourself you can go to work and take their ideas onboard but its more collaborative as opposed to they are the boss.

In January 2020 I remember talking to Pierce and Hoff and saying we could play this friend’s party to 30 people in April, and as the next two years unfolded and we wrote more songs and better tunes I think the ambition grew. By the time the following year came around and we were getting ready to release stuff, we thought let’s put on our own show as we’d shared songs with some mates and thought the songs were good enough. So we put on our first ever show and sold out 300 tickets. That was last Halloween, not even a year and this is now our 5th time aboard since. Thats a bit surreal thinking about it. It was pretty nerve-wrecking that first gig as well. I was shitting bricks. I had friends come up to me and say you’re making a mistake. It’s your first gig and you’ve taken this big room, that’s a bad idea. But it was a statement of intention, we’re not here to fuck around, this is what we want to do. If you’re not going to try and play in the biggest room that you can what’s the point. You want to play in front of as many people as possible. For me being onstage and when everything is going perfect, and my pedals aren’t freaking out, it feels right, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

I think the fact we waited so long as well, that only focused our ambition and made us so hungry for what we wanted to do. Obviously things have moved now at a very fast pace and there are many contributing factors to that but I think when it got close to the time when Gurriers was going to move from being a band in a room just the five of us to being in a room with 300 + 5, our ambition is let’s do what we think serves us best. We’re never looking at something and thinking we shouldn’t do that now because it’s not right for us now, we’re not ready for it. In terms of opportunities for live stuff what we’ve said no to its for other reasons, maybe it didn’t suit us, or we’re busy with other stuff. It’s never been because we thought maybe we’re not ready to take that step yet. We are focused and wouldn’t be afraid to put ourselves out there. We have confidence and trust in each other. I know when we go on we’ll always be grand.

I have to ask, how did that first show go?
We were elated afterwards, almost in shock with the crowd. For Hoff it was three years not gigging and that was my first gig in three years. All I wanted to do was be in a band, and Gurriers has been more than amazing. But it felt like if we could do that we could do anything. Many many drinks afterwards. We were very proud of what we did, but we’d probably look back on it now and think Jesus Christ we’ve definitely come a long way! All those worries from what our mates said and from that point onwards it’s like there is nothing we can’t do.

So I understand you have an aim to create the biggest mosh pit at Left of the Dial!
Who said that!?

Left of the Dial!
With our live show energy is massive and we look to create energy and we want everyone to feel a part of what we’re doing. When we did Ireland Music Week two weeks ago. We were aware there was going to be lots of industry people there, which there was and one of the worries that we had was that industry people might be somewhat reluctant to engage in the chaos the same way as crowds normally would. As it turned out we got a great balance between those who wanted to stand and watch, and the three-quarters of the crowd with energy levels like I’d never seen before. It’s dynamic. They feed off us and reciprocate. I want to see a band have fun for me to have fun. Hoff is at the front and effortlessly controls the whole thing. He breaks the boundary when he can, getting closer to the crowd, getting on the same level. We’re not dictating how people should have fun but we are showcasing that we’re having funand trying to break that barrier as much as possible. Sometimes there is a disconnect between the artist and the crowd but at the end of the day everyone feeds off each other.

So Gurriers have a hectic fortnight ahead….
The next two days is the two shows at Left of the Dial, something we have been looking forward to for a long time. Saturday is SWN in Cardiff, with an unbelievable line-up. Manchester is start of our support tour with Chappaqua Wrestling. In the middle of that we have So Young showcase in London at The Grace with Maruja, Teleforme and Dog Race. Then back to Chappaqua Wrestling. That support will take us to Manchester, Glasgow, London, Bristol and Brighton then London Calling in Amsterdam.

And one final question, is there new music on the way?
We have done a recording session with Chris Ryan (singer from Robocobra Quartet) who also worked with Just Mustard and NewDad. Without giving away any spoilers, you’ll hear the fruits of that shortly………

For more information on Gurriers please check out their facebook and twitter.

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