ON FRIDAY August 1 at 9pm, My Fellow Sponges take to the stage at the Róisín Dubh for a gig which should get the weekend off to a perfect start.
Based in Galway, the band have been touring countrywide for the past two years, winning fans with their onstage theatrics and often unpredictable but seamless movement between musical styles and moods.
Their live shows make pleasing leaps from jangly folk to hip-swinging bossa to eerie minimalism refreshingly instilling each of these styles with their own distinctive stamp.
The group first starting raising eyebrows with the brilliantly kaleidoscopic video for ‘This Dream Song’. The video, which was shot backwards and in one take, earned them a position in the Golden Plec’s Top 10 Irish videos of 2013.Bonne Nuit, their debut album, which was recorded in various houses around the country, was also released in 2013. Reviewer Ebhan Loughlan described it as “a meandering journey through beautiful odes, ballads, theatrical accompaniment and voices, intricate percussion, visual lyrics, and colourful imagery”.
Tomorrow’s gig at the Róisín is intended to raise funds towards the group’s next album and the appetite for that impending release is whetted by a listen to their recent EP, the beguiling Something Like Light.
The EP demonstrates a a slightly more reflective side of the band, without losing their original folksy charm. It features four tracks, ‘Floating’ and ‘All We Need’ (both penned by Donal McConnon ) and ‘Cold Winter’ and ‘Other Than Myself’, written by the group’s other main songwriter, Anna Mullarkey.
“I’ve been writing since my early teens and did a lot of solo work before the group got together,” McConnon tells me. “I still do the occasional solo gig. When I went to university that was when I met Anna and we started playing music together.”
A native of Drogheda, McConnon grew up in a musical household and reveals there are even some songwriters on his mother’s side of the family. Aside from the family influences, which notable artists would he cite as influences on his own work?
“From a song-writing point of view I would say Loudon Wainwright and Devendra Banhart, though everything I listen to filters into my music in some way or another,” he replies. “I like Loudon Wainwright because he’ll write about absolutely anything, he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind or to bring his fears into the daylight and he can make fun of them, which I like. Devendra Banhart does a similar kind of thing.
“Another big inspiration for me would be Daniel Johnson, also, Jeffrey Lewis. I like their songs and the skill behind the songs and their musicality. It can hit you on these multiple levels. They are all people who are not afraid to talk about what scares them which is a very attractive thing for me.”
My Fellow Sponges have gigged extensively over the past year and McConnon reflects on how the group have progressed in that time.
“We’ve got a lot more comfortable with gigging,” he observes. “Both myself and Anna are more at ease talking to the crowd and asserting ourselves to an extent. The group is a lot tighter musically and we’ve got a clearer idea as to what we want to get out of playing music.
“We’re definitely ready to record ourselves and be in total control of what we want to get down on our record. We’re planning to set up a studio ourselves in Annaghdown, in Anna’s parents’ house, so we’ll have more freedom over the recording process and be more involved with the technical side of it.
“Everyone in the band is hoping to educate ourselves on the technical aspects of recording and learn how all that works. With Bonne Nuit we were in and out of the studio very quickly but with the next one we’re hoping to take more time with it and have the freedom to experiment.
“We already have a lot of songs, as well as bits and pieces of things. Both myself and Anna have so many songs and ideas, we still have to figure out what angle we’re going to take with the next album. There are certain songs that will definitely go on it and they seem to revolve around a love theme but it’s all about what songs work side by side and isolating them and even in the process composing new ones. I like the idea of that happening while we are at it.”
The memorable video for ‘Dream Song’ was shot by Anna Mullarkey’s sister Mia, and McConnon reveals that a new video is imminent.
“Later this afternoon we’re going to be shooting another video with Mia again for ‘Floating’,” he says. “It involves us being on boats on Lough Corrib, it’s got a similar style and level of ambition to ‘Dream Song’.”
While that’s something to keep a lookout for on YouTube, in the meantime gig-goers can get themselves to the Róisín to catch My Fellow Sponges in all their irresistible live glory.
Support is from Samuel Vas-Y. Admission is €5. Tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net and on the door.