YOUR TWENTIES are not necessarily the best years of your life, certainly not the years between 25 and 29. In a city, your 20s become an extended adolescence, but after the parties and the wildness is over, you reach a crossroads of ‘Thirty is on the horizon - what the hell am I going to do with my life?’
It can take time to figure out and that period can justifiably be called ‘the quarter life crisis’. It is a feeling, and a situation, So Cow founder/leader/vocalist/songwriter Brian ‘Brain’ Kelly knows well, and one which subconsciously formed the bedrock for his band’s latest album - The Long Con, produced by Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier.
“I had no real idea that’s what the album was about until a bunch of people listened to it and then told me so,” Brian tells me. “I’m actually really happy to be out of my 20s, it just seems like a really stressful time when everyone seems to feel like they should be doing something, or doing something else. It’s a really restless time, which is why people end up learning tae kwondo or join ska groups or whatever people do. It’s weird.”
From three seconds into The Long Con’s opening track, the nervy, restless punk of ‘Get Down Off That Thing’, captures that ‘I’m young but I’m old’ dilemma: “These kids today/don’t know they’re born...not like my time/we knew the score/we used out heads/it got us here/it cost us dear.”
“It’s that idea of time being wasted,” Brian reflects. “I get that feeling every now and again, I’ll be in a bar in Galway on a Tuesday evening. There’ll be a Champions League match between Arsenal and Galatasary and I’ll think, I watched the exact same game six years ago probably in the exact same seat. But the Arsenal goalkeeper from that match is now the half-time pundit. It’s progressive deja-vu, if that makes sense. Feeling like you've wasted your time is a fairly horrible feeling and it’s interesting to me. There’s a lot of that feeling in Galway, I think.”
Brian’s left-field instincts, mischievous sense of humour, and keen melodic and anthemic sensibility could never let The Long Con become a morose rumination on the passing of time. There are love songs, songs of nostalgia, and celebrations of two very different, but very specific, individuals.
A Tuam native, Brian is in a long line of distinctive, idiosyncratic, songwriters, like Leo Moran and Seamus Routledge, and The Long Con’s ‘Sugar Factory’ - a kind of missing link between Blaze X and The Saw Doctors with its tin whistle over distorted guitars - is a hunting ode to a long closed institution which still haunts the town’s imagination.“As long as I've been conscious and remembering things, the factory has been closed,” Brian says, “but it was always this huge area of land and increasingly decrepit buildings a short walk from my home. You’d cycle there and just wander about. My parents both worked there and went through the place closing down.
“I can just imagine that the eighties were a shit enough time in this country without the primary employer in a large town just pulling the plug. My song has very little to do with any of that though. I just wanted to write a Ramones’’ type song about different places in the town and that title worked out best. It could easily have ended up ‘I wanna go to the Grove Hospital Car Park’ to be fair.”
Although not name-checked on the album Weezer are clearly ‘sound-checked’ on the album, with ‘Science Fiction’ betraying an audible debt to Rivers Cuomo’s band. “Oh yeah,” agrees Brian. “There’s any amount of ripping Weezer off going on with So Cow, to varying levels of obviousness.”
A less obvious, but very personal influence on both Brian and So Cow bassist Jonny White is Queen - there was a rumour So Cow was, at one point, recording a Queen tribute album - and Queen bassist John Deacon is the subject of another The Long Con highlight, ‘The Other One’.
“I’m pretty sure the first album both me and Jonny owned was Queen’s Greatest Hits I, so there’s that in the DNA of the band,” Brian says. “I think it might be Pete’s [O’Shea, drummer] first album too. That song is about how, when Freddie Mercury died, John Deacon pretty much just said ‘Well, that’s it lads, we’re done.’ There's something unseemly about the way the other two went on with the band, the whole half-baked nature of it. There’s a lot to be said for just quietly stepping away from things. The lyrics, ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ is really just about that.”
The Long Con though saves the very best until last - the insanely catchy, riff driven, über-anthemic ‘Barry Richardson’, a celebration of a good night out with Galway comic book artist and all-round top bloke Barry Richardson.
“I just wanted to call a song ‘Barry Richardson’ to be honest. He’s a mate,” says Brian. “There was a guitar riff that I just sang his name over and it came from that. The main enjoyment has been reading some reviews of the song on different blogs, coming up with these earnest thinkpieces about, y’know, the deeper meaning of the man and how, in some way, ‘We’re all Barry’. That will never stop being funny to me.”
Barry loves the song, but admitted to me that it is a weird experience for him, finding himself dancing to it in the Róisín Dubh.
“People do tend to sing the chorus at him sometimes,” says Brian. “He was happy enough with it. He’d probably feel different if I was accusing him of war crimes in the second verse of something!”
However the song has been around for some time, allowing it to have become a firm live favourite. Why did The Long Con, take, well, so long?
“We started writing for this album, like, maybe three years ago, which is insane,” says Brian. “The album was recorded in August two years ago and was supposed to come out as soon as possible. We got in touch with Goner, who wanted to put it out but there were delays on our end between trying to get a US tour together that couldn’t happen and then the three of us all getting sick of each other at roughly the same time. Also, loads of life stuff like getting jobs, all that early thirties stuff that means you can be less of a jackass. But we wanted it out there and wanted to play it live and it’s all worked out. The record exists.”
So Cow launch The Long Con upstairs in the Róisín Dubh this Saturday at 9pm. Admission is €5.