WHEN YOU have created two of the best and most memorable Irish albums of recent years, won awards, had Brendan Benson play your songs at his DJ sets, and had people singing your words back at you in concert, the question must arise: How do I follow that?
You could give the public more of the same. In the short term you will get away with it, but creatively it is a dead end and your audience will quickly tire of hearing you repeat yourself.
The alternative route is riskier, but ultimately more rewarding - challenge yourself and your audience by following your muse and inspiration down a new path to see where it leads. You risk losing some of the audience along the way, but those who stick with you will be rewarded and will become your most loyal fans.
Richie Egan, the man behind the Irish band Jape, found himself facing the ‘How do I follow that?’ and ‘Where next Columbus?’ question in his career. His 2004 album The Monkeys In The Zoo Have More Fun Than Me turned Jape from an obscure solo project for the Redneck Manifesto bassist into a phenomenon among indie/alternative audiences - it won the Róisín Dubh album Of The Year 2004 Award - and the most imaginative songwriter of his generation.
The follow-up, Ritual (2008 ), raised Richie’s profile further still. Audiences coming to his shows were greater than ever and there were higher profile festival appearances and slots. Songs like ‘I Was A Man’ and ‘Phil Lynott’ were taking on a life of their own among fans and critics were showering the Dubliner with praise. His ascendancy was confirmed with winning the Choice Music Prize in 2009.
A major factor in the appeal of Richie’s songs was how his view of the human condition and his music reflected each other. His songs pondered the inevitability of death, but came to the verdict that as life is short, we should waste no time in experiencing and embracing it fully. The indie-rock guitar with pulsating electronica, gave musical expression to that point of view and got audiences thinking as well as singing along and dancing along.
Pack up your bags and go wherever you like
Yet having given expression to this view so eloquently and memorably on ‘Floating’, ‘To The Sea’, and ‘Graveyard’, Richie was within his rights to conclude that there was no need to repeat himself. The artist needed to move on and explore new territory.
“The Monkeys In The Zoo... and Ritual were albums that danced in your face,” Richie tells me during our Thursday morning interview. “This time I wanted to do an album that was more ‘If you want to get into this you have to come and get it’. You can just repeat yourself and that’s not cool and this record really needed to have its own personality.”
Richie’s 2009 and 2010 gigs saw him introduce and give more attention to new material with greater emphasis placed on synths and electronics. Notice was being served that a change was afoot and Richie was preparing audiences for what was coming on album number four.
“I would write the songs in a raw format and embellish them with keyboards and synths and stick them in where I felt I needed them,” Richie says, “and they are the best instruments if you want to get people dancing, but it always changes for me so I don’t know what I will keep or discard going into the future, but on this record and for this tour it will be more electronic.”
The new album, Ocean Of Frequency, will be released on Friday September 30 on the Music/is/for/losers label and as Richie says, it is more of a ‘If you want it come and get it’ experience.
“From talking to people who’ve already heard it people think it takes more listens to get into,” he says.
It is also noticeably different from its predecessors as the guitars are kept to a minimum and keyboards/synths dominate. It is mellower, more subdued, the pace slower. Lyrically, it is far darker than anything Richie has written before.
Opening track ‘An Hallucination’ asks “I wonder why I’m singing?” over a mournful drone. It is followed by a song whose chorus is “Please don’t turn the record off/There’s nothing to go home to”. Later Richie sings “Just like the rest of you I will be on my knees,” on the melancholy ‘Borrowed Time With Peace’.
“I suppose when you put it like that it is darker,” says Richie, “but I’d say Ocean Of Frequency is more relaxed. I would say it’s sombre, not dark. You have to take the album as a whole, there’s a lot of stuff going on and it’s schizophrenic in parts. I really like it. It had to be done.
“I can’t really listen to Monkeys.... and Ritual, but I still like listening to Ocean Of Frequency. I like ‘The Oldest Mind’, ‘One Of Those Days That Feels So Long’, and ‘Its Shadow Won’t Make Noise’. As a record I’m really happy and pleased with it and it has a definite mood.”
I don’t believe in no heaven I just hope that I’m wrong
One of the key themes on the new album is the relationship between science and religion, and unlike Richard Dawkins (on one side ) and the Creationists (on the other ), Richie does not hold to the view that the two are incompatible or mutually hostile.
“People talk about religion and science as if they are mutually exclusive but if you look underneath the surface, into the beauty of nature, you can see an order to it all,” he says. “I’m not a religious person, but I would be spiritual, and one of the themes of the new album is interconnectedness.”
That theme was inspired by Richie’s reading of an interview with Michael Talbot, the late American author who discussed ideas relating to mysticism and quantum mechanics through such works as Mysticism and the New Physics and The Holographic Universe.
“I was reading Michael Talbot and he was talking about when you get down to the sub-atomic level all those particles are complementary,” says Richie, “and if you moved one of them 60 miles away from the other, they would still affect each other. Light and sound, and to a lesser extent matter, are all frequencies and I thought that was nice image that all of us are interconnected and floating about in an ‘ocean of frequency’.”
Staying in the realm of mysticism and phenomena demanding a scientific explanation, what is the story behind ‘Scorpio’, one of the stand-out tracks on Ocean Of Frequency? “Have you ever head of the Hell Fire Club?,” asks Richie. “It’s a ruin up the Dublin mountains and it’s supposed to be haunted. Me and a few friends went up there one night to look around and there was a heavy air and a supernatural feeling. There was something all right.”
Next stop for Richie is the Róisín Dubh which he plays on Saturday October 8 at 9pm. On the night he will be joined by Somadrone’s Neil O’Connor on drums and Glen Keating on synths, bass, and sampler. The Dominick Street venue has become something of a “second home” for the Dubliner and he is never shy to sing its praises.
“Over the years Gugai, and all the staff, have looked after us through both the ups and downs, as in music you can have good times and bad times, but Gugai has always been there,” he says. “The Galway crowds, especially the time The Monkeys In The Zoo... came out, have been really supportive and behind us. People in Galway are interested in the music and in having a good time. The Róisín Dubh is one of those places that resonates and it’s been good to both Jape and the Redneck Manifesto.”
Support is from Goodtime. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and www.roisindubh.net
The Redneck Manifesto will also play the Róisín Dubh on Friday November 4 as part of a short Irish tour.