‘A CHANGE is as good as a rest’ and ‘travel broadens the mind’ are two of the oldest chestnuts out there, but these sayings have stuck around because they have more than a grain of wisdom in them.
Certainly for Cork born, Galway based, songwriter Anna McCarthy, these old sayings proved highly accurate as a deep felt need for a new direction and a period of travelling led her to an inspired burst of songwriting and the formation of a new band.
That new band is indie guitar-pop/garage rock entity Dott and they launch their excellent debut EP Button (Popical Island ) with a gig at Strange Brew in the Róisín Dubh on Thursday May 17 at 9pm.
Anna has been writing songs since she was 16 but she came to the attention of Galway audiences as lead singer and songwriter of Blasterbra. The quartet impressed with their heavy grunge/punk/hard rock sound and lyrics which dealt with themes of obsession, paranoia, and fear. The band released an EP Soon before officially calling it a day last year with the release of the album Unit on Bandcamp. Although Anna enjoyed that band, she felt she had taken it as far as it could go.
“I got a bit lost with Blasterbra,” Anna tells me during our Tuesday afternoon interview. “I didn’t know what music I was supposed to be writing for it anymore and I wasn’t sure where it was going. So myself and Evan [White, Anna’s boyfriend and Blasterbra guitarist] went travelling for six months and as soon as we left I got the idea that I wanted to start a new band with a definite direction. I knew what kind of band I wanted it to be before I had even formed it.”
That globe trotting break also gave Anna a new burst of creativity and the sinister songs of yore gave way to a brighter, happier, sound.
“The holidays had an effect on the songs I wrote,” she said. “They had a summer feel and were all about melody and good, old fashioned, classic pop.”
It was a new beginning, but it was also about getting back to basics and getting back in touch with the things that first inspired Anna to write.
“It was like the kind of songs I wrote when I was starting out when I was 16,” she says. “In Blasterbra it was about writing complicated riffs and melodies and eventually realising I wasn’t crazy about that. Now I wanted to write stuff that was fun. I wrote them in a good mood and I’m using words like ‘baby’ and ‘love’ which I never did before and I’m embracing that.”
The Dott song which sums this all up is ‘Leave Tonight’.
“That was based on myself and Evan getting out there and having fun and no responsibilities for a while,” she says. “At the same time I was trying to create a story so there are elements of truth and fiction in there. It does sum up the Dott sound. There are lots of fuzzy guitars, loads of vocal harmonies and melodies, and that is what I’m going for with this band.”
Leaving on a jet plane may have encouraged Anna to start a new band, but the idea of calling a band Dott had been lurking in her mind for a long time.
“I’m always thinking about band names and Dott always stood out,” she says. “I like the sound of it and it’s a feel-good name. Having two ‘t’s was a way of distinguishing ourselves from all the electronic acts out there called ‘dot’ this or that.”
Anna is the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist in Dott, but she has first rank accompaniment in her bandmates - drummer Tony Higgins (who also records avant garde solo work under the Junior85 moniker ) and bassist Laura Finnegan.
“Laura has been playing bass since she was 15/16,” says Anna. “She had come to a lot of the Blasterbra gigs and that was how I got to know her. She is also a great singer. When I was writing the songs I was writing them with harmonies in mind and you need someone who can translate the harmonies into life and sing them and she can do that.”
Anna writes the songs on acoustic guitar and records demo versions which she then emails to Tony and Laura. “I have an idea of how I want it to sound and I have an idea of the structure of it,” she says, “but in rehearsals Tony and Laura will bring their own additions to it as well.”
Next week comes the launch of the four-track Button EP which is an impressive first offering from Dott, brimming over with vocal harmonies, catchy melodies and choruses, and garagey guitar sounds. The aforementioned ‘Leave Tonight’ is included as is the shoegazy ‘Seen You Lately’. The most uptempo and pop moment is the irresistibly cute ‘Let’s Do It’.
“‘Let’s Do It’ is based on a poem by Elaine Cosgrove called ‘Hush And Fall Asleep To Fantasy’,” says Anna. “I heard her perform it at Culture Night in September and it’s about falling in love and the streets of Galway and Ladies’ Day, it’s very innocent and I loved it. As soon as I heard it I asked Elaine if I could use it in a song and she said yes.”
The EP closes with the hypnotic alternative rock of ‘Cherry Blossom’ and both this song and the EP’s cover art were inspired by Anna’s late sister Tricia, who sadly passed away in 2010 after battling cancer.
“Cherry blossoms come out in April/May and I had the idea of just repeating the words over and over again,” says Anna. “Cherry blossoms reminded me of her and it was on a day I was really missing her.”
The EP cover is a riot of variously coloured buttons over which Scrabble letters have been laid to make up the band name and EP title.
“I have millions of buttons belonging to Tricia and I inherited them,” says Anna. “I was sitting up in the attic, and looking through them then I got the idea and laid them out on the scanner. As for the Scrabble pieces, if you look closely at the song titles on the cover you will see that the ‘Y’s and ‘C’s are missing and we had to use other letters such as turning ‘U’s sideways. That was because Tricia had made a collage using them for my niece Lucy.”
With a great EP and positive press from the likes of Nialler9 and The Irish Times under their belt, Dott are off to a good start. Anna is also hopeful to have a debut album out by next year.
“I have nearly enough songs written and when I feel I have enough, we will pick the best 10 for the album,” she says. “We are still very new though so we want to keep chugging away, keep playing as many gigs as we can and keep getting better. We’re always looking forward.”
Support is from Bouts and Elk. Admission is free.