Welcome again to another edition of Under The Street Light with Dave McMahon. After the success of their debut album, I wanted to find out more about Galway based duo, Grounds For Invasion so I had a few questions for both Tracy Friel and Will O’Connor. Here is what they had to say.
When did you first realise that you wanted to be a musician?
Tracy - Probably since I was a very young teen but I don’t ever think I saw it as a reality.
Will - In my mid-20's, when I was on the Access Music Project. I'd never written any music before that, but once I started, that was it.
How did you get started?
Tracy - I’ve always written verses and finally picked up the guitar aged 35 and haven’t looked back since. The Access Music Project in Galway was what really gave me the guts to do this though.
Will - While I was on AMP, a friend gave me a copy of Ableton Live and hounded me until I installed it on my laptop. I eventually loaded it up, started poking around and, hey presto, three hours later I had my first ever song.
How did you guys meet?
Tracy - Through a simple twist of fate, I needed help with a radio show idea I had and Will just happened to be introduced to me that very day.
When did you decide to make music together?
Tracy - About 6 months after we became friends I think.. Will had seen me play at an open mic night and then gave me some tracks he’d been working on.
Will - I was doing the sound at an open mic and Tracy sang a couple of her own songs (which I'm trying to get her record, by the way. They're rather good). After a few weeks of 'dental plan'-style bouncing around in my head, I gave Tracy a CD with some tracks I'd put aside. She came back 3 weeks later and blew me away.
Had you made any music before Grounds For Invasion?
Tracy - None that I’d recorded.
Will - Yep, I've been recording and performing as Willow Sea since around 2011. I also released an album with Seamus Ruttledge and Michel Durham-Brandt last year.
Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
Tracy - Growing up I was unwillingly swamped with American Country music like Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash which I hated at the time but obviously had a lasting effect on me as I became a self declared country junkie in my 30s! Also Elvis and the Stones and Ray Charles would have been popular at home. In my teens I discovered all the great 60s and 70s bands like the Beach Boys and the Kinks. After that I was a typical 90s head, I loved the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, Nirvana, L7, Pearl Jam, Guns N’Roses.
Will - Up until around 17, I mostly listened to Michael Jackson, Queen, The Prodigy, Radiohead and Cypress Hill. I went metal for a few years after that, up until about 21. I copped on about then.
How much do other musicians influence your music?
Tracy - In musical terms not really at all but I’m inspired by performers like Sinead O’Connor and PJ Harvey for the honesty and bravery in their music, something I’m always trying to push myself towards.
Will - Not too much, I'd hope. Pretty much the day I started writing music, I stopped listening to other people's tunes. That was 2009, I haven't heard much new music since then!
When and where did you play your first gig?
Tracy - Our first gig together was at Electric Picnic. Will was playing as WillowSea and invited me down to play a few of our songs...it was shakey to say the least but as it was 2 am on the Sunday night the crowd were more than up for it if ya catch my drift.
What has been your favourite venue to play?
Tracy - Probably the Body and Soul mainstage at Electric Picnic which we played last summer, its the most gorgeous little natural amphitheatre, like a mini slane!
What has been your worst concert experience?
Tracy - The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Pixies at Phoenix Park, just a disaster of a day from start to finish.
Will - Any time I was at Oxegen from 2006 onwards.
What was your favourite concert that you went to see?
Tracy - Ray La Montagne at the Olympia would be a strong contender, just flawless. The most fun was probably Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifter, to say I was a little excited would be an understatement.
Will - Easily Arcade Fire at Electric Picnic in 2005. I'd had no notion of going to the festival myself, then I saw an ad that had them on the bill. I jumped up, walked out my front door, went to the local record shop and had my ticket 20 minutes after seeing the ad.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Tracy - To sound totally vain, seeing my lyrics printed on the inside cover of our album was an incredible feeling.
Will - Someone assuming this is a career is pretty nice.
How did you feel when you found out that Hot Press Magazine named you as one of their ones to watch in 2015?
Tracy - Absolutely thrilled. When you grow up reading Hot Press Magazine its a real thrill to see your bands name featured in it.
Will - Delighted. I've been slogging away under the radar for a few years, it was nice to be just that little bit less obscure.
You started a Fundit campaign to raise money to release the album, how much did that help and do you think more people should take that route?
Tracy - We couldn’t have done it without the support. I think its a great way for independent artists to get their work out there and as a previous funder of projects I think the fans get a good feeling too knowing they’ve directly imputed into the creation of something.
Will - The FundIt campaign was a massive help, it allowed us to do the album right. I'd already recorded and mixed it myself, but we didn't have to skimp on mastering or packaging, which was brilliant. If there's goodwill out there towards you, use it. If it means tapping up friends and family for the few quid, go for it. They'll be glad to help out.
“Dying Stars” has been met with a lot of positivity, how important is that for a band just starting out?
Tracy - Its so encouraging. As someone fairly new to putting out creative works it’s nice having some outside validation of your work.
Will - It's nice that we didn't release it into an indifferent, sucking vacuum (which I've done before), and it's great to have the press quotes to slap onto emails and suchlike.
Music streaming sites such as Spotify seem to divide opinion amongst artists, where do you stand on the debate?
Will - I've spent years learning how to do what I do. It took another couple of years to get good at it. If someone's going to be making money off music I spent months writing, recording and producing, I'd like that person to be me.
Who do you currently listen to?
Tracy - At the minute I’m listening to lots of folkier stuff like Laura Marling, John Murry and I’m finally going through a Dylan Phase! Paul Simons Graceland has been on repeat in my car for the last few weeks, it goes well with the sunshine.
Will - I mostly listen to whomever I'm recording. I used to have a voracious appetite for new music, but that stopped the day I started writing my own.
What are your top 5 albums of all time and why?
Ry Cooder; Paris Texas Soundtrack: The album that made me fall in love with slide guitar and acted as my gateway to the Blues. It was given to me when I was 18 and I’ve never been without it. It is a beautifully evocative piece of work.
Sinead O’Connor; I do not want what I have not got: This was also given to me when I was 18 and I just adored it from the start. Her searing honesty is heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measures and her voice is just incredible.
Townes Van Zandt; Live at the Old Quarter: I fell in love with Townes during a particularly low period and this album was on repeat for months. Sad music soothes me and you don’t get much sadder than Townes.
Rory Gallagher Live in Europe: I know most people consider the Irish Tour album to be the greatest but I just love the energy of this album. From the blues rock stompers to the amazing acoustic version of pistol slapping blues, I never get tired of blaring it in the car
Bruce Springsteen; Nebraska: The strength of the songwriting and the sparseness of the arrangements just thrill me everytime I listen to it, a masterpiece.
Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. It's the most honest, beautiful album I've ever heard.
Cypress Hill - Black Sunday. I can't get enough of snare drums, and it's because of this album. Also, it's probably why I swear so much.
Portishead - Third. The most perfectly judged record I know. Plus, it led me to Silver Apples.
Of Montreal - Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Every track on this is piled up with manic musical invention. And it has the best delivery of a line ever. "THE MOUSEY GIRL SCREAMS VIOLENCE! VIOLENCE!"
Johnny Cash American Recordings. I kinda look at this as one giant 10-years-in-the-making album. From my point of view, you can include Neil Diamond's 12 Songs in there, too. It's songwriting and arranging boiled down to its barest skeleton, delivered by two of the worlds greatest storytellers.
Whats the best advice you have been given in your career?
Will - "They're all nerds" - Fia Rua
What do you have lined up for the future?
Tracy - We’ve a drummer coming onboard so we’re looking forward to starting rehearsals with him this week and then we’ve a good few gigs coming up over the summer. We’ve no plans yet for the second album but i’d imagine once Autumn hits the tunes will start to come.
Will - I'm also producing EPs for New Pope, Majestic Bears, Corroboree and Seamus Ruttledge, and I'll be getting stuck into albums for Steven Sharpe & The Broke Straight Boys, Tom McPartland and Steve Bennett over the next few months.