Cork based duo, Briars, have just released their debut single, yes, in the middle of a pandemic. I caught up with the lads to find a bit more about their recording, how they are keeping their creativity going and how they’ve been working with other bands, helping them promote their work.
Who are you and where are you right now?
Paul: So we’re Mick Grace and Paul O’Shea, originally from south Kilkenny but living in Cork City for…a long time now..;) Mick: We’re long term blow ins alright.
Have you previously been involved with music or is this a first venture for you guys?
Mick: We’ve been playing together since we were both around 11/12 years old. I think that on this same Christmas, Paul got drums and I got my first electric guitar so it started there really. Since then we played loads, mainly around the South East, in different bands, sometimes together, sometimes not. This is our first original project together as a duo (accompanied by others). Paul: We’re pretty much joined at the hip..in a socially distant way of course!
You’ve just released your debut single ‘There There’, you recorded this before the lockdown, but the track has the line ‘Wish those days away’, irony no?
Mick: Haha yea. I guess those days were alright, thinking about it now. We’re blessed, actually, that we had a few songs recorded before everything stopped. I think when things went the way they did, it gave us a bit of nudge to put the finishing touches on, and finally get something out there. Paul: I think these days shouldn’t be wished away though. I feel it’s an amazing opportunity for people to reset and slow everything down.
While you have folk elements in your music, the drums and bass and production still make this a very contemporary track. Who / where did you record this with?
Paul: We recorded with the amazing Christian Best in Monique Studios in East Cork, we had known him from working on other projects and knew that he would add so much to the tracks. On the first morning in the studio we chatted about what we wanted to achieve and he would nearly finish our sentences, he just got it straight away. Mick: Yea, Christian was great. He got it from the word go. Paul: We grew up listening to such a mix of music and genres that it all finds its way into our writing in one way or another.
What instruments do you guys play and what other musicians were involved in the recording?
Paul: So I’m on drums and percussion, Mick is on guitar, bouzouki and mandolin. For the recordings we were lucky enough to have some great friends contribute: Hannah Fitzgerald on piano and keys, Peter Vogelaar on bass and Nigel Grufferty on fiddle.
Was this a one off session, or have you other material recorded, ready to release?
Mick: We have a couple more tracks that we’re currently mixing. Almost there now. Hopefully we’ll release a few more singles and build towards an album release down the line.
What’s your favourite piece of studio equipment and why?
Paul: Drums obviously..;) Mick: Anything but drums..!
No but seriously. In Monique Studios, there’s a kind of a pedal organ that sounds a small bit like a harmonium. It made it onto all the tracks that we recorded in that session. It’s almost a thread running through each song. We had no idea that we would use it but when we heard it, we knew right away that it would all over the songs. Paul: Christian is great, he has such an array of equipment in the studio that he can suggest things that you wouldn’t have thought of before.
It’s still very early days for you guys, how much has the pandemic effected your plans for the band?
Paul: It is early days but thankfully we had a lot of work done before the virus forced us all to stay at home. We’re lucky in that we had material recorded and ready to release over these quiet months. We had hoped to be back in the studio about now but that will have to wait another little while.
Mick: Obviously it’s a terrible situation, but we’re trying to look at the positives. We would have ideally been out there gigging by now, which wasn’t to be, but it does mean that we have a chance to get some stuff out there, and build to our first gig. We’re kind of doing it in reverse order. Also, it is a chance to get some new stuff written. There’s a certain guilt that comes with seeing other musicians knocking out singles that makes you (at least try to) get up and go.
Can you recommend three albums to check out which will show us how you got to here on your musical journeys?
Mick: I think regarding the kind of stuff that we’d like to put out, ‘The Trials of Van Occupanther’ by Midlake and Planxty’s self titled album are two records pushed us in certain directions, even if it might not always sound like that’s the case. Paul: To make it three albums I’ll say..Vekcatamest by Grizzly Bear
As a new project, creativity and a continuity in writing and playing together is really important. How have you guys been able to keep it going during lockdown?
Mick: We’ve been throwing around a lot of ideas. There’s a lot of Facetiming going on. We both have a small recording setup at home, so that’s another thing that the lockdown forced us to get sorted. I think we had kind of settled on the kind of vibe that we wanted to go with, and have been shaping that for a while now. Obviously it’s not the same as being in a room together with everything set up, but at least we’re building a foundation on some new ideas. Paul: It’s been great to get ideas finished. We’ve both accumulated so many different bits and pieces over the years with question marks over them, so being cooped up in the house has finally made songs out of those ideas.
There has been a resurgence in the popularity of folk music in Ireland over the past few years. Why do you think that’s the case?
Paul: I guess there’s been a resurgence of folk from all over, and it’s hard to talk about folk music without mentioning the influence that our own country has had on the genre. The artists that we’re surrounded by every day, from past and present, are so inspirational that it’s hard not to want to emulate those storytellers and that style.
Mick: Totally. The Irish folk scene has been heathy as long as I can remember, don’t see that changing any time soon.
Are you guys involved in Unemployable Records? Is it a vehicle for Briars, or what’s the connection?
Mick: We actually started Unemployable Records a couple of years back. We work as PR for some great acts (Míde Houlihan, Beyond the Wash, In The Willows, Sara Ryan), and set up a label as a way to put out some of their material. Playing music ourselves took a back seat to that for a while, so we decided that it was time to put something of our own out. It’s easy to be lead away from your own material when you’re working with other artists who are regularly creating and releasing. We were kind of inspired by their work ethic and had always been saying that one day we would get Briars off the ground. Thankfully we’ve finally gotten around to it.
What have you learned about yourselves during the pandemic?
Paul: I’ve learned that..time spent apart from each other isn’t the worst thing in the world..;) Mick: …..he says, in between FaceTime calls. I think that I was guilty of being okay with missing stuff that I knew I would enjoy. Definitely getting a bit of perspective now.
When we finally get to the ‘new normal’, what’s the main thing you’re looking forward to?
Mick: I’m going to try get to more gigs. When you’re constantly around music and more planning, PR side of it, it’s easy to forget why you got into it in the first place. I’m looking forward to those couple of crazy weeks that you sometimes get (it might be around Christmas, or even next summer at this rate), when it feels like there’s something going on every night. When it’s on your doorstep, there are really no excuses to not get out get into it. Paul: Yeah, pretty much the same: gigs, festivals, family, friends..the important things to take from the old normal.