Q & A: Pity of The Sea Are Making Waves
Ger Cremins and Tony Monahan make up Pity of The Sea. The Limerick duo have released an EP and a number of singles, including the brilliant ‘Black Lines’; a reworking of a composition by Naive Ted.
Both have been involved in the music scene for many years. Tony being a founding and current member of Protobaby as well as playing with Kraven and Just. Ger has been in a number of cover bands. He is also involved with music societies and performing, as gaeilge, with Liam Ó Maonlai.
Hello Pity of the Sea, where are you and how are you today?
All good thanks. We are both Limerick born and now both living in County Clare. Currently we’re on Zoom having a couple of beers and discussing these questions.
You’re a duo and you’ve both been involved in music before this, how was Pity of The Sea born?
We’ve both been involved in music for quite a while and always shared similar interests in music. We always said we’d record some music together one day. Tony had set up a home recording studio a few years ago and Ger had a song he wanted to record. We had so much fun doing that we kept writing together and our first EP came from those writing/recording sessions.
Have your previous musical endeavours influenced how you’ve approached Pity of The Sea?
Tony: I would say yes and no. Yes in the sense I’ve learned so much working with the lads in Protobaby over the years and the people we have worked with and continue to work with. That has definitely influenced me and has helped in the recording and production side of Pity.
No I guess in the sense that how we write in Pity is so different. Some of the sonic areas I get to hint at in Protobaby I can go full on assault in Pity. I guess in Protobaby our songs pretty much have the vocals out front and centre and we have a pretty defined sound. Which is a cool thing but in Pity that isn’t the case. For example, from a vocals point of view, Gers voice gets manipulated, distorted and almost becomes an instrument at times. The rule book is ripped up and experimentation is key. We don’t have any plan or preconceived notion of what our next song will sound like. Our only rule is does it excite us. If a song is 8min long then so be it. Similarly if it’s 2minutes that’s cool too. Anything goes.
You recently released ‘Black Lines’ which was based on a composition by Naive Ted. Why did you decide to add your thing to the track, what was it about the original that made it stand out for you?
Naive Ted’s music is vast. He’s so prolific. There’s so many different aspects to it. We both felt that it would be exciting to see how we could write in some way with Naive Ted. Tony works with Andy (Naive Ted) at Music Generation Limerick. He asked Andy about working together and if Andy could maybe send on some beats. Andy sent on a complete track which was called ‘Fall’ I believe. We loved it but initially couldn’t find a way into it for us because it was so strong instrumentally. We played around with it and eventually found a bassline which led to chords, melodies and guitar lines. We added some beats, Ger wrote the lyrics and that was it!
We never actually sat with Andy to work on the track. It was so kind of him to allow us to add our thing to his track. We think both versions stand up as their own thing now which is really cool.
Black Lines is a lot different from your previous single ‘A Swarming’ but closer to your track ‘Headscarf’. Is that a deliberate thing or is Pity of The Sea your vehicle for trying different things out?
There’s definitely nothing too deliberate in it. ‘A Swarming’ and ‘Black Lines’ were the last tracks we wrote for the album. We were excited by them and decided to put them out.
Pity is definitely a vehicle for trying things out. We try to write music first and foremost that we get excited about. Music that we’d love to hear with our influences (and there are a lot) coming through in the music. The goal for the album was to write an album for music lovers like ourselves. People with a large collection of music who have listened to a lot of music.The type of listener that will be OK with not expecting every track to follow a certain sound or formula.
‘Headscarf’ featured lyrics influenced by the works of Iranian artist Mina Talaee. With this and Black Lines in mind, is collaboration an important part of the artistic process for you?
Ger: The songwriting process for this album has involved what I might call indirect collaborations. The album has been inspired by Art across all genres and mediums.
As you said the Hair Headscarf piece (2016) by Mina inspired the lyrics to the song ‘Headscarf’. The subtlety of the piece and its message mirrored what I believed I could do lyrically to highlight a similar message. The fact that the exhibition was on display 2 doors from my childhood home in Limerick blew me away!
‘Black Lines’ lyrics were written after reading Patti Smith’s Autobiography ‘Just Kids’. Her writing and the stories from that time could inspire full albums. Another song ‘The Unseen’ from our forthcoming album was inspired lyrically by a scene from award winning Limerick Author Kevin Barry’s book, ‘Beatlebone”. The fact that John Lennon is the main character didn’t pass me by.
We should also mention the drums on ‘Headscarf’ (and a number of the album tracks) were played by Bryan Ronan (Protobaby). Another important collaboration for us which transformed ‘Headscarf’ as well as other tracks on the album. Bryan is such a great drummer and his drum parts always add something extra to a track. There’s a song on the album called ‘Change Afoot’ and Bryan’s percussion and drums on it are so good we can’t wait for people to hear it!
Are these single releases leading to the release of a collection or album? If so, who are you recording with and when can we expect a taster.
‘Headscarf’, ‘A Swarming’ and ‘Black Lines’ are all from our forthcoming debut album. We have it all recorded and hope to release it in the coming months.
Tony has produced and recorded the album which gave us great freedom to change things and add ideas as they came up.
Your EP, ‘Abandoned’, released in 2017 featured a series of linked tracks about a serial killer. Is the album going to link tracks in this manner or was this type of concept EP a one off from you?
The album doesn’t have a concept but it’s not something we’d rule out doing again in the future.
The ‘Abandoned’ EP was us writing together for the first time. It was a slightly more formulaic approach to writing and the concept helped tie it together. While we are proud of it, looking back its not really connected to how we write now. We hadn’t found ourselves as a duo.
When we wrote ‘Headscarf’ it was the first time we felt we were really onto something. That set the precedent for this album. It was reassuring when we released ‘Headscarf’ that it got some recognition. The fact that DJ’s both locally and nationally who we really respect were willing to play a six and half minute track (with over 2 minutes of music before the vocals come in) gave us even more confidence to continue on the path that ‘Headscarf’ almost laid out for us.
What music have you been listening to in Lockdown? Can you give us a few recommendations?
We both have been revisiting our record collections and one band we’d love to recommend is W.H. Lung. and their debut album ‘Incidental Music’.
It’s not a new album (released last year) but it was a big influence on us when we were writing our album. The first time we heard ‘Simpatico People’ at 10 minutes long, lyrics coming in at 3 mins it proved to us that its still possible in these days to let the listener take a journey with a song. We’ve always loved bands in the past that leave time to create space. We’ve done lots of that on this album.
You both either teach or mentor young people in music and creative arts. It’s always important to support a young person’s creativity but in a this new normal, it seems we’re all going to rely on our creative side to get us through this Covid-19 weirdness. Any tips for embracing our inner artist?
Now maybe the time we see an upsurge in the arts. Embracing is the word. Art is about expression and when you express something through your chosen art, it is your art, your creation, your expression and something to be proud of.
From a music perspective if you can play two chords on the guitar (or even one! – ‘Tomorrow Never Knows!’) you can write a song. Even if you can’t play an instrument you can write lyrics or grab music app like Garageband and create some music! We’re both of the same opinion that there should never be prescribed formulas for how to sing, play or create in general. For example, there would’ve been no Liz Fraser and Cocteau Twins if someone said “that’s not how to sing” or currently Girl Band who in our opinion have reinvented how a traditional band line up can sound and approach music sonically.
How are you guys keeping your creativity going, as a musical project, in Lockdown?
Lockdown has given us the opportunity to revisit how we see the tracks on the album. It’s given us more time to work on mixes. Tony is able to continue to work on the album from home and we’re able to take a bit more time with the mixing side of things. We were lucky we had everything we needed recorded for the album just before lockdown.
It’s also an excellent opportunity to be creative in relation to possible video ideas, Album artwork, how we see the live element progressing and general practice of the new songs. When there’s some easing of restrictions we’ll hopefully be able to do some online performances of the album tracks. We can’t wait to be able to play this album live in a venue though, whenever that may be!
Do you have any secrets you’d like to tell us?
We have 3 secrets for you, only 1 is true.
Tony once stole a set of Bono’s sunglasses.
Ger once gave Liam Ó Maonlaí a wedgie.
Ger is really PJ Harvey who wanted a quieter life and moved to Co.Clare.
I know you’re in separate locations, any chance of a lockdown selfie from both of you?
We took a quick screen grab of our zoom chat!