Yesterday, Tuesday, 9 March, I spoke with Irish alt rock band Sixteen Layers on the eve of Canadian Music Week 2010. I met up with these four lads from Dublin at Java House on Queen Street, Toronto to discuss their reasons for appearing at the festival and what they hoped to get out of it all. Below is the full conversation, of what turned out to be a rather in-depth discussion on the differences between the Canadian/US market compared to the UK and Ireland.
So how are you all doing?
All – Good, good.
Niall – Delighted to be here.
So, only six months ago you guys were in town for Indie Week – what brings you back here to Toronto so soon?
Niall – The love we got the first time we were here, particularly from Music Vice!
John – Yeah. It went down really well here last time, and a few friends over here and agents put together shows for us and all of a sudden it was three weeks of gigs, so we said “hell, we’ve got to go back and do that”. We’re an independent act and we’re pushing ourselves coming back over here but it’s well worth it.
Dom – I think we noticed the first time, just within a week we met a couple of people and by the end of the week the place was full so we knew there was something to work with here and we couldn’t get back fast enough. I don’t think we could’ve got back here any quicker!
Niall – When we arrived in the airport last week it was really like we only left the place last week, you know? It’s feeling like home.
What do you see as the advantages of appearing at Canadian Music Week and playing Canadian Music Fest?
Niall – Meeting people, I hope, meeting more people. We’ve got two…three shows withing Music Week… [glances at publicist Amanda] … four shows, during Music Week. So you know that’s enough to meet more agents, industry people, and the hoi polloi.
Dom – I think the best thing for us is to try and meet more tour bookers, not so much record companies – though we’re not going to blank any record companies either! But, you know, bookers and tour kind of stuff is something that would be good to get out of it. And meeting some other bands and stuff too, always nice too…
Niall – That’s very much the way to do it these days, is meeting other bands. There’s one band we met from Montreal, the In & Outs and they were clear to play with us again.
Dom – Yeah, great live.
Niall – Yeah, they hooked up a gig for us in Montreal. So we’re gonna head out there while we’re over here.
So do you have any set goals or expectations for Canadian Music Week?
Niall – We were only talking about that before we left. Again, like we were saying just to meet up with people and it’s very exciting for us to play somewhere else. When we play back in Ireland, its cool, and we did a gig before we left where we played to a room of 400 people, so it’s going well over there but there’s only so far we seem to be able to push it back home. When we were here last time everyone seemed to want it harder, faster, louder and that’s what attracted us to coming back again. We’ll just keep doing the shows here and what we want out of it is for people to go out and enjoy the shows, have a good time, talk about Sixteen Layers and buy some t-shirts. Just build it up again and hopefully get a little exponential build on it. Get the word out there, you know?
From a geography point of view, it just seems a little bit strange perhaps to some people that you guys are showcasing yourself in Canada when you’re from Ireland and you’ve got the UK right there….
Niall – UK sucks balls.
Dom – The market, the industry…
Tim – It’s too hard, you can’t break yourself in the UK. You can break the UK market on the back of making from another territory. But we don’t have keyboards in the band you know?
Dom – When you go and play in London and that, the trend moves so fast there and they are all very trend-based, there’s very few industry people there that just want to build something or like something and work with that. That doesn’t happen.
Tim – It’s all copying, it’s already happened and it’s already old news.
Niall – We’ve done some great shows over there but as soon as you come back, it’s you know…
Tim – …it’s moved onto something else. And they try to change you – it’s the square peg in a round whole syndrome. And then it’s your fault.
Ireland is a very small market, and it’s been hit very heavily with the recession – so has the UK but Ireland in particular. When we came over here we got a lot of love and rock seems to fly over here. We don’t mind getting on a plane and flying seven hours to play out here as opposed to driving around the country for two hours and playing to no one. A lot of venues have gone in Ireland, and it’s so small. If you’re gonna survive as a band you’ve got to pick a market and you’ve got to go for it and get out and do it. We picked Canada and we’re really glad we picked Canada.
It’s kind of funny that you guys mention the trendiness of the UK. I just wrote a review today where I referred to it as “the trend-setting hype and hyperbole of the British music media”. Basically the NME and the like dictates which bands are good and everyone jumps on the bandwagon from what one guys says.
Niall – We always feel like we’re coming across as bitching and moaning and bitter, but yeah… A couple of bands came over from Ireland as well and it was all keyboards and 80’s and shouting and that kind of post-new-wave-punk thing, which it just isn’t their game – it’s not our bag and never will be. We’re not into playing that game. We can make it back home as well, we did a fundraiser gig to help us get over here before we left, and like we said almost 400 people came out to see us and we had a really good night and a really good time, and some people go out and buy the album but it’s very difficult to get press on top of that.
Tim – In Dublin we packed it out but trying to get some press and radio play is very, very difficult. And even when you’re a band that’s getting some press.
John – It’s stuff like this that gets us press. We go back home and they have something to write about. It’s “OK, they were in Canada, they played Canadian Music Week, they did a tour of Ontario and Montreal…”, and we’ll get press at home because we were over here.
Dom – You need an angle and you always need an angle.
Niall – The way we look at is, you either spend 10 grand coming over here and playing or you spend 10 grand on some marketing person who’s going to spend a load of lies and bullshit to try and put you up with the hype of the other bands out there. And I’d rather be doing that in Canada than London to be honest. I have friends in London, I know London, I love London, but…
Tim – We’d rather actually be making the lie come true to be honest, you know what I mean.
Dom – Part of the reason we’re playing Canadian Music Week is I’m half Canadian, I’m a Canadian citizen as well. So for me it was a nice thing to come over here and play.
Tim – He has some community service to finish off over here too!
John – Their Government has more than ours has at the moment, if we go that angle.
Dom, do you want to expand on your Canadian heritage?
Dom – My dad’s from Windsor, Ontario and most people apologise for that. I’ve got a sister in London here as well, I’ve got cousins in Windsor, uncles in Vancouver, so uh, all over the place. I used to come here every Christmas but I hadn’t been over for a while until last year so it’s nice to be back again so soon.
Niall – Returning to the Canadian thing though, we get a lot of that coming over, people saying we’re crazy and wondering why we’re trying to break a market so far away. The more people that say that though, the more we are risen to go and do it.
John – It’s mostly from the love we got here last time. Dublin is quite saturated with bands that people are getting tired and jaded of. Whereas we got real love over here, so we’re trying to build on that. We stayed 8 days and played 6 gigs last time, now we’re three weeks and there’s 12 gigs, and hopefully next time it’ll take another step up and keep building. That’s the long term plan.
Niall – Maybe there’s a certain amount of naivety involved too, when we realise after a few trips that the love really isn’t here…
Tim – Then we’ll come back as a complete keyboard act!
Tim – Then it’s Australia!
John – Eventually we’ll target the Isle of Man, once everyone else has had us.
Well there is definitely a different vibe here. As a newcomer I try to explain it to people. A lot of people haven’t even been to UK but there is a romantic notion about Brit rock in North America – people here a band are from London and they think of Abbey Road and stuff like that. There is a lot of romanticism. Can you guys perhaps make a definite statement – a distinction between the UK scene and North America.
Dom – It’s a little more open here.
Niall – Are fans a little more cynical, a little more jaded in the UK? Is that it? That’s the feel I get.
Tim – They have no identity. They don’t really know who they are you know? There’s always someone else pulling the strings, some higher power up there that’s dictating the scene – and there is a scene in the UK, a massive scene, and it changes just so quickly. Whereas over here there are a lot of rock bands who I suppose are sort of similar and stuff, but here you seem to be allowed to get on and do your thing, you don’t feel you have to change and become something else. When you go London you do have to do that.
Niall – The big difference over here is that here people like musicianship, they like good bands. I suppose punk is sort of more of a UK ethic, which isn’t my ethic… never particularly was, though that’s not to say there’s not some influences there, but the whole notion that anyone can jump up and play guitar is something I’ve never really bought into. But in North America, and also Australia and places like that, if you can play instruments people will give you a shot, and sometimes even try to love your music even if at first they’re not interested.
I think on the other side of the water the saying is pretty much “OK, you’ve got five minutes, impress me.” We’re a great live act and that sells on its own merit in North America, as opposed to the UK where you have to look the part, sell the part… there is a lot of selling that goes on.
Tim – This is no slight on anyone because there is a lot of great bands that come out of UK, it’s just the way the industry works. It’s that musianship is actually very far down on the list of priorities.
Dom – It’s like the last thing they’re concerned with.
Tim – Bands like Muse broke it big in France, Germany, Italy and Spain and such, and then came back to the UK and made it big.
Niall – I guess that wasn’t quite the definite statement!
No kidding. I’ll be spending hours typing this up tomorrow…
Tim – Well how about this: It’s really good over there, and it’s really shit over there!
John – They like us here and they don’t like us there!
Let’s talk about influences, you said there Niall that you weren’t into punk, or at most just vaguely influenced, who would you guys cite as your main influences?
Niall – Funnily enough I feel like I’ve got more out of punk as I’ve gotten older, just for the simplicity of it. But what I’m talking about is the new wave stuff that sort of crosses over…
Dom – It’s really just bad pop music.
Niall – For me what’s important is melody, and I started out with Paul McCartney and the Beatles and really things got heavier and harder as I got older. And when I met with these guys, they have a heavier rock sort of backing and that’s what I grew into. Talking about influences, from the UK I love Muse and Radiohead – great, great bands. America I love, love, love. Pearl Jam, they’ve been called a bar band many times, but they are, they are just the greatest bar band that ever walked.
Tim – Soundgarden would be a big one for us.
Dom – Huge, yeah.
John – We definitely come from the heavier side of alternative music.
Tim – Nine Inch Nails would be some kind of influence, some what.
Dom – The common influence is generally the heavy stuff, that’s what we all meet on…
John – Heavy alternative. We wouldn’t be quite metal, it’s not what we play, but definitely a lot of the early Seattle bands heavily influence us and carrying that on to stuff like Queens of The Stoneage, Muse, For Irish influences there’s definitely bits of Thin Lizzy, and U2, dare I say it – you can’t escape that..
Dom – I rebelled against U2 for many years, I refused to use the fucking delay pedal, but now I love it, it makes life a lot easier.
I heard a lot of American influence in your music, as you say Soundgarden and also I was thinking about Stone Temple Pilots…
All – Yeah…
Niall – We were just talking about them yesterday.
John – Alice In Chains as well, the newer stuff.
Niall – I like the darker stuff but I feel what bands like Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and maybe to a lesser extent Pearl Jam, brought to the table was melody. Melody back into rock n’ roll. No matter how hard Soundgarden ever gets, the melodies are unbelievable, and quite complex. We’ll sometimes get complex but generally…
Dom – It’s easy for us to get complex so I think we fight it. We could sit down and make a 10 minute fucking prog rock epic, easily. It’s harder for us to make stuff simple, but simple is generally better.
Niall – It’s harder to make a simple rock song, it really is.
Tim – We are away as well that to get radio play and such, there are quick turn overs, so you need to kind of be aware of what kind of arena you’re operating in and rein things in accordingly.
You guys are talking about melodies, I’m just going to listen to one of your songs for a second to refresh my memory, because there was something I really wanted to ask you about…
Dom – Who we ripped off?
Pretty much, yeah!
Niall – Looking forward to this Brian…
I’ve got it, it’s “Hurt Me”…
John – Yeah, you’re thinking of a Christmas carol…
Yeah! What is it?
John – “Good King Wenceslas”
Tim – I’m really glad you asked about that one!
Has anyone asked you about that before?
John – Yeah, it’s come up. We said it as soon as Niall came up with the melody.
At least you can’t get sued for copyright right?
Tim – The Christmas market’s a big market, we’re hoping to tap into that!
Niall – That’s a tune called “Hurt Me” yeah, it’s funny because it has that nice little melody but then it has a big sort of ‘fuck off’ ending. But yeah, fair game, I’m not gonna argue with that.
Returning to the topic of Canadian Music Week, and Canadian Music Fest that is part of it, are there any bands that you guys plan to check out?
John – Definitely some of the Irish bands…
Niall – There’s a guy over here, Neosupervital, he’s pretty cool.
John – The Villagers, they’re good.
Tim – We’re going to see a band called The Bronx as well.
The Bronx?? You’re kidding me?
Niall – No… why is that your band, are you in The Bronx?
Haha, no, I’m just a little surprised. Wicked band though but they won’t be at Canadian Music Week, though they will be in Toronto later near the end of the month.
Tim – Yeah, a friend of ours recommended we check them out.
I thought you were being sly there and maybe noticed The Bronx button on my jacket.
Tim – Naw, I swear I never noticed till now but that’s funny…
Niall – We’ll also be seeing the Barettas, who we are playing some dates with.
Good band, I like those girls…
Niall – Yeah, we played with them very briefly in Hamilton the last time we were over, in a very ramshackle thrown-together gig in a pub… John ended up playing a five string bass.
Dom – We were with Katie Bulley and she had all the gear in the back of the van and we just sort of hijacked it – Hamilton, you’ve been punked!
Anyway guys, I better wrap this up else I’ll never make it in time to shoot Jamie Cullum tonight… so the token question, this interview is for Music Vice, do you guys have any vices’s other than music that you wish to share?
Niall – Drugs.
Dom – Martial arts, drugs, porn.
John – Football. Championship Manager on the PSP, that’s my vice.
Championship Manager? That’s hardcore right there, no drugs for you.
Tim – My vice is jacking it all day!
Except from when you’re doing interviews right?
Tim – Well I just go to the toilet when I need to relieve myself.
John – He’s had 14 laser eye surgeries just to save his eyesight!
Alright guys, well all the best for Canadian Music Week.
© Brian Banks, Music Vice
You can catch Sixteen Layers along with 700 other artists at 45 venues during this year’s Canadian Music Week, kicking off today 10 March in Toronto.
Sixteen Layers are:
Niall Donnelly – Vocals, rhythm guitar
Dom Muldoon – Lead guitar
John Colbert – Bass, backing vocals
Tim McGrath – Drums