The Eskies have the enviable claim of being the finest nautical-gypsy-caberet-theatre-drinking-shanty-soul-folk-balladeers in Dublin. That is to say, there’re a band with a very distinctive style and character by the barrel-load. A pokey blend of Celtic charm, piratical bordellos, Napoleon’s bugles and Lemony Snicket’s phonograph collection, all mixed up in an old boot and necked through a traffic cone. Suffice to say, they’re a band that make quite the impression.
The spritely five-piece have built up a rascal’s reputation over the last few years as the standout live act at many a folk festival. Now they’re ready to roll out the wagon once more in support of upcoming album ‘Don’t Spare The Horses’. Gigsoup’s Matt George Lovett caught up with lexeconic lead singer Ian Bermingham to discuss the upcoming release, their focus on energetic live shows, windowless hovels and the inherent drama in an Irishman’s soul.
What is an Eskie?
That depends entirely on who you ask but seems as you’ve asked us; we are obliged to tell you that an Eskie is an Irish musician. Their natural habitat is most commonly the music hall, the festival, the travelodge or the van. They are known for their often unhinged musical outbursts and insatiable wanderlust.
There’s an awful lot of things going on in your sound. Where did five lads from Dublin find all those influences?
There’s been a great music scene in Dublin for as long as we’ve ever been aware of music. Or Dublin. So there was no shortage of great eclectic music around to inspire us. But it’s fairly obvious to anyone who hears us that our music doesn’t necessarily sound ‘Irish’ in the traditional sense of the word. I do feel like Irish people, generally speaking, are inherently quite dramatic in our own endearing way though, it’s never “oh look, it’s raining outside” it’s “Ah for f*cks sake, look at that bloody rain outside, will it ever end for Jayzus sake?!”. So culturally our music might be a bit more Irish than it initially appears, being very much into the idea that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. There’s also a real darkness and drama to a lot of Irish music, we’d like to think we’re carrying the torch on that one, even if not in the most traditional of ways.
How does the songwriting process normally go? Is it a case of all of you packed in a room brainstorming round a pub piano?
Yes. If by ‘room’ you mean ‘windowless hovel’ and by ‘pub piano’ you mean ‘growing resentment of each other’.
So with upcoming album ‘Don’t Spare the Horses’, was there anything particular you’re trying differently? Or is it business as usual?
Our whole approach for this album was drastically different to the first. Like most people, our first album comprised of songs that we had collected over a period of years, in some cases. This second album is the journey we’ve all gone on together over the past two years since the first one came out. We booked the studio time before we had even written the album and it was all about lighting a fire under ourselves and getting the bloody thing written. There were things we wanted to write about, styles we wanted to try explore and bits of the rabbit hole that we hadn’t yet ventured down. It was all very exciting and it happened much faster than the first, I’m not sure we’ve really had time to process that it’s finished now and coming out very soon. People are going to hear it! Weird. To record like that, we had to let go of some of the insecurities that were there, be a bit fearless and just go with what we wanted to do, letting it play out in studio sometimes. There was a sense that we could write and record songs even if we thought they might not necessarily work at a festival or one of our own shows (which are typically energetic, sweaty affairs) and that was very rewarding. So although there’s plenty of energy in this one, there are also a couple of slower, more tender numbers as well, which might take people by surprise a bit.
Slower tracks like ‘Building Up Walls’ you mean? That’s a standout.
I’m excited for people to hear that one. It is a slight departure from our usual ‘all screaming, all shouting’ approach. Being a band that has plied our trade on energetic live shows, we’ve always had a certain longing of sorts to explore other, softer dynamics. We’ve had a few songs like that through the years but it remains a rarity for us. All five of us are, first and foremost, song guys. A good song is a good song so once that one got to the point that we all loved it, it was always going to end up on the album. It came from the same place every other song we’ve written came from; someone wanting to say or express something that they were feeling, everyone getting in on it, exploring it, expanding on it and then seeing how far we could go with it before it got too much. It is a bit of a stand-out for me though, to be honest because on a personal level, I’ve a tendency to wrap things up, say them by not saying them, being aloof or sarcastic. But that one takes a more frank approach, which is a bit scarier but ultimately thrilling as a writer.
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‘The Man Who Ran’ might be the album’s standout anthem. Who is responsible for that infectious riff?
That would be telling, now. We keep that kind of information to ourselves. All for one and all that kind of thing. These things all start out as someone’s idea but once they go into the windowless hovel I mentioned earlier, they’re everyone’s.
The brass on the new album is more prominent than ever before. What was it like recording with that?
It’s always great fun, Kev (trumpet) and Chris (trombone) (collectively known as the Lord Henry’s Little Big Band) are awesome. Great fellas with a great energy and enthusiasm, to boot. They also happen to be very talented chaps too. The first album was written and recorded by the time we realised that we wanted to get some brass on it. All the while from the writing stage to arranging and recording, we had found ourselves using the word ‘brassy’ until eventually the penny dropped that the best way to make something sound ‘brassier’ is to put some brass instruments on it. Now this album was written fully in the knowledge that there would be brass on it so they naturally got more of a say in things right from the start this time, I think that comes across.
Which tracks are you most looking forward to bringing out in the upcoming tour?
Well, we tried to keep all of these songs under our cap until the album was out but we have folded under the excitement of it so we have already had the pleasure of playing them for people. Having people singing songs like ‘I’m Not Sorry’ and ‘The Man Who Ran’ is awesome or dancing to ‘All Good Men’ and ‘Shame’! A new thrill has been playing ‘Building Up Walls’ because people go quiet and listen. We’ve never had a song like that before, really, so that’s also been. . . bloody brilliant!?!
And finally, Up The Parish?
Up The Parish, indeed.