Tuesday, December 16, 2008

One Day International: interview with Matt and Ross

Matt Lunson is reading Neil Gaiman's Stardust. It's a good way for us to start our conversation, me a Gaiman fan, him being recently introduced by a friend. "I'm really liking it" he says, something that doesn't surprise me, having read Matt's own writing for the past few weeks.

It's been a busy morning - the guys are in the middle of shooting interviews about blogging down one end of Le Cirk, I'm up at the other arranging tea for Matt and Ross who have come to tell me more about One Day International. Ross barely has time to sit down before I invite/send him to be part of the filming, leaving Matt and me to talk.

I've been constantly listening to their debut album, Blackbird, since I got it. There are eleven beautiful, carefully crafted songs here that have accompanied me for the past while. Heavy on piano, accompanied by cello, the lyrics drew me in conjuring images of torrid love affairs, sweet kisses and a girl I knew a long time ago. Powerful stuff. Indeed, as their website says

"A deep and passionate respect for language resonates through each and every track. Words are not wasted, each turn of phrase demands attention. The collected musicianship of the group affords the listener a hoard of minds-eye treasures to call upon."

I ask Matt as I about the band's emerging profile "We have been very fortunate so far. We've been careful about what we've done, with whom and when and even though it's not a route all bands take, it's worked out for us". Indeed, the five piece band, together since 2007, Matt on vocals, Ross (Turner) on drums, Cormac Curran on piano, Danny Snow on bass and Eimear O’Grady on cello have been building up a steady following and respect from fans and within the industry, something reviews of their album on RTE.ie and State bear testimony to.

"We've spent 18 months creating this album" says Matt. "Our first batch of songs were quite delicate. Fragile. We didn't want to expose them to a situation where they wouldn't be comfortable. We want to take care of the music we play. The only real thing of value a band has is the songs that it writes."

I found that strange to hear, but listening to lyrics from Closed Doors: "For the first time in your life you stopped tearing yourself apart and it was beautiful", Miss Your Mouth "I know you like that I am a mess that I'll do my best so you'll believe that my aim is good", Not Over You "Do you remember the way that we made the best of a bad situation always seem worse" and Black is the Bird "Black is the bird that can't sing and black is the bird that loses it's wing" that I began to understand how personal this album is not only to Matt, but to the band.

"It's the same reason why we're not out on the road seven days a week. We've been guarded about doing any gigs until there was an album we were happy with. We could have gone and played to 15 people in gigs, but that doesn't benefit anyone. It needs to benefit the music that I write rather than the band." says Matt. "This record has been quite carefully arranged and constructed over time. We've worked on it for a year and a half and it's the best that we could have done it. We're very proud of it."

Their gig in The Button Factory on Thursday promises to be a good one. "We're looking forward to it" Ross grins, having rejoined us. "We concentrated on making the record first - the live shows take care of themselves. However we work hard on creating an atmosphere for an hour or so where our songs can be played. It's almost making a grandeur out of vulnerability. We worked hard to strike the balance between too literal, too obvious and too obscure. If we can bring out the soulful and emotional aspects of our songs in our performance, we'll be happy" says Matt.

Photo by Dara Munnis

"The live show has superseded the record", he says, "it's more dramatic. The songs are written to be performed and the show allows us to flesh out the crescendos built into the music". "The structure and arrangements don't change that much", Ross adds, "but there's more power and energy in the live show".

"I find it better" interrupts Matt "to see what I can do with the music rather than just show what I can do. It can be dangerous territory - if you force a change in the music just for a show, it comes out contrived. For us it's about the balance".

They spent some time this year supporting Lisa Hannigan. "It was wonderful" says Matt, "We became really good friends with her and the band. She is just so beautiful and relaxed in her performances that playing with her was a pleasure." They've also toured with Cathy Davey and were widely regarded as one of the best acts of this year's Hard Working Class Heroes.

Matt, a respected singer/songwriter far from his native Tasmania, released his first album Miss Vaughan, named after his first music teacher in 2005 and has toured with many artists - Mundy, Mary Coughlan, The Walls, Ollie Cole, Tim Freedman (The Whitlams) and Liam O MaonlaĆ­ to name a few. The others are no less accomplished - Ross plays with Cathy Davey, Jape and David Kitt while Eimear plays sessions and orchestra with equal fervour.

"We had three songs when we started", says Matt, "songs that required a band to share them". In a recent State interview, Eimear had commented how they were "definitely learning the trick of the five of us being in a room and somebody bringing something in and being able to spark it off the next person."

"Our personal relationship is important"
says Matt "Everyone likes each other, respects each other and contributes. We were good friends when we started this and that has continued. Everyone had their place. Ross, who duals as the band's main blogger, knows such an incredible amount of music that he's often our finder of new things."

The band have a huge respect for music bloggers and are one of the rare few that update their own blog when they have news, giving equal coverage to artists they like as well as their own news. "People consume so much Irish music now that isn't just from 2FM or Hot Press. They're seeking out the tunes, talking about the bands and reviewing the gigs. It's a good thing" says Matt "Intelligent criticism of their music will make the bands work harder, be better informed."

The album cover too is a thing of beauty. Designed by Sarah Brownlee, a designer and illustrator, its apparent simplicity, like the music, doesn't show the amount of work that's gone into it. "We love it" says Ross, "Sarah understood us, understood what we wanted and gave us something wonderful." The album itself is produced by Brian Crosby (BellX1 and The Cake Sale) with whom Matt has been friends for a long time.

The band is looking international next year. "It's about ambition", says Matt, "We're not just limiting ourselves to Ireland. Don't get me wrong, there's been a seismic shift in Irish music in the last two years - a huge shift in scope and eclepticism. Where before, to fit in, you were either a singer songwriter or a skinny angular guitar band, you now have events like HWCH and bands like The Vinny Club that show that musicians are prepared to take genuine risks. And out of that will come stuff that is genuinely great."

"We will however bring our songs and music on the road. We're going to South by South West (a legendary festival showcasing more than 1,800 musical acts of all genres from around the globe on over eighty stages in Austin, Texas) in March and have been invited to the Canadian Music week too. The album is due for release in the UK in April."

When I ask for their advice for anyone starting out in music, their advice was simple. "Really work at it and don't try to be anything you're not. There's no need to sound like someone else or try fit into a certain scene. Your music will drive your success. Play often and together as much as you can" advises Ross. "Unless you're die hard there's not much point" says Matt. "If the band is weak, if the performance is weak or the music is weak, the band will fall apart. You need to hone it constantly and really work at it."

When asked for favourite songs from the album, they both hesitate. "All of them" says Ross. Matt believes that Darken Your Door is perfectly sung and written, while Ross favours Black is the Bird as a song that has benefited from live performance and the vocal expression of it. Matt says he remembers a 1940s quote that reads "If you burn the midnight oil on revision, you'll often leave the smell of the lamp" - not something they want to do. "Buy our album, come to our gigs, find out for yourself" they invite you. You can see all that information and more on their Facebook page, their MySpace page here and their website and blog here.

I'm looking forward to Thursday's gig. "There'll be no Christmas songs" grins Matt, when I ask "though we were thinking of "The River" by Joni Mitchell." Whatever they play, it's bound to be a musical treat and a great experience. Here's their current single, Closed Doors.

A big thanks to Matt and Ross for the interview, to Emma for her help, to Le Cirk for the venue and the wonderful Mr Byrne for the photos. You can read his review of One Day International's Blackbird here and buy the album here.

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