36. We Cut Corners
The Dublin talk about creative growth and their eagerness to return
to live performance.
When I meet the We Cut Corners, just minutes after their photo shoot in the Hot Press bunker, they’re lugging around boxes of vinyls and CDs. Conall Ó Breacháin explains to me that this is the first time they’ve been able to look at their new album. As we sit in the cosy confines of the Library Bar, the pair admit that it’s only when they have their hands on the hard copies that it all feels real.
But before delving into The Cadence of Others (an album which is their strongest, most ambitious offering yet), we revisit their early days, when an unlikely encounter with Hot Press’ own Roisin Dwyer led to them becoming the outfit they are today. “We played The JD set, which was a band competition back in 2009, and Roisin Dwyer was the judge,” says Conall. “That was the first gig we ever played as the incarnation of whatever we are now, because we’d just been doing the singer-songwriter thing before, not taking it seriously. Then we saw the competition advertised in Hot Press and decided to record songs for it.”
“We wrote a dubious press release for it,” John continues, “and got accepted onto the competition. We didn’t think for a moment that they’d consider us, so when they did we said: ‘Shit, now we need a rhythm section.’ So we were forced into using drums and electric guitars and from that, we started playing the way we do now. Basically, we lied our way into being that way!”
Bluffers they may have been, but seven years on, no one can deny the effort they have put into their music. Both Conall and John are full time teachers, yet still manage to fit album-making and touring into their busy schedule.
“It does get very pressured,” acknowledges John. “There are times where it comes to a head, but we always try to find the balance.”
Dublin duo We Cut Corners are back with their strongest album yet. They discuss creative growth, the challenges of fatherhood, and their eagerness to return to live performance. “We want to go out there and enjoy it,” they tell Peter McGoran. Photos: Kathrin Baumbach
“It gets overwhelming when you’re about to put out a record or when you’ve got a recording deadline to meet,” Conall chimes in. “But those times are infrequent, and it’s a bit of an adrenaline buzz to juggle all these things at once. I mean it’d be weirder for us to not be working at this point. It’s just a very natural sort of state.”
Conall in particular has more than enough on his plate, having recently become a father. But the singer light-heartedly bats away my questions about fatherhood surely having an adverse effect on their ability to make music.
“Time will tell what it does,” he suggests. “I think there’s fear that with fatherhood, you’ll not be motivated anymore and that you won’t want to write, or worse, that you’ll just write shit. But that certainly hasn’t happened. If anything I’m more motivated having more to worry about. (“Worry, John interjects, “the cornerstone of all songwriting…”). If you lose that kernel of angst inside of you, you won’t be able to make good music anymore. So fatherhood is incredible, but equally terrifying. As a result, I’m finding myself more than ever picking up the guitar at a routine time because my daughter goes to bed at the same time every night. It’s also allowed me to appreciate more what I have with We Cut Corners. You get a renewed sense of things. You even listen to music differently. You say: ‘Every song is about me.’ Ever since becoming a dad it’s like I’m listening to the songs again and starting to hear the lyrics anew.”
Listening to lyrics anew is an exciting prospect for a duo who already have a fantastic ear for lyrical quality. In The Cadence of Others, they continue to explore and expose new songwriting depths with songs about relationships, reclusiveness and isolation featuring heavily in the mix. I try to tease out where these songs find their origin. “We normally start off with the melody,” John explains. “The melody dictates what the metre of the words is going to be. Then after that, you’re trying to work out concise streams of thought to suit that melody.”
“I think a lot of musicians, including us, try to find that moment when the lyrics and melodies come together simultaneously,” says Conall. “When the lyrics first come they might not make sense, they’re just a stream. Then our work is chiselling them into some semblance of a song. We’re also trying to find the balance between making the lyrics work and not changing them too substantially that it takes away from the essence of why a song came into your head in the first place.”
Whatever their creative process, We Cut Corners have arrived at an album which will surely go down as one of the high-points in their career. There’s a marked contrast with their previous two albums, a sense of cohesion which is entirely refreshing. The band credit the influence of outsiders, like Villagers’ Conor O’Brien, with this new maturity.
“This was a record where we really embraced working with other people,” says John. “We’ve been very controlling in the past, but this time we felt less inhibited. We’ve grown away from those kinds of worries that you have when you were younger about how you’re perceived. We’re less self-conscience, and I suppose this is the result.”
And what a result it is. Conall sums up their achievement perfectly when he says: “We feel like we’ve been crystallising what we’ve been doing over the course of three albums. Now we want to go out there and enjoy it.”
Their next step will certainly give them a chance to enjoy themselves as they prepare to tour again and bring their new album to a live audience. The lads relish the thought of being on the road.
“We haven’t played an album launch in two years,” notes Conall. “So we’re really looking forward to having three albums worth of songs that we can choose from. In terms of having a sequence of songs that can work, we’re finally at that stage.”
The Cadence of Others is available now. We Cut Corners play the Button Factory, Dublin on November 19.
“I think there’s fear that with fatherhood, you’ll not be motivated anymore and that you won’t want to write.”