Fi­nally flaw­less

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

For two years they were a se­cret wait­ing to be told. Now The Flaws have un­leashed a de­but album that prom­ises to raise the eye­brows of all those who think the Louth/Mon­aghan re­gion’s great­est ex­port is mush­rooms. Lead singer Paul Finn tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea about the jour­ney from cov­ers band to con­tenders

SIT­TING at a ta­ble in a Ger­man ho­tel, Paul Finn, lead singer with The Flaws, cuts a re­mark­ably calm and af­fa­ble fig­ure. The pre­vi­ous day at the Melt! Fes­ti­val, lo­cated at some God-for­saken mid-point be­tween Ber­lin and Leipzig, the Ir­ish band played yet an­other crack­ing set and made friends with some very in­flu­en­tial peo­ple.

To­day, Finn is sit­ting in a ho­tel that is sit­u­ated in Ger­many’s ver­sion of Leitrim. He is cool and re­laxed, rest­ing be­tween cig­a­rettes and await­ing the tour bus to take him and the band to the sec­ond day of Melt! The end of the day will see The Flaws (not will­ingly or de­lib­er­ately, and only tem­po­rar­ily) lose their drum­mer. In­evitably, al­co­hol will be in­volved.

The Flaws (who also in­clude Dane McMa­hon, Shane Malone, Colin Ber­rill) are over at Melt! due to their in­volve­ment in Co­caCola’s Band Ex­change pro­gramme and an as­so­ci­ated Coke/iTunes project. The pro­gramme en­cour­ages the move­ment of bands be­tween par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries. Bands can test their ma­te­rial in new mar­kets, con­nect with new au­di­ences, make friends with peo­ple such as pro­mot­ers, ra­dio plug­gers and other in­dus­try fig­ures who can as­sist them in their plans for world dom­i­na­tion, and drink as much free beer as pos­si­ble. Bands also re­ceive a pro­fes­sion­ally-recorded video from the event which they can use for pro­mo­tional pur­poses.

The gig it­self is a slow burner. They start hes­i­tantly, quickly get into the zone and then come over all Gla­di­a­tor- like by un­leash­ing equal amounts of heaven and hell via pop/punk songs as glo­ri­ously catchy as 1981, No Room, Lost in a Scene, Slow Dance, You and I and Wind­mill Tal­ent.

Con­sid­er­ing the strength of the ma­te­rial, it’s a won­der more peo­ple aren’t aware of The Flaws. Truth is, for the past two years they’ve been a se­cret wait­ing to be told. Achiev­ing Vague­ness, their just-re­leased de­but album, seems ef­fort­lessly pitched be­tween pop nous and rock enigma, chan­nelling the ghost of Scott Walker (when he could sing along with a melody line), the spirit of In­ter­pol and the mind­set of an as­tute ra­dio mu­sic programmer.

Col­lec­tively, The Flaws buck the trend of city-based acts mak­ing all the right moves just be­cause they’re in the right place at the right time. Con­sciously or not, the band – all of whom are from the Louth/Mon­aghan re­gion – have re­jected city bolt­holes in favour of pro­vin­cial re­treats.

Their strength is that they know the nu­ances of familiar ter­rain, the nod of the head from the parish priest as they walk down the street, and the fact that when­ever they re­turn from a mu­sic in­dus­try soiree they might just head to the lo­cal GAA grounds to catch the match.

“At the start we were do­ing what most if not all bands do: cov­ers,” says Finn (as he is known to all and sundry; only his fam­ily and peo­ple who don’t know him call him Paul). “There were no real gigs for about two years, so we’d play any­thing we liked – The Stones’s Sym­pa­thy for the Devil, The Who’s I Can’t Ex­plain and Baba O’Reilly, some Strokes tunes, some of Ra­dio­head.

“Yet we couldn’t get any gigs, and any­time we hap­pened to get some, we were never asked back, be­cause we were no good. We were play­ing around the Car­rick­macross/Castle­blaney/Ardee area, but never went any fur­ther than that. And we weren’t known as The Flaws back then; we called our­selves Sweet Re­lief, a joke name.

“All I ever wanted to do was to write my own mu­sic and play it. Af­ter the cov­ers thing stopped work­ing, we threw in oc­ca­sional orig­i­nal ma­te­rial, and we got even fewer gigs! So we de­cided to cut out the cov­ers al­to­gether and stick to our songs, some of which were de­cent enough. That’s when it all started.”

Once the band had more than sev­eral songs they con­sid­ered more than de­cent enough, they booked time in a record­ing stu­dio in Dun­dalk. When the stu­dio owner heard the songs, he booked the band for gigs in Dun­dalk’s Spirit Store. A year later they recorded an­other demo, the stu­dio owner took on man­age­ment re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and record la­bels be­gan to hunt in packs.

Af­ter a six-month de­vel­op­ment deal, wherein they spent time record­ing in stu­dio du jour Grouse Lodge, The Flaws looked set to ex­plode. The in­gre­di­ents were signed, sealed and de­liv­ered – a box of songs that could pass muster in any­one’s com­pany. Hired by an off­shoot of a la­bel in the Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic fold. Gal­lons of pos­i­tive com­ment. A band that had the smarts, the per­son­al­ity, the drive and the ex­pe­ri­enced man­age­rial strate­gies. What hap­pened in­stead was not so much a bang as a damp squib.

“It was all a bit too much too fast,” re­calls Finn, the smile briefly dis­ap­pear­ing from his face as he taps cig­a­rette ash onto nowhere in par­tic­u­lar. “We al­ways knew we had good songs, al­though we didn’t know if any­one else thought that. We never had high ex­pec­ta­tions, we just wanted to let it go, let it loose and see what peo­ple thought. Whether or not they’d pick up on the mu­sic, or get the ref­er­ences in the lyrics, we didn’t mind ei­ther way; we were just hav­ing a lot of fun. We loved play­ing, we didn’t ex­pect any­thing to go sky­wards.

“But be­ing dropped by the la­bel was a huge dis­ap­point­ment. Prom­ises were made that didn’t hap­pen. Pos­si­bly the la­bel couldn’t live up to their own hype. In the long run we came out of it quite well, be­cause an­other Ir­ish band on that la­bel had

re­leased an album that didn’t do very well. [Finn is talk­ing about, and tak­ing no plea­sure in the retelling, the well-pub­li­cised com­mer­cial dis­as­ter that was the Humanzi album, Tremors.] We came away from the la­bel with an album fin­ished, which we own, a load of gear and a stu­dio that we built at a big shed at my house. We sound­proofed half of it off, and we all chipped in with the build­ing of it, us and a car­pen­ter friend. We­haven’t done any proper record­ing there yet – just de­mos – but the fact that it’s there is great.”

At first Finn found it dif­fi­cult to step away from Achiev­ing Vague­ness and view it with any ob­jec­tiv­ity. Not now. “I lis­tened to it as ob­jec­tively as I could, and I have to say it’s got some stand­out tracks, some bril­liant songs. My favourite song on it changes ev­ery day. I was wor­ried that I wouldn’t have a good opin­ion of it be­cause I was so close to it, but I’m ex­cited about it. It might sell 10 copies, but I’d still have a good opin­ion of it. Who knows, though – it might even sell 20.”

The plan now is to push the record as much as they can. As­so­ci­a­tions with ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions such as Coca-Cola, which are ea­ger to have youth/young adult con­sumers on their side (a la Jack White’s re­cent pen­ning of a jin­gle for the com­pany), are no longer seen as an im­ped­i­ment to cred­i­bil­ity.

Not that The Flaws are giv­ing the im­pres­sion they’d sell their souls for cross­over suc­cess. Rather, like any rock act with suss, they’re us­ing some­one else’s money to reach a wider au­di­ence. If such a thing ac­tu­ally hap­pens (it’s a crap shoot, re­ally) then the Big Bad Cor­po­ra­tion Suits can validly claim to have given said rock act a leg up when they were start­ing out.

“We’re work­ing on get­ting the album to the places in Europe we’ve played – here in Ger­many, for in­stance, and Italy, where we played last March. In terms of what to ex­pect, we just want to push it to the limit. If ev­ery­body who wants it buys it, then we’ll just move on. Ex­cept we won’t take two years to get the next one out. We want to get into a stu­dio, do a three-week stint and get it out.

“We write con­stantly. We al­ways have a new idea, melody, and we record ev­ery- thing. I’m a late-night writer; I don’t sleep nor­mal hours most of the time. When I’m in a creative mood I have to go up to the band room and sit with the acous­tic gui­tar and jam some­thing out. There’s a dif­fer­ent tone off my voice late at night that I like hear­ing through the mon­i­tors. Also, there’s a dan­ger to it at that time of night – ev­ery­body is in bed, so you gotta be sub­tle.”

Have The Flaws’s ini­tial ex­pec­ta­tions equalled the re­sults? They’re pretty much the same, says Finn.

“No one ex­pected that we’d have an album ready to go and to be happy with it, yet we’ve done that. The less we ex­pect, the more things mean to us. Like be­ing here in Ger­many, walk­ing around wideeyed like kids. If you ex­pect too much, you get let down.”

The Flaws: Colin Ber­rill, Shane Malone, Dane McMa­hon and Paul Finn

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