Their dark materials
How did a couple of archaeologists from Galway in a ‘common or garden grunge band’ make it all the way to this Texan musical extavaganza? At a cost, Dark Room Notes tell Jim Carroll
FOR Dark Room Notes, it’s time for the second chapter to begin. Last year, the band released their debut album, We Love You Dark Matter, which saw them receive a healthy round of reviews, a rise in profile, more gig bookings and a Choice Music Prize nomination. The album’s sharp, melodic, sweeping electropop has done its job on home turf and it’s time for them to look further afield.
That debut album, though, was a long time coming. The DRN story began, as founder member Ruairi Ferrie recalls, in Galway where he and fellow archaeologist Ronan Gaughan were members of a “common or garden grunge band who were listening to grunge and trying to play the same music and doing covers”.
At the time, “there weren’t many original bands in Galway”, says Ferrie. “We were called Obscure back then, before we threw in a K to make it seem more edgy.”
Things changed when the band started writing their own songs and realised they wanted to gig more. Dublin was proving to be more receptive, so they decided in 2002 to make a go of it in the big smoke. But the bass player and drummer had other ideas and both left, to be replaced initially by a laptop before keyboard player Arran Murphy and drummer Darragh Shanahan joined the fold.
Shanahan describes the band as being “diamonds in the rough” when he first saw them play live. The new line-up then spent a year working on songs, developing the sound and establishing the band’s visual element.
The attention paid to their visual identity is something which photography teacher Shanahan introduced. It’s not an aspect which many Irish bands bother with and, Ferrie admits, he wasn’t so sure about it to begin with.
“I would say I was sceptical at first. I just wasn’t that interested in it and wanted to concentrate on the music. Now, I can see how important it is as to how people view your band. The artwork and the visual identity has to match the band,” says Ferrie.
“People here have been trying, but they haven’t stretched themselves to be more visually aware,” believes Shanahan. “We’re lucky because we’re working with a designer [Peter Reddy] who is interested in the history of fonts and the photography side. You can take risks to try to invent something new, but using something old and fine-tuning it with a little graphic here or there makes it fresh again.”
What’s clear is that the DRN enterprise involves more than just the four people onstage. Again and again, they refer to people who’ve helped with the graphic design, visuals and sound.
“There has been a lot goodwill towards the band,” says Shanahan. “We’ve had a lot of people working with us or doing things for us or loaning equipment as favours.”
“The more we do, the more confidence people have in us,” says Ferrie. “People who’ve invested goodwill in us know it’s going somewhere good, so they’re along for the ride. Every good thing that comes our way endorses their involvement to an extent.”
Like the majority of Irish acts, staying in the game has meant DRN members incurring debts. “Everyone in the band is considerably in debt and those debts are not getting any smaller, they’re getting bigger,” says Ferrie. awful lot since then. Since recording the album, we know a lot more about producing that kind of music and how to make it sound a lot better.
“One of the major things for us now is the sound quality we need for shows and recordings. I’m sure there are electronic music boffins who could listen to the album and say that sound is from there and that sound is from there and they would know exactly what I’ve done in terms of preprogramming. What I’m trying to do now is get away from using any obvious sounds or sounds which you might be able to identify.”
Before they can crack on with a second album, there’s the matter of flogging that debut album to an international audience. It has received a new lease of life abroad thanks to London/Berlin label BBE, who will be distributing it worldwide.
“Before BBE came onboard, we were pretty much set on moving on to the next album and we’d a bit of writing done for it,” explains Shanahan. “But now, there’s more