God is an Astronaut are a savvy bunch. Right from lift off a decade ago, they have followed their own canny trajectory. And now they’re aiming for an even higher orbit, Torsten Kinsella tells Ian Maleney
What’s that saying about no prophet being received in their own country? Whatever the wording, it’s probably an idea that Torsten Kinsella and the rest of God Is An Astronaut always keep in mind.
Having circumvented the usual “band gets popular at home, moves to the UK, conquers the world” story that has become the standard trajectory for successful Irish rock bands, the instrumental group from Glen of the Downs, Co Wicklow, chose not to wait around for people here to start paying them attention.
Kinsella and his brother Niels were joined by drummer Lloyd Hanney in 2002 and they soon made waves across Europe thanks to their epic post-rock stylings and an online promotional campaign that eschewed traditional print media in favour of the thenburgeoning blog scene.
“Back when we started, we did a lot of promotion through the internet,” says Kinsella. “Where a lot of people didn’t really see the point in that, we thought it was the best way to promote ourselves. We saw the internet in that fashion where we could spread our music as far and as much as possible.”
The tactic has clearly paid off. Speaking down a phone line from a tour bus somewhere in the north of Germany, Kinsella lists off the countries that they are visiting on their 10thanniversary tour – Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Poland, France and England before culminating in an appearance at Dublin’s Vicar Street, the group’s biggest Irish show to date.
With sold-out shows from Croatia to Serbia this year already, the band’s approach highlights the importance of knowing where your fans are and how best to reach them.
“It’s built up a demand where people want to see us so it’s not like we’re going out to territories to try and spread awareness as such,” says Kinsella. “It’s really just catering to the fans that we’ve built up.”
While many people involved in the Irish music scene would disagree with Kinsella’s assertion that “Ireland wouldn’t be as open to instrumental music as some of these other territories”, God Is An Astronaut’s success in Europe would seem to suggest that something about their music or approach appeals less to Irish audiences than it might. Even now, Kinsella retains strong feelings about the way things are done in Ireland.
“There’re a lot of good bands there; it’s the industry itself which is the problem,” he says. “It’s a delusion I think in the Irish scene. They think it matters when it doesn’t. It’s equivalent to Alcatraz in a sense that you can’t really get out of the country. If you can succeed in Ireland, it doesn’t mean you can succeed outside of Ireland. That’s the biggest problem.”
He looks to the north for a better example of how things might work. “Northern Ireland is a great example in that, if you do well up north, you’ve got great inroads straight into the UK with the BBC,” he says.
“Talking to people in the past, when I’d do interviews, I’d mention that we got play-listed on 2FM when we started and they wouldn’t even have heard of the station. The Irish bands I feel are misled on what is the way forward. They spend an awful lot of money on PR people in Dublin, trying to do their best to climb up the ladder, get into Irish publications and all the rest of it. It really doesn’t result in a successful career at the end of the day; it results in an illusion. Really, you don’t matter outside of Dublin, Cork and Galway. We never fell for that illusion.”
Retaining control of their own recordings and touring schedules has been key to the band’s success over the past 10 years. While it may have started through a lack of options, the band remain determined to hold on to everything themselves.
“Putting our music out on our own label was really the only way we could get the music out there because there weren’t any record companies coming knocking on our doors,” says Kinsella.
“It’s become a different industry now, where the record companies are pretty much dead, in the sense of what they were in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Through illegal downloading and all that, I think the whole ❙❙❙ God is an Astronaut play Dublin’s Vicar St tomorrow night industry has completely collapsed. The only way you can make money is owning your own publishing, owning everything, including live. It makes it just barely viable to be able to do music as a profession.”
The continuing ability to make a living from their music is obviously at the back of Kinsella’s mind as the band get ready to drop album number seven next year. The guitarist sees it as an important step forward for the group.
“For us, I think it's definitely more experimental than anything we’ve done before,” he says.
“We’ve released six albums at this point and, after 10 years, we’ve established a sound that is ours. But I think after the six albums and the remasters, I just felt I needed to move on and re-establish a new sound. It was either that or stop making it because I didn’t want to be a parody of ourselves. I think this new album is a different God Is An Astronaut. I think it’ll be met in some cases with open arms and in some cases, the opposite. But it was definitely something we had to do.”
As the band have gotten older, life off stage and outside the practice room has also changed. A recent addition to the back room personnel makes their career even more vital.
“Niels is a father now, just in the last few months,” says Kinsella. “It’s a big change for him, but he realises that this is the only way we can make a living and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. It’s more important than ever before that we make this work.”