As­tral geeks

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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

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.”

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