The So-Called | Interview | New Album, ‘Return Of A Band Called So’
‘Return Of A Band Called So’ is the second album recently released by Irish Power Trio The So-Called.
It is a very close relative to its predecessor, with all songs from both albums recorded at the same 12 hour studio session. With influences coming from such a diverse set as 50’s rock n roll, 60’s psych garage/proto punk, and 70’s jazz fusion mixed all together with lots of primitive hard-edged heavy blues, The So-Called have a huge love for the music of Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blind Faith, Skid Row, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and Chuck Berry, and have received comparisons to the likes of MC5 and the Stooges for their high energy approach, attitude and execution.
‘Return Of A Band Called So’ is available on limited vinyl via Nasoni Records.
“Everything was complete when loud amplifiers came into being”
How did the story of The So-Called begin?
Jude Shiels: It started around 2007, when I formed a band called the “Outlaw Angels”, wanting to play some primitive punk versions of jazz/bebop classics such as ‘Donna Lee’, ‘Giant Steps’, ‘Caravan’ and so on, along with some original material. We played a few very loud gigs and I then got musically distracted for a decade or so, drifting in and out of jazz and blues combos, country folk groups, and playing with some prog rock legends along the way.
Around mid 2019 I got the inspiration to form another heavy rock group, and needing somebody with the right blend of outstanding technical virtuosity, power, feel and heaviness. I asked drummer Noel Martin Jnr if he was interested in joining, and from that moment on we became what is now known as The So-Called.
A huge factor I must mention in forming the group was the time I spent living in Athens in the mid 2010’s. I played a lot of gigs around the then very untamed and lawless Exarcheia and Keramaikos districts of the city, with the legendary progressive musician Chris Stassinopoulos, one time drummer of early 70’s Greek progressive band Axis.
We played in dive bars, biker clubs and back yards. I couldn’t help but absorb the energy of that time in Athens, plus the heaviness of the music we played together, re-immersing myself in Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and the Mississippi Delta Blues, playing a lot of what John Lennon calls “shouters”, this experience really pushed me to put the band together when I returned to Dublin.
I also started listening to a lot of underground rock bands around this time, hearing ‘Werewolf Boogie’ by Mephistofeles had a big impact, and also checking out other great bands like Bag of Nails, Crypt Trip and Hibushibire, good times!
Are you all coming from Dublin? Were you in any other bands before forming The So-Called?
Yes, we are all from Dublin, postcode 15, we have played with lots of bands, most notably myself and Noel played with a late incarnation of Skid Row around 2012-13 with band founder Brush Shiels.
We also played together in a Free Jazz Trio called The Higgs Bosonics, we felt if we played fast enough and free enough in odd enough time signatures, we would find evidence of the whereabouts of the holy grail of all music, the elusive lost chord.
At one gig we played Doug, Tony, Sapphire and Steel all partially materialised/energised during a show we did, which was great because nobody else bothered to turn up. Noel Martin Jnr, our drummer has incredible jazz chops, he studied in the past under greats like Keith Copeland and Ralph Peterson Jnr, but for a vocational jazz drummer he can also play with a serious amount of power.
Tell us about the “alternative” scene in your city.
The alternative rock scene in Dublin is much like anywhere else in the world right now, small pockets of passionate resistance fighting the good fight against the omnipresent, unrelenting rise of the machines and cyborgs.
‘Call Of The Sö’ EP is your first official record. Do tell us more about those early recordings.
Well all our releases so far have been mined from two recording sessions we did back in late 2019. We put down about 20 tracks in 12 hours of studio time. ‘Call Of The Sö’ EP was like the first sampler we put out from these sessions, the title track (part one) which appears on the EP is a very intense surf music inspired instrumental in two parts, part one happens on the ocean waves, part two, which we have yet to record, will take place in the scorched earth wilderness.
Then you recorded ‘Dublin Northside Lullabies’ EP. There must be a story behind the artwork?
Myself and Noel are both very interested in the history of Dublin, home of a lot of great rock n rollers and headbangers since at least 988AD. The cover photo was a vintage picture I colourised, maybe taken in the late 19th/early 20th century.
To explain, one of the songs on the EP is called the ‘Marlborough Street Man’. Marlborough Street in the centre of Dublin is where the cover photo was taken, just outside the Pro Cathedral. A lot of songs we have written and recorded for the band are based around an idea I had for a gritty magic realism movie or rock musical set in Dublin city. The ‘Marlborough Street Man’ is a mystical guru oozing messianic charisma, who has an uneasy ongoing psychic connection with his one time childhood best friend, a now obscenely wealthy Kingpin corporate mogul (with side interests on the quiet throughout the Dublin criminal underworld). The Kingpin is rumoured to have made a Faustian pact in return for his success and status.
As the cult surrounding the Marlborough Street Man becomes increasingly more fanatical and extreme, and with the Kingpin’s seedy, diabolical past rapidly catching up on him, a day of reckoning awaits for all parties involved.
In 2020 your debut album, ‘House Of The So’ was released. How’s this last year under lockdown been for you? Have you found the isolation creatively challenging or freeing?
The isolation I really enjoyed early on when I was mixing and working on our recordings, and writing some new material, but really it is a drag at this stage, the novelty has long worn off. Looking forward very much to getting back into the recording studio and playing some gigs again, hopefully within the next month or two.
We are very excited about the vinyl release of ‘Return Of A Band Called So’ via Nasoni Records. What’s the story behind the making of this album?
Well this is our second album in two years, as I mentioned both were recorded in 12 hours, they could almost be considered a double album. Our first record ‘House Of The So’ was a digital only release, but with this vinyl release we consider ‘Return Of A Band Called So’ to be our proper debut album.
There is a huge difference between listening to an album spinning around on a turntable connected to your hifi, to spinning around on a hard drive deep in the recesses of YouTube data warehouses.
‘Return Of A Band Called So’ has a western influence, fairly obvious with the cover art and in the music, but at the same time not so much inspired by the Old Wild West of America, but more so as Noel says, the Wild West Of Dublin. Here is a very brief song by song breakdown.
‘Opener Survival Song’ is a survivor in itself that it has been around since the Outlaw Angels, in 6/4 time with a slide wah solo.
‘Estimated Street Value’, a ubiquitous term on the Irish news every day for years, gang warfare, crime syndicates, seedy underworld et cetera.
‘Tolka Valley Tuesday’, the Tolka is a river in northside Dublin beside where I grew up, and Tuesday is my favourite day of the week, also probably not to difficult to tell how much I love the Stones.
‘Anto’s Down In Quirkey’s’, an attempt at a modern day musical Ulysses, Anto wanders around Dublin in search of his absent girlfriend, who is simultaneously wandering around various mattresses.
‘The Farewell Kiss’, written hours before the second session we did, working title was ‘If 6 was 8’.
‘Wasted Destiny’, slightly different approach on this one to the rest, it has a melody for a start.
‘Enough Is Never Enough’, dedicated to all the oligarchs and billionaires out there in the audience tonight.
‘Litany For A Dark Angel’, extended closer inspired by Baudelaire, ‘Gris-Gris’, John Lee Hooker and Hendrix.
Your country produced quite a number of incredible artists and bands. Are there any you are directly inspired by?
Yes, we are greatly inspired by the classic trio of Irish trio’s, Skid Row, Taste, early Thin Lizzy. We also have a lot of respect and admiration for Eire Apparent, Stud, Dr. Strangely Strange, and Andwellas Dream .
We really love the heavy blues rock era of the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. The antithesis of today’s cynical obsession with style, fashion and gimmickry. As a diehard luddite for me everything was complete when loud amplifiers came into being, any innovation that has occurred since then is either a distraction or a concession.
Would you please speak to your guitars and the effects pedals you employ?
I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. In recent times I mostly play a Gibson SG custom plugged into a Peavey Delta Blues amp, the one with the 15 inch speaker, really good bottom end, with only a Jim Dunlop wah wah pedal in between. I also really like Laney stacks when I’ve had the chance to use them.
I made a conscious choice a long time back, I have two options, either I can spend a lot of time working on my tone with fx and pedals twiddling knobs and thinking about pedal board setup, or I can use that time to practise and write new songs, some people can do all these things at the same time, but definitely not me, so I chose the latter approach, but as a guitarist deadened down rooms are not my friend.
For the drummers out there, Noel plays Premier Artist Maple drums, Remo coated drum heads for that 1950s, 60s open authentic drum sound. Sabian 22 Light Artisan Ride cymbal, 20 Istanbul ride cymbal, 18 inch Hihats a mixture of Sabian and Meinl crashes, with Vator drumsticks. He also picked up a 26″ bass drum very recently which I’m looking forward to hearing.
The Pirate, our absentee bass player, used a 72 Fender Telecaster bass borrowed from my father on the record, there is a photo somewhere of Phil Lynott playing this bass at a gig in Dublin in the late 70’s.
What was the last album you bought and in what format did you buy it?
The last records I bought were ‘A Salty Dog’ by Procol Harum and ‘Fontessa’ by the Modern Jazz Quintet on vinyl format at a flea market in Dublin. I used to have a massive vinyl collection, which I spent years wandering around the second hand record shops of Dublin and London obsessively compiling. Then I decided I needed to live a more Spartan existence, so I offloaded most of my books and records, just before the vinyl thing came back in a big way. I still pick up records occasionally, maybe one day I will start collecting again like I used to.
If you could work with any other artist from the past (dead or alive) who would it be?
I find it very personally very difficult to think and operate in the hypothetical realm, so I asked Noel Martin Jnr if he can answer this one.
Noel Martin Jnr: I would have to say Charlie Parker was such a visionary. In general people who play on the edge, outside the comfort zone.
And that’s where we will leave it. Thank you Klemen and It’s Psychedelic Baby! Magazine.
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