The G-Man Interview w/ Crayonsmith and Elk

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Label me a cynic but I have a slight inkling the great Martin Luther King Jr. may not have been referring to split seven inch records when he spoke to the onlookers in St. Louis, Missouri way back in 1964; Yet, it is this ethos that will see the genuinely talented and the innately creative walk away unscathed from the ashes of the burning ivory tower that is the record industry.

Although they may not word their philosophies quite as dramatically, independent Limerick label Out On A Limb (OOAL) Records’ beliefs have always been based on a DIY ethic and the promotion of a solidarity amongst their bands. This Luther King-esque togetherness will be on full display on Saturday night in Plugd Records as longtime label mate Crayonsmith and Cork’s genre defying Elk officially release a seven inch vinyl featuring one track from each on either side of the record.

Both bands were good enough to have a chat with me about both the upcoming release and launch.

How did the 7” collaboration come about?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): We were eager to get something out on vinyl as a new line-up [and] the lads at OOAL suggested we do a split 7" with Elk. We've all been big fans of Elk for ages so we jumped at the chance.

Elk (Matt & Shane): We've been fans of Out On A Limb bands since day one and we were delighted to get a call to be involved with this release, especially as we've teamed up with Crayonsmith in the process. Some of us have met with Ciaran a few times to discuss some ideas and I'd imagine the lads were aware of us from Matt and Lewis playing in Hooray For Humans as well. We're very happy that Ciaran and Richard suggested this idea anyway.

Alot of bands are doing it these days aren’t they? e.g. Laura Sheeran and Katie Kim. Why do you think this is so?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): I think it's safe to say that a lot of music fans have turned back to vinyl as it is a much more meaningful and enjoyable listening experience with the whole ritual of putting on a vinyl record, handling the cover and looking at the artwork. A lot of bands want to exist in that physical format as they too are disciples of vinyl and want to ensure that their work is available to those who prefer the vinyl experience. Doing a split 7'' allows bands who like each other's work to come together for a one off occasion that will bring what could be 2 separate fanbases together through a shared piece.

Elk (Matt & Shane): It's a handy way to get a tune out there. It also feels a bit less daunting than an album. A lot of the other bands in Ireland releasing split 7"s seem to be doing it with pals as well which can't hurt. I think it's just a really functional and cool way to peddle your wares. Fans of each particular side get a chance to flip the record and hear something they may not have been exposed to.

The record is the first official introduction to the new Crayonsmith line up. Can you introduce the current lineup for us? How did this new line up come to be?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): Ok.Wayne Dunlea (ex-Waiting Room) is on drums, Richard O Reilly (Koalacord) is on bass and I'm on guitar and keys. We all sing. In 2009, I needed a break from running Crayonsmith. Because it was my project, the financial responsibility was on me and more money seemed to be going into it than was coming out of it. So, I needed to take a step back for a while. I explained this to my good friends, Ronan Jackson (Jogging) and Ruadhan O' Meara (Magic Pockets), who had been playing with me since pretty much the start of Crayonsmith. 

I spent most of from Sept 2009 to Christmas 2010 listening to lots of music, especially classic songwriting, and writing all kinds of songs on acoustic guitar and on synths and samplers. I played a few solo shows with both set ups here and there. I was touring Ireland with my good friend, Owen "Casiotone" Ashworth", in November 2010 and my sampler broke on the day of the first gig so I had to play the shows solo acoustic. The stripped down show made me rediscover the power of the human voice and the various emotions it can convey when used softly or fully. I knew then that the next thing project I would do would pay close attention to the vocal melody.

I had known Richie and Wayne from sharing bills way back in the day. We began to hang out a lot and shared lots of different music with each other by some of our favourite artists. When I saw we had a lot in common, both musically and personally, I asked them did they want to turn the name Crayonsmith into a 3-piece band band and we started practising last March.

Do you feel the Crayonsmith “sound” has changed somewhat as a result of the new lineup? If so, how so?

Crayonsmith (Richie): I think it's early days yet. We're still developing a sound as a three-piece. Every song we write seems to be quite different to the one that preceded it, which I don't think we mind at all. Variety is a good thing if you want to keep yourself and any kind of audience interested. I've personally never understood the recent fad of inventing a new moniker for every subtle shift in style an artist goes through. I suppose the most striking thing will be the live drums and less beats. Also more harmonies. Although there are still a lot of synths and interesting things going on. 

I would hope it sounds a little bit more of a collaborative thing. Wayne and myself would come from backgrounds of playing more angular, mathsy-type stuff. And bringing that approach to arranging and structuring these strongly melodic skeletal songs has been the most fun thing about it so far for me.

When can we expect the third Crayonsmith album?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): 2012 hopefully. Along with every other Irish band's album from what's being mentioned on Twitter!

What are Elk up to these days?

Elk (Matt & Shane): Two thirds of Elk now reside in the big smoke, so as you might imagine we've been buying lots of things that are '2 for a pound' and eating chips and bayans every night for dinner. We did have a trip down to Kerry to write recently and we're trying to get a steady regime of practice and writing locked down in time for the new year. This will have to incorporate a massive lobbying campaign with Iarnrod Eireann to lower their train prices for our commutes.

Is the track 'Wet Stars' a sign of the direction Elk are moving in or will ye continue to jump genres?

Elk (Matt & Shane): I think Elk has always been a bit schizophrenic in nature. We seem to jump around quite a bit and I don't think that will ever change. We all have a strong hand in writing songs and have both different and shared influences. It's a pretty good laugh in fairness. I suppose there has been a fairly substantial change in the approach of late though and 'Wet Stars' is a good example of that.

How do (or did in Elk's case) you find working with Out on a Limb Records?

Elk (Matt & Shane): Lovely altogether. Big handsome Limerick lads. It was great. They're well experienced guys who've worked with amazing Irish bands like Ten Past Seven, Rest and GAMAK. They took care of everything with this release and with this being our first experience of a label's resources, we're delighted with the outcome.

Crayonsmith (Ciaran) : They are great, salt of the earth people who work very hard at promoting their bands and have a real human touch. They're always at the end of the phone for support, organisation or a pint as friends which is very important to me.

The Plugd/Gulpd gig should be great. Have you been to the new store/café yet?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): I have. I love it!

Elk (Shane): I'm the only one to see it so far as the brothers Hedigan are stationed in Dublin. I saw a a Zaum night there with a Tom Waits tribute act recently and the whole space and atmosphere creates a very different gig experience. I've also had a few delicious pints in there and the staff and management are absolutely sound. With the demise of some venues in the last few years, it's good that other different spaces are available.

Elastic Witch in Dublin are doing it now too. It is always nice to have some sort of venue connected/available for use by a record store isn’t it?

Crayonsmith (Richie): Absolutely. Elastic Witch is a small operation at present but it already has the makings of something special there between the cafe, bookstore and venue as well as the shop on the same premises. I love that notion of a place where people come to listen and talk about music as well as buy. It gives you so much more of a connection when you've invested time, thought and money into the music you own.

Elk (Matt & Shane): Yeah Elastic Witch is great. It's just a really relaxed place where you can peruse records and drink loads of fancy coffee. Gib, the lad in there, is a legend too.

Elastic Witch

Do you feel independent record stores still have much to contribute? If so/not why?

Crayonsmith (Richie): Of course. Independent stores are essential for independent bands and labels because the high street shops aren't going to champion local bands or even the more obscure foreign acts to the same degree. The Internet, while obviously a great way of getting into new stuff, can be so vast at times the search can become futile. Also websites can often be all about "tracks", you know tracks which become "viral". And there's something of a quick fix element to that. Perhaps I'm old fashioned but most of what I really become attached to these days (be it albums or artists in general) I still come across through, say, a group's association with a certain label or recommendations/coming across them in the shops etc.

Independent stores also give tangible fulcrums to the music community in a given area. Hopefully Elastic Witch can fill the massive void left by Road Records when it went under but there are still plenty here in Dublin despite the highly publicised closures. We have a great Tower Records here which is independently owned. The Secret Book and Record Store. A couple in and around George's Arcade. Nice to have a little gem on the northside now too though.

Elk (Matt & Shane): Definitely yeah. More than ever it's a very important thing to have. The internet is very important for small bands but having someone on the ground floor with physical copies is a huge deal. Being able to buy unusual music off your pals is pretty great as well. Every time I go into a place like Plugd or Elastic witch i'm really glad a place like that exists.

What does 2012 hold in store for Crayonsmith/Elk?

Crayonsmith (Ciaran): Hopefully album number three and loads of gigs!

Elk (Matt & Shane): We want to play and write as much as we possibly can and hopefully record and release something in the near future. We've another set of about four or five songs which have yet to be recorded and piles of bits and pieces and riffs that are begging to be jammed. You hear that Iarnrod Eireann? €5 return Cork to Dublin? Excellent.

- Elk and Crayonsmith play Plugd Records (Tobin Street - part of Triskel Arts Centre), Sat November 26th. Doors 8.30pm