The G-Man Interview w/ North Side Drive

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"The next EP I'll be releasing will be quite Irish sounding I think."

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The second ever The G-Man Presents... showcase in The Roundy is just days away with all involved chomping at the bit to strut their talented-stuff come Friday night. The G-Man caught up with North Side Drive mastermind Jonathan Pearson to chat about the new EP, string sections, his other musical preoccupation (i.e. Former Monarchs and...pretty much everything else.

Why not listen to North Side Drive's EP while reading the interview. Click play below to start

First things first, how did north side drive come about?
Basically, this all came about because I have had the inclination to write for piano and strings for years. I suppose you could date the original idea back to the Summer of 2010. I had a lot of songs, well not really songs - motifs, written for piano. I was quite eager to get strings on board, but I genuinely knew very few strings players. It is only through studying for my postgrad in the Cork School of Music that I met string players so I took it as an opportunity to develop this small idea I had. I've had the opportunity to play with Cork's best young strings players so I'm delighted about that.

There is nothing in Cork (nor Ireland as far as I can tell) that is quite like NSD. Was this the intention when you started out, to do something a little different?
You might be right in saying there's nothing in Ireland like the music I'm writing now, but to say I set out to do something different would be to overstate my originality! There is a lot of music out there that is similar to my music - it just isn't in Ireland. I basically started listening to recommendations from a load of different people, and I decided that I wanted to write classically-inspired music that was quiet and sparse, but in a way that would appeal to the general gig-goer. I have little interest in playing classical concerts. I would much rather play small venues where rock/pop/electro/whatever acts would play, and so that's why I did this. You'd be surprised how many people are doing this to a very high standard throughout europe. It's actually really cool.

Your first EP has just been released. Where was it recorded and how did you find the recording process?
The EP is basically the result of a number of hastened recording sessions, when I managed to get a quartet in the same room for an hour or two! It was recorded in many places - in the School of Music recording studio, in practice rooms in the school, and in my house. I had a limited amount of time in which I could record strings so I just took what I could get. I recorded and mixed everything myself. This was my first time doing anything like this, and before last year I wouldn't have had any idea how to mix things to any sort of standard, but I really enjoyed the process. What I most enjoyed is knowing what I'll do differently next time!

What kind of attention (be it media or otherwise) has the new EP received?
It's received a small amount of coverage, which I'm grateful for. I can't believe the amount of people and publications that have been kind enough to get in contact with me for a chat about it without me prompting them. That's the nicest thing about it. The coolest thing so far is that people seem to be buying the EP on my bandcamp page. I mean it's still a modest amount of people buying it, nothing that's going to make me filthy stinking rich, but the very fact that some people have visited the page and bought it and are continuing to buy it is really cool. It would be very, very pleasing if people keep doing that, because I have an expensive taste in orange juice.

What does it feel like to see a track featured on the home page of soundcloud?
That whole thing is bizarre. I noticed that 'One' had loads of plays and it was increasing everyday so I emailed soundcloud to ask them what was going on. They informed me that 'One' was a featured track. It was supposed to only be for three weeks but the plays are still going up everyday as we speak. The funny thing is that I haven't seen it on the tracks page, which is where they said it is, but it's cool all the same. Another funny thing is that apparently you can't comment or like the track from this page, so it looks like loads of people listened but nobody likes it! I'm probably reading too deep into it...

What do you make of such online players such as soundcloud and bandcamp?
I love bandcamp, what a class idea! It's great for artists who can't afford or who have no need for a dedicated website of their own, and payment is simple whether you are buying or receiving. I actually don't use soundcloud much, but I think their ethos is pretty cool too. Overall, I'm in favour of it, but sometimes they're so vast that you can't really find new artists on it. I suppose it can be looked on two ways in that it gives you exposure but you're still in a BIG pond filled with musicians.

One thing I'd like to see more of is interactivity between similar musicians in different locations, whether it be gig swaps, touring together, split releases etc. There was a lot of that when MySpace was the hip thing and that does not seem to have carried over to the Facebook/bandcamp/soundcloud environment as much.

How was the launch night in The Roundy?
It was lovely altogether. I mean, it actually wasn't an amazing performance in my opinion at all. A lot of little things went wrong, but nothing major, and hopefully people didn't notice a lot of them. The main thing that pleased me was seeing how supportive everybody was. I was actually really nervous about it, but now that's over, I don't think I'll be getting nervous about other shows. I also want to start playing shows throughout Cork and Ireland where it's just piano and electronics. I love composing for strings but it can be a dose getting the players to agree rehearsal times. After all, it's my project, and they're under no obligation!

What kind of set-up did you use for the live performance?
The Roundy was me and a string trio (violin, viola, cello), so basically I had my keyboard hooked up to the PA, with the three lads and ladies miced up. I used a preamp for my effects and electronics. I don't actually own one, but one of my good friends does, and he kindly lent it to me for the evening.

You describe 'One' as "A piece about the Glandore trawler tragedy that occurred in February 2012". How do you approach writing an instrumental/classical piece about an event without words to tell a story?
Actually, the original version of 'One' had words. I had journalistic audio of the coverage of the wreckage over the music, and so that's where it's from. I also wrote all of the EP down in Schull in West Cork over a two week period around that time, so maybe that's why it was in my head.

On another note though, I find it way easier to write instrumental music to express an idea, especially something like that. I know from writing lyrics in Former Monarchs that I struggle with conveying a message (particularly emotive ones) in my lyrics. It takes me a long time, and so I think if you give the listener a brief explanation, it shapes their own interpretation. I think that concept is kind of cool.

What other piece of instrumental music by another band, describes a story or invokes images in your head? What is that story?
Olafur Arnalds has a piece that is so simple, and yet is so rich in imagery. I suppose a lot of his music is about/inspired by the Icelandic landscape. I like the idea of music representing landscapes and the like. I think everyone should listen to the piece. The video is filled with color too. Great, great tune.

Regarding my own music, I'm interested in looking at traditional Irish music and transcribing it for strings, piano and electronics. The next EP I'll be releasing will be quite Irish sounding I think.

What sense of fulfillment do you get from writing/playing the north side drive material as opposed to Former Monarchs?
I get a huge sense of fulfillment from writing the nsd material. The style I write in regards to this would 100% be the style of music I listen to the most. It's really great. I love the feeling you get when you've just finished a new bit of a song or have scored out a strings line you love and all that stuff. Great stuff altogether. The writing part is my favorite, as it's very personal and is my own stuff. 

By the way, I don't want people to think that I don't get fulfilled writing and playing the Former Monarchs' stuff. If I had to choose, I'd choose the Former Monarchs' any day, because the buzz of playing with the band is pretty much incomparable. Maybe that's because I'm used to it, but we've been on a good few tours of Ireland and the UK and have worked really hard so I'm quite emotionally (not to mention financially!) invested in those eejits.

Former Monarchs
In what ways will this current emphasis on north side drive alter Former Monarchs's sound do you think?
Well, it's strange. We have only released one EP but we toured the hell out of that throughout the UK and that has given us a good starting point. We have now finished writing our album and are going to be recording it in September and October. It will be very much different to the EP. I think it's way better, personally, and way more mature. We have worked on these songs for months and have studied every minute detail. It's been a pain-staking process, and yet I think the result will be fantastic, if we execute it how we want to.

The fact is that there will be a lot of piano and a lot of string combinations throughout the album, but funnily enough I think it has very little to do with north side drive. I think we would have always gone down that road regarding song-writing, but maybe the nsd thing has sped up the process. I'll have to ask the boys. Yes, there will be strings and piano on this album, but I'm not quite sure as to whether it has anything to do with nsd or not.

What contemporary bands/artists do you listen to with the North Side Drive part of your brain i.e.: the more classical/instrumental and the Former Monarchs i.e: rockier side of your mental muscle?

What a savage question! Everyone loves telling people what they're into musically. I just checked the last five albums I've put onto my iTunes and that gives a good summary really.

Nils Frahm - The Bells
Nico Muhly - Speaks Volumes
The Cast of Cheers - Family
The National - High Violet

My favorite composer is probably Arvo Part. He's been the most influential artist in the genre that I'm currently writing in. I look at people like Nico Muhly/Nils Frahm/Olafur Arnalds who are so young and are churning out classically inspired music to such a high standard. It's both inspiring and a bit depressing. There's a great video online of Arnalds and Frahm doing an improvised piece live that shows their talent quite well....

I'd listen to anything off the Erased Tapes label, Fat Cat Records also have a great list of contemporary classical artists on their roster. Of course Philip Glass, John Adams and Steve Reich are the biys* as well. Regarding the more 'old school' classical stuff I'd listen to would be Debussy and Chopin's piano repertoire, and Tchaikovsky's stuff, but I wouldn't listen to that as much.

*Cork slang for boys or "the shit"!

Regarding the rockier side of things, I'd have to say Foals are a big influence, as are OLD Biffy Clyro, a small danish band called Marvin's Revolt who were on the Richter Collective, actually pretty much anything that Richter have released, The Rednecks, Reuben, Everything Everything, LITE, etc etc… On the Cork side, I'm a big fan of Lamp, Elk, Terror Pop are one of the best young bands in the country, Terriers are the most exciting thing to come out in a while. Fred are the kings for me. Loads of stuff. Great tack.

It's weird, because separate to these two distinctions are where my favorites lie, which are Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens, Efterklang and Sigur Ros. I remember last week or so a friend of mine asked me if I had to choose four people to listen to forever who would they be and I chose them.

For more info on North Side Drive visit:

- Yawning Chasm, North Side Drive and Rory Francis O'Brien play The Roundy, Cork Friday, 17th August
- RSVP to the official Facebook event here
- See Cork Gig Guide to win tickets