Interview: Happy Abandon

Happy Abandon
The G-Man talks SXSW, Dungeons and Dragons and drinking tips garnered from a legendary guitarist with Happy Abandon's Peter Vance and Justin Ellis.

Consider JJ72 caught up in a snowstorm with Band of Horses and you might picture Happy Abandon, who bring clanging indie guitar rock straight out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Coughlan’s. Teaming up with local psych-rock quartet, Small Dose, the U.S. trio come to Cork courtesy of Douglas-based independent record shop, MusicZone, on Thursday 13th July and will mark the second time bassist Justin Ellis has visited Ireland’s most southern city. “I spent about 36 hours in Cork in May 2013 during a weeklong visit of Ireland and I absolutely loved it. The weather was magnificent, and the day I was there happened to be the last day of exams, so loads of students were out celebrating. Seeing all the bars and theatre spaces made me excited to come play there one day; I had no idea that day would come so soon!”
From highlighting the culinary delights of pho and the intricacies involved in designing a Dungeons & Dragons campaign to the practical benefits of using the ladies bathroom when on tour (“they’re much cleaner,” apparently), Ellis and chief songwriter Peter Vance bring exuberance to a variety of conversational topics. Formed in 2014 after Vance had just graduated from college, Happy Abandon’s big break would come in 2016 when they set forth for Austin, Texas’ famous music showcase: South X Southwest. “Playing SXSW was arguably the most important step for our band,” says Ellis, recalling a watershed moment for the band. “I had just joined the band and we had only released our first EP two months prior, with virtually no press or PR. Two of the showcases we played were presented by our [future] label head, Stephen Judge of Schoolkids Records, who I knew from being a frequent customer of the stores of the same name growing up. We hit it off with Stephen and now he’s putting out our album. It’s crazy!”

Speaking from his North Carolina kitchen after a week spent touring the east coast, Vance elaborates on the positive encouragement the Orange County city - locally known as “the Southern Part of Heaven” - had for his creative pursuits. “Chapel Hill was my first home when I moved to North Carolina. It’s where I spent my college years, and was a very motivating community for a student who was making music. However Carrboro, the neighboring town, has had a much more significant impact on me. The town is filled with supportive musicians and artists and I love that I can go anywhere and either know most of the people or meet more great folk. It is very small, but it’s very nice to come back to the comfort of this area. We’re very close to bigger cities like Durham and Raleigh, we’ve got beaches and mountains not too far, and it’s a great spot to start when doing an east coast tour.”
Although surrounded by a supportive community, loneliness tends to surface as a dominant theme on the upcoming record, the band’s first full length album: Facepaint. Vance, fascinated by a shared fact - that it has been proven that loneliness stimulates activity in some of the same regions of the brain that register physical pain - and elaborates on how some of his own experience with isolation has opened his eyes. “That’s interesting, and I believe it. I would say that my personal experiences with loneliness have given me a more positive perspective. I definitely write about a lot of hard and difficult topics that both I and other people have to go through but it’s because music, for me anyway, is the most helpful medium. I don’t write about positive things very often because I simply experience the positive things. I write about negative things because sometimes I can’t cope but the negatives don’t define who I am more than the positives; they both have an impact. It’s simply which ones I choose to focus on. It’s all perspective, so when I say my personal experiences with loneliness give me a more positive perspective, it’s because I can then more significantly appreciate the times that I’m not lonely.”
Sticking with the positive, Ellis confesses that, after years of band-hopping, joining Happy Abandon (with the trio completed by drummer Jake Waits) has been the best decision he has made in a very long time. “I needed something to believe in.” Sage advice from a Mancunian legend also may have helped. “I got to meet Johnny Marr after he played a club in our hometown a few years ago,” volunteers Ellis, enthusiastically dropping The Smiths’ guitarist’s name. “I was about to record my first album ever, and asked him for some advice so he told me to either drink heavily or not to drink at all. Not saying which option I went with, but I was very proud of that record.”*

Happy Abandon Ireland & U.K. tour dates:

  • JUL 11 TUE Charlie Malone's, Limerick
  • JUL 12 WED Roisin Dubh, Galway
  • JUL 13 THU Coughlan's Live, Cork
  • JUL 15 SAT Into The Wild Festival, London, U.K.
  • JUL 16 SUN The Lexington, London, U.K.
*The above interview was originally published in Cork's Evening Echo
For more on Happy Abandon visit:

- Happy Abandon play Coughlan's, Cork Thursday 13th July
- Doors 9pm and tickets €5

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