Irish indie-folk group Raglans recently embarked upon a twelve-date UK tour to mark the release of their guitar-laden, self-titled debut album. I caught up with the band ahead of their Oxford show to discuss their album, their musical influences and touring.
Although relatively unknown in the UK, Raglans have gone from strength to strength in their native Ireland. Formed at a festival in 2010, Raglans have spent the last four years touring, making EPs and building a solid Irish fanbase. Raglans, released March 24th, jumped straight to number five in Ireland’s album charts, selling out all physical copies at HMVs across the country.
“For an independent release – we’re on a small label in London – that was amazing,” frontman and lead vocalist Stephen Kelly said. “We sold out the Academy Dublin for our album launch. We don’t want it to end.”
Raglans are not a conventional rock band. Sean O’Brien plays the guitar, as well as the mandolin, cowbells and a second drum feature in their live shows. Trombones and trumpets are also present on the album.
“It’s good, positive stuff,” Stephen tried to explain. “It’s stuff you sing along to and dance with – good craic really.” “Energetic,” bassist Rhos Horan chipped in, “sometimes fast, sometimes… medium.”
Despite their large group of “Raglads” in Ireland, the band is still aware that, in the UK, people haven’t really heard of the band. “We did a run of shows in the UK last year and hadn’t released anything [in the UK]. We had a few people there because there was stuff online and that, but now the album’s out, it’s really cool to play live shows. We’re very much a live band; we feed off the audience.” Although the Newcastle show was not busy, Raglans is due to play to a sold-out London crowd.
Their Scottish dates also went well: “Edinburgh and Glasgow went really well, they were the first two dates after the album came out so it was really surprising that lots of people came, and they seemed to enjoy it,” Rhos offered.
Conn O’Ruanaidh, the band’s drummer, noted that the response in the UK had been “surprisingly good”, before he expressed awareness of the band’s achievement: “It’s amazing to go to another country and play to anyone. It’s great.”
Raglans have apparently planned a longer overseas venture for some time, as Stephen explained. “We were never very comfortable just being in Ireland. We wanted to play to as many people and in as many places as possible.”
Recording the album at Long Island Studios in London was also something that was new to the band. Surprisingly, it was recorded and mixed in its entirety in a mere thirteen days. “Jay Reynolds, who produced it, was pretty surprised!” Stephen revealed. “He said that it’s taken him that long to just do EPs before, but I think we were ready. We’d spent two years gigging and writing songs. Conn did all his drums for the album in a day! Rhos did his bass in a day too. So, it took me and Sean eleven days to do everything else!”
“Me and Rhos just sat around for eleven days, played some golf,” Conn joked. “We spent maybe a month in London around everything else, eating a lot of chicken. There weren’t many –” “… chickenless days,” Stephen finished, to laughs from his band mates.
A discussion on food then ensued. “There weren’t many options near to where the studio was,” Conn continued. “Chicken, Pot Noodles, hummus, crackers…”
“Did nothing for the stomach though,” noted Sean. “We always went back to the chicken in the end. Conn nearly set the studio on fire doing a samosa in the microwave! We were in the middle of finishing [the album], and the alarm went ‘wooooo’ for ages. We were trying to mix the record, but it was so loud.”
“Jay, the producer: he was not impressed,” Conn then confessed.
Being on a smaller independent label has also given the band more creative control. “Everything’s taken care of. We’re all happy,” Rhos offered.
“We’re just glad someone put their faith in us to put the album out,” Conn continued. “We have lots of input, which is great. There’s a little bit of arm twisting, but no one’s forcing us to do things. It’s a really nice team effort.”
The recording process has also allowed the band to dismantle and rebuild songs. The improvements, however, have their downfalls. “It’s frightening how far the songs come from the first time we rehearse them. We heard a demo of one of the songs on the album, ‘Fake Blood’, fairly recently. I remember when we first heard the song we were like, ‘this is great!’ – high-fives all round. When we heard it the other day we were like, ‘right, we need to make sure that that never gets heard, by anyone, ever again.”
The return of Raglans to the UK this April follows on from their most recent trip in February, where they supported younglings The Strypes on their headline tour. “It was great,” Conn reminisced. “The tour was sold out pretty much every day, so we were playing in these packed venues. It was exactly what a band like us needed: to just be going and playing in front of people.”
“People were really into it,” Sean added. The age of the crowd was also a pleasant surprise for the band. “We’d supported them before, and it was more of an older crowd, because a lot of people were buying into that ’60s revival. This tour was a mix of people in their teens, twenties and older, so it was a really nice audience to play to.”
The Strypes are old friends of Raglans. “We’ve known them since they were even younger than they are now,” Conn joked. However, the youngsters are not a musical influence of Raglans, although the latter appreciate their stage style. “Watching them live, and seeing how they put on a show, thats an influence,” Conn mused.
Stephen added that he thinks Raglans are more “song-orientated”. “We don’t fit into pigeon-holes,” he said, “which has been a problem for us. Now that the album’s out, though, people can listen to the songs and see that it’s a bit eclectic.”
We started to talk about musical inspirations. “I love Bob Dylan,” Stephen said. “I love his lyrics and his melodies. Even if people thought he couldn’t sing, his songs are good, his lyrics are great. It’s important to have substance rather than just being catchy.”
His band mates, however, took a more humorous approach to the question. “Anything thats fast and full of energy for me,” Conn started. “Massive 1D fan. Lots of personality, great fashion sense and fabulous hair. So yeah, 1D, probably my biggest influence.”
Rapper Coolio was Rhos’ artist of choice: “Rhos never turns down the opportunity to do ‘Gangster Paradise’,” Stephen contributed, as Rhos began to rap along (“I’m 23 now, but will I live to see 24?”).
Following the end of this tour, Raglans are back in Ireland to film their latest music video. The band have previously put out a number of videos on their YouTube channel, with their latest video for ‘Digging Holes’ reaching almost 65,000 views so far. “They’re so much fun,” Conn said. “We work with a guy called Finn Keenan. It’s just always so much fun, loads and loads of fun. He’s also prodigiously talented, so it’s always easy to put our faith in his hands. He always comes up trumps for us.”
The rest of the year is filled up with festival dates. “We get back from this [tour] and do a load of festivals in Wembley,” Conn joked. “… nah, we’ve got loads of Irish ones and maybe five or six UK ones.” After some conferring, the band worked out that they weren’t allowed to mention any of those yet – but watch this space.
Raglans hit Oxford’s O2 Academy TONIGHT (Monday 21st April).
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