Redefining folk – Raglans joins the indie crowd

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.

“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 stuff you sing along to and dance with – good craic really.” Stephen explained. “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 them. “We did a run of shows in the UK last year and hadn’t released anything [in the UK]… We’re very much a live band; we feed off the audience.”

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.

Raglans have been planning a longer overseas venture for some time: “We were never very comfortable just being in Ireland. We wanted to play to as many people and in as many places as possible.” Added Stephen.

Recording the album at Long Island Studios in London was also novel. Surprisingly, it was finished 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!”

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.”

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.

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.