Irish rockers The Murder Capital have been building quite a bit of momentum overseas both back at home in Ireland and in the U.K. as well. They released their debut album When I Have Fears last year to mass critical acclaim (it was one of our favorites of the year) and now it’s time for the band to have their moment here in the U.S., where they are about to embark on their first-ever North American tour.
Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with the band’s drummer Diarmuid Brennan over the phone, one day before they played their biggest hometown show to date. We talked about the early days of the band, their process, how they bring it live every night, and how grief helped shaped their debut album.
You can find our chat in full below and please note that it has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Will: You guys are currently in Dublin preparing for your biggest headlining show to date. How are you feeling before the show?
Diarmuid: Yeah that’s right. Good! Just landed back in Dublin, we flew over from the U.K. So we are just at Grogans now on South William Street, just meeting up with some mates. But yeah, just staying relaxing about it to be honest.
It’s obviously a big one as it’s a Dublin show, Dublin shows are always big, they get us very excited. But yeah I’ll get excited maybe a couple of minutes before we go on. But we are really looking forward to it.
W: And soon after that you guys are about to embark on your first U.S. Tour. How are you guys feeling ahead of that?
D: Pretty good man. It’s…America. It’s a big place, so it’s great that we can get over there and do so many dates. We’re looking forward to doing New York, that’s sold out and then we got a Rough Trade thing the day after and that’s only the start of the tour. I can’t wait to get back, cause I used to live in New York for about a year and haven’t been there since I left so it’s nice to come back and play music.
W: So it must be even more special for you personally that it sold out.
M: Oh, it’s amazing. Like that area, that it’s our first time there and it’s sold out, I’m really looking forward to it and getting to see friends I haven’t seen in over two years and catching up with them. I’m excited to see what the reaction to us over there is. You know, it’s a place we haven’t been before so it will be back to the whole idea of people watching us and being like “who the fuck are these guys?”
W: You guys really took off after your live performance of “More Is Less” went viral. Did you guys have any sort of expectations when recording that session or when it went live? What was that experience like?
D: Not at all. Like we thought it would get max 800 views, you know? It’s a very small part of the whole thing, when I started playing with the lads in the summer and they said we might have a U.K. tour by January and then two months later we already doing our first U.K. tour and then the following March we were finishing writing the album. Everything has been moving and progressing steadily but there’s been no intervals. So I’m just waiting for the space to comes (laughs). But we’re just hungry for it and we just want to get out and place.
W: The reputation of your live show has been a huge component of your band very early on. When you guys bring it with the intensity that you do, is it difficult to do that over and over again every night at the very same level?
D: It’s the only way we can perform. There’s a certain feeling that we get when we deliver a really good performance and then there’s a certain feeling we get when we feel like we haven’t done that. So the latter is something that doesn’t leave us with anything. We know how good it feels when we give a really good performance. The main thing is just trying to live in the moment of the gig and just really try to give the songs the respect that they deserve. That’s one thing we really talk about. Like if it’s a song that’s “crunchy” and slightly on the aggressive side (sonically, if not lyrically) you really have to deliver that song, otherwise, people can see through that if it just sounds loud and it’s not delivered in the way that the song has meant it to be.
W: Your debut album When I Have Fears captures a specific vision so confidently. There’s a feral intensity to your music but there’s also equal amounts of tenderness. When recording the album did this juxtaposition come organically or was this balance something you strived towards?
D: It’s a bit of both. We strive to write songs that come from different moods and different places. The way I feel about the album is that each song started with a certain feeling that day: maybe people’s moods were low or maybe people were excited when they went in. It stems from emotion in the moment.
We try to make our setlist like an arc, a story. For instance, with “More Is Less,” was the first thing that came out and like you said there was excitement around it and stuff like that, but we didn’t want to make an album with nine “More Is Less” That’s just one piece, one page in the chapter, or even one sentence. That’s not what we’re all about. We want to try and challenge ourselves as songwriters to write music in different modes or different moods.
Where we put ourselves to write the album, we isolated ourselves out in the West of Ireland and from doing that there was a certain sound that came from our surroundings that made themselves onto the album. Songs like “Slow Dance,” when I think of “Slow Dance,” I think of that room out in this barren kind of wasteland, this house, there’s no town for a couple of miles. It’s just trying to tap into something and make it your own. I know that sounds kind of vague, but for us it is feeling like it has to give us some sort of emotional release. Whether it leaves us feeling sad or feeling like damn, that feels like it punches.
W: With that said, when you record, was it more important to create a certain sonic feel or studio sound, or to capture the essence of your live show and energy? Or was it a bit of both?
D: Yeah, there is a degree when you’re recording and under the microscope, you want everything to be as perfect as it can be. The producer of our record, Flood, came to a show on one of our U.K. tours, after we had done the single and he wanted to hear some of the new songs. He told us we are doing this live and you’re going to come in and we’re going to go to the songs and go through the set every day and we’ll work on the songs that way. So there was that element of the five of us need to be in the room to get anything down. On that side, that was a good starting point. That is our sound, the five of us in a room together and that is the sound that we deliver live. Now there are no clicks on the album, there’s no metronome or anything like that.
That’s one thing I took away as a drummer. I remember I turned to Flood one day and said “maybe I’ll try the song without a click in my ear” and he told me shocked saying “What? You don’t need a click in your ear, that’s what is holding you back.” So it’s got to have these imperfect moments, that’s what music is, the holes and bushes. Just trusting your instincts and that you’re listening to the people around you, it’s amazing.
Of course, once that’s down, there are overdubs as well and that’s where you can use a bit of studio magic and that’s where other things that come in that are magical. You can go for days and the song just isn’t hitting as hard and then someone comes in and does a few overdubs and the song finds a new life and then there are elements of back and forth. So to answer your question, it’s a bit of both. Things aren’t thrown on for the sake of throwing them on, we always are sure to be quite definite and really reason out why we were adding something to the song or taking stuff away. Which sometimes was sometimes to the result of a larger debate.
W: You guys experienced a fair share of tragedies during the recording of the album, losing loved ones. I can’t imagine how tough that was. How did you channel that towards the recording?
D: There were things in our lives that were uncertain that they were gonna happen, so I think it was cathartic in itself that we knew the album was our first album for the five of us, but also the loss of somebody, it leaves a big gaping hole in your life that takes a long time to fill if you’re lucky enough that it somehow gets filled – but I don’t know, it never really does get filled. But it definitely was a cathartic process to get the album done and make the album sound as good as it could. The way it was channeled in, this album means something, everything happens for a reason. Grief and love, they kind of go hand in hand with each other. You can’t really grieve someone unless you’ve loved them. If anything, it definitely added an atmosphere to the band and the recording process and there was definitely this respect for how this was important to do right now and work through this together.
Just to make it clear, it was more from looking after each other and being aware of each other’s emotional state, this is what really carried the process. Trying to understand each other and what we were going through mentally and somehow that comes across in the music. I think it is just that sort of respect for things that have happened and really trying to be there for someone, you’re definitely more acute to people’s emotions during times of grief.
W: Between you guys, Fontaines D.C. and Idles, there’s a recent surge of punk rock that has channels concerns about issues in modern society and even romance. What about this combination that has allowed people to connect so deeply?
D: Looking at all three of us, sonically we’re quite different. I mean we’re all guitar bands I suppose and people associate punk with guitar bands. IDLES, Joe and the lads are very well-spoken and have thought out ideas. Their stories are different from maybe an Irish band’s story, cause what’s going on in England, it’s been years of neglect from the system, and Joe is very articulate in that sense and presenting their message, translating to many other country’s situations. As to why it’s connecting? Guitar music goes from being very popular, not popular at all, it’s hard to tell what it is until maybe we look back on this in hindsight in 20-years time. I don’t know if I can pinpoint why. But like where Fontaines are now as well, the rooms they’re playing now and the amount of people that are really connecting with their music is amazing.
That’s a question we get asked a lot Will (laughs), it’s just one of those things where we are getting compared to each other, that is the curious thing that people want to know.
W: Well a lot of people continue to say guitar rock and music is dead? What would you guys say to that nation, considering you’re proving that to be completely untrue.
D: I don’t know if it’s just a music journalism line though like who is really thinking that, you know? You may see it in some newspaper or whatever, but guitar music is always there, there’s always a great guitar band. Maybe at the moment, the microscope is over this side of the world at the moment, but it could have happened anywhere. I just know that hey, the music kicks, and there’s something about it and it’s politically charged. I know IDLES are quite vocal about their political awareness and it’s great for them to do that. That’s just how they express themselves and I think that’s really cool.
W: Who are some young Irish bands that we Americans should be aware of in the future?
D: Well, the Irish music scene is vast, it’s not just guitar bands. We just had Junior Brother, whose a great acoustic songwriter, he was on tour with us for a few days. I think he’s one of the most talented songwriters in the country at the moment. There’s other people like Wastefellow, who is an electronic producer, he’s brilliant. A big one for me is Girl Band, but they’re definitely been made aware of over in the States for a while. I think people are always talking about a “Dublin music scene,” but the whole country has always had great bands and music coming out of it and it’s just right now people are taking notice.
The Murder Capital will make their NYC live debut next Thursday at Knitting Factory. Tickets are sold out.