Monday, February 20, 2006

Interview: God Is An Astronaut - Something Irish and Bright

God Is An Astronaut are a rare thing in the Irish music scene, peddling a searing combination of swirling Kevin Shields tinged guitar layered over pulsating programmatic ambient beats ala Massive Attack. They reject the post rock label and provide a welcome alternative to the singer/song-writer doyens lapped up by the Irish musc press or Devo impersonating bands from across the channel riding fresh on the new wave of British indie rock.

Saying this, the band have recieved little in the way of attention and have been left relatively isolated with their fan base mainly emerging outside of Ireland. Having recently delivered one of their rare full live performances in the TBMC, I got around to interviewing Neils who does bass and the live visuals after the gig.

Firstly - where does the band name come from and what is the bands history?

Ah yes the name question. We were watching television and the Clive Barker Movie "Nightbreed" was on. One of the characters used the phrase "God is an astronaut, Oz lies over the rainbow, and Midian ... is where the monsters live." - Peloquin (Nightbreed). We really liked "God is an Astronaut", it was kind of modern concept but with an Apocalyptic feel. We felt we could make music we wanted with this as the band name.

Torsten and I started playing in rock bands in the early 90's, nothing ever really came of it. Like any young musicians starting out, we had stars in our eyes and thought we were going to be the biggest band in the world, unfortunately the reality is depressingly different. I remember in the mid 90s the live music scene in Ireland died, everything was heading towards dance music and DJ's. We had moved into experimental big-beat/electronica stuff with some moderate success, a couple of compilation releases.

I think we signed a publishing deal in 2000 with Peer music on the strength of the remixes we had done for EMI and Universal. We were making a collaboration project with different vocalists as Peer Music was very interested in this idea. That idea crashed and burned in 2002, we were pretty pissed off. We had made something we didn't really like ourselves which made things worse. We weren't sure if we even want to make anymore music.

We had written a lot stuff some of it instrumental which Peer music was not interested in unless there was vocals on it. We however really liked the instrumental songs the way they were. We wrote a couple of more songs and finished the first God is an Astronaut album near the end of 2002. This was the first piece of music we were ever happy with. We released "The End of the Beginning" in 2003 on our own label.

We didn't have any expectations for the record itself, it was just satisfying to put out a piece music that we really liked. The album surprisingly began to pick airplay and sell some copies in the shops. Drummer Noel Healy joined the band in 2003 so we could play the stuff live. I remember the first shows we done had no visuals but we slowly began to work on the idea of using visuals in the live show.

I bought a laptop and a basic video editing suite. The first video we made was for "The End of the Beginning" which we sent off to MTV UK. It was played on the first newly revamped version of the 120 minute show on MTV UK . We then made a video for "From Dust to the Beyond" which had a heavy anti war-theme received plays on MTV UK and most European MTV networks. We also used live versions of the videos for our shows. I think the first full live-visual show we played was in late 2003.

We began to write "All is Violent, All is Bright" in December 2003. We bought a Pro-tools HD recording system which gave us real freedom in making the music more personal. With first album we were limited to a sequencer and sampler which didn't allow us to play full live performances from start to finish because of memory restrictions.

In July 2004 we got to play the Oxegen music festival which was a real tough thing to get on to. Noel Healy who had been with us since early 2003 left us three weeks before the gig. The only guy we could think who play the stuff on short notice was Lloyd Hanney who was trained by irish drumming legend Johnny Wadham.

I still remember the day very well, it was the first gig with a new lineup but it was in front of about 6000 people. The gig went amazing, and we still have the same lineup today.

We finished "All is Violent, All is Bright" in November 2004. We mixed as much of the live intensity as we could that we had in our shows into the record. The most important thing for us was the album had real emotion, melody and longevity. We had hinted at this in the first album. We released "All is Violent, All is Bright" in January 2005. The album has done really well for us particularly overseas were it got great reviews, lots of airplay and online sales. We also recently played a couple of shows in Europe which were very successful.

We have just released our new E.P. "A Moment of Stillness" in January 2006.

The music of GIAA chimes from My Bloody Valentine "shoe gazer" swirling guitar to rushy ambiance and Godspeed You Black Emperor violent crescendo. Do you think that this is a fair description? What sort of interests musically have the band drawn on? There's a bit of an epic metal feel in there as well?

My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed weren't direct influences on us at all. We had the shoe-gazer/post rock label thrown at us which is cool. We really only discovered there was a post rock scene in recent times due to people comparing us to the likes of Mogwai and Godspeed. Obviously there are certain similarities between us and those bands. Myself and Torsten grew up listening to heavy Metal, bands like Metallica and Slayer who were breaking at the time, NIN were also a big influence later.

I remember the first concert we ever went to was Metallica in the now defunct Top Hat in Dublin way back in 88. We also got into electronic music in the mid 90's, the likes of Aphex Twin and Massive Attack were big influences. I think GIAA is a mix of the rock/metal and electronic music we listened to and played in our early years.

You supported Whipping Boy down in Cork back in December, as someone who was too young to catch the original Whipping Boy gigs myself and a load of the mates ventured down for it. We were disappointed by Whipping Boy but amazed at how you blew them off stage entirely. Didn't ye fill in as Fergal McKee's backing band for a few gigs not so long ago?

We had done some solo stuff with Fearghal Mckee in early 2005. We had released a single "What you wanna Start" and played two live shows with Fearghal. It was just a one off thing intended as a bit of fun and we were all happy with the track.

Fearghal invited us to play at the Whipping Boy gigs in December 2005 in Cork and Dublin. We normally would never do support slots but we liked Whipping Boy and we were out of commission for most of 2005 because Lloyd had broke his arm in January and wasn't healed until August. We hadn't played in Ireland with the original lineup since 2004 with the exception of Waterford in September 2005.

The two shows we done in Cork and Dublin in March 2005 were with a session drummer. It just wasn't the same, some people came down pretty hard on us on those gigs. The Whipping Boy gigs were an opportunity to put things right, we had something to prove again and show everyone we were as good as we said we were. The recent sell out show in the TBMC was our best show ever, I think the Whipping Boy gigs helped to get people interested in us again.

Your live shows are very intense and people always want more, but its rare that you seem to play live? Is this me reading it wrong, or do ye take it easy on the giging front?

The simple reason for not playing lots of gigs is it is expensive to put on a full production show, like the recent TBMC show. We rather play one show and do it right rather than playing lots of mediocre gigs. It would be nice if MCD or Aiken would give us Oxegen or the Electric Picnic festival so more people could see us live.

You got a new drummer in recently in an effort to try and capture some of that intensity that comes across live on the new release. Did it work for ye? Were ye satisified?

Yes Lloyd is amazing drummer, I think "All is Violent..." and the new E.P. "A Moment of Stillness" really benefit from his live drumming. It really helps our songs be more expressive and dynamic both live and on record.

You are relatively peerless in terms of bands churning out similar sounds to you on these shores - do you consider yourselves to be part of a music scene/network of musicians who help each other out. Or are you realtively isolated? What if any other Irish bands are you into?

We are pretty much independent of the scene here. We would see ourselves more international rather than an irish phenomena, we sell most of our music outside Ireland. There was once a time we were looking for help, the silence was deafening. Everything we have was built up by ourselves, friends and our fans.

I suppose you could say we are isolated, but not by choice. Things are slowly changing now, we help out a couple of bands. There is lots of interesting music on the underground, the irish music scene is constantly changing. Check out Dry County, The Jimmy Cake

The GIAA audio visual show really is something to behold, synced in with the changes in the music the videos tell stories of apocalyptic warning, environmental destruction, the hypocrisy of leaders and war mongers, the abuse of animals and our dependence on technology leading us into a Frankenstein monster's type scenario. Are the video's a side project or are they as central to the live experience as the music?

On record you can hear all of the subtleties of the music but in a live environment they are lost, the visuals help to restore the emotion and structure of the songs. I think the visuals add to overall experience, so I think they are central to the live show. Even from a basic entertainment factor, the visuals make sense. We want our fans to be entertained from start to finish as much as possible.

How do you choose the thematic concepts for the videos? Are you replacing lyrics with images - if so why? Finally, do you see yourselves as a political band?

Each concept has to suit the emotion and melody of the music. We are not replacing lyrics with images. Lyrics were never our strongest field. I think we can communicate the emotion of the song better through images and melody than using lyrics. We don't really see ourselves as political band. Most of our songs/visuals are apocalyptic in nature. I suppose we have a fascination with our Apocalypse Culture. It is a kind of escapism to watch the destruction of the world on a screen. So many Hollywood films have this theme.

God Is An Astronaut's latest release
A Moment Of Stillness (Jan 2006)(RVECD007) is availible in all good music stores and probably some shite ones too...

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