‘No sound ever dies, when it's on vinyl!'

Having become the unlikely comeback story of Cork music over lockdown, dream-pop four-piece Emperor of Ice Cream are on the cusp of closing a chapter left open too long - their debut album lands on 12” vinyl and Bandcamp this week, 25 years after their initial breakup. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks with bassist Eddie Butt on the eve of the release of ‘No Sound Ever Dies’.
‘No sound ever dies, when it's on vinyl!'

IT’S a story that our regular readers are more than familiar with by now.

A well-received retrospective article in our sister paper, the Irish Examiner, gets the gears grinding among the members of Cork dream-pop/shoegaze outfit Emperor of Ice Cream.

Demos are found, digitised and sent to a groupchat, reminders of a sound from nearly half their lives ago, snapped up by Sony as teens in the early ‘90s and sent touring around the UK, yet feeling fresh amid broader genre-adjacent revivals in recent years.

The question of their debut album being abandoned at the eleventh hour in 1995, amid reshuffles at their major-label home, hangs heavy, but with lockdown underway, and everyone willing and able, plans are laid to right a long-standing wrong.

Which leads us to tomorrow, when Leeside label FIFA Records, helmed by the Emperors’ manager from back in the heady pre-Britpop days, are set to release said long-player, ‘No Sound Ever Dies’, on 12” vinyl and download via independent music platform Bandcamp.com.

Bassist Eddie Butt (full disclosure: also the in-house graphic designer for this parish and the Irish Examiner) is enthused by the public response to the entire adventure thus far, pointing to the warm reception met by the album’s leadoff singles, Lambent Eyes and Everyone Looks So Fine.

“We released two of them, and we went the Bandcamp and iTunes Store route for them, the first one did much better than we expected, it ended up going to number one on the iTunes charts for a short period, the second one went to number eight, and they both topped the Irish indie charts on iTunes. Our streaming figures have been growing too, and that’s all been great.”

The tunes have hit home among ‘specialist’ radio shows both at home and abroad, with the band getting airplay on local and national FM stations closer to home, and taking the time to appear and interact with genre shows on online radio stations based overseas.

Butt speaks of reciprocating DJs’ time and effort. “We noticed when we started pushing the singles, all of these people are doing a fantastic job of supporting new music. I think it’s quite important, when I see anyone Tweeting about us, we make a valid point of saying ‘thanks very much’. It means a lot

for them for bands to get involved. It got a bit crazy at one point to keep up with it, but we have appreciation for these people to be doing what they’re doing. Fair play to them.”

As mentioned in recent chats in these pages, the band’s decision to touch up old tapes and fill gaps left for over two decades came with a great deal of effort and planning, made easier by home recording and distributed teamwork. It’s a labour that has evidently borne fruit, as Butt outlines the last stages on the way to the album’s release.

“It was a dream to be working this way (from home) because we weren’t getting in each other’s way while recording (the last parts). You get a track sent to you, and we all know each other well enough to know who brings what to the table, so off I go, plug in the bass, throw it down, and Graham (Finn, guitarist), mixes it, we send it around our Whatsapp. We know exactly what we’re doing, because this was what the Emperors sound like, there was no need to reinvent the wheel.”

The band’s decision to release the record’s digital edition exclusively through independent music platform Bandcamp jives with sentiment in a Cork scene already under pressure after the Covid-19 crisis, and dispirited by remarks regarding ‘content churn’ by Spotify head Daniel Ek.

Echoing Fixity man Dan Walsh’s discontent with the major streamers, Butt pulls no punches on the ills of the medium for independent artists.

“I’m out of the game a good few years, and what I found when I started looking at what’s going on, I’m annoyed that more of the bigger indie bands of today haven’t shouted a bit more about this. We’re releasing (on Bandcamp and physicals), because people will have more value in it. It takes an awful lot of energy, it consumes an awful lot of our lives, the mixing, recording, marketing, videos.

“We’re excited about it, and it’s doing better than we expected, but sometimes you look at the music industry and you wonder how people aren’t shouting and raving about how to change it. Bandcamp, they seem to be the only ones looking after the artists. It’s cheapening music.”

Having been through the wringer and emerged on the other side with a full-length, the band got to hold the physical copies of their work for the first time last week, ahead of mail-order fulfilment via Bandcamp and pressing plant Dublin Vinyl.

It represented a moment of closure for all involved. “Graham knew Dublin Vinyl already, and keeping it all in Ireland was a big thing for us: our manager is dealing with them directly, they’ll handle the shipping for us after we give them the info… they’re basically like a record company as well.

We printed about 500, and to be honest with you, it’s a work of art, we love it. It just feels more real, to have something in the hand.”

Emperor of Ice Cream’s ‘No Sound Ever Dies’ releases tomorrow via FIFA Records. Digital, CD and 12” versions are available at https://emperoroficecream.bandcamp.com/.

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