It’s been a little bit of a buzz for the constituent parts of Emperor of Ice Cream, jolted back together by retrospective articles, and intrepid fans that wanted to see them rewrite the nearly-men narrative around a band that was part of the mid-nineties for many Corkonians.
For those that aren’t familiar: Emperor of Ice Cream got together in Cork in the early nineties, and as chance would have it, were spotted relatively early by A&Rs from Sony Music, still living large off the excesses of the day, and the boom associated with the then-buoyant CD format. For two years, the band packed up and went to London, where they released EPs on their own imprint and toured regularly, until, suddenly, the band were dropped and subsequently broke up.
Fast forward to 2020: the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant cancellation of live gigs for the foreseeable has freed up a lot of time for creative types. The Echo’s sister paper, the Irish Examiner, rolls out a piece on the band as part of a retrospective series of articles, people get talking, tapes are found and calls are made.
These excursions form the basis of the band’s planned first long-player, digitised, remastered and expanded upon with re-recorded parts where necessary, ahead of its long-overdue release in July. Bassist Eddie Butt, now the graphic designer at the aforementioned organ, talks about the whole affair, after a limited pre-release for single ‘Lambent Eyes’ on Bandcamp.
“To be honest, we were doing this for ourselves. We’ve always been asked about it, but we’ve always been too busy. It’s a good buzz, we’re actually delighted. We were really surprised at the sales numbers on the day. We’re not really doing it for the money, but it’s a great feeling to get it done and revisit it, y’know?”
That buzz stands Emperor of Ice Cream in good stead as they return collectively from the nineties, with an archive of tapes, photos and videos, and figure out how everything fits together as a going concern in 2020. Built on long-standing friendships and an obvious grá that has remained with gig-goers of their day, the flurry of activity has been a lot for Butt to take in, and initially, he took a moment to remind himself of the music he had a part in.
“I hadn’t listened to the stuff in a long, long time, but it took us a long time to get over the band, as we were on such a high back in the day. When the lads started sharing old songs on WhatsApp, it took us way, way back. Loads of memories, and the songs were great. It’s unbelievable how he still had them, but Graham (Finn, guitarist) still had our old recordings. I put them on in the car, and I drove around, stuck ‘em on, and when I got home, I said, ‘f**k it, man, this is better than I remember.”
Taking the songs out of mothballs as a listener is one thing - finishing a project left undone for a quarter of a century with a vastly different array of technology is quite another. Butt re-recorded bass parts on one of the album’s songs, placing a digital recording in amid analogue masters. Butt discusses the process.
“It’s easier now. I had some fantastic gear, but I needed a van to carry it around, and a load of bass guitars, but I sold everything because I wanted to move on from it. A few years ago, I was helping a friend write songs, and I bought a Thunderbird bass, so I had it here. So I bought a USB interface, it goes into Logic Pro.
“I can tell it to play through the setup I used to have - same mic, same speakers. I got a fabulous sound off it, but I didn’t know how the lads would feel. But it was no problem when we realised it sounded well. We were unhappy with a few of the other parts of the songs, so we went away and re-did them ourselves.”
The album releases on 12” vinyl next month via FIFA Records, headed up by the band’s manager Eddie Kiely, also reprising his role in 2020. It’s not the first time FIFA have worked magic with legacy artists, as the label gave Irish bands like The Would-Bes and The Whipping Boy second tilts at bigger things, and serves as a home for August Wells, the current band of Ken Sweeney of Rollerskate Skinny. Butt talks about tangible copies of the album, working with Kiely again.“Eddie’s been great, we’ve been in touch on a regular basis, he’s a smart guy and we’re trying to do things right. He’s the fifth member of the band, and he’s a great balance. He thinks a different way than we do. Musicians, are musicians, are musicians, y’know? But he’s been working to get this out there and done. It’ll be fantastic to have it on the shelf, even for my kids. They can’t believe it, because I don’t talk about it, really, I’d just moved on, but it’s great to see them see it in the Echo.”