Cork's Drew Linehan as Automatic Blue releases new track ahead of Cyprus Avenue show

Corkman Drew Linehan is no stranger to reaching into music for catharsis - but new album LOOK COOL DEAD sees the Hausu collective member face up to his hurts, joys and agonies in earnest. Mike McGrath-Bryan finds out more.
Cork's Drew Linehan as Automatic Blue releases new track ahead of Cyprus Avenue show

Automatic Blue will play Cyprus Avenue in Cork in November.

For Drew Linehan, music has always been an out, a means of self-realisation — be it letting loose in Repeater, the punk band of his younger days; or as part of the HAUSU collective, where, as Automatic Blue, he’s explored his own personal depths on a solo basis, and collaborated with fellow noisemakers like Arthur Valentine on realising their sonic visions.

After spending the last number of years building up a significant head of specialist-media steam, the Cork audiovisual crew’s debut ‘proper’ album release (mixtapes, remix long-players and other releases notwithstanding) takes the shape of Linehan’s solo excursion LOOK COOL DEAD, out to streaming services now.

Clashing darker, alternative overtones with gritty electronics, it’s an unflinchingly, uncomfortably honest piece of work — an exorcism of feelings, thoughts, contemplations and imagery best summed up in leadoff single ‘idontwannabe_here_anymore’, pitting bockety, glitchy, falsetto vocals and downbeat percussion against an earnest, evocative acoustic riff.

LOOK COOL DEAD is available now on streaming services.
LOOK COOL DEAD is available now on streaming services.

Having undertaken a personal journey to getting it out there, Linehan reflects on the reception it’s been in for, and how he feels about it now it’s out in the world.

“It’s been a bit strange because, now that it’s out, I feel like I’m listening to the record again for the first time but in a different context. I spent so much time working on it, and it had been so long since I even released anything, that I wasn’t really making it with the idea of anyone else actually hearing it.

“It was very much a “for me” project, to the point where it feels like something extremely private is out, like I just published my diary or something.

“As a finished product, though, artistically, I feel like I was able to finally create a sound that’s my own, and I’m proud of it for doing that by cohesively bringing together a lot of influences for what I wanted to do with my music.”

LOOK COOL DEAD emerges from one strange time for us all, and releases into another, as we lurch from the collective trauma of mass lockdowns and the changes that occurred, and into the individual reckoning ahead of us all with what the world looks like in the coming years.

Linehan talks about lockdown, and reacting to the measures by sharing a living space with his fellow HAUSU musicians —using music to get through the days as a group.

It wasn’t until lockdown happened that the album became a real concept

“Honestly, the album started to take actual shape in lockdown. I had a few songs written that would end up on LOOK COOL DEAD but I was kind of lost with what I wanted to do musically. It wasn’t until lockdown happened that the album became a real concept.

“I had moved into a house with the lads only a few months before March 2020 to help create Arthur Valentine’s Splitscreen EP. Being locked in, and going a bit nuts under the insanity of this surreal global situation we were all facing, I personally needed to have something to focus on and so I was just working on LOOK COOL DEAD every single day.

“I was so lucky to be in that house though with Arthur and Actualacid (Jack Corrigan) and constantly focused on creating things with them and being inspired by them during that time.”

It’s a deeply, deeply personal record, to say the absolute least — specifically referencing some profound internal struggles and questions around mental health and existence. Suffice to say, your writer is nervous about asking in too much detail, but Linehan is artful in discussing the process of putting in the work on one’s self.

Drew Linehan: “The album started to take actual shape in lockdown
Drew Linehan: “The album started to take actual shape in lockdown

“I was confronting a lot of my own personal ugliness. I considered what truly is making my life so seemingly difficult to handle, and coming to the conclusion that it’s always been me.

“Whatever condition I may have, this is my choice and my responsibility and that, despite some of these inherent issues, I have to be a better person. What was happening with me then, naturally poured into the sound of the music and the concepts of the lyrics.”

Readers will note the artwork and photography around the record does much to establish and convey the mood and message of the album. It’s one thing to create a personal record in your own time and space, and quite another to work with others to flesh that out in another medium.

“Well it’s quite a heavy record, sonically and thematically, so I wanted to reflect that in the music.

“There’s a lot of aesthetic influence from punk and goth and industrial that went into creating the image around it. I worked with a great artist named Rachel Demetz who created the artwork for all the singles and the album.

“I included a lot of my own drawings and handwriting into the artwork as well. It was important for me to make sure I kept everything a bit unsettling in the aesthetics to convey that I’m not at all trying to glamourise any of the themes I was covering on the record.”

The ‘elder millennial’ archetype in your writer is also pleased to find a physical release is also on the cards — a toxic green tape, the latest in the HAUSU collective’s series of cassettes. Is it a bit strange hearing your digital masters come through a retail tape, and increasingly scarce tape decks, in 2021?

“Yeah we have them now actually! Colm Cahalane designed the artwork for the tapes and he did an absolutely unbelievable job with creating them.

“They’re nice to have, and we all have cassettes from Irish and other releases.

“It’s definitely odd to have something physical sometimes in such a digitally-dominated musical world, and being able to actually hold the album.

“I think cassettes have a lovely aesthetic and nostalgia factor as well and I’ve seen more and more people interested in listening to music with them.”

The next order of business for Linehan is HAUSU Night 2 at Cyprus Avenue on November 2 — a second coming-together live of the collective’s musicians and visual artists for a live show. The first one, in late 2019, was incredible for all involved, and a boon for Cork’s current scene. Linehan talks about getting back on stage, as society gears up to slowly assume the new normal.

I feel great about getting back to playing live, and I’m very excited for people to see the new show

“I feel great about getting back to playing live, and we’re all seriously looking forward to it and planning different aspects about it. The show is going to be very different from the last one and there’s been so many changes since but I’m very excited for people to see it.

“We’re trying to make the show as immersive of an experience as possible and involving as many members of HAUSU this time, in its audio and its visual elements, as we can.”

Automatic Blue plays HAUSU Night 2 at Cyprus Avenue, on Tuesday, November 2. Tickets €10 in advance from https://www.cyprusavenue.ie

LOOK COOL DEAD is available now on streaming services, and for download and mail-order on cassette from https://automaticblue.bandcamp.com/album/look-cool-dead.

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