Echo! Echo! Read all about it: Pretty Happy make headlines with new EP ‘Echo Boy’

From proud art-rock products of Cork's Northside, to sharing stages with luminaries like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Pavement - it’s been a wild ride for Pretty Happy, and their new EP ‘Echo Boy’ sees them channel the life and character of their home city. Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with the band.
Echo! Echo! Read all about it: Pretty Happy make headlines with new EP ‘Echo Boy’

Pretty Happy band members Andy Killian, Abbey and Arran Blake, who will release their new EP Echo Boy on the 14th of November, pictured with the 'Echo Boy' statue on St. Patrick Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

This parish has long been fond of Mayfield art-rock rabble-rousers Pretty Happy - working-class polymaths with roots and track records in music, theatre and film-making. Since their emergence a few years back, the trio have been steadily gigging and recording, including a number of singles and their ‘Slugger’s Bridge’ tape, but have seriously come into their own over and after the Covid crisis, refining their playfulness and irreverence into brooding, muscular noise.

You can hear and feel that in new EP ‘Echo Boy’, releasing on November 14 via the recently-founded Foggy Notions Records, headed up by Irish music veteran Leagues O’Toole, and featuring production by John ‘Spud’ Murphy (Lankum, Black MIDI, Percolator). Naturally, your writer was thrilled with the title, a nod at the city that spawned their output, according to bassist/vocalist Arran Blake.

“I think it was probably [inspired by] how much we owe to Cork and the culture, and how much that's actually gone into the EP itself. By the time this will be out like, [leadoff single] 'Boots' will be out, a song about someone getting their drink spiked, and seeing this looming person around the bar. We actually start off the track with recordings of Henchy's Bar [in St Luke's], we went through and got some kind of bar chatter noise, so like, it was literal f**king Cork gone into that song.”

I think that's what the 'Echo Boy' is, like - that's the sound of the city

Adds bassist/vocalist Abbey Blake: “I think that's what the 'Echo Boy' is, like - that's the sound of the city. You're floating around anywhere, and you hear 'Echo!', and that's so ingrained in our culture that you don't even realise how much you hear it - the sound of the city was important to us, and it's nice to have that as the name of our EP.”

The extended-player was written over the course of the Covid crisis, and recorded at Dublin’s Hellfire Studios last year with Murphy and Ian Chestnutt before being mixed by the duo at Murphy’s Guerrilla Studios in the city centre, and mastered by Harvey Birrell (Therapy?, Dub War, Stereolab).

The aforementioned direction they’ve taken has been captured neatly along the duration of four tracks that at once bristle with intent, while also striking familiar chords for older listeners, taking direct influence from Cork’s post-punk bands of the 1980s.

"It's so funny working with a person where we didn't have to say anything," says Arann. "It was literally setting up a room, rehearsing [the songs] for him. The more he listened, the more he edited, he just started to understand it. We kind of struck gold there in terms of Spud just getting exactly what we're doing.

"It was like the best first date ever," chimes in Abbey. "I think immediately we had a shorthand with him, or something, like he just got it, and he felt like a member of the band when we were doing it. We didn't even have to talk to him, he just knew..."

"You need someone outside of the band to hear what you're doing and to kind-of go, 'oh, lads, yeah, this is what you're doing' and recording us with our influences", Arran adds. "he really did kind of get this plethora of sounds in."

Since the lifting of Covid restrictions, there’s been an absolute wave of gigging and touring for the band to negotiate, including a European excursion back in May with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and an upcoming support slot for Pavement in Dublin.

 Pretty Happy with the Echo Boy statue on St Patrick's Street in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Pretty Happy with the Echo Boy statue on St Patrick's Street in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Abbey gets into the joyful slog of touring with Gordon, and hitting the road with little more than a camper van and their gear: "I couldn't have told you what it would be like until we were there, and I was like, 'Jesus Christ, this is hard, but f**king amazing'.

“We really found our sound on that tour with Kim, just having the opportunity to play every night to people who would be into our kind of music. But also, like, we were around Europe in a camper-van. We weren't on a tour bus, or in hotels, and all we could afford was a camper van. I'm, like, there with two lads, it stunk, like."

"I'd compare it to the Robin Williams movie 'RV', that's how weird it was," adds drummer Andy Killian, "you get into the weirdest hijinks, like dark hijinks, everything from 'oh my god, it smells like crap in here', to 'we need to drive out of the Luxembourg petrol station because that drug dealer is looking at us funny'."

"I, like, got followed into a bathroom in a service station, like we had literally to run away a few times", interjects Abbey.

"Every day there was a new adventure on tour," continues Arran, "you'd have the highest highs and lowest lows, you'd be waking up on three hours' sleep having to drive from Cologne to Barcelona, at one point, on no sleep. We'd always do it again. We'll never forget that."

That Cork connection that’s so often evoked when the band are spoken of found another manifestation this year, with the completion and screening at the Triskel Arts Centre of ‘Leeside Creatures’, a documentary film that began as a look at the history of weird sounds in the city, but eventually came to focus on three of its most musically important and much-missed sons: Nun Attax’ Finbarr Donnelly, Stump man Mick Lynch, and the recently-departed Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney and the Fatima Mansions.

[Full disclosure: this article’s author was one of the documentary’s interviewees.]

"We were editing this on tour with Kim Gordon in the camper-van," says Andy. "it was really chaotic, just everything coinciding with a very busy part of our lives, but it was something that, like... it's so funny, when you finally do something like that, you say to yourself, 'oh, we were always going to do that, we were always going to make a huge deep dive on Cork music, just for ourselves, really'. That's what the documentary was, it was us wanting to explore the weirdness that we've been compared to, and it ended up being a tribute to it."

"We just fell in love with it," chimes Abbey.

"This weird kind of synthesis happens," adds Arran, "where it's like, you're compared to it, you listen to it, you can see where it bleeds through, and you start to get inspired by it. Once we started to get obsessed with these bands, we needed to do a deep dive on it, and we're all filmmakers, that was our way of doing that. It's such a great opportunity to get these people in a room, and talk to them, and get people's understanding of this topic - if we weren't filmmakers, we'd want to do it anyway, in another medium."

 Pretty Happy's new EP is called 'Echo Boy'. Picture Dan Linehan
Pretty Happy's new EP is called 'Echo Boy'. Picture Dan Linehan

"I think a big thing is that you try to find your own identity, and the best way to find your identity is to kind-of get that lineage. It's getting rid of that idea, that if you're not, y'know, a London guitar band, or an American post-punk band, you can't do this. To do a deep-dive of these people that we worship, that they made this strange music, that they made this stuff that I listen, to and I'm like, 'oh, my god, I can't believe this'."

"And hopefully, as we promote it more, spreading it to younger generations, because seeing some of the young people in that crowd, watching the documentary and going mad for it, like 'I didn't know these bands existed', concludes Andy. "There's such a big appetite now. I remember we were playing Stump during a DJ set at PLUGD last summer, and the young guy came up, a big fan of Black MIDI, Black Country New Road, and he was like, 'oh, this is some new shit, what's this?' We told him two members were from Cork, and he was like, "what the f**k? How do I not know about these bands, like?"

Pretty Happy’s new EP ‘Echo Boy’ releases on Monday November 14 via Foggy Notions Records on 12” vinyl and digital formats, available for pre-order at https://prettyhappy.bandcamp.com/album/echo-boy.

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