“WhatsApp probably deserves a cut of our royalties…”, jokes Ross Daly — the frontman of Straif — when he looks back at the lengths the band went to while working on their debut album during the lockdown, “... remote learning was also good for rock bands!”
Ross and the rest of Straif have clear intentions with this new musical project, all of them have been in bands before, or very close proximity. “You can tell after two or three jams in the practice room where someone is at as regards their dedication and work ethic. When you’ve been around the block a few times you know who is putting in the time and who isn’t.”
The group had all crossed paths before Straif fully formed, as Ross explained. “I was the frontman with an alt-metal outfit called That Falling Feeling for around five or six years, where I played alongside our guitarist Nono Presta. I’d always been a huge fan of his playing to be honest. Previously he was the lead guitar player with ‘Cyclefly’, the rock group that shot to fame in the late 1990s.
They had great international success touring the world with the likes of Linkin Park, Tool and a host of other top-class acts. Nono’s son Angelo came on board with us, he was only about 16 years of age.
Angelo not only plays the keyboards with us but he also mastered and engineered our album, which came out this week.”
One half of the rhythm section suggested the other as Ross continued. “Our bass player Lawrence Sweeney was in the Sons of Steve McQueen, a rock group who cut their teeth all over Ireland for nearly a decade. Lawrence then asked Peter Byrne to join on drums, but I was already a huge fan as he played with the phenomenal Marc O’Reilly. Those recordings were on heavy rotation on my Spotify, so getting him on board was a major bonus. As far as bonding goes, other than Pete, we all knew each other for so long that that was already locked in. Peter was the odd one out there but his sense of humour won us over very quickly!”
Ross returned to the importance of the band having a shared mindset as well as a musical connection. “I think that definitely carried us forward. Nono had a conversation way back when we started about our attitude and it was immediately evident that we were on the same page!”
They all knew that a rock band comes together in a live environment and Ross admits the band did have to push themselves to get there during lockdown times.
“Voice notes are great and all but there’s nothing like being in a room together to get a real response and reaction to ideas. One massive positive for the band during that timeframe though was Angelo’s time stuck at home. He really had more time to hone his recording and engineering abilities. I’m not sure how fun it was for him not getting to see his buddies but we certainly benefited!”
The complex sound they have created has already led to plenty of good feedback and this week they were announced as one of the four shortlisted acts on Cork’s 96FM’s Local Hero Talent Search. When considering how they developed their musical style Ross reflects that “it didn’t happen overnight but it wasn’t far off. Sometimes things just click and that’s half the battle. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Christian Montagne in that journey. Christian was the bass player in Cyclefly and co-produced our whole album. It’s not an exaggeration to say he helped us find our sound… he’s kind of our George Martin!”
The actual recording of their debut album was a group effort. “Peter has his own drum recording booth so that was a no-brainer to do those tracks there. We did the rest at Nono’s and Angelo’s place and Christian’s studio. It’s an enormous advantage to have these facilities at our disposal. Recording music is not cheap so to have the ability to do it ourselves is a huge plus… not to mention the fact that it’s comfortable to be on familiar territory when you are screaming your heart out!’
Speaking of vocalists, Ross is joined by several others on the album. “We were so lucky to get the massive talent that is Karen Underwood to join me on Hands of Gods, Karen swooped in with a stunning performance, she was such joy to work with. Our last track has a choir performance on it.
For this, we knew we needed to bring in the big guns… so we thought who better than my Mam, Trudy; my brother Jason; my good friend and colleague John Taylor; and last but most definitely not least, Lynda, Nono’s wife and Angelos Mam. It was our last day of recording and a fitting end to what was very much a family affair!”
Despite the record being finished Ross is still finding new perspectives on what they recorded and the lyrics he wrote. “I’m still figuring it out as I listen back to it but I can definitely say that the album carries a message of hope and perseverance. It’s not a coincidence that this theme emerged as we all emerged from a worldwide pandemic. I think a lot of the tracks are me egging myself to push on through and stay focused on the future. I used a lot of stream of consciousness to pen my lyrics. I’m also a tattoo artist, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would try to paint pictures with words. I know that despite all of the obvious obstacles presented over the past three mad years, we have done our best and we’re made up to finally bring out ‘Straif, our debut album.”
Follow @straifband on Instagram, and the album ‘Straif’ can be found on all streaming platforms. Straif launch the album at Sea Church in Ballycotton on Saturday, February 25. Limited tickets available at www.seachurch.ie