Having found themselves with debut album ‘The Truth About Honey’, Ballydehob alt-rockers First Class and Coach spent the Covid-19 crisis sitting with the question of where to take their sound - and how to address matters of the personal with it.
From outreach to late friends, to musings on the shifting tectonic plates of life as one gets older, second album ‘Neon Hip’ skimps neither style or substance, traversing from expansive psychedelia to more immediate jams.
As your writer calls guitarist and vocalist Reuben Maher early on Saturday morning, the band is basking in the afterglow of a busy Whelan’s gig, meeting up and seeing family before they strike on to Dundalk and Cork. Happy out, as the fella says.
“It's actually been really good. I'm not that active with the social media parts, like Jonathan [Parson, bass] is, but I've been seeing there's just been a really good buzz, and talk about the album, people have bought it and downloaded it. Which is great, y'know, nice to see that after how long it takes to make a thing like that, like two years ago, now.”
That long lead-up has coincided with the parallel tumults of its time for a lot of musicians - pandemics unwinding, fulfilling outstanding commitments, the rush to document and release new music as it still feels fresh and urgent. Fertile soil, then, for personal observations to form the basis of output, be they on changing times, or an inner monologue settling after the past few years.
“Some songs I had to write. For songs like [the title track], I had to write it, because I had to write a letter to my friend who died. Other songs, like 'My, Oh, My', it was just a chord progression we had, like, we were just playing that in a jam in the rehearsal studio, and Geri [Thomas, vox] came in and started singing all these lyrics on top of it, and that song kind-of wrote itself. It was over, in one rehearsal, it's a song.
“Other songs like, 'No Tomorrow', 'No-one to Ask', they were songs that just appeared two weeks before we went to France to record, they were also weird jams that we thought, 'those happened, we'd better put them on the record'. Songs like '100 Miles' and 'Sure', I believe were a longer process to organise and arrange for the five members of the band, they were more complicated and took a long time to put together.”
The band took their work in writing and demoing to Black Box Studios, near Nante in France, as studios closer to home didn’t work out. The facility isn’t exactly new to Cork-based noisemakers - among others, Ten Past Seven put down their 2011 EP ‘Black Box Recordings’ in the same space.
Taking the opportunity to fly out amid a break in Covid restrictions, the band got amid the studio’s vintage gear with the help of producer Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu), and got down to the basic tracking live across a weekend.
“I'll tell you, the reason why we ended up going to Black Box is couldn't find a studio in Ireland: they were booked, they were busy, they weren't returning calls, it wasn't the right studio, and I was playing tag with people for about nine months, and it just didn't work out. Ten months pass, and we've got all these songs, and... once you've written the songs, there's some momentum to them that you have to keep going, you have to document them, and record them. They were going to be lost, if we didn't record them.
“Friends of mine had recorded at the Black Box, I just remembered the name, Googled it, just sent them an email, and they responded straight away. They had a cancellation, and they booked us, we got lucky, they're usually booked up about a year in advance. We had no idea what to expect.
“It was just a sense of occasion to go to France, recording, so it was like a vacation, it was fantastic. A great studio, beautiful French countryside… y'know, the wine helped [laughs]. It was great. It was lockdown, we wanted to get out of Ireland and go somewhere, but it was just three days of hard work there, recording straight for three days.”
In the run-up to last weekend’s launch - amid finalising mixes after vocals and other elements were recorded and added in Ireland - the band had one major pitstop among a gathering of live appearances, joining labelmates The Love Buzz in supporting the Sultans of Ping on night one of their February weekender at the Opera House to mark 30 years of their ‘Casual Sex at the Cineplex’ album.
“We had the best time of our lives, I can't say enough good things about the Opera House and the people there. You know, we're used to playing smaller clubs, and that was a big deal for us. So before we went, we were so excited, just to go and play, whatever happened, we didn't care if it was an empty room at that point. But just how professional it was.
“The backline, the guys who organised it, the people who helped us with our gear, the soundcheck went late but everybody was calm. It was a very professional, wonderful experience, we had a great set. And they’d a great party afterwards, we danced ‘til late. It was one of the best gigs I've ever played. We loved it, I want to go back [laughs].
“[Morty McCarthy, drummer] was wonderful, actually. We met him and he seems to be a big fan of our band. He came up when The Love Buzz were starting to check, and he was like a fan! He was like, "I love your song, it's the best thing I've heard in ten years!
First Class and Coach’s new album, ‘Neon Hip’, is available for streaming and download at https://firstclassandcoach.bandcamp.com/, and across all other digital services. 12” vinyl is available at independent record shops now.
First Class and Coach played Levis’ of Ballydehob on Saturday April 15, and play instore at Music Zone in Togher on Saturday, April 22.