“Sometimes it feels like this country has been allowed to be the murder capital."
In the same way that well-written literature should never slip into verboseness, The Murder Capital’s debut is precise and calculated. Every second of its runtime feels as if it has been meditated on and considered. The guitar work from all strings is meticulous, the drums punchy and dynamic, and the vocals raw and measured.
Media authorities have previously drawn comparisons to post-punk forefathers Joy Division, and although I am inclined to disagree with this assessment, on the whole, the Dublin-based five-piece certainly take elements of the late 70’s band. Both acts are reflective in their lyrical approach, create oppressing sonics, and the work of drummer Diarmuid Brennan feels reminiscent of the militant, pressurised drumming that Stephen Morris provides on tracks such as ‘Atrocity Exhibition’.
However, to reduce a band such as The Murder Capital to a series of comparisons is reductive. Their debut is exhilarating, vigorous, and – most importantly – it is arrestingly original. With its atmosphere, and dynamics, the opener to ‘When I Have Fears’ does an excellent job of introducing the tonal theme of the album. Spectral notes emerge and introduce us to ‘For Everything’. Following this, the track undergoes two distinct lurches; first, with the introduction of blistering drums and itching, tremolo-picked guitars, and second with an explosive bass guitar that feels reminiscent of Swans’ later work. McGovern’s sneering opening vocals after this seem to counter the oppressive instrumental, as he asserts that “I am a listless star, corroded through the core.”
I caught up with bassist Gabriel Blake to go over The Murder Capital’s reception, the realities of life in Dublin, and the recording of their debut ‘When I Have Fears’. Our interview followed the band’s performance at Curraghmore festival All Together Now. Blake reflects on the performance.
“It was really good man,” Blake says excitedly. The bassist considers how tough Irish crowds can be in response to new Irish acts. The All Together Now show felt to him a motion from scepticism to the establishment of a genuine Irish fanbase.
“I think our Irish nature leads us to be somewhat sceptical of [new bands]”, Blake laughs. “That was sort feeling we got at the start. Loads of people were coming to our shows earlier on, but you could feel that a lot of people were there as spectators rather than were actually into the music. [They] just wanted to figure out what was going on.”
“Altogether, man, this was the first time we all felt like a huge feeling of the crowd [and] like an Irish crowd getting behind us. I think that was the first time that we felt [that] collectively. When we started songs and when we finished songs – like from a crescendo to the music dropping back down again – people were applauding. Everyone was very engaged throughout the whole show. So yeah, it was brilliant man.”
Blake elaborates on his thoughts. Without feeling the pressure of an Irish crowd initially, playing and touring outside of Ireland allowed Blake to perform in a manner more true to himself.
“The further away from Ireland, the [easier it is] to be more yourself. It’s sort of like, these people [not Irish] don’t really know who I am so I can just sort of do whatever I want, perform whatever way I want. Whereas, if there are members in the crowd that you know, that like know you as a person from before, it can be thought that you’re putting on an act. Whereas [elsewhere] you can perform to the extent that’s truly you.”
Blake considers that this has changed for him following the All Together Now performance. “It was just a good feeling to know that an Irish crowd understood that what we do is genuine and that what we do is real and that they believe that. That was the impression I got from it.”
In previous interviews, The Murder Capital have not shied away from the topic of mental health. Along with their thoughts on the topic and personal struggles with mental health-related issues, the band’s title acts as a reference to the poor mental health services available in Dublin. It is a concern that is felt across Ireland’s population. Blake is quick to point out that, though this is a concern of the band, they are not an inherently political group. Rather they are using the platform they’ve created to describe – among other topics – their personal responses to mental health.
“The topic of mental health is in the minds of the majority of people in Ireland at the minute,” Blake opens, before describing the band’s own grapplings with mental health issues. “I think the five of us have definitely all struggled with periods of [poor] mental health. I mean, the rate of deaths by suicide that happens in Ireland, especially for young men, is far too high. When we all went through our own down points, we found it quite difficult to get support from the HSE or the government-run health board.”
“The only real option is to go private,” Blake continues. “The majority of people don’t have that money. What happens then is people have to choose between going out at the weekend with the money they’ve made or go to counselling. Your friends aren’t going to be in the counselling session.”
Blake considers that, though actual services are lacking, the cultural reception to mental health is progressing alongside other social concerns in Ireland.
“The people in Ireland are striving for a place of opening up about how they feel. The culture of not speaking about how you feel is leaving Ireland. [Considering] the positive political action that people are having with regards to [topics such as] the same-sex marriage referendum, people are definitely taking positive steps to improve the country. This doesn’t seem to be coming from the government.”
Blake has taken his concerns further and has researched the state of services in Ireland. “I was writing a paper, kinda like Kojaque, defending Irishness and what it’s like to live in a postcolonial state. I was looking into mental health, and I was trying to research more. I was trying to get statistics to suicide and [other] mental health statistics in Ireland. The last update that the HSE had on it was eight years ago. Even the fact that that is their most recent rate shows a [degree] of incompetence and negligence they’re showing towards us, you know?”
As mentioned earlier, Blake delineates that the band’s aim is not a political one, but rather portraying their own realities.
“Our main goal is to express how we feel,” Blake explains. “We’re trying to understand ourselves and understand how we can communicate with each other. What we talk about tends to be what the youth in Ireland are talking about at the moment. It feels good when people can relate to it.”
Blake expands on this point, referencing tracks of their debut. “The song ‘On Twisted Ground’ is about not losing sight of your friends and making sure that you let your friends know that you love them. That’s something that we want people to remember. When we introduce ‘Slowdance’, James often says, ‘just find the person that you fancy that you’re beside in the crowd and you haven’t told them you fancy yet and just have a dance with them’. So, we are encouraging people to do things like that. We just try to express how we feel.”
Moving on to The Murder Capital’s debut, Blake discusses his experiences working with producer Flood to bring the album together. Blake comments on Flood’s lack of interference with the band’s musical aims, allowing the five-piece to create an album that truly reflects their intentions.
“To be honest man, it sounds a bit like a cliché, but I couldn’t imagine it being done by anyone else,” Blake says smilingly. “Before the songs are recorded, they only really exist when you play them together. So, it was quite difficult to get what the song is in your head to a physical thing that you can press play. To do that correct way, we really wanted the songs to exist the way we believed they were in our heads and in our hearts, Flood really allowed us to get to that point.”
“He made a point of understanding us as people as much [and] if not more than as artists and musicians,” Blake explains. “Our experience was great. Richie Kennedy, he’s from Dublin as well, he engineered it. When we’re writing as the five of us, it’s a very personal thing [and] it takes to understand each other. We have to be completely free and bare in front of each other, so to be able to be like that in front of the boys and Flood was just brilliant. I’m just delighted that it happened that way; that we were able to be that bare.”
“I was fearful that it would be our songs [but] just by another person. So the song sounds like a version of the song. Flood allowed the songs to become what they were intended to be within our heads.”
Despite gathering attention before the band had released any substantial content, The Murder Capital have collectively adopted a healthy attitude in response to media. On the whole, I get the impression that the band are fairly insular in their creative endeavours; using mainly the resources of the five members as opposed to relying on outside influence or aid. Blake describes their reaction to the media.
“Of course, we’re delighted with [the response]. We are blessed so many publications and so many people from the UK have got behind us. I mean, we try not to read too much what people say. With regards to reviews and that, the most important thing for us is for the five of us to be completely happy; that’s where the most pressure comes from.”
Blake continues, referring again to the recording of the album. “When we were doing the album, it was quite an emotionally engaging and like stressful job to make sure we were representing ourselves fully. That takes time under [any] circumstances when you have five people. It took a while until the five us were completely happy with the songs, but, in the end, the album definitely got there. I don’t think any of us would have changed that. We’re delighted that the response has been good, but we’re trying not to read too much.”
Though the band largely focus on their own assessment of their music, Blake describes how the John Keats poem ‘When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be’ acted as a guiding phrase that inspired the band’s debut and title.
“The poem was given to James by a very close friend of his,” Blake explains.” Then he showed it to us. After that, the poem, and just the title ‘When I Have Fears’, made a lot of sense to us. It sort of reflected what we wanted to achieve within the music. It was good as well because when we were writing songs, it was always that thing of ‘okay, I love that song, but is it [a] When I Have Fears song?’ That’s how it came about. It just made sense. The album is a sort of coming of age album. It’s about learning to understand yourself, trying to understand grief, and learning to understand love and the lack thereof. A lot of the subjects discussed in the album are about fearful times.”
For fearful live renditions of ‘When I Have Fears’, you can catch The Murder Capital throughout October as part of their English tour. Links to their debut are available below.