For every act that has experienced success, another is waiting in the wings, hungry and yearning to join the musical elite. Music's digital age has changed the musical landscape tremendously of course, meaning major labels are no longer needed to actually achieve longterm notoriety. Nowadays, groups can retain the copyrights to their music and license companies to distribute their material, something which is improving increasingly popular in today's climate. One act to adopt this approach is Dublin's Reader's Wives.
In 2008, Dublin, Ireland songwriter Niall James Holohan
produced an album of what he felt were his twelve best songs, cutting them with a view to forming a band. Passing rough mixes of the album among friends in the Dublin underground, Holohan
sought likeminded musicians to complete its lineup. The band was christened Reader's Wives
, after a phrase a musician friend of his would use. Reader's Wives
consists of: guitarist / vocalist Niall James Holohan
, guitarist / keyboardist / vocalist Chris Morrin
, bassist Disko
, and drummer Doug Farrell
. During November 2009, the group issued debut EP "Secrecy & Sex
". Shows in Dublin and London, England were performed to promote its release.
Recording has commenced for Reader's Wives' proper full length album, due to be issued in 2010's summer. Meanwhile, in March the outfit issued second EP "Victor's Mother Juliet", featuring the title track and four additional tunes. Written and recorded in its entirety at Reader's Wives' residence off of Dublin's Dame Street, its artwork was created by local indie club Tranmissions' in house photographer Kevin Breen.
On February 21st at 16:00 GMT, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Reader's Wives mainman Niall James Holohan to discuss the group's career thus far.
Niall James Holohan: Hello?
UG: Hello. This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com.
Hey Robert. How are you man?
I'm ok. How are you?
Would it be ok if I began the interview?
Yeah, yeah. Course, yeah.
In 2008, you made an album of what you thought were your best twelve tracks with a view to forming a group. Could you talk me through the recording process for those twelve tracks, and how you came to choose those twelve from the ones you had written?
I'd been writing a lot on my own for awhile, trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to contribute that was different. I was trying different ways of writing, and a lot of different styles of music. Those twelve songs were picked because they showcased a type of range, different points of view, and different musical styles. Once I had those twelve picked as my twelve best songs for a project I was going to call Reader's Wives, I needed to find musicians who were good enough to be able to play them. A lot of the recording was done by me with help from friends, and a couple of session musicians. It was all done consciously to make the kind of record that only a really great band would be able to play, so there were a lot of people involved making it, because that's who I knew at the time. I used it to find the guys that I play with now.
How did you fund recording?
I've always been a big fan of home recording, and you can record quite effectively at home these days, so a lot of it was done at home. The other parts were completely funded by me. I mixed, mastered and produced the album, so it was basically self-funded through doing gigs and DJ sets, and things like that, which meant it took us a little while to do. We had to stop and start as money came in, but we got there in the end.
What appealed to you about forming a band, as opposed to being a solo artist?
"I was trying different ways of writing, and a lot of different styles of music."
Our band is four guys, and there's something about four guys all looking in the same direction that's pretty powerful. There's a lot of great solo artists, but there's something about a band that has always appealed to me. Also, being a creative person on your own and being the one person responsible for everything is cool, because you only have to rely on yourself. There's also something socially good and creatively good about having to rely on other people - it opens different doors creatively. Music's always been a social thing for me. I think I started playing music as a way of... When I met people, we got straight to the kind of conversation I liked because I was a musician, rather than having to go through all the small talk.
Does that mean the other members of Reader's Wives might contribute more in terms of songwriting in future?
Yeah, absolutely. We pretty much write together, and I still write on my own. The album we're currently making is probably about fifty percent or a little less than fifty percent composed of my tunes that the band have learnt, or have added their style to. I'd say about sixty percent of the album we wrote as a four-piece in a room as a band, working it out. The cool thing about that is on my own I have a lot to offer. I'm not shy about saying that I know my strengths, but I'm also aware that I have a lot of limitations. The other three guys know that about themselves as well.
You said that Reader's Wives has written some material as a four-piece. What has that added to the musical mix?
It's really what each individual has added. Doug our drummer, a great drummer, will always do something different. From my point of view with drums, when I did stuff with drums and did demos and so on, drums was something I found difficult to play, so it was difficult to do something unusual with them. I'm comfortable with guitars; my dad was a bassist, and I originally played bass, so I kind of know what I like in those realms. With drums, I really didn't though. Doug really adds a different musical flavour. Disko's an amazing bassist, who's very melodic and very tidy. He's not very poppy, but he's just very tidy, and plays really killer licks that stay in your head rather than pedestrian bass, which is what I'd put down. Chris is quite special, and creative in his own right. When me and Chris sit down and sometimes play - just the two of us - it's a very different thing. Doug and Disko lay down a very unusual rhythm section that's easy to pop along to, and then me and Chris tend to skew it a bit, so it's not just a straight up indie rock band. It's got its own thing, but overall, the band is hopefully bigger than all those four individuals. When we all come together, it's then something else.
How did you discover the other three members in Dublin to form the rest of Reader's Wives' lineup?
Chris I met at a charity event for Outreach Moldova that we just both happened to be playing. He was an acoustic songwriter who had just come out of a rock band. I was a drumming songwriter who was looking to make that original record and form a band, and it was really just a sense of humour that we bonded over first, and then obviously discovered that we had a special musical connection going on as well. Disko was recommended by a friend of his to come and see me. A friend had seen me play acoustic, and said "It's a breath of fresh air. You should get down and see it". He thought Disko would like it. Disko did, so a friendship was formed after that. Again, I subsequently found out what a great musician he was and what he'd done before. He'd been in a couple of great Irish acts before, so it was great to get him involved. Doug used to play drums for a friend of mine, and again, he was recommended to me as a great drummer for my music. That was more the typical scenario, in that we tried him out in the band, and it just worked really well. With Disko and Chris, it was friendship first, and then we discovered that we could play together. With Doug, it was that I had heard the guy was a great drummer, and the friendship came afterwards.
How was the name "Reader's Wives" chosen?
We tend to tell different stories every time we're asked that, but the actual story is that a friend of mine from a band called the Kill City Defectors used to say reader's wives to refer to anyone who would show up uninvited to a party - he'd say "It was a great party, but there were a few too many reader's wives". At the time, he was looking for a new band name, and I said "Reader's Wives would be a great band name". He didn't fancy it for his own band, and at that time, I had made the twelve-track record, and I had a few titles bouncing around. I just thought "Yeah, Reader's Wives would really fit with how dirty the music can be, and also, the little bit of a sense of humour in there". It sounds quite classic to me.
A press release issued about Reader's Wives describes the group's music as "avant-garde pop", but how would you personally describe Reader's Wives' musical style?
It's tricky to do. The whole idea is that hopefully it varies from song to song. It's easy to say indie rock, because indie rock can mean anything from Green Day to all the way down to the other end of the spectrum. I think we've been labelled "avant-garde pop" because we're big Velvet Underground fans, so sonically we're unusual, but at the heart of it, we write songs. I think that's where the "avant-garde pop" thing comes from - I'm comfortable with that label, if that's what it means.
To fans of which groups would Reader's Wives appeal to?
I don't know if being a fan of any particular band defines a person. Everybody's welcome at our shows, and we do get all sorts of people. On Fridays, down the front people are maybe seventeen, eighteen, and might be just going out for the first time. There's dancers, and they'll go crazy, and they love the energy of the show. Disko and Doug's rhythm section they'll be dancing around to, but then I suppose at the middle and the back of the venue are people who are more into the lyrical side of the show. I don't know who would like us. I know who does, but they're all sorts.
Lyrically speaking, which topics do you tend to write about?
It's a cliched thing, but to me, it has to come out of your own experience. I used to write more deliberately about things in my life. It's become much more instinctive out of jamming with the band, and seeing what comes out of your head, but through years of writing, I think I have a place that I come from that is Reader's Wives and is very definitely me. The bands and artists that I like give a sense of someone living a very real life behind the lyrics. Nothing's off limits, and there's nothing taboo in Reader's Wives' lyrics. Everything's up for grabs, but what I really hope to achieve is that when people listen to it, it feels like a conversation with a friend, or it feels like there is someone behind the lyrics actually living a real life. That's what I hope to achieve.
Would you say that you write about more personal topics, as opposed to socially conscious topics?
I like to mix those things together and not box them off, but it depends on my mood. Sometimes, even lyrics that are intended very personally, depending on the events of that week - maybe just world events or events in people's own lives - can come across very political. I don't really try to box things off that way. I just try to write something that seems and feels true to say, and feels comfortable where I feel I wouldn't be able to go anywhere else, and hear someone else sing that. Once we're contributing that, I'm sure there'll be all sorts of meanings in the songs.
Do the other members of Reader's Wives contribute lyrics?
Chris does occasionally these days as we're writing together. Obviously, he's a vocalist and contributes harmonies, but yeah, there have been a couple of songs where Chris has contributed lyrically - one in particular. We obviously haven't decided what's going on and what's going off the next album, but there's one song in the mix where a lot of the lyrics are Chris'. That's the great thing about the band; at the moment, it doesn't matter who's leading the way. As long as we're heading for a great song, then that's cool.
Does Chris' lyrical style differ to yours?
"I've always been a big fan of home recording, and you can record quite effectively at home these days, so a lot of it was done at home."
Yeah. Even back to when Chris was playing acoustically, he has a very straightforward lyrical style. I'm saying that in a complimentary way, because at times, I tend to be over-wordy or over-clever with lyrics. Chris is very straightforward and genuine; he reminds me of what I like about John Lennon's solo stuff, which is just very straightforward. In that sense, mine might be a little more dense, and have a lot more wordplay in them. Chris is very straight up.
How did Reader's Wives come to sign with 360 Degree Music?
We have a manager now. Up until six months ago, I managed the band. I went to a convention called MIDEM, and met a representative from the label. What's most important to us, in a business sense, is that we don't give away our copyrights. We don't sell ourselves for our music, and 360 hold the same values, so we license our stuff to 360. We got to know them over a little while, and there was an instant rapport over how we felt about where the industry was at, and where it was heading. We formed personal relationships after that. The big thing is we got to meet some of the other bands. I think record labels that are artist friendly will work in the future. Once that was all in place, we decided to go with them for the two EPs that we've released.
Do you feel 360 Degree Music are in an ideal position to break Reader's Wives?
Yeah. I think being an artist at all, you have to have two visions, and one is the huge amount of success creatively as well as commercially. At the same time, you have to be realistic about where you are, and how you see yourself getting to that other side. I definitely think we're in a great position at the moment, because we're building it ourselves at a grass roots level. I know enough about music and about bands to know that you can't ignore the many responses we get at shows - we don't get the kind of responses we get at live shows by being a pedestrian band. I know we've got a special band. We're making an album that I think we're gonna be very proud of. All four of us in the band have a lot to prove, and I made the first album on my own, but it's a four-piece band now that is gonna make this album. It really feels like a debut album.
Are there any downsides to being signed to an indie label? Such as tour funding, and so on?
That's bit of an odd question, because I'm sure you could sign to a label, and you could get straight onto a tour and get a massive amount of tour support, but you would owe that money eventually and you'd be paying it back. Our principles as artists, and the kind of music we make, leads directly to the business paths we're taking. They're not separate. What I mean to say is that I don't think there'd be a major label interested in signing us at the moment, and we wouldn't want to. We want to build it our own way to make sure that there's a really solid core of people that we care about caring about our band, before we even consider doing something with a lot of money to go on massive tours. We're responsible with the momentum we're building ourselves.
Do you study how the music industry works? You seem to have a lot more knowledge about the music industry than some other musicians.
Yeah. I kind of made it my business. When I was younger and was doing the acoustic stuff, I had something musical to contribute, but didn't really know where to start. I just got out among the conventions, and as a manager myself. At the time I did that, the whole digital thing was breaking, which everybody knows has turned the music industry on its head. But what I came away with as an artist was that I really need to know what I'm doing in a business sense. There's no point in being good at music, and being no good or not knowledgeable about the business side. We have a manager now as I said, but it's still good for an artist to be knowledgeable enough to be able to talk to their manager on that level. I think most artists think that way now, but for some reason, they don't want to be seen as boring to know a little bit about it, but I see it as exciting. It's exciting to think that you can own everything, and still make great music. There's something finally very punk rock about that; punk rock was a burst of energy, but it was supported by a major label system. What we have now is as good a burst of energy, but we can own it all.
Reader's Wives released the 'Secrecy & Sex' EP in November 2009.
That EP was three tracks off of that original twelve-track record that I made, and then a couple of new tracks. It was really a calling card, especially to people in the UK that hadn't heard of Reader's Wives before, to get the name out there so that we can come over and do some shows. It was just to kick off the relationship, and to get to know a little bit about each other. I was always really proud of those tracks. We put that out just to see what the reaction would be like, and to re-establish ourselves as a band.
And what was the reaction?
The reaction to the recordings was great. Playing live is most important to the band. We sold a fair amount of the EP, but you're not gonna sell a huge amount now anyway. At the moment, we see our releases as promotional tools to get people to our live shows, and to get people interested in the band. Obviously, getting our music out there is important - we want people to have it. If they don't have the money or the will, which is fair enough, to buy music, then let them have the music. It'll get them to a live show, and they'll really enjoy it.
Reader's Wives is due to issue its second EP in March 2010, titled 'Victor's Mother Juliet'.
Yeah. That's the first release that you can really call a four-piece band, that is Reader's Wives. That's exciting. "Victor's Mother Juliet" was a song that was on the debut album I made, but we re-recorded it because the way we play it live as a four-piece band has a lot more life in it. Again, it's just going back to the people who've been good to us, and offering them something while they're waiting on us to make the album, which is really where the band's focus is. That's going to be very special, and will be out later in the year.
How would you compare Reader's Wives' second EP, 'Victor's Mother Juliet', to the group's first EP, 'Secrecy & Sex'?
The difference is marked obviously because the four of us are on the second EP. It's a lot braver, a lot more colourful, and a lot more refreshing than the first. We also feel proud that we were able to release two EPs of really good material in a short amount of time. The good thing about being an independent band is that you can kinda release stuff whenever you want to.
The cover to 'Victor's Mother Juliet' was done by Kevin Breen.
Yeah, that's right. Kevin's great; he's a photographer for a nightclub around the corner from where we are. It's pretty simple photography, but I love it because it's just all about people who are having a good night out, and that's what Reader's Wives is about as well.
Is that simplicity reflective of Reader's Wives' attitude in general? Perhaps the group doesn't like to be too flashy?
"Our band is four guys, and there's something about four guys all looking in the same direction that's pretty powerful."
Yeah. I suppose simplicity is the key to a lot of things, but to me, the artwork means that this band is more about people. We didn't want ourselves on the cover; the band are there for people to enjoy, and we're a band that goes onstage to enjoy itself. That was the thinking behind getting Kevin onboard.
There'll be a social media campaign to promote 'Victor's Mother Juliet' by MUZU TV. What benefits will that hopefully yield?
We're just about to do it, actually. We made a music video for "Victor's Mother Juliet", and shot some behind the scenes footage while we were doing it. We're doing a little bit of a countdown to the video, and it starts tomorrow. We'll be posting behind the scenes videos just as little tasters, and then the video will be launched across all the social networking sites - Facebook, Twitter, and all that - next Saturday, 27th February. The reason we're doing it is because that's where people are nowadays, and we wanna be where the people who're interested in us are. There's no point in just doing a gig, and then vanishing until the next one, or even just doing posters and flyers.
Obviously, Reader's Wives has released two EPs thus far. How many previously released tracks will feature on the group's forthcoming album?
The album will be totally new material; nothing from our two EPs will appear on it.
What new directions will Reader's Wives explore on this forthcoming album?
We've only really started talking about it in that way, as we're about halfway through. What do we want the album to be? We just want it to be an undeniable record, something that people really feel they have to own, which nowadays means you gotta have great songs, and you gotta be sonically different.
Finally, what would you like to achieve with Reader's Wives in the long term?
Long term, we wanna have a career as artists. We want fame, adulation and a fair amount of money that we'd all be comfortable with. We have to be doing stuff that we're proud of, because we know that the people who relate to our band expect that of us, so we put ourselves out there as an intelligent band, as a band that cares, and so that people care about us. We don't wanna lose that, and we're determined not to lose that. Over time, longevity is really what we want - to be around, you know? To be able to still make records, and to travel, and play, and meet new people, and see new places.
Thanks for the interview.
All the best.
Alright. Nice talking to you man.
Interview by Robert Gray
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