Spiritual Leaders are born again!
The last time the Spiritual Leaders released music, their launch gig turned out to be their last performance. There were no big rifts between members, “no artistic differences” gnawing at them - just a bunch of mates whose lives, relationships and careers were pulling them ever further apart.
“The release of the first album was the end of things for us really,” recalls bassist Fergus Brady. “Getting the album done at all was an achievement.”
Guitarist Ferdia O’Brien was the only one left in Cavan, as drummer Cathal Brady was in Galway and Fergus was in Dublin. The biggest obstacle was frontman Dave Reilly was married with a kid and had moved to Derby in England while the album was still in its infancy.
“When we got him back to finish it off in the studio, we did a launch gig in Cavan. It was Christmas 2012 - and that was it.
“Life got in the way, jobs, marriages, children - all that kind of malarkey, but I suppose we always felt we had some unfinished business.”
Shoot forward to Christmas 2018 and Dave’s wife bought him a voucher for Snug Recording Studio in Derby. A call out to his old Spiritual Leaders saw Fergus and his drummer brother Cathal take him up on the offer, but sadly guitarist Ferdia O’Brien wasn’t available. The band however, was born again.
When the Celt catch up with Fergus Brady, he’s “free and easy” on holidays in Kerry. More specifically “up the side of a hill” in Kenmare. It’s probably an altogether different image than the zen image the Celt has conjured up of Fergus sitting cross legged like a yoga guru.
“And you know,” he says of his location, “it’s not such a bad thing considering everything else that’s going on.” Fergus’s talking to the Celt in the relatively innocent times of last Friday morning, when there were just 70 confirmed cases of you know what.
Anyway, back to April 2019, and the Brady brothers found themselves with Dave in the rather impressive looking Snug Recording Studio in the East Midlands of England.
“We hadn’t practised, we hadn’t played together in over six years... and we rocked up in a studio in Derby - we had two half ideas for songs and we just went in and started recording straight away,” he says with a laugh at the naivety of it all. “To our surprise, once we got back in, the dynamic was still there - it still felt like we could make some really good music together and came up with a lot of stuff on the spot.”
They emerged from that day with two songs - ‘You Know Me’ and ‘Temporary’ and a burning desire to find out what other tracks they could get laid down.
“So off the back of that first session we hadn’t any major ambitions, we were just doing it for a laugh, and came out with those two songs. We thought - this is really good, this studio is brilliant and we’re still sounding pretty good, so we organised two more sessions on the back of that.”
They tried to be more organised going into those recording sessions in September and December, yet mindful of their inability to physically get together to practise.
“We made a conscious decision that we would go back to songs that we had - some of them were old enough songs that we had never recorded.”
Reverting to songs they had “more or less” worked out before proved a fruitful strategy as they nailed another four more tracks, including the single ‘Picture on the Wall’ off their new EP titled ‘Albania Away’. It was released onto Spotify and every other streaming platform you can think on St Patrick’s Day. It’s a fitting date as the Celt can’t help but think that ‘Picture on the Wall’ is a conventional pop sound with a very Irish sensibility, that goes beyond Dave’s accent.
It’s actually one of the Spiritual Leaders’ oldest tracks - they actually played it during their first ever live gig, a support slot in Bewley’s Theatre supporting Ciaran O’Neill & Co back in 2009. Dave wrote the lyrics when he was in his early 20s.
Fergus recites the chorus: “Just like a picture on the wall/Nobody seems to look at all/But take that picture off the wall/They’ll ask, where has it gone?
“So it’s like you don’t know you have a good thing until it’s not there anymore.”
A bit like the band?
“Indeed, you’re right,” he says with a laugh.
Fergus readily name checks some of the band’s many influences, all guitar-led indie bands from the late ’80s, early ’90s - The Smiths, Radiohead, New Order and The Pixies. The only Irish name that crops up is ‘My Bloody Valentine’ when it comes to the distortion fuelled wig-out towards the end of ‘Picture on the Wall’.
“That was good craic,” he delightedly recalls. “At the very end we stuck on the distortion pedal on the guitar and I was playing the keyboards and did a bit of mucking around with a phasebender on the keyboard, which gives it that whoo-oo-ooshy kind of ‘My Bloody Valentine’ kind of thing,” he says, stressing that they didn’t take it to MBV’s extreme.
He credits some of the single’s success to producer Rob Newman who was “on a different level” from anyone they had worked with before.
“He was a really brilliant producer - he assumed a creative role in it as well. He was great at adding in suggestions, and because we hadn’t practised the songs and we were coming up with a lot of stuff on the spot, his input was really invaluable,” Fergus says of the man who previously worked with Larne rockers Therapy?
Having learned that their laisse faire approach to marketing let the debut album vanish into Cavan’s musical lore, they are putting in a concerted effort to give ‘Albania Away’ the oxygen of publicity, giving it “a big push” on Facebook and Instagram.
The single comes with a video by respected director Aodha Molloy. Shot in Dublin featuring a whole gaggle of passers-by and has helped to generate traction for the EP. They had also we had planned launch gigs in Dame Street’s ‘The Underground Venue’ on April 9, and another in Blessings, Cavan the following day.
“Who knows, hopefully it can go ahead, but Corona virus might tell us otherwise. But if not I think we’ll definitely organise something later on in the summer.”
Check out the Albania Away EP now on Spotify and on all other streaming platforms, including Youtube.