Interview: Badger Hill
BADGER Hill is the newest indie rock band to hit the Irish music circuit flying. The group consists of five guys who met in school and found their footing amongst Dubliners playing packed-out gigs in The Grand Social, Whelans and The Button Factory, just to name a few.
Following on from the success of last years EP and a delightfully gentle cover of ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’, their ‘Plans’ EP rose quickly to number one on the iTunes Album Chart last week. With Kodaline, Hozier, Little Green Cars and Orla Gartland all making a name for the Irish in international music, who knows where we could see Badger Hill next? A number one at 20-years-old isn’t a bad start though.
Pop along to their launch party this Wednesday in Whelans, February 4, at 8pm, featuring support acts Maria Kelly and Heroes in Hiding. Find out where it all began, about their future ‘Plans‘ and get introduced to altar ego Dr. Zippo as we chat to band member Geoff Allen.
First off, introduce yourselves, who makes up the band?
We’re five 20-year-olds from Dublin. Three of us are singers, Geoff, Bobby and Dave and between us, we play a mixture of guitar and keys on stage. Then it’s Tierno on bass and Pigo on drums.
How did Badger Hill come about? Did you all have the same vision for the band?
We all went to the same secondary school and we’ve been kind of in and out of bands together since we were 13. What is now Badger Hill started in early 2012 as a three-piece a cappella band with me, Bobby and Dave but we added acoustic guitars for doing gigs once we realised it was the only way forward! We soon recruited Tierno and Pigo for a bigger live sound.
When we first started with the a capella, we probably didn’t see it quite ending up where it is today. But after jamming with Tierno and Pigo, we all decided to go for a heavier sound, which is something we all thankfully agree on now. I think we all approached the first EP last spring with slightly different expectations but by the time we went to record our second EP, we’d found a style we all wanted to work towards. We still argue a lot but we’ve learned a lot about working together and it’s the combination of our ideas that makes up the finished product.
Tell me a bit about your sound. How would you describe it?
We’re indie rock, I suppose, whatever that means! We’ve kept the big vocals and the heavy harmonies from our a cappella days and we’ve incorporated rock elements. Lyrics are also a big part of what we do and we put a lot of energy into what we say and how we say it.
Are there any bands or musicians who inspire you? What kind of music do you listen to?
We all have our own individual influences and they’re all very different. Pigo grew up listening to Chad Smith from Red Hot Chilli Peppers and so his drumming roots will always be there. These days he’s moved on more to classic rock drummers and so all these various styles find their way into our music. Our lyrics vary a lot from song to song so the abstract, imagery-based approach would come from James Vincent Mc Morrow and The National whereas folky storytelling in songs is something we’d take from people like John Martin.
’Plans’ is your second EP. How was the process involved different to the first?
We knew each other better as well as how we wanted the songs to come out. Production during the recording process can really change the end result and I suppose with the first EP ‘Let Me Go’, we were open to it going in many directions. With ‘Plans’, we’d been through it before and we spent a lot of time experimenting with the songs before we went into the studio. We wanted a less polished sound so we used more live recording techniques to capture how we actually sound.
You work independently of a management team or record label – is getting signed a future goal? What do you think are the pros to working without the involvement of a third party?
We don’t want to be tied down too early. At the moment, it’s just us and an independent manager, which means we’re free to choose our own schedules and approach recording and gigging on our own terms. We’d like to release an album in the near future and the easiest way to achieve that is with extra finance so when we find the right deal for us, we’ll take it!
The Irish music industry is pretty small and a tough one to crack. If you were giving advice to a younger band trying to get noticed, what would you say? Have you found any aspect of the industry different then you thought?
Basically, just get as much experience as possible: rehearsing, gigging and recording. We find we learn so much about a song by rehearsing it and playing it live. We learn even more by producing and recording a song but that’s the most expensive route so it’s best left until the music is somewhat tried and tested. We’ve dropped songs after trying them live and it was only when listening back to our first EP that we got the first chance to really hear ourselves!
I understand that you write all your own songs, is it a combined effort? Tell me a bit about your writing process. What comes first the music or the lyrics?
Bobby and I write the songs, working individually. For both of us, we work out the music first by humming or singing jibberish and then go back to work on the theme and lyrics, which takes by far the most time. An EP or live set always seems to end up with half my songs and half Bobby’s. Either Bobby or I would bring a song to the band with a chord progression and lyrics written and then all five of us work together to finish the full arrangement.
The female vocals on ‘Me & My’ and ‘Plans’ are beautiful, who is she? Do you want to continue collaborating with other artists?
Her name is Karen Horan. Bobby and Dave met her in BIMM, a music college where they all go. Recently Bobby and I have liked writing to include female vocals and we were lucky to come across her since her voice seems to really match Bobby’s soft tone. It was through BIMM that we also met Seany O’Brien, a guitarist who often plays with us live. Seany brings great blues elements to our music and we love working with these other musicians who can contribute to the final sound.
Performing live must be terrifying, does stage fright ever come into play? What do you do to calm the nerves?
Some of us struggle more than others, especially at bigger shows where lots of our own fans have come to see us. Bobby has recently started experimenting with an alter ego on stage. On stage, Dr. Zippo is the Badger Hill frontman, recognisable by his trademark cap. To be honest, Bobby’s hat has become kind of psychological and he feels he needs it to write songs or perform live.
The ‘Plans’ EP launch is on Wednesday, yet you’ve already hit number 1 on the iTunes Album Chart. That must feel amazing! What were your reactions?
We’ve worked really hard on all the songs since last summer, from writing to recording and it was great to see such a quick response once we finally unveiled what we’d been working on for so long. We all invested a lot into the EP and it was encouraging to see a widespread positive reaction.
Tell me about your plans for the future. Is there an album in works? Would you ever see yourselves touring Ireland?
We’re definitely looking into an album in the near future. After recording two EPs, we’re looking forward to taking on the goal of creating a complete album but we want to do it properly, which involves finding the right deal first. We’re working on new material all the time and it’ll be exciting to turn that focus on creating a full album so we’re ready to go for it as soon as we have the right resources!
As far as tours are concerned, we’ve always been advised to hold off until we can expect a crowd in each location. At the moment, our fanbase is mainly located in Dublin but we hope that our music will spread in the near future and then we’ll be eager to travel and gig in new cities.
Intrigued yet? Listen to their EP for free on bandcamp or download ‘Plans’ from iTunes. Make sure to join their fans in Whelans this Wednesday to see what they’re all about and catch a glimpse of Bobby in one of his infamous hats. I hope it’s a bowler.
Photos c/o Issey Conway, Fran Marshall Photography, lovindublin.com