Fans with their heroes as friends
Willy Mundel and Mike Barr of Northern Irish rockers Throat explain why they didn't tour much in Ireland until recently, the work on their second album and the heroes who have become their friends.
It's a few hours before Throat are due on stage in Dublin for the first of what was supposed to be two nights supporting American rockers, Clutch, in Ireland. Sadly, the Belfast show had to be cancelled because Clutch's vocalist Neil Fallon got sick at an English festival the day after the Dublin date. But that's all in the future. For now, though, there's a level of excitement in the air, so strong it's almost solid. Various members of Throat are hanging around and chatting, Therapy?'s Michael McKeegan and Graham Hopkins (ex-Therapy?) are wandering around and Clutch's Jean-Paul Gaster is giving Throat's drummer Mike Barr some tips his on drumming technique and style. Everyone is relaxed and looking forward to what turns out to be a great show.
After Throat's sound-check, Mike and Willy Mundel, guitar and vocals, head on out to their tour van to do the interview. It's quieter out there. Their van, while spacious, is far from the lap of luxury. There are five or six couch cushions stacked up in one corner and there's a crate of beer on the floor. We pull up a few cushions and settle down. One thing's for sure, though, their journey home to the North can't have been very comfortable, but that's life in a rock band.
Since this young four-piece (completed by Rory McGeown and Russell Crookes, guitar/vocals and bass respectively) released their debut album, "Knievel is evil", in 2002, they've come a long way, gathering a lot of attention and playing with some great bands around both England and Ireland. "We have got to play with some of our favourite bands, Clutch, Therapy? and Rival Schools, which has been absolutely fantastic," Mike explains, "and been playing around the UK constantly."
"And writing more material for the second album," Willy adds. "I think, after the album came out, we were playing around the UK too much," Mike continues. "We didn't even play over here [Ireland] and we had things on the message board on our website saying 'why aren't you playing Ireland?'" Before Christmas they played their first Belfast gig in about a year, a show Mike describes as "fantastic, it was just amazing". Since then, they've played Ireland quite a bit, once with Wilt and at the moment with Clutch.
The decision to play around the UK so much wasn't actually a conscious decision by the band, it was something that just happened. Willy explains that their record label, Riverman Records, was saying to them, "we've got a tour for you here, go there. So we just did it and we went and we just weren't setting anything up ourselves. Everything was set up for us by the record company. We were just going where they told us and we didn't happen to be down here much."
When the album was released, they played a few Irish shows including one in Limerick and the aforementioned Therapy? tour. "When we were starting to go 'we haven't played down south or in Belfast in ages' it just dawned on us and we went 'we should start playing again'. It wasn't like we were just going to stay away from there, we just realised we hadn't played there in ages 'cause we'd been concentrating on playing in England and stuff," Mike says.
The reception in England was good, but strange. It seems that the guys aren't yet used to being considered rock stars. "It's weird," Mike says. "When you go over there and people are coming up to you saying 'can you sign my CD?' and you're going 'what, you've got our CD?", it is kind of weird. Then again, it's available to buy in all good record stores," he concludes with a laugh. "There are people who come to the gigs now and singin', especially 'Crazy Horses'. Everyone knows that one now."
Yes, that is 'Crazy Horses', originally by The Osmonds! On the album, it features Neil from Clutch on guest vocals, so you'd think this tour would be a prime opportunity to dust it off and belt it out live. When asked if they'll be performing it later, Willy answers with a definite "we won't be playing 'Crazy Horses' tonight." The reason is simple enough. "If we're playing it, we're going to ask Neil from Clutch to come on and play it with us. And we're going to do it in Belfast and we don't want to have to hassle him."
"He might not even remember the fucking words," Mike continues. "It was quite a while ago. He's done it with us before, but I just hate playing the song. I'm totally sick of it. I HATE it and you know every time we play a gig it's like 'CRAZY HORSES'. For fuck sake, one of our own, please shout for one of our own." "I enjoy playing 'Crazy Horses', I think," Willy says.
The fear is that it will be the song they'll be remembered for and, while it's a good cover, they'd much prefer to be known for their own material. Before the album was released, their trademark song was one of the album's standout tracks, the stunning 'Sonny's hired killer'. That too has lost its charm, though, for these young men. "I don't mind playing it the odd time," Willy says, "but to us, it's a really old, old song."
"We're playing so much new stuff," the guitarist explains, "because the album's been out now for a year and a half or something like that. Before that, when the album came out, we already had new stuff, 'cause the albums really old to us, it's probably like two and a half, three years old to us. All we do in the band is write songs, write songs, write songs. We don't really practice much, we just keep on writing song, so it's all really old stuff to us."
Ideally, the plan would be to put out stuff the whole time, but still, they don't want the second album to be mediocre. This means that, regardless of how many new songs they write, they keep discarding some to make sure the songs stay fresh and as good as they can be. The first album was put out in a rush, they had eight songs the label wanted to release as a full length, so they quickly wrote four more to flesh it out. Throat don't intend the same thing to happen again though.
At the moment, Mike explains they're demoing songs and they've got six, maybe eight, songs they could use, but "we just want to write better ones than the ones we've got. We're nearly ready to do a second album." They've currently got no producer in mind, but Mike says he would like to get Jean-Paul from Clutch to do his drumming sound, because he loves the sound he gets. When asked about guests, Mike laughingly whispers "should we tell him?"
"We've asked a few, we've got a couple of things… I want Cormac [Battle] from Wilt and he's already agreed, but he was drunk, so, you fucker, you're singing on it, Cormac, like it or lump it. I think we will try and get someone because it's fun and it's good. I mean to get Andy Cairns from Therapy? [who sang on 'Gleason' on their debut], it's just like, 'holy fuck'. You're sitting in the studio and they're singing away and we're like… just to have people who you grew up listening to singing on your album." At the heart of it all, they're still fans who've made friends with their heroes. They personally count Therapy? and Clutch as friends.
The next step for Throat is to get a record label, it turns out Riverman didn't do all that much for them. "Everything we ever got the last couple of years was down to us. All the record company did was put the record out for us and gave us tour support. Which is fair enough," Willy says, "I'm happy they gave us that, but we'd have liked more. We'd have liked for the record company to push us a bit more and stuff." The ultimate dream, though, is to go to the States, preferably supporting Clutch. That may still be a bit of ways off for them, but one thing these guys certainly have on their side is time.