A matter of Choice
Choice Music Prize winner Jape talks to Brian Boyd
AND THE winner is . . . Jape! There was huge support for Jape’s Richie Egan at the Choice Music Prize show at Dublin’s Vicar Street on Wednesday night when the judges (after a secret ballot) announced his name as this year’s winner. Within the often claustrophobiac and bitchy Dublin music scene, Egan is a genuine good guy, someone whose self-deprecating manner and musical integrity have a lot of goodwill among fans and contemporaries. Nobody would begrudge the success of Jape’s marvellous Ritual album.
Moments after being announced as the winner on Wednesday, the 32-year-old from Crumlin was naturally buoyant, if a little bemused. “2008 was a vintage year for Irish albums, and it was great to make it on the shortlist,” he said. “To win it is just the cherry on the cake, particularly because it must have been very, very hard on the judges this year. Really, any of the 10 shortlisted albums could have won this year. I mean, you have people such as David Holmes, Mick Flannery and Lisa Hannigan in there – never mind all the others.”
Better clear up the Jape/Richie Egan confusion first. Are they a band or is he a solo performer? “It’s odd in that when we play live we are very much a band, we interpret all the songs together, but I write all the songs. This all really started when I first started performing solo – the first few gigs I did I just used my own name, but I didn’t want people thinking I was a singer-songwriter because there’s a band on stage, so I decided to use the name Jape.”
Egan’s first exposure to music was 1960s melodic pop. “I loved Simon and Garfunkel and stuff like that, but when I hit puberty I just listened to American hardcore punk: The Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, Black Flag and all the SST bands, so there’s a real mix in my musical background.”
He first emerged as part of the instrumental rock band Redneck Manifesto, of which he is still a proud member.
“With the Rednecks, the five of us write in a room together, and it’s great and I love it. But I used to go home afterwards, take out my acoustic guitar and write these more melodic type of songs that just wouldn’t have fitted with the Rednecks’ sound. It got to the stage where I had recorded loads of them onto a four-track tape machine and just felt I needed to get out and play them myself.”
Egan doesn’t see any difficulty in balancing his ongoing work with Redneck Manifesto with his commitment to Jape. “We’re doing a new Redneck album in June over in France with Dave Odlum producing. People always ask me if one gets in the way of the other, but that never happens. There’s time for both. With the Rednecks, we’re now just a bunch of contrary men jamming together. We’ll do the album and then do a few gigs around Ireland. It’s an ongoing thing for me.”
He knows it’s a cliché, but he did feel a real buzz after finishing Ritual. “There were two other albums, Cosmosphereand The Monkeys in the Zoo Have More Fun than Me, and when I look back now I think they’re only 45 per cent good. I’m not ashamed of them by any means, but I didn’t give them enough time. Ritualwas different. For me, the only way I can define the success of an album is by the songs and how they turn out. I have to be able to face myself over the quality of the work I put out.”
The Monkeys in the Zoo(2004) did yield a successful single, Floating, which led to Egan’s first brush with stardom.
“I was playing this very grim gig from the back of a truck at the Rose of Tralee festival, and I got this phone call from a friend who was in Whelan’s. He told me that Brendan Benson [from supergroup The Raconteurs] had heard my song being played in the venue and wanted to know where he could buy the album.
“Benson even gave me a big shout-out in the Guardianbut, typical Guardian,they spelt the name ‘Jabe’. Then he rings me and tells me The Raconteurs were going to cover the song in their shows – and I saw them do that at the Olympia, which was a great moment.”
While Egan was pleased at last year’s reception to Ritual, he was a bit annoyed at the “internet trolls” who had a go at him over the album’s standout track, Phil Lynott. It’s a children’s fairy tale type of song, which has Egan describing what happened to him one night when he went to see the metal band Mastodon play a show in Dublin. He sings about how the band did a cover of a Thin Lizzy song and how he and his mates emerged after the show into a lunar eclipse.
“I got criticised by people saying the lyrics were childish and it was a simple song that only had three chords. But it’s a totally honest song about the things that happened to me one night. It’s just written the way it happened on the night, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
The Choice Music Prize comes for Egan at a time when he’s already on a roll. Having only just won, he’s still not sure what significance it will have for his musical career. “Like I was saying before about knowing when a song is good, this is a really good time for me in terms of songwriting. I’ve already got six songs written for the next album and am really excited about it.”
He mentions attending a recent show by an excellent new band called Villagers. “It was so good it just opened up so much for me. I know I’ve got to push myself now. Winning the Choice prize is great – but there’s a lot more to do.”
The Choice Music Shortlist
Fight Like Apes: Fight Like Apes and the Mystery of the Golden Medallion
Mick Flannery: White Lies
Halfset: Another Way of Being There
Lisa Hannigan: Sea Sew
David Holmes: The Holy Pictures
Messiah J The Expert: From the Word Go
Oppenheimer: Take the Whole Mid-Range and Boost It
R.S.A.G: Organic Sampler
The Script: The Script