Lone star state
After stints with bands including Plague Monkeys and Tycho Brahe, singer and songwriter Carol Keogh is releasing a solo album. She talks to TONY CLAYTON-LEA
You’ve been fighting the good fight for music for some time now in a number of Irish bands – what keeps you going?
What keeps me going, principally, is the fact that the songs keep coming. Most people I know who write and perform music and songs will say that they feel they have to do it and that goes for me, too. I won’t say I haven’t struggled over the years, especially being cast as the main driver – that requires an amount of self-belief that is sometimes hard to find. But I’m not alone. I have great musicians behind me who, to my eternal surprise and gratitude, seem to be completely committed to the cause. And they’ve lifted me up and carried me when I’ve been uncertain or disheartened. I’m extremely lucky in that respect.”
Did working in a band and essentially being the singer of someone else’s songs, become tiresome? Or did you just want to try the solo thing for a while?
Well, with the exception of a few duets I’ve been invited to sing on down the years, I’ve never sung anyone else’s songs. Absolutely everything Plague Monkeys, Tycho Brahe and Autamata did was co-written, at least anything I sang on. What became tiresome was having to try to pick things up and put them back together when bands, for one reason or another, dissolved or imploded. Essentially, I can’t break up with myself. Also – and the first half of your question alludes to this – I was tired of the assumption that I was just a pretty voice. I think I have a distinctive writing, as well as singing, voice. But maybe that’s the kind of thing you won’t hear if you’re prejudiced to hear otherwise. I’m very proud of all the material from those bands, though. I still get a lot of people telling me how much Plague Monkeys meant to them, and it never gets old, hearing that.”
As a talented musician and songwriter who never seems to get the recognition you deserve, could you explain how an online strategy such as the Muze/Microsoft competition ‘Unsigned and Online’ is of benefit?
The whole music industry has changed dramatically in the past decade and the internet has driven that change. Social networking technologies are getting smarter and more user-friendly as well as more diversified, so there are different channels through which artists can deliver their music and find audiences. And with the majority of artists now having to finance and manage their own careers, anything that helps to make that job easier can only be good. The competition aside, I like the Muzu model, with its dedicated channels, and I think it has a nice look and feel. As for ‘Unsigned and Online’, how could €10,000 worth of online promotion for the winner not be of benefit?”
For your forthcoming debut album, Mongrel City, you’re planning a crowd-sourcing campaign to raise funds to complete it. Are you worth the money?
Of course I’m worth the money! It’s going to be a great album – it’s been a few years in the making now. It will have quite an emotional span, with ballads such as Into the Blue, and heavier tracks as well. Most of the songs in some way allude to Dublin – even if in absentia, such as London Song and Austin City Limits. But there’s some direct commentary – such as in Grand Parade, which was written at the height of the credit boom and questions the values of the Tiger society. Or Forty Foot (Saint Michael’s Solution), which is two songs in one, beginning with a paean to the bathing place of that name on the south Dublin coast, referred to in the opening passages of Ulysses, but moving into a rollicking sea shanty that is really a critique of governmental policies and attitudes.
Do you think one of your earlier bands – say, Plague Monkeys – would have made more of a commercial impact if you had had the benefit of online initiatives such as Unsigned and Online?
I think the Plague Monkeys would have made more of a commercial impact if we hadn’t broken up (laughs). Things have come on in leaps and bounds since the mid-1990s, so who can say really? I’m just glad these online options are available now. I mean, here I am talking to you . . .
Carol Keogh plays Stag’s Head, Dublin, on May 20. Mongrel City is released on May 14th