They may be thriving on Twitter, but The Original Rudeboys’ fan base is not confined to the social-media generation, frontman Sean Arkins tells JIM CARROLL
THERE’S NO SUCH thing as an overnight success, but you can understand why people bang on about such a concept when you come across The Original Rudeboys. In the space of a few months, the Dublin trio went from jamming tunes that were a mix of soulful acoustic folk and smart hip-hop in their bedrooms to a run of sold-out live shows and festival appearances.
Frontman Sean “Neddy” Arkins will always talk in interviews about how they met up at a house party in East Wall in early 2011, banged out a few songs on acoustic guitars and rocked on from there.
It’s a great – and true – story but not the full story. For a start, Arkins, Robert Burch and Sean Walsh had known each other for years. “We’re all from Ballybough, and myself and Burch went to school together and would hang out together at breaktime and all of that,” says Arkins. “Walshy was in St Joseph’s, which was the same school as my brother, so we knew each other.”
All three also had previous musical form. “Burch was singing in local bands and I was doing hip-hop, but it was bedroom stuff. I only did three or four gigs over a couple of years, because I wasn’t actively looking for gigs. If I was bored and I wanted to get stuff of my chest, I’d write a song and record it on a cheap PC with a crappy microphone I got from the pound shop.”
Walsh, meanwhile, had the ukulele. “He got it as a present from his da, I think, but it was a joke and he just left it there. When he did pick it up, he learned how to play it from watching videos on YouTube. The night we were doing the first Stars in My Eyes video, he popped around to borrow a PlayStation game. We were slagging him off about his ukulele, but he added a riff over the start of the song and it was brilliant so he was in the band.”
That video was the beginning of what has turned out to be a winning social-media campaign for the band. “When we put the first YouTube video up, we got 100 views the very first night. That was cause for celebration, so we went out and had a few drinks. When we came back later that night, it was up to 1,000 views and it just went on from there.”
Their engagement with Twitter and Facebook has opened Arkins’s eyes to how these platforms can work in a band’s favour. “Before the band I was on the internet constantly, but it was just random sites and blogs that I was interested in. I was never on Twitter – I despised it – but I decided to go on and chance it. Now, I see clearly how it works in your favour. We’re constantly on Twitter and Facebook on our phones, plugging stuff and responding to fans. You have people favouriting and re-tweeting your response and they’re actively promoting us as a band on their own pages.”
Arkins says social media has been a huge help for the band when it comes to getting conventional media coverage too. “In terms of radio, some stations play us and some don’t. It’s tricky at times because we’re such a different sound to everything else around us. There are stations here in Dublin that never play us, so we rely heavily on the fans to request the songs. “If we put up a tweet saying ‘hey, request us on FM104’, you’ll find the song will get played an hour later. That’s what we use Twitter for, as well as general, how’s-your-day stuff.”
The band are also pretty expert when it comes to data-mining their Facebook statistics. “On Facebook, you have all the data about who is checking you out, and it’s interesting to see. To date, it’s been people who are 19 and younger who’ve caught on to us right away. About 60 per cent of the people who come to our Facebook page are 19 years of age or younger. The other 40 per cent range from 20 to 60 years of age or whatever.”
Arkins feels The Original Rudeboys attract this audience because that demographic is more interested in live music than their own peers. “I’ve definitely noticed younger people picking up more on the music when they see us come out with actual instruments.
“My own generation were all into DJs and dance music or boy bands. They didn’t realise that musicians were supposed to play the songs instead of using backing tracks. But the younger ones are more interested in live music, and when they see us come out with the guitar and ukulele and hear us play, they relate to it.”
What they also relate to is the fact that the Rudeboys sing about ordinary day stuff. “We write about the life we see going on outside our windows and around us at home,” says Arkins. “Some people are a bit taken aback at this and say ‘youse are writing about stuff I know about and have been through and that affects me’. But we never set out to deliberately write songs people could relate to; they’re just songs about stuff we knew about.”
Arkins is the one who brings the hip-hop smarts to the group.
“It was a good friend of mine called Sean, who now works with us setting up the stage, who got me into hip-hop in the first place. He gave me a CD with NWA on it when I was 11 or 12, and I thought it was amazing. From that, I got into Immortal Technique and then Nas and Jay-Z.
“I appreciated how honest those rappers were. They were saying what they wanted to say and not what they were told to say by some lads in suits.”
But Arkins is also a fan of The Beatles (proudly pointing to his T-shirt) and Bob Dylan. “I wish I’d been born back then because it was a better era of music. Yeah, I really believe that. I got Netflix at home and there’s a load of music documentaries on it and I’ve been watching documentaries on Rory Gallagher and Jimi Hendrix and have been blown away by them. It was an amazing time.”
But if Arkins lived back then, he wouldn’t be able to tell tales like this one, which show that the Rudeboys’ appeal is now much wider than those kids they reach on Twitter and Facebook.
“There was this 60-year-old fella at one of our gigs in Whelan’s, and he stood out a mile in the middle of all these screaming kids,” says Arkins with a grin. “He just stood at the back and stared at us so we thought he was some sort of music critic. He didn’t seem to be feeling the music at all, but when we did Bringing Me Down, we could see him nodding and going with it, and I knew we had him. I was talking to him afterwards; he’d travelled up from Galway to see us.
“It’s pleasing to know we’re appealing to people like him who were around when the legends were around. If we can reach people like him, who know their music, we’re doing things right.”
The Original Rudeboys release their new single, Written Words, today. They play a sold-out Academy show tomorrow night. See theoriginalrudeboys.com