'All of a sudden, we've gone from 'who are these assholes?' to having people writing about us.' This Club's Johnny talks pop nomenclature with JIM CARROLL
BAND NAMES ARE strange things. Just ask Johnny Holden, the lead singer with This Club. Holden’s band used to be called Hoarsebox, but no-one was jumping up and down about the Dublin band when they traded under that moniker. As Holden dryly notes: “We didn’t have enough fans to start an anti-This Club movement when the name-change happened.”
The name change came about after the band had finished recording their debut album Highlife. “Hoarsebox had been around for years and had only managed to make one EP,” says Holden. “We were restricted as Hoarsebox to guitar, bass, drums and pianos and we forced ourselves to be quite funky and disco.
“We went off to make an album and everything about what we were doing changed; the music and our own lives were completely different. We decided to redesign ourselves. But we didn’t want to go too far away from what we were, so we chose the title of one of the songs as the new name of the band. It was a link with the past, but it was also quite new.”
Holden has a couple of opinions on people’s fascination with band names.
“People make assumptions based on names. Look at Ham Sandwich. People hate that name for some reason, but it never bothered me. With us, people obviously didn’t like the music either and the name just added to it.
“It does bemuse us, and we like to think it’s the name change rather than anything else. The new songs are in a hugely different direction because of the electronic emphasis, but a lot of the songs are old. We’ve obviously fleshed them out differently than how they were. All of a sudden, we’ve gone from ‘who are these assholes?’ to having people writing about us.”
If Holden had his way, he jokes, they’d still be trading under the old name.
“I’ll put my hand up and say that the other lads in the band wanted to change it a long time ago and I kept harping on about the fact that it doesn’t matter how bad your name is if you make it big, using The Police as an example. They kept saying ‘no, no, you’re wrong’.”
The name change coincided with This Club coming up trumps with songs such as I Won’t Worry and Add It Up, two of the most infectious, prime-time songs on their debut album. Showing an admirable knack for penning bright and breezy pop tunes which sound great on the radio and at a show, This Club are a band who believe that happy-go-lucky, cheerful tunes will always win over an audience.
“We wanted to make a dance-pop album and were quite blatant about that,” says Holden. “We’re not afraid of pop music. There’s nothing wrong with really good pop music, though there is a lot of shit pop music out there.
“There’s also nothing wrong with sounding happy, which is something we’ve been criticised for. It’s a typical Irish and irritating thing to do.”
The band went to Oxford, Mississippi, to record their album with Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Folds’ producer Dennis Herring. From the start, they decided that everything about their sound was up for review. “We were listening way too much to people like Stevie Wonder,” says Holden, “and wanting to make music like that, which sounded like it was from the ’70s. When we played it, it naturally sounded dated, so it was time for change.
“We knew we had good songs. We have a real democracy in the band, which is always a really bad idea because you get too much stuff in. And that’s what happened – we had such an overload of ideas from all these different angles that we had to get someone in, a third party, to tell us what they thought we could and should do. We couldn’t do that because we were so involved.”
While the decision to record in the US turned out to be a good one, it was an expensive experience. “We thought it would take six weeks, but it took 14 months of back and forth. Life, finances, visas and babies got in the way and we had to make the most of a very messy, complicated situation.
“It was a huge risk. We borrowed from everyone we knew or met or could get money from. It’s only now that the labels are approaching us because there was no one interested before now. We had to go off and do it ourselves first. It’s great that people are keen on it now, but it was a real pain in the hole for two years.”
Now, it’s a different story. “Labels don’t have any interest in you unless things kick off,” believes Holden. “If something is working – and you usually have to do that yourself – labels will come along and pump in money, but there are very few times when they make the first move. That’s what has happened with us.”
Regardless of what labels think, This Club know they’re gaining fans thanks to the tunes on the album. “The most fun we’ve had was the day after The Late Late Show,” says Holden. “We did a gig in Longford and had loads of kids yelling at us to ‘play the Late Late song, play the Late Late song’.
“One kid put up her shoe for some reason and I asked the rest of the crowd to do the same and three of them did. Power! If I die tomorrow, I’ll remember that.”
Highlife is out now. This Club play Sea Sessions on July 1st, thisclubmusic.com