The family way
INTERVIEW:Being in a band with siblings has its up and downs – you know them so well that there are no surprises, but you can also push each other’s buttons, writes KEVIN COURTNEY
ASK ANY ROCKER and they’ll tell you that being in a band is like being in one big, noisy, hard-partying, dysfunctional family. With a rider. But for some people, the band is actually the family. The Corrs, Jedward, Crystal Swing – all are bound together by family ties, but those bonds could break easily under the pressures of fame and rigorous touring. Sibling rivalries, nursed since nursery days, come back to the surface, and it’s not long before cracks start to appear in the family porcelain. Ask Noel and Liam Gallagher . . . actually, don’t, it’s still a sore point.
Irish rock is a particularly fertile breeding ground for family bands. Put it down to our musical tradition of families playing together round the hearth, but we seem to be more comfortable than most about forming bands with our siblings. Engine Alley was led by Kilkenny brothers Canice and Brian Kenealy. The Frank Walters featured Cork brothers Paul and Niall Linehan. Everyone knows The 4 of Us are essentially two of them: Newry brothers Brendan and Declan Murphy. Even U2 started off with two brothers in the band, Dave “The Edge” and Dik Evans (Dik left to form The Virgin Prunes).
There are advantages to playing in a band with your sibling. You don’t have to put an ad in the “musicians wanted” section – just ask them over the dinner table if they’d like to join. There are disadvantages, though: your sibling knows you too well, and can see right through that cool rockstar exterior to the snivelling little brother beneath. They know how to push your buttons, too: when things start to fall apart, that bed-wetting incident when you were six suddenly becomes the top Twitter trend.
When fame and fortune come into the mix, family loyalty often goes out the hotel window, but just remember; after the awards champagne has gone flat, and the dust has settled on the latest backstage bust-up, you’re still going to have to sit down with your bandmates at Christmas dinner and play happy families. And when all the riches and rock star trappings have gone, your family may be all you have left, so think twice before you fire that insufferable guitarist who shares your surname – you’ll need him to help carry your coffin when you go to that great gig in the sky.
CARS LOVE GIRLS
Cormac “Bres” Breslin is a founder-member of Republic of Loose. In the band’s early days, Bres’s teenage sister Orla used to sneak into the Da Club and Eamonn Doran’s to watch her brother play; she joined the band in 2006.
After nearly 10 years in Republic of Loose, Bres decided to go in his own musical direction, somewhere between Prince, Hall Oates and Prefab Sprout. He had enough songs for an album, so it seemed natural to invite his sis over to try out some vocals. The result is Skip School, the poptastic debut album from Cars Love Girls, which was released yesterday.
Bres and Orla were well used to playing together – they formed a short-lived electro funk outfit when Bres was just 21 and Orla 16, and they always jammed together at parties and family gatherings.
“Our dad sings and plays guitar. The guitar would be passed around, and we’d all sing together. Family sessions: very Irish thing,” says Bres. “Also, our parents are huge soul fans, and that would have been played in the house a lot.”
“That would have been a big thing for me when I was younger,” says Orla. “The soul singers: Aretha and Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield. I love Beyoncé. The big voices, and of course Whitney, what a big loss. Emile Sandé, I really like her voice.”
Bres and Orla plan to spend much of 2012 gigging to promote the album. Having spent a few years touring together in Republic of Loose, Bres and Orla should have a good idea what they’re in for. “We were lucky enough that we got on okay,” says Bres. “So there were no major family dramas on the road. There were plenty of other dramas with the Loose! We tended to give each other more space, cos there can be a heightened sensitivity when it’s a sibling; they can rub you up the wrong way very easily. We’d stay out of each other’s way.”
“We had the craic as well, though,” says Orla, “because we did socialise before the band.”
Bres and Orla will be bringing musicians with them on tour, but insist they won’t be pulling rank on them as far as band decisions are concerned. “If they have suggestions we really appreciate them,” says Orla. “We’re all on stage together. It’s still a professional relationship, even when its between brother and sister.”
“Sometimes the family thing goes out the window when you’re so busy on stage,” says Bres. “You just forget.” That said, they do have their family spats on tour, but they’ve learned to leave their disagreements on the road.
“We have to keep in the back of our mind that we have dinner most Sundays with our parents, so if we have a barney on Saturday night, then we’ve to go up and have dinner on Sunday, and I’m going, ‘ask Orla to pass the salt’ – that’s not fair on our parents.”
THE KANYU TREE
Galway brothers Daniel, Shane and Oisin Cluskey aka The Kanyu Tree are signed to Sony, and their debut album, People Street, has enjoyed acclaim for its catchy, classic-sounding pop-rock songs. They’re touring the country over the next couple of months, and have just released a new single, Congratulations.
“We were all in other bands – Shane was in The Gorgeous Colours and Oisin was in a band in Galway,” says Daniel, the eldest brother and guitar player. “When all the other bands broke up, we were like, well, what do we want to do now?
“Our parents were music appreciators, always playing vinyl. We grew up on a diet of Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, The Eagles and CSNY. I took up the guitar at 14, as all teenagers do, to impress girls. Shane started playing piano. Oisin wanted to play guitar but I wouldn’t let him. So he took up the bass instead. So then we had the makings of a band.”
Recently, their youngest brother, Ruairi, joined the band on drums, making it a quartet of brothers. “He was only playing drums two months when we threw him in the deep end at a gig supporting Example. But he picked it up pretty quickly. And we wanted a fourth vocalist for harmonies.”
Session musicians and road crew needn’t worry about touring with the Cluskey brothers – they don’t have an us-and-them attitude to people outside the family circle. “We’re not that tight – we’re more friends than brothers, we don’t have these private jokes going on. A lot of people don’t believe that we’re brothers.”
One of the big disadvantages of being a band of brothers is that people may equate you with such middle-of-the-road family acts such as The Kelly Family. It’s one of the reasons the band didn’t call themselves The Cluskeys. “We don’t want to sell ourselves on the fact that we’re related. It’s like the Kings of Leon, a lot of people still don’t know that they’re brothers.”
With four brothers cooped up on tour, does that increase the opportunity for fighting four-fold? “Oh, Jesus, yeah. But it’s forgotten about 10 minutes later. Timekeeping is the biggest thing. When it comes to music and writing, we all like the same music so there’s no issue there.”
Any advice for young musicians considering forming a band with their siblings? “Don’t do it just because you are brothers. Do it because it’s right.”
THE CAST OF CHEERS
Dublin brothers Conor and Neil Adams are one half of The Cast of Cheers. In 2010, the band took a risk that would make anyone’s parents aghast – they gave their debut album, Chariot, away as a free download. The gamble paid off, gaining the band a fanbase, critical acclaim, and bagging them a deal with UK independent label Schoolboy Error. Their second album is due out in June, and a tasty taster single, Family, is out now. Recently, the band upped sticks and moved to Stratford in London.
At least Conor and Neil are used to living with each other. “Neil and I have always got on well, and now that we’re in our early 20s we both have a lot of the same friends. We played guitar in the house together, and we always kind of half-formed bands and never got them off the ground, so it was great to actually get to play together live.”
Have the brothers any early musical efforts they’d prefer to keep hidden in the attic? “Big time. I remember I got an eight-track recorder, I must have been about 15 or 16, and the stuff on that . . . we definitely have a ropey musical past. Korn and Limp Bizkit were big influences.”
With two brothers in the band, it can easily split into sibling and non-sibling factions on tour. The other two in the band are bassist John Higgins and drummer Kev Curran. Do they ever feel like unequal partners in the arrangement?
“It can definitely sway one way or the other. You’ll find that me and Neil will generally agree on day-to-day issues, so you might get them eating in one place and us eating in another. But generally it’s not really an issue. On this tour, for example, when we all shacked up in hotels, me and Neil generally shared a room, while the other two shared the other room. That’s kind of an unwritten thing.”
Like many sibling bands, the brothers’ love of music was shaped by their parents’ influence. “Our dad played everything under the sun, accordion. guitar, harmonica, so I think we got it from him. There was always an acoustic guitar knocking around the house.”
But while family can inspire you to make music, they can also be a tough crowd to please. You could play with ease in front of an festival-sized crowd, then get stage fright when it comes to performing at small family functions.
“That’s the toughest crowd, the most embarrassing thing. My girlfriend’s family are massive about music, and they love their sessions. This Christmas just gone, it ended up, like, four in the morning – everybody’s had a couple of whiskeys, and then people start singing. Then the guitar was passed to me and it was, ‘sing one of your songs’. Oh, god, no. I just pretend to be drunk or go, ‘I can’t remember the chords’. Or I use Neil as an excuse – sorry, I need Neil on the other guitar. The thing is, usually he’s there too, and they give him a guitar, so I’ve no way out.”
With their move to London, Mum and Dad Adams had to deal with all their children emigrating (their older brother lives in San Francisco). They’re comfortable with it, says Conor, but they do expect the boys to return with at least a bit of rock’n’roll success. “There is a bit of that – ‘you’d better do something with this’. But the upside is that when we come back, we both get treated like the prodigal son.”