“It’s something meaningless we have applied a lot of meaning to.”
James McGovern, lead singer and focal point of The Murder Capital, isn’t talking about life or Love Island but rather the naming of the band’s forthcoming album. It is called Gigi’s Recovery and, unlike the title of their 2019 debut, When I Have Fears (taken from the John Keats sonnet of the same name and reflective of the album’s sombre notes on misfortunes of various shades), its true context may go with the band to its grave but there is an underlying logic behind it.
As usual, McGovern is dressed in suave dark colours (the band members style themselves as likely lads auditioning to play roles in a Dexys Midnight Runners musical) and describes the title in a way that is as much self-explanatory as a dummy’s guide. “The definition of recovery is returning to a place of strength. Most importantly, it’s preceded by the surrender to the need for recovery, the need for change, to go away and reflect, to have that fundamental change you’re seeking. It’s the overarching narrative of the story.”
As an extended bullet point, that’s all you need to know about Gigi’s Recovery, which is released on January 20th. The album arrives almost 2½ years after the debut, but it didn’t reach completion without hardship. When I Have Fears arrived as a bundle of stinging nerves smeared with medicinal emulsion, the songs ranging from despairing implosion, paranoia and snarling rage. Intensity levels tore the roof apart and such were the interdependent experiences that live performances left the band and audience equally drained.
The positives were obvious: everyone left venues feeling euphoric and elevated. The negatives? When the natural cycles of performing were interrupted a mere six months after the release of When I Have Fears, it left members of The Murder Capital asking each other the most motivational of questions: where do we go from here, and how do we get to there without repeating ourselves? The answer, says McGovern, is by taking more than two years to write the songs.
There is a whole spectrum of emotions on Gigi’s Recovery, with optimism and hope definitely in the veins of it
“On first records you pull life experience from only some of your life and if you’re clever enough there are plenty of life experiences to pull from again and not just the period of time between albums number one and two. For us, writing Gigi’s Recovery was definitely reactionary to the debut wherein we wanted to change, to evolve, and that was from the outset of stepping foot into the studio in May 2020. It was about introducing more life, colour, different atmospheres and textures into the creative process.” The lyrics, also, had to have a different perspective. “The first album was so directly about grief and loss – emotions that you will be forever processing – but those topics weren’t so much at the forefront of the new songs.”
What was worth writing about, then? Everything, says McGovern, providing you spend time looking, digging and processing. The newer songs, he continues, became more about what was going on at the time of writing. “And then because of the nature of the world when the songs were being written – periods of lockdown and so on – they were about imagining a better future. There is a whole spectrum of emotions on Gigi’s Recovery, with optimism and hope definitely in the veins of it.”
We loop back to the intensity of the live performances and how it can be a challenge to maintain those levels. Some bands, I suggest, can buckle under the strain of trying to achieve these convincingly night after night. Not so The Murder Capital’s live shows, says McGovern (whose stage presence is, pretty much, defined by the word “antagonistic”). It isn’t too difficult to maintain something that is its innate character, he says (without, it should be noted, any hint of conceit).
“Whoever comes to our shows has this idea of [it] being very intense, energetic and on edge but that’s the way it has always been. Before we go on stage we always rise to that idea because it is exactly what it is.” He is equally modest about the heightened level of audience anticipation, claiming that whatever pressures are present are challenged and beaten “every time”. He adds that The Murder Capital “is not a band that has been involved with alcohol too much” and that for some time they have had quite a professional outlook on the rigours of touring: “We have to in order to sustain the emotions, the intensity, to bring to people as real a show as possible.”
With such focus, commitment, aggressive self-examination and vindicating self-awareness, it’s little surprise that the band “know every detail, every scratch” of the new songs. Gigi’s Recovery, says McGovern, resides in its own universe. In the same way that the band’s compelling music videos add layers of messages that the songs might not have space for (“we don’t want the videos to just sit pretty”), so their hope for the new album is that it will be a piece of work that resonates – with, perhaps, as much meaning as discord.
We pushed all the way through to the end and created a record that, hopefully, people can grow with
McGovern and the other band members (drummer Diarmuid Brennan, bassist Gabriel Pascal Blake, guitarists Cathal Roper and Damien Tuit) know the way too many people now listen to music is fractured by the single-track model of streaming platforms. Yet, he says, “I don’t think the album experience, if you want to call it that, is a dying art form. Gigi’s Recovery is definitely a start-to-finish work, the story is important to us, and I think it’s important to many people out there. The way I view the streaming of tracks here and there is they’re carrots being dangled and if someone bites on them then they might just press through to the album the songs are on, and then listen to the whole thing.”
That’s why the band took the time they did, he says, that they didn’t just accept exhaustion and go into the studio after months of writing, lazily expecting the best. “We pushed all the way through to the end and created a record that, hopefully, people can grow with. That’s the core of what creativity is about, creating surfaces and landscapes. On the album there are moments of harsh honesty, great elation and pure joy. I just want people to have a great time with it.”
The making of Gigi’s Recovery
“At the start of writing the album, we were on very different pages. We didn’t have the tools to communicate in a way that was constructive to the creative process, so we ended up having these mad arguments to the point where nothing was conducive to the writing of the songs. Everyone wanted to write, but there was a lot of pushing in different directions. I think that happened because we just couldn’t talk to each other – and that goes beyond verbal articulation, it also means levels of patience, understanding and trust. Trust was a huge issue. The making of our debut album, When I Have Fears, was a very chaotic and emotionally heightened jet-speed experience, whereas Gigi’s Recovery was borne out of being put into a room three months after the first lockdown and asking ourselves what do we do.
“Arguments would have reached boiling points at times, eventually to the stage where they were getting so heavy, so unconducive to the writing process that whoever was involved would have to retreat, put to bed the discourse for a second and ask what was really important. The answer was less trying to push forward the creative endeavours of The Murder Capital and more staying together as a band. A major part of the problem was due to being so isolated during that time. We spent about 18 months writing the record in the Irish countryside, mostly during lockdown, with only the other band members to project our lives and our problems on to.
“There were a lot of things we needed to confront in ourselves that were just spilling out, like in any other relationship. It’s important to say, however, that amongst all of what we were going through there were many moments of great communication and creative fluidity. That mix is what makes the band. The creative goal isn’t so directional in that we’re trying to achieve certain things in certain genres – nothing like that, in fact – but just us trying to push forward our understanding of where the music is leading us.”
Gigi’s Recovery is released on Friday, January 20th, through Human Season. The Murder Capital play album promotional shows at Crane Lane Theatre, Cork (Thursday, January 19th), Tower Records and The Workman’s Club (afternoon and evening shows, respectively, Friday, January 20th), and Vicar Street, Dublin (February 26th). For further details visit themurdercapital.com