It’s hard to believe Richie Egan released his first album as Jape two full decades ago. This stalwart of alternative Irish music – a former member of the Dublin bands Black Belt Jones, Sir Killalot and The Redneck Manifesto – has enjoyed an enduring career in part because he long ago invested in a long-term plan for self-sufficiency. Now he proudly calls himself a lifer.
“Whenever I made a bit of money with a publishing or record deal, I spent it on equipment,” he says over a coffee close to his old stomping ground of Whelan’s, the music venue on Wexford Street in Dublin. “I wanted to end up in a situation where I could go off grid but still make music. Now I feel like I’ve got there.”
Egan lives in Malmö, in Sweden, with his partner and their three young children. “It is like living in a beautiful circus,” he says. “I love them very much. They watched me play live for the first time at the Beyond the Pale festival in Glendalough in the summer. They had absolutely no idea what to expect, but they thought it was cool. Beforehand, they certainly didn’t think I was cool.”
This newly crowned cool dad isn’t sure if his children will take to music. “They have their own interests, like manga and football,” he says. “I try to guide them towards music, but they’ve got to come to it themselves. We have a piano in the house, which I never had when I was growing up. It ended up being the best €80 I’ve ever spent.”
His kaleidoscopic and densely textured sixth album, Endless Thread, is released tomorrow. “I wanted to do classic songs that were short but required deep listening,” Egan says. “I used my Apple watch a lot, which has a recording function, so doing a field recording suddenly becomes so much easier. I recorded going on a roller coaster with my kids, singing while cycling, and all sorts of beautiful and random moments.”
Egan then works on his digital raw material with more antiquated analogue methods. “Tape is a perfect medium for recording, because it’s not perfect,” he says. “I think you’d be mad to dismiss anything that gives you a different texture, whether it be the cleanliness of digital or the distortion of tape. I’ve six or seven tape machines, and they all have their own unique characteristics. I read an interview with Thomas Bangalter, from Daft Punk, years ago about the idea of bricolage, or DIY, where you use good equipment and bad equipment to create the sound you want.”
Essentially, I’m asking whether technology serves us in a positive or negative way. I think you can make both arguments
Before recording Endless Thread, Egan made music with the sole objective of boosting his mood and improving his mental health. “When I was younger I thought music was the only medicine I needed to survive,” he says. “When I got older I realised this is not entirely true, although I still need music as a holistic part of my life, to stay happy and healthy. I made a lot of depressing music during the last few years, trying to get myself out of this hole. It didn’t exactly work, but after going through that process this album feels joyful. I rediscovered why I started making music.”
Egan started writing songs at the age of 12, about subjects such as the soccer player Jimmy Greaves and a child-eating monster. On Endless Thread the track Delete the Timeline deals with the tribulations of our digital present.
“I don’t really like to discuss the lyrics too much, because I like to leave a bit to the imagination,” the singer says. “But, essentially, I’m asking whether technology serves us in a positive or negative way. I think you can make both arguments. I read something recently wondering whether we will ever have another band like Joy Division, because they were imperfect while being perfect. In the recent past we didn’t have access to every single cultural reference point to hone everything to aesthetic perfection.”
One of Egan’s core beliefs is not to be bitter – a default setting for so many musicians – and embrace the joy of making music with enthusiasm and gratitude.
“Sometimes I think that I’m deluded, but I still firmly believe if you stay positive, keep working and produce more than you consume, things have a habit of working itself out,” he says. “Everything is very special right now, because it feels like it should have been over a year or two ago. The people who are left have this intense need to create.”
I still love Dublin so much. My world here is small and hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Malmö is a place of focus where I can work
Egan says the Irish music scene has never been healthier. “When I look at the all the acts coming from Ireland making world-class work, it is so much better than back in the day,” he says. “However, the music industry has never been in a worse state, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with creativity. Now is the time to do your thing regardless of anything and see what happens.”
The final track on Endless Thread is the bluntly titled Fuck the Church. “That one is not as ambiguous as Delete the Timeline,” Egan says, laughing. “I’d just read the Fintan O’Toole book We Don’t Know Ourselves, which talks about Archbishop McQuaid a lot. I really do feel on a cellular level the damage that has been done to this country by organised religion. There was a lot of material that didn’t make the album, but that one had to go on it. I’ve only played it live once, which felt amazing and cathartic. People at the end were just screaming along to the chorus. It felt good.”
Egan returns to Ireland regularly. “I still love Dublin so much,” he says. “My world here is small and hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Malmö is a place of focus where I can work. If I can do that and look after the kids, then I’m happy. There is a victory in waking up in the morning at the age I’m at, of 46, and feeling excited. To me that is a huge victory.”
Endless Thread is released by Faction Records on Friday, September 29th. Jape plays the Button Factory, Dublin, on October 20th; Whelan’s, Dublin, on October 21st; Kasbah Social Club, Limerick, on November 4th; and Roísín Dubh, Galway, on November 5th