The last time we talked with Faye O’Rourke and Adam O’Regan was two years ago in Kilkenny. After a gig by their (then) band, Little Green Cars, at the city’s Set Theatre, we chatted about how their third album was coming along. Following up two albums (2013 debut Absolute Zero, 2016’s Ephemera) that were not only critically acclaimed from most quarters but also acted as commercial calling cards (to the point where the band could easily headline major venues such as Vicar Street, Cork Opera House, Iveagh Gardens and more) was never going to be easy, but Little Green Cars had never withered in front of a big challenge. They had loads of songs, they told me, and were in the process of securing a name producer (the much respected Ethan Johns). It was, as far as anyone could tell, all systems go.
Two years later, and Little Green Cars are not so much a going concern as a vehicle with all the fuel siphoned out of the tank. The surprise announcement of their split earlier this year caused many to scratch their heads in puzzlement. The cut was as sudden as it was sharp: new name, most of the original band, new socials, new music. No record label, no manager, no sign of co-founding member, Stevie Appleby.
Sitting at a table in a Dublin city centre hotel, O’Rourke and O’Regan are at some pains (none of which are defensive, by the way) to point out that all is good, yet any such break after more than 10 years together as a unit is bound to cause some level of disturbance. The first question that springs to mind concerns the absence of Appleby, a convincing, idiosyncratic presence in Little Green Cars.
“Stevie has his own music project coming on,” says O’Regan, “but I guess the remainder were on a similar wavelength when it came to our tastes and where we wanted to go artistically. Stevie was on a separate wavelength, but there was no artistic breakdown.”
The next obvious question is why would a band with such a significant fanbase rip it up and start again from square one? Many groups go through stylistic and personnel changes without counter-productively changing names, using new or different music as noble side projects. The four musicians (the other pair are Donagh Seaver O’Leary and Dylan Lynch), however, wanted such a clean break they were willing to forego the benefits of band (or, more pragmatically, brand) recognition.
“We had a lot of people tell us that,” admits O’Regan, “but it was never an option.”
“There were two very strong and different perspectives in Little Green Cars that made the band great,” remarks O’Rourke. “Stevie and I had different writing styles lyrically and musically, melodically. He has a very folky sensibility and maybe I have a bit more of a pop sensibility, or I write a lot of ballads. Those differences made the band great, but after a while we had two different things trying to run side by side. I was also starting to write more.
“Walking away from Little Green Cars was extremely difficult,” O’Rourke continues. “We had a very loyal fanbase in America, in Ireland and elsewhere, but we didn’t think it would be a fair representation to continue under the Little Green Cars name. What we’re doing here is art – so be it – and so you start from the ground up. We chose to do that, and we’re happy with our decision. It feels like a brand new thing, and that shows with what we’re doing. We’re not trying to carry anything over.”
“It was a scary leap to make,” O’Regan acknowledges, “but even now I think we’ve reached the other side. No one has said it’s just Little Green Cars without Stevie. People are really embracing the new music. There were a lot of upset fans, for sure, but…”
Despite the fact that Soda Blonde has neither record label nor manager – “or money”, O’Rourke is quick to add – there’s a strong sense that it won’t be too long before the first two, at least, will present themselves. The musicians have also the cumulative experience of having achieved notable success in the past 10 years. O’Rourke and O’Regan admit that having such a wealth of understanding of what may (or may not) happen in any future time frame gives them a sizeable advantage over many other acts.
“There’s a lot of energy in what we’re doing for ourselves,” says O’Rourke. “We’re taking all the photos, making videos, self-producing the music. The trade-off with being without a record label, or getting a leg up, is that you’re doing everything yourself, which is something all of us are embracing.”
Soda Blonde played their first show in a small Dublin pub some months ago – they were each “pulling the strings” to make it happen, finding the experience “deeply satisfying, even though as friends we have played much bigger venues”. Both O’Rourke and O’Regan say they weren’t expecting such a level of interest in their new venture, with the latter believing any advances the band would make would be “an uphill struggle.”
They have been here before, of course, in the fledgling Little Green Cars. O’Rourke says she met “the guys” when she was 14, admitting that Appleby was one of the primary reasons why she began to write songs, and O’Regan was “someone who I found to be extremely encouraging of me. I don’t think I’d be anywhere be without Adam”. There was, way back when, she says, a degree of lack of self-confidence. Making music “was also new and uncharted territory for me – no one else I knew was doing that. The guys were skipping school, going into a shed and recording music, which was probably the most valuable thing they could have been doing at the time. That was very romantic to me, and wasn’t like other things I knew then”.
It was rebellious, too, she agrees, and something “you could align your identity with. It wasn’t black and white. Up to that point, it was, well, you’re good at this and good at that, whereas nobody else I knew, as I say, was making music. It was something I wanted to explore, and it so happened that I was able to do it with encouragement”.
Prospects are one thing, reality another. For the foreseeable future, Soda Blonde will be doing their best to prepare for what comes next. They already have an album waiting in the proverbial wings (going by what we have heard so far across six tracks, the song quality is exceptionally high), while a new single is also waiting to be released at the right moment.
New times, new music, new band – what about new ground rules? None of those, dismisses O’Rourke, but rather adopting a different way of working. You can choose to read anything you like between the lines of her answer.
“Our communication is up a couple of levels, especially in taking criticism and breaking things down, analysing things with each other. We have definitely developed a way of communicating that we didn’t have before. That’s been great.”
Soda Blonde headline We’ve Only Just Begun Festival, Whelan’s, Dublin, Sunday, August 11th
THREE BANDS THAT HAVE CHANGED THEIR NAMES
Black Sabbath are world-renowned for their pioneering rock/metal music, especially with tracks such as Paranoid, War Pigs, Iron Man, and many more, but before they became rock behemoths, they were once known by the far less Satanic and threatening name of Polka Tulk Blues Band.
In 1992, an American punk/pop band Duck Tape tired of the roadie connotations of their name, and decided to change it to Blink. When an Irish outfit of the same name protested, the US group quickly added the number 182, and so Blink 182 were born. Why that specific numeral? Because that’s how many times Al Pacino says f**k in Scarface.
When you’re in a school band, the weekend is probably the only time when it’s possible to play gigs. That’s why a bunch of teenagers from Oxford decided to call themselves On A Friday. Finding gigs difficult to arrange during the summer holidays, however, they looked through the back catalogues of their favourite music acts, and decided to rename themselves after a Talking Heads song – Radiohead.