Irish 'supergroup' Little Matador take the bull by the horns
With his new ‘supergroup’, Snow Patrol’s Nathan Connolly has returned to his rock roots to deal with his personal trauma
The first comment under the video of the debut single from the new Irish group Little Matador on YouTube says “Much prefer this to Snow Patrol” – a reference to the fact that Little Matador are fronted by Snow Patrol lead guitarist Nathan Connolly.
“Yes, Snow Patrol fans will be surprised by my new group,” says Connolly. “That’s because people have perceptions of who I am musically only based on what they know about Patrol. This is the first time that people will hear exactly where I’m coming from. The music on the record is the sort of music I was playing, and loving, before I joined Patrol. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with Patrol or what we were doing but the band had evolved and become something different. I thought it was time to give free rein to me, Nathan, as a musician and I’ve done just that on this album.”
A bit of an Irish supergroup, Little Matador is made up of musicians who have played in the past with The Frames, Bell X1, Turn and Concerto for Constantine. Currently touring around sweaty indie dives in the UK, the band make their first Irish appearance playing at Tower Records, Dublin as part of tomorrow’s Irish Record Store Day celebrations – with a full tour to come later in the year.
When Connolly says he wanted to get back to playing the sort of music he played before Snow Patrol, he’s referring to his first band, FUEL. They took their name from a Sugar album and there’s a bit of Bob Mould/Husker Dü-style gritty guitar work there in Little Matador. Throw in some Queens of the Stone Age rock stomp and you’re halfway to capturing their sound.
“For this debut, I wanted bit and conviction and plenty of swagger,” says Connolly. “Grit and honesty were two very important things for me on these songs and I was surprised how open and raw it turned out – particularly lyrically”.
With Snow Patrol still going strong – albeit on a break for the past year or so – Connolly jumped at the chance to get back to his musical basics. “There have been quite a few Patrol tours and after all that’s happened with the band we all decided to have a bit of a break. We’re all now doing our own thing for a while. It can only be good for us as musicians to go off and do different things. For me personally, I felt I had something to say and wanted to get that out through Little Matador. It really helped that we are all genuine friends in the band; I knew exactly what each member was capable of bringing to the band. Plus, we have all worked in different bands before, so that helps.”
Moving from being the guitarist to frontman has been effortless, Connolly says, although it does require moving into “a different headspace”.
The recording of the album couldn’t have been easier: “When you handpick a band you hope that straight off it’s going to work and everyone will just gel – that it would be friends playing in the same room together,” he says. “There was one huge worry there on my part: we formed in Dublin and I had just had this dreadful fear at first of ‘what if this doesn’t work out?’ Imagine having to tell one of your friends that he isn’t right for the band. And I was guilty in having blind faith in them. But it worked like a dream and it was also a hell of a lot of fun putting the songs together. The writing took only about three weeks and then it was just ‘Let’s make the record!’”
What Connolly specifically wanted to address on the album was a traumatic period in his recent personal life. He needs to be pushed a lot on this, but one Chinese burn later he says “I’m referring to stuff that happened a year and a half ago. Just stuff in my personal life. It’s all there on the album. Let’s just say I was very hurt and angry at the time. It now comes across as slightly more vicious than I remember feeling at the time but at the time of writing the songs I was not thinking about respecting another person’s feelings. I just had to get it out in a raw and honest way. It was only a few months later that I thought there might be repercussions. I’m being brutally honest in the songs – it’s a very personal album. I wrote the songs in the moment – it’s just that particular moment was one when I was feeling angry and reflective.”
Whereas Snow Patrol now play enormodomes, Little Matador are lucky if they get a dressing room in the venues they are playing. “We’re playing to 50 to 100 people and it is thrilling and exciting for me. This all reminds me of starting off with Snow Patrol, playing these small gigs.
We’re doing the small, sweaty venues so that we can be taken seriously. And the support and goodwill we’re getting so far is phenomenal. Plenty of Patrol fans are coming along and that’s great.”
Clearly very enthused about his new harder and rockier sound, Connolly is already thinking about the follow-up Little Matador album. “I do have big ambitions for this band but at the same time I have to be realistic. It’s all now to do with working out the timings. Everybody in this band knows I haven’t left Snow Patrol but I have no less love for either of the two bands.
“The guys in Patrol totally support what I’m doing and are really encouraging – they know I’ve been talking about doing this for a few years now. There is a new Snow Patrol album due, but now I’m all about Little Matador. And loving every second of it . . . ”
Little Matador is out now. littlematadorband.com