No plans, embrace change and champion chords: Ships’ chart for success

‘Precession’ is a synth-pop record that is dynamic enough for big live productions or more intimate shows

"None of it is planned," says Sorca McGrath, days before the release of Ships' debut album Precession. Together with Simon Cullen, McGrath has been working on the record for almost two years and, after a successful crowdfunding mission, this album without a plan from the Dublin duo is one happy accident.

Since 2012, Cullen and McGrath have been busy gigging and writing music to fill their extending live slots, and this organically developed into enough material where the pair could consider putting out an album.

“We just never stopped writing and we never stopped being asked to play gigs, and I suppose it was some time last year when we were like, ‘you know what, we really have enough material that we should think about putting out an album at long last’,” says McGrath.

Using Fund It to crowdfund the album, they received their target of €6,000 last year in donations from fans. Recorded in the couple’s shared home studio, the crowdfunding covered the costs of mastering the album and printing it on vinyl.

Intimate shows

Precession is a synth-pop record with moody 1980s undertones, and it's dynamic enough to be performed as a big live production or stripped back for more intimate shows.

“We got thought of a lot as a band, that is really good at midnight in the club or 1am at a festival – and they’re not wrong – but other people might be put off for more intimate things or some more thoughtful, curated venues,” she says.

Ships have beats in all the right places, and McGrath’s pristine voice and the emotionally intelligent lyrics mean the music rewards repeated listening.

“In essence, they’re kind of intimate pop songs really, but I suppose we like to experiment with sound and we push it a little bit, experimenting with sound and I think, yeah, at a festival is a good example, where the beat comes through and the swirls and whirls of the synths and all that comes through, and you don’t necessarily need the intimacy. But it’s there, the voice is part of it.”

Hidden like Easter eggs in the many layers of their songs are nods to beloved tracks from the 1980s, which McGrath fondly refers to as "champion chords". Where We Are features a striking synth solo from Solar Bears' Rian Trench – hands down one of the best synth solos you will hear this year – and its champion chord wouldn't sound out of place on an upbeat Whitney Houston song.

Champion chords

“I just love the idea of champion chords where you’re like...wooooo,” she says, waving her hands in the air, pointing out another champion chord that she only noticed on the final listen before the album was sent to be mastered.

"I was listening to All Will Be one last time to be sure, to be sure – which you never are – and I found myself doing some kind of Rocky move to that. I hadn't heard it until that moment, even though we had made it months ago, and then I was like 'This is Rocky music! "

With 1980s culture making its mark on music, Netflix shows and movies again, was she concerned that it might be overkill?

“That occurred to me, that it’s just our sound palette and has been for the last five years, and it did occur to me that it’s coming back in, in what I hope is not just a nod to nostalgia or something,” she says, adding that none of it was deliberate.

“I guess it’s just what comes out of us. There’s no doubt that we are children of the 1980s. That’s when we grew up, listening...I guess there was a lot of life and over-the-topness. There was a lot of flamboyancy music. I guess that seeps through without having any of it consciously in mind.”

The album was released last week, and McGrath admits that if Precession didn't have a deadline they'd still be tinkering away with different sounds, which makes the title of the album so fitting.

Galaxy of stars

“The entire galaxy of stars does a precession every 26,000 years – just a short time span – so it takes a long time for the full precession to happen but there’s these tiny increments of change happening all around us all the time.”

So even though it took the guts of five years to get here, the optimism of Ships’ debut album – champion chords and all – encourages you to embrace the here and now.

“You would hope to think, or at least you wish, that you are making tiny increments of change slowly over time, and you’re not just going to stay stuck in the same rotation or axis for the rest of your life,” says a wide-eyed McGrath.

"So Precession is a hopeful word and a hopeful concept that everything is changing. Nothing is staying the same, and everything is moving around. Change is on your side, it's right in there. It's on one of the songs. Change is on your side."

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