Overhead, The Albatross: ‘I’m a pedant, but I’m also stubborn, that’s how it stuck’
The name of this Dublin six-piece may scream eccentric or twee, but Overhead, The Albatross are anything but
Let’s start with the comma in the name because this is a very important detail to the members of Overhead, The Albatross. The Dublin band’s name is taken from the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s Echoes, but, oddly, there’s no comma there.
“We added the comma because we thought that’s what Pink Floyd meant to say,” says guitarist Vinny Casey. “I’m a pedant, but I’m also stubborn, and that’s how it stuck.”
“There’s also an upper case ‘T’ after the comma,” adds bassist Joe Panama. “I’ve been going back and forth to the company who are dealing with online distribution to make sure the upper case ‘T’ is there.”
Overhead, The Albatross are certainly not the only band with oddly applied punctuation marks in their names. Panama lists a rake of Irish acts of recent vintage and notes that “there’s a lot of wankers around”.
Fortunately, the six-piece also apply the same level of detail to their music. Their live shows are ferociously energetic, while their releases have tracked a band slowly making a mark in the studio.
Now comes their debut album. Learning to Growl is a dynamic and beautifully rendered piece of work, a record where the band’s instrumental ebb and flow provides hugely engaging emotional ballast throughout.
Casey and Panama admit the album has had a lengthy gestation period, but plead mitigating circumstances. “I know we’ve been going since 2009, but there are huge gaps there when we did nothing and we weren’t even together,” Casey says. “Everyone has different jobs, so it’s hard to get all of us together. It took Dave [Prendergast, piano] in the studio one day to say to us ‘lads, we have to do this’.”
“It’s the only bucket-list item I’ve ever had – to release an album,” adds Panama. “But it is the most ridiculous time ever to put one out. These days I rarely get through a whole album, but it is something I think bands want to do.”
Back in 2012, the band headed to the Czech Republic for three months to work on what they thought would be the debut record. Panama describes that time as “a life-changing experience. We were living together with no contact with the outside world in a forest by a lake with nothing to do except write music, exercise and read books.”
Write and rewrite
It got to a point, says Panama, “where some of us were saying we could settle and then one of us would dig our heels in and say no, we had to keep going”.
One of the issues the band had to deal with was achieving cohesion with so many different inputs into their sound. Aside from the six members and their arsenal of instruments, there are also contributions from violinist Lia Wright, who plays with the band live, and many others.
“We’re really, really bad at setting limitations, which is why there’s so much stuff on the album,” says Panama. “There’s way more on the album than we could ever play with our own hands – we’ve two laptops running onstage during the shows – but eventually we’d like to bring as many live players with us as we can fit on a stage. At the moment, you can’t fit more than seven players on the stage of a venue like the Workman’s Club.”
Casey says ignoring limitations was a good move. “We wanted a children’s choir at the end of one our songs, so we got a children’s choir. We wanted a string quartet made up of two from the National Concert Orchestra and two from the National Symphony Orchestra, so we did that. We wanted a brass section, so we got them.
“We were experimenting a lot, even though we thought we knew the sound we were after. The cohesion you hear on the album comes from a shared desire to express something rather than trying to write the baddest riff ever.”
Now that the album is done, there’s an appetite for more adventures. Both talk enthusiastically about playing bigger festival shows. As Overhead, The Albatross’s performance at the recent Music from Ireland showcase at Canadian Music Week in Toronto demonstrated, they are ready for bigger stages – and expanding their horizons.
To coincide with the album release, for example, there is a collaboration with visual collective Algorithm on a video for Paroxysm for an exhibition in Dublin this week.
“With the band, there are always different points for different people when they’re fired up,” says Casey. “You might be setting up for a gig or in the live room or rehearsing, and you can see this fire in someone’s eyes. They’re so into it and it’s everything they want to do.
“We might not all be on fire at the same time, but there’s always one or two of us pushing things forward. We trust each other to keep doing this and keep listening to each other.”
Overhead, The Albatross play the Castlepalooza festival in July. The band’s visual collaboration with Algorithm opens at Dublin’s Darc Space Gallery on North Great Georges St on Friday, May 13th