Redneck Manifesto back to celebrate the past and look forward to the future
‘It won’t take us eight years to release the next album,’ say Crumlin band
The Redneck Manifesto are still considered Ireland’s most important cult band
In the eight years since The Redneck Manifesto last released an album, a fair amount has happened. The number of Redneck babies grew to 10, the acts they gave rise to disbanded, economy fell then rose, Facebook rose then fell, two members moved to Sweden, a few unlikely quibbles went on in the world of politics and Richie Egan’s other guise Jape won the Choice Music Prize.
All this, and not a peep from the instrumental band except for the odd show.
Arguably, the law of scarcity is a key reason their popularity hasn’t waned in their 20 years though their unmistakable style – tight instrumental musings that constantly shapeshift – means they’re still considered Ireland’s most important cult band. Even begrudgers wouldn’t be able to argue the dedication to their collective creative values.
“For us, it’s about purity of expression and making something that suits our creative paths. That’s it,” says Richie, Skyping from Malmö. “A lot of bands say that, and I don’t know if they mean it, but we really, really mean it.” The proof is the choices made by the group, also consisting of Mervyn Craig, Matthew Bolger, Niall Byrne, Neil O’Connor and Glenn Keating, revered musicians in their own right.
I always imagine the Rednecks playing in the old folk’s home together.
That partly involves re-gravitating towards each other however much life tries to pull them away. For starters, Jape’s pleasant upturn 10 years ago, when Floating was picked up by The Raconteurs and Soulwax around the same time as Richie won the aforementioned award, didn’t lure him away, and nor did they call time following Matthew’s move to Sweden in 2007, and Richie’s a few years later.
“We all need to play together, and for that reason there’s never a question of whether we split, just a question of how we make it work,” says Richie. “I always imagine the Rednecks playing in the old folk’s home together. Because weren’t not under external pressure, the metabolism of the band can be as slow as we want it to be. We never existed in a world where we had to make money or sell loads of records - we all have different ways of putting food on the table - so we only do stuff if we really truly feel it. That’s rare in bands. So we still feel excited about playing together even after all this time.”
That leads to the other major choice they’ve made: they’ve dealt with the business end of music only out of necessity. He’s too nice to name the names of industry heavyweights who wanted in on the hype that the band rejected, but he’s certain they chose well.
“The one thing we did do was sign a publishing deal, and it taught us a lesson,” he says. “They promised us the moon and stars and gave us absolutely nothing. But it was cool, we didn’t lose anything and we knew that we never wanted to do that again.
“The thing is, Isigned a publishing deal with Jape and that worked out well for me, but you need to be aware of what world you’re in; a lot of musicians are a little deluded. The Rednecks are never going to be the type of band that are on Radio 1, and we understood that early on. We know who we are and we’re confident in that. Signing to a major label would have been an absolute disaster. Even if now, for some freaky reason, the mainstream decide that the Redneck Manifesto are the coolest thing, that would kill us. We’d be gone. We need to stay in control of what we’re doing.”
When they began 20 years ago, becoming mainstream was far from their intention. Formulating in Crumlin, the core four assembled from other acts on the live circuit: Niall was in Jackbeast, Mervyn was in Hylton Weir, Matthew was in The Waltons and Richie was in Black Belt Jones.
“Our initial goal was just to play with each other, but there was always a next step to take. So first we jammed for a while, then we gigged. We came from a DIY background, and so all the gigs were pretty much sold out from the start,” he says. If their first gig at The Funnel Bar in 1998 is anything to go by (the video is on YouTube), that’s not only down to their reputation: their practically psychic manner of playing together was full-formed, even at this early stage.
“There was an alchemy between the initial four members,” he explains. “Musicians all have certain timings and when you play with them, you can feel what their timing is. We were lucky because me and Merv, the rhythm section, have the same type of timing. And Matthew and Niall on guitars have a complimentary style that never interfere with each other. Them on top of me and Merv just works really well. It’s been like that since we started.
We thought ‘we’ll get free runners, deadly’ but the next thing you know the videos got big.
“Then Neil and Glen came in. They added in keyboard and sampling sounds, and sprinkled a layer on top of what we were doing.”
Opportunities came a-knocking. They toured France where they garnered a buzz from early on, they were invited to Japan and went to the States.
“Playing in front of 400 people in Austin was cool,” recalls Richie. “We didn’t know how they knew us, because it was before the internet. It turned out that it was because our friends Sandy Carson and Taj Mihelich, who run a BMX company, and asked to use our music for one of those videos of people doing stunts. We thought ‘we’ll get free runners, deadly’ but the next thing you know the videos got big. It turned out there’s an amazing BMX community in the States and loads showed up to our gigs. Good times.”
A rare band who’ve mostly kept the same line-up throughout, the fraternal dynamic has led to some not-so-good times too.
“Me and Mervyn had a big fight in Baltimore once, about something stupid like moving a sleeping bag,” recalls Richie. “It was his 30th birthday party too. I went on stage crying, I was actually crying. But after the gig we were drinking whiskey together. It’s like that between us. When people come into the group, it can be off-putting because we are so close, not that we’d exclude anyone.”
Geography is the main reason it’s taken eight years to release their fifth album together, The How, titled as a nod to the process by which they create.
A couple of years after the release of Friendship, the band began to feel the pull again, and tried emailing music between Dublin and Malmö. But the Redneck magic wasn’t quite conjured that way.
“It took a lot of trial and error to realise that me and Matthew needed to go to Ireland, and sit in a room with everyone else and write,” says Richie. “We need each other’s dynamic in order to make it work. We’d jam out a riff and it’s a bit of a slog for a while but there will come a moment where everybody looks up at each other and smiles, and then you know, yeah, we can keep this.
“When you’re younger, you don’t realise how important that is. That’s the thing I miss about living in Sweden – that group meditation almost. Now that we’ve realised how we work best, we’ve been getting way more done in the last couple of years than the six before that.”
It helps that they had the deadline of their 20-year anniversary, which they’re celebrating with a one-off show in Vicar Street, Dublin, on album release day, joined by long-time associates David Kitt’s New Jackson and the Dublin Guitar Quartet.
“It’s great to celebrate but we do have a future as a band and we want to look forward as well,” says Richie. “That’s one thing we said: we’re not going to do a 20-year anniversary if we’re only going to be playing old stuff. There’s no point in looking backwards of you’re not looking forward too. Now we understand how we work together, it won’t take us eight years to release the next album.”
The How is released on November 30th on 251 Records. The Redneck Manifesto play Vicar Street, Dublin, on the same day.