Paula Gilmer is still in shock. There are two reasons: the first is the positive reaction to her band Tiny Magnetic Pets' much-delayed second album, Deluxe/Debris (the follow-up to 2009's Return of the Tiny Magnetic Pets), while the second is being asked by OMD's Andy McCluskey to support them on their Irish/UK tour in October.
Gilmer's disbelief is understandable: Tiny Magnetic Pets simply isn't on the type of radar screens that usually display the whereabouts of Irish bands. And the band's music isn't guitar-friendly, but rather refined, seamless electro-pop hopelessly devoted to classic krautrock, Human League, Bowie's Low and Heroes albums.
Gilmer and her band mates – drummer/percussionist Eugene Somers and synths/guitarist Sean Quinn – are much more familiar with the interiors of recording studios than venues. Eight years is a long enough time for a second album to follow the first. Was it as simple as life just getting in the way? Not necessarily, replies Gilmer.
“It was more of a case of loving being in the studio and writing too many tunes, really. We had a double album pretty much ready to go a good while ago, but shelved it.”
Two EPs were subsequently recorded and released (Stalingrad in 2015, Nato Alphabet in 2016), and while that double album – a "sprawling piece of work that took over two years", says Quinn – might someday be released, the continuous, some would say compulsive work rate eventually brought them into contact with former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür and former Visage member Rusty Egan.
Such contacts were, admits Gilmer, a long way from the band’s origins more than 10 years ago. While not exactly a veteran, she has previous music industry experience, having once been in a band with The Script’s Mark Sheehan. “I have always been in bands, quite a few actually,” says Gilmer, giving away no clues, let alone actual names. “I dabbled a little into session singing, but it’s not really my main thing. My preference is to be in the studio writing and performing my own tunes.”
Sean Quinn, meanwhile, had in the mid-2000s been signed to EG Records (the now defunct UK label once home to Robert Fripp, Harold Budd, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, and Penguin Café Orchestra) and had collaborated with former Gong guitarist and System 7 mainstay, Steve Hillage. In 2005, his EG Editions-recorded solo album, Skylines, eventually saw the light of day on Irish electronic music label, Psychonavigation.
Further adventures in the Irish electronic music scene involved a band called the Electric Penguins. Drummer Eugene Somers was borrowed from a band and never given back, says Gilmer.
Across the two albums and EPs, influences are obvious, but (similar to OMD) such is the strength of material that the end result is neither tribute nor hackneyed homage. Was making music as Tiny Magnet Pets while referencing overt influences a problem?
“We don’t have strategies, we don’t plan anything,” says Gilmer. “We never say, let’s sound like this artist or that band – when the three of us are together our songs just come together easily, and so we all bring a little something different to the sound. Everyone has influences and we feel it’s okay to let them show every now and again. That said, we don’t try to fight it, but at the same time we don’t want our influences to take us over. We are all into the recording framework of doing things quickly - one or two takes work quite nicely, thank you very much.”
Gilmer says the eletrco-pop scene here is a commercially untapped, if not sealed unit - she mentions Circuit3, Eden, Embrace the Crisis, and iEuropean, which features Sean Barron, of erstwhile Irish electro-pop torch bearers, Empire State Human. “What’s interesting is that Germany has really picked up on us, and the electro-pop scene in the UK has been very good to us too.”
Gilmer expresses surprise at not having been picked up for Irish festivals: “We put on a great live show!” she notes in a mixture of pride and exasperation. “People are very surprised that we don’t just quietly stand behind our keyboards,” says Quinn. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but we hit the stage like a rock band. People expect politeness, but that isn’t us - you have to rock it out when you go on stage.”
The art of collaboration – what Tiny Magnetic Pets learned from working with former Kraftwerker Wolfgang Flür
“One of the funny things is that they were really nice people with no egos on any of them. With Wolfgang Flür we got an insight into the Kraftwerk ethic, in that we were batting mixes back and forth, but it was a proper collaboration,” says Sean Quinn. “He didn’t do something that we just dropped in – we actually wrote together, to and from, between Dublin and Düsseldorf. We’d send him something, he’d come back with, ‘oh, it’s over produced, take this or that out, there’s too much going on.’ It was all about stripping the songs back to the basic component parts, the essentials. Anything else for Wolfgang wasn’t necessary.”
- Tiny Magnetic Pets' album, Deluxe/Debris, is released through Happy Robots Records. They start a UK/Irish tour, as support to OMD, on October 23rd, Vicar Street, Dublin; Tuesday October 24th, Mandela Hall, Belfast