Scheer but not transparent
LET'S get one thing dear right from the start Scheer are not the next Cranberries they're way beyond that. Oh, sure, they come from a small rural community (Maghera) and they share the same "shoe gazing" origins as their counterparts in Ballybricken they've even got a "charismatic female singer", Audrey Gallagher, whose clear, sparkling voice is in refreshing contrast to Dolores's muddied, mannered style. But Scheer are not the next Cranberries, because Cranberries fans simply wouldn't like them.
Thing is, you see, Scheer are too visceral for comfort, too jagged to go down smoothly, too skewered to stomach. Cranberries fans would simply fwow up. The gross looking scar which adorns the cover of their debut album, Infliction, serves as a wounded warning Contains music which might cut a little too close to the bone. If however, the sweet smell of Cranberries has made you a little queasy of late, then perhaps Infliction is just the shot of formaldehyde you need.
Scheer were in Dublin to watch the birth of their first "long player" on 4AD Records, and I ended up sharing lunch with lead guitarist, Neal Calderwell, and bassist, Peter Fleming, at the Factory rehearsal studios. I asked Peter how it feels to be finally coming out into the big bad world of pop.
"Och, well, we've been here a long while, we've just been slowly building up to this point, trying to build up a good following and a good credibility, and with each release doing a wee bit more. Obviously every band builds towards its first album, so this is the moment for us."
The moment has been coming since 1990, when five young people from Maghera and Magherafelt, Co Derry, got together in Peter's damp, draughty shed and began to fashion the shimmering sounds which ended up on EP's like Schism, Shea and Wish You Were Dead Although Scheer's songs come from a vaguely "indie" origin, you'd be hard pressed to pinpoint the band's exact influences. Perhaps that's because their music is the result of a five way collaboration, and not the product of a single, singular mind.
"That's something we tried to do right from the start," says Neal. "We spent the first two years playing in small gigs and being in the studio getting our songs together, getting our own attitude and finding out what we were as a band. We all came from different backgrounds, we all liked different types of music and didn't want to follow any one band, so when we got together, it took us maybe two years to find out what sort of a band we were and what sort of music we were going to do. But we knew it had to sound like nobody else.
How many times have we heard that one from some cocky bunch of clones? However, there's some validity in Scheer's claims the music is too hard and edgy to be mere shoe gazing, yet it's too achingly beautiful to be grungy. Originality is a tough claim to make these days, but at least Scheer are fiercely individual.
WE believe we're doing something different," insists Peter. "Whether we are or not is for everybody else's interpretation. I read a review that said we had taken our influences and done something completely different with them. We've been compared to so many different bands that nobody has been able to pinpoint what we sound like. You see that with other groups, they sound exactly like their favourite band. Like, Gene sound like The Smiths."
"Everybody had been in bands before, just messing around, continues Neal. "And when this band came together, we all really wanted to play music for the rest of our lives, so we decided, let's learn how to write songs together, and get a sound together. In the initial stage, the band was very quiet, very melodic, very laid back with little distortion on the guitars."
All that soon changed when Neal, a Metallica fan, introduced some seriously heavy elements into the Scheer alchemy, blowing away the Cocteau cobwebs for good. It helped that all five band members were open to new ideas, and that none of them was in a hurry to court media attention, being content to beaver away in their badly heated rehearsal shed, which they still use to this day. It was the old rock `n' roll story five young people form a band because it sounds like a better option than doing a job.
After releasing a couple of singles on the Dublin label Son, Scheer became the envy of indieheads everywhere by signing to 4AD Records, one of the rosters with the most cred. It's the perfect home for Scheer's music, which combines the chunky, guitar crunching style of The Pixies with the heavenly highs of The Cocteau Twins. Their first 4AD release, a promo only vinyl release entitled Demon, bagged Single Of The Week in Melody Maker and Single Of The Fortnight in Hot Press while the four track Schism EP won the band more acclaim.
The fact that Scheer were more than willing to hump around the world and play endless gigs helped their cause no end, and when they played an American tour with fellow 4AD bands Lush and Mojave 3, they sowed the seeds of Infliction deep in Cranberry land. What if the unthinkable happened and, despite all the careful avoidance of hype, Scheer found themselves saddled with the fatal "next Cranberries" tag?
Neal states it baldly. "I don't think we're going to get so big that people will be sick of looking at us. That's what happens when people see The Cranberries too much, they get more critical about them."
What happens then, when interest in Dolores begins to fade the media will have to look for a new Irish icon. What's to stop people from setting Audrey up as the new Rock Colleen?
We've always been very careful of that," says eat, "From the very start, we've always wanted to make it five people. We saw the way that went with The Cranberries, and we didn't want to be like four guys in the background in Audrey Gallagher's band because that's not the way it is. And she'd tell you that herself."
So, no danger of Audrey dyeing her hair blond and writing "hope you like my new direction" on Scheer's album sleeves? "She wouldn't get away with it Besides, her feet are too well planted on the ground."
Scheer may not be the new Cranberries, but they are a part of Northern Ireland's long overdue rock renaissance. During Dublin's golden age of chequebook rock, when bands with deals outnumbered bands with songs, our poor cousins in the North languished in obscurity, bereft of venues, ignored by A&R men, and overlooked by the media. The arrival of Therapy?, Joyrider and Ash has changed all that, and now people are talking about a bona fide "Six Counties scene".
IT wasn't till Scheer ventured into the world outside that opportunity began to knock. They began to make regular visits to Dublin, and it's here that record company interest began to stir. "We played Belfast three or four times in our whole lives, but we used to come down to Dublin once a week," says Neal.
Not only Dublin, but any place where the local promoter could pay them even a hundred quid to show up and play. Thus, while the Dublin bands sat around in Lillie's planning their next showcase gig, Scheer were building up a solid fan base and gaining experience as a live act.
The deal with 4AD was signed when Scheer went to play a gig in New York, and 4AD head Ivo Watts Russell flew from Los Angeles to meet the band. Since then there have beef a number of international incidents, the most recent of which happened during a transatlantic flight on which Oasis were travelling. This being rock `n' roll, one thing led to another, and Audrey ended up locked in the aeroplane's toilet with Bonehead from Oasis. Hold those tabloid headlines, folks, Audrey and Bonehead were not doing a Liam and Patsey. Seems that Bonehead was simply showing Audrey how to smoke a cigarette in the loo without setting off the smoke alarm. All very innocent, unless, of course, you're a member of the Airport Police.
Before their next US tour, Scheer will be doing the outdoor festival circuit in Britain and Europe, and slotting in an Irish date at Whelan's of Wexford Street tonight. Soon, they won't be able to hide in the toilets anymore and fans with a nose for good music will sniff them out like a smouldering cigarette.