‘Closest I’ve come to death? Kicking an alligator’
In Conversation: Niamh Farrell and Stevo Berube
HamsandwicH lead singer Niamh Farrell and Stevo Berube, founder of independent music company Berube Communications
What is your favourite place to visit?
Stevo: Back home to Texas. I’ve only been back home about four times in 30 years. But those emotions of your childhood, your family, growing up, and seeing so much change.
Niamh: Glasgow. The people are cracking. You’ll go over to Glasgow for a night and you won’t have a bad time.
Stevo: That whole city is a Blue Nile song.
Is there any book you keep going back to?
Stevo: Joseph Heller, Catch-22. I always find myself in positions where I think ‘what would Yossarian do?’
Niamh: One Day [by David Nicholls]. I like reading stuff that gives me a proper emotional reaction.
When did you last cry?
Niamh: Yesterday on the bus. I was feeling a little delicate after the Fleadh, and a Frightened Rabbit song came on on a playlist and I had a bit of a cry. I’m a very emotional person, so if I need to let it out, it just comes out. Even on a bus.
Stevo: Funnily enough, mine was on a bus too. An elderly woman was distressed at a bus stop. She explained to the bus driver that she left her handbag on the bus she had just got off. Initially everyone was just rolling their eyes, going to be late for their appointments, but she was trembling. The bus driver stopped the bus, got on his phone, rang the headquarters and they were checking all the busses. It was a good 20 minutes, but as the time was passing, the mood shifted to: let’s find this woman’s handbag! You could hear the bus drivers all checking on the dispatch, and eventually someone found it. The woman was so emotional. I’m tearing up now thinking about it.
Can you play a musical instrument?
Niamh: Guitar, ukulele, I was playing the bodhrán at the weekend.
Stevo: I was a brass player in school. I started off on cornets and played a lot of brass instruments, ultimately settling on the tuba. I played many variations of tubas in brass bands, marching bands. It paid for my university on a scholarship.
Niamh: The tuba must have been heavy.
Stevo: Heavy metal.
Niamh: Does it not wreck your back, carrying it around?
Stevo: That’s a sousaphone, the one you march with that wraps around.
What was your favourite item of clothing when you were a teenager?
Stevo: My rainbow braces. This is back when Mork and Mindy were big on the telly. We’re talking late 70s.
Niamh: I had a pair of the Sketchers Spice Girls shoes. They were stupidly huge. We used to live in a flat with concrete stairs, one house at the top and another at the bottom. I insisted on wearing them, and my mum said ‘you’re going to fall in them’. I proceeded to walk out of the house and fell down 14 concrete steps.
Is there any artist you feel particularly connected to right now?
Niamh: I’m in the middle of an obsession with Ariana Grande. Full on obsession. I have a hell of a lot of respect for her.
Stevo: It’s Leonard Bernstein’s centennial and I was a music student in school, playing in orchestras and obsessed with Leonard Bernstein. The last couple of weeks I’ve been finding clips of him on YouTube teaching, chatting. He was a larger than life character. And he had a great quiff.
Do you have any tattoos?
Stevo: I used to run Tower Records and the joke was blokes had to have long hair, tattoos and loads of piercings just to get the foot in the door for an interview. I remember rebelling against the conformity of a non-conformist industry saying: I’m not going to have a tattoo. That’s how to be the punk.
Niamh: When I was 17 I really wanted a Smashing Pumpkins tattoo, and boy am I glad I didn’t get one.
Stevo: I remember coming home with a diamond stud in my nose. My father was a sheriff and I was trying to be evasive.
Niamh: Walking like a crab.
Stevo: My very conservative Italian mother twigged it, ‘why did you do that? You’ve such a beautiful face and you’re ruining it!’, you know the Italian mother thing.
What is your go-to dessert?
Niamh: Cheesecake. Vanilla cheesecake, New York cheesecake, lemon cheesecake. Even just the base of a cheesecake, give me that.
Stevo: Carrot cake. It’s the icing, isn’t it? The ones that have the little mini carrots on them? Sucker for those.
When were you closest to death?
Niamh: Maybe when I had scarlet fever.
Stevo: That’ll do it.
Niamh: I was 14 or 15. They thought it was meningitis. All I remember is being in bed for a month, not being able to eat anything.
Stevo: As a young lad in Texas, we had snakes and alligators. Looking back now, were we insane as kids? We’d catch snakes. Or you’d see an alligator in a bayou, you’d taunt it, run up and kick it, messing.
Niamh: You kicked an alligator?
Stevo: Well, you know, you’re a kid.
Niamh: That’s madness.