BEING in a band can create friction. What with a number of creative people confined to a small space each trying to get their version of an idea across, things like criticism, frustration and drummers can all lead to problems. You’d think with only three members in a group you’d have less trouble. Not so, insists Michael Hopkins, lead singer with Clane’s Planet Parade.
“Being in a three-piece is hard work. I don’t know how five pieces and six pieces don’t kill each other. There’s always someone late or in bed.” Though he does point out this is not always a bad thing. “It’s healthy to argue, otherwise you end up in your own little bubble.”
The group consists of Hopkins, drummer Andrew Lloyd and bassist Ronan Kilduff all from Clane, though Kilduff spent his formative years in the Curragh. They have been going in various incarnations since secondary school and - in that reductionist way of the music journalist - they sound a bit like another classic three-piece the Police. Hook filled, melodic and just the right side of funky, they weren’t always a three-piece though.
“We were a four piece, we went through a number of singers and we realised I was better than them,” laughs the singer.
They line-up began to solidify about two years ago. Hopkins might have recently added singer to his skills but he remained resolutely on the drum stool. That is, until they decided the Phil Collins approach to stage craft wasn’t ideal.
“It was hard to fully capture the energy of what we were doing on stage. I was singing from behind the drums... it seemed like we were missing a singer out front.” Once Hopkins stepped out front though “the whole... thing, it worked better. We used to spend our breaks swapping instruments anyway and realised we were better like that.”
While the Police are perhaps the best example of the excessive personnel demands of pretty much every other rock band ever, three in a band still has its limitations. Bassist Ronan Kilduff is quick to point out that there are “massive” restrictions and any attempts at a 16th century lute album will not happen anytime in the near future.
“We have to write everything with the view that this is three-piece so let’s not get ridiculous here. We might write this epic odyssey of a song but you’ll be waiting for the brass to come in”
There is no limitation on imagination, though. Having already recorded two EPs, 2009’s “Ghost to People” and last year’s “Zulu Sound”, will the band look to augment their line-up when it comes to recording their debut album?
“Yes, if there is room for little subtle things on the record,” begins Kilduff “later in life, hopefully, we’ll have the budget to have someone play with us on stage a part that we can’t play. So that means we can afford to put it on the record as a feature because we can afford to have a player.”
Ah the sticky issue of finance. It is perhaps the biggest problem in the age of failing record companies that independent bands have to finance everything themselves. Studio time, PR companies, distribution- they don’t come cheap and groups going the independent route (which seems to be pretty much everyone) have to deal with the much less fun business of, well, business. So how do they hope to finance their debut?
“We’ve had to borrow and steal,” jokes Hopkins. “We haven’t stolen! We’ve just borrowed and not paid people back,” clarifies Kilduff.
They are not closing the door completely on the major labels, though but only if the interest is right. It is an oft-repeated phrase, that of only “working with the record company if the project is right”. The two members of the group can’t seem to agree on how far they want to go down that route though.
“It’s not the case we’re turning down record companies... it’s just everyone is so fearful of record companies. If you can afford to do it yourself you’re better off but then you’ve got to sell your soul a bit if you have to that.”
So at least a third of the group subscribes to the general consensus of all record companies are evil. The singer is slightly less judgmental.
“There’s always that major label stigma. I’m sure there are a few major labels who have good intentions.”
Kilduff, perhaps the hopeless idealist of the band, accuses the singer of seeking out financial gain.
“You just really want a major label to come and give you a load of money!”
He, is of course, joking. Both band mates are clearly good friends off the stage and often end up finishing each others sentences. It is perhaps this chemistry which feeds into their stage presence and makes them such a thrilling prospect on stage. Their next problem is their biggest though - translating that formidable stage presence and musicality into a decent debut album.
It used to be the second or third album that would make or break a band. You were at least given that scope to develop, to get your studio legs, to make mistakes. This no longer happens. Judgements are made far quicker in the digital age and often bands can be written off with the swiftness of a Facebook status update. Neither are under any illusions about the pressure and task facing them.
“You don’t get your debut album again, we don’t want to be a bit ashamed of it,” says Lloyd.
Recording will begin in the coming months though no studio has yet been decided upon. They currently rehearse in Marina Guinness’ Pickering Forest House situated between Maynooth and Celbridge. A descendant of the brewing family and daughter of Desmond ,her home is a rather huge Georgian Mansion. She has become something of a patron to numerous musicians over the years, letting them use her house to rehearse. It is also currently home to Glen Hansard and some tiger skin.
“There’s a suit of armor when you get inside the door with an actual white tiger’s skin draped over it, I don’t necessarily agree with it but it’s a sight to behold,” reckons Kilduff.
Tiger skin or not Planet Parade will use the time spent at the house to hone their considerable repertoire into a cohesive album sometime in the near future. There might even be a few arguments along the way too.