Music is pretty ubiquitous these days. We hear it on the radio, on iPods and, coming out of people’s phones for no good reason what-so-ever. We also see stars sing on stage, a brief cameo in our lives before they disappear off to their private jets while we shuffle back to our desks content to have at least shared in some of their reflective glory, if only for a moment. In the process we do forget just how difficult all this music-making business actually is.
From the initial songwriting to arranging and engineering to production and mastering it’s a long drawn out affair with a multitude of obstacles to overcome. You see, music is actually pretty hard work.
Take the melodic funksters the J-Walkers, led by Castledermot’s Steven Cassells. When we first spoke to them about two years ago they had just gotten to the final of the Oxegen Battle of the Bands contest and while they narrowly missed out on a place at the festival, they seemed a band going places.
There was talk of a forthcoming EP and maybe an album after that. Then the pesky practicalities of it all got in the way and thus two years went by before their first EP finally emerged. While superstar bands might obsess about the aesthetic choice of what mic to record with or just which M&M do they not want bothering them, bands like the J-Walkers are left to worry about the more mundane and practical things. It’s not easy trying to make a name for yourself and often time can drift by without much getting done at all. Cassells, though, is pretty philosophical about the difficulties they faced in that period.
“It was organizational more than anything. We had 50 hours studio time booked from last summer, but it was almost November by the time we got the producer and the musicians we wanted to play on the CD. Then we had to find time that everyone was free, everyone was busy.”
With three of the five band members in college in Dublin and Carlow, Cassells himself working in Kilkenny and the other band member, Jonas Zaidys, working for Google, organising the right time was always going to be a problem, so too was money. Cassells came up with a novel way around that one though. When the financial system breaks down there is only one other option available to you... barter.
“We started doing favours for each other and bribing people with alcohol to come play on the CD.”
Some bottles of Jack Daniels and Cassells’ van also came in pretty handy too.
“With the drummer on the E,P I hauled stuff around for him for a day and he came up and played on the record. It was nice because no one has any money but everyone is willing to help out.”
Once the requisite finance was in place the EP was eventually recorded in the picturesque location of Hellfire Studios near Rath-farnam, by the Dublin Hills. It was a most inspiring location.
“It’s one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen of my life. You can see Kildare and the whole way up North Dublin and back around the Wicklow Mountains... it’s a nice little area to be recording in.”
With 50 hours of studio time booked and some heavily layered tracks to get down - featuring lots of percussion, effects and some brass - they were on a tight schedule to get the record done, efficiency was necessary. Luckily that proved not to be a problem.
“ A lot of the stuff was done in one take. It was very quick, even though we only got three songs done in 50 hours there was an amazing amount of stuff to put down... there was no time when we were there for hours and hours and getting nothing done. We broke up the 50 hours into segments just to make the best use of the time. It was very enjoyable.”
For those who remember the early incarnation of the J-Walkers they might be surprised to hear what’s on the EP. They are a band who creatively have certainly not stood still.
With no musical background in his family, Cassells had few references to draw inspiration from. As such his musical taste was based around the singer-songwriters he heard on the radio. So simple chord changes and “lots of wailing and crying out” was what was on the cards. Today with the influence of Brazilian born musician Jonas Zaidys, the band have changed pretty dramatically. Drawing on the dance beat of people like Jamiroquai and Stevie Wonder and also inspired by a wide variety of musical and melodic influences, they are a far more rounded outfit.
It also helps that the Cassells has grown as a songwriter.
“I think the songs have gotten stronger, and as you get better at your instruments you can write better tunes. At the Oxegen thing the songs we had were so simple, they were just three chord songs. I’m hoping the songs are getting stronger and more complex.”
Now they await feedback on the EP with most people so far wondering when the full album will be released. Cassells hopes to have it out by early next year, perhaps recording it on a track-by-track basis over a few months rather than in one go. That can all change though, depending on the obstacles faced. Money might just play a part too.
“The album will be purely and 100 per cent based on finance, if you offered me 15 grand today I’d go straight in tomorrow and do it”
The J-Walkers eponymous EP is available from i-Tunes as well as multiple record shops around the country including Top Twenty in Naas.
Check out thej-walkers.com for more information.