Picture This: Feeling top of the world

Picture This have sold out 3Arena for five nights and just launched their album in New York. No wonder they’re so happy, writes Ed Power.

On February 10, Picture This’ Ryan Hennessy took his seat at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles for the Grammy Awards. As he and his band-mates settled in among the great and the good of the music industry they couldn’t help reflect how far they’d come — and how quickly. That same night three years previously Hennessy was at home in Athy, County Kildare, staring at the four walls of his parents’ house.

“It’s hard to comprehend sometimes,” he says. “I wouldn’t say our success was straightforward. It was definitely quick. It was an overnight story in many ways. But you have to work hard to be an overnight success.”

Picture This are one of the biggest names in Irish rock. They have clocked up millions of streaming plays, performed on the main stage at last year’s Electric Picnic and next month become the first act to headline the redeveloped 3Arena for five straight nights. They’re also number one in the Irish album charts.

Yet they’ve had an uneasy relationship with critics and, because their fanbase consists largely of younger people, there is a temptation to dismiss them as pop lightweights. That has certainly been the response in some quarters to their recent second LP, Mdrn Lv, which has weathered its share of withering reviews.

TAKE MY HAND

They don’t care. From their debut single ‘Take My Hand’, in 2015, people in the music industry and the media in Ireland have been telling Picture This why they wouldn’t succeed. The band have just kept their heads down and pushed on.

“Social media has been our media,“ says Hennessy. “We did everything ourselves. It’s been organic. We showed people ‘Take My Hand’ before we released it. They said things like, ‘It’s alright — we don’t think it will work on radio’. We were confident enough to disregard those opinions. People will tell you why they don’t think a song will become a hit and then it becomes a hit and they’ll say that they alway knew it was going to be a hit. Why should we bother with winning industry people over instead of winning our fans over?”

As they acknowledge, it’s been a rapid ascent. Late in 2015, Hennessy recorded a rough version of Take My Hand onto an iPhone, which he and drummer Jimmy Rainsford then expanded upon in the studio. Without record label support,they put it on YouTube and were soon receiving tens of thousands of hits. They weren’t really even a band.

Nonetheless, Take My Hand was quickly all over radio. At that point, Picture This still hadn’t played a gig. When they were finally booked — with Owen Cardiff and Cliff Deane joining on guitar and bass — the venue was upgraded from Dublin’s club-sized Grand Social to the larger Academy and immediately sold out.

“What we take pride in is doing it all ourselves,” says Rainsford. “We write, produce and engineer the songs. And we shoot our own videos.”

As their profile grew, it was suggested that they take the now familiar route of working with an established songwriter and producer. Out of curiosity rather than any burning ambition, they spent time with several “big names”, whose identities they’d rather not reveal.

“With 99 per cent of people it’s all co-writing and co-producing,” says Hennessy. “We knew it wouldn’t work with us but we said we would try it. We might end up enjoying it. We did a couple of sessions. And we didn’t enjoy it. It’s not for us. They were trying to pair us with some very big names.”

HEARTS ON SLEEVE

One of the Picture This’s signatures has been their willingness to wear hearts on sleeve. On the new album and their 2017 debut, Hennessy puts all his feeling out there.

“For my lyrically it’s something I’m conscious of — being very direct. Personally, when I listen to a song… if I don’t know what the person is talking about, I can’t get into it. That’s just me.

I know there are people who like metaphorical stuff. For me, I like that direct lyrics. I try to do that as much as possible. It’s very personal stuff. But I have no problem with that. It’s therapeutic.

They’re looking forward to 3Arena. Yet it is telling that they don’t feel at all self-conscious about filling the venue for the bones of a week. This runs against the tradition by which Irish artists who are performing in the country’s largest indoor space must feign shock at their popularity.

Picture This, by contrast, never had any doubt but that they had the potential to sell over 70,000 tickets (just shy of packing out Croke Park).

“It was our manager’s idea,” says Rainsford. “We’ve always wanted to do things differently — to try the

unexcited. The next obvious move for us would have been to do Marlay Park. We bounced ideas around and five nights at 3Arena was one of the suggestions. We were confident we could do it. What surprised us was how quickly they sold out.”

Many Irish bands have filled 3Arena without coming close to replicating that popularity abroad. Obvious examples include The Coronas and Walking On Cars.

But Picture This seem on the brink of registering in the international market too. In addition to the Grammys their promotional visit to the US included a photoshoot with Billboard and a turn on NBC’s Today show (average viewership: four million).

Later in the year a UK tour includes a stop off at the 3,300 capacity Roundhouse. They may be huge in Ireland but it seems they are about to become medium-scale, at least, everywhere else too.

“In terms of Spotify streams, Ireland is our third biggest market now. The UK is really taking off for us. On Spotify it’s our biggest market, followed by the US.”

But while confident in their ability and not shy about their ambitions, they try to stay humble too. Above all Picture This are at pains not to take success for granted.

“After Electric Picnic we sat in our dressing room for half an hour in complete silence,” remembers Hennessy.

“And then we erupted into laughter, we were that much shock. We relish the big stages. The bigger the stage, the bigger the crowd, the better the atmosphere.”

Mdrn Lv is out now. Picture This play 3Arena March 27–31

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