Members of the East Cork-Antibes hybrid tell Ed Power about recording in a revered LA studio, hanging out with Linkin Park, and watching Woodstock burn
LANCING over his shoulder, Christian Montagne could see the flames climbing into the night sky. It was late in the evening of July 25 1999 and East Cork heavy rockers Cyclefly had just finished their set at the notorious Woodstock 99 festival. They’d played the emerging artists stage, going on after another up-and-coming group named Muse.
As they crammed into their tiny van for the near five-hour drive to New York, where they had a gig the following evening, the Irish five-piece sensed the atmosphere outside starting to turn ugly.
Fires were breaking out amidst the increasingly unruly crowd of 400,000. By the time the Red Hot Chili Peppers brought down the curtains a full-fledged riot would be underway. Cyclefly couldn’t leave fast enough.
“We could see the flames,” recalls French-born bassist Montagne. “I thought, ‘wow – something is going on here’.”
“It was really, really weird,” chimes in Declan O’Shea, Cyclefly’s red-haired frontman. “We left before all the chaos.”
While they drove into the night Woodstock burned. A 40-foot high audio tower was destroyed, merch stands ransacked, portaloos upended, ATMs chucked onto bonfires.
It was frightening. But at the time it didn’t strike Cyclefly as especially out-of-the ordinary. Woodstock was just another surreal chapter in the all-too-brief lifespan of a group that would go where few Cork bands had previously ventured.
They left behind one classic album, 1999’s Generation Sap and a well-regarded follow-up in 2002’s Crave. There were also recording sessions at iconic Sound City studios in Los Angeles, where Nirvana made Nevermind. A collaboration with Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. And arena shows with prog-rockers Live, including a date at the 18,000-capacity Anaheim Arena in Southern California.
It is quite a tale. And with Montagne and O’Shea still playing and recording as Mako DC (they’ve just put out a new LP), the good news is that their adventures aren’t yet at an end. Here’s the story behind Generation Sap.
In 1991, bassist Christian Montagne left his home town of Antibes on the
Côte d’Azur to travel to Ireland. He arrived in Cork with dreams of breaking through with his band Seventeen. “We stayed at Isaacs hostel,” he remembers. “The plan was for us to go out two weeks ahead and find a house for the rest of the band. We didn’t have much English. We walked everywhere but no house. Eventually we got one in Carrigtwohill.”
Soon they were all living together in Carrigtwohill, a commuter town 10 miles from Cork city.
“Declan used to watch us play at Isaac Bells. One night, we’d gone to a party and were walking home at six o’clock in the morning,” says Montagne. “We bumped into him. He was coming home from another party. That’s what Cork was like back then.”
Montagne was struck by O’Shea’s charisma. “I remember thinking, ‘If he can sing he would make a great frontman’.”
As it turned out, O’Shea could sing. He would play acoustically at Isaac Bells, and at Sin é and the Siol Brion on MacCurtain Street.
Cork was a fun place back then, he says. “You could go out on Thursday night and by Monday all your money would be gone. There was just so much going on, from live music to raves to parties.”
Determined to track him down, Montagne visited the singer’s family home in Aghada (Spotify, in its unintentionally hilarious biopic of Cyclefly, describes O’Shea as “living in the rural plains of Aghada, a community just miles beyond Dublin”). They learned he’d gone to Paris to work as a carpenter on Euro Disney (today Disneyland Paris), then under construction.
“I was building the rollercoasters. Stuff like Thunder Mountain, the Indiana Jones one,” says O’Shea, who had started in carpentry after graduating from St Colman’s Community College in Midleton. “My first job was making props for Pirates of the Caribbean.”
On his return to Ireland he and Montagne and several of the latter’s Seventeen bandmates started a new project, which they called Dogabone. It featured O’Shea’s younger brother Ciaran on guitar, together with the French trio of bassist Montagne, Nono Presta (guitar) and Jean Michel Cavallo (drums).
Dogabone were soon building a following in East Cork, through regular gigs at the Meeting Place pub in Midleton, which Tony Moore had opened in 1985.
“Tony was fantastic,” says O’Shea. “He gave us a loan to buy our first van. That allowed us drive to Dublin and play venus there. The Meeting Place was a launch pad.”
They soon came to understand opportunities in Ireland were limited. To make it, the band – which had by now changed its name to Cyclefly – would have to go overseas.
“The industry was, and still is, very Dublin-based,” says O’Shea. “And that despite the fact some of the best bands in Ireland have come out of Cork.”
“We realised we had to build an audience abroad,” says the bassist. “If we didn’t we’d be gone within two years.”
Cyclefly’s melodic rock would quickly find an audience in the UK. This led to label interest, with Beggar’s Banquet among the most enthusiastic of their suitors.
“We wanted more money and, in a way, we wanted to sign to an American label,” says O’Shea. “We did some showcases in the US and Radioactive offered us a deal. They worked with [iconic Cork noise-rockers] Fatima Mansions. So we went with them.”
Radioactive were not a huge label. But in Europe they had a distribution deal with Universal Records meaning Cyclefly could call on the financial and marketing muscle of the biggest record conglomerate in the world. In particular, they got to know the team from Island, home to U2 and The Cranberries.
“We were on a budget – we toured all over the States,” recalls O’Shea. “We toured with Live after their album Throwing Copper had become massive. We did some huge places.”
“I was around 28 but looked 15,” remembers Montagne. “Declan looked like he was about 12. We were not very big guys. We looked young. And we wanted it so bad. Like every band, we loved a party. We partied practically every night. But we never missed a show.”
Recording Generation Sap
Cyclefly wanted a big name producer for their debut. They got one in Sylvia Massy. A rare woman holding her own in the male-dominated world of 1990s hard rock, the native of Flint Michigan had worked with System of a Down, Johnny Cash and Red Hot Chili Peppers. She was also the engineer on Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls.
Massy worked out of Sound City in Van Nuys, LA. The studio can claim a piece of rock immortality, as birthplace to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and, as already pointed out, Nirvana’s Nevermind.
“It’s on the outskirts of LA,” recalls O’Shea. “The buildings are like sheds. The music part is, if not state of the art, then impressive. There is a very expensive Neve mixing desk. The thing about the studio is that it was all about playing live. They really wanted to capture that aspect of what you were about.”
Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden was doing his solo album at Sound City at the same time, remembers Montagne. Frank Black from the Pixies was also there.
Generation Sap, released in August 1999, was a compelling calling card. Yet already tensions were bubbling up. The dystopian cover image of a bald man with tubes attached to his mouth was by French artist Perou, known for working in S&M themes. “He shaved his eyebrows and head and painted himself silver,” recalls Montagne.
However, the bassist felt the cover was slightly misleading in that it portrayed Cyclefly as straight-ahead head-bangers and potential fellow travellers of buzzy nu-metallers Korn and Limp Bizkit. And it’s true that they could rock out with the best of them. For all that, they saw themselves as coming from an indie background -there was also a glam, Bowie-esque element – to O’Shea’s singing, especially-.
“We were into bands like Smashing Pumpkins,” says O’Shea. “The heaviest thing I would have listened to would be Nirvana.”
“We were portrayed as a metal band when really we were more alternative. There was a tiny misunderstanding there,” says Montagne. “The metal crowd would like us. But they weren’t crazy about us. With a better strategy, I feel would have gone further.”
Relentless touring of America and the UK was beginning to win them a substantial fanbase. Woodstock 99 stands out, in particular.
“We were in LA and then went to play a show in Las Vegas. And from there we drove to Woodstock [ in Upstate New York],” says Montagne. “We got to near Woodstock and tried to find a hotel. There was nothing. Sometimes our management wouldn’t book a hotel until they were sure we’d get a gig. So there was no hotel and we slept on the grass.
“We woke and then waited all day for our turn to play. I remember Muse going on just before us. We were so tired and had to get to New York the next day for a gig. The following morning we learned how crazy Woodstock had gone.”
One early admirer of Cyclefly was a young Chicago musician named Chester Bennington. When they got talking after a show, Cyclefly had no idea he had a band of his own. Bennington’s group was called Hybrid Theory. Later they changed their name to Linkin Park.
Linkin Park released their first album in 2000 and quickly became a phenomenon. Meanwhile, Cyclefly were thinking about going back to the studio. They’d changed management – which they later acknowledged was potentially a mistake – and were assembling material for what would be their second LP, Crave.
Somebody mentioned Bennington, who was up for reuniting with his Midleton pals (Bennington would die by suicide in 2017 at age 41)..
“Chester was a friend. He did a bit of singing,” says Montagne. “Ah but, now we are talking about the second album.”
Crave, released in 2002, is a slightly sensitive topic and with good reason. It marked the beginning of the end for Cyclefly, whose momentum stalled.
They called it quits in 2004, when Declan and Ciaran began a new outfit, Hueman.
Today, Montagne lives in East Ferry in Midleton and O’Shea near Moll’s Gap on the Ring of Kerry. But they continue to record and play together as Mako DC.
Both speak fondly of Cyclefly and without many regrets, or even all that much nostalgia.
“That time still feels very fresh to us,” says O’Shea. “With Mako DC we still play a good few gigs, or at least we used to. So in a way we never really stopped.”
Declan O’Shea works in film postproduction,including editing, film score and colour. His projects include the film Tradition. He and Montagne continue to play as Mako DC.
Ciaran O’Shea lives in Berlin and works in music production.
Nono Presta runs a landscaping company and plays with Ross Daly in the Cork band We Can’t Land.
Christian Montagne works in music production and plays in Mako DC.
Jean Michel Cavallo works in the courier business and drums with indie folk band Ian Whitty and the Exchange.