S IT terribly cheesy to ask Little Green Cars about Harper Lee, the novelist who died several days before our interview? One of the Dublin band’s early hits is named for Lee, the song seeming to capture some of her underdog spirit.
“She was Truman Capote’s assistant while he was writing In Cold Blood,” says singer Stevie Appleby. “When he was talking to all these people [researching his book] they would ask her, ‘Are you still working on that novel of yours?’. They were talking down to her. It reminded me of people asking us [adopts condescending tone] ‘Are you still in the band?’”
Little Green Cars have answered that question in the most emphatic fashion. Their 2013 debut, Absolute Zero, topped the charts and received generally positive reviews. Now comes the follow-up LP, Ephemera, an earthier, more dissonant revisiting for the bittersweet formula with which they announced themselves. It’s their growing pains record and is infused with raw hurt and unprocessed heartache.
Years in the making, Ephemera tracks a period of upheaval for the five-piece, they explain. Guitarist Adam O’Regan lost his father; Appleby’s grandmother died, several within the line-up went through excruciating break-ups (they are reluctant to say any more for fears their parents may be reading).
“Shortly after we finished our first record but before it came out, my father passed away”, says O’Regan, a down-to-earth counterpoint to the more esoteric and mumbling Appleby.
“Then we set off on our first major tour of the US. Seven weeks on the road. We were staying in these small motels, driving everywhere in a little van. And, at the same time, all of this stuff was happening. You are aged 19 or 20. You’re going to be experiencing growing pains anyway. It was tough, at times.”
“All of this was occurring during our success,” says singer Faye O’Rourke. “Life doesn’t stop. Things will keep happening,” she says
Yet for all the turmoil, Little Green Cars enjoyed making Ephemera. For one thing, there was a great deal less pressure than previously. The debut had arrived in a thunderclap of hype — rare for an Irish band on their first record. Second time out there are fewer expectations. Audiences will, they hope, accept what they hear at face value.
“For a long time it was almost out of control”, says Appleby of the early excitement, in part sparked by Little Green Cars’ placing on the BBC Sound Of tip-sheet of hot new talent (they shared the list with Chvrches, Haim, and Kodaline among others).
“We were working very hard. We had taken a year out after school to make it happen,” says O’Regan.
“Just before that year ended, and it was time to pull up our socks, Daniel Glass from Glassnote [Temper Trap, Chvrches, Mumford & Sons] signed us. One of the reasons we went with them is that they were prepared to give us complete freedom. That is something we have embraced.”
Being flavour of the month was an education. On new single ‘Clair du Lune’, Appleby addresses, in caustic fashion, what he has found to be the fake positivity that exists within the music industry.
“The language that is used sometimes is strange to me,” he says. “People well say, ‘That’s a massive song.’ And it’s like, ‘Why are you describing a song in terms of size?’ It’s so wrong. Or you’ll be talking to someone and they’ll name drop a person and go ‘they’re a real music lover’. Is that a thing now? Surely if you work in the music industry, you’re going to be a music lover by definition. It all gets put through this language filter,” he says.
Little Green Cars had the arguable misfortune to emerge just as Mumford & Sons were conquering the world. Because they were vaguely folk-influenced, the media (in the UK especially) immediately tagged them as a Celtic Mumfords. This was helpful in so far as it raised their profile in Britain but misleading too. They are an alternative outfit with rootsy flourishes not a bearded folk-fest on wheels.
Those flocking to them expecting a mutton-chopped ensemble bonding over fiddle solos will have been disappointed.
New track 'The Party' from our upcoming album 'Ephemera'. Only 3 days until the release. We are over the moon. pic.twitter.com/5t5OhxZEpS— Little Green Cars (@Littlegreencars) March 8, 2016
One striking aspect of Little Green Cars is their extreme youthfulness. They’re all in their early to mid-20s but could pass for half a decade younger. I’m amazed O’Regan was able to get into the pub where we are conducting this interview without having to show ID. Still, they’re not exactly wet behind the ears, as demonstrated by their insistence on co-producing the new album. This was a major departure as Absolute Zero was overseen by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Bjork, and Coldplay). Yet they felt ready to take the plunge.
“We were a young band and to work with a huge producer was a big deal for us,” says Appleby.
“You feel like you’ve made it. Everything is plain sailing, you think. We took a lot from Markus. But we also realised that you don’t need a big name. You can to it yourself. You just need the songs. It was important that we record this album in Dublin,” says O’Regan.
“It feels that this is where the record has its roots. After writing songs that were so important to us, it meant a lot to be able to put them together in our own town.”
Appleby adds: Working with Markus the first time out showed that people had confidence in us. We played the game because we were getting started. It was easier to do our own thing second time.”
“We’ve been friends since we were 15,” adds O’Regan. “The last two years have brought us closer. The band has never been tighter. We’ve been through situations that brought us to our most vulnerable point. But we’ve built back up together. It has made us stronger.”