FORMED in the depths of the recession in 2009, Dublin-based six-piece Overhead, The Albatross have just self-released their debut album, Learning To Growl. Bassist Joe Panama (his real name, he clarifies; “It’s a Mayan name, from Guatamala or El Salvador”) says the album has been a long time coming but they didn’t want to rush things.
“We could’ve released two iterations of the album in that time but we didn’t because they weren’t good, ready, fully formed. This one is the perfect album, it’s an accurate representation of what we wanted to do [with] our first album. Anything else before that would’ve been selling ourselves short and I think it would’ve been a disservice to people who had been waiting as well.”
It’s that kind of big-picture outlook and ambition that defines both the band itself and the album.
Mostly instrumental, with heavy brushes of post-rock, Learning To Growl features vocal contributions from the King’s Hospital Choir and the Straffan Lads Choir, as well as instrumentation from members of the National Symphony Orchestra.
“I don’t know if we were ambitious at the start, I don’t know if we’re ambitious now, but I think it was a case of not stopping until we were happy with the scale of it,” says Panama.
The sound of the album was cultivated in Czech Republic, the six members decamping to a little town near Pisek, about 100km south of Prague, for a few months in 2012/13.
“It was the best three months of my life,” says Panama, 27. “It was the middle of nowhere, took us 36 hours to drive there, like straight. We didn’t really stop anywhere.”
It was a dramatic journey too. They missed three ferries from England because the van they had sorted had broken down at 5am outside Birmingham and the AA had to come out. If any NCT testers are reading, you may want to look away.
“Ah it was a nightmare, but it got us over there and back. Every day, we had to start the van by opening the bonnet, pulling the fuel pump off the engine and spraying fuel across the top of it while someone turned the ignition, and you had to spark the fuel in the pipe and shove it back on again and hope the van started without blowing up. It was pretty intense. But it was good.”
Surrounded by trees and located on a lake, Panama says the 1930s house they were staying in was beautiful. “We had no internet, no nothing, no phone, no way of contacting the outside world except for going 14km up the road to the nearest town to go on the internet once a week,” Panama explains.
“It was really that separation from the noise of Ireland and being here that led us actually write without interruption, without jobs, without family.”
Now safely back in Ireland, Overhead, The Albatross (named after a line in the song ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd, a group Albatross are huge fans of) are getting ready for a date in Cork before hitting the summer festival circuit — and then again showing that ambition of theirs by ending the year with a gig at Vicar Street.
“We’re finally playing a stage big enough to fit the sound that we want to put across. We got that chance before at the Marquee, supporting Kodaline [in June 2015], but we were in for ten minutes and then out again. It was a nice taste but we really want to do it again, and do it in more places than Vicar Street. Hopefully it opens up some avenues for us... it is the dream.”