“I’m in the Irish Examiner; I’m hardly that f**king dangerous a voice or someone would be silencing me.”
Blindboy Boatclub, the gobbier half of Limerick comedy/hip-hop/performance art duo The Rubberbandits, is pondering whether or not they’ve become “establishment.”
“We’ve been around for seventeen years, so we probably are establishment now, to be honest,” he says.
“But I don’t give a s**t if someone calls me establishment. The moment my views start echoing Fianna Fail or Fine Gael I’ll get worried. For the moment, I just have fairly establishment platforms.”
Following a brief musical hiatus, The Rubberbandits’ latest single, Sonny, was released in September.
With a new show, Gammon Wranglers, showcasing seven previously unreleased new songs, selling out Vicar Street and headed for Belfast and Cork, Limerick’s Spar-bag sporting prodigal sons have returned to the spotlight.
In the meantime, Blindboy Boatclub has been flying solo more, called on as much for his heartfelt state-of-the-nation political commentary as for his Rubberbandits exploits.
He also has a hotly anticipated collection of short stories, The Gospel According to Blindboy, due out within weeks.
The Rubberbandits, an irreverent team comprising Blindboy, his skinny partner in crime Mr Chrome and their frequent musical collaborator Willie O’DJ, were very far from establishment when they first began recording prank phone calls in the early 2000s, and viral hits like ‘Horse Outside’ cemented their cult status: here was a voice for the dispossessed, the austerity-era generation facing emigration, dole queues and zero-hour contracts.
There was nothing they wouldn’t tackle, with a kind of nightmarish surreality stemming influenced by their arts background — Blindboy is a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design — and their commitment to Rubberbandits as a life-long artistic collaboration.
“We’ve made a promise to each other that we’ll still be wearing bags when we’re old men,” Blindboy says. “We want this to be a lifelong artistic project, but in continually different mediums.”
Yet with a seemingly growing drive to debate issues of national importance like suicide, abortion and economics, has the time come for Blindboy to cast off his bag?
Daft Punk, Banksy and similar artistic alter-egos merit a measure of anonymity, but when being heralded as the “voice of a generation”, on that epicentre of the Irish establishment, The Late Late Show, wouldn’t visibility be better?
It’s not like it hasn’t already been done; in 2016, photos of the duo sans bags identified them in the tabloids, along with tiresomely snide articles to the effect that the pair weren’t the working-class heroes their alter-egos suggested.
But this interview begins with a firm request: “Don’t print my real name, just say Blindboy.”
And when he’s espousing political change on prime-time television? “You just have to take my word at face value,” he says, without any detectable irony.
Using their platform to open up conversation around mental health, The Rubberbandits’ current single, ‘Sonny’, faces the brutal reality of Ireland’s horrifying suicide rates head-on by delving into the mind of someone contemplating taking their life.
“Sonny’s not committing nothing, he’s just doing them a favour,” Mr Chrome snarls, over a compelling beat.
The accompanying video, beautiful and bleak, features people dancing on chairs. “We wanted to use visual language to suggest hanging, instead of depicting it directly,” Blindboy says.
“It’s usually presented in a sequence of shots: a rope, and a foot stepping on to the chair. These signifiers represent hanging to the viewer, so we wanted to use an image associated with hanging, and to reinterpret it by having the person dancing and celebrating life on this chair.”
The response, he says, has been overwhelmingly positive. It wasn’t a project undertaken lightly; they applied World Health Organisation media guidelines for representing suicide. “We wanted to tackle the issue so there’s humour in there, but it’s serious as well.
Beckett is the main influence there; the way that hanging is represented with this dark humour in Waiting for Godot.”
It’s territory Blindboy isn’t scared of navigating, and he feels just as strongly about destigmatising conversations around mental health in general. “I think the conversation is still far too solemn,” he says. “You can still care about something and not be solemn about it; all that solemnity does is cause people to close up emotionally. The cure for solemnity is humour.”
As artists, Rubberbandits want to explore avenues of painting and sculpture in the future, Blindboy says: “We have to keep doing something new and we never want to be put in a box.”
It’s an artistic collaboration that has reached impressive fruition in music and film: in early 2017, their track ‘Dad’s Best Friend’ featured on the soundtrack for Trainspotting 2, and their early short contributions to RTÉ’s Republic of Telly led to filming projects with Channel 4, ITV and even, briefly, MTV.
Literature was a logical progression, then, for at least one half of the duo. For now, one thing Blindboy can say about his imminent collection of short stories is that writing it was a revelation to him.
“Just for myself, in creating music and theatre and everything, this book is the purest,” he says.
“I’ve never really had the feeling where the end piece truly represents what I had inside; something’s always been off. But this book is the purest expression of my creative self, and I’m so happy with it. I’ve never been prouder of anything in my life.”
“Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, David Bowie and Funkadelic. No-one’s making albums anymore, so I listen to contemporary music but can’t even be arsed checking my spotify so I can’t recall them.
If I’m listening to Tom Waits, I’mlistening to a body of work; it’s an album, Blue Valentine or Swordfistrombones.
When you get to Swordfistrombones in 1980, he was listening to Captain Beefheart: he was still doing short-story narratives, but it’s this weird sound with marimbas and all these crazy instruments.”
“I don’t do a lot of reading because don’t like spending that much time in someone else’s imagination.
Flann O’Brien and James Joyce would be my two favourite writers. I love The Third Policeman and At Swim Two Birds. I love Kevin Barry’s work too.”
“I’m loving the work of (Drive and Only God Forgives director) Nicolas Winding Refn. The amount of detail in Refn’s cinematography is amazing; it’s all so choreographed and beautiful.
And the way he uses neon lights – Neon Noir is the only way to describe the genre; it’s like classic noir, infused with a neon glow.”
“There’s nothing from comedy that’s turned me on since I was a kid; I used to love Brass Eye and Reeves and Mortimer.
What makes me laugh nowadays is internet memes or someone falling over, but the art has been taken out of decent comedy.
Due to budgets, because they’re not willing to invest in any edgy comedy.
There’s a guy called Brilliant Shane from Kerry who has a Facebook page called Shane’s Brilliant Page; that’s really good.”
Gammon Wranglers is at Cork Opera House on Friday, October 13. corkoperahouse.ie