Dingle based band Walking On Cars are happy to progress at their own pace, writes Ed Power.
THESE are heady days for Walking On Cars. The five-piece are close to completing their debut album and will shortly play the biggest show of their career, a ‘hometown’ gig at INEC Killarney (they’re actually from Dingle: nonetheless, performing before several thousand fellow Kerry people has them in goosebumps). Led by photogenic singers /instrumentalists Patrick Sheehy and Sorcha Durham, the quintet are on a career trajectory most bands — certainly most bands from the depths of rural Ireland — can only dream of.
Seated in their record label’s Irish headquarters, they are well aware how far they’ve come. It’s almost exactly a year since they performed at Dublin’s mid-tier Academy venue. At that point, it was their highest profile concert — and one of the most nerve-wracking too.
“It was full of A’n’R men from the record companies,” says Sheehy, speaking from beneath a fashionable beanie cap that remains in place throughout our interview. “I remember looking out at the crowd. There were loads of young girls and, around the edges, all these middle-aged guys, taking notes. And we were nervous enough to begin with.”
Shortly afterwards they signed with Universal. Mindful of the success of groups such as The Coronas and Kodaline —Walking On Cars’ sound is similarly sugar-spun and ripe with commercial potential — Universal has put its formidable marketing muscle to work raising their profile around Ireland and, no less importantly, in the UK.
Walking On Cars’ new single, Always Be With You
The most visible manifestation of this was a recent support tour with The Kooks, an indie quartet with a brief moment half a decade ago. They can still count on a loyal following in Britain and Walking On Cars were surprised to find the atmosphere during the gigs closer to what you might expect from a boy-band concert.
“The crowds were really young,” Durham recalls. “Really young and really loud. It was our first big tour, where we were staying in hotels every night. In Ireland, you can often drive back after the gig. Even if you overnight, it’s only once or twice. This was a solid stint on the road — a new experience for us.”
“It’s nice that things have felt organic,” says Sheehy. “We’ve got to where we are without anyone pushing us. YouTube played a huge part: that was how a lot of people discovered our music. That was an eye-opener. You’d see all the views and think, ‘Wow, we’re getting a really positive response’.”
Growing up in Dingle played a huge part in their musical education, they say. Though the town is marketed to tourists as a faraway place perched on the edge of civilisation, it has a rock and roll side too. Snow Patrol wrote several of their most popular albums on sojourns there; it has also served as a creative retreat for Ellie Goulding and The Coronas (the family of singer Danny O’Reilly have a holiday home there). It is also the annual location for the Other Voices Festival (at which Walking On Cars performed at the weekend — you can watch their contribution on television in the new year).
“You see all sorts of musicians in unusual situations,” says bassist Paul Flannery. “I was working behind the bar one time and Ellie Goulding was in there. I didn’t think she was famous: I just thought I knew her from somewhere. I said to her ‘Were you at Seamus’s house a couple of weeks ago — out of your mind?’ She was like, ‘ I have no idea what you are on about’.”
“I actually saw her jogging outside my apartment,” adds Durham. “I was like ‘Oh, there goes Ellie Goulding, in her tracksuit’.”
“There isn’t much to do in Dingle — but it’s not boring,” says Flannery. “You find yourself doing stuff that maybe other kids wouldn’t. As children we’d be sent to the beach in the middle of winter for swimming lessons. Sport is a big thing: everyone plays football.”
“Summer is crazy,” continues Durham (Walking On Cars are one of those bands where everyone finishes every else’s sentences). “There are people who come down to Dingle for a weekend or a week and end up staying forever. My mum and dad were like that: they moved down for the music.”
With their glossy sound and well-rehearsed cool — their dress sense is the Diesel Jeans version of indie chic — it is inevitable Walking On Cars would be compared to the aforementioned Coronas and Kodaline. That’s fine by them: if it helps introduce their music to those who might otherwise not take the trouble to listen (and radio playlisters who might otherwise put them in the reject bin), where’s the problem?
“People are going to compare us to Irish bands because we are Irish,” says Durham. “That’s not bad. Ultimately we prefer if people formed their own opinion of us, instead of listening to what anyone else says. But you can’t really complain about being compared: that’s what happens.”
Swoonful choruses and catchy melodies mean Walking On Cars have had a hard time winning over the critics. This isn’t a problem. They haven’t needed journalists to get to where they are today: why should that be any different as they embark on the next leg of their career? In fact, their low profile has arguably been to their advantage. Without any media support, Walking On Cars have been free to grow at their own pace. Rather than rush into recording an album — their LP is pencilled in for release in early 2015 —there has been a trickle of EPs over the past two and a half years and a slowly, yet inexorably, expanding fanbase.
“Early on it was amazing to go to places like Waterford and Limerick and hear audiences singing your songs back to you,” says Durham. “It was like, ‘Wait, how did this happen? We couldn’t believe it when we sold out Whelan’s. You see those gigs selling out and it dawns on you: ‘Wow, something is going on here’.”
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