Behind The Voice: Audrey Gallagher - September 9 2009
Ireland’s highest voice could very well be echoing from the small village of Moneyglass, where the lovely Audrey Gallagher resides. Miss ‘Big Sky’ has been around music business for a while -and is up for some more. This lady’s worked with Armin van Buuren, John O’Callaghan, tyDi, Claudia Cazacu and more future music legends. Plenty of back-up for this chameleonic singer, and a good foundation to what’s coming up in the future. Whether that be trance, rock or ambient, the voice of Audrey Gallagher will move you. Let’s see which way she’s heading this time.
Armada: When did you first start singing?
Audrey: “I think I came out of the womb singing, it’s just been something I’ve always done. My family is very musical and my mum has a beautiful voice. She spent a lot of time teaching me songs when I was very young. I was in the school & church choirs and started writing my own songs at 14, joined a band at 16 and have been doing it ever since.”
Armada: When and how did you notice there was more than just a good ring to
Audrey: “I don’t think I ever did really. It wasn’t like someone told me I was good at it, I just enjoyed it. It was never an issue for me whether anyone else liked it as long as I enjoyed it. I suppose it came together when I joined my first band and they didn’t seem to have any complaints.”
Armada: Did you ever take singing lessons, or did you learn the techniques
all by yourself?
Audrey: “I did a few times but it wasn’t really for me. It felt the same as when I took piano & guitar lessons, it just seemed more of a chore. The best lessons I had were listening obsessively to my favourite performers.”
Armada: When were you confident enough to do live performances?
Audrey: “I would sing in front of anyone at the drop of a hat, no invitation necessary. As I got older I suppose I felt more self conscious. But with my band there was an all for one, one for all attitude and it was easy. Being away from performing live for a while I’m having to re-learn and this time no one has my back. It’s all about confidence and a good sound engineer. Being comfortable with what you’re hearing on stage is key and that isn’t always possible.”
Armada: You started your professional singing career with a band called
Scheer. How did Scheer came to life and what happened in the following years?
Audrey: “Scheer came to life in an old cow shed in a rural part of the North of Ireland. There wasn’t much else to do and there was a collection of likeminded people, maybe 15 of us, that all formed into different bands, Scheer being one of them. The music was pretty heavy. We signed to Son records in Ireland and then to 4AD, recorded 2 albums and toured incessantly. We played with some brilliant bands, Helmet, Bush, Chilli Peppers, Placebo. That’s the short version.”
Armada: Despite being quite successful the band broke up after a few years,
Audrey: “I suppose after being together for so long we all wanted to do different things. We got fed up with the business side of things which were interfering with making music and sucking out the creativity. Basically it stopped being fun. Neal Calderwood (Guitar) wanted to get more involved in production, Peter Flemin (Bass) wanted to go into management. Neal and me started our own Project called Lima and he’s still my producer.”
Armada: How did you eventually end up in EDM? Was it by accident?
Audrey: “Agnelli & Nelson got hold of some of the Lima tracks through Paul McClean at BBC Radio. They really liked my voice and contacted me to see if I would be interested in a collaboration. So they sent me the track and ‘Holding Onto Nothing’ was born. I went down to their studio with my 4track and played them what I’d done and they loved it.”
Armada: Has dance music always appealed to you? Did you notice any
differences in singing techniques?
Audrey: “All genres of music have always interested me, good tunes are good tunes no matter what where they comes from. I did tend to lean toward more band based artists like the Prodigy and Faithless though. As far a singing techniques go I didn’t really try to change anything.
I just do what feels natural. The main difference is with EDM that the song structure is different than traditional rock based tracks so it took a little more time to find the space for a vocal and where it should go. Because Trance was all new to me I didn’t have any preconceptions of what a vocal should sound like or where it should go.”
Armada: It was ‘Holding Onto Nothing’ that put you on the map in dance world,
how do you look back onto that track?
Audrey: “It was a fun thing to do. I never really thought much more about it after I left the studio and I really didn’t think it would go any further. I’ve never been a clubber so I never had the opportunity to see how people reacted to it.”
Armada: There’s a period of 4 years between ‘Holding On To Nothing’ and ‘Big
Sky’. Did you take some time off from singing, or what else have you been up to?
Audrey: “Unfortunately the thing that is the ‘Music Business’ reared its head again and we got into a bad situation. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. So I went off and got a proper job, haha. I was still writing but I swore to myself that I was staying out of the industry, it was just too stressful.
Armada: And then there was ‘Big Sky’. What’s there to know about the track
that we didn’t know yet?
Audrey: “That track came about by complete accident. I’d been down in Agnelli & Nelsons studio and Chris was playing me new tracks, ‘Wear that Dress’ & ‘Sleeping in Airports’. I loved ‘Wear That Dress’ but somehow I got confused and thought JOC had done the vocals. So I sent him a message through MySpace saying how much I liked ‘Wear That Dress’ and he contacted back saying was I up for doing something together and I suppose the rest is history.”
Armada: What’s it like, working with John? What’s the usual process of making
a track with him?
Audrey: “John’s so easy to work with. He’ll send me a few chords or a loop and go back to my 4track and do some work. I usually send him back the finished song and fortunately he’s usually happy. He does have to keep on my case though as I’m not the fastest songwriter in the world. We know each other well enough at this point where he is entitled to give me a kick sometimes.”
Armada: Do you write your own lyrics, or is it always in collab? Where do you
get your inspiration from, when it comes to singing/songwriting?
Audrey: “Yes, they’re all mine. I don’t think I would feel comfortable singing someone else’s, it wouldn’t be natural. Inspiration always comes from the melody, it sets the tone. I always begin with a melody and the words come after. It’s rare that I put pen to paper, I just sing until they come. My really old Yamaha MD4 4 track is my lifeline. If it ever packs up I’m in real trouble.”
Armada: And then there was ‘Hold On To Me’, with Armin. You must have been
extremely excited to work with this big guy? Happy with the result?
Audrey: “Of course. Armin sent the initial demo across and I fell in love with it. I loved Eller’s guitars. Once I’d written the vocal I sent it to him and waited for his reaction. That’s always the hard part. Once you hit send you can’t take it back. He rang a few minutes later and I was so relieved when he said he loved it. I flew to Holland in the next few days and we recorded the vocal in his studio. I’m pinching myself and wondering how this happened. He was and is such a gent and he put me at ease straight away. I’m very proud of that track.”
Armada: Your voice really stands out, reaching the high notes and sounding
like no one else. Due to that, people tend to either love or dislike your voice.
Do you take that as a compliment?
Audrey: “Thank you. Yeah, I think it’s good to have a unique voice but the very fact that it’s unique means it won’t be everybody’s thing and that’s OK. It’s always great to provoke a reaction though, I find it amusing. There’s lots of stuff out there that doesn’t do it for me so I just don’t listen to it. I
don’t quite understand this obsession with sitting on forums telling people how much you really dislike something. I mean, I hate broccoli so I just don’t eat it. I don’t keep sticking it in my mouth to make sure & I really don’t feel the need to tell the world about it. Oops, think I just did’_”
Armada: Got any vocal heroes yourself?
Audrey: There are so many voices that have inspired and influenced me. Although I know I have my own voice I would say it’s got little bits of Maria McKee, Stevie Nicks, Natalie Merchant, Sinead O’Connor and Elizabeth Frazer in there somewhere.”
Armada: ‘Freefalling’ , in collab with Claudia Cazacu, was a big hit this
summer. Was it different working with a woman, since the whole dance scene is so
Audrey: “Claudia was brilliant to work with and not just because she’s a woman. We just clicked immediately. She’s just as professional as any other producer I’ve worked with. One difference though, when I sent her the track she sent me the most beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Now, none of the boy’s did that, haha, so take note.”
Armada: ‘You Walk Away’, with the number one DJ of Australia, tyDi, has just
been released. How did you end up working with this young talent?
Audrey: “MySpace again! He sent me a message to see if I would be interested in working with him. I get a lot of requests but he really stood out. He sent me a track and to be honest I am so slow so he used it elsewhere. Then he sent me what became ‘You Walk Away’. I loved it instantly and it hasn’t changed a lot from the original. He’s just so talented and an absolute joy to work with. He loves his red wine so he must be all right!”
Armada: We heard some rumors about you two making a full album together. How
is the album doing then?
Audrey: “We’re working together at the moment. In fact I should be in the studio now finishing off a new track. We like the same style and sounds, he just knows instantly what will appeal to me. We’ll wait and see where it goes.”
Armada: Still dreaming of any special collabs?
Audrey: “I don’t know really, I’m so happy working with the people that I’m working with at the moment. If Linkin Park or Mike Patton knocked on my door though I wouldn’t say no.”
Armada: What else can we expect to hear from you in the next few months?
Audrey: “I’ll keep quiet about that as again I’m not the fasted writer in the world, but it will be good!”
Alternative Press "Lonely Is An Earsore"
The following is part of an article, from (April 1996), titled "Lonely is an Earsore". In this article Ivo Watts-Russell (co-founder of 4AD) discusses the changes in the label's roster, to include the signing of Scheer.
Recent label signing Scheer also caused quite a fuss in 4AD purist circles recently with the release of their Schism EP. Possessing a harder edged guitar sound that's more akin to Helmet than the Cocteaus, the unlikely union between the band and their new home led many to wonder what the hell Ivo had been thinking when he added them to the roster.
"Hopefully people will reserve judgment until they hear the full album, (responds Ivo). Colin Wallace, who has been with 4AD for a very long time, has been doing A&R for us in London. When I first heard the demos that he'd sent over, I understood why he's sent them, but it felt like a genre of music that I wasn't particularly interested in. When I saw them live, however, something clicked. I suppose to a certain extent, I'm enjoying the head banging aspect of it.".....
...."I can't be responsible for people's misconceptions as far as their disappointment that we aren't working with some of the artists that we were working with. I'm disappointed too," he offers as consolation. "However, I have to remain true to myself and whatever it is that we're putting out. Maybe people won't like Scheer or Tarnation. I can't really think about that or do anything about it. If people aren't able to get what they want from us any longer, then I hope that they're able to find it somewhere else. Maybe they should broaden their horizons and go and listen to someone like Gram Parsons."
Scheer, Raiding Their Ire
This article ran in the June 1996, as a Low
Profile, titled "Scheer, Raiding Their Ire".
Written by Jason Ferguson.
"There's absolutely nothing wrong with liking rock music, and there's nothing wrong with rock music," declares Scheer vocalist Audrey Gallagher. "It's quite a fashionable thing to not like rock bands, but most of the people who slag it off haven't really listened to a lot of it."
Unabashedly polished and powerful, Scheer could alter people's perceptions about the merits of heavy rock. The Irish quintet -though far from metallic- are certainly more than willing to inject currently unpopular things like dramatic flourishes, propulsive drumming and, of course, volume-happy guitars into their complex, infectious songs.
They formed six years ago in the small North Irish town of Magherafelt. At the time, Gallagher and guitarist Neal Calderwood, augmented another local band, White Lies, whose line-up included Scheer's guitarist (Paddy Leyden), bassist (Peter Fleming) and drummer (Joe Bates). White Lies' "sweeter, jangly" pop sound was transformed dramatically when Gallagher and Calderwood came on board. But rather than play out immediately, Scheer opted to woodshed their ideas for a while.
"It was maybe a year after we got together before we even gigged anywhere," says Gallagher. "Once we started to play, though, taking it from the studio to playing it in front of other people was a very strange transition."
The band took this transition in stride and played "hundreds and hundreds" of gigs over the next couple of years, including, by Audrey's count, 150 Irish shows in one year, sometimes two a day. After releasing a single and an EP on the Irish indie Sun, the band were courted be labels large and small until they decided to sign with 4AD.
"All these people were interested in us, but nobody wanted to put their money where their mouth was and make a decision. But we were really impressed with the way 4AD sticks with their artist to develop them, rather than trying to simply make some fast money."
Though a specious case could be made for Scheer's anomalous condition on 4AD, that band exists in a much more uncomfortable state in the larger music world. Heavy rock is vehemently unfashionable at the moment -especially in the U.K.- and Scheer's debut is pretty rockin'. Between the opening three-song fusillade of 'Shéa,' 'Howling Boy,' and 'Wish You Were Dead,' Infliction barrels through melodrama ('Babysize'), quietude ('In Your Hand') and epic pop ('Screaming'), never once stopping to look back at the damage.
'I think that we show that we're not just doing three minutes of heavy stuff all the time," says Gallagher. "Like the cello on 'Goodbye' shows we're very much a song-based band; and at the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. When we played with Korn and Paw, it was weird because we had all the metallers in the audience, and we thought we were going to die up on the stage. But it went down really really well. But even an indie crowd, like Belly's, really got into it as well. Since we're not really 'aiming' our music at a particular audience, it really comes across and different sorts of people can understand what we're doing.
"And that way," she says with a laugh, "they either really like it or they just hate it."
Volume 15 - Scheer
The following interview was part of Volume 15, to which Scheer contributed "Don't Know Why?"
For Scheer-singed to 4AD on the basis of their performance one year ago at this very Dublin Fresher's Ball and who nowadays rattle the stacks so hard they'd be as at home in the sweaty folds of Kerrang! As the relatively rarefied pages of NME -this represents a fashion sea-change of confusing proportions. The kids, it seams, don't necessarily wanna rock.
The depth to which trad rock appears to have sunk on the Emerald Isle if described ever more vividly when the pub in whose upstairs room we do the interview turns out to be hosting downstairs a sound check by the once potentially mighty, but now undoubtedly fallen, Something Happens! (At least I think there was an exclamation mark).
But with a logic inescapable to anyone who has spent their formative years in Scotland, Scheer decide it's ok. Ireland is always a year or two behind England and in England, of course, the bands are in the back of the tent.
Not that the band, from the geographically precise area of mid-Ulster (40 miles to the north, south, east and west, explains singer Audrey Gallagher), should be concerned by the fate, either good or bad, of any trad rockers, as Scheer are, as is often the manner of bands from relatively isolated spots, a unique-sounding find.
Describe yourself in five words:
Audrey: "I fall down a lot"
Peter:" I like eating a lot"
Paddy: "I like people to listen"
Joe: "Does anyone want my chips?"
Neal: "What the fuck is nascent?"
This last is because Neal, one of two guitar men, has recently been appraised in print as a nascent sex god. At any point now he may become one, even though he won't realise it's happenin'.
Nascent, being born or otherwise gestating is Scheer's debut album from 4AD, which this year will follow their debut EP for the label, "Schism". Among it's four tracks the record featured "Sometimes"' and "You Said" or, as one enthusiastic DJ reckoned, a right little cracker called "Sometimes you said".
"Schism" was far from Scheer's first foray into the fab world of pop recording, however, as they spent some time before inking the deal with 4AD hitched to Son, offspring of U2's Mother label and apparently a helpful if hardly hyperactive partner.
What inspires you?:
Audrey: "I was just gonna say that"
Joe: "Can we use more than one word? When you're listening to music and it's really fucking good and it's really pushing the buttons and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. If we could do that...that thought inspires me."
Audrey: "And money."
What has evolved, confidently, (from their first two waxings for Son, "Wish You Were Dead" and "Psychobabble", a good three or four years tramping the toilets of Ireland playing the predictable seven-quid gigs and their more recent development under the 4AD wing) cannot be happily filed as any usual form of "alternative" rock, even with a twist of bitter lemon. And rough tapes of the album have yanked the cranes of the metallically muscle-bound members of the Volume staff.
Seeing the band live, especially in front of a crowd of "freshers" in a frankly inadequately proportioned tent, chucks another storey on the edifice as the twin guitars and rhythm section hoist a hard rock assault of riffing and howling that provides a tense counter piece to Audrey's vocal. I saw them a while back supporting weighty types Paw and Korn and they went down a storm.
The track you will hear on Volume is one that was prepared for their appearance at New York's CMJ music biz backslapathon /signing spree in 1995 and is a far cry from their current state.
When the band appeared at that event, says, Paddy, "The way we were greeted over there (US) was like a breath of fresh air -basically a bunch of fucking rednecks from Ireland comin' over and drinkin ' fuckin' Guinness and carryin' on. There was no shoegazin' involved...like you might've thought an indie band on 4AD woulda been."
Neal: "Well, I was always trying to play heavy metal guitar. At first I'd never get away with it. But eventually everybody heard it so much they went, Fuck, OK. When I first started trying to play the guitar I didn't even get an electric, I got an acoustic. And I wouldn't play along with other songs-I tried making up my own all the time. It's completely opposite from how most guitarist do it-I did it the wrong way around. I just love the sound of a really heavy guitar, it just...gets my rocks off! I love doing that, but I would hate to be in a band that did that all the time. It would bore the shit out of me."
Yeah, well, not to paint 'em as the new Sabbath, you know. Audrey's vocal, fragile and plaintive on such a song as 'In Your Hand', insistent and as effective an expression of demons being chased on 'Shéa' or 'Howling boy', sets them apart, however much their heads metaphorically shake. As is so often the case the songs sound sad but the singer is not.
"No. 'I fall down a lot' is not a deep statement. It just
sort of happens a lot. More than is normal. I'm not sad. Sometimes-you must be
sad sometimes. Happy words don't go together as well. The music's not that happy
particularly. Nothing bad that way, but happy words don't fit."
Neal: "Sad songs.. say so much . That's five words. Score my last one out"
Paddy: "I want to be happy until I die."
Joe: "Probably just for the band to be successful. If that doesn't sound clichéd. When I say successful I don't mean successful in terms of U2 and megabucks . You may be completely happy with what you're doing and, like Paddy says, being happy basically, and this is what makes me happy and if this is going well, they you're ultra-happy."
Neal: "I want to be a famous actor."
Peter: "My ambition is to do well from the band, which will in turn help other people."
Audrey: "I wanna get married and have babies. Not now! But I don't really want much more than that. And enough money to live comfortably. That's basically it. And play Wembley."
Joe: "You're thinking of taking up football?"
The beautiful may not need them and Scheer's awesome attack is a tad too abrasive to swell the collective breast of a stadium, but the smart money is on successful games both at home to indie crowds and away to the hairy hordes. Even the uncommitted freshers who have forgone the delights of the dance to sample some prehistoric culture are moved to applause and enthusiastic touchline leaping. Some people may, as they say, think it's all over-but some of the better squads are still only limbering up.
By Ryan Schreiber. Ireland never rocked like this before.
Dotpitch: When did you form?
Audrey: About three years ago. At home, we all sort of knew each other from hanging around the same areas. It was about '92 or '93 that we got together.
Dotpitch: What do the folks back home think of you?
Audrey: I just been on the phone to my mom before I called you. They think it's great. I don't know, I think it's like every parent wants their kids to have proper jobs and to be settled down and all the rest of it. But I think now that they've seen that we're working really hard and things are startin' to move that maybe it wasn't such a crazy idea after all.
Dotpitch: Why Infliction for the album title and concept?
Audrey: It was actually the last thing that got done. The album was recorded and the artwork was done and we were like, "God, we're gonna have to call it something." The whole idea came together mainly when we saw Vaughn [Oliver]'s artwork. He sat down and listened to the album and that was the idea that he put together and showed us. The journey from the outside of the body to the inside of the body and back out. It was just what we thought sounded good.
Dotpitch: Are these actual pictures of wounds and things?
Audrey: Yeah, they are. They're very real. They're various parts of the anatomy inside. They're real and they've been...just color washed. Real medical pictures. There's a guy, Nicola Schwartz, that had done stuff for us in the past and he had the collection of photographs. He showed them to Vaughn and Vaughn thought that we might be interested.
Dotpitch: "Wish You Were Dead" is the big single in
America right now, and it's getting a good deal of airplay and stuff. When did
you write that song?
Audrey: That was actually the first thing we released at home. That's one of the older songs and that was probably about three years ago. That's just one that's stayed with us and done really well for us. We released it at home as a single, but it's changed a bit.
Dotpitch: Is the song a true story?
Audrey: Yeah, it's just one of those general relationship-ending stories, but it wasn't a particular incident. It was just the idea that if there's someone you're really, really in love with and suddenly they're gone, it would just be easier... It's not maliciously 'wish you were dead', it's sort of like, if you didn't have to see them on the street everyday.
Dotpitch: So more like, [laughing] "Wish You Moved Away."
Audrey: [laughing] Yeah, "Wish You Didn't Live Here."
Dotpitch: What's the story behind "Howling Boy?"
Audrey: That's about my little brother. It's about like, shoutin' and shoutin' a lot to get what you want.
Dotpitch: If you weren't out rockin' the world, what would
you be doing instead?
Audrey: I guess I would probably just be doing it in my bedroom, instead of on a stage somewhere. And always thinking that we were gonna get there eventually. I could have ended up having been married with kids at this stage. I don't know what I'd be doing.
Dotpitch: You guys come across as slightly death-oriented.
With like your "Wish You Were Dead" and your Infliction CD and the packaging. A
Audrey: It's not actually as morbid as it looks, even with some of the song titles. It's a little bit more sensitive than that. Just the influences that everybody's brought to the band. You know, some people's influences are heavier, and everybody's been allowed to play how they wanted to until it all came together. Like I would have a lot lighter stuff that I listened to like Tori Amos, and then the boys would have something maybe heavier or lighter and then it all just came together and became what it was. But there isn't that little death metal wanna-be wish there.
Dotpitch: Yeah, 'cause I was ask, "What's your favourite
Audrey: Several. The first one that I saw when I was about nine or ten was... oh, I had it a second ago and I've lost it again. Some of the more gory ones. What's the one where they're all up in the cabin and they're playing cards and...[doing imitation] Ace of Spades! Queen of Hearts! and it goes on like that, and they all turn into witches. She's running through the forest being chased by a tree and the camera is the person who's chasing her. It was the first one I ever saw and it scared the bejeezus out of me. Scared the life out of me and what was it? They all turned into witches and there's this one part where this woman's head is spinning round and round and round. The Evil Dead.
[Editor's Note: I must have you know that I am a huge fan of The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2 (though not of Army of Darkness). The reason that I didn't realize it was that she was talking about how they all turn into witches, and I was thinking like, The Craft or something. I would've guessed it. Really.]
Dotpitch: They turn into witches?
Audrey: I think it was six people who went us into a cabin and they start playing cards, and one of them is facing out the window and she's perfectly normal, but then she turns around and she's got this real witchy voice. But then The Evil Dead 2 was sort of a spoof.
Dotpitch: That was great.
Audrey: The first one was the first thing I'd ever seen.
Dotpitch: That director, Sam Raimi, has done a lot of
stuff since then. Like there's a movie called The Quick and The Dead with like
Sharon Stone. He always adds these tacky special effects. There's a television
series over here called Hercules, which he directed a couple of episodes of.
Audrey: When you're 12, it's a lot scarier to watch it. It was one of those ones that gave you sleepless nights. The Omen ones as well.
Dotpitch: What sexual act would best represent your music?
Audrey: [laughing] I think Paddy might be around to answer this one. [talking to Paddy in background] What sexual act would best represent our music? [Back to us:] Paddy says, "From Behind."
Dotpitch: What's the name of the first song you ever
Audrey: "Stone Heart." It doesn't exist anymore. It was awful.
Dotpitch: Being from Ireland, how's U2?
Audrey: Well, they own most of it. Most of the hotels and buildings. There's a lot of backlash about U2 and most people don't admit to liking them, but then when they play in Ireland, the whole place is sold out. I've always really liked them and I don't understand those people. They've made a few mistakes, like that Rattle and Hum album was just disgraceful, but in general, I think for them to be the biggest band in the world, and to have them come from Ireland, you know, that's cool. They're one of those bands that have managed to re-invent themselves, which a lot of bands can't do. It doesn't really matter what anyone thinks about them anymore. They're just too big to care.
Dotpitch: Is 1996 undoubtedly the year of Scheer?
Audrey: Hopefully. It's been goin' great so far. In 1995, if someone said that we'd be sittin' at the Holiday Inn and there's a swimmin' pool just outside my door, and we'd be touring across America for six weeks, it would have been slightly unbelievable. We're going to Europe five days after we get home. We've been told that we'll be headed for Japan and Australia before the end of the year. We'll have gotten to see the whole world. You couldn't ask for anything better.
Copyright 1996, Dotpitch Online.
The Baby Talk Fanzine
The following interview of Scheer was done by Ulrich Maurer and can be found in the latest issue of the Baby Talk Fanzine.
In person SCHEER are everything but the dark and brooding figures that their overall artistic representation implies them to be. Cheerful, friendly and funny AUDREY and NEAL are still on that human to human level where stardom hasn't kicked in yet and it's okay to crack a joke here and there, eat half-dry waffles and not to care too much to cater to a certain image.
Plus: People who do like RESERVOIR DOGS and TRUE ROMANCE are definitely on the right end of the popsicle. However, there's this deep "Schism" (their aptly titled 1st single) between their personal image and what they do.
Scheer's music, and lyrics - though not without beauty - come across dark, morbid, even menacing at times and the artwork on their covers is amongst the most appalling you could wish for (depicting images of tumours, scars, parasites and death in detail and magnification). But this doesn't bother them, nor can they explain it - or want to.
In my carefully planned plot, to actually miss every opportunity to meet BELLY last year, I also didn't catch SCHEER when they premiered as a 4AD-act as a support to BELLY in London's Astoria last year. That was the first time I heard of them: The story of SCHEER so far sounds quite interesting. For instance, there's this story of the U2-manager, who came to one of their gigs but left before they were done:
AUDREY: That was when we were still on SUN-records in Ireland and when Paul McGuiness came to the gig. It's a very small venue and he's a very big man and he had a business suit on and stood in front of the stage. He left and thought we were a derivative of everything on the SUN label and he didn't like us at all. Which was probably a gift, because we would have signed to another label, probably. Which would have been too early for us then.
The live-situation in Ireland, where the band comes from, seems to be quite good.
NEAL: Yeah, we started there. Before anything else began, we built up a good following there, especially in the regions. We released our first stuff independently and then got signed by 4AD. So now we are full time musicians and can live from that.
Curiously enough they got signed by 4AD when playing a self organised gig in New York.
AUDREY: We are very comfortable with where we are now. 4AD is the only remaining really independent label over there. All the others are sort of owned by majors. 4AD sort of is a small major itself because it is so big now.
Scheer's sound is quite hard and thus stands out a little bit in the 4AD roster. (Although no one could accuse 4AD for lack of diversity).
AUDREY: It is hard. I think it's got a little bit more than Hard rock, though.
NEAL: We didn't originally start as strong as that. But we developed into that style. We like the kind of play between the heavy sound of the guitars and the sound of Audrey's voice.
And that is the main source of attraction towards the music of SCHEER. On it's own, the musical bits and pieces the music consists of wouldn't be that different. But in combination with Audrey's very distinguishable style of singing (melodic, but not exactly melodies - comparable perhaps to the BJÖRK-approach) it becomes something unique. I was wondering how the dark side of things came to happen.
AUDREY: Naturally I guess. I think we are naturally dark.
NEAL: The music starts out and ends up quite heavy and that gives AUDREY that sort of feeling because the music is put together first and then the vocals come afterwards. AUDREY does her vocals on top of that. So the music is dark and heavy and the lyrics reflect this mood.
AUDREY: I don't do so much individual writing as I used to. I did use to but I wouldn't say that I was a writer in that way.
As NEAL says: The mood is almost set when I get to work. It usually starts with a melody, something that will catch me. And it goes from there. Something I actually don't put pen to paper, I have to work it out first, because certain notes don't fit certain words and I think some things don't sit together. The melodies I pick are usually not very straightforward. I always go back to the first sound that comes out of my mouth although I try different things, but that is always the one I come back to. And it evolves from almost developing against what the music is actually doing. I don't like to follow things.
Fine. But it's hard to understand the lyrics because of this. Might this be intentional - perhaps to disguise the words somehow?
AUDREY: No, I don't think it's intentional. I don't know really why that is, actually. Maybe because sometimes some words are on one note or they are split up between notes. A lot of the time there isn't a natural rhyme and that makes it quite hard to follow. And then you have the heaviness on top of that, which will make it less clear. But it's not deliberate.
NEAL: I find it hard to understand Audrey's lyrics sometimes, too. Because some of the pronunciations she makes are not what you expect and then there's her accent. Especially for someone who isn't familiar with that, it gets hard to understand what she is singing.
What one does understand, however, makes one wonder. The lyrics, all delivered in a kind of a conversational style, where AUDREY speaks with a virtual opposite, deal with all kinds of dark aspects of human relationships. One of the titles even goes "I wish you were dead". Keeping in mind that AUDREY seems exceptionally cheerful and uplifting: What's the story behind that?
AUDREY: It is dark, sensitive though. There's very little good emotions in there. There are mostly anxiety and anger. I don't think it's as deep as therapy or anything. It's more like conversations. Things either I've had with people or things that I would like to have. But the music itself is dark and that sets the tone even before I begin with the lyrics. That's the way things are right now. But there's not all dark songs. Take "Shéa" for instance. It's the name of the son of PADDY, the other guitar-player - his son was born on the day we recorded it. And it was one of those things that actually didn't mean anything. The words sounded right but they had no actual meaning. And we had no title. So, Shéa was born that day so we named it after him.
Okay - so there's the nice interplay between Audrey's voice and the heavy guitars. Since the band has got two guitarists, one cannot help to notice that there isn't this typical lead/rhythm-thing going on but something else.
NEAL: It's the natural way that the two of us work. I like to hear bands where the guitar delivers more than just a chord or just a backing of the rhythm. I like to hear different melodies going on. Actually the way I play sometimes is like a "frustrated vocalist", if you know what I mean. 'Cause I have sort of melody-lines that come to me and have to get out. That reacts with what Audrey's doing and the two sort of play off each other. So with the two guitars you've got the rhythm and some melody and the music itself does have a certain amount of it's own melody - even if you take the vocals away.
Speaking of taking stuff away: There are some moments on the record, where the acoustic element dominates - even a cello is brought in for good measure...
AUDREY: Yeah, that's the first time we actually did that. A cello player named Audrey (too) came in and arranged and played the cello part.
NEAL: Writing the cello was actually the very last thing we did. When we actually had mixed the album - we left that to the band - we finished with two acoustic guitars and AUDREY. And it was her idea to bring in the cello. Basically it was Audrey (the other one) who wrote the cello, though.
AUDREY: We don't have any knowledge of scoring and writing music and stuff like that. She brought in three scores and it was fascinating: We had written this song on guitars and suddenly it was on paper, almost like real music. And she played more or less exactly what I heard in my head - without even having to ask her. That was really amazing.
NEAL: From time to time we do acoustic stuff. A lot of the songs begin acoustic. When I have an idea I work it out acoustically, get a structure together, and then it becomes an electric version, an electric song. But sometimes it just stays an acoustic song. On the singles we will release will be acoustic versions of songs that we've done. And we very much change the style of the song. It's definitely a side of us.
AUDREY: In an acoustic song the voice carries more of the whole thing. It's nice in the way that it's more intimate. You sing differently. When you have it stripped down and you have more space to sing it's more in the tone of your voice than anything else. Plus you got to hear your voice better. It's more relaxing and less tense. When we play live you have to almost shout to hear yourself. But it's actually more scary when we have a good P.A.-system and suddenly you hear your voice more clearly - because I'm so used to not hear what I'm singing.
I was wondering what they would do to their songs when playing live.
NEAL: Not much. The songs we wrote on the album were all written before we started to record. We just developed them in the studio to make them more intricate and added different things to them but live we keep very much to the song. We don't really agree with a lot of improvisation because we don't want to go out and showcase us as very good musicians. We're just people who go out and play our instruments but the most important aspects are the songs that we write and if we start to change and improvise we think the song suffers. We wanna keep the song as it was because we think we've written the song as best as it can be. We put a lot of energy in it when plying live. So you get a different aspect from the performance. But that's the way it goes.
Another aspect of playing live struck me: With it's 43 minutes playing time, the record seems to be quite short. So there must be some more material to play - or are they into cover-versions?
NEAL: No, we never play cover-versions, always our own songs. We have more - on the EP's for instance.
AUDREY: For a debut album, when you give the people 15 songs of a band that they never had heard of, that can be quite daunting. We have 10 songs and it gives a good overall picture.
There's one exception to the cover-boycott and that must be Blondie's "Hangin' on the Telephone" from the "Wish You Were dead"-EP. Why didn't they like to play cover versions and why did they record this particular one?
AUDREY: We were asked to play the BLONDIE-Cover version for a project where all of the 4AD bands were asked to play a BLONDIE cover. But I don't know if it's going to be released. It's a completely different version from the original.
This is true. It's sort of a mix between a jazzy verse and a grungy chorus. Very nice, indeed.
NEAL: We have so many different musical tastes that we could never really agree on what song to pick. But just in general we prefer to write our own songs. We don't want to be like any other band.
What about the artwork? Who came up with those grisly images?
AUDREY: Vaughan Oliver of v23 did. We decided which pictures were printed, so it's us to blame. Don't you like it?
Not exactly, no. In fact: It would have actually given me second thoughts about buying the album.
AUDREY: Oh it would? My brother says the same. I like it. Especially the coloured stuff inside. It's interesting and it provokes some ideas. That's how it should be, isn't it?
The RAD Online-Fanzine - Scheer
by Dave Robbins
Scheer are 4AD's newest and brightest signing from Belfast, Ireland. During a recent stop in New York City during the "Shaving the Pavement" tour, Audrey Gallagher, Neal Calderwood, and Peter Fleming spoke with RAD at the great and spacious Time Warner building. When asked about the meaning behind "Shaving The Pavement" they all shrug in unison. "Ask Ivo" is the best they could come up with. I guess you might as well ask what does "facing the wrong way" or "think I'm getting the hang of it mean." Neal says Ivo just comes up with ideas and titles and that's what they're called. Hmmm.
Scheer came together in various stages. Audrey, Neal, and Paddy were friends together at college before they joined the band, all at different times, all from different bands. They started rehearsing together in 1991 and recorded their first single (which is also a single from the new album), "Wish You Were Dead " in 1993. In one year they played more than 100 gigs, just in Ireland. Scheer were signed to 4AD in 1995, so they had ample time to hone their craft and develop their own sound. The first time they played for Ivo Watts-Russell, 4AD founder and CEO, was at Brownies in NYC's East Village. They played their electric set (which probably shook the block), then went around the corner to Sin-E where Ivo heard their acoustic stuff, stripped down and soft. Ivo immediately approached them about making an album.
"Scheer" is the Dutch word for Shaved, but they didn't know that until they'd taken the name. They found this out from a Dutch band they toured with who also informed them that it is a slang term for the Dutch equivalent of "fuck off." Heh heh -- Cool. It's hard to pin down where the Scheer sound comes from, although it seems every one can think of a band they remind them of. I've heard them compared to Cranberries, Nirvana, even Guns n' Roses. Neal is very up front about his musical influences "...Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Stones, Stone Temple Pilots, Helmet, and Soundgarden." I think a lot of people thought that 4AD would fade into obscurity having never been associated in any way with any of these bands. Surprise!
There is a lot of resentment out there from long time 4AD purists who feel that Scheer have nothing to do with what the label has been about. When I saw them in New York in May some guy from the audience yelled "get off the stage" after just one song. The band doesn't let it bother them though. Neal had never heard of the label until Ivo wanted to sign them. He says "don't feel like I'm on this label that has such a mystique about it. It's just a label to me, but I realize how much it means to other people." They feel it's great to be on it, with their attitude, and they take their time with things. They want you to take things gradually, not to just make a quick hit and then get lost.
"With other labels, A&R people have to come see you, and then bring their boss back. With 4AD, Ivo just comes himself and says 'let's make a record.' It's a great attitude, it's what we wanted." As far as people resenting Ivo for signing them, Neal has this to say: "Ivo says he's got to stay true to himself. He says, 'I like all kinds of music; I like some head-banging albums. I like that kind of music and I want to sign it.' The whole idea of 4AD was to stay true to the music he likes. If other people don't like it they can go elsewhere. 4AD is not like a family, it's just a record company. You don't like all the bands on Sony, why should you like all the bands on 4AD?" Audrey says "we aren't any more extreme or different than the Pixies were when they were signed. Throwing Muses are a rock band as well. We don't have any responsibility to make people like us." I got the impression that they've been fielding questions like these for quite some time now.
The cover of the "Infliction" album is a rather gruesome newly stitched surgical opening (in a dog I found out) with a dog's nipple on the back. Apparently the band chose the pictures from a series that Vaughn Oliver (of v23) showed them. The pictures match the feel of the album very well, but once again, they're very unusual considering most other v23 album covers.
I asked the band what they would change about the music world of 1996. Neal and Audrey decided to "get rid of Simply Red and M People." Neal would "bring back early 80's heavy metal, like Twisted Sister." "Even ZZ Top," I ask? "Oh yeah" he says. (Sheesh.) When asked what they thought of the all encompassing "alternative" moniker in light of such non-innovative alternatives as Alanis and Hootie, and found that they're fine with it; they consider themselves a rock band. "Alternative (in the States) just means you're a rock band. In the UK it means Peel Sessions--more obscure music."
At the end of the current tour, Scheer has a gig on Irish late night television, "The Late Late Show". Everyone in the audience is retired. It's where you play to show your parents that you've really hit it big. "It's great 'cause your Mum can watch." Scheer as yet have no plans to make another album. They love the live thing and will busy themselves with that for a bit. Catch them if you get a chance. You won't be disappointed.
© 1996, Rational Alternative Digital