There’s a saying that supposedly claims that “good things come to those who wait”. Its official origins belong within 19th century poetry, though it was famously adopted during the 90s for a Guinness advertising campaign, and its message of telling people that patience can serve you well has rung true for many centuries. While this ethos has brought extended success for one Irish institution in recent years, a new one forming within the same city seem to not care so much about playing the waiting game. The way that Dublin band The Murder Capital seem to be taking things is “if you work hard from the start, you can reap the benefits now”. It seems to be working a charm.
Their debut album, last year’s When I Have Fears, was hotly anticipated and hyped up by many well in advance of its release and still managed to deliver above and beyond the lofty expectations set before them. The tour and festival appearances that followed were met with unanimous praise for how cathartic and visceral they could be. Considering that all of this took place in the last six months is staggering, and yet the fact that on the day of this interview the band are about to play the biggest headline show of their career so far in SWX Bristol does not seem to faze them at all.
The general tone of the dressing room prior to the show is remarkably relaxed, and if there are any nerves at all, they’re being handled incredibly well. Bassist Gabriel Paschal Blake is going through a rigorous stretching routine whilst engrossed in Champions League football, guitarist Cathal Roper is busy practising his jazz scales, while the remaining members of the band, frontman James McGovern, guitarist Damien Tuit and drummer Diarmuid Brennan are all kicking back and in bright moods. The only way to describe the energy of the room is content; as though the band almost feel at home dealing with what would be a high-pressure situation for most others and are happy to take everything in their stride.
As for the show itself, there’s a whole array of emotions on display from the moment they take to the stage. Those words, visceral and cathartic, definitely spring to mind once again, with punchy rhythms and often atmospheric guitars underlaying McGovern’s deep Irish baritone. Sure – there’s attitude in their performance, with Blake’s riling up of the audience and beckoning hand gestures, guitars being flung above heads and the occasional smoking of cigarettes on stage with complete disregard for the glaring eyes of security all making for a worthwhile spectacle by themselves. Yet in stark contrast to their brashness, there’s an equal amount of tenderness to be seen, with genuine loving embraces shared between bandmates and moments where tears are almost shed. Being a well-polished outfit is one thing, but being able to have a genuine connection with an audience takes something a little more, and it felt abundantly clear that it meant so much to the band for this to hit home to so many people. This wasn’t just a standard ‘good performance’; this was poetry, theatre, and bearing witness to something exceptional unfolding.
The band have enjoyed this rise in stature and success largely due to this connection they have with the listener, and how the messages they incorporate in their music resonate with so many people on many levels. The band are incredibly articulate and clearly put a lot of careful thought into every decision they make surrounding their craft, but when it came to discussing all of the reasons they’ve managed to achieve what they have, there was a sense that they were much more comfortable talking about the things that are important to them rather than the music itself. Consequently, there’s discussion about politics, their Dublin home and being open with the emotions that they deal with.
It’s been a big year for The Murder Capital, how has it felt going through such large changes in such a short space of time?
James McGovern: There’s definitely a level of surrealness to it. I think we’re just trying to have a bit of fun with it as well, maybe not focusing too much on what’s overwhelming about it and focusing on the shows and the writing. We’re pretty much taking it as it comes.
Cathal Roper: There’s also a sense of pride when we look back over last year and where we are now by comparison. When I look back over the calendar and see where we’ve been, I kind of thank the people we’ve worked with so far and all the plans that were put in place that have come to fruition, it’s pretty nice.
JM: Very diplomatic.
Gabriel Paschal Blake: What we’ve planned for this year and even things we’ve begun doing, regardless of what we aim to do as the year goes on, having the festivals and tours that are definite are a really good place to be in. It’s so good to have all of those things and then be able to do a full year’s work on top of it. So yeah, it’s pretty exciting.
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the ‘Dublin scene’ which you’ve often dismissed as being slightly manufactured – how much do you think it has either aided or hindered you?
JM: I think a lot of this has got out of hand. We don’t want to stand aside from it, but it’s just an observation that has come from human nature to compartmentalise things. We’re friends with pretty much every band that’s named in that thing.
CR: This is one of those things that feels like it could go one way or another. It’s not really a case of that at all. Journalists have invented this scene and it has aided us by having promotion alongside all of those bands, plus everyone has been really busy last year so it was great to be considered around that. But when you’re asked to comment on it, there’s not a huge amount you can actually say because you’re not aware of it.
JM: Everyone’s doing their own thing, everyone’s friends, and it’s cool. I think anyone listening to those bands will see how they’re all different but also be able to see what they all share as well. I think the things they share are maybe less tangible and more circumstantial. We’re all doing our own thing but I don’t feel the need to express that specifically, and I don’t feel hard done-by by comparison.
In a more general sense, do you feel like your Irishness is a big part of your identity and what you’re trying to get across?
JM: Just due to the fact that we’re Irish, it’s sort of an innate occurrence within the creative process. Having grown up and lived there I’d say it’s similar for anyone who is just willing to express themselves as themselves and not try to mould into anything else.
Do you feel like there’s a common understanding between fans from the UK and yourselves considering a lot of things you write about at home are things that people here can relate to?
JM: Yeah, I think so, there’s definitely a sense of community here in that way. You’ll go back and see familiar faces at shows, and even though the shows are getting bigger you’ll recognise some of them and also get to know newer fans. I guess there’s a discordance in society now, where the majority of the youth will vote differently on certain issues and with Brexit going ahead. It’s a very unique time to be trying to find your way through and navigating life in a way to avoid things such as mental health issues.
GPB: I think the things we talk about – such as the idea of trying to understand yourself and growing up, and then continuing on and feeling this new sense of independence – that doesn’t have a nationality, and I think that’s why it can connect with anyone. It doesn’t really come into it when we’re thinking about those feelings, but because you may have grown up in a certain place, the things you talk about will also come from that place. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those things didn’t also happen to someone somewhere else. An interesting thing about the shows, you’ll see a lot of people – older men in particular – who might not have found a band who talk about being able to open up or who will say that it’s okay to chat about your feelings if you’re a male. That might be why it also connects with a lot of people of that age, and it’s always nice to see people like that at shows as well because it makes you feel like you’re doing something that might not have been there before.
There seems to be a sense of uncertainty in Ireland at the moment and that people aren’t willing or able to point at where the problems are both on a personal and a societal level – would you say that the things you convey through your music attempt to get the listeners to express their feelings a lot more openly?
JM: I think that’s the hope. If I go to a show, I want to be taken out of my reality for that time, and if that can allow you to feel more open within yourself and more empathetic towards yourself and those around you then I feel like that’s a positive. Even if you just feel different, it doesn’t matter if you’re confronted by things because of it, that’s still a positive. How you react to that is the substance after the catalyst, I guess. People will say that they feel that way, but I can’t really say from my perspective.
GPB: With politics in Ireland and the recent elections, it was quite clear what was going wrong. I feel like the majority of people definitely wanted change and for Ireland to be run in a different way, but I don’t think it was as clear what that was and there didn’t seem to be something you could directly point to.
JM: So much of Irish politics is just passed down from parents as well – I think that’s the case everywhere. In a recent, post-conflict society, you’re left with a lot of people who do keep things close to their chests because what they say they are and what they vote is probably a lot different. I also feel like it’s fed to us in quite a convoluted way. Just from skimming global politics online, I feel like I understand British politics a lot more than I understand Irish politics because of the sources it comes from. Shows like Question Time are amazing, there are different forms of that here but I feel like the information is less accessible to me. There’s always the issue of fluidity of truth within politics, it feels somehow less accessible.
GPB: The big debate in Ireland was the fact that on TV3, it was only the main candidates from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, there was no representatives of any other parties on it. You don’t feel like you’re getting the full picture with that. Being younger, it can really come down to how people of an older generation not knowing how to use a laptop or going on the internet to read an article will influence it. All they have is their TV and they’re being told that these are the two people you can vote for. It’s hard to find the vision – we all know what we want but it’s difficult getting to that place.
CR: I grew up in Donegal, and a lot of the way it works there and in a lot of smaller parishes is that you’ll vote locally because you’ll want someone in power who can, say, fix roads or look after a small community. It then sort of becomes a case of voting for a party you don’t really agree with, but where I live is going to get looked after.
Bringing things back to the music, it’s clear that you use it to let out a sense of anger or as a way of dealing with anxieties and that the live show is incredibly cathartic – do you feel there’s a noticeable difference between the way you let it out on record and the way you do it live?
JM: I’ve never really compared the two but I think they’re adopted children of the same family.
GPB: With a record, you can take more time to decide how exactly you want to execute a certain emotion and you can keep trying until it becomes that thing, whereas live it’s very much in the moment. Doing shows every night, you can pick out things you want to work on or do on that occasion, but the moment passes and is what it is. They’re definitely not black and white in that sense.
Would you say it also depends on how you’re responding to the room, plus the fact that you have the element of performance to live up to?
JM: I think if it’s captivating for yourself first, that’s a good place to start. You can’t convince a crowd if you’re not in it yourself. The studio and live are totally tied together, but they’re not the same thing. I don’t really think about it on the recording that often.
Now that When I Have Fears has been out for around six months and you’ve spent much of the time since touring, do you feel you’re coming to a position to be able to reflect on this first album cycle or do you still feel it’s an ongoing thing?
JM: It’s certainly an ongoing thing. I think as writers, musically and for me in terms of what I want to write about, it’s something we do all the time. Whether you’re more open to it or more switched off, you’re always collecting. When it comes to what we’re doing at the moment, I feel like we’re very much still in the cycle of this record or even towards the beginning of it still. We’re still about to go to America for the first time, we’ve still got our first full festival season with the record out to come – I think we’re just open and we don’t feel any rush or obligation to write. We don’t want to churn stuff out because someone thinks ‘it’s time’ or because 100 fans want something. You do something wrong or do something badly if you don’t do it when it’s right. We’re always working but our focus now is the shows, and so it should be. I feel like I get most of my inspiration from conversing with people, overhearing things and just allowing yourself to just be open to it all. That’s the beauty of it – the inspiration of it is always there, it just depends on whether you’re seeing it or not.
Words: Reuben Cross Photography: Callum O’ Keefe