Irish four piece Naked Lungs played in Scotland for the first time, in Edinburgh recently. Vocalist Tom Brady, guitarist Andy Connaughton, bassist Ryan Mortell and drummer Matt Pyper discussed debut album, the self-released Doomscroll which was produced by Daniel Fox of Gilla Band. The band were listed in the NME 100 as one to watch for 2023 and with the album release and current headline tour Naked Lungs are earning their place on the list.
To start could you share how Naked Lungs came to be?
Three of us had been in a band together and we decided we wanted to put a pin it, we thought we’re going to leave that there and do something new. We set out our goals, what we wanted in a band, what sound we wanted to go for, coming up with ideas. Eventually we realised that we really need a drummer – that was the missing piece. It was a bit like a rebranding that went too far! The pandemic added time, and time added change and by the time we were finished it was a different direction. And then we found Matt and it all came together then.
I understand that Matt was the last drummer that you saw, but I’m presuming you didn’t take him into Naked Lungs just because he was the last drummer!
In the previous band I was the drummer (vocalist Tom) but I asked if I could be the singer and they said if we find a drummer then yeah. So I was texting everyone. I was biting my nails because if we didn’t find one then I’ve had to go back to playing drums again! We were about to give up before we found Matt. We met people who were too far away or couldn’t commit to it or were too flaky. Matt made a great first impression when we went into the rehearsal studio. We were setting up and exchanging pleasantries and Matt asks “so what song do you want to start with?” and we picked ‘Database’ – it’s the fastest. He absolutely nailed it first time. We thought he’s in. We didn’t say anything for the first five minutes, then it was like “he’s the fucking one man!”. Then it was like oh I hope he likes us! It was the other way around, we were thinking I really hope he joins our band!
I (drummer Matt) had got these demos from the lads by email that I’d sat with for a couple of weeks and was working on learning them. I could barely make out what the drums parts were to begin with!! They were the worst demos we could possibly have given him. They were recorded on a phone, with loads of background noise, so we’re like “can you learn that?” and he did it, he did the impossible.
Because of the pandemic, and the time it lasted, did you have a huge body of work?
We had a solid chunk of what ended up on the album. I think we were already putting together pieces of germs of ideas during lockdown. They were mostly phone recordings. We had one or two that we thought well that’s kind of a thing. Nearly half the first album was written during Covid. And then we’d get together and try to play the things we’d all sent each other, and with Matt it all came together really nicely. During that time we were figuring stuff out, how to play with each other, what worked, what sounds worked, what worked with putting together songs. But then we were also writing stuff from scratch, so how does that work, this new dynamic? We were figuring that out for a while, what direction do we want to go. That was the fun of it, discovering what ended up being the sound of that album. When we were finally a four we just wanted to practise everything we had down to a tee. We all had to be on the same page about writing and where we go from there. We took the approach that we wanted to practise. We really held off on doing gigs for a long time. We thought we’re not ready yet. When you practise in a room you’re reacting off each other and that’s where the magic is because that’s where the interaction is. When you’re not thinking about what you’re doing its where you find the coolest bits, the real heart of the song.
How did you come into contact with Daniel Fox (of Gilla Band who produced the album Doomscroll)?
It was even before the EP (five track self-titled EP was released June 2022). He reached out to us when we were the old band. We used to put up these play lists of bands that we were listening to, other Irish bands. He DM’d us and was like “Hey I recorded three of those bands would you be interested in doing some recording?”. We were like yeah that would be amazing so we did two tracks with him that we never released because we decided we wanted to go in a different direction. But once we had that contact we thought he really so we recorded three new tracks with him and we were all really happy. Moving on we had more experience with him so he was our go too for the album. People want to work with him because he’s really good at what he does. “I understand what you’re doing.” That was the main thing, he gets what we’re trying to do. That was the biggest selling point. You have experiences where producers are very text book – oh you should probably turn this down. Whereas Dan is like well, yeah, whatever, just turn it all up, do whatever you want. I know what you’re trying to do.
The EP and album are both self-released and just a year apart.
We didn’t want to dance around with the album thing, be a band that releases singles for years and everyone’s going when are they going to release an album. We started the band and we wanted to do an album so we just did an album. The EP was more like a taster beforehand. We had an opportunity to release an EP so we took it, but the main focus for us was the album.
Congratulations on album Doomscroll. And I completely understand the theme of how dreadful this constant scrolling of social media on our phones and the negative impact of that on us. But my first question is about the first track ‘Gack’. What does that mean?
It’s a bit of an Irish-ism. It means that’s shit or crap. But also the bassline used to sound like “gack gack gack ga ga gack” and we didn’t name it. And we’d talk about that “gack gack” part and we couldn’t think of a name so we thought we’d just call it ‘Gack’. It kind of fits, a good Irish name, strong, idiosyncratic. No-one else was going to name a song ‘Gack’ so we just did it. And it works, especially as its first track.
I think its such a good track to have as the first song because it has this slow intro. Is that why you put it first?
It’s funny because now when we do it live it’s not there (the intro). We were doing it at the start of the gig as our opening song, so we thought we need an intro for that. Then we put it at the start of the album. We did it in Norwich I think and scared the shit out of someone in the crowd! Then we recorded it and we thought let’s stop doing it now!
What is your creative process for your music?
It depends. The lads write a lot of bits and pieces and Andy writes all the songs. There is so much leeway between everyones individual parts. We’re not too attached to say I wrote it this way and it has to stay this way. That’s not a good way to be in a band. We like to try and keep it all fair. We always talked about being open, even early on. If you don’t like something then you can say it. Nothing is personal. If its your idea and someone says well lets do it this way, it doesn’t mean its attacking you. A lot of it is coming with ideas, coming in with songs that have been written that we’ll take apart and deconstruct. I think that’s our creative process, being in a room together the four of us and just running it through. I love that though. A lot of our best shit is someone has written a piece, and we think somethings missing so we strip it apart get rid of the drums, keep the bassline, change the melody, pull that in. It’s a lot of team work. A lot of working with each other rather than against each other. Here’s something that I want us to build together. Its foresight as well, you’ve got to know “This is going to be good, don’t worry.” Even if you disagree let’s see where it goes. You can always go back and sometimes you have to go back to let things go forward.
I loved the songs on the album where there is all the noise and then suddenly the quiet. It’s so good for the listener, confronting expectation.
We love that as well, I think we just really like it when things go from really loud to really quiet. Build up a load of tension and rather than getting a climax you just drop it so that all that tension doesn’t go anywhere. And then when you come back in at the next point it almost hits more. You’re constantly playing with peoples emotions. I remember we did it a few times and we did it really well and we thought “WOW” and then we threw it in all the time – it became our secret weapon. You turn off three pedals at the same time to stop dead – that’s the challenge and if you can do it then that’s perfect.
With the title of the album Doomscroll is that the main theme that runs throughout the album?
The title came way after all the songs were written. It does encapsulate the kind of emotions that we are going for. I (Andy) wrote a lot of the lyrics over Covid and you know everyone was in the darkest corners of their own head, everyone was going through that in their own way. You can’t complain about Covid because everyone went through it, but on the other hand you are entitled to complain about it because it was fucking shit time.
I do love that the final song on the album is called ‘Boo Boo’.
We put a lot of effort into tackling themes that are difficult to talk about on the album. It’s reflective of the fear you feel yourself and you want to say ‘Boo Boo’. Like when you’re so hungover that you want to question the existential nature of your existence. I think it’s a great end to the album because it’s a little bit different but it also ties the bow on the end of what we were exploring within it.
When the album was finished and you had that tangible vinyl in your hands, how did it feel?
There was a real sense of relief. We’d had it finished for so long before we released it and we were sitting with it for so long. To finally have it out it feels like a weight off the shoulders. When it’s not out you’re always like, we can change things, it’s not too late, you start picking it apart. But when it’s released you think I’m never listening to it again – it’s out there, we’ve done it now, there it is. It’s liberating as well because you are kind of afraid of people not liking it, or it not being perfect. Or people having expectations and if it doesn’t meet those expectations. I didn’t care at all. It was liberating to be able to stop minding about all those things you were worrying about.
We’ve playing a few empty venues but you don’t let it get into your head. We know what we are. We just went out and did an album, we did it our way, self-released it. We’re just happy to be here. Regardless it doesn’t matter if we’re not selling out every venue, we did an album and get to tour that album. That’s enough. Anything on top of that is a plus. If people liked it and buy a tee shirt, that’s amazing. Anyway we could just tell people we sold out shows! Go back to work and tell them it was crazy! Nobody cares, they’ll ask so how was your tour and we’ll say yeah it was good and they’ll say oh cool – and that’s it. We’re just enjoying it. We’re having the time of our lives.
You’re performing at Ireland Music Week on 5 October. What support do you get from being involved?
It gives you a platform to meet people from the industry from all different corners, and that’s really fucking cool because they have so many applicants. It’s a bit of acknowledgement to get eyes on us in Ireland which can be such a good thing. They give the space to network. Culture Ireland also gives a lot of funding for theatre, film and music. It’s a great organisation and it’s nice that it’s showcased with artists in mind.
And finally are you looking forward to playing in Europe later in October, including Left of the Dial in Rotterdam?
We’re so looking forward to it. It’ll be the first time we’ve played on European mainland. We’re looking forward to meeting people, and the experience of playing in Paris, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. We’re playing these gigs back to back which will be full on but we can’t wait….