Originally published in The Irish Times, December 21st 2009
THEY’VE GOT strange haircuts, even stranger nicknames (the Blonde Fox, the Auburn Spinner and Rooster), and are dedicated to the pursuit of the occult, the odd and the abstract. Twinkranes are. . . well, a little weird.That’s no bad thing; the Dubliners’ oddball quirk has seen them through the uncertainty of the past four years with a hugely captivating debut album under their belts.
Formed in 2005, friends Ray Ruddell, Anto Patterson and Andrew Rooney originally came together as a result of simply “always hanging out and living in each other’s pockets”, according to drummer Patterson, the Blonde Fox of the equation. “We always felt that we were the greatest band that never was.
“We shared the same love of music, our sense of humour is similar, and our penchant for the unthinkable is very strong.”
Coming up on the crest of the same wave that washed bands like Humanzi and The Things onto the shore of Dublin’s scuzz-rock scene, it was clear even then that Twinkranes were a little bit different. They may have worn the same leather jackets and pointy boots as their contemporaries, but their music paid homage to a different class of band. The high-intensity psychedelic gurgle that is their debut album, Spektrum Theatre Snakes is swathed in a retro haze, disembodied vocals and a hypnotic rhythm that has seen them compared to 1960s trailblazers Silver Apples and krautrock pioneers Can, among others. It may have taken several years to get there, but the trio has made a record to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of 2009.
“At times, it has been very frustrating – we should have so many more recordings under our belt than we currently do,” Patterson says of the album’s long gestation period. “We actually had the core of an album recorded very early on. Some of the ideas were very dark and very progressive – much more so than Spektrum Theatre Snakes . In the end, it lacked cohesion, and the song ideas just needed to be explored more by the group. Some of that stuff that didn’t surface will definitely be making an appearance again at some stage, though. . . I think you need to scare people by degrees!
“But that’s the way things worked out – things happen when they happen. You have to do your apprenticeship and, in music, it can be longer than a four-year term.”
Most of the songs on Spektrum Theatres Snakes are products of what Patterson calls “fleshing out” – a suitably macabre description of the band’s jamming-style songwriting process. Recorded in just three days last November at Stereolab’s Press Play Studios in London, its quick delivery is testament to the band’s self-belief.
Picking up the studio bill was Twisted Nerve, the UK label established by Andy Votel and Damon Gough, aka Badly Drawn Boy. Votel signed Twinkranes when he shared a bill with them at a Dublin club night last year.
“Our friends Darren and Mici of Maximum Joy were working out of a small basement club in Kennedy’s of Westland Row, doing a hybrid Friday night club dealing in psychedelia, dance music, really left of field stuff,” Patterson explains. “We played at their Christmas party with Andy Votel and Dom Thomas. . . Andy really got the band and said he would be interested in putting out a record by us. Through their labels Twisted Nerve, Finders Keepers, B-Music and so on, they’ve put out a very impressive selection of material over the years. It’s definitely an honour to see our LP with the Twisted Nerve badge – it’s cool to be a branch of it.”
Being one of the few Irish acts signed to a UK label brings its own advantages. A band with both a sound and an aesthetic somewhat out of step with the current Irish indie trend, their new home at Twisted Nerve gives them free reign to be as peculiar as they want to be.
“The reason we’ve arrived at this point with our music and current aesthetic is in one part happy accident – but at the same time, it’s about having a spirit where if you lose a tooth, or you’ve been put in a position where a certain tool has been taken away, you find a way to morph and remain musically active,” he says.
“When we started out, it would have been so much easier to have a standard line-up or an extra pair of hands – but it didn’t happen, and we remained a work in progress, kept our focus, and managed to achieve certain goals anyway. We’ve had to strip back, but in doing so, it made us much heavier and made the music more dense, I think.
“As far as modelling ourselves on someone? Everyone from The Gingerbread Man to Dusty Springfield to [Indian Mystic] Meher Baba has played a role!
It also means that the trio’s music will reach a wider audience – something that has already paid dividends, with positive reviews from the UK press already rolling in. Is a move across the Irish Sea a possibility at some point?
“From rainy Dublin to rainy Manchester?! It’d have to be some carrot!” Patterson laughs. A busy year is in store, nonetheless. “The year 2010 – could we have a more sci-fi date in our calendars? That’s a Twinkranes date if ever there was one,” he jokes. “Yeah, we’d like to get a 12-inch release out, possibly before summer, with an album to follow this time next year. We have a stack of material to go – it just needs to be worked on properly, and recorded. And it’d be great to get plenty of travel in too, if it’s doable.
“We’ve had some pretty decent offers to go abroad, so that’d be great – it can be difficult enough getting away for shows, considering you can hardly bring a toothbrush with you on a plane, never mind a synth arsenal. The only musicians I’ve ever seen in an airport with a smile on their faces were Foster Allen – they really made me think that maybe we’ve taken the wrong route. The three tin whistlers of 2010, anyone. . ?”