An edited version of this feature was originally published in The Irish Times, July 15th 2010
ENEMIES HAVE been discovering the perils of being a touring band. Ruddy-cheeked and flustered, Mark O’Brien and Lewis Jackson of the Wicklow-based post-rockers are fresh off a ferry from France, having made the crossing by the skin of their teeth after their van broke down along a stretch of Normandy motorway. They’re not quite famous enough to pull the ‘Do you know who we are?’ card when it comes to Stena Line just yet – but with the stellar reviews that their excellent, groove-laden debut ‘We’ve Been Talking’ has been pulling in, that day may not be too far down the line.
Enemies’ adventures have already taken them farther than France, in any case. Formed in the Wicklow village of Kilcoole in 2007, the foursome initially began playing in hardcore punk bands at the age of 14 as an antidote to small-town living.
“It was through lack of anything else to do,” explains Jackson. “For a long time, Kilcoole had this DIY scene. A lot of the people in bands were too young to be playing in pubs in Dublin, so there were these all-ages gigs held in the Scout Den. You’d pay €3 in, and anyone could go.”
“It’s weird how it’s snowballed through the years – everyone from that period has remained friends,” adds O’Brien. “This punk scene in tiny little Kilcoole spawned bands like Heathers and Adebisi Shank. A lot of my friends at the time would say ‘It’s not gonna go anywhere. What are you doing, putting on these stupid little gigs with your anarchist punk friends in the Scout Den?!’ But it’s great now to be able to travel around the world and to be like, ‘Well, screw you, it actually did blossom into something great!”
They’ve certainly had the last laugh on that front; a chance correspondence with Japanese rockers Toe in 2008 led to the band being picked up by Tokyo-based label Machupicchu Industrias for their debut EP ‘Alpha Waves’. A successful two-week tour of the country followed, and they’ll return this September to promote their full-length offering and build on their already ardent Japanese fanbase.
“At the time in Ireland, we’d be playing gigs to like, thirty people, who were mostly our friends,” says Jackson, shaking his head disbelievingly. “So to go to Japan and play sold-out gigs to 600 people was just… wow. Autographs, photographs, bizarre stuff!”
Closer to home, ‘We’ve Been Talking’ was released on Richter Collective, the independent Irish label that’s fast gaining a reputation for fostering instrumental bands of a high calibre. And although the comparisons with their labelmates The Redneck Manifesto are coming thick and fast, the parallels don’t bother the pair as much as they used to.
“I guess it’s like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, they just don’t wanna be compared to each other the whole time,” shrugs O’Brien. “But they’re an amazing band. There’s a great sense of family going on between all the bands on Richter now.”
The sense of kinship within Enemies belies the hostility of their name, too. Not only is their music-making process an equal collaboration, but O’Brien – the only member of the band still in college – uses his graphic design skills to produce the band’s artwork. Jackson, meanwhile, looks after the tour managing aspect, guitarist Eoin Whitfield runs the Kilcoole studio that they record and rehearse in, and drummer Oisín Trench is usually the designated driver whenever the need arises.
“It’s great, because we all have roles, really. We should form a company, ‘Enemies Incorporated’,” laughs O’Brien, stretching for his guitar case as the industrious pair run to make yet another soundcheck. “We’re a pretty solid unit.”