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Interview: Little Green Cars ‘I kind of want everyone to understand us’

Little Green Cars’ Absolute Zero is out now on Island Records

OVER the past four weeks alone, Faye O’Rourke has been to Spain, Britain, Australia and various parts of the United States.

Today, she’s in New York City. Flights? There have been so many that it’s been hard to keep track, so it’s little wonder that she’s in recovery from the laryngitis that almost put her band’s performance at the recent Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in jeopardy.

“The night before, I literally couldn’t get a word out,” she said. “I had to get one of those bloody rock ’n’ roll doctors you hear about to give me a shot of something. It was such a cliché.”

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Then again, rock star clichés and a jetsetting lifestyle go hand in hand with being part of a band that is slowly plotting world domination.

If you’ve heard the name Little Green Cars mentioned in recent months, it may be down to the hype which has been spinning around them since January, when they were shortlisted for the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll.

It’s true that Little Green Cars are the most exciting Irish indie band since Villagers decided to take their small sound to the big city several years ago — but unlike Conor O’Brien’s band, LGC’s international prospects are bigger, bolder and perhaps more attainable.

What’s more, the all-singing, all harmonising quintet are remarkably accomplished for a band of their age (they are all 20 and 21); but that may have something to do with the fact that the Dublin band — O’Rourke, Stephen ‘Stevie’ Appleby, Donagh Seaver- O’Leary, Adam O’Regan and Dylan Lynch — have known each other since their early teens.

“I met Stephen in school when I was 13 or 14,” O’Rourke explains, hoarse but nevertheless chatty and spirited despite her ailment.

“He was writing songs, and I didn’t know anyone else who wrote songs, so I thought, ‘OK, I’m gonna try it, too’. I remember when I hit secondary school, feeling like I wasn’t good at anything anymore.

“I didn’t have a ‘thing’ that I was good at like everyone else did, so I decided, for myself, to try to write. I was a very emotionally charged 13-year-old,” she adds, laughing.

“So I just tried to write a song, I showed it to Stephen and Adam, and they were both really encouraging about it. I definitely wouldn’t have continued to write if it hadn’t been for them.

“It became a very medicinal thing for me; I found it way more relevant than anything I was learning in school.” Although she describes herself as “not the greatest singer”, both modestly and erroneously, O’Rourke’s voice is one of the best things about the band, but once she hit upon that love of songwriting, there was no other path worth taking.

Faye on-stage at Coachella Festival, California

“My parents would always say, ‘You should have a backup plan’, but I didn’t want to do anything else after school. I don’t think any of us did — we’re too lazy,” she laughs.

“I just wanted to play music for the rest of my life, the concept of work didn’t sit well with me.

“Now that I’m getting older and doing gigs, I can see how it is hard work — but when I was 15, all I wanted to do was have fun and write songs.

“The idea of going to college and then getting a job just didn’t appeal to any of us.”

Guitarist Adam O’Regan founded the first incarnation of Little Green Cars when he was just 13, but after later solidifying its members, the quintet began writing songs, developing their style and gigging in earnest.

A brace of self-released EPs followed in 2008, but in 2010 an encounter with Daniel Ryan (former member of indie-poppers The Thrills) signalled a more serious career turn for the band.

“We were all about 17, in sixth year, and we were playing a gig in Crawdaddy,” O’Rourke explains.

“Daniel happened to be at the gig, and he liked us, and he came up to us afterwards and said, ‘I can help you — do you want me to help you?’ and we were like, ‘Eh, yeah we f*****g want you to help us!’”

With Ryan on board as their manager, the quintet were given new impetus and their performances at festivals like Electric Picnic began to get tongues wagging amongst bloggers and music journalists.

A deal was struck with prestigious independent label Glassnote Records — the American home of bands like Phoenix, Mumford and Sons, The Temper Trap and Two Door Cinema Club — and later Island Records in Britain.

Given the quality of their songs and their tight live performances, it’s not hard to imagine the Dubliners following Marcus Mumford and co down the same path of Stateside success.

Recording their album with Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay) — a man that O’Rourke says was number one on their wishlist of producers — also made a difference in helping them to shape the raw material that they had.

Still, high-flying knob-twiddlers aside, Absolute Zero is a hugely impressively mature and well-rounded record, their sound bolstered by a strong literary influence throughout the lyrics.

One song is called Harper Lee and there are various nods to author Charles Bukowski (including the album title), whom co-vocalist and songwriter Appleby is a noted fan of.

The band had previously impressed with live favourite The John Wayne, but their debut collection goes deeper than striking harmonies and strident folkrock choruses.

Red and Blue experiments with melodic synth-pop and The Consequences of Not Sleeping sees Appleby turn in a beautifully tender vocal over a simple plucked guitar.

Comparisons to acts like Fleetwood Mac, R.E.M. and a souped-up Mamas & the Papas have been plentiful, but it’s not something that bothers O’Rourke.

“The Fleetwood Mac comparisons are hugely flattering, because I’m a huge Fleetwood Mac fan,” she says, shrugging.

“People make comparisons, that’s just the way things are — especially in this early stage, when we haven’t made an established name for ourselves yet.

Absolute Zero is the group’s debut studio album

“I mean, we’re not trying to make an original sound that nobody’s heard before, know what I mean?

“We’re just trying to make music that we like, and if the five of us like it, we kind of think the odds are that a sixth person will, too.”

The last six months of intensive touring has given the band a newfound confidence, says O’Rourke — something that was both audible and visible at the Irish album launch at Dublin’s Vicar Street venue in May.

“We played our first US shows last October, and even looking back at those shows, it seems like a different band,” she admits.

“Everything’s changed; the way we play, our attitude, everything. I think a little bit of naivety is gone, too; there’s a lot more realism amongst all of us, about how things really work, how tours actually go, how much hard work is actually required.

“Last night, we played a gig in New York and it was sold out; it’s weird, kind of surreal.

“You think, ‘Oh yeah, we played here less than 12 months ago to a halffull venue’. It’s hard to explain.”

So is the reality of being in a touring band what she had envisaged? “Y’know it’s funny, but I never really fantasised about it, funnily enough. I never thought about what it was gonna be like, so I didn’t have a clue. I’m quite pessimistic anyway, so I always think that some foreboding, ominous thing is going to happen,” she chuckles.

“The whole process of getting a record deal alone was the most soul-destroying, soul-freezing experience ever. There’s lots of things that you have to do that you sometimes feel are a bit sterile, or not real; the business side of things, I guess.

“But you’ve gotta do them to do the other stuff.”

It helps that you’re on such a crazy journey with the people you’ve grown up with, but being away from home so much — as well as being the only girl in the group — can be difficult at times, according to O’Rourke.

“I’m prone to loneliness and homesickness anyway, so it is tough, in that regard — especially when you’re the only girl,” she says.

“I like to think of myself as somebody who’s quite tough and doesn’t give a shit about things, but I’m actually the complete opposite. It’s tough keeping up with everybody, even in terms of simple things — like the guys will get up and they won’t need to eat because they’ve had a massive three-course dinner the night before, and I’ll be like, ‘I can’t eat that much food, and now I’m starving!’” she laughs.

“I hate flying, too; we got off a plane last week, and I couldn’t hear for two days, my ears were f****d. So physically, I’m not really built for touring.

The quintet play Camden’s Roundhouse on September 7

“But then yesterday when we drove over the bridge coming into New York, I actually got really overwhelmed by how amazing it was.

“It really hit me this time: I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m in New York for the third time in less than 12 months.’”

Previous trips to the Big Apple have seen the band perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and play several high-profile showcase gigs and support slots around the city.

Indeed much of 2012 has been spent Stateside, playing festivals like Coachella, SXSW and the aforementioned Lollapalooza.

While it seems that their energies are focused in America rather than in Britain and Europe, O’Rourke claims that the American campaign is not necessarily the main priority.

Nevertheless, unlike many British and Irish bands that slog it out in their native countries before heading west, the route taken by Little Green Cars has been quite contrary.

“We haven’t even done a full tour of Ireland yet. It’s a bit ridiculous, really,” she laughs. “I think people often think that bands are largely in control of where they’re going and when they’re back, but we just kind of do what we’re told.

“I think because we’re signed to an American label, that makes a difference; the truth of it is that nobody in the UK wanted to sign us at the time.

“And obviously being in America is a huge thing to try to tackle in the first place, because there’s no real national radio.

“Everything is regional, so in order to do well in America, you just have to slog around and go to every single city and every single place.”

Touring this album is high on the agenda for the foreseeable future, with a British and Irish tour planned for later in the year and new international dates being added to the diary every day.

As busy as the band are, however, they seem to be taking their crazy adventure in their stride. For all of the van journeys, plane journeys, mundane highway rest-stop breaks and radio promo work that they’re undertaking on a daily basis, they have not lost sight of the goal that they dreamt up during those Sunday afternoon rehearsals as schoolgoing teenagers.

“I hope someone hears the lyrics of the songs and thinks, ‘OK, I really get that’ — but in a selfish way, as much as I want people to feel that they’re understood, I kind of want everyone to understand me and make me feel better and that I’m not alone,” she says, chuckling before adopting a more earnest tone.

“We may be young, but I think the album can be relevant to people in their 20s and 30s and 40s too, even if it’s in a nostalgic way.

“I suppose you want everyone who listens to the album to feel that it specifically relates to them; you want to get that personal connection, but at the same time, reach as many people as possible.

“As songwriters and musicians, that’s all that anyone can hope for, right?”

Absolute Zero is out now on Island Records.

Little Green Cars play Ireland’s Electric Picnic festival this Saturday at 7pm


Irish Post

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