From the first of notes of "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry" to the epic nature of "Daddy's Gone," you could tell that Glasvegas is not going to be your everyday, garden variety rock band. British tastemaster Alan McGee caught on early and called them one of the best new bands out there. No argument here.
The Glasgow four-piece is no stranger to this site. They made my Top 5 new acts of 2008, and their self-titled debut is in my top 10. With songs that seem bigger than life and a sound that recalls the days of Del Shannon and early rock 'n' roll, the members of Glasvegas have made a name for themselves.
Last week as the band was in Boston, I checked in with bassist Paul Donoghue (the man in the middle above) about working with the cousins Allan (singer James and guitarist Rab) and drummer Caroline McKay, the making of the debut album and blinding audience members. I'd like to welcome Paul to this space.
How did you meet the other two guys to form the band?
I went to school with Rab, the guitarist, who's a cousin of lead singer James. After hanging out for a while, James started writing some songs. Eventually we began playing them.
I've always felt that Glasvegas's sound comes from a working class perspective. Were you all working small jobs when you started the band?
I was working on boating sites for almost seven years. James was unemployed for a while after playing professional football. Robert probably had about ten different jobs while we were beginning the band. At one point, he was working at McDonald's and they asked him to take on more work. He said,
"Fuck that" and left.
Since the band has a distinctive sound, did you have to map about what you wanted to sound like?
It was organically. Our sound was very fast when we started out -- very punk and rockabilly. Over time, we became more confident and realized that to sound better, you don't have to play faster. The songs that James was writing felt it needed a slower tempo, so that they could breathe and have space.
Starting a rock band in Scotland must be tough when it's dominated by bands that sound like Belle & Sebastian, Travis or Franz Ferdinand. Here you guys come with a different look and sound.
Yes, especially in Glasgow, it has to with geography. We come from the east end of Glasgow while Franz Ferdinand were based on the west end. When you look at where we lived, you wouldn't recognize us. We definitely stood out but we didn't care. We would get funny looks walking down the street with guitars.
You eventually landed that record deal so you can start recording that debut album. You actually made it in Brooklyn. Was there any particular reason for the location change?
It had to do with cost more than anything. The co-producer, Rich Costey, is based out of Brooklyn, so it's much easier to have us come over. It also helped recording away from home because it eliminated a lot of distractions for eight weeks.
Was it tough to write new songs on the spot since you had a handful of demos already completed?
James had already written all the material before we headed over to the U.S. After we made our record deal, we went off and rehearsed all the new material. There were one or two we made in the studio.
As far as the song "Geraldine," is there a real Geraldine and is she a social work?
Yes there is, but she's not a social worker anymore. She works our merchandise. She left social work to take care of the merch.
The album starts out with the huge song "Flowers and Football Tops". Is this your statement song about you are and what you are about?
I think we wanted that song first because it was more of bold statement, something to get your attention. It started off more as a quieter song, but eventually it grew into something more important sounding.
"Go Square Go" was actually the first single you released before you had the record deal, and it appears on the album. Do you wanted to change anything when you decided to make it for the album?
That was the hardest song to finish and it was the last song we did. James didn't want it on the album at first. He was never fully happy with it. We had reworked it over and over again because we had changed so much as a band since we released it. The day before the album was to go to press, we finally came up with a version that matched the rest of the album. It's almost a punk rock song.
I think the song is a real crowd pleaser so it's good it made the final cut.
When I saw you at Bowery, that's the song people seem to get excited for the most.
I think people just like chanting '"fucking" as loud as possible.
What I love about the album is that it's so ambitious for a debut. You begin with a six-minute song and ended with a seven-minute song about an ice cream van. Did you ever feel that you were going to far with your sound being that this is your first?
Not at all. If anything, we just wanted the songs to be the best that they can be. Every song should live up to it's potential. We were never conscious about taking things too far.
When did you know that you had an awesome band?
(laughs) We use to have a drum machine for our show for "Daddy's Gone". One day at sound check, James got rid off it. The first time we played it without it, it was a great revelation because we sounded like a real band. Drum machines can make a band sound cold and distant.
Your live shows has a great deal of spectacle with those flood lights blinding everybody. Is there an artistic statement with those light or is that they just look cool?
I think it just looks cool. We've heard the complaints so we've gotten away from those lights on the following tour.
You should warn audience members to wear sunglasses during your show.
That's a cool idea.
When My Bloody Valentine plays, they have signs saying you should wear ear protection, so they give out free ear plugs so you don't go deaf. You should give out free sunglasses.
We should tour with My Bloody Valentine, so you can go blind and deaf in the same night. It's a good selling point.
You toured with one of my favorite new bands, White Lies. I'm going to ask the same question I asked them, did you guys get your black clothes mixed up?
(laughs) Yes, that was a big concern for all of us. At one point, a clothing company came by and gave us a whole pile of black clothes to wear. We were also worried that people would get the two bands confused.
With the summer coming up, you get to play all the big festivals. Do you like playing to these large crowds or do you like rooms where you can see people's faces?
They both have their advantages. I like being able to see people's reaction in their eyes. On the other hand, there is a certain sense of fulfillment and accomplishment when you play in from of huge crowds.
The big deal for you is that you are going to be opening up for U2 in London. At what point are going to crap your pants during the show?
I don't know, but I almost did last night at Webster Hall. Our manager told us that Adam Clayton was at the show. So if there was ever I time I had to do it, it would have been last night.
You also toured with Kings of Leon on their stadium tour, that must have been some wild backstage area.
Yeah, there were definitely not many girls for us to talk to backstage. At point, I was trying to hang with them near their dressing room and somebody stops me and says, "You shouldn't go any further."
You also got to meet Lisa Marie Presley.
She got in touch with us through myspace. We have a mutual friend from Glasgow. When she came to London to see Led Zepplin, she flew up to Edinburgh to research her family history. We met her there for a drink and she was amazing. We were completely nervous meeting her, but after five minutes, we all calmed down. She's just super cool, nice and down-to-earth. You almost forget that she's Elvis's daughter.
I would have asked about Michael Jackson the whole time.
Yeah, I was wanting to. She was also married to Nicolas Cage as well. Her current husband (Michael Lockwood) was with her. He's beautiful as well.
Final question, being that your name is Glasvegas, have you been to Las Vegas yet?
No, we haven't and we're dying to go. It won't happen on this tour. Our bus driver asked if we wanted to take detour on the way to Coachella.
Their debut album is out now. Be sure to bring sunglasses to their current U.S. tour.