Once upon a time, Richie Egan gave me a call, and asked me if I’d like to play bass in his band. Naturally, I jumped at the chance, having heard his solo stuff before. Already on board was drummer Graham Hopkins and Paula Pee-Pee Cullen of the Chalets on backing vocals. We met up, listened to the tracks Richie had written, did some rehearsals in Matty Bolger’s shed, a shanty of some repute, as it was where the Redneck Manifesto recorded their first record, and went to the Four Roads for a few scoops after. What are you calling yourself, I asked. “Jape”, he said. “I think I’ll change the name”.
Back in 2002 that iteration of Jape played together just the once, in the elevated surroundings of the Gravity Bar atop the Guinness Storehouse, part of the Wonky2 festival. Wonky2 was a celebration of everything that was currently great in the capital, from visual artists to music, with No Disco’s very own Leagues O’Toole at the fulcrum. Leagues was trying to mark the thing that was happening in the city at the time, the sudden burst of energy emanating from local bands who had gone beyond the three chord thing, or if they were playing the three chord thing, they were playing the wrong chords. Maybe you wouldn’t have picked out Jape as the one to be going strongest nearly 10 years later, and I think, that had he stayed with the acoustic, the subtlety, and me on bass, that may not have been the case.
As the sun set, and the sky turned all salmon belly pink over the miniature city stretched out beneath us, Richie strummed and plucked an acoustic guitar, and sang his lyrics, even then oblique, odd, humorous, ironic. But this was not the music Jape ended up making. By the time Richie’s records started to come out, some of those songs had disappeared, and been replaced by electronica, beats, synths, pulsating basses, kinkier lyrics. The kind of softly murmuring, solipsistic, curly haired, I’m-a-bastard, song imp ouvre was never going to be his thing. “Toolbadours, we call them”, he says. “You know the type”. Expanding his palette musically was crucial, but for Richie that was always going to be the case. “It was a natural progression,” he says. “It started more quiet and ramshackle, is suppose. I didn’t really know how to program synths and computers back then, so it was a process of learning how to do that technical stuff, and then trying to meld that with the song writing. The electronic stuff was more interesting over time.”
That was a time of unbridled optimism for the country and maybe us musicians were mirroring that. Looking around at one’s fellow artists many of us felt that anything was possible; if we, collectively, could create acts like The Redneck Manifesto, Connect4 Orchestra, The Last Post et al, then with these people around anything was possible. It may have been a symptom of the Celtic Tiger’s candied blinkers, that everything was rosy and that we had created something meaningful and lasting, but that’s not how it worked out. We’d merely created a beautiful setting and sexy soundtrack for something passionate and ephemeral. Along the way, many people lost the belief that anything was possible. Reality did that. As they say, life is what happens when you’re trying to make records. However, Richie never lost it, and he never lost it because all he ever wanted to do was his own thing. The ebb and flow of a scene, the highs and lows, the inevitable dissolution and period of change meant nothing to him. He, as Jape, and also as the Rednecks, was too busy doing his own thing.
There were some seriously good bands around then. But, as he says, “there are shedloads of great bands now.” Seems like there’s always a scene, some evolve from times of penury and strive toward the grail of the record deal, some, like ours, are from a time of plenty, and have studios in their houses. Albums nowadays are released without an executive interference, sometimes too quickly. I suppose we’ll judge this current crop in a decade, but if we were to judge the players at Wonky2 by what they’ve achieved since, then Jape would set the high watermark.
Was the scene a help in getting the music out there?
“There was a lot of bands around at the time, and it’s great that bands influence each other, but you have to be your own island, in a way. You respect what other people are doing but you have to do you own thing. I think if people get too close then it’s not good. It leads to human things coming into play. Jealousy, stuff like that. You’re better off keeping people at arms length. That way you don’t get close enough to people to make enemies, you don’t get close enough to get to personal.”
The Redneck Manifesto were always like that, they were that good that they didn’t subsist merely on the oxygen of a scene, they didn’t need to. They had a song called ‘Please Don’t Ask Us What We Think Of Your Band’, which kind of told what you needed to know about their place in the scheme of things.
“I always find it strange when people talk about scenes, when you talk about scenes, there’s always somebody left out. If you talk about a group of individuals then nobody is left out, and that’s kind of the way I feel about it. Everybody should do their own thing, and if it’s good, people will catch onto it.”
It seems as if that’s what has happened with Jape, Richie having show patience over the years as he honed his skills is now full time with Jape. “Jape has been a living for the last two or three years, believe it or not, through sheer luck. With the album coming out it’ll be good for at least another year.” He says, completely seriously.
It’s not easy trying to make music your living. Your ability at the job doesn’t directly correlate to your earnings, unlike some careers. And what’s more, people who seem really bad at it can still somehow make millions. It’s probably best not to dwell on that. “My main concern is being able to pay the rent and continue to make music, anything outside of that is a bonus.”
And what about your ambitions? How big do you want it to be? Letterman Show big? “I wouldn’t mind if I was huge but I wouldn’t mind if I was small either. You can’t will that into existence, all you can do is try and write a better song than the last one, and if you’re lucky enough to be big, then sweet, but until that time I’ll continue making music for the sake of it.” The vagaries of the music business don’t bother him, the hot or not media generated bullshit, the instant success of web-darlings, the awards. He tried having a London manager and record label. “It just wasn’t me”, he says. “it’s smaller now, but it’s much better”. To thine own self be true? “A lot of people I admire just do their own thing, because then you don’t go out of fashion, you just keep doing what you’re doing, and there’ll be times when you’re up and times when you’re down.”
And who is it you admire?
“Bill Callahan, Cass McCombs, songwriters that have an interesting take on lyrics. Then I really like listening to dance music and techno.”
Even without drugs?
“Yeah, even without drugs. Four Tet. Paddy MacAloon.”
Funny you should say that, because I’ve been talking to three or four different people in the last while, and Prefab Sprout came up. They all hate the Sprout. Why do people hate the Sprout?
“Do they? Paddy McAloon is a cool motherfucker. I read a great quote form him once. Bob Dylan believes in god. Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in god. Richard Dawkins is never going to win an argument against Bob Dylan. Steve McQueen, what a record. ‘Desire As’ sounds like the XX.”
The eighties seem as if they’ve come back around again, haven’t they? Good and bad.
“Nothing that’s ever been here ever goes away. The seventies is still here. Everything that happens just keeps going. Certain people get really into it, and others just take bits from it. I grew up in the eighties, so it’s always been ingrained. I was always into melodies. My friends were all into metal, and I was listening to Simon and Garfunkle, so I was always the nerdy kid. I still listened to the metal but I never got into as much as my mates. I was listening to…the Blues Brothers, REM.. basically pop music. I like pop music. It’s cyclical, and you just have to do what you feel is right at the time. Like the Rednecks, for example, we’ve pretty much being making the same music for the last whatever.”
He shakes his head. Yeah, it’s been that long. I did a gig on the same bill as the Redneck Manifesto is the Funnel Bar back in ’98, and they’d been going for a bit then. “It’s like when someone makes a table, the next table is a bit better than the last one, but it’s still a fucking table, and with the Rednecks, we’re honing that table making to best we can. For a while we tried to do the opposite, but we thought, hold on, this is what we’re good at doing, we should be doing this. And the sound, it does come around and I remember about three years ago, the Rednecks sound was not cool at all. Post rock was shit. I don’t really consider us a post-rock band, but I know people use that word about us. That shit was not cool, and now I think it is cool again.” I agree, having recently seen Adebesi Shank’s set in a full tent at Castlepalooza, recalling Redneck gigs I had been to before, loud and crazy, but always precise, the crowd loving it, the band animated. So animated bassist Vinny was jumping from the stage, to the crowd and back again. I watch that and think of my knees, think of the twinges I feel every time I try to throw a shape.
Richie agrees; “Have you seen that Bill Withers documentary?” Not yet I haven’t. “He said something I really related to; he said my showing off days are over. He’s not into showing off any more. I thought, yeah, I know what you mean.”
After that Wonky show, Richie played with some other people for a change, doing Martin Finke’s album, touring with Nad Navillus, being the bassist in David Kitt’s band for a while, and, as well as building up a repertoire of not-fit-for-publication stories from the road, it seemed as if he took Kittsers mantle, the beats and bips behind the plucking and hushed vocals, and took it elsewhere. He used words and lyrics that no one else would, and that’s what makes him stand out. The snappy rejoinder at the beginning of ‘Floating’ must be what caught the ear of Brendan Benson, the self deprecation, the keen sense of irony and place, the lack of artifice in his prose. When Richie writes about the love, it’s about popping his cherry to ‘November Rain’, rather than long walks by the canal hand in hand and oh-how-I’ll-let-you-down-I’m-a-bastard-isms of the toolbadour canon. He does his own thing. Always has, always will. It’s actually that simple, it’s what marks him out from the rest, the fearless, steadfast belief in what it is he’s doing.
But it’s never all that easy. With Ocean Of Frequency, there was a crisis, but not one of belief in himself, rather it was a test of confidence, and whether Richie had the courage of his convictions. On listening back to the finished record, it occurred to him all was not right: “I listened to it over and over again, and if you’re getting bored with listening to something, then there’s something wrong. I had this record, I thought it was finished, but I was just going this is not right, there was something wrong with it. Couldn’t put my finger on it. So I left it, went off and did the two VisionAir EPs with Niall (Byrne, fellow Redneck), and didn’t even listen to it. Two months went by, I came back to it and I was able to go okay; that’s shit, that’s shit, that’s good. So I took some of it, maybe half, and wrote a whole load of other songs, took them and recorded them and got it mixed again in France and then stuck it together and then that was it, that was right.”
You must have been pretty sure of yourself to do that…
“It was really hard, really hard. Because I didn’t have the money to get it all redone. So I said I’ll record them myself, and then I’ll ask Dave Odlum if I could pay him for the mixing after the Electric Picnic, and he said cool, that was grand and thank fuck for that. It was a fucking nightmare to be honest with you, I was there just thinking, fuck, I’ve wasted a shitload of money here….but…you got to go up your own ass to smell the shit they say.”
They say that? Really?
“I just want to keep going, you know, make the next song better than the last one”.
Any chance you might just make the perfect song, in that case?
“Nah. There’s always something. There were times with the Rednecks, in the past, where it was like, man, we’re just jamming, we’re just doing the same song again. But what you just have to do is to keep gong because it all comes back around again. When you get older I think that shit happens less because now when we jam, we’re so fucking happy to be playing together, we’re so lucky to be alive. One of us could die. When you’re playing together it’s like we’re lucky to have this jam. When you’re a kid you’re like, bollocks it’s Tuesday night I don’ want to go out jamming, I’d rather go drinking or something. But when you get older you go fuck it, when we’re in there we just need to make something happen. “
After all that there’s no question that the end result is exactly what Richie wanted and there’s no trace of the trauma on the record. Ritual was rightly lauded when it came, picking up accolades and gonks, topping polls. It reminded me of the time I got Thirtysixstrings, the Redneck Manifesto’s first record, and stuck it on, and the feeling I got; the amazement that someone from Ireland, Dublin, the scene I was involved in, could make this music. It seemed important. Ritual was like that, it was so good. This album is as good, perhaps, but it’s Richie himself who has raised the bar. Were it not for the fact that Ocean Of Frequency is supposed to follow on from the award winning Ritual, this would be a stellar record, one that would get people talking and noticing. But they’re already talking, and noticing, so as far as Jape are concerned, it’s more of the same.
After this, Jape will hit the road in support of the album, playing New York in October and even going as far as Australia in December. In between those dates The Redneck Manifesto are heading over to do some shows in Japan. I can barely contain my envy. “As a musician, it’s always been an ambition to do a gig in Japan. And here I am, I’m 34 now, finally doing it”. That reminds of Richie moaning to me nearly a decade ago, about not yet having a solo album and being nearly 25. It could be the only impediment to world domination is the extent of Richie’s ambitions, and I’ve no doubt that one he gets to do that gig Japan, something else will come along to aim for.