So Cow is Brian Kelly, the noisy indie power-pop messiah of Tuam, Co. Galway. He landed on the map in 2007 with These Truly Are End Times, a patchwork of home-recorded freshness encompassing everything from shout-along choruses to midnight mis-sung love songs. Its follow-up, I’m Siding With My Captors was so seamlessly brilliant that some were heard to mumble words along the lines of “best Irish album ever” on certain blogs. In 2009, So Cow consolidated both albums and a handful of other live standards into the So Cow LP for Tic Tac Totally, a Chicago-based label for whom the likes of Wavves and MouseRocket have recorded. After an American tour with the mercurial Tony (drums) and Johnny (bass), approval fell from important corners: Brooklyn Vegan took a shine, Pitchfork lent approval and Korea’s Chosun nearly caused an international incident.
Important: So Cow is the best. But note that he is a proud Galway native, so any mismatches of these originally Dublin-directed questions are not his fault nor mine, but the fault of some other third party. He’ll be supporting Deerhoof in Galway on 11th July (this Saturday).
So Cow – Halcyon Days
Q 0.5 How are you?
I’m absolutely fine. It’s mid-evening and cloudy out. Just cut the grass in record time.
Q1 Nowadays, when everybody has a decent computer and gear is more available, it’s much easier for anyone to make music and have it heard quickly – does the bedroom music explosion devalue music at all by making it so easy to do?
Well, considering what I do and how I go about it, I’d say no, not at all. I mean, there’s an awful lot more shit out there, an awful lot of folks who are given free rein to follow an impulse to put their dreadful ‘sketches’ online. At any given time in history, at least 80% of music was horseshit. Somehow though, we still end up with amazing music we want to follow and support. That hasn’t stopped. There were always demos being thrown into bins or stamped on for fun. Now it’s online and as easily ignored as hollywoodgoss.com or godhatesfags.com or whatever. Against this are the benefits of young amazing genuinely-talented minds having the easiest route to discovery.
Q2 Is downloading a good thing? Does the fact that it’s possible to get so much music so easily and for free make it more disposable at all?
I dunno…were Wham! 7″s more or less disposable than some Wilco itunes exclusive? I don’t see the big shift. Downloading stuff on Soulseek or whatever isn’t so much a consumer choice, having weighed up all options…it’s an ethical choice. I think this might explain recent shift toward vinyl obsession, people’s brains buckling under the burden of illegality. It doesn’t particularly concern me. It’d only matter to me directly, if Tic Tac Totally were losing out because of someone being a douche and throwing it up on megaupload. I don’t know. I put lots of stuff online for free, like the covers thing, and will continue to do so. That’s a compromise with this stuff, right?
Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is it intentional?
No, not really. A lot of folks still think I’m Korean. I use ‘slang’ terms occasionally. I pronounce ‘bollocks’ a way most people wouldn’t. The next album will have a song about hurling, specifically about Tony Keady being banned by the GAA in 1989 and how, as a 6 year old, I first encountered the concept of injustice, and people being dicks.
Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from your music and look at it objectively?
Not particularly. I don’t have as much of a ‘respect for the craft’ as many people I know. Because I record everything, and am limited by my own abilities on each instrument or process, I’m happy to embrace the fact that whatever emerges at the end is what the song was probably meant to be. I’m not a dude with an acoustic guitar and a shure mic trying to ensure that everything sounds as near as possible to that one Bon Iver song. I think anyone who describes music negatively as ‘self-indulgent’ is not to be trusted, as though music is FOR people. Not at all, music should be like a tennis ball being thrown at you from a random direction, in a pleasant way.
Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are you a part of one?
No idea. I’m from Tuam, mate. Is there? I’ve played up there quite a bit. There’s a weird nervous humour tic with Dubliners when it comes to folks from elsewhere in the country. “Bogger” jokes to a “bogger that understands” is how I’d best describe it. Irony falling over itself. Don’t know what to make of it, to be honest. It’s where most of the venues are and all the “people who can really help you with your career”. There’s no “scene” in Galway, just a lot of bands, some shit, some quite good. I’ve been lumped in with various scenes in the US…weird-punk and garage pop and whatnot. I’d feel closest to the bands I’ve met on my travels there. Bands like Diehard and Drumkit and Pants Yell! I guess.
Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.
Girls, sports and nice long walks.
Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from the beginning to the finished article.
Song: Meaningless Friendly (from next album). Playing F# to Bm back and over in my room. Dicking around with the minor chords surrounding the Bm. Going up the fret an finding a nice next chord. Finding a nice closing chord, a “classical or jazz” guitar chord, the kind Vertigo Smyth uses sometimes in his songs. Leave this progression for a few weeks. Listen to Rubber Soul a whole lot. Think up a nice Beatles-like rhythm and set all the chords together. Think of a chorus. I don’t do choruses much, just bridges linking verses, so it’s pretty much that. Vocal melodies come to me at this stage. Again, fairly Beatles-like (process same for all other songs, just sub Beatles for Beat Happening or The Chills or whatever). Think of a ‘solo’. Something where the rhythm changes fairly drastically but is still fairly plasing to listen to. Settle for a kind of ‘glam’ stompy thing. Play all through again and realise all I really need to close is the verse again, only more panicked in tone. Finish on a hanging chord, pulling it all in at 2 minutes. Lyrically, something fairly light, concentrating on the vowel sounds and rising ‘oooohs’ at the right time. Not mixed it yet but that’s pretty much the song.
Q8 Has music criticism ever influenced your music, or at least made you think about it differently? I mean proper reviews, but also blogs or even just hearing someone you don’t know talk about you.
Don’t know, I do Google myself or people send me links of interest. I’m increasingly thick-skinned about it. Some people are wildly complimentary and some people think I’m a cunt and the songs are shit. Neither of these opinions change how the songs are going to go. I’m on a fairly set course. I see when bands are reacting to ‘market forces’ and it’s as obvious as the chords in their new Springsteen direction. Music can’t be much fun if you’re reacting to people. Throw it in their faces. Worst’ll happen is they don’t like it. Fuck it.
Q9 Have you ever felt guilty for trying to get other people to take an interest in your music, if you aren’t making the effort with new music yourself?
No, not at all. I mean, is that a balance people should strive for? It evens out, I guess.
Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music, either as a listener or in how you go about writing/recording/performing?
I own a 40GB Korean MP3 player and have given away most of my CDs. I write on an acoustic guitar I bought in Argos for 39 quid in 2000. I record on a four track and on a computer. I perform in much the same context that Buddy Holly and Lonnie Donegan did. It’s all a mulch. It all follows in the traditions with some awkward tangents and deliberate glitches.
Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?