The Former Soviet Republic is the musical project of Ian Wright, who you might possibly know as Thrill Pier. His debut album, The Former Soviet Republic Is Made Of This is about to be released on his own label, The Mickey Goldmill Recordings and Antiquities Company. The album was recorded partly in County Kildare, where Ian is from, and partly in New York, which tends to be looked upon as the world capital of this sort of thing. These tracks are textured, welcoming and, in the case of Smile, not unreminiscent of, say. Magnetic Fields, not least due to the sonorous singing voice. But then Dying Moon isn’t. As these tracks are WORLD EXCLUSIVES (imagine a 90s MTV-style splash), we’ll have to wait a little while to find out the full of extent of what FSR is about. But here’s a taste.
The Former Soviet Republic – Smile (One Day You’ll Get Everything That You Want, Just Have Patience)
The Former Soviet Republic – The Dying Moon (reprise)
Q 0.5 How are you?
Right now I’m battling a sinus infection/chesty cough/general aches
and pains. I had to cancel a gig so I’m a little annoyed
about that. On the other hand I just heard the mixes for the record
this morning so that’s something to be cheerful about.
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?
No, not at all. I think for the most part prohibitive costs shouldn’t
prevent people from being able to make the sort of music that they
want to make nor should it prevent people from having the facility to
have it heard. I’m of the opinion that all music may not be of equal
quality, but it’s of equal value and the traditional route of signing
to a label/going into a studio to make a record, which still can work
for people, is something that historically has acted as a barrier to
stop people from making music. I read an interview a couple of years
ago with someone that worked for a major label who said that they
acted as a filter through which only the best music gets through which
struck me as absurd on many levels. If you just want to make music as
opposed to wanting to be a musician then I don’t think that there has
ever been a better time for it.
From a personal perspective if it weren’t for the relatively cheap
availability of home recording equipment (the setup costs for my “home
studio” were €99 for a Shure SM 57, just under €200 for an AKG C2000B
condenser mic, €50 for a second hand recording interface and €36 for a
DI box to take the hum off stuff that I’d otherwise have to use the
1/4″ connector on the interface to record. The DAW programme that I
use for recording, Reaper, is available for free though if you wish
you can purchase a licence for it, I should probably do that at some
point before I put out something out for sale seeing as I get so much
use out of it, it’s only fair. I suppose if you wanted you could
insist on me factoring in the cost of the laptop too but I use that
for other things and I had that before I started recording, but even
so I think I’m getting a good bit of recording bang for my buck. I
probably could have done it even cheaper if I wanted to use really
shitty gear. Wow, long bit of text enclosed in parenthesis, back to
the main part of the answer in 3, 2 … ) I wouldn’t be putting out a
record in the next few months and The Former Soviet Republic would
only exist as a live entity, it/I would be a sort of be like Enya in
reverse. I shall leave it up to other people to decide if that’s a
good thing or not.
Please note that when I say “home studio” I mean “spare bedroom”. Or
when we have visitors, “my bedroom”. When and if I start recording
whatever it is my next thing will be I think I’m going to invest in a
nice pre-amp and a compressor but I’m still not going to break the
bank on it. Generally I’m much happier spending the money I have to
spend on music on instruments and cool pedals that fuck up my signal
than recording gear as I’ve always felt that recording was a bit of a
chore compared to writing and performing. I don’t think I’ve ever
been less pleased as the time that I had to shell out for my tuner
pedal. 80 quid for something that doesn’t do anything except make
sure your guitar doesn’t sound like shit, I’ve spent more than twice
that on pedals that make my guitar sound horrendous and been happier.
Of course, this whole home recording lark is hardly a new thing. Look
at the careers of Jandek or Daniel Johnston or Guided By Voices or
Elliott Smith on his early albums. “Nebraska” is one of my favourite
Springsteen records and for all the expense that he went to in the
studio on earlier albums that one was recorded at home to 4-track, in
fact he and the E-Streeters tried to make a full studio album of those
songs but Bosslore has it that they just didn’t work as well as the
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
Yes, and yes.
I think much like the home recording thing has democratised the
process of making music the downloading culture has democratised and
meritocratised (google’s spelling servers tells me that that isn’t a
word but I think language should be malleable so I’m keeping it) the
distribution of it. Someone no longer needs the juggernaut of a
serious PR campaign to get people’s attention or a decent distribution
deal behind them to get music to people, they just need for one
influential blogger or journalist to hear a record and get behind it
and voila within a short space of time hundreds, if not thousands of
people will have a copy of your album. Of course, very few if any of
them have paid for it but that’s another thing entirely. In this day
and age I seems that people who have ambitions to do music as a job
need to come around to the way of thinking that what they do in the
studio is only an advertisement for their tour. And they need to be
prepared to tour.
Black Flag hard.
I suppose though it’s kind of arse backwards when you think about it
and pretty unfair on top of that. Bands spend so much time and money
and effort to make the best music that they possibly can, something
that they can be proud of and if there is money to be made from the
whole being a musician thing it comes from having a few T-Shirts
printed up and sold at the merch table.
On the subject of merch tables. I have to be honest here, I download
a lot of music. But I still buy a good bit of it too, that which I
download and like certainly gets bought, the purchase of it just
sometimes gets delayed a while until the band in question tours
through Dublin and I try to buy it off the merch table at the gig if
it’s availalbe. I try to justify my buying habits by saying that the
band will get a bigger slice of the sale if I buying it direct from
them and hopefully that greater amount makes up for the sale happening
a little later then it otherwise might do. As a consumer my hierarchy
of methods for buying music generally goes:
– Buy it direct from the band
– Buy it from a independent record shop
– Buy it mail order from the band’s label (some labels handle this
better than others, Jagjaguar for example are excellent, if you
preorder something from them generally you’ll get a download code that
is redeemable from the release date so you’ll be able to listen to the
music even if your order hasn’t arrived in the post. As an aside, 90%
of the music I buy is on vinyl, anyone in this day and age who doesn’t
include a download voucher with a vinyl copy of a record is a fool.
Saddle Creek are also very cheap to buy from, I bought the Rural
Alberta Advantage album from them on vinyl recently and it cost less
then if I’d bought it on CD in Dublin)
– Buy it from a chain record shop
I suppose that if my main concern was just the money the band get then
I’d probably swap methods #2 and #3 but to be frank Dave and Julie are
really nice people so I try to buy from Road as much as I can.
You’ll notice that at no point in that equation does “buying from
iTunes” come into it. MP3’s are an inferior audio medium and
appalling value for the price that you’d pay for them. If a digital
retailer started selling FLAC’s at the current download price point
then I might reconsider my position.
As for making things disposable. I find that I’ll occasionally
dismiss things after one listen and move on to something else and not
go back to it for some time for a second assessment. The good stuff
will stick with me though, it just might take longer for me to get
back to it.
Q3 Is there anything that makes your music quintessentially Irish? Is
I really don’t think so. I suppose on some level you might be able to
argue the point when it comes to my lyrics because the songs I write
are informed by my own experiences and real life feelings and all that
rot and given that I spend most of my navel gazing time here then it’s
going to have some influence. But I’ve also written songs that have
been inspired by things that have happened to me in Barcelona and Lyon
and New York and New Orleans. Writing about an event that happened to
occur there is hardly enough though I don’t think. Also I’ve written
songs about shit that I’ve just made up in my head too. If there is
something quintessentially Irish about what I do more than anything
else it’s perhaps in the occasional lyrical turn of phrase that comes
as second nature to me but might jar with non-Irish people. There’s
one line on the album that goes “well done pal you played a stormer,”
and when we were recording the vocals Tom Burns, who co-engineered and
co-produced the record, and who is from New Jersey turned to me and
asked what that line meant.
I’m not influenced by traditional Irish music at all. About the only
“Irish” song I like is “Danny Boy” but my favourite rendition of it is
Johnny Cash’s. When it comes to contemporary Irish music there’s a
lot that I like but it would be rare for me to listen to an Irish
record and think that what I’m listening to would be something that
I’d choose to sound like if I had the ability to make music like that,
most notably My Bloody Valentine and Rollarskate Skinny and David Kitt
on “Small Moments”. There’s 6 or 7 other less known bands and people
too who I’d love to rip off too but those would be the big ones and I
don’t think that any of them sound particularly Irish.
It’s not intentional, you draw your influences from what you like.
Q4 Do you find it difficult to self-edit, or to take a step back from
your music and look at it objectively?
Every song I start to write and think has enough about it to warrant
working on it to some sort of point where I could say that I’ve
written that song as opposed to “am working” on it gets massively
overhauled a couple of times at least as I try find arrangements for
it that that I’m satisfied with. Generally the chord progressions and
vocal melodies will stay the same but I’ll try out loads of things in
terms of fills and instrumentation and effects used on it.
I feel that on some level a song is never really finished and there’s
always a totally new direction you can take it in, even when you’ve
recorded the song you can go back to it later and turn it into
something that sounds very, very different.
There’s a song I play from time to time at gigs which is basically a 4
bar loop of 3 variations on E major in which only 5 different notes
are played which I’ve rewritten probably 7 or 8 times now, I don’t
think I’ve played the same version of it live twice. But as it happens
for the recorded version I appear to have reverted to something
similar to a very early version of it.
I’ll also occasionally take a song that I’ve written on one instrument
and then play the song in a different one. I mostly compose with a
guitar but that doesn’t mean that the part that I write won’t be
played on another instrument entirely, be it a part or an entire tune.
Also, when I write a song there’s the question of coming up with a
live arrangement for it given the limitations of my live setup which
right now involves me, a loop station, and a sampler; and a recorded
arrangement for it where I’m freed from the shackles of having to play
it in loops and not being able to add other instruments to it.
So no, self editing isn’t really an issue. Stopping myself from doing
it is more of a problem. You should see the number of times that I’ve
redrafted my answers to these questions.
As for looking at my music objectively. No, I don’t really do that.
Depending on my mood I’m either happy with how what I do sounds or I
think that it’s utterly shit. I exist on a diet of potatoes, coffee
and constant self doubt.
Q5 Is there a Dublin scene, or even smaller genre-based scenes? Are
you a part of one?
It seems to me that scenes are things that get identified by people
who aren’t really participating in it while those that are are just
doing their thing without considering it. I don’t really think I am
but for all I know I could be, scenes are something of a nebulous
construct really aren’t they and if you wanted to you could shoe horn
anyone into something. By virtue of the fact that I’m Irish am I part
of an Irish scene? I’m from Kildare but the only time I play music in
Kildare is when I’m at home, am I in the Kildare scene? I could be
part of the “douchebag with a loopstation” (to borrow a phrase from
Owen Pallett, but he uses Max/MSP these days so fuck him, he’s a
traitor to the cause) scene too I suppose. This is actually the first
time that I’ve ever considered any of this, I should probably stop
If you wanted to insist on identifying groups of bands that you might
be able to tidily lump together into being part of a scene then I
suppose you could point to the Richter Collective bands who, aside
from the Vinny Club, tend to have a particular sound common to them.
There’s also the box social folk and there’s a lot of overlap there
what with Hunter Gatherer/Children Under Hoof/ Patrick Kelleher and
his band all playing together in each other’s projects.
Most recently the Popical Island gang got together as well and I
suppose that there’s a very obvious similarity in what those bands do.
(The hint is in the name).
Q6 Name a non-musical influence on your music.
Films that feature the character Rocky Balboa. I love that big punchy
palooka, even the risible fifth film has that brilliant flashback
scene in it with Rocky and Mickey (who is actually my favourite thing
about the whole series) which culminates in Burgiss Meredith yelling
“get up you sonuvabitch, coz Mickey loves ya”.
No word of a lie, for a long while I thought it might be a nice idea
to compose an EP of instrumental music inspired by the Rocky series.
But the Vinny Club kind of got in there first with that one.
Q7 Take one of your songs and explain the process of writing it from
the beginning to the finished article.
Well as I said above I don’t think a song is ever really finished but
I’ll talk about a song that I’m currently happy with in it’s current
state. The lengthy instrumental piece that is currently the only song
that I’ve played at every single gig I’ve done began life as a little
bit of acoustic guitar plucking that I thought sounded quite nice at
the time. I’d come back to it over and over again, trying to hum
melodies or find a subject matter for the song but for months nothing
came so one day I recorded it onto my loop station hoping that just
listening to independently of playing it might help but I was still
struggling to come up with anything so I started writing overdubs for
it, by the time that I’d got to the 4th one it was sounding too
crowded to fit any vocals into it so I wrote some more guitar parts
for it and decided that it was going to be an instrumental.
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.
Well as far as I know there hasn’t been a great deal written about me,
but if there is I’m doing my best to not read it. In truth I’m almost
cripplingly shy and very self conscious. The only way that I’m able
to do this thing is to convince myself that what other people think
doesn’t matter and that I only have to please myself.
After one of my first gigs someone sent me a link to a review of the
night and I read it, it wasn’t really damning or praising, it just
basically made mention of the fact that I was one of the supports but
it was clear that the person reviewing it wasn’t hugely impressed and
that annoyed the shit out of me, not because of what had been written
because of course the person that wrote it is entitled to their
opinion, but rather that I’d read it in the first place. If I think
that I’ve played a bad gig then it doesn’t matter what anyone says
about it otherwise it won’t shake the feeling that on a particular
night I wasn’t good enough, or more accurately I wasn’t as good as I
can be. If I think that I’ve played well then that’s enough.
A good review for what I think was sub-par isn’t going to make me feel
any better, a good review for when I think I’ve been good is just
masturbatory ego stroking and a bad review for when I think I’ve been
good is just like one person’s opinion man, fair enough but it doesn’t
It’s a bit of an extension to my habits regarding reviews in general.
A lot of the time I don’t read reviews for gigs I’ve been to or albums
I’ve heard because if I’ve been there or if I’ve heard it I already
know if it was/is good or bad and on a metaphysical level (if one were
to view the universe as just existing in terms of my own perception of
it) the opinions of other people are inconsequential when it comes to
subjective assessment. I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is
God that must make me sound like an arrogant wanker, I don’t mean it
to be but I’m just trying to break down my view on these things in as
simple a way as possible. It’s very puzzling to me when people get
bent out of shape over reviews that are contrary to their opinions, as
though it’s a personal attack to them.
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
Generally I do try to make the effort with new music, if someone that
I know is in a new band I’ll try to see them so I don’t feel guilty on
that score. But I do constantly feel guilty when attempting to get
people to take an interest in what I do, to the degree in fact that I
don’t really put in the effort that I should. I’ll mention that I’m
playing to someone in passing but then not really press the issue. I
hate the idea of being an imposition on people.
To be honest I’d nearly prefer to play to a near empty room of
strangers then to a full one of friends because I worry that they’re
only there out of some sort of sense of obligation to me, I appreciate
the effort they took to be there and maybe they even enjoy part of it
but that feeling is a hard one to shake.
Q10 Would you call yourself a traditionalist with regard to music,
either as a listener or in how you go about
Well I don’t think that I’m avante garde anyway. My performance
methods might be atypical but they are becoming more and more common
Q10.5 What’s something you’re listening to right now?
I think the record I’ve most listened to in 2010 is “The Monitor” by
Titus Andronicus. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the best album
that I’ve heard all year because I love the new Owen Pallett and
Joanna Newsom albums but I started going for runs around Christmas
time and “The Monitor” kicks my ass whereas “Heartland” and “Have One
On Me” aren’t really suited to pushing me on when I’m humming and
hawing between keeping running and stopping for a wheeze. Nor is the
similarly lovely new Four Tet record. Other new albums that I’ve been
enjoying of late include “In Evening Air” by Future Islands which is
wonderful, I think they were my favourite discovery of last year, and
the new Retribution Gospel Choir and Besnard Lakes releases.
Sorry, was I only supposed to pick one?
- Interview Project #19: Nouveaunoise
- Interview Project #18: You Kiss By The Book
- Interview Project #17: Not Squares
- Interview Project #16: Funeral Suits
- Interview Project #15: Music For Dead Birds
- Interview Project #14: The Ambience Affair
- Interview Project #13: BATS
- Interview Project #12: Jon Dots
- Interview Project #11: Super Extra Bonus Party
- Interview Project #10: Dublin Duck Dispensary
- Interview Project #9: Hunter-Gatherer
- Interview Project #8: Villagers
- Interview Project #7: So Cow
- Interview Project #6: Big Monster Love
- Interview Project #5: A Series Of Dark Caves
- Interview Project #4: Porn On Vinyl
- Interview Project #3: Patrick Kelleher
- Interview Project #2: Angkorwat
- Interview Project #1: Mumblin’ Deaf Ro