Fontaines DC may be the Irish band grabbing headlines in the music press of late, but there are lots of other incredible bands on the Irish scene right now that are equally deserving of acclaim.
One of them is Silverbacks, the Dublin formed by brothers Kilian and Daniel O'Kelly. Their sound draws from genres including post-punk, indie, new wave and rock - best heard on their brilliant debut album 'Fad', which has been on near-constant rotation since we first heard it.
We caught up with the band to learn more about them, their individual and collective influences and what their plans are in this uncertain time for the music industry...
Kilian and Daniel, you grew up in Belgium - what was that like? And what impact do you think it had on your music?
Kilian: Growing up in Brussels was a fantastic experience. Daniel and I used to go to gigs in Le Botanique and the Ancienne Belgique, which are both unreal venues. We’re hoping one day we’ll be lucky enough to go back and play them. Brussels is a beautiful multicultural city and I feel extremely privileged to have been brought up there.
Daniel: My dad’s a big music collector so he's been the biggest influence on our taste. He's a regular to a lot of the independent record shops in Brussels and through that he’s turned us on to a lot of great Belgian artists and bands. We all love dEUS and ‘Drink It Down’ is inspired by a Jacques Brel song.
What were the posters on your respective bedroom walls when you were growing up?
Emma: I had a pretty serious Division 2 Under-15s basketball career. Dennis Rodman in his Detroit Pistons days was up in my room, along with Justin Timberlake.
Kilian: I had the Rolling Stones tongue hanging up, pretty standard stuff.
Daniel: I had a Manic Street Preachers poster up. They're the first band I ever saw live and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. Kilian and I are both big Arsenal fans and we used to put obscure Arsenal footballers up on our wall. We had Oleh Luzhny for a while, Junichi Inamoto too.
Gary: My main hobby was playing drums in a marching band, as a teen though I started to collect reggae 7” s. No posters though, just four blank walls.
Peadar: Same as the lads really, sport and music! No posters but I have had a shiny Gianfranco Zola sticker from his Chelsea days on my delay pedal for a very very long time! Sometimes he winks at me during gigs.
That's a pretty eclectic group of formative influences! So how did Silverbacks form, then?
Daniel: Originally, Silverbacks was just a name we used to upload demos onto Soundcloud and Bandcamp. We only got the band properly going about 4 years ago when Peadar returned from France. Peadar, Emma, Kilian and I all went to the same college in Maynooth and we met Gary at a Wilco concert.
Gary: Wilco for life!
How does the songwriting work within the band?
Gary: Kilian, Daniel and Emma will usually get some demos going. We’ll then take them to the practice rooms and start working out how we want to approach the song. The demos usually start taking a new form then as we bounce ideas off each other.
Emma: Yeah, Daniel will usually spend a long time mixing the demos as well and we’ll create demo playlists, and we pick our favourites. Whenever we go into the practice rooms, though, the songs always become something new. It’s definitely a collaborative effort and its more fun that way.
A lot of people have drawn parallels with bands like Television and The Strokes and even Blondie in your sound, but what about other influences – is there a band or artist that people might be surprised to hear were an influence?
Kilian: I am a big fan of Spectralism. One of the go-to techniques for spectral composers is instrumental synthesis. ‘Travel Lodge Punk’ which opens side B of ‘Fad’ is actually an attempt at creating what it sounds like to hold your head underwater. All the pitches that you hear on the track are pulled from a fast Fourier transform of an underwater sample. It’s all very nerdy, but I don’t think many people will spot the influence!
You’ve released ‘Fad’ on your own label Central Tones – was that through choice or necessity?
Peadar: Choice - we’ve had labels interested in the past but have always talked about starting our own label. We are planning to release some stuff besides Silverbacks on the label in the future.
Daniel: Yeah, we were keen to get the album out this year and ultimately doing it on our own was the best way that that could happen. When we decided to put this out on our own label, we also had the support of Cargo Records. They have been brilliant in helping us reach new people and getting the vinyl around the world. It’s also a nice feeling having it out on our own label.
You worked with Girl Band's Daniel Fox on the album, how did that relationship come about and what was he like as a producer?
Daniel: We heard some of the songs he did with Autre Monde and we all love the Paddy Hanna album. Oh, and there’s Girl Band, too! We asked if he'd be interested in working on ‘Dunkirk’; it worked out well so we’ve had Dan onboard ever since. We’re already talking about album two and have sent over a long long list of demos to get his thoughts on song selection.
Emma: We work well together because he gets a lot of our reference points and we listen to similar bands. He has his own ideas for the songs which gives them an added quality, like any good producer.
Gary: He’s a good man for percussion too.
How do you feel about being lumped in with other Irish guitar bands like Fontaines DC and The Murder Capital, even though your sound is very different to both?
Kilian: I think that generally happens when the article or piece is from an international outlet. It doesn’t bother us at all, because the press is very welcome.
Daniel: If we’re grouped in together to show how strong the Irish music scene is, then it doesn’t bother me at all. If it turns more heads towards the amazing bands and artists all over Ireland then that’s great. However, if we’re being compared to those bands and criticised for not being as good as them, or having the same type of energy then they’ve missed the point. Because I think we’re all trying to do different things with our lyrics and our music. Which is great!
What’s been your most memorable and least favourite gigs to date?
Peadar: I think my favourite gig so far was supporting Girl Band in La Maroquinerie in Paris. The venue is like a big underground dungeon or amphitheatre. It was our first gig outside of Ireland and the UK, so we were all on a good buzz.
Emma: Yeh, all three of the Girl Band support slots were deadly! We’ll be forever grateful to them for inviting us along.
Kilian: I had a really bad gig in the Workman’s once before on St. Patrick’s Day. The date of the gig says it all!
How has Covid affected your careers – is it frustrating not being able to tour and build on the momentum of all the good reviews, or is it a blessing in disguise in a way?
Gary: Ah, we’d love to be on the road now for sure, but it is definitely for the best. We have just rescheduled our Irish and UK September tour for next February and March. We have all been saying as well that we’ll never take a gig for granted again.
Peadar: The buildup to releasing an album has also been a welcome distraction!
Finally, what’s the plan for the rest of 2020 and beyond - or as much as you can plan?!
Emma: Sessions for Album 2, can’t wait!
Kilian: We have studio dates booked in for October, between now and then we’ll be practicing hard and getting everything ready. Stay tuned, Album 2 is going to be our Abba Gold!
'Fad' is out now.