Words: Emily Carson
White Collar Boy have been skirting the fringes of a few electronic genres since their inception in 2011. Their last EP, SUUU, released on the Bodytonic Music label in 2013 is full of wonderfully infectious tropical house notes with driving remixes from Dublin’s own Frank B and Simon Bird. Their upcoming full-length release represents a more complex and broad record from Dubliners Mark Cummins and Gavin White, giving more obvious nods to their new wave influences and allowing their sonorous vocals to shine through. This week will see the first outing from this new record, Priory Hall, grace our ears through This Greedy Pig’s imprint. The title references the infamous Clongriffin housing complex and the record itself includes the boys’ more electro-centric beats with German producer Dave DK taking on the usually tender ‘New Year’ and Sean Reilly’s haunting vocals pairing with a nostalgic 90’s synth. The new record is addictive and provides a serious teaser for their upcoming full length debut so we wanted to find out what has been happening in the intervening years since their last release and why this record should hopefully put them on the map.
So most written stuff about you, and your website, mentions that you guys met in Barcelona at Primavera Sound in 2011?
Gav: It all needs a complete rehash, it was 2010 because the World Cup was on! Primavera well, I went with four girls because I didn’t really know anyone else going and I hadn’t been to the festival before. One of the girls actually was Gemma, who sings with us. So the whole weekend I was just dying to hang out with some lads and it was on the Sunday we met. The initial contact was quite funny because I was walking up to the Apollo in Barcelona and I saw this lad essentially being thrown out in a Bohemian’s football jersey and I thought to myself ‘who the fuck is that?’ One of the girls I was with knew him so we went up and started having a laugh and went off to the beach to watch the sunrise at 6am with all the lads. It was an instant friendship almost.
Mark: It was a full year after that before we started making music properly. We got back from Primavera and I began my final year in Maynooth and we were communicating online for that year.
G: I started making music on my own that year pretty much.
What was the jumping off point for you when you started making tunes?
G: It was always a personal thing for me, music was very therapeutic and that’s the reason I got into it. The very, very early recordings that I sent to Mark would’ve been completely different to what we’re doing now for a number of reasons, one being the climate that we grew into. The initial recordings were very stripped back and I showed Mark a small collection of stuff and because he has a degree in music production so he’s a lot more proficient than I am. He started cleaning up the tracks and getting involved.
M: I started cleaning up bits and pieces of audio and re-recording stuff and then we had a couple of different Ableton sessions that were back and forth between us.
Did you both know from the outset that it would be a collaborative project or was it ever one person’s personal project that the other would contribute to?
G: I think I would have shown Mark stuff and he would have said ‘that’s cool, we should do something.’ When we did get in a room together Mark had a lot of samples from college and his own work and I’d play a little bit of his samples and he over my samples and it was from the first session that we started making tracks.
M: Both of us felt a connection to being back in a band again because both of us were in bands when we were younger. I was in The Passengers, a terrible covers band, from the age of about 16. We played Iggy Pop The Passenger, obviously, Joy Division, The Libertines. We played in a shed and at the odd house party, stuff like that. But when we started working on stuff together we were trying to find a suitable space for ages because we had lots of different bits and pieces that we’d picked up from over the years just from being in bands so to find somewhere to set it all up was a bit of a challenge. Gav’s parents were away for awhile so we had a good set up in his kitchen, then we were in my kitchen for a bit and then we were in rooms above pubs like The Pebble Beach and The Eagle House and a space in Newmarket Square above where they keep the rickshaws. Then we got the lease on Abbey Street so we’re there 5 years this month, so it would have been 2011 when we moved in.
That particular time of being just out of college and not knowing what to do with your life, did you think at that time that you’d go professional full-time?
G: We’ve aspired to that kind of, but the industry is weird. I don’t think we ever set out to ‘be something’ we just enjoyed making music. The thing that was most motivating for us was that we enjoyed playing gigs and we enjoyed having a record. I think those were the most important things. The name of our first EP ‘Kinsale’ comes from the first gig we played outside of Dublin when we went down to Cork and that was such a good buzz that we wanted to cement that [by releasing an EP] and that sort of kept us going.
Gav, you have a writing background, does that inform you when it comes to producing lyrics?
G: It’s definitely influenced by literature and stuff like that. There’s influence from certain poets, like I love Allen Ginsberg, T.S. Eliot, John Keats. Their sentiments ring true in my work but the content of the lyrics comes from personal experience. Lyrics are a funny thing because Mark has started writing lyrics quite a lot and some of them are amazing and quite longform, especially on the new album.
M: For me it would be more like Murakami, that type of prose that’s very descriptive but with more of a familiar twinge. It comes in drips and drabs sometimes but it’s enjoyable and it’s great when something comes out that you’re proud of and that makes sense, even if it’s only in my head. I remember being curious about lyrics because it’s only recently that I have started writing lyrics. [When we got started] I had a heard a bit of the stuff Gav had been working on on his own but the first time we put out something that Gav had written it turned out very nicely, very simple and that would be what I identify with when I’m listening to something. I don’t like overly-complicated things, I’m a much more simple person in that regard and I don’t like grandiose lyrics styles, I much prefer understated elements and Gav is very good at that.
How do you go about editing one another when you’re writing a track?
G: If I write something I’ll bring it to a certain level. When we started out my production skills were shite, and still are shite really but I would be able to get to a certain level and then I’d give it to Mark.
M: I’d never like remove anything, I might loop something and throw it over a few bars because it fits in or your might take out a bar or two, I certainly wouldn’t go like ‘take out that line!’
G: We’re definitely different in terms of background because I’ve never had a music lesson in my life and Mark has a degree in production so he sort of straightens me up a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever edited his lyrics…There have been a couple of times where I’ve brought something to Mark and he’s gone ‘ah yeah…’ and I’ll know he’s not that into it. The project itself and the back catalogue that we have, it does have a certain identity and we know when it hits that.
M: There’s also a lot of material, it’s not like every so often we’d have something to work on, my hard drive is completely full of our music. There are a 110 tracks on our Soundcloud, obviously the majority of which are on private and might only be snippets but there’s still a bunch of stuff there and a lot of it needs to be looked at again. There’s the bones of another album there again.
G: Yeah sometimes I would go back and listen to something and think ‘Hold on, that was actually quite good’ but the problem is you don’t know how you got to that stage and you might have lost the file…
So take me through the process of recording this album and how long it’s taken you guys to get to this point?
M: Some of the tracks are very old!
G: The oldest one to my mind is ‘Away from Reality’, I remember writing that two summers ago. It takes so long for these things to see the light of day.
M: I think even before that we had a couple of minor catastrophes. We threw a party in Merrion Square two years ago and we got a couple of guest vocalists involved in the record and we got this English guy Matt Karmil to mix the record for us. We heard about him through Beats in Space, Tim Sweeney’s show, he had a really nice mix and then in the interview part at the end of it he said that out of say 12 tracks, 10 of them he had either written, produced or mixed. We thought ‘this guy is fucking good’ so we dropped Tim Sweeney a line and he gave us his email and we started talking. Matt’s a really nice guy and he was really patient with us. There were certain parts of the tracks that needed to be stripped back a lot more, and we needed to re-record some of the audio, but it was great and so to celebrate we threw a party in Merrion Square. We had programmed this event and that wouldn’t really be our background, we hadn’t really done anything like that before and we made a bit of an arse of it and lost some money and it took awhile to bounce back from that. At the same time we were coming to the end of an arrangement we had with a management company based in the UK and a booking agent as well. We were all just moving in different directions.
G: This is a problem we’ve come across quite a lot: because people think we’re electronic artists so they just assume that we belong in Ibiza or something. The agent was trying to push for that and we weren’t into it because our biggest influences would be like lo-fi guitar buzz, and post-punk, new wave stuff from the late 80s, early 90s as well as modern stuff. To be honest it maybe could work because there are certain elements of our set that are banging. We’ve had residencies DJing for years…
M: We really enjoy DJing but I definitely think that we’re better songwriters than we are DJs and there’s no way we would DJ Pacha or something like that, it wouldn’t work. Like Gav said, there are elements of our set that would go down quite well but would people sit through the parts where it’s just me and Gav on our guitars rocking out? It just wouldn’t happen over on the island! [laughs]
G: So the recording would have happened from then essentially.
M: We had kind of felt like we were going back to the start in a way. But we were lucky because of all the contacts we had made, even though we weren’t releasing anything we were still being booked to play really cool shows. This year we played Drop Everything, and we played that in 2014 as well. We played Forbidden Fruit, Metropolis, Life Festival and Body & Soul.
G: Yeah I’d be interested to see what happens when we do release something! [laughs]
So yeah, the release is about to happen, what are the dream calls that you get?
M: We’re really happy to have the remix featuring on it, Dave DK remixed the last track on the album. It was really odd because we went for Dave because he does really accessible house music - and I hate when people use that term in a derogatory way - it’s really warm and ambient.
G: It was interesting that he picked that track.
M: Yeah he got back to us and said he had really liked the album and had listened to it quite a few times and that was the track he wanted to go with. It was only by chance as well because we’d been sending a teaser track to people to see if they wanted to get involved but we’d actually sent him the full album. We’re both really happy with it, we would both 100% put it on if we were DJing and hadn’t heard it before.
G: He sent it on to DJ Kose as well who is probably my favourite producer and he really liked it. I think the hopes are that people listen to it and people enjoy it. I think people have struggled to pinpoint where we are on the musical map and I think when the album does come out people will know who we are. We have shared it with a few people and the reaction has been very positive. Because we’ve had it on our laps for so long we know it really well and it’s standing the test of time.
Will it be hard to play songs from so long ago?
M: I think we’ve been smart with the gigs we’ve signed up to. We haven’t done a headline show in three years so we’re quite nervous about the gig in December actually! But we’ve put a huge amount of work into it and it’s going to look really good. Everyone that guested on the record is going to be able to play with us so it’s going to be a big show and we’re hoping to drag everybody out to it. I think it sounds like the most fat-headed thing in the world to say but it’ll be nice to play on a smaller stage [laughs] because we’ve been at so many festivals recently.
G: I think it suits our personalities really.
'Priory Hall' will be released through This Greedy Pig on November 25th, check back here then for more information on how you can get your hands on it.