I bet you never thought you’d hear an electro-pop cover version of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’, did you? One of the most talked about homegrown releases this year, in the hands of Dublin musician Babybeef, aka Sarah Carroll Kelly, the song is transformed from a balls-to-the-wall rock anthem to a synth-tastic gem. The track, which features on her eponymously-titled debut album, is just one example of how Ireland’s new wave of inventive electro-pop bands aren’t afraid to seek inspiration from the most unexpected of sources.
Humbly describing the reaction to Babybeef as “nice for something that started in a back bedroom!” Kildare native Sarah told State that this was her second foray into the world of music. “I was in a band when I was 15 but abandoned it,” she remembers, divulging that it was a covers band somewhat ironically named Cringe. After this first attempt at music-making, she went back to the day job. But a few years later, she was lured in once again.
Even as an art student, her love for music seeped through – her final year project was named ‘The Best Sound Art Album in the World Ever’ in a tongue-in-cheek nod to the popular CD collections. Then: “A couple of years ago I started thinking about doing my own stuff. I had some vintage equipment and I started messing with that. My digital skills improved and I recorded at home, using a real basic setup. That was the makings of it.”
With a background in fine art, it’s no surprise that Baby Beef has a strong image. On stage, Sarah is kitted out in futuristic outfits, while the cover of her album is from a 1960s children’s jigsaw she bought on Ebay. There’s a nod to the 80’s Italo Disco scene on many of the tracks on Babybeef, such as opener ‘Music’ and her sound is heavily informed by her love for vintage instruments –“I have this Alesis drum machine – everything sounds like a smack – that’s my favourite for sure”.
A massive fan of Devo and Kraftwerk, she is equally inspired by modern bands: “At the moment I really like Yeasayer, I think they’re strange and odd. Love Lady Gaga, I can’t get enough of her. Marina and the Diamonds, I think she’s ace.” She realises that today, there is a vogue for new-age fun with a vintage feel: “Everything comes in cycles, doesn’t it – you just have to look at the clothes at the moment. You could open the family album and see your cousins in that gear.”
Back to the present day, the person at the helm of the production desk for her album was Stephen Shannon, who recently released a solo album under the name Strands and who has worked with Cap Pas Cap, the Dinah Brand and Adrian Crowley. “Stephen’s a good pal,” says Sarah, adding that it was he who encouraged her to expand what was supposed to be an EP into an album, asking her ‘Can you go away and write four songs?’. Within two weeks, she had all the songs – including the ‘Thunderstruck’ cover – ready to be worked on.
Ah yes, back to ‘Thunderstruck’. For the record, State thinks it rocks – but others think it’s downright bizarre. Sarah admits she probably would have recorded it anyway, even if for her own entertainment, but she was “a bit nervous in case it became a one trick pony – ‘yer one that does the cover’”.
“I wanted to do something you wouldn’t expect and something you can build on,” she muses. “It’s weird to do an electric guitar solo on a keyboard! I was nervous, I did it and initially I never got permission – they could be like Prince and sue,” she laughs. Thankfully she avoided legal action by getting in touch with their record label before the album dropped . “They said ‘lovely, go ahead, as long as you credit the lads for covering it’. I think it’s like Marmite, some people are disgusted by it and some people can’t get enough. I’m a huge AC/DC fan, I wouldn’t do anything to hurt them. It’s out of pure love l recorded it.”
Having performed at venues such as the Science Gallery (as part of the Biorhythms event), the Model in Sligo and as part of the DEAF festival last year, Babybeef is getting a name for playing unusual venues. “I’m always very picky about what gigs I do, I get asked to play five gigs a week. But I think, ‘would this suit Babybeef and would I break even’? I prefer to wait for one really good gig.”
“The first gig I did I nearly hyperventilated,” she adds. “That was a bit frightening. But I’m ok at it now. I know my way around, I’m more used to using triggers and loops.” But relying on technology isn’t always easy. “I’ve had nightmare things like adapters slipping out in middle of a set, and I got my heel caught in an adaptor cable. People thought I was having a James Brown moment!”
Are live gigs a necessary evil? “I’d say I’d be more at home in the studio and writing things,” she admits. “If I had my way I’d just lock myself away and just write the stuff and pass it on at that stage. Writing the stuff and making the stuff, that’s what I really love.”
Before we leave her, there’s still one thing State wants to know – where did that name come from? Sarah chuckles: “There’s a butchers beside Whelan’s but I swear to God I didn’t get it from there! A gang of us were heading down to Cork in the car, we passed a butcher’s and saw the sign and said, ‘isn’t that cute, it sounds like a nice Japanese character’, like Hello Kitty.” Bizarre, quirky…but just like an electro-pop AC/DC cover version, somehow strangely fitting.
Babybeef by Babybeef is released on After the Quake records.
Download via http://babybeef.bandcamp.com