Front man Cormac Battle has moved on significantly since Kerbdog hit their heady highs. The former singer’s days fronting successors Wilt often seemed just a lucky moment short of a major breakthrough, but these days Battle finds himself presenting 2FM’s Sunday night alternative show ‘The Battle Axe’, and involved in the day to day operation of RTE. When Battle’s musical career peaked back in the mid-’90s, though, labels still threw serious money after serious potential. With Kerbdog’s second album and final album On The Turn, Battle and his band mates spent months throwing cash waterfalls at an album that was ultimately to peak at number 64 in the UK.
“It doesn’t need me to tell you things have changed hugely since then”, Battle recalls, “but when we went to LA to record, we went all out. On The Turn cost over a million dollars to make and to us it felt like an incredible album. At the time, music was dominated by the Oasis and Blur feud. That was fantastic marketing, of course, but it made our heavier style very difficult to make an impact with. I don’t think it helped where we were from, either; Brit rock was just so fashionable.”
“We felt underappreciated at the time. Even if I say so myself, I think On The Turn was a really great album. It was the right album by the right band at the wrong time. When we got to LA, we spent days and days just sorting the sound out. We had a huge amp set up, certainly over twenty of them, and all the equipment was on rent, so it quickly started to add up. We ended up taking several months to record the album at Sound City Studios, which is where Nirvana and Neil Young had recorded previously. The bill by the time we finished everything was well over a million dollars. But things like that happened back then.”
Kerbdog weren’t the only ones who thought they were onto something. Producer Gggarth Richardson, who has worked with Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Motley Crue (and Nickelback, but you can’t win them all), is often quoted on his high opinion of the band, and told several sources that the Kilkenny rockers “had the best sound set up I’ve ever had once things were all in place.”
Sadly, results were not set to reflect opinion. After spending so much money on the album, Kerbdog’s label were less than happy with their return. The Kilkenny act ended up getting dropped, effectively ending their careers. “Strangely, the album’s made greater waves in recent years then it did when it was released”, Cormac notes. “It’s something of a vindication of our feelings about it. It still seems to be being passed around. We don’t really care how people hear it, but it’s great that so many still do.”
From the outside, things already looked a bit shaky before the album release, with backing guitarist Billy Dalton leaving the band shortly after their LA experience, though Kerrang! did run a major feature on the band post Dalton’s departure. Battle insists that “Billy’s departure had nothing to do with the split. We all get on very well now, and Souls, who feature Billy and our drummer Darragh [Butler] will be supporting us in Dublin. We’ve done that a few times, and it’s great to be able to bring our own ready-made set up we like and not to have to go looking for support.”
On another front, On The Turn’s effect on a major of-the-minute act has come to light. “We did hear that Biffy Clyro said they might be interested in remaking it, as it was a big influence on them. Obviously it’s probably fairly unlikely to happen, as they’re a huge deal at the moment, but it would be a privilege. If they want to get in touch we’d love to hear from them!” In general, though, Cormac finds it hard to foresee exactly how much longer Kerbdog might carry on. The complete run through of the album looks set to be a one off, and the idea of new material “seems like milking something that we’ve all moved past”, so future gigs will remain strictly a glance at old faithfuls. They’re even unlikely to include the popular B-side cover versions that became a Kerbdog trademark.
This weekend’s return show in Dublin’s Academy will be the latest in a series of infrequent reunion performances delivered across the last six or seven years, and have – in some senses – been the band’s finest moments. “It’s amazing to walk out without any pressure, well over a decade after we split, and see that people still care. It’s our real fans that keep these shows going. We’ll be playing some of the songs for the first time ever live, so I can’t guarantee that every song will be great, but we’ve been practising and we’ll do them as well as we can. It can work well if they’re a little rough around the edges anyway. The main thing is that everyone has fun.”
At one stage, there was also a suggestion that the entire album might be played backwards for the show. “I think Darragh had that idea after seeing something from a few other bands in the same style” Cormac explains. “It makes sense as if we do things the right way around we’ll end up playing all the hits at the start, as albums tend to be front loaded. That will take the anticipation out of things. But it’ll all be there, and a little more on top, too.”
When something’s such a nostalgia trip for the band, it’s likely to be the same for many members of the audience. What this latest outing shows clearly, though, is that an act some may see as forgotten 90s heroes are still very much a happy, saleable commodity, as well as being a group of friends having the absolute time of their lives reliving it all. If things had been done just a little differently, who knows where they’d be now.
Kerbdog play On The Turn in full at The Academy, Dublin on the 8th of December.