Of all the bands to make our albums of the year so far list (running from Monday), The Cast Of Cheers have one of the most remarkable stories to tell. From a free download release to the patronage of major movers and shakers in the media, it’s been quite a whirlwind couple of years.
When The Cast Of Cheers got their big break in summer 2011 and – having exploded onto the Dublin music scene with word-of-mouth, free-to-download debut Chariot – headed for London with a new record contract in their back pocket, it came as a shock to the band. The Swords four-piece had risen from total unknowns to cult stars in the space of a few months, evolving before our eyes into the quality live act that Chariot – an album released before a live note was played – deserved. Their rise to local fame was of the meteoric, clichéd variety that, in actuality, is often preceded my months of unheralded work. The Cast Of Cheers found the mark so spectacularly first time out, and by the time the band got serious label interest, substantial progress on a second album had already taken place.
Things were to take a turn for the big time. “The tracks we recorded in Wicklow were being sent to labels”, vocalist Conor Adams explains. “We went over to London, to a meeting with Schoolboy Error. John got drunk on gin on the airplane and couldn’t remember anything; a bit of Dutch courage for the meeting with the label. I couldn’t have imagined the success. We weren’t conscious, then, that we were recording a demo. It was going the same way as Chariot, we just wanted to get it out.” Instead, The Cast Of Cheers found themselves re-recording with former Clor man Luke Smith. Label Schoolboy Error seemed the perfect fit: “we had interest from Sony, but after we signed so that was kind of mute, and with EMI earlier in the year. Mick (Roe, of Richter Collective) being the brainiac mogul that he is, was careful about who we went for. He knows what he’s doing, and it was really important to have him. There should be a rock star video game about the man. Grand Theft Mick.”
It wasn’t smooth sailing, though, with their kit being stolen shortly after the move. That soon turned into a huge positive: “People in Ireland were amazing”, Conor recalls. “We set up a donation page and we got enough to get all our gear back, and even a better keyboard. It was way more positive, maybe the best thing that happened to us. There were loads of donations. We got two Euros from a student with a note saying ‘I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of money but I want to help you’. That two Euros meant everything; it was as appreciated as a fifty quid donation. Musicmaker gave us a discount on everything, too, and were fantastically helpful. I think that was when we realised that people really cared.”
It’s clear that The Cast Of Cheers still love their hometown crowd, but they’ve never regretted their move to London. “There’s been the odd drunken band break up that’s popped up, but everything’s always fine at the end of the day” Neil, guitarist and brother to front man Conor, explains. “But we’ve never regretted it. We did a tour with Theme Park, and to be honest there were fuck all people at most of the gigs. A couple of people had Chariot, but it was only ‘Family’ that a couple of people might know. The crowds weren’t big enough, but we were aware that nobody knew of us. It was a hard slog. The Blood Red Shoes tour was different; I think we fitted better musically, and the crowds were loud and into it.”
Chariot, incidentally, has disappeared from all official sites recently as it was included in The Cast Of Cheers record deal with School Boy Error, though not before grabbing a huge 150,000 free downloads. “Basically they own the record, and they don’t really want it to be online as it would be confusing, people would think it’s the new album. There’s talk of a deluxe version of Family maybe six months after it’s released, that would include Chariot. It would be great to finally give it a physical release.”
Their first physical releases, the vinyl singles for ‘Family’ and ‘Animals’, saw top-class accompanying videos. The first, ‘Family’ was produced over Christmas, and involved “two to three hours each of sitting around taking photographs of us at different angles, each”. The result was a vibrant photo montage that introduced The Cast Of Cheers to the rest of the world for the first time. “The guy was just clicking constantly with two massive great flashes for two hours” drummer Kev Curran recalls. “By the time we walked away we felt like we were on drugs”.
Ask Conor how the new album differs to the older material, his gut reactions is “depth”. “It was twenty five songs whittled down to ten, and then reworked, stripped back and built again. We played riffs until they were perfect, there was no ‘play that two or three times and we’ll edit it so it’s absolutely perfect’. It had to be done right in studio. On ‘Palace And Run’ there’s one little riff in the background that alone took nine hours to get down, and you can hardly even hear it. It’s all about the vibes; every riff, every little piece. It was two months just in the studio.” John also had an extended moment: “I took five hours just playing ‘Goose’, which I’ve been playing for two years. I thought we’d knock it out in half an hour. It turned out to be incredibly tough.” Kevin’s drums also got hairy; “the response after my drum was altered – to get a different sound – was so weird. It felt completely different to what I’d been playing for two years.”
For producer Luke Smith, things were very much about feel. “We could tell when we were getting it, as he’d be there dancing”, Conor tells us. For the band, despite the success of their previous album (as well as the huge number of downloads, it was also the first ever download-only album to be nominated for the Choice Music Prize), Family still feels like a debut. “We don’t disregard Chariot, of course, but this one’s our baby. It seems much more real, that we’ll be walking into a shop and picking it up. It’s not just in some weird internet zone. That makes Chariot special for people, though. That’s why we don’t disregard it. For proper fans of the band, that will be their album.”
When we catch The Cast Of Cheers, the album that’s being promoted as a ‘debut’ over in the UK is just around the corner, and the excitement amongst the band is clear. Eager to re-explore ‘Chariot’ at Forbidden Fruit, the chatter’s all about an up and coming Australian tour, the album finally hitting the shelves and a rare weekend back in Dublin, which they’ll spend, largely “jamming, to get back in the habit of playing hour-long sets”. The band, clearly, are totally enthralled by their own achievements. Recalling the moment they grabbed back to back airplay on the UK’s biggest radio station, Radio One, John explains “We laughed so hard when Zane hit it again. We were at a Christmas Party, and we got the call that it might be on ten minutes before. When he hit it again, we were rolling about the place.” Our interview closes with the story of a wild night in Barcelona, one that ended with John removing himself from the local hospital just in time for a 3am set. It’s not a typical night for the band: while they intend to make the most of the experience, they’re also acutely aware of the importance of delivery musically.
The night itself might not be the best advert, but John’s skulking back to the venue in the nick of time, against doctors orders, sums up a determination that accompanies a band incredibly grateful for what they’ve already pulled off. The word ‘dream’ is bandied around regularly. With Reading and Leeds – the UK’s largest rock fests – and Australia to look forward to even before their latest has made its mark, the brilliant Family is sure to shift things up another gear once again.
Photo: Ian Keegan