Somewhere in the midst of our lengthy chat, a telling question is posed to Fearghal McKee and Colm Hassett – “what was the one key element to Whipping Boy’s success?” Colm, not missing a beat, answers “honesty”. Fearghal, not far behind adds “we knew when to feck off as well!”
And that’s just it. Whipping Boy was a band of brutal sincerity – unflinchingly earnest, but often times absent. The four-piece from Foley Street started life as shoegazers – making a uniquely Irish din in early ’90s Dublin. Snapped up by Sony, they made their sophomore classic Heartworm, before disintegrating around the release of a third album in 2000. It would be another five years before the group played again.
Since those brief reunion shows, a certain degree of legend has been attached to their legacy – not least to 1995’s Heartworm. Now, with an altered line up (singer McKee and drummer Hassett being joined by long time touring guitarist Killian McGowan and two new members), Whipping Boy return. Playing nationwide this summer and with a Heartworm gig set for September, the boys are on good form as they talk to Danny Carroll.
Starting this band in ’88, there was never really any masterplan, was there?
Fearghal: No, cause you don’t start out without a plan, not where we came from. The plan was to get to the next town to play the next gig.
Colm: We just enjoyed playing and it was our first time really being in a proper band.
But you knew what kind of band you didn’t want to be?
Fearghal: Yeah, that was the most important thing. But as well, we loved the Spaceman 3, Ultra Vivid Scene, Sonic Youth…all that blistering noise. God that was great at the time and you were a young lad getting buzzed on it. To be able to make that noise starting out, it didn’t matter that you copied anything…it’s where it evolves and where it brings you to if you keep with it that’s important.
On that note, do you think that debut album Submarine; it’s the sound of a band still finding its identity in a way?
Fearghal: It probably was, yeah and we weren’t afraid to rip off the stuff we liked either. We knew we had to release something as well, y’know? So rather than wait for the perfect album, just go in and record something and get it out and see where that takes you. The more you do it, you constantly evolve, you’re not staying still.
Colm: You’re not trying to change the sound of the band, but you’re just evolving all the time.
Well do you think there was a particular song that changed things for you; where you felt like you’d ‘evolved’ into something new?
Fearghal: (Long pause) No, I tell you why it’s ‘cause you live in your time when your making the sounds and making the songs, so you don’t feel any different in that present moment. You’re making it, you’re living in the now.
Colm: Sometimes you decide “oh wouldn’t this song be nice if it had an oboe or a different sound and maybe it will work.” It’s all experimentation really.
Fearghal: You don’t set out to write something like Heartworm, you couldn’t do that.
Colm: It was all a moment in time.
Well writing the songs for what would eventually be Heartworm; where was your head at during that ‘moment in time’?
Fearghal: We were on the dole, y’know…writing hangover music really. You’d scribble together a few lyrics in the morning after a good hangover and take it to rehearsal.
A lot of things started happening at that time. We started playing more gigs and because of ‘Submarine’ we’d been over in England. We toured with Therapy? and Nick Cave as well so we were constantly moving.
Colm: Plus there was a really bad rehearsal room we had in this basement up in Parnell Square – damp, very very damp. You’d go in and all of your equipment would be green with mould and you’d come out wet.
That fed into the music then?
Colm: Damp songs.
Fearghal: Damp hangovers *laughs*.
There’s something to be said for writing with a hangover, there’s a certain fragility – you’re a bit more delicate than usual.
Fearghal: If you get a good hangover! There’s a lovely rush of words and you don’t know where they’re coming from but you know they’re coming from somewhere. It’s like Bukowski or anything like that – waking up thinking “what the fuck?” “what’s going on?” “what have I done?” (laughs)
To me, Heartworm, it’s the sound of a man still searching for his place in the world, is that a fair assessment?
Fearghal: Yeah, but with an understanding also of where he’d come from…and not trying to fit into the world…just representing his world I suppose and appreciating that other people live in it.
I think it’s a very male album in ways. It’s just an album of maledom, y’know what I mean? And finding a sense of that – how to speak a male tongue. It’s very hard for a man to express stuff at all. Even nowadays it’s very hard for anyone to express any sort of feelings for anything y’know?
To betray your design in a way?
Fearghal: Yeah! Betray your design, that’s a very nice little phrase, you’re right…
Colm: That’s the title of the next album actually (laughs).
‘We Don’t Need Nobody Else’; tell us your memories of recording that song.
Fearghal: We recorded it down in Sun Studios with Chris O’Brien. We just went in and did it, and then Chris started playing it to people and thought it was great. All of a sudden we had Sony interested, who gave us a few bob to record some more, so it slowly began to nurture itself.