Interview by Mark Bayross
With superb new album MY MEDICINE on its way, and having bolstered their ranks to a four piece with the recent addition of guitarist Derren Dempsey, Irish band Wilt are looking forward to a string of imminent live shows to add to their ever-growing tally.
I caught up with drummer Darragh Butler, bassist Mick Murphy and new boy Derren backstage before their headlining Metal Hammer-sponsored show at the Camden Underworld.
The last time I spoke to Cormac [Battle, Wilt frontman], you were about to play with Moby in Dublin. How was it?
DARRAGH: It was actually three shows. We played in Dublin, Galway and Cork. I think there was some issue with the doors or something for the Cork show – we were advertised as being on at half seven and the doors were at eight or something – but Dublin was amazing. There was such a buzz at that show.
And since then you’ve toured with a number of bands including Sum 41. Do you think you’ve grown as a band as you’ve been doing that?
DARRAGH: Yeah, we have, although it’s more because we actually had time to go and write the new record as a band, rather than three people working. We managed to spend some time playing together as a band, which we never did before. We’d never rehearsed for an album before, which did do some harm in a way.
MICK: We really just spent a year doing the album. That was the first time that had ever happened.
Could you tell me about the process of recording MY MEDICINE, because it’s a major step forward musically…
DARRAGH: There were songs on the first album that, given more time, we could have improved. With this album, we had a lot more time and a lot more songs written…we’d written about 30 songs. With the first album, those songs were all we had, so we had less to choose from. This time around, we had one in three songs to pick – it was a good position to be in, and it means all the B-sides are quite strong too. There are 11 tracks on the album, and maybe 15 or 16 that didn’t get on it. We all had our favourites, so it was quite hard to decide which ones to put on.
Of the songs that made it onto the album, which one is your favourite?
DARRAGH: Probably the title track…but we’ve all got different favourites. And it’s different every day as well.
MICK: When you play a song you haven’t played in ages, you often find you get right back into it as well.
When you play your live set now, do you play mainly the new material, or do you mix it up with the old stuff?
DARRAGH: About half and half…or maybe a little bit more of the older stuff for now.
MICK: It seems a bit unfair to subject the audience to lots of completely new songs, but at the same time, we want to play the new stuff. We’ve been playing the old stuff for the three years now, so it’s a chance to play some new songs.
It sounds like the new songs will translate well live too…
DARRAGH: Yeah, they’re quite simple! They’re based around straightforward riffs, rather than being lots of bits stuck together. I think there was only one song that was jammed out in the studio – TAKE ME HOME. We kept it really simple – less is more. All the drums and the rhythm section are pretty straightforward, just to let the song breathe, the tune breathe and the melody breathe. You can cover all the good stuff up with drum rolls and riffs and, er, crap. [Laughs]
Well, you’ve certainly got the melody on this new album!
DARRAGH: Yeah, it’s really got room to come into its own.
Which songs do you most enjoy playing live?
MICK: The more full-on, rocking songs.
DARRAGH: A lot of people are more used to that because the earlier Wilt singles were more straightforward rock again. “All Over Now”, “Radio Disco” and “No Worries” – class the band what you want, but they are straightforward rock songs. When the crowd hear those songs, within the first four bars, they’re into it straightaway – they know there’s a rock song on its way and you can feed off that energy.
MICK: It’s nice to have a bit of a change in dynamics in the set as well. We got that with some of the newer songs.
DARRAGH: There’s a quieter song in this new set that’s nice and melodic, but because of the dynamics of it, it’s not a quiet song that you’d want to sit down and listen to. It’s really interesting…
How do you think your fans will take to the new songs?
DARRAGH: So far so good. Like I said, it’s pretty instant. The melodies are clear in black and white. These are the sort of songs you can hear once and sing along to. Right across the album, there are some big melodies, so that even from a…dance – what to people do at gigs these days? jump around? – even from an action point of view, it’s a lot easier to just get straight into.
Derren, you’re the new recruit. How did you come to join the band?
DERREN: It’s pretty straightforward. I was playing with a band back home for a number of years, about five or six years. We tried almost everything in the book to take ourselves so far, but we just couldn’t do it, and I ended up meeting Darragh at a gig one night, we got talking and it just so happened that the boys were looking for a new guitarist. They originally wanted a touring guitarist to fill out the live sound. For my band, their best day had come and gone, so I jumped at the chance, plus I was working in job I didn’t really fancy working in for the rest of my life. So it was good for two reasons – it got me out of working and it got me playing music full-time.
You can’t really say no to this, but were you a fan of the band before joining them?
DERREN: Yeah, I was, of course! [laughs] It was a nice break for anyone to get, but if I wasn’t into it, I just would have said no, however nice they were!
At what point did you all give up the day job and start doing this full-time?
DARRAGH: That would have been after the first tour with Seafood. For the first tour, I was commuting back and forth from work every day…it was hell. Then I got put on a wage and I could give it up…well, “wage”, I use term loosely… [Laughs]
MICK: Yeah, it was after the first two years or so…
DARRAGH: It eventually gets to the point where you can’t work and do the band thing, especially when we were trying to work in Ireland – lots of the stuff was happening over here.
MICK: We used to get flights home at five in the morning, work all day, come back at seven and play a gig, back to a hotel at four in the morning, then get up at five. Do that for a month…
DARRAGH: It was crap, really crap…!
What jobs were you all doing before?
DARRAGH: I was in the computer industry…
DERREN: I was a kitchen fitter…
MICK: All the jobs in Dublin are either in computers or catering… [laughs]
It must be quite a leap into the abyss though, giving up the security of a job?
DARRAGH: No, not when you don’t really have any commitments, no kids or anything.
DERREN: I didn’t mind because I was edging towards getting out anyway, just for the sake of saying I’d done something different…
DARRAGH: You can always get another job, you know? This security thing is bred into people from when they’re young.
MICK: Get a job in a bank, get some security…
DARRAGH: If you’re half-clued up, with a few qualifications, you can always get a job. You might be ten years behind on the corporate ladder, but so what? It’s about what you’re trying to get out of life, you know? You can do your secure job and look back on life and it’s all gone, or you can give it up and do a few things with yourself. There’s something out there for everyone, what you do is up to you.
Do you think the current fashion for rock music among the record-buying public is a good thing, do you think will last, and is it healthy?
DARRAGH: I don’t think it will last. I think the record-buying public you’re referring to is just here. If you look at the European market, especially Germany, and the States, rock has always been big. If you look at the States – grunge, punk, emo…there’s always something going on.
MICK: You just have to ignore fashion and do your own thing.
DARRAGH: But because this country’s smaller – it’s the same with Ireland – it’s cyclical. It won’t be a big deal in a year or two. We’re very aware of that, and we know we have to concentrate on playing a lot of other places. To sustain yourself, you can’t just focus on here, because it changes too quickly.
MICK: I think what we’d like to do is develop over a few albums. I think what you have to do is be resolute and do your own thing regardless of fashion.
DERREN: Fashion sucks…
What do you think the shelf-life of bands like Nickelback will be?
DARRAGH: There will always be bands like that. Like Hootie And The Blowfish…those kind of light rock bands will always pop up in the States and sell millions of records. I think they can cross over to so many different radio stations…
DERREN: Like if you see Sky Digital now, you can flick from MTV2 to Kiss to Kerrang! and back to Smash Hits and you’ll probably see Nickelback. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s not always a good thing either.
Have you got America in your sights at all?
DARRAGH: It’s probably our biggest ambition.
So are you keeping one eye on what sells in America…?
DARRAGH: I think it’s just the whole experience of it. We’re not thinking so much about sales, but we just think it’s a safer bet to be in a place where rock is appreciated, it’s a core value of their society, whereas over here it’s just a passing fashion.
DERREN: It’ll probably be good if we go to America, to go over without worrying about what’s in the charts, because if you do, you’ll only be another band trying to keep up with the next American band. It’s better to go with a fresh approach and do your own thing.
MICK: It’s not some kind of race to get to America – we just want to get out there, into the middle of it. It’s something we want to do.
If you look at a band like Pitchshifter, when their new album came out, some of the press over here criticised them for pandering to the American market, which is grossly unfair as, for a start, I don’t think it’s true, and secondly, it’s a great album.
DARRAGH: It’s just a timing thing. They wouldn’t have even flinched if it wasn’t for all the American rock bands coming over here in the last five years. It was the same for us, we got dissed for trying to jump on the emo bandwagon…the album was written two years ago, but whoever said that must have only heard it three months ago.
MICK: Someone said to us “I saw you’re the new emo, this and that” and we were going “yeah, yeah…what’s emo?”
DARRAGH: People seem to think albums or songs are written on a Tuesday and they’re at the shops by Thursday…it’s a long process… [derisively] we’re “trying to jump on the emo bandwagon”…we’re the “emo REM”… [laughs]
And anyway, no-one knows what emo is…
DARRAGH: No-one cares what it is! Any band that’s been labelled as emo have just said “what? what is that?” It’s a name made up by the press when they’re out on a Friday night and they couldn’t think of a proper way to describe someone…
MICK: It’s laziness, you know? It’s lazy journalism, just trying to put all these bands together, to categorise them…just pure laziness…
Which bands are impressing you at the moment?
DERREN: Personally I’m really glad to see bands like Jimmy Eat World create a few waves because they’re a really nice band with a pretty straight edge. They know what they’re doing and they’re nice about it.
MICK: There’s a Canadian band called the The Weakerthans, who came out of the Canadian hardcore punk scene that seems to be pretty big over there.
DERREN: We’re all into rock music and there’s so many different bands that we all like individually. It’s good for a band with four people to all like different things…
MICK: We can squabble about it on the bus… [laughs]
What are the future plans for Wilt?
DARRAGH: Tour…get out to Europe first, then the States. Hopefully that’ll take about 18 months.
DERREN: Yeah, tour, tour, tour…
Besides recording the album, you’ve been touring a lot lately…
MICK: Yeah, we’ve done a few tours. We did the Sum 41 tour, we did our own tour… It really started around February this year, once we’d got the album done and dusted. We’ve got a couple more tours coming up, and some festivals, then we want to try and get to the States. We’ve got a lot of interest from the States at the moment…
DERREN: We’ve had a nice bit of feedback from Europe as well. We’re heading over to Europe in August to do an Austrian festival. Darragh and Battle have done a few European radio interviews and stuff like that.
DARRAGH: The European press seem to really get the album, a lot more so than over here. The initial reaction has been really encouraging.
…And so it should be. The excellent MY MEDICINE is out now in the UK, together with the single DISTORTION. You’ll find reviews of both here on PHASE9, plus a review of tonight’s concert.