The Irish scene has never produced anybody that’s quite like Aslan. With hits like “This is”, sovaldi “Crazy world”, sickness and more recently, site “Sad Day” they’ve been ingrained in the Irish music scene for over thirty years. We recently sat down with singer Christy Dignam and guitarist/keyboardist Billy McGuinness.
When Aslan started thirty two years ago did you think you’d still be at it now?
Christy: I was in Australia just at the start of all that and I loved it over there. I was going to immigrate over there but I thought I’d go back and give Aslan a year. I can’t believe we’re still here.
Billy: Most bands only last about five or six years anyway. You never look or ask how long you’ll be going. We always have something to keep us going, be it our first single or our first album, our second single etc. We always have something to keep moving towards.
You’ve had an incredibly loyal fanbase, it seems like every generation discovers Aslan. Do you have a take on that?
C: Its something that I’ve noticed alright. Its something I really appreciate, but I don’t really understand it, you know why different generations discover us,
B: Our audience is 9 to 90. I think it’s the parents are in the car listening to the Aslan CD and the kids are in the back and they get into it, and then they want to see us live-
C: Normally you reject your parent’s music though! It’s the last thing you want to listen to.
B: We don’t question it to much, but our fanbase does go from 9 to 90. I remember when Too Late for Hallelujah came out we where introduce to a new audience and we saw younger people come to our gigs. If you release a good song to radio people will want to come and see you, no matter what age, as long as the music’s good.
You don’t aim to appeal to a certain age group though?
B: Not at all, we just care about writing songs for ourselves.
C: When your involved in any artistic endeavor, be it a book your writing or a record your making, it has to be its own reward. If people like it it’s a bonus. We never thought once that “we’ll aim this song at this demographic” or anything.
B: that would be a wrong thing to do.
When you play around the world is it a predominantly Irish audience that would come to see you?
B: When we first did it wouldn’t be. When we first went to america we where terrified because America’s the home of rock and roll and we thought we might not be as good as the bands there. Irish bands always punch above their weight in America though, I mean now you look at Hozier and Kodaline, just like how before that you had U2 and the Cranberries. For such a small country the level of talent we’ve produced is outstanding. Recently we we’re in Australia and there was a lot of Irish at our gigs there. You think, with the recession and all, there’s a lot of emigration now, so there’s loads of Irish there, but they bring their Aussie mates, so we do reach a new audience. With the internet as well now, we have a wider audience
Would that be a factor when you plan a tour, you might think that there’s a lot of expats in Australia?
B: Not really, we just go wherever. If somebody wants us to come over we’ll go. About a month ago we where in Germany, we did two gigs in Frankfort. We just go there, if the gigs are booked. Obviously promoters think “there’s a load of Irish in Australia so we’ll bring over an Irish band” you know “I’ll make a killing”. It’s the same in New York, Boston, Chicago, massive Irish populations. But the music we do transcends that and I think everybody can enjoy it.
You mentioned that Irish bands consistently punch above their weight internationally. What do you think of the Irish scene at the moment?
B: I think its really healthy at the moment. It’s the best I can remember since the 80s.
C: A recession is always good for music you know? If there’s no job out there people will go into their garages and write songs. Its always good for music when there’s’ a bit of a recession, you know what I mean?
B: and you think, the last recession was in the 80s, the amount of bands that come out. Even today, I’m sure you can see some great talent coming out now. What’s great is its going back to real bands now. There was a phase with the X Factor and the Voice, where people thought “that looks easy”, and they thought it would happen if five days. Its going back to bands getting together, making mistakes, taking a few years to get it right.
Do you think that its important to move away from that that Voice, X Factor thing, and realise there’s better stuff around?
B: Yeah! It’s a load of shite, I mean who won it last year? You know, who cares, its just rubbish.
C: Its not about music is it? it’s a television show. You have to go out and play gigs when there’s only three people in the audience you have to work at it and develop. Going on television and becoming a celebrity in three weeks isn’t good for music. People want something with a message, something with a bit of heart and soul in it.
You had a record out about two years ago and you’ve done a bit of touring, what do you think the future holds for Aslan?
B: Our last record was 2012 year, Nudie Books and Frenchies. I bet that brought you back a bit, asking what they are. I don’t know, we did that album and at that point we had been around for thirty years so we didn’t know if we’d still be relevant. That album went into the charts at number one, which answered that question, and Too Late for Hallelujah was the biggest hit we’ve had since Crazy World. What’s around the corner? I don’t know, we’re just getting back gigging and that’s what we want to focus on. We’ve done three Olympia’s, which all sold out, we’ve done the Cork Opera house, and we’re doing Vicar Street. Next year we just hope to up the work rate. This year, Christy’s only recovering so we just want to take baby steps. The fact that we’re here to be honest is nothing short of a miracle and we’re very grateful for that.
By Adam Duke