We interviewed Dublin’s next big band
By Patrick Brogan
I hate doing this, I really do. Vagary – noun (pl. Vagaries) an unexpected and inexplicable change in a situation or in someone’s behaviour. That’s for a number of people who have subsequently asked me what it means. Over the next year or so this name will come to mean something else thanks to this collection of alpha males from Dublin’s Northside.
The Vagaries is an apt name for a band that have seen some changes over the last while and that includes the name. Formerly The Handsome Bastards, the lads have been playing together in a number of Dublin’s best venues and winning over crowds for the last few years. The core of the band is comprised of Jon Dillon (guitar/vocals), Dave Hayes (guitar/vocals), Johnny McGran (bass) and Colm McGran (drums). Other important members of the band are Brian Dowling and Shane Flanagan. Brian is there for his musical dexterity, playing many instruments and helping the band achieve a certain sound. He was also the de-facto photographer for the interview, showing his versatility. Shane is a lyricist, a task shared with Jon, and somewhat of an artistic director for the band. Dave Murphy, manager, has taken the band under his influential wing and is hoping to win over audiences with The Vagaries and their rich and unique sound.
I met up with four of the members, Jon, Colm, Brian and Shane, in McGowans one Monday evening and then with Dave Hayes at Trinity’s Pavilion a few days later. I must admit it was an adventure and it usually is with these lads. Some of the topics we covered before conducting the interview were the length of lanes beside the pub, Quidditch (apparently Ireland are very good at it), Donald Trump and a few x-rated jokes thrown in for good measure. Even the barman joined in on the craic before the end of the night.
We had to restart the interview because I inadvertently sat under a picture of Donald Trump, something Shane took as a sign. A great start on my behalf.
The Navigator; Where are you at in terms of the EP?
Dillon; We’re done, we’re just finalising it, putting the finishing touches to it and it sounds good.
TN; Happy enough with it?
Dillon; Yeah, really happy.
TN; Are The Handsome Bastards dead?
Colm; They’re dead and buried.
TN; And what was it like with the change over of the name?
Dillon; Well nobody would book us for gigs. We couldn’t get any shows. We’ll always be handsome bastards though. You know that.
Colm; We don’t mind the name being changed because you want to music out there, not the name. So the name doesn’t really matter.
TN; How did you come up with The Vagaries? What does it mean?
Shane; Yeah. The Vagaries. Being honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan of The Handsome Bastards. I knew it wouldn’t flow with the record industry. We got in with Steve Averill, eventually, through the management. He had a list of 10 names and prior to even seeing the names we had decided we were going to pick one of them.
TN; So how would you describe your sound?
Dillon; White boy reggae. Are we allowed say that?
TN; There’s a lot going on there, isn’t there?
Dillon; Yeah, I think it’s a just mixture of everything we’ve listened to.
Colm; It’s a good thing not being pigeon-holed.
Shane; I think he’s underplaying it though. His guitar sounds very distinctive. In my opinion. A lot of people say it’s a sort of surf guitar thing.
TN; There’s certain songs, I don’t know what it is though, it sounds like it should be on a Quentin Tarintino soundtrack.
Shane; I think his guitar is very upbeat. Very optimistic. I think it has a very upfront melodious kind of scant to it. I think his guitar drives the whole band, in a way. As a guitarist that’s how I feel about it. That his guitar drives it. I think it’s very distinctive because a lot of people have commented on it. Kieron and you and Dave have commented on it. I like it. It’s kind of Beach Boys, but turned on its head. I like the guitar though. It’s not like anything that’s going at the moment, in my opinion, but I could be wrong though. Actually, I’m not, it isn’t. Take it back. I’m not wrong, it isn’t like anything at the moment.
Dillon; You’re listening to the ramblings of a mad man.
Shane; No, a lot of people have said that though, and I think it’s true. This surf guitar, it’s very upbeat and we’re not out to fucking bore people are we?
Dave; The whole band has a Punk influence and New wave. So we would be like bands that came after The Sex Pistols and The Clash, after that kind of thing. We take our influences from Pop, Ska and Punk but make it our own sound. There’s a good mixture. Ska, Hip-hop drums beats but it all ties together. It took a while to do that. I couldn’t pigeon-hole the genre that we’re in at the moment. It’s just good music.
TN; You’ve kind of gone into my next question, individually, what acts were you inspired by? Name three.
Dillon; I don’t know about three, I could probably name two though.
TN; Are we getting this? This is banter.
Dillon; I’m listening to a lot of Mick Hucknall and Simply Red.
TN; I do not hear that in The Vagaries.
Dillon; No? I’m hoping to hear him myself in December. I listen to a lot of stuff, to Spin.
Colm; He was talking about bands, no? Rather than radio stations. I listen to a bit of Hip-hop for drumming and then just your average Ska or Punk different kind of drumming, different variations of it.
TN; Which has influenced your drumming more?
Colm; I would have to say Hip-hop and aul Travis Barker and Ska and Punk stuff.
Brian; Me, personally, it would be Noel Gallagher and I’m kind of going down the Punk vibe, you know. Just kind of do it yourself as well.
Shane; My two would be Manic Street Preachers and The Beach Boys. I honestly think the music we are making is suiting that kind of vision. We have a similar sort of thing. It’s a weird coincidence, since Jon’s guitar suits that. A lot of the lads are giving me stick, but this is genuinely true about it, it’s real cheesy and I have to convince them to go along with it, the lyrics, but I think when we go with it, it seems cheesy in a way, but, I think when we go with those lyrics it’s almost creating what Brian Wilson or well not Arthur Lee but someone like that. I want to grab hold of that romantic sentiment and people are afraid of that. It’s real weird that, Jon, Brian or Colm would agree with me, Jon’s guitar is so upbeat and it doesn’t sound Irish. It doesn’t sound Irish does it? And I grab it, and we’ve already done that and run with it. Manic Street Preachers and The Beach Boys, that’s what I would love this band to be. In a funny way I think we’ve already done it to be honest, you know. Kind of strange, but I think we’ve already done it in a way.
Dave; I would be inspired by The Doors and Pink Floyd. Stuff like that.
TN; You don’t like Pink Floyd.
Dave; I just thought it would be cool to say. Seriously though, I love David Gilmour. I love his tone. I respect people like Graham Coxon and Jonny Greenwood. They’re guitar anti-heroes. In some ways they do the opposite of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, although I am influenced by both of those too. I would be aiming at what the other two did though. Creating their own sound.
TN; Would you put Jonny Maher in that bracket?
Dave; Yeah, Johnny Marr too. That Dublin band too, My Bloody Valentine. Yeah, just keep it simple. Use effects only when it’s needed. To suit the song would be the mantra. We use re-verb and overdrive but we keep it to a minimum.
TN; How do you go about making the songs? It just grows organically, doesn’t it? It sort of grows by itself.
Brian; They mainly come from Jono’s experiences and different times in his life and different characters he has met. They’re all real people.
Dillon; They are, they’re all real people. Character based, they’re all character based tunes.
Shane: In terms of The Vagaries, I think we got a bit lucky. We had this idea of, you know, The Jam album “Setting Sons” which is kind of a half finished concept album, about working class kind of characters and totally stole that idea and we said we’re gonna be lazy and write about that because, you know, that’s what we like. We done it and that’s what the album is about. Basically, that’s what all the songs are about.
TN; Working with Steve Averill, what was that like? You have only met him once so far.
Shane; I’m in a strange position because I know Steve Averill years. I’m a big, big, big U2 fan. I’m not going to lie, I absolutely love U2 and I have known Steve Averill’s work for years. I think his artwork is brilliance and to meet him was amazing. He gave the band its name which is a really fucking cool name. The whole thing with Steve Averill was he’s not a total dick or anything. He is pretty cool. On a personal note, it was great to meet him and he’s so cool. The whole thing is though it’s not just like he roles up, oh it’s Steve Averill. Jono was saying he said on “Beautiful Fool” he likes the licks. Steve Averill is into it.
TN; (To Dave) There’s a very specific question I can ask you that I couldn’t with the other lads. What’s it like Rapping? It’s not something you see that often.
Dave; Well the Rap songs we cover, well I Rap to are more from the 70s vein. Motown stuff or from that era.
TN; So in some sense, you are taking Rap back to its origins?
Dave; We are to a degree. We are experimental. That’s why it’s hard to say what genre we are in. We’re not ready to pigeon-hole ourselves. That’s for the likes of the critics to do.
TN; The likes of me?
Dave; The likes of you. That’s for you to do.
Colm; Dave’s first night out in 6 months and it’s Leaving Cert night!
And that’s where the interview ends. It’s remarkable the number of times the same phrases and words are used during the two interviews. This really shows the band’s cohesion. There is that element of friendship in the band still, but it is coupled now with hard work and serious dedication. Both of which will, with a bit of luck, make them the next big band to come out of this fair city.