Hamsandwich: Niamh Farrell (vocals), Podge McNamee (guitar/vocals),
David McEnroe (bass guitar), Brian Darcy (guitar/keyboards),
Ollie Murphy (drums).
The difference a few years can make in the life of a
band can be many things, not least surprising and educational.
They say a week is a long time in politics, but a few
years in music is multiple lifetimes. And so HamsandwicH,
the band you thought you knew very well, has turned
into HamsandwicH, the band you second guess at your
peril. In the recent past you can tick the boxes here:
selling out Dublin's Olympia Theatre in April, playing
with Arcade Fire & The Pixies in Marley Park, packing
out the Electric Arena tent at the Electric Picnic,
supporting Bon Jovi at Slane Castle, a direct special
request to support Mumford & Sons at Phoenix Park,
an invitation to the President of Ireland's Garden Party
on the lawn of his rather stately gaff. Not bad going
for a band once battling with the dreaded 'quirky' tag,
You can hear the difference in HamsandwicH's most recent
single, Illuminate, which is as light as a feather.
You can see the difference when they perform onstage
- where there was once a band that seemed to revel in
the occasional ramshackle live show now there is self-confidence,
assurance and a sense of humour that is less slapstick
and more on the subtle side.
It has been over three years since the release of HamsandwicH's
garlanded second album, White Fox, and while it remains
for many something of a masterclass in quality indie
pop (it featured in Irish Times' writer Tony Clayton-Lea's
acclaimed book, 101 Irish Records You Must Hear Before
You Die) it is now viewed by the band as just their
very astute second album.
"It's good that the songs on White Fox are still
loved," says Podge McNamee. "For such a short
album it's had a remarkably lengthy life, and to be
honest, reworking White Fox through many gigs slowed
down the writing for the new album; in fact, we almost
rewrote White Fox, and that was something we weren't
used to. Most bands will tell you that the real way
to learn your material is to get out of your comfort
zone, and strip the songs down to the bare bones."
HamsandwicH realised that being uncomfortable isn't
necessarily a bad thing - you learn from your mistakes,
you experience things you wouldn't otherwise encounter.
"That's what has made writing songs for the new
album so good and exciting," continues Podge. "We've
fallen in love with song arrangements, and discovered
that we all have a strong knack for it. The new songs
sound bigger, although not through any conscious decision
on our part."
"That came off the back of playing so many gigs
with so many musicians on stage," adds Niamh Farrell.
"It was very natural for us to progress to the
level of wanting more of that on the new album. Unlike
with White Fox, when we play the new songs live we're
not reworking them because they're already there for
"We've become more conscious of layering,"
says Podge. "It allows us to sound different yet
it's completely us, and that's difficult to achieve."
The as-yet untitled forthcoming album is produced by
Karl Odlum (who also produced White Fox and the band's
2008 debut, Carry The Meek). Along with such a continuous
thread stitched throughout the band's ten-year existence
is - as Podge has referenced - a quest to be different
"You want to aim for, achieve and retain these,"
says Niamh, "so that people can listen to the new
material and know it isn't going to sound like previous
albums, yet it's still going to sound like HamsandwicH.
You want, ideally, people to hear the song on the radio
without the DJ or presenter introducing the band name,
but the listener will know it's us."
Alongside the challenges of forging individuality within
a commercial framework is the band's work ethic, which
over the years has ricocheted from pillar to post, but
which latterly has landed in quick-setting concrete.
They pay tribute to their former manager Derek Nally
(who died suddenly in July 2010 just before the recording
of White Fox) as being the person to have drilled such
disciplined sensibilities into them.
"The biggest change about this new album,"
admits Podge, "is that we're majorly fussy about
it. Most artists will say that the best ideas come easy,
without much effort in the creative process, but that's
debateable. Throughout the gathering of the new material,
we worked very hard and had many ideas for each song.
Ultimately, we didn't want to write anything contrived."
Perish that thought! With their single "Illuminate",
the first taken from the upcoming new album, HamsandwicH
become a different, better band, not only more confident
in their collective abilities but also in who they are
and what they do.
"The longevity of White Fox helped us to become
more assured," remarks Niamh, "especially
in our live shows. That has a knock-on effect on going
in to record new material - it's an absolute boost."
"Musically, we're braver," adds Podge. "By
saying that, we're not trying to show off our improvement
as a band, we're just celebrating it."
And what of the new single, Illuminate? The brand new
song from a reconditioned, revitalised band is the teaser/taster
for what's to come.
"I'm excited for people to hear it," says
Niamh, "and I'm glad that this is the first single
from the forthcoming album, because there were a few
options. As the process for selecting the first single
went on, however, we knew that the song came from a