JOE meets ... Greg French from The Brilliant Things
Ahead of this week's launch of The Brilliant Things' eponymous debut album, we caught up with Greg French to talk bad pop, Wikipedia anonymity, cross-dressing and Mayo's great music venues.
So, the name "The Brilliant Things". Are you guys always so boastful?
Ha, you’d think so. No, it’s more like brilliant, or bright, or strong. Like explosions in Hollywood movies, they have to be larger than life. And I think it's the same in music, too.
Everyone knows that Wikipedia is the first port of call of the lazy journalist, but I could find nothing on there except a line in the Oxegen 2009 page. Is The Brilliant Things the only Irish band with no Wikipedia presence?
Aw Jaysus. That’s an error on my end. I had set up one previously but for some reason I wasn’t able to edit it after that, so I just deleted it.
To be honest, with web stuff we've always been pretty well on it. We have 73 social networking sites on the go at the one time, because at one stage we focused everything on that. It was literally 9 to 5 every day, on the computer, setting up social networking. All the oddest and weirdest ones that you could possibly imagine. As an independent band, you try to work out how you’re going to make a living. And it’s through these sites, like ReverbNation, or other ones. And people here mightn’t have heard of them, but some of them are big in Japan, some are big in China. And you get a lot of feedback through these various sites.
Now that we're signed to Universal we’ve handed some of that over to them now and it’s definitely a bit of a weight off the shoulders. Some of those social media websites, when you sign up you might actually be signing away the rights to your recordings, or your performance royalties or something ridiculous like that, and it’s all in the fine print. You’ve got to be very careful, so from the record company’s point of view I can understand the reasons behind them taking a greater interest in that.
God knows, we don’t make a lot of money from sales, so we have to give ourselves every chance of making a success of things. We all have our other jobs to make ends meet. We’re all musicians, but Geoff [French, Greg's drummer cousin] worked in Debenhams and Marie [Junior, the lead vocalist] has worked in a coffee shop. Myself and Mia [Fitzgerald, bassist] are lucky enough in that our bread and butter has always been music. We’re session musicians, producers and engineers, so we’ve done a lot of TV work – I work on contract at RTE – producing and engineering, so we’re lucky to have been able to earn enough to feed our habit, which is the band.
The album itself sounds very much like a pop album. Is that fair to say?
Yes it is, and it was designed to be so. It’s like setting yourself a challenge, to write a great pop song, and it’s a challenge we love. We’re not going to apologise for that. The bottom line of pop is to try to satisfy a broad spectrum of people, and it’s not a simple task. I’ve been lucky enough to work for some of the most amazing producers in studio, and I learned a lot from these guys. It’s about getting the message across to the mass audience, and to do that you have to make it enticing to as many individuals as possible, from 15-year-olds to 50-year-olds. We’re not ashamed of that.
There is a lot of bad Irish pop, though, isn’t there? Have you found that to be an obstacle?
Absolutely, but I think if anyone listens to the album, and saw us live, and saw us work, I would hope that they would change their mind. We’re not a Westlife. Respect is too strong a word, but I can appreciate what they’re doing. It’s not for me, it’s not for everyone. They’ve also given a lot of work to a lot of people, so I’m not going to slate anyone.
The blurb compares The Brilliant Things to T-Rex and Blondie. Are they two that you listened to a lot?
I can’t describe us or compare us to other bands. Marie sounds a bit like Blondie, I suppose. I don’t get much of the T-Rex to be honest. I grew up with Sound Garden, and I’ve the most diverse musical background. Anything from Irish singer-songwriter stuff to American rock. I love classical. I’m classically trained as a singer. As for influences, I take them from wherever they come.
You wrote “Something to Say” from a female perspective. A girl power song written by a fella. Eh, why?
Eh, why, indeed? Marie is a female singer and I wrote it for her. It was an interesting task to be honest. Listen, as lads, the majority of the girls that we would approach on a night out, they’re going out not to pull someone. They’re going out to reject men. That’s the fun of the whole thing for them. Cheesy chat-up lines are great when they’re not taken seriously, because they break the ice.
Is impersonating girls something you do often? Any cross-dressing or anything?
Er, no. We go out a lot as a band and things can get messy, but no. No dressing up.
I saw the iPhone guitar solo on the web. Are you a complete tech head?
We were playing on the Vodafone stage and I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’ll strap the iPhone to the guitar and go for a guitar solo on the iPhone.’ It actually jammed on the day, you can see from that video that I was going to change the tone and it jammed. The app is called NLog and I could send the signal into my amp with the signal from my guitar at just the push of a switch on the ground. So basically I press the button to feed the signal from the iPhone in through all my pedals and into the amplifier which is already mic-ed on stage. And that’s how it works. It’s great fun and I love doing it.
Right. I won’t pretend to understand all that, but once you do that’s all that counts I suppose. Anyway, you’ve played with the Artane Band at Oxegen. Is it an ambition to follow in their footsteps and play at Croke Park?
(Laughs) No, I actually played with them on the Late, Late Show a few years ago. They’re great musicians – their drummers are amazing – and that’s where that came from. It was great to play with them.
What’s the favourite venue you’ve played?
We played the Ritz Bar in Castlebar which was amazing. We also loved the TF Royal Theatre, which is also in Castlebar. Another one that was brilliant was Captain America’s in Tallaght. Sometimes that’s the way it works, in the smallest or thrashest little venues you can end up with a hopping crowd at 11.30 at night. I’d love to get to Glastonbury. I’ve watched Glastonbury since I was a kid, recorded every one of them. I’ll be happy when I’ve done that.
"Something To Say", the first single, and the The Brilliant Things' self-titled debut album are both released on Friday 7 October.