Interview with Martin McCann of ELEVENS – by David Turpin
Martin McCann is the lead singer with ELEVENS, a three-piece that also includes Tony Barrett and Mark Healy. The band has released a series of acclaimed EPs since forming in 2009, and has now released a new single, “The Fight” in advance of its debut album.
ELEVENS has a very distinctive sound. The songs are quite intricately composed, and they often have a kind of soothing quality. Can you tell us a little bit about the writing process in the band?
Martin: The writing process has changed considerably for me over the years. In ELEVENS, Tony will send me some music written on acoustic guitar via email, and I can generally tell on first hearing whether I can fit words and melody. I’ll then sit down with him to arrange his initial chord structures into a rough layout so I can match what I’ve written before finally taking it to the rehearsal room where Mark adds layered chords with the use of his magic effects pedals board. The rehearsal space is normally where any other electronics or colours are added. By the time it gets to the recording, some songs have taken on a life of their own and can change into something completely different – it’s a part of the process that’s always expected, but not always totally welcome. The contrast between the dynamic of some songs when they’re recorded and when they’re played live can make it hard to choose when compiling an album.
You have a new single out now, “The Fight”. Can you tell us about the genesis of this particular song?
Like any of the songs, it’s hard to pinpoint where the inspiration comes from. I have a back catalogue of words, sentences and stray verses here and there and it’s not until I try to match the words to the music that any form or shape emerges. Thinking back to when I wrote “The Fight”, it was around the same time as Panti’s Noble Call at The Abbey Theatre. The speech really moved me and opened my eyes to homophobia and how I, taking pride as an openly gay man my entire adult life, could actually be guilty of such a heinous thing. Me? Homophobic? Never in a million years! It was a powerful wake-up call and true realisation of my oppressive growth here in Ireland.
In “The Fight” I sing ‘When the day comes and we can be proud to walk hand in hand in sight, as the less inclined sit back and frown and further fuel the fight’. It’s not until you visit places like Barcelona or San Francisco that you know what it’s like to hold hands with your partner in public without feeling like you have a target on your back. I think change is coming onto the horizon in Ireland, albeit slowly, so bring it on.
“The Fight” has a very affecting video that links it to LGBT history, and specifically to the Marriage Equality Referendum taking place in this country in the Spring. This referendum crosses the imaginary border people often create between the “personal” and the “political”, and the video draws out the political resonance of what feels, sonically at least, like quite an intimate song. Do you see “The Fight”, both song and video, as a political statement?
Tony Barrett made the video in which he shot some simple band footage and compiled it with photos courtesy of Tonie Walsh from the Irish Queer Archive. I’d also just been to visit San Francisco so at Tony’s request, my holiday snaps and footage seemed appropriate.
I don’t as a rule specifically sit down to write political songs. In the infamous wisdom of the late Lou Reed, ‘just because I wrote the song, doesn’t necessarily mean I know what it’s about’. For “The Fight”, the inspiration just happened to tie in with a moment at which our society seems to be changing – hopefully for the better.
One of the most compelling aspects of “The Fight” is the way it puts across a powerful message in a very gentle, unhurried way. When it comes to communicating a message in music, do you think there’s a particular power in this kind of subtlety?
With the majority of ELEVENS songs we refrain from using drums so I imagine this lends itself to a gentler, overall unhurried feel. I guess it naturally commands you to listen to what the words are conveying without the distraction of absolutely having to dance and forget all your troubles and woes. Some might argue that the songs are there for you NOT to forget your troubles and woes!
Finally, can we look forward to a full-length album soon? And what can you tell us about it?
Yes our debut album has been on our minds for quite some time now. We’ve started and stopped and chopped and changed so much it became a bit of a muddle after a while. Part of the problem is having so many songs to choose from. Choosing ten – or ideally eleven – that sit well together as a complete piece of work requires disciple, especially without a label or management to direct us. So in the coming months we’re planning to lock ourselves away, get stuck in and finally decide on this labour of love. Our full intention is to make it worth the wait. In the meantime however, any label interest or monitory assistance would be greatly appreciated!
The Fight is available to download from iTunes from January 30. 2015