August 09th 2010

LaFaro Interview

Written by Dan Collacott

2010 has been a fractious time for rock fans.  In fact, it's been hard to get too excited about much of the new music trickling through the veins of modern culture. Thank god then for bands like Pulled Apart By Horses, Future of the Left and LaFaro for giving the kids of today a bit of attitude and a genuine reason to jump around. While Violent Soho and Crime in Stereo are breathing new life into grunge, bands like LaFaro are knocking back down the door of post hardcore, thanks to Jonny Black's rasping and gritty vocals and stonking tracks like 'Lenningrad' and 'Tuppeny Nudger'.

We actually caught up with Herb Maghee from the Belfast four-piece to find out a bit more about the band, growing up in Northern Ireland, religion and what inspired their awesome self titled debut album.

What was it like growing up in Belfast and what made you want to get into music?

Well, we didn't all grow up in Belfast thankfully, otherwise we might all hate each other by now! Speaking for myself and my brother Dave, growing up in Belfast at the tail end of 'the troubles' (or 'the good old days' as some people here call them) was fairly dull, hence drinking in parks and forming bands to give ourselves some excitement. Personally, much of my 'growing up' was done indoors beside the radio, listening out for Therapy?, Metallica and other bands that I and my friends discovered.

What is the rock/music scene like in Belfast?

The music scene in Belfast these days is what they call thriving...I think seeing bands like Jetplane Landing, Fighting With Wire and ASIWYFA succeed outside of this country has helped turn it into what it is now, which is a vibrant and varied creative scene. Also, having seen what music scenes are like in other cities in the UK, I can say that we are truly blessed by the high quality of the creativity in this city these days.

Did the politics and religious tensions past and present colour your lives and your music?

I guess it did in a way.  When we were all growing up, our favourite bands wouldn't come to play because they were just plain scared so we had to make our own music and go to see our friends' bands instead. Religion never came into it for us. As for politics, well, that's always been nonsense in this country so rather than bicker about it we all decided to learn instruments.

How would you describe your music and band ethic?

We just make the music that we want to hear and always will. If it sounds good to us then it must be good in some way. We are our audience, anyone else is an added bonus. Musically, we're mostly fans of stuff that rocks hard and has a good lyrical twist. So that's kind of the sort of thing we usually come up with. Ethically I guess we just want to be the best band that we can be, musically, lyrically and creatively.

What has been your favourite live experience so far?

There have been a few. Glasgowbury is usually the gig of the year, every year and I'm sure this year will be no different. Playing the Ulster Hall was also a definite highlight.  I went there when I was growing up to see bands I adored, so to play to a sold out Ulster Hall was something that will stay with me forever. The album launch shows were immense too, so, so sweaty!

What did it feel like to be hand picked to support The Pogues?

It was an absolute honour! Spider Stacey knows what he likes and I guess he's a LaFaro fan! He's been around the block enough times to know what is good I guess. He's an absolute gentleman too. They all are. Yes, even Shane.  I think we converted a good few Pogues fans that night too.

What other bands have you got tour stories about?

Are you after some dirt on other bands? Cheeky! We don't rat on our friends. What goes on tour stays on tour.

What is your favourite song to perform live?

All of them! I have really enjoyed playing 'Not A Song' recently. On the last night of our last tour we played a song called 'Little Kid Lost' that we'd never played before and it was a blast! More of that please.

What is the most rock n roll thing any of you have ever done?

Getting arrested, missed flights, broken noses, the occasional drug, drinks, drink, drink...

What is playing SXSW like?

I have no idea! Dave and I joined the band after the SXSW shows, but Jonny and Alan still reminisce every now and then as Dave and I stare at them with jealous green eyes!

How do you keep the adrenalin and intensity going when live on stage?

Easy, that's the music. I still love our songs but it's easy to get bored when you're playing the same songs for a long time so we mix the set up and throw a few curve balls in there sometimes to keep it fresh. It's easy to access adrenalin and intensity when I'm in a band with these boys, the power of it is a bit much sometimes! A few drinks helps too.

Can you give us some stories and insights into the themes and inspiration for the songs on the new album including writing and recording processes?

The writing process is the same as anyone else I would imagine - sit down with a guitar and fiddle around with ideas, take them to the band, try them out, fiddle a bit more then record it, in a room, as live as possible. We don't believe in studio jiggery pokery that much, not until we make our 'Kid A' anyway.

Lyrically, Jonny tends to write about the seedier side of life, the little things that go unnoticed or unsaid, his talent always amazes me.

Do you ever wind each other up on tour or have any bad habits?

We naturally wind each other up unintentionally.  It's the little things that get on your nerves when you all live in a van together for up to 6 weeks at a time, and we all have bad habits. Usually it's the smells. Sometimes it's the way someone breathes that can piss you off. All families have their problems though. My worst habit is probably worrying too much about having a good time instead of doing what needs to be done.

What are your favourite places to tour?

This year we've only toured the UK but even within that there are favourite venues or cities. Bannermans in Edinburgh is one of my favourites simply because we're guaranteed a good time. And free whisky. Cardiff is always great but nothing comes close to Northwich.

Worst gig/Best gig?

Worst gig? As far as playing is concerned, we're usually fine but sometimes it can be difficult when we're playing to an empty room, which is why you never tour in the summer. Best gig? On the last night of our last tour we played two shows in one night. The first was in Manchester and we played to no one. Just the other bands. After that we packed up our gear as fast as we could before driving to Northwich where we played in a small pub full of drunk locals who didn't really care for us and we played better than we have ever played. We converted a good few that night too!

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?

In a horrible marriage with a woman I hate, doing a job I hate to afford things for my hateful little children? Or I would still be working in a bookshop, which is not exactly what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I wanted to be a rock star. Failing that, I would have been happy working for NASA.

What is your opinion on how the music industry is moving away from the big record companies, to more tour focused and reality TV fuelled
success? Also what do you think of downloads both legal and illegal?

When I started playing music there were still bands getting £1million handouts from majors then getting dropped. Now there are bands getting £250,000 handouts before getting dropped. Making the type of music I have always made and wanted to make was never going to interest a major. That was never the plan. Majors don't produce real music anymore, they produce fucking ring tones. They don't seem interested in music, only in money. Which is a shame, given the resources that are available to them. The switch that has been occurring towards smaller labels like Smalltown America or Richter Collective always made more sense to me. I would much rather be working with someone who gives more of a sh!t about music than making money. That passion and creativity is key. The focus on touring has always been the way to gain a fan base anyway, that's how it's been done for years and while petrol keeps getting more expensive sometimes it makes no sense to constantly tour when there's no money to be made, but we are a live band first and foremost so that's just what we do. I love touring, it's where I live!

It's far easier for a band to get out and do their own thing in this current music/business climate, where people can record songs in their bedrooms and post them online. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. The only thing a major has over an independent is money, usually for advertising. And you have to pay it all back anyway so what's the use?

See here -

As for downloading, well, I'm not against it, I mean, I own an iPod and we've all downloaded both legally and illegally, haven't we? But I would rather have someone downloading our songs for free and listening to them than not hearing them at all. Also, we make about 2% of the money made from downloads anyway so it may as well be free.

As for reality TV; it always has been and always will be nothing more than unashamed voyeurism which affords plenty of opportunities for advertising without any creative effort.

What is one thing about you that no-one knows?

I used to be a male prostitute. It wasn't so bad.

What are your drinks of choice?

Coffee, Guinness, Jaegermeister, Buckfast, Heineken, Tea. In that order.

What are your plans for the future?

To write the best songs we can for the second album and to become an even better live band with each gig. Oh, and world domination, of course.

Debut album 'LaFaro' OUT NOW on Smalltown America Records.

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