They’re probably the most beloved teachers in town.
Having released one of the most critically-acclaimed albums of 2014, John Duignan and Conall O’Breachain have reached a point where they’re no longer a band to watch. They delivered a beautiful bluesy rock and roll album that mixes euphoria and anguish in an effective 30’ record. After some shows in Spain, we had the chance to talk to them.
How are you guys? You’ve played live a lot at this point, and after the new album, I guess you’ve built a good audience. How did you feel after the release?
We’re great – we’ve just come back from our first tour of Spain. We played some amazing shows and met a lot of cool people!
How did you approach this new album after a good debut like “Today I Realised I Could Go Home Backwards”?
We approached it with a new level of confidence to be honest – with our first record we weren’t sure if people would like the We Cut Corners philosophy of short, sharp songs.
After it was released, and received a positive response, we felt like we could purposefully expand on that philosophy with the second album.
“Think Nothing”. Is that an invitation to evade from reality? Why that title?
I remember Conall came up with the title on a very late night drive from a show in Brighton back to London – we had just finished recording the album and needed a simple phrase that communicated a number of ideas!
Are 27 minutes enough to make yourself clear and explain the listeners the idea you want to express?
YES. Possibly even too much!
I think if your music and lyrics are decoratively stratified and have many layers of meaning and intrigue, you can satisfy a listener’s desires in less than half an hour.
Do you really want to sit, sing and play your guitars To a society of card-carrying bleeding hearts? I really enjoy your lyrics, how is the writing process? Where did you get the inspiration from? (sorry if this one is too common, but really, I reckon I had to ask it because I just love the way you write)
It’s interesting that you referenced that song as its emblematic of how a lot of the lyrics come about.
For the song, “Best Friend”, that was the first line that I came up with, which was a reaction to a type of cultural elitism I was observing at the time.
If you have one decent line, or even a good title for a song, the challenge is then to build a musical world around that single idea!
«If your music and lyrics are decoratively stratified, you can satisfy a listener’s desires in less than half an hour»
It’s been produced by Tommy McGloughlin and mixed by Ben Hillier. How was working with this two well-known personalities? What do they add to the idea you originally had when visualising the album?
They were the ‘dream-team’ we were looking for on this record. In Tommy we found someone with a beautiful, remote and technically peerless studio to track the songs.
Then we begged our manager if he could make the Ben Hillier collaboration work and, through his hard-word, we got to make the album sparkle with one of the world’s best engineers.
“Blue” video was made by spanish director Antoni Sendra, how did this collaboration come up?
We saw an amazing piece that Antoni had posted on Vimeo about the life of Joe Strummer. I looked through Antoni’s body of work and noticed that he hadn’t worked on a lot of music videos and instantly sent him an email with the song BLUE.
We knew we wanted something technicolour and dynamic and Antoni delivered that and so much more.
You both are teachers actually, are you still teaching or did you quit for the music?
We still manage to keep both our careers going, thankfully.
We have two passion which are education and music and we’re very lucky that one tends to happen during the day and the other at night.
Do you see a relation between teaching a lesson in a school, and delivering art to people through music? What gives you the music that you can’t get when teaching?
Definitely – the essence of both is good communication. If you are to convey a concept to a group of people, whether it be through a song or a lesson, you can only be most effective if you give all of yourself, which is what we do in our live performance and in the classroom.
Was it easier to make the second album? Did you feel you have more confident in yourselves?
Yeah, as mentioned, we did have a sense of being emboldened by the positive reaction the debut garnered.
«The essence of music and teaching is good communication»
I think in “Think Nothing” you manage to get anguish, euphoria or urgency perfectly exposed. Did it all come out naturally? Where do you get all this versatility from?
Maybe we’re in touch with an unusually broad spectrum of emotions. I think when you’re consciously making a short record, you’re hyper-aware of keeping the emotional and musical content quite varied so the listener doesn’t get bored.
To address the question of whether it came out naturally, the words on this record are quite automatic and the distilled quintessence of the themes at play in the songs. While they can be flowery at times, the desired effect is to get straight to the point.
What do you have in mind for the next album?
I think we’re at the point where it’s important that we approach the arc of the record differently, if not the compositional process.
Someone said ‘the enemy of art is the absence of limitations’ something that we keenly agree with, but it might be a challenge for us to impose a new set of limitations on ourselves, whether they are musical or idealogical, I’m not sure yet!
What are your short/long terms plans at this point?
All we are thinking about is the third record. We message each other in the middle of the night with random words like ‘flute ensemble’ to which the other replies with a suitable riposte, usually in emoji form.
And last question. Simple one, we always ask it, Are you happy?