The ‘difficult second album’ is such a cliche that it’s a bit lame to ask Little Green Cars for their take on it, but there’s a point with their new LP.
Ephemera, the Dubliners’ follow-up to 2013’s Absolute Zero, fits the bill in a few ways. For a start, they’re following a debut from five teenagers that hit no1 straight away, and gained traction in the Europe and the US, with plenty of high-profile festival dates including Lollapalooza, Coachella and Benicassim.
The music journo narrative of a young band trying to follow this up is the real cliche — but the difficulties were elsewhere during the writing and recording.
“Everyone talks about the difficult second record, but for us it was the dreaded first record,” says singer and guitarist Stevie Appleby, over coffee in a Dublin bar. He’s joined by another two fifths of the band – bassist Adam O’Regan and singer/guitarist/keyboardist Faye O’Rourke at the end of a long day of difficult second album questions from Irish mags.
“That’s your introduction to the world and that impression is gonna be really long-lasting and how everyone is gonna perceive you. with this record we’re a lot more confident.”
Adam adds: “We started writing the first album when we were about 16, recorded it when we were 19,20. So trying to make a statement about your identity after four years, trying to choose the 12 songs that say who you are. That’s difficult. But we know who we are as a band now.”
Since the release of Absolute Zero, the difficulties have been relationship break-ups and bereavement, which is addressed explicitly on Ephemera.
“So much has happened, and the music is a response to life coming at you,” says Adam, with Stevie adding: “The coffee is the same, but the filter’s changed… we’ve always had the same way of writing songs.”
Adam wrote the song Brother for his younger brother after the death of their father, and explains: “My dad passed away before the album came out… I wrote it for my little brother Alex who had a particular difficult time. when i brought it to the band and faye sand it, it became a much more universal thing, after starting off as something very personal for me.”
There’s an added poignancy in the fact that adam’s father was a big supporter, who would’ve been thrilled with the band’s success.
“He was actually responsible for the name of the band,” says Adam. “We were called Little Red Cars, well for about five minutes, but he suggested we should be called little green cars because, in his words, ‘Little green cars will save the world’. He was a real dreamer.”
Little Green Cars may not be promising to change the world, but Ephemera is an important transition, from the widescreen epic scale of Absolute Zero, to addressing issues in their own worlds head-on, with more stark instrumentation and introspection.
Besides this introspection, lead single Easier Day sounds like their biggest chart mission statement yet – from its sparse intro that recalls the xx or London Grammar, to an epic gear change straight out of the Fleetwood Mac songbook.
Clare de Lune is another deviation from the autobiographical – tackling the contemporary obsession with happiness. Stevie says it’s a “kind of aggressive song”, and adds: “Being overwhelmingly happy all the time is probably the least healthy thing any human can do.”
“It’s talking about two kinds of happy – one is the ignore everything happy and the other directly deals with things that are bugging you and getting to the core of things. A lot of people don’t do that because it’s not that easy, but I think it leaves you more happy… it’s OK to be upset.”
They say they didn’t mind being the “weirdos at school” as they felt they were the only ones writing songs. They bonded over “being weirdos… being misfits”, with Adam saying they even went through the high school cliche of “kids behind us hitting us with spit balls through a straw. What a cliche… but we were cliches too, with our long hair and Thin Lizzy T-shirts and studded wristbands. Kids are cliches really.”
Stevie would play Adam rough tracks and they would record them on a laptop, or paint pictures to pass the time. One song on Ephemera, OK OK OK is a relic from this innocent time, as it was the first song Faye brought to Adam and Stevie, when they were 16.
“She came in and there was this small Casio keyboard there and she started playing this song and immediately we were like, ‘Do you wanna be in our band?”
Faye adds: “It’s funny because that song went through so many arrangements, you wouldn’t believe the changes it went through. But it went back to what it originally was, just the piano. I had written it over a few days, I had no piano at home so I wrote it in school. I think when we were younger you think it’s more fun to throw things on top… and then when it came round to it, I’m really happy we went back to it, that it has a platform apart from just floating around my head.”
Little Green Cars will be introducing the new songs with two up close and personal gigs in Whelan’s next week, they’re heading to the States for a 40-date tour, and they’ll be pretty match fit for an appearance at Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens on July 23.
Even though they’ve just hit their 20s, the band are already veterans of the States, with a full tour for Absolute Zero and a profile-raising string of dates with Hozier.
With the potential for being jaded down the line, it sounds like they’ve got a few years left in the honeymoon period, with Stevie joking about walking around New York with a big slice of pizza, or the band going to Disneyland wearing Mickey Mouse hats.
Faye said on the first US jaunt, “it felt like an alien planet, and adds: “Each state is like its own country really. There’s no big national radio so you just have to do the groundwork.”
Adam points to a Transit outside the pub and says: “Our van really isn’t much bigger than that… we have a really small little monitor screen on our long two-day stretches through states, through nothingness USA. We watch a lot of movies, a lot of Seinfeld… a lot of documentaries.”
Faye chimes in saying: “You have to use your time wisely, it’s so easy to waste time. You go through a lot of self-evaluation on tour, reading, trying to cultivate something. then when you come back it just goes again. I find it hard to read, but when I’m away it’s four books in a row.”
“She adds: “We’re used to nine shows, one day off. We’re all sharing rooms so you have to learn how to get on…”
Through the self-evaluation and Seinfeld binges, Little Green Cars still have time to write on the road. Stevie says they were “writing right up to the last day” before they put Ephemera to bed for a while.
They have three new songs they’re keeping a lid on, as it’s “early days yet”. He jokes that they’re “crazy experimental jazz odysseys”, but sniggers suggest we can expect more finely crafted rock that gets to the heart of the matter.