Friday, March 13, 2009

Two From The Archives - Messiah J & The Shank

Feeling pretty lazy, it being a Friday and all that, so instead of putting it some level of effort with this blog, I'm digging into the old files and pulling out two interviews from 2007. One with Messiah J (of MJ & The Expert) in May , and the other with Mick from Adebisi Shank in June of that year.

Lots of things have changed since. MJEX have released their third album "From The Word Go" to much aplomb, while Adebisi's debut album was perhaps the finest Irish release of last year to this wonky ears, while their dizzying live work-outs are seeing jaws drop and shirts sweat simultaneously.

Now both of them play together at Dolan's Upstairs tomorrow night (Saturday March 14th - MJEX are headliners). Tickets are ten bucks.

Here they are now:

Messiah J & The Expert - Megaphone Man

Adebisi Shank

And here's them way back when in a couple of stories from the past....

Adebisi Shank - June 2007
Aside from the renowned early twentieth century uileann piper Johnny Doran, and the annual Opera Festival, Wexford could hardly be considered a hotbed for musical talents over the year.

But here we are now, and a trio of goodtime math-noisemakers have emerged from the county more renowned for strawberries and potatoes. Adebisi Shank is Mick Roe (Drums), Lar Kaye on guitar and Vin McCreith on bass.

As Roe explains, there was never much inspiration at home to get them going, and as such most of their gigs have been in the capital. "I've only ever played one gig in Wexford when I was young. Wexford is pretty bad for gigs but there is one or two good ones here and there. Apparently, a good few years ago New Ross used to be really good for DIY gigs but I don't remember it".

While the band practise and record in Wexford, Roe is the only one based there full-time these days. Yet, they have overcome any logistical problems to record an EP. "It was recorded in our own studio in Wexford. We built the studio ourselves about three years ago, so it's really rewarding to finally have some stuff recorded there. The EP should be ready and on sale for the tour at the end of June. At the minute its in the plant and we're stressing out because there was a problem with the artwork, but it looks like it'll be ready in time", says Roe.

Adebisi Shank make a savage racket for a three-piece, and it is no surprise considering that Kaye and Roe are both involved in ace Dublin experimental rock outfit Terrordactyl. McCreith meanwhile does the 8-bit meets super-cheese thing with the wonderful Vinny Club.

Roe believes that it is a healthy thing for them all to have other musical outlets. "It's loads of fun being able to do different things on breaks away from Adebisi. Our schedules work out really well; we have days for doing other things where one of us may be working or busy with another band. We probably all dedicate the most amount of time to Adebisi though".

The EP will be released on Popular Records, who are also home to Anything But Alpha Males, The Vinny Club and Danish outfit Marvin's Revolt. It is all very much run on a DIY basis as a "non-profit, no contract label". Roe admits that is all hands on deck to make it a success.

"Lar set it up but has been too busy for the last while to get too involved so I've been doing most of the work at the minute. He's gonna help out when he's not so busy anymore. Vin helps out with design stuff as well whenever I'd need it. The bands on the label help out a good bit as well which is pretty cool. There's a good few releases coming out on it all around the same time so it's pretty hectic at the minute but all the bands are great to work with and pretty much do all the work themselves. It's a joy to be involved in it".
Messiah J & The Expert- May 2007

It was empty vessel -nil, good ol’ writer’s block -six

One more loss and it was curtains for a sophomore release

Messiah J and The Expert’s second album “Now This I Have To Hear” did not come so easily; MJ’s lyrics above from “Seven Cups of Coffee and A Slice of Apple Strudel” echo the common sentiments of the difficulty any writer can come up with.

Add to the mix the fact that their debut “What’s Confusing You?” (released on the now defunct Volta Sounds) had picked up plaudits, and that they had to wait three years between releases. Yet, Messiah J and The Expert used the interim period to craft a LP that raised the bar significantly.

Starting out as two-thirds of Creative Controle, the Dublin hip-hop young bucks released their debut single “Bloodrush” in 2001. It showcased producer The Expert’s penchant for orchestral samples (still very much evident), and a dash of the irrepressible Wu-Tang and a smidgen of sounds that wouldn’t have seem out of place of the Def Jux catalogue. In MC Messiah J, they had someone with a vocal tone and flow similar to Sage Francis, with occasional tinges of a Dublin accent. A calling card had been left.

For “Now This…”, they changed the script again with multiple collaborations and additional musicians, including ex-Connect 4 Orchestra guitarist Glenn Keating, chanteuses Leda Egri and Nina Hynes, and the biggest coup, the aforementioned Def Jux’s C-Rayz Walz.

“It wasn’t a conscious effort to put as many people on the record as possible”, explains Messiah J. “Glenn had been playing live with us; he is such a good guitarist, a really inspirational player. We chased C-Rayz and Nina alright. She basically came up one day, did her vocal in one take, and to quote The Expert ‘we were blown away’”

While the new additions added an extra layer, one couldn’t help but imagine The Expert orchestrating it all like some mad conductor type. For Messiah J, one of the standout tracks “VIP” also marked a significant breakthrough. Moving away from the more personal narrative, its tale of a widower whose news source is the obits recalls the storytelling nature of Buck 65.

“That’s one of my favourite tracks”, says MJ before recalling it’s background. “My Granny had died and the other one got Alzheimer’s around the same time. People are always writing music for young people, and I just want to flip that around. It’s about people feeling important, not just old people. And I suppose you can’t beat a good story.

“To be honest, if I had one complaint with the first album, it was that there wasn’t enough variation. With this, I just wanted to record it with my voice barely above a speaking tone”. Yet, does MJ find these tracks more difficult to write? “The kind of personal songs like “All The Other Girls” - they write themselves as they were true to life. At the same time, “Place Your Bets” took f**king ages even though it seems really straightforward”.

Speaking of “Place Your Bets”, a recent video in which the two partake in a competitive game of darts, is as Messiah J describes, “one of the most fun things I’ve done with this band”. Directed by Davey Sexton, the idea came about when they were watching the World Darts Championship.

“We shot it in the pub, and basically got a load of people and got them drunk. I knew nothing about the rules of the game though, so I was there on the day saying ‘how do you play this’ and the lads were all laughing their heads off at me!”.

2007 has started off extremely well for MJEX. A more than deserved Choice Music nomination, the release of the EP “…And Another Thing” (available exclusively on tour), their debut American performance at South By South West, and a forthcoming UK debut release all show that things are looking up for the duo.

And like so many other Irish artists, they are doing it on their own, setting up the Inaudible label with their manager. “Yeah, I’m in the HQ at the moment, my flat”, chuckles Messiah J. “We were tired of waiting around, and knew that we were good enough. We just couldn’t wait around for some magic man to turn up!”.

While MJ admits that much attention for the summer will be on getting off the ground in the UK (their debut gig is straight after the 2fm 2moro 2our), work has already started on writing for their third LP, and he is suitably excited.

“We’re really happy so far. There is a lot of energetic music there, but I don’t wanna give away too much as it’s still early days. When we have a good day in studio, that’s when we are at our happiest. The Expert has got lots of things he wants to try with this next record, and I’ve got loads I wanna say”.

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