HamsandwicH + Albert Man
Last year witnessed a further important development in the life of acclaimed Irish band HamsandwicH with the release of their third studio album, Stories From The Surface. Within days, the album was not only praised to the hilt by the discerning Irish media (“An album that flows beautifully from start to finish…” – Irish Times; “with Stories From The Surface, HamsandwicH has opened up a whole new world that is theirs for the taking…” – state.ie) but also went straight to the top of the Irish album charts.
“The fact that the album went to number one, and the fact that we’re an independent band, was a huge achievement for us,” says lead singer Niamh Farrell.
Arriving several years after the band’s equally lauded second album, White Fox (justifiably regarded as a masterclass in quality indie pop), Stories From The Surface outlined what anyone with ears knew: great pop music may take time to fine-tune, but if you don’t have an intuitive sense of what it is then you might as well give up. Mixed in Studio Burpintootin, Cincinnati, Ohio, by Danny Kalb, and mastered at Sterling Sound, NYC, by Greg Calbi, the album is as immersive an experience in smart indie pop as you’ll hear this or any other year.
“White Fox was rushed,” admits guitarist/vocalist Podge McNamee. “The pressure was on for that album, we were under time constraints, so we knew that if we wrote something very decent within such a short space of time that we could do much better if we had a reasonable amount of time.”
Pressure is relative, however, and so, innately, the band realised that the material for Stories From The Surface had to be superior. “We were aware of the standard we needed to reach,” remarks Podge, “and we wanted to write a record that had far more going on in the songs.”
Allied with the addition of more texture and smooth layers, what makes the album so compelling is the band’s vigorous love of song arrangements. “We discovered that we all have a strong knack for it, and so the new songs sound bigger, more rounded. It has allowed us to sound different yet it’s still completely us – retaining our individuality yet also changing is difficult to achieve, I reckon.”
The quest to be different yet distinctive is something of a Holy Grail for all bands, but HamsandwicH has grasped not only the nettle but also the root.
“You want to aim for, achieve and retain these qualities,” says Niamh, “so that people can listen to new songs and know they aren’t going to sound like previous tunes, yet it’s still going to sound like HamsandwicH. Ideally, you want people to hear the song on the radio without the presenter introducing the band name, but the listener will know it’s us.”
Such an end result is known as ‘job done’, and because of this HamsandwicH (as much as their growing fanbase) sense justification as well as celebration. “What was amazing about 2015 for all of us,” observes Podge, “was we felt we were gaining ground for good reasons. And we really felt that our fans were in on it – so many had come along with us over the years.”
With sterling performances last year at open-air Irish festivals Electric Picnic (at which the band played on the prestigious main stage) and Indiependence (which they headlined), and the fact that Stories From The Surface has been nominated for Best Irish Album in the Choice Music Prize (Ireland’s version of the Mercury Music Prize), it seems that 2016 is all to play for.
Independent of mind and body, the need to progress things by self-financing motivates HamsandwicH. “You need to keep gigging,” says Podge. “Being driven like that ensures that what we do never feels stagnant. And people work better under a certain level of pressure, anyway.”
This year, the band’s focus is outside Ireland. They were, acknowledges Niamh, “surprised yet delighted that five sold out London shows in late 2015 and early 2016 went down so well with audiences, so we really want to concentrate on the UK.”
“We have that genuine desire to go for it outside Ireland this year,” confirms Podge. “And we know that anywhere we play we’ll put on a good show.”