Deep In The Game: Nay from Harmless Noise

Photo by Julie Bienvenu-Milleliri Karl McDonald
Posted June 7, 2013 in Opinion

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Naomi McArdle

Our trawl through the internet on a sled pulled by Google spiders continues as we interview Naomi McArdle, proprietor of eminent Irish music blog Harmless Noise.

DeepInTheGame

Can you explain who you are and what you do to people who might not know.

Oki. I’m Nay, which usually has to be explained three or so times when I meet someone for the first time: short for Naomi. And I keep a blog about Irish music called Harmless Noise.

Why did you start the blog?

Harmless Noise began in November 2009, a couple of months after I finished working at Hot Press as a photojournalist and an Irish music blogger. I realised I missed the daily music posts more than any other aspect of my work over the past few years and decided to start again, independently this time.

There were also some interesting blogs around at the time that I found really made me want to get involved again myself, taking a few different approaches or looking in less obvious places for more adventurous or unconventional types of music. Yours was one – I miss Those Geese and The Interview Project which got me into a lot of bands I still listen to now. Also Asleep On The Compost Heap in which I learned it was okay to blog about music with a more experimental and explorative thought process behind the reasons for posting. And Nialler was keying himself up into a super-productive workhorse which was mighty impressive.

Why is it important to blog about music with an ‘explorative thought process’?

it’s not necessarily important but it certainly makes it more of a challenge when you’re doing it every day. I know I enjoy this, but it does get a bit boring if you’re just hammering out content for the sake of it. Whereas having something that makes you want to scratch a bit deeper and ask and wonder why it was made… I learn more when I pay proper attention that way. Otherwise stuff just blurs together, because there’s so much music out there.

You do cast the net quite broadly with Irish music – how do you draw the line between being open/supportive and obviously needing some sort of selection process?

I do have a selection process, but not really any line at which something isn’t going to make the grade. I hear stuff I like all the time that doesn’t go on the blog, along with music that I don’t like and actively think ‘nah, sorry’. This sort of bleeds into a different topic of discussion when I counter your mention of casting the net wide because on one hand I am looking around at what’s going on and trying to find weird or original material but I’m learning as much for my own benefit. It’s like, listening to as much of everything I can get has made me a better blogger. Both technically and creatively.

Not to be too cliched about it, but if I’m in a band, not part of any scene Dublin or otherwise, and I want you to listen to my music, what’s the best way to go about it? Do you actually, John Peel-like, listen to everything?

Eh, pretty much. It’s a bit knackering, haha, and it takes longer now because thirty billion bands in Dublin alone have my email address. I prioritise things though. Videos and single tracks will get my attention immediately. Full album streams can be relegated for later, particularly if it’s a new band appearing from nowhere sort of demanding your immediate attention for 40 minutesish.

But I go back to practically everything even to at least just scan 2-3 tracks to hear what they’re about. I’m not an organised person but I do have certain ways to try keeping the blog in order. It’s rickety but it works!

Again with the cliche, but I think it’s interesting: can you describe an average day from waking up til going to bed?

Sure. 8am is wake-up, I pitch my two kids out of bed and get them to school and am at my own desk by 9. There is no target or anything to hit but I’ll hope to put up at least one solid article about a band or event that I’m really interested in. I spend from 9-12 each morning listening through the music mails folder in my email and working on one or two posts from what I have to work with. I receive about 20 emails an hour and answer 15% of them. I don’t really work with anyone else beyond requesting bits of information about the music I’m posting… I really like the solitude of working alone. At 12 I’ll do some housework and make some lunch and sign into iChat for an hour to speak to friends.

I normally start opening new posts on Harmless Noise at this point and save drafts with the title of the artists I plan to feature in the days ahead while listening to their tracks. I fill all of these with the embed codes, links, images, tags etc until everything is ready bar the text. This I write in a text app and paste in when finished. My kids get in from school about 2:45 and we chat for a little while before they play out or on the Xbox and I finish whatever I’m working on.

From the 6pm point it’s dinner and chill times. I’ve found the energy I used to have for blogging at night time has faded a bit as the years caught up with me! For the past three months I’ve spent most nights working on short stories, I started a novel last year and it’s on an ice as a second draft right now. By midnight I’m inwardly lecturing myself to sleep soon so I grab a book and zone out. Not quite the dashing glamour that music blogging usually elicits but the gigs side more than makes up for the downtime.

I suppose being the figure you are within Irish music, you might end up getting abuse sometimes, or unrealistic expectations? I saw Rob Kelly call you out for preferring someone else to him the other day, for example.

That’s Rob Kelly. Mad that I even half-suspected at the time that he might take affront to something so trivial. But he was mild enough about it. Abuse-wise, it’s been very polarised. There have been some extreme examples – one guy in Belfast wrote a really obscene post a few years ago because I called him out for reviewing a female band mainly based on their appearance. Then there are the street teams. The Kopek fans. Teh Watmanz. Those pissants are no match for the deadly folks out there tho. I’ve been lucky to meet far more sound people than I could have imagined.

What of ‘the scene’ now, though? I remember people being very excited about it a couple of years ago, but how has it developed – is it better/worse? More/less fragmented? Does it matter?

I think any scene is all those things at once and more and practically nothing at the same time. I think it’s important that people know there’s a music scene locally. That’s just a starting point for anyone at all to be able to explore for themselves. I didn’t go to gigs as a teen because I had no idea what was on or where. Now at least there is a way of getting acquainted being able to find something you think is cool. If I’d had this when I was 17, maybe I wouldn’t have had to listen to The Offspring and could have been going to Puget Sound gigs. That’d be amazing.

Do you think that would have happened though, or is that optimism in retrospect? The Offspring have a certain appeal…

Hah, I think they’re awful now. I was definitely interested in music at the time, and I definitely used the internet, so I’d like to think so. Just to go back to your question about current scene status, there’s a change in temperature towards Irish music in the past year or so, that I can measure, certainly but I think it’s a natural cooling process so to speak, there was a massive spike of energy and the needle had to spike back low as well, of course

There have been venues closed, labels folding up, the print media has struggled while online hasn’t truly taken off in a music blog sense. so I think while there’s a much bigger audience for Irish bands now than five years ago, there’s also a sense that this is another stage now, where the smoke is clearing and people are maybe peering about to see how much of what came out and is still coming, is really as good as we suggested I think it’s all still pretty good. But we’re less excited and maybe a bit more receptive now. There still doesn’t seem to be any major reward in being a Good Irish Band though.

Is it reasonable to expect that there should be?

Nope, but not unrealistic, at the same time. It would be nice to think that some of the great musicians in this country could actually be supported in some elusive way that enables them to continue doing what they do.

Okay, so, you have separate Twitters for your blog and for yourself personally, even though the blog’s just you. Why?

I tend to talk about my personal life on one and keep the blog one strictly to music. It would feel weird to post photos of my cats on my blog feed. I certainly don’t feel defined by simply Harmless Noise. I’m too much woman for one Twitter. That sounds demented, haha.

But people are to an extent buying into you as a personality when they’re following the blog – you have a particular writing style and you’re not doing ‘bare’ music writing.

I’m not sure if I agree. There’s a definite disparity between followers on both accounts. The people who talk to me on @uneamino aren’t usually musicians or associates. It’s like with my Facebook page, I don’t have that linked up to auto-publish my blog posts. Not that many of my friends share the same interest in Irish bands

I suppose the obvious example I was comparing to was Nialler. He’s sort of an all-in self-facilitating media Nialler at all times

It fits him very neatly though! He’s not really one to waffle, he probably doesn’t see the need for a separate account. I just moan about slugs on bins and warring children and dancing at gigs. No one’s missing out on much!

Do you enjoy the way Irish Twitter has sort of formed into a thing?

I suppose it was inevitable that the knowing everyone in Ireland would actually transfer to the net in the form of a network of followers. Twitter’s a weird extension of people’s lives now that’s a bit creepy and a bit cool. If it transferred back to the real world we’d probably all be walking around talking to ourselves out loud

How did you find being Ireland for a week?

It was cool, I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t feel like I brought anything particularly different by being myself, talking about various interests and issues of importance, but it was cool to turn on my hospitality motors and talk to people about the Ireland they knew and imagined.

We covered a fairly broad range of stuff and it was all pretty well received. There were a lot of typical questions about tea and booze and so on, some weird things like a guy saying I’d threatened the diplomacy of North/South relationships because I shared a rebel song, but also some fun bits like being invited to a beach party by Canada and Sweden. I don’t think that opportunity will arise again.

Okay it’s time for the quickfire round and then we’re done.

Okay cool.

One sentence opinions on the following topics: Richter Collective

Was a very interesting model of a record label that exploded with energy, should have been huge and just wasn’t.

Irish rap music.

Getting giddy on glimmers of success and nurturing a fairly healthy competitive atmosphere that has a lot of charged potential.

Cork.

Its rock scene has gone a bit quiet and I wish it’d come back and kick Dublin’s arse.

Your favourite person on Twitter.

Lemme just mull that one for a second. Or do I have to snap answer? Damn, I will probably offend someone or kick myself for forgetting but gut instinct says Astonishing Sod. I’m mad about Pinter Quotes at the moment though. This sark just dribbles in all day. It’s a bit appalling but cool. Okay sorry for derailing the quick fire round.

That’s okay, Astonishing Sod is a good one as it means we can link back to the Astonishing Sod interview in this very series. Finally, and now semi-traditionally: Enda Kenny.

It’s weird but he always brings to mind a bit in Rivals by Jilly Cooper where she compares a naff TV presenter’s character to the pancake makeup colour he wore, like Cherry Blossom or Gay Whisper; Enda Kenny is Sleazy Butterscotch.

Hah.

Can I describe Sod, rather than saying the ‘oh I’ll forget someone’ thing? He deserves better!

Yes.

Comedic marvel Astonishing Sod, who is the only person on earth who can make a Christmas tree in June look like a happy thing.

Excellent. Anything final to add?

Yeah, my Dubliner sandwich with scallions is the greatest sandwich in the world so stick that in your TD sambos hall of fame.

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