Hailing from Tuam, Oh Boland have been releasing mildly demented garage pop since 2013 when they served up a pair of EPs released on cassette called Oh! and Ho! before releasing a split record, titled Delphi, with fellow westerners Me and My Dog on Popical Island followed in 2014. Ahead of their performances at Beatyard and Indiependence Festivals, and on foot a thoroughly enjoyable recent appearance at the RAGE on Record Store Day, we spoke to singer and guitarist Niall Murphy about the academic life and the particular ennui of the Irish countryside that fuels his music.
I suppose we’ll start at the start: how did Oh Boland, as we know it, come to be?
Well, I’d just dropped out of studying music in Maynooth, or trying to study music. I dropped out after a while and moved back home. My dad owns a pub in Tuam and it was kind of on shaky ground at this stage. The recession was beginning to be felt. I wasn’t going to get away with costing my folks any more money anyway, I had to do my time [laughs]. So I started working in the pub and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
My last two years in Maynooth I really started getting into Jay Reatard and Black Lips, even older stuff like 13th Floor Elevators and more old school kind of garage bands. I’d tried to start a load of bands with my roommates but I couldn’t get anyone to be consistent. I was desperate, doing stuff like trying to get a Mo Tucker thing going with a drummer that couldn’t play drums and things like that. Around April or May 2012 it all kind of fell into place with Simon [McDonagh, drums] and Eanna [MacDonnchadha, bass]. I’d known both the lads from us all being in shitty covers bands around Tuam when we were kids. From when Oh Boland started, it was never really that serious. We used to play a lot on a Sunday after we’d go out on a Saturday. It sounds like an intolerable cliché, but it really was just something to do.
… and the rest is history.
The rest is a travesty. It’s funny, before there was any Oh Boland, I’d been writing all these songs for a band I’d come up with in my head, we were going to be called The Eskimos. Obviously there turned out being a million bands called Eskimos but I thought I was being totally original. I’d written songs for this imaginary project and I’d just bring them into the garage one at a time and work through them. We used to do a few covers too, some No Bunny, Hunx and his Punx, we did a version of the Tide is High for some reason too [laughs] – the stupid shit you’d do with you friends in a garage.
When you see Oh Boland play you can still tell it stated from a position of doing it for fun. It’s far removed from any kind of wounded soul bearing, self-help or anything.
Totally. There’s a place for that kind of self-help stuff, but it can often be insufferable. I was writing songs for a while that might have had a pang of that self-help kind of thing but I actually couldn’t stand being that person. I enjoyed writing songs like that and enjoyed the effect the writing of them had on me but I couldn’t stand taking them into the public domain. It just made me uncomfortable and made other people uncomfortable. So Oh Boland almost started from taking a negative thing or a perceived negative thing and putting it in a positive context. You can only mope for so long. A lot of songs I’d write begin as quite slow twangy country songs and then I just do that at a million miles an hour, pissed with a distortion pedal and the full band.
There’s a little irony in the fact that it was only when you went to study music that you really immersed yourself in a sound characterized by this self-taught primitivism.
I fell foul of the typical post-Leaving Cert logic. My mother is a primary school teacher and my father runs the pub now but he’s a retired army officer, both solid, pensionable jobs. They both have great work ethics which I’m sadly lacking in. I found myself in a situation where all I was every interested in, and/or all I was ever good at, was music. I didn’t even have career aspirations, I didn’t know what I wanted, I just knew I played guitar all the time.
So, I went to the university with that mindset and had this idyllic idea I’d go and meet a bunch of like minded individuals and we’d all start bands and be experimental and blah blah blah… and none of that happened because most people that study music want to be teachers, or maybe it just seemed that way. My preference for stuff that comes from this sort of self-taught approach made it hard to relate to what was going on in the course at all. It was great for a lot of people, but it wasn’t for me. Obviously when you’re in college and you’re not doing much academically it’s easy to get led off, sitting in my room stoned out of my brain.
Much as you say that the band was born of a lack of other outlets in Tuam, I always got the sense that behind all the taking the piss, “Tuam and Gloom” t-shirts and stuff, you guys have a certain pride in being from there.
[Laughs] Really? Oh wow, I guess it’s a very screwed up type of pride. I guess Tuam has always had a history or a reputation for bands and music. Even when I was in college and talking to people in my course I realised it had a rep. I think that’s somewhat unfounded. It’s not really any different to any other towns, it’s just been granted this more glamorous reputation. They’ve a better PR department or something.
For me, Tuam is just boredom, total stagnation. I work in an auld fellas’ pub, it’s the family business, it’s been on the family bloodline since 1883 and it’s a very nice pub and I’d never complain about working there, but being in there can be kind of an insight into Tuam. There’s lot of people with fuck all to do. A lot of people out of work, a lot of people maybe just doing stuff on the side. There’s nothing there to keep people in. There’s one factory that pretty much employs anyone that does have a job. Obviously there are plenty of good people living there, just like anywhere. Like any little community it’s got it’s upsides and downsides.
It’s horribly conservative though. You have to keep in mind it’s the capital of the archdiocese… but let’s not get into that. Historically, it had the highest ‘No’ vote in the various ’80s referendums so when you’re in your teens and you’ve got long hair, it can be quite tough. I guess it’s tough for a lot of kids; it’s a very macho sort of town.
But do you guys not get a kick out of kind of playing around with all that?
Oh yeah, we get a great kick out of it. It’s kind of a similar thing: taking a down, mopey song and turning it into a punk song. You’re living in a dump, what else are you going to do for fun? It’s better than what’s going on in a lot of small towns, People are getting too stuck into themselves, they need outlet and music is a great one
Tuam also spawned the great So Cow [alias Brian Kelly]. Did he kind of take you guys under his wing at some stage?
Well we have a wonderful, coloured history with Brian. When I was doing the Leaving, I had free study period. Brian had just come back from South Korea and was back in Tuam looking for work and he was an ex-student and asked if he could do something in the school. So they sent him up to supervise our study class for the day. Brian realised that a free class full of 30 odd 17-year olds isn’t going to go well. So, he obviously pinpointed the music heads in the room. I was going through a really intense jazz phase back then, not to sound like a dick, but I was real no-holds-barred, complete fucking weirdo. He was asking the kids what their favorite bands were and a friend of our said something like, “Kings of Leon are the band the Pixies wish they could be,” which really irked Mr. Kelly, but he got a real kick out of me name dropping Ornette Coleman or whatever it was. So he, in one fell swoop, mentioned the Chills, Jay Reatard, Deerhoof and So Cow and I went home and listened to those bands that night.
We had a friend who passed away when we were in our Junior Cert year and we’d been putting on a memorial gig every year since and that year we had So Cow headline. Funnily enough, that was actually quite a fertile, or at least busy, time in Tuam. Funds hadn’t been cut, the recession hadn’t hit and there was a good Tuam Arts Festival. There were good people running it who gave a platform to anyone, provided they were from Tuam, so there were actually a lot of So Cow shows going on that summer when we finished school and we kind of just got to know each other over time.
I remember [Brian] sending me .zip files of music he thought I should check out, like The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas. Around then would have been their peak of touring the States so he was hearing all these bands over there and sending it over to me. This is before I was aware of torrenting, so all of these amazing records were coming to me in email attachments. I still have this prehistoric Dell at home, it takes about two hours to turn on but if we got it up and running all those .zips are still on there.
Oh Boland will be performing at this year’s Beatyard Festival, which takes place at Dún Laoghaire Harbour on Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st July. You can feast on their back catalogue at ohboland.bandcamp.com and popicalisland.bandcamp.com
Words: Danny Wilson