Earlier this month Limerick’s Hey Rusty released his debut album Anorak, a well crafted collection of songs. The now Belfast-based songwriter John Ahern can count many faces from the best of Ireland’s indie musicians amongst his friends and co-conspirators, with many making musical contributions on the album or just providing a source of inspiration. The result of all this is well crafted indie folk songwriting gifted extra layers of warmth and personality. An understated album that retains a lo-fi sound throughout, there are moments that strip things back and others that elevate the whole affair. The sixties sadness of ‘All Night Daylight’ stirs with strings while horns punctuate second track ‘Wobble’. There’s a real love of Limerick here, from references to country star Townes Van Zandt’s time in the city, inspiration from Limerick poets to the album cover itself, an archived street photo of Limerick in 1970.
With much informing Ahern’s songwriting, we asked him to peel back some of the inspirations and process behind Anorak. The album is available through streaming services or of course, via bandcamp.
All Night Daylight
I’m not sure if opening the album with a melodramatic tribute to 60s wall of sound pop was an overly ambitious choice, but we’re here now. ‘All Night Daylight’ was recorded in January 2020 in Bleeding Heart Pigeon’s studio ‘The Shed’ out in West Limerick. Those iconic drums come to you courtesy of Cork-based drummer Luke Daly of the band Deadbog. The strings were arranged by Bleeding Heart Pigeons’ Mícheál Keating, who produced the record, and performed by Limerick’s patron saint, Post Punk Podge.
I spent the summer of 2019 working in Cork City five days a week and heading back up to Limerick for the weekends. ‘Wobble’ was written one Sunday in August when I was very hungover and burnt out and not in the form for getting the train back down to face the rat race. The horns are by the inimitable Dan Walsh (Fixity) and my good friends Danny and Shirley provided some gang vocals, which we recorded in their kitchen.
Some time in the early 90s, country icon Townes Van Zandt woke up in the middle of the night with a message that came to him in a dream: go to Ireland and make a record. He did just that, recording his last album, No Deeper Blue, in Xeric studios in Limerick city. This is one of my favourite nuggets of Irish music history and provided the jumping off point for a song which ultimately sets the scene for Anorak and the city that made it.
Enamoured of The Miniscule
Blending some lo-fi Casio keyboard drums with some real drums playing a steady backbeat is not exactly re-inventing the wheel, I must admit. There are two Irish bands I am indebted to in this regard – Belfast’s Buí and Limerick’s Windings (specifically the song ‘The Space I Occupy’ – sorry lads!)
This song contains some farewells and some self-flagellation, as songs tend to do. The title is lifted from a poem by Limerick poet Michael Hartnett, whose work I was reading a lot during the winter lockdown.
As a big Elliot Smith fan, I’m a lover of sad songs in waltz time and have written a few over the years, but this is the only one on the album. Watch out for that absolute peach of a pedal steel performance by David Tapley (Tandem Felix)!
What A Shame
Side 2 opens with my attempt at a jaunty Beatles-flavoured song about moving on with your life. Mícheál provided some great Blonde on Blonde organ at the end. This is probably my favourite song on the album, if I’m honest. Brendan McInerney (Bleeding Heart Pigeons) does a real star turn on the drums on this one – especially that half-time bit in the choruses.
One of the older songs on the record, written some time in late 2018. This was recorded along with ‘Wobble’, ‘What A Shame’, ‘Jaywalking’ and ‘Enamoured of The Miniscule’ in an extremely productive couple of days in March when we set up a studio in the dining room of my Dad’s house. I can’t really play any recognisable tunes on the harmonica but I think it adds a nice little bit of country ambience here.
Since We Were Strangers
This was recorded alongside ‘All Night Daylight’ pre-lockdown, with Luke and Podge making another appearance. I wanted to go for a motorik- flavoured rhythm for this one, probably inspired somewhat by Camera Obscura’s ‘Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken’ or Paddy Hanna’s ‘Toulouse the Kisser’. I also know that Mícheál was listening to a lot of Stereolab around this time, which probably found its way in there too. Aside: I’m particularly proud of the country-inflected lead guitar line that comes in in the second verse. Keep an ear out for it.
The title track of an album should also be its mission statement, as far as I’m concerned. Anorak, the album, effectively deals with the two years of my life between finishing college and moving from Limerick to Belfast. ‘Anorak’, the song, is no different. The little sample at the start features Limerick author Kate O’Brien speaking to a friend about how we both change and stay the same as we get older. This is, I hope, in conversation with some of the themes of this song in particular and the album throughout. This and ‘Van Zandt’ were recorded at home by myself and are heavily indebted to the aforementioned Elliott Smith’s earlier work.