Name: The Sass
Formed: January 2012
Genre: Rock ‘n’ Roll
Line-up: Colm Donnely (Vocals) | Colin McGrath (Drums) | Lawrence Taffe (Bass/Keyboards) | Brendy Burns (Guitar/Vocals)
Similar to: Elvis Costello | Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Beady Eye
What They Say: “Indie Rock ‘n’ Roll”
What We Say: “Undoubtedly passionate, revivalist rock ‘n’ roll with 60’s elements.”
◀ Q & A ▶
▶ Can you explain the early origins of The Sass and how you first came together?
The band’s embryotic beginnings started over 10 years ago when I first learnt a few chords at The Gaeltacht (a summer school in Donegal where students learn Irish language, sport, dance and music). I met several people who could play guitar and they inspired me to pick it up and I started writing songs soon after this and discovered I was quite good at it. I went to school with Brendy (guitar) and we hung around together socially from about 15 years old. Most of my friends love music and it was always talked about growing up but Brendy and I decided we wanted to play. We used to play in Brendy’s aunts house doing Oasis standards and playing the 3 or 4 songs we’d had written by then and looking back we were all heart and no brain. I think two years later we started a band with a good guitarist we knew from the Gaeltacht called Malachy McAlister and this trio eventually became The Polemics. We played a few gigs in this format and did a few recordings- some were ok, some were pretty bad. The Polemics broke up five years ago and I continued to write and play solo occasionally but my limited guitar playing and love of bands made me realise for my songs to flourish I need like-minded musicians.
On my return from a year away in Australia Brendy and Malachy called to my house the very next day to see if I wanted to give it another go. That was just over two years ago and was the birth of The Sass really. Since then we have had many members and Malachy moved on also so this has left the core of the band myself and Brendy. It took The Sass many years and hard work to get good and now we feel we are in touching distance of something special. The new line-up includes one of our many former drummers (laughs) Paddy O’Connor who is now playing bass. Paddy is a great new addition as he has a great voice suited to harmonies which is improving our live sound. Our new guitarist Sean McDaniel has had big boots to fill and is a really gifted lead guitarist and is impressing with each practice. We are currently recruiting a drummer as our last drummer Colly McGrath has work commitments that meant he had to leave.
▶ For anyone who hasn’t heard you, how would you describe your sound?
I always find this question hard to answer. I believe we are a catchy pop band at times and at others we are on the verge of quite heavy rock. Myself and Brendy love early rock n roll from the 1950s like Buddy Holly, Little Richard, The Drifters, Dion and the Belmonts to name a few then nearly everything from the 1960s from pop to rock to Motown and straight up bluesy stuff. Then there would be a massive Manchester influence from the 1980s onwards. The Smiths being my favourite band of all time for example. Then there would be Britpop influence then later the Strokes, Libertines and Arctic Monkeys. Then stuff like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and even Irish folk is stuff I listen to regularly. I think in one way or another all these influences come out in some shape or form in my song writing as well as Brendy’s. I don’t like to over analyse it too much. We try to write songs that we like and hope other people will like them. I think our songs have a real Belfast wit and bite and we do use colloquialisms in our lyrics sometimes which helps us have our own unique sound and help set us apart from a lot of bands. I think lyrical honesty is huge attribute to The Sass.
▶ Your first single ‘Get Around’ was released to critical acclaim in the local scene, did you expect that sort of initial success?
The reception to Get Around was amazing. This is a song I wrote on the acoustic in the vein of a Buddy Holly song. I probably sang it in a piss poor Buddy impression as well when writing it. We knew the song had good commercial potential after I played to the band. Brendy had the idea for the video with the whole ‘Delivery Man about town’ premise. Our old school friends Carl and Nathan Hughes decided to help out with the video. Carl who plays the main character produced the video and got all those well known faces to appear in the video to which we are eternally grateful. He is man who gets things done. His brother Nathan directed and shot the video brilliantly. We knew the song was very good pop song but the video did so much for the song and so much for The Sass. In this Youtube culture a good video can do so much. But be warned they are incredible hard work especially with little to no money. But the whole experience was great fun and helped more people hear us which is the important thing.
▶ Through your 90’s tinged optimistic vibes, you’ve inevitably drawn comparisons to the likes of Echo Raptors, Pretty Cartel and Cusacks Well amongst others. Do you believe that there is a new rock n roll movement developing in Belfast and are you pleased to be considered a part of that?
I think maybe there could be. I’m a fan of all these bands but the scene here and support shown for local bands in my experience is slightly disappointing and I can’t help but feel that any of these bands would maybe be better appreciated in England or down south and that is what I intend to do when we are ready to gig again. Maybe it is just a population things that is the reason for there not being a real scene in Belfast but my tastes are very rarely catered for here and maybe seeking the bigger markets are the only real option for bands like us.
▶ Who would you class as your main influences as a band?
Buddy, Elvis, The Doors, Beach boys, Dion, Beatles, The Stones, The Smiths, Kinks, Joy Division, Billy Idol, Oasis, Arctic Monkeys, Stokes, The Fall, The Pogues. The Stone Roses etc
▶ On your own hypothetical world tour, what three bands (past or present) would you choose as support?
- Late 70’s Blondie (So I could try my luck with Debbie Harry!)
- The Ramones
- Frank Zappa
Although I’d worry about who’d want to see The Sass with this line up. Maybe it would be smarter to have Steps, Mr Blobby and Journey South.
▶ Is there any young bands on the current circuit that you are particularly excited about/tip for big things?
Paper Man’s new recording is a very good debut. Miles better than The Sass first attempt I can guarantee. I like Blinding Lights locally too and look forward to their debut. My friend Craig Stewart’s band The Strange are bunch of good musicians and I look forward to hearing their records. Pretty Cartel are very good songwriters and I look forward to hearing them live. I saw the Echo Raptors supporting the Happy Mondays during the summer and they did themselves proud. There’s definitely talent around.
▶ Despite being relatively young in terms of band lifespans, you’ve had to deal with what must have been unbearable pain through the loss of your lead guitarist Brian McGivern. A true gentleman and incredible guitarist – How difficult has it been to continue as a band and how has this affected the nature of your sound/lyrics?
It was a crushing blow. He is probably the finest guitarist I have heard play as we was so versatile. He was a songwriter’s dream because he could play any style. He was also a huge calming influence on us and in the 7 months we knew him we learned more in all the years previous about how to play as a band. He made us realise every instrument should have its place and its own space on each record and things should never get too congested. This sounds simple but with less experienced musicians this was a big problem. On a personal level it was a big loss for all of us as we became close in a short space of time. Luckily Brian recorded every gig we ever done and his father Jimmy AKA Johnny Starr lent us his hard drive and we could give the recordings to Sean our new guitarist and he has been picking up a lot of the songs over the past few weeks. Our sound is inevitably going to change without Brian but his influence will always be there from now on as he made us a great live band for the first time and there’s no stepping backwards for us. The last song The Sass worked on before Brian’s death was one he and I co-wrote and we are still big fans of the song so I’m sure it will get recorded in future. We will also dedicate our next video to Brian as a gesture to our friend.
▶ What’s next for The Sass? Any plans to release an EP or go on tour?
We were due to record our new single Belfast with Brian but he passed away. After a discussion with his father we decided to do the recording anyway and we recruited Paddy and Sean to play on it. This was recorded in September. We are currently in preproduction for a video for this song being directed by my friend and film maker Sean Reynolds. Belfast was a song Brendy wrote about 3 years ago and it always stuck in Sean’s head as one of his favourites so he convinced us to record it and promised to make a video for it and we are hopefully shooting in a fortnight. We are currently recruiting a drummer and should not be too long gigging after that. Next year an Irish Tour and an English tour will definitely be looked into. We will also be hoping to record quite regularly and will probably do some covers gigs to help pay.
▶ What does ‘success’ mean to you?
I think success is important to do this job full time. With age comes responsibilities and realistic burdens. Right now we are still relatively young and can give the band our all but I think to really make the great records I think we are capable of we need to be professionals, like any sport. It would be great to improve my standard of living through music and look after my family but at the end of the day I’m not going starve if we don’t make a career. I think it’s important to make records I’ll be proud of in future most importantly.
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