The Emerald Armada have always been fans of big live shows. From regular trips around the UK, including an upcoming trip to Liverpool Sound City, to a few festival shows as far away as India, the band are always keen to stretch their stage legs. Their St Patrick’s Day shows have become a regular event in the Northern Irish calendar, so we caught up with them around the time of their last one to chat India, touring and upcoming plans.
► You’ve been doing St Patrick’s Day gigs for the past four years. How did this tradition come about?
Neil: Fergal from Voodoo asked us to do the first one. We weren’t very big at all, nobody really knew who we were.
Gary: We’d done McHugh’s a couple of times, half hour sets. It wasn’t as big with PA systems and sound guys. Just us sitting around playing. And then it got a bit bigger with Voodoo.
Neil: Fergal asked us to do it and we did it. From there we just planned one every year around it. It’s always been in Voodoo except for this year because last year there were no tickets left after twenty minutes so we thought we’re going to need to get a bigger venue. Still wanted to keep the tradition but just make it a bit bigger and accessible.
► Is that the reason for the change to the Empire?
Neil: Yeah, it’s just more people wanted to come so we needed to find a bigger venue to fit everybody. Pretty much.
► You’ve played a number of venues such as the Belfast barge, is there a venue that’s close to the band?
Neil: Voodoo, because we cut our teeth in there and learnt a lot about stage craft and how rowdy a crowd can actually get. I like Limelight too, I think it always sounds awesome. I think it sounds really good.
Gary: It’s that step up, you play Limelight 2. You’re higher off the floor, there’s a bigger crowd.
► You’ve toured a lot, do you prepare differently for home shows?
Neil: A bit more production. So a bit more effort into how the room looks, lights in particular. So we normally hire in a lighting guy to do lights just for us. Loads of little things like that make a big difference. When you go to see a professional show, you go to see a show and not just hear it. The home shows because everything is close and we know everybody, the aesthetics of the show are different.
Gary: I would find the home shows much more nerve-wracking because you know people and you’re trying to impress them. Whenever you go away somewhere you’re literally a nobody and you can let your hair down.
► How did the Indian shows come about?
Neil: It was a bit of luck, it was meant to be Little Matador and they couldn’t do it because they had commitments with their label. Our manager Jonny, who’s a gem, fought our corner; ‘you’re sending an Irish band to India and you’re not sending the Emerald Armada?’. So were kind of midway between not actually being trad music or to people who don’t know any better, as aesthetic as it gets.
► What was the experience like? What kind of reception did you get?
Neil: Really positive overall, they were loving Tony because they love metal. They were just loving Tony’s solos.
Tony: I think they’re not very selective because western music is a newer thing so they can’t get enough of it. So we were on after a metal band and before a rap act but it’s just the same crowd just going from stage to stage. They love it all.
Dermot: A lot of selfies. With their children as well, ‘hold my child’.
► You’ve just played some Scottish shows, bringing some Northern Irish bands with you. Is that something you look to do?
Neil: We’ve done it every time. Any time we go anywhere we always try to bring at least one local act.
Gary: It’s because we’re all better.
Neil: It’s nice because a lot of bands over here don’t get the opportunity to do it, they don’t necessarily know the right people to do it. Why not, it’s one place, share the love.
► How does it compare to touring without the Northern Irish acts?
Gary: Just different banter. When you’ve got guys you’ve gigged with before in Belfast and also that have the same Northern Irish humour, it’s just a different vibe. I think we really enjoy bringing over our mates or guys whose music we really enjoy. We just did a wee run with Joshua Burnside and Runaway Go, bands we absolutely love. It was just great to get to go to a gig for free with them. Then jump up after and have a go ourselves.
Neil: But there’s definitely a different vibe about Northern Irish music compared to the rest of the UK. There’s just a different slant on what it is. Glasgow’s very indie rock centric and a lot of session players playing blues and stuff, and the rest of the UK is kind of similar to that. But there’s something really unique about the artists that are in Belfast right in particular, and Dublin actually.
► You have a few studio releases but live shows seem to be particularly special to you. How do you balance between the studio releases and the live shows?
Neil: Not very well. Nearly all of our studio work has always been rushed for some reason. We do gig a lot and we don’t get time to look inwardly and we’re always, ‘What’s next? What’s going on?’ So these last couple of months we’ve held off a little, ‘let’s practice more, let’s do more of this, what songs are we going to record?’. So we just spent a couple of sessions in there with Rocky O’Reilly doing a couple of new tunes. Fingers crossed for a new EP this year.
► Is that the plan, a new EP?
Neil: Probably another EP, don’t see an album, not yet. I don’t think there’s a point in having an album unless we’ve got someone to distribute globally for us. Everything is independent, and why not? People don’t buy albums anymore. People buy singles or songs. I think EPs are a nice little snapshot of where we are at the time we release them, so I think by the time October comes, that’s roughly when we’re thinking about it. It’ll be a nice little snapshot of where we are this year.
► What can we expect sound-wise from the new recordings?
Neil: You’ll have to wait and see.
► What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Neil: We’re away a lot, across the water. A lot of festivals in England especially down the south coast, surfer festivals and things like that. We’ve got a cool booking agent down there now. So a lot more festivals away, we’re going to try to do a lot more down south. I think with Belfast we’re doing ok now, so I think a lot more Dublin shows, Galway, Cork. Hit the home country a bit more because it’s so close. We’ve never really concentrated on it. And the UK, and just keep plugging at it. Head down, work hard.